Included among the documents are several revelations given to Joseph Smith that have not been included among the church’s canonized scripture. “They were included in the ‘Revelation Books’ (bound volumes within which Joseph Smith’s revelations were recorded) but they were never published. They are valuable because they provide additional understanding.”
For Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, another of the volume editors, combing through the documents gave him a greater appreciation for Joseph Smith’s prophetic role and his “deep concern for the welfare of people.”
“You see his love and concern coming through in document after document,” Dirkmaat said. “You read about someone asking for forgiveness, and you find yourself saying ‘No! Don’t do it! This is going to end badly!’ because you know from history how things turn out. But he always forgives them.”
“The more you get into these documents,” Hartley added, “the more and better you come to understand Joseph Smith, and how amazing this man was. You see him trying to figure out how to do this, figuring out how to be a prophet.”
And that, said Ronald K. Esplin, one of four general editors of the Joseph Smith Papers project, is the real value of the new documents series.
“You can go document by document and see the history of the church as it unfolded,” Esplin said. “A lot of people will get into this material and say, ‘I thought I knew that history, but I did not.'”
The book’s editorial team believes the new documents series will serve both the causes of history and faith.
“Knowing all the details seems to increase faith,” said Robert J. Woodford, a third volume editor. Although Woodford acknowledged that there are some things in the documents series “that on the surface may seem to be damaging” to faith, those who take the time to explore those things in depth will find answers to their concerns.
“For me, this project has been faith-affirming,” Woodford said. “The deeper we go into his history, the more clear it becomes to me that Joseph Smith was exactly who and what he claimed to be.”
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