Esplin, Grow, Godfrey, eds., “Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers”

Review
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Title: Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers
General Editors: Ronald K. Esplin, Matthew J. Grow, Matthew C. Godfrey
Publisher: The Church Historian’s Press
Genre: Nonfiction
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 1009
Binding: E-book
eISBN: 978-1-62973-526-9
Price: $14.99

Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak for the Association for Mormon Letters

This book is part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, but it’s different than the other volumes that have been produced. It combines the previously published canonized revelations and their accompanying contextual material and puts them in the same order as the current LDS edition of the Doctrine & Covenants, also adding verse numbers for ease of reading. The result provides a very interesting way to read this book of scripture.

I have to admit I was initially disappointed to find that this is only available as an e-book. But it turns out there is a reason for this. It currently only contains content up through 1835 (and one thing from 1838) at this point. But as work on the Joseph Smith Papers Project progresses, updates to the e-book are promised. My guess is that they also realized this would be a great resource for this year’s Sunday School curriculum and were able to put it together quickly as an e-book. And they took advantage of the ability to link to the JSP website to provide access to higher resolution charts and further information in many places.

As with all the JSP books, the introductory material includes lists of illustrations and maps, an introduction and statement of editorial procedures, and a timeline of Joseph Smith’s life. It also includes a chronology of texts in today’s edition of the D&C and a correspondence chart to the JSP volumes. The introduction from Revelations and Translations, Volume 1: Manuscript Revelation Books is included as an appendix, as is the introduction to Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations.

Each section begins with the section number, date, a brief Source Note, and an Historical Introduction (many of which are longer than the actual revelation). Maps, pictures (including some photos of manuscript pages), and biographical information are often included. Following this material is the transcription of the revelation with verse numbers and explanatory footnotes. As noted in the introduction, the footnotes help provide a better understanding of the revelation rather than doctrinal commentary.

For a sample of the Source Notes, the one for section 14 says:

“Revelation, Fayette Township, Seneca Co., NY, to David Whitmer, June 1829. Featured version, titled ‘Chapter XII,’ typeset [between 1 Nov. 1832 and ca. early 1833] for Book of Commandments, 32–33. John Whitmer copied this revelation [ca. Mar. 1831] into Revelation Book 1, but the page or pages on which it was copied were removed at some point from that volume and are no longer extant. 1 The version found in the Book of Commandments and featured below is the earliest extant version. For more information, see the source note for the Book of Commandments on the Joseph Smith Papers website.”

And the Historical Introduction for the same section:

“JS dictated this revelation for David Whitmer after Whitmer traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania, and helped JS and Oliver Cowdery move to Peter Whitmer Sr.’s house in Fayette, New York. The move was undertaken to facilitate completion of the Book of Mormon translation, which had caused JS trouble with both Isaac Hale and other residents in Harmony. David Whitmer had heard about JS in the fall of 1828 when rumors about JS’s retrieval of the plates circulated widely in the Palmyra, New York, region. While in Palmyra, Whitmer discussed the story of JS and the plates with Cowdery and others but initially supposed it was a rumor. Cowdery, who was acquainted with the Joseph Smith Sr. family, told Whitmer that “there must be some truth in the story of the plates, and that he intended to investigate the matter.” Several months later, Cowdery informed Whitmer that he intended to go to Harmony to see JS about the plates. On his journey, Cowdery stopped in Fayette to visit Whitmer and promised to write to him regarding what he learned. Cowdery sent at least three letters to Whitmer from Harmony, the last of which directed Whitmer to bring his wagon to Harmony and move JS and Cowdery to Fayette.

“Aided by what they considered divine manifestations, the Whitmers quickly became followers of JS. David Whitmer later recounted that during their journey to Fayette, he, Cowdery, and JS briefly encountered a ‘pleasant, nice looking old man’ whom JS identified by revelation as a heavenly messenger transporting the plates. Whitmer also recalled that soon after their arrival in Fayette, his mother, Mary Musselman Whitmer, was met ‘by the same old man,’ who showed her the plates. JS’s history recorded that ‘David, John, and Peter Whitmer Jr became our zealous friends and assistants in the work; And being anxious to know their respective duties, and having desired with much earnestness that I should enquire of the Lord concerning them, I did so, through the means of the Urim and Thummim and obtained for them in succession the following Revelations,’ referring to this revelation and the June 1829 revelations directed to John Whitmer and Peter Whitmer Jr. 7 The five revelations dated June 1829 are presented herein in the order found in the index to Revelation Book 1.”

And an example footnote (#15 from verse 4):

“An earlier revelation stated that three ‘witnesses’ would see the gold plates; this statement may have anticipated the invitation to Whitmer to be one of the three. (Revelation, Mar. 1829 [D&C 5:11–14], herein ; Testimony of the Three Witnesses, Late June 1829, in JSP, D1:378–382; see also Revelation, June 1829–E [D&C 17], herein ; and Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 548 [Ether 5:2–4].))”

For those familiar with the JSP project, this book provides a very convenient collection of the canonized revelations, formatted to help provide additional valuable insights that you can’t get from the regular printed scriptures alone. I intend to use it for my study of the D&C to go along with Sunday School this year. And for those not yet familiar with the JSP project, this could be the gateway to kindle interest in the volumes from whence the material came.

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