No volume of the Joseph Smith Papers better conveys the highs and lows of the prophet's life than "Documents, Vol. 5, October 1835 to January 1838," according to co-editors Elizabeth A. Kuehn and Christian K. Heimburger.
"I am astonished sometimes when I read his journal or the documents ... all the various things he's involved in. He is doing so many things and wearing so many hats," Heimburger said. "For me, the takeaway is how Joseph is consecrating his life to building up the kingdom and you see it vividly in the documents of his volume."
"For me, it's how he handles the adversity in this period of Kirtland dissent and crises," Kuehn said. "You see the burden of being the prophet, having to face moments of betrayal and personal attacks and keep going, to keep the church together and be a rallying point despite what he's personally enduring."
After three years of diligent work and sacrifice, the Saints finished the construction of the Kirtland Temple in 1836. The dedication demonstrated in its completion was a pinnacle event that featured a spiritual outpouring. A week later, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery saw a vision of Jesus Christ and received visitations from ancient Biblical prophets.
The very next year, however, proved to be a dark time of financial and economic failure, dissent among church members and led to a Missouri exodus.
"Documents, Vol. 5," is a collection of revelations, discourses, prayers, legal documents, personal letters, a map, financial paperwork and bank notes, along with other documents from the Kirtland era of LDS Church history. "Documents, Vol. 5," is the fifth of 10 in the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers project, which is planned to include about 25 volumes overall.
In connection with the release of "Documents, Vol. 5," Brent M. Rogers, associate managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers, will present on "The Temple in Joseph Smith's Kirtland" at the Assembly Hall on May 18 at 7 p.m.
Within this thick, hardbound 694-page volume, readers will find:
- 116 total documents
- 16 revelations (only six canonized)
- 28 letters, with 13 from or on behalf of Joseph Smith, and 15 addressed to Joseph Smith
- Minutes from 24 meetings involving Joseph Smith
- Three blessings
- An account of the First Vision, Joseph's second version given to Robert Matthews
- Documentation of the translation efforts on the Book of Abraham and the Egyptian alphabet
- A hand-drawn map of Kirtland
- Minutes and the dedicatory prayer from the dedication of the Kirtland Temple
- An account of the vision of Jesus Christ and the visitations of Biblical prophets to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey. A digital version of this document is accessible at JosephSmithPapers.org
- Recommendations for people serving missions and various legal documents.
- Documents from Joseph Smith's time as editor of the Elders Journal, a church newspaper
- And a slew of financial documents related to the church
"These documents speak to the hectic nature of his life," he said. "I think that's significant in terms of what the volume shows."
Following the joy of the temple dedication, the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society amid national financial panic of 1837 resulted in substantial losses, forcing the church to mortgage the House of the Lord. In the midst of the tumult, some members called Joseph Smith a fallen prophet. Few records were kept during this difficult time, Kuehn said.
"After the temple dedication, records essentially disappeared. We have no journal for Joseph from April 1836 until March 1838," she said. "The reality is when things get bad, people are less interested in keeping records. This speaks to the fact that this was an emotional low point for Joseph and the Saints."
Other documents found in "Documents, Vol. 5" include a copy of the Book of Abraham, dictated by Joseph Smith to Frederick G. Williams; letters written by notable women like Emma Smith; Mary Fielding, soon to be wife of Hyrum Smith; Vilate Kimball, wife of Heber C. Kimball; and Hepzibah Richards, sister of Willard Richards.
"Documents, Vol. 5" also offers insight into the Heber C. Kimball's assignment to open missionary work in England, as well as a mission by Wilford Woodruff to the Fox Islands.
Readers will also get a sense of Joseph Smith, the human. There are a couple of episodes in late 1835 where the prophet gets into disputes with his brother William that end in a fist fight. The brothers later reconciled their differences in January 1836, Heimburger said.
"You get a sense of Joseph's incredible capacity to forgive. He forgives his brother almost without reservation and is continually praying for him even as William, a member of the Twelve, is on the streets proclaiming against his brother," Heimburger said. "To me it makes Joseph relatable. He has weaknesses and flaws, yet he is able to do so many amazing things and we see that throughout this volume."
The brotherly conflict proceeded these remarks by Joseph Smith to the Twelve Apostles on Jan. 16, 1836, as found in "Documents, Vol. 5" (as originally written):
"I have sometimes spoken to[o] harsh from the impulse of the moment and inasmuch as I have wounded your feelings brethren I ask your forgivness, for I love you and will hold you up with all my heart in all righteousness before the Lord, and before all men, for be assured brethren I am willing to stem the torrent of all opposition; in storms in tempests in thunders and lightning by sea and by land in the wilderness or among fals brethren, or mobs or wherever God in his providence may call us and I am determined that neither hights nor depths principalities nor powers things present or to come nor any other creature shall separate me from you[.]"
For more information on "Documents, Vol. 5," or the project, visit JosephSmithPapers.org.