We were invited to attend a release event for the latest volume in the Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, vol. 4 covering April 1834 to September 1835. To begin, Matt Grow (director of publications for the Church Historian’s Press), outlined the four major releases this year:
—The First Fifty Years of Relief Society (the first non-Joseph Smith Papers publication from the Church Historian’s Press)
–George Q. Cannon journals (first online installment)
—Documents, vol. 4
—Administrative, vol. 1 (Council of Fifty minutes)—forthcoming in September
He noted that the two volumes to be published next year are Documents, vols. 5 & 6 which will be roughly the halfway point in that series.
We then heard from Matt Godfrey (lead volume editor) about the contents of this latest volume. He began by saying that, despite other high-profile releases this year, this volume is important as it reveals a lot about Joseph Smith and this period. The expulsion from Jackson County is still hanging over them during this time and manifests itself frequently. Several documents in this volume relate to Zion’s Camp (which is only referred to as such later) whose primary purpose is a bit different that commonly thought. Rather than serving as a miraculous demonstration of divine power, the company is designed to spur government help. However, Missouri governor Daniel Dunklin waits to see how things play out before he commits state assistance (and, ultimately, never does). A revelation received following the disbanding of the camp outlines steps the saints need to take before land can be redeemed.
Another prominent theme in this volume is the construction of the Kirtland Temple. Simultaneously, the high council in Kirtland also appoints a committee to compile Joseph Smith’s revelations (following an earlier attempt in Missouri that led to the Book of Commandments). The decision is made initially to include excerpts from other texts (such as the Book of Mormon) that deal with church administration. Plans would change and eventually a series of lectures (known today as the Lectures on Faith) were chosen to be included with the revelations instead.
A young Joseph has to face challenges to his leadership as well as mounting financial concerns (lingering Missouri debts, temple construction, etc.). At opportune times, key donors step forward and help out the leadership in tight straits. Following one such donation, they pray and make a covenant based on their gratitude that presages tithing several years later.
In previous volumes, women have been largely absent. While there aren’t large-scale appearances in this volume, there are some key inclusions. A list of donations to Zion’s Camp (along with disbursements to camp captains) serves as a stopgap resource to recreate a list of camp members in the absence of a contemporary roster. Included in the list is a woman (thought to be a single woman from Indiana) who donated $50—the second-highest amount incidentally—that leads to the guess that she in fact marched with the camp. Another document in this volume is a series of blessings (recorded in the patriarchal blessing book) given to Smith children and their spouses. Matt gleans from these blessings that saints at the time would have considered blessings given to husband and wife to be one blessing. The blessing given to Emma by Joseph Smith Sr. would have been a great comfort to her following the death of children and other hardships. A letter written by Joseph Smith to Sally Phelps (wife of W. W. Phelps) remarks on W. W.’s talents but also her sacrifices in allowing him to devote much time to the cause. A subsequent three-part letter includes Phelps writing to his wife (including part of the city plat that he warns her should not be shared with anyone), Joseph Smith writing to his cousin looking forward to the day when Mormons could return to Jackson County and then church leaders likely writing to the president of the elders in Missouri instructing them not to assume too much responsibility.
This volume also includes a broadside of the first lecture on faith (likely a Sidney Rigdon project) as well as two items from the 1835 D&C as an appendix since authorship is in question. Several blessings recorded by Oliver Cowdery in the patriarchal blessing book are also included. These texts are intriguing because they are greatly expanded from earlier recordings of them (also in the appendix because it is not clear how much of the expansions can be tied to Joseph Smith).
Some interesting points that were brought out in the Q&A:
–The broadside of the first lecture on faith was possibly given out by missionaries, like with the case of the broadside of D&C 101.
–Regarding the statement on marriage included in the 1835 D&C, Matt Godfrey noted that Joseph is definitely in Michigan when it is presented but he was likely in Kirtland when it was composed. As documentary editors, they choose not to make a judgment on Joseph’s authorship (Matt said, if pressed, he would opine that Joseph did not write it).
–Regarding the meeting where the D&C is presented for approval (along with the statement on marriage and declaration on government), the assumption is that Oliver Cowdery presented things with Joseph Smith’s tacit approval rather than being a case of Cowdery trying to sneak them in.
–With Zion’s Camp, the relevant revelations in the D&C lead to the impression it will end in miraculous results. Circular letter outlines very clearly the goals camp will have and gives a more realistic picture of their mission.
–As for the structure relating to patriarchal blessings, there really isn’t a standard practice at that point—questions like whether single women could receive blessings (in light of the husband and wife dynamic describe above) have not yet been systematized.