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Newest Joseph Smith Papers book strikingly different

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 22 2009 1:50 p.m. MDT

The newest offering from the Joseph Smith Papers project is not required reading.But the Church History Department hopes scholars and church members find the eight-pound book to be worth its hefty weight.The "facsimile edition" of the "Revelations and Translations" series of the Joseph Smith Papers went on sale Tuesday, coinciding with the Sept. 22 date on which the LDS Church founder received the Golden Plates. The Church History Department presented a copy of the volume to Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve during a news conference at the Church History Library."This maybe gives new meaning to the term 'heavy reading,'" Elder Marlin K. Jensen, church historian and recorder, said as he handed over the book. __IMAGE1__Elder Nelson offered some perspective on where the book fits into gospel study, while church historians explained its fit on the bookshelf, in the scholarly community and among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The book appears strikingly different next to its predecessor, "Journals, Volume 1," which was an unexpected commercial success. But those who produced the new volume say its content merits special presentation."This publication ... evidences the great importance that the early Saints placed on God's communication with man through a prophet," Elder Jensen said.Elder Nelson referred to the book as "supplemental" for church members — no more critical to a love of Latter-day scriptures than the Dead Sea Scrolls are for the Bible. While on assignment in southern and central Utah recently, Elder Nelson asked area leaders who were interested in the book whether it should be required reading for members.No, he was told. At $100 a copy, many members can’t afford it."However, many of those same individuals indicated that they were going to purchase this new book regardless," Elder Nelson said. "Why? Because it would draw them closer to the Lord, his prophet and the process of revelation."I, too, believe that these blessings will come to all who study its pages. Serious students will appreciate the magnificence and value of this great book."The "facsimile edition" is a textual and visual reproduction of the two earliest "revelation books" kept by the early church. They include "The Book of Commandments and Revelations," which has never been made available to the public, and the "Kirtland Revelation Book." The original manuscripts were on display under glass at the library for the media.According to Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant church historian and recorder, there are historical treasures to be found — including corroborating evidence that the church was organized during a meeting in Fayette, N.Y., as recorded by Joseph Smith in his personal history, and not in Manchester, as recorded by W.W. Phelps in an earlier manuscript. The discrepancy had "caused endless confusion," Turley said.Because some of the content has been previously unavailable and because the subject matter deals with revelation considered sacred, editors chose a unique format. Of the 700-plus pages, most are full-color. A facsimile image of the original manuscript page on the left side accompanies a transcription on the right. Changes made by various scribes are differentiated by color.The value, according to Turley, comes in being able to see a detailed reproduction of the original."This is a volume that has not been available, and we thought therefore it would be good if they could see not only our meticulous transcriptions but also the images of the documents themselves so that if they wanted to check the work we had done, they could check it against very good images," Turley said, calling it a "venerable" scholarly format.The project's first release, Volume 1 of the "Journals" series, was a black-and-white, 7-by-10 book. The size of the new volume was expanded to 9-by-12 and has risen in price from $44.95 to $99.95."(The format) of necessity made it larger and more expensive," Turley said. "We recognize that's a downside, but we think it's compensated for by the upside of actually being able to see images of the documents and not just the transcriptions."Sheri Dew, president and CEO of Deseret Book, said a proper display required the best printing, paper and processes available."What won out was the need to reproduce the revelations in the very finest format that they could possibly be reproduced," Dew said.Most of the planned 30 volumes will come in the 7-by-10 size, but the "rarity or peculiar nature" of some content will merit a small number of facsimile volumes, Turley said.Editors did take into account the aesthetics of the physical book collection, and were careful not to put a volume number on the spine of the new book. The larger facsimile editions will not be numbered and are meant to be placed at the end of the collection.The commercial success of "Journals, Volume 1," which has sold 50,000 copies since its release in November 2008, came as "a great surprise," Turley said. Typical documentary editing projects, such as those that deal with the Founding Fathers, sell between 800 and 1,200 copies, he said."It's just unheard of in this field of documentary editing," Turley said. "And we attribute that in great part to the interests of the Latter-day Saints. They crave information about the early history of the church, and they're eager to get their hands on that kind of material."Turley said he expected only a few thousand of the newer, more expensive volumes to be sold, but so far he's been stunned by the pre-orders, which total around 5,000."The current demand seems to be greater than we anticipated," he said.


E-mail: ashill@desnews.com

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