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LDS Church releases new volume of Joseph Smith documents

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 4 2013 2:31 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today released the first of several historical volumes that will provide “unparalleled insight into the life and prophetic thought” of church founder Joseph Smith.

Addressing media representatives in the LDS Church Historical Library Wednesday morning, Elder Steven E. Snow, church historian and recorder, announced the release of the first of a series of volumes that focus on actual historical documents written by, signed by and relating to Joseph Smith. The documents series will eventually be the largest series within the church’s ongoing Joseph Smith Papers historical research project.

“This new documents series will publish, in chronological order, all the early historical documents associated with the Restoration of the church,” Elder Snow said in announcing the release of the 640-page “Documents, Volume 1: July 1828-June 1831.” He indicated that the second volume in the series will be published in early December.

“This set of documents allows you to see, without any intervening filter, what Joseph Smith produced,” said Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant church historian and recorder. “It’s an excellent way to understand Joseph Smith and his life, because it gives you the pertinent documents, and it gives them to you in a chronological order, so you can see what comes before and after.”

Turley displayed several of the documents that are included in the documents series, including the earliest known document that bears Joseph Smith’s signature — a property document formalizing the living arrangements for the Smith family — as well as the oldest known letter written entirely by Joseph Smith in his hand (a letter dated March 8, 1835, to his brother, Hyrum).

“The value of these documents is you have a chance to see up close and personally the actual historical evidence that is used by historians to put the pieces of history together,” Turley said as he carefully shared the preserved documents with reporters and photographers. “It allows you to see them for yourself and interpret them for yourself.”

There are a number of digital images of original documents in the published volume, although many are not due to printing limitations. Digital images of all of the documents in the series will eventually be available online, Turley said.

“We have not withheld any documents for this series,” Turley continued. “There may be an odd document or two of which we are not aware. But all of the thousands of documents that we have found relating to the life and work of Joseph Smith will eventually be included.”

The published volume includes revelations, letters, reports of discourses, editorials, minutes of meetings and other documents written by, signed by and relating to Joseph Smith. For each document in the book there are source notes, a carefully footnoted historical introduction and a transcript of the document (including actual spellings and words that have been crossed out).

Preparing the volume required what William G. Hartley, one of five editors credited with the preparation of the book, called “a lot of jot-and-tittle work,” a reference suggesting intense scrutiny to minor details.

“We would line up different versions of the same information next to each other and study them,” Hartley said. “We would look at every comma, ever letter, every bit of punctuation, every variation in handwriting, every character. We were looking for clues to see which version came first, what were the differences.”

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