A new volume aimed at making the formative, 19th-century revelations of Mormonism "more accessible than ever before" for both scholars and LDS Church members has been published.
"Revelations and Translations, Volume Two: Published Revelations" is the latest publication in the ambitious Joseph Smith Papers project undertaken by the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Bookstore orders are being filled now for the new, hardbound book that includes photos of each page of the 1833 "Book of Commandments" and of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, published in 1835. Those two early works were fundamental to the doctrinal and administrative development of the church.
Photos and/or transcriptions of several other related documents, including selections from the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, are included in the new book, which will sell for a suggested retail price of $69.95.
An anticipated 20 volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers eventually will be released in book form — three are now in print — scaled back from an earlier expectation of 30, said Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant historian and recorder for the LDS Church. However, the entire 30-volume set will eventually be available online.
"We're trying to straddle this world of the book and the digital world," Turley said Wednesday at a teleconference emanating from the Church History Library and transmitted to Internet bloggers in far-flung locales.
He explained that many people today are far more accustomed to reading computer text files than they are the printed word, while others are comfortable in both worlds, hence the decision to have an online version, with its electronic search capability, be "the principal vehicle for getting access to Joseph Smith's papers."
The latest volume — coupled with volume 1 of the Revelations and Translations series released in September 2009 — provides "the kind of firsthand access we have wanted to give people," Turley said.
He noted that volume 1, an oversize book, offered color photos of revelation manuscript pages juxtaposed with typescripts of those pages. A smaller, less-expensive edition, containing the typescripts but not the photographs, has since been published.
Robin Jensen, a volume editor with Turley and Riley Lorimer, capsulized the significance of the new release. "The revelations dictated by Joseph Smith meant so much to the early Latter-day Saints that no sacrifice was too great to see those revelations in print," he said. "To now hold in a single volume many of the versions of collected revelations published at such great sacrifice is gratifying not only for current members, but for researchers who can use these printed revelations in their own scholarship."
The latest volume contains the incomplete Book of Commandments printed at Independence, Mo., in 1833 but never finished because an anti-Mormon mob destroyed the printing press.
"One of the things I'm most excited about in this book is our appendix to the Book of Commandments," Jensen said. "We have, in our best judgment, finished the Book of Commandments."
The appendix amounts to a "sixth gathering," Lorimer said. In book printing, a number of pages are printed on a single broadsheet, then cut and sewn into a "gathering" or "signature," with a number of gatherings comprising a book.
In the case of the Book of Commandments, only five gatherings were ever completed. Lorimer said the unfinished book ends abruptly and, examining the manuscript of the revelation, scholars observed a "take mark," signifying the end of a signature, with the rest of the manuscript marked up for publication.
"There are nine other revelations that were marked up for publication and three others that follow chronologically within that same time period of the nine that were marked up," she said. Moreover, there was an additional document printed in the church newspaper "The Evening and the Morning Star" that was called an appendix to the Book of Commandments but was never printed therein, she added.
So, based on textual analysis, the volume editors decided on 13 texts plus a testimony of witnesses that comprise their proposed completion to the Book of Commandments.
Those texts came from the manuscript "Book of Commandments and Revelations" provided to the Church History Department by the LDS First Presidency several years ago and published as part of volume 1 in the series.
Articles from "The Evening and the Morning Star," which amount to the earliest publication of many of the revelations are also included in the new volume. These would eventually make their way into the Doctrine of Covenants, which Mormons revere as scripture along with the Bible, Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price. The newspaper was published first in Independence and then, after the destruction of the printing press, in Kirtland, Ohio.
The teleconference for bloggers is a new marketing tool for the department and its Church Historian's Press imprint. Previously, announcements pertaining to the Joseph Smith Papers have been made in traditional news conferences.
"Many of the people who live in the digital world or who have made the migration from the old world to the digital world read blogs," Turley explained in response to a blogger's question. "Blogs are an excellent source of information, and for us, who are targeting primarily a scholarly audience, including Latter-day Saints who have an interest in Church history, blogs are a way for us to reach that audience in a very direct sort of way. There's a marketing purpose behind it: Get the information to the people who are most interested."