Nobody could prove them wrong.They said that Joseph Smith had a faulty revelation in 1830. They said the revelation proclaimed that the copyright to the Book of Mormon would be sold in Canada. They said the revelation was a failure and that Joseph was a fallen prophet. And, best of all, there was no copy of the revelation for anybody to check against their story.This all changed on Sept. 22 with the publication of the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers: "Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelation Books." For more than 160 years, there was only one side of the story. Now, with the full text of the revelation available, people can read it and decide for themselves."Our sources (for the story were) mid- and late 19th-century memories of David Whitmer, Hiram Page and William McLellin," said Steven C. Harper, one of the three volume editors for this Joseph Smith Papers volume.Whitmer, Page and McLellin were all excommunicated in 1838.In his 1887 book, "An Address to All Believers in Christ," Whitmer's stated purpose was to show "some of Joseph's errors in the beginning." Whitmer never denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon, but the Canadian copyright revelation was, in Whitmer's view, the best example of a bad revelation.Whitmer wrote that Hyrum Smith, Joseph's brother, suggested selling the copyright in Canada to raise money and that Hyrum "persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it."According to Whitmer, Joseph used his seer stone "and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon."Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Knight, Hiram Page and Josiah Stowell were selected for the task to go to Canada.The brethren, however, failed to sell the copyright.Whitmer wrote that he remembered when Page and Cowdery returned: "Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking."Whitmer said Joseph "enquired of the Lord about it" and received a revelation that said, "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.""David Whitmer puts those words into Joseph Smith's mouth," Harper said. "That's exactly what I expect out of David Whitmer."Whitmer's memory of Joseph's response to "revelation" is similar to a later revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 46:7 that says some commandments "are of men, and others of devils." He also erroneously remembered Toronto was the destination.McLellin was blunter than Whitmer. "This revealment of (Joseph's) was a miserable piece of wickedness," McLellin wrote around 1880 ("The William E. McLellin Papers 1854-1880").Page's earlier recollections in 1848 were that when the revelation came "we were to go to Kingston, where we were to sell (the copyright) if they would not harden their hearts" ("The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844").But the people in Kingston did harden their hearts. Page wrote that "there was no purchaser." They were told that if they wanted to sell a copyright they had to go to Toronto. It is not clear whether this was true or whether this was a polite way to tell the Yankees that nobody wanted their Mormon book.There was no other side to this story — until the revelation was discovered in the newly found "Book of Commandments and Revelations" manuscript that had been used to prepare the Book of Commandments. The manuscript was found in the First Presidency's archive when the archive was recently catalogued.The Canadian copyright revelation was edited like the other revelations in the manuscript. The editing may indicate an original intention to print the revelation, but Harper said that some of the revelations in the "Book of Commandments and Revelations" did not make it into the Book of Commandments because the printing office was ruined by a mob."We anticipated a bombshell," Harper said of the revelation's text. Instead, Harper said it was like Joseph's other revelations. "By which I mean it (contains) terms and conditions upon which certain blessings are predicated."In the revelation, the Lord said, "And I grant unto my servant a privilege that he may sell a copyright through you — speaking after the manner of men — for the four provinces, if the people harden not their hearts against the enticings of my spirit and my word; for behold, it lieth in themselves to their condemnation or to their salvation."In other places the revelation predicated blessings "according to your faith and diligence and uprightness before me." The travelers to Canada were told to do their work "with an eye single to my glory." They were also told "if ye do this ye shall have my spirit to go with you and ye shall have an addition of all things which is expedient in me.""So, those guys will be successful in selling the copyright IF they'll do it with an eye single to the glory of God AND if the people up there harden not their hearts," Harper said. "In Joseph's revelations you find a God who uses his omniscience to preserve individual agency. It's a remarkable theological feature."


E-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com