The Reliability of Mormon History Produced by the LDS Church

Ron Barney
August 6, 2009

The Reliability of Mormon History Produced by the LDS Church

It’s wonderful to be here today with you. I hope my experience here is just a little bit different than the one I had in Germany with the FAIR conference. It was quite wonderful until we left the FAIR fireside in France. My wife and I continued on to Zurich, her family is from a little village near Zurich, and we stayed overnight and were ready to leave for Munich the next day and we were driving a diesel car. And in America, what color is the diesel pump? It’s green of course. So, I pulled up to a gas station and there is that green hose at the pump and that’s what I put in the car. It was unleaded regular. That car rental cost me $1,500, and so I’m crossing my fingers for today.

I want to talk really in some general terms about the reliability of Mormon history produced by the Church. I think there has been in years past the sentiment that the Church hedged on the way that it did business; that it was not forthright in what was published; that it was afraid of its past and unwilling to hold our heritage and our historical past up to the kind of scrutiny that other disciplines were subjected to. I’m only going to talk about a couple of projects in which I have been involved, so I can speak with some confidence of knowing the trouble that we went through to ensure that what was done was done properly.

The change that took place at church headquarters, the manner that we find manifest in the way that we do business today, was initiated in 1972 when the Church Historian’s Office became the Church Historical Department and the department moved from the Church Administration Building to the new Church Office Building and with it, a professional staff was created for taking care of our history. I couldn’t find my photograph of the church archival staff at the same time to demonstrate that it was a multi-tiered effort and was not just Leonard Arrington and group of professional historians, but there were professional archivists and librarians as well, and in many ways they served as the platform to create an environment whereby the church could not only produce an excellent and defendable history, but could ensure that it was preserved.

I think a milestone took place in 1984 when one of the members of the Church Historical Department staff, Dean C. Jessee published The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. Dean Jessee, as a part of his assignment with the History Division—later transferred to Brigham Young University to be the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for LDS History, was assigned to the papers of Joseph Smith. And he began the preparation of a documentary edition of Joseph Smith’s personal writings. His first edition in 1984 was compromised as many of you know, because included in that edition were a few Mark Hofmann forgeries. And so after selling out of the first edition it lay dormant for a number of years until 2002 when the second edition came out with rigorous attention made to detail and to ensure that it was defendable and so, not only were the Hofmann forgeries removed, but also there were some additions to this remarkable volume. When people ask me to recommend the best five volumes published about Joseph Smith, this is always one of the five that I recommend. This was followed up by the initiation of Dean Jessee’s effort to publish the Papers of Joseph Smith. The intention was a six to eight volume set that would cover the papers of Joseph Smith—his diaries, his correspondence, etc.—but Dean was doing it by himself. The first volume came out in 1989, which had to do with the autobiographical and historical writings, and then the first volume of diaries in 1992. And for a number of reasons that I won’t discuss here today, the project stalled, and it wasn’t until the end of the 1990s that Ron Esplin who was the director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for LDS History at BYU, really jump-started the project again. We’ll mention that briefly in a minute. The new project, which has had as many as fifty-nine people at one time working on the project, of which I believe there are twenty-two full-time people working on it today, the first volume of diaries, the journals, came out last fall and at press right now is the second volume of the Smith papers, which will be the first volume of the Revelation series set to be published on the significant date of September 22nd. I know something of the rigor that has been applied to ensure that these volumes will stand for a long time and will have a long shelf life. I don’t believe we have to make any apologies to anybody about the quality of the work given the scrutiny that has been applied to the work by outside readers. The fact is that we have had literally dozens of reviewers go through the material to ensure that we have a product that is very defendable and can they be relied upon, especially the featured texts themselves. And we’re very comfortable in that process. We still haven’t quite figured out a way to streamline it like we would like to, we are still working on that, but we’re very confident that the quality of the project will come out as planned.

I want to talk briefly about something else that the church did that is not perhaps as widely known but I believe it to be one of the most significant things regarding our past that the church has done in its history. There was a new copyright law that went into effect on January the 1st, 2003. In order to undermine the efforts of people who did not own the church documents, who had unrestricted publication prerogatives to some of the things that we believe are very important and to which we had rights, we decided to publish many of our documents in a way that we could create a copyright for them that would serve our purposes for a generation or so. And so, a very ambitious project was undertaken to produce Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is a two-volume DVD set; some of you I’m sure are aware of this. Thirty-one collections within the church archives are represented here including the totality of the Joseph Smith collection, the totality of the George A. Smith collection and many others. It also includes things like the Church Historian’s Office journal, the manuscript of what became the History of the Church, which covered the period into the 1880s. It would be hard to overstate the importance of these documents to the church and to the study of Mormon history. Also, the “Journal History” of the church, a 1000-plus volume collection of materials, is published. All together we have seventy-four DVDs. The scanned documents were initially burned to CDs (there were over 700 CDs of documents scanned) that were then compressed into DVDs at a ratio of 10:1). So, there are seventy-four DVDs that include about 450,000 scanned images of documents in the church archives. The documents are completely accessible and purchasable by anyone. Most of the purchases have come from research institutions but a number of private individuals have purchased copies of these DVDs that are very user friendly, high definition, scanned images that in many cases are easier to use than if you had the original volume in front of you.

These include, on the left, Joseph Smith’s diaries from the Joseph Smith collection, his correspondence; the image on the right is the letter that he wrote to his wife and to Edward Partridge from the Liberty Jail that now includes what we call Sections 121 through 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants; it includes his visions, the one on the left being the 1832 account of his first vision; the one on the right, his diary, his journal entry for the events in the Kirtland Temple, April 3rd, 1836. It includes revelations that he received, the one on the left being what we called Section 87; and the one on the right is Thomas Bullock’s text of what was dictated to him by Brigham Young in January 1847, what we call today Section 136 of the Doctrine and Covenants. All of that is there, including manuscripts of the early revelations, with the exception of what will be the primary featured text in the Joseph Smith Papers volume that will be published next month, which is the earliest manuscript edition of the revelations, the volume that was titled, “the Book of Commandments and Revelations,” which along with the “Kirtland Revelation Book,” serve as the manuscript for the Book of Commandments, initially, and then the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.

Recently, the church has published under the authorship of Ron Walker, Rick Turley, and Glenn Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, not an easy subject, and placed it in a position in which there are few parallels in Church publications to the scrutiny that has been applied to it. I just want to show two reviews from outside entities about this volume. [From the Military Book Club.Com] “The authors of this definitive work, three historians connected with the Church of Latter Day Saints, explore these and other unanswered questions more deeply than any writers to date and unlike previous apologists for the church, they offer a scholarly, evenhanded analysis of the massacre. . . making Massacre at Mountain Meadows the most thorough, objective, even accurate book on the subject to date.” That’s the kind of stuff that’s going to come out from the church in the future. From the periodical Western American Literature, “Massacre at Mountain Meadows meticulously describes the historical circumstances that led up to the massacre, still one of the most controversial events in LDS history. . . . The book is distinctive because of their painstaking search through the LDS library and archives. According to the authors, church leaders supported their research by offering full disclosure.” I know that is the case and everything that could have been made available was made available and I think we are going to see this kind of historical production in the future.

I think it’s probably understood that the church moves at a bit of a slower pace than perhaps an independent organization does, but there is so much care and so much attention to detail applied to what we are doing. As one church leader has said we want what we do to be bullet proof so that it can withstand the kinds of investigation that are inevitably applied by an aggressive—I want to choose my words carefully here – – an aggressive alternative.

There were some derivative products that are part of our work on the Joseph Smith Papers and I want to mention just a couple of those. One of the things that occurred was the creation of a new press. The Church Historian’s Press, which will likely be documentary in nature for the first while and then I think we’ll see narrative history that will come out from the Church Historian’s Press. It will be the official press of the Joseph Smith Papers. There are several other projects that are lined up that are not documentary in nature that will also find publication through that press. We have a website, josephsmithpapers.org, that has been created and will, probably to no one’s surprise, include everything that we produce in textual print. Obviously there will be a time lapse between when it is published in book form and when it shows up on the web, but eventually everything that we do and more will end up on the website. This will be the source in the next generation for what is done on the Joseph Smith Papers. It is a living website so that we can make additions and adjustments as needed.

All of these are in the spirit of other documentary editions that have been produced about important Americans, the Founding Fathers papers of which many of you are aware. So, we’re not trying to do something that has an untried tradition. We’re doing things that fit right in the norm of the most recent and the most careful scholarship done in American historical studies. We’ll do about 30 volumes that are planned. They will be between 500 and 700 pages a piece, although the volume that will come out next month I believe is 750 pages, something to that effect. So, a little bit larger, and it is truly a magnificent volume. We have 11 volumes that are currently in production and one last year, one next month, we’ve got the hope of two volumes per year that will be published. The next book printed after the revelations volume will be the first volume of the history series. We’ve received generous funding from Larry H. Miller, something widely known, but Larry Miller’s family is also underwriting the website and then for the last year-and-a- half they have also underwritten the documentary that we have on KJZZ 14 television, a weekly broadcast on Sunday nights focusing on the scholarship and research that our writers and editors have produced. BYUTV is now rebroadcasting the series so that the distribution reaches beyond the Wasatch Front. The intent is that the same day that Revelations 1 comes out next month, the first season of the Joseph Smith Papers, the television series with 52 episodes, will also be published by Deseret Book.

I want to spend the remainder of my time talking a little bit about the care that was taken to produce the Church’s current priesthood and Relief Society manual. Some of you may have seen a couple of our shows on the Joseph Smith Papers where we gave some attention to this. I want a give a little bit more detail to it, again, to ensure that you have an understanding of how much care and attention went into the production of this volume. It was developed with the intent that it would be able to withstand any scrutiny that was applied to it, and I witness to you that as much rigor that you can imagine was, indeed, applied. The Church History Department provided the documents that were somewhat derivative from the Joseph Smith Papers. They were prepared and handed off to a Church curriculum committee and the manual was produced in the same style and somewhat the same format as the other Teachings of the Presidents of the Church volumes.

I want to give a little bit of a background about why this is such an important book. In a historical context, the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church is not a history book; it’s a book of his teachings that has application to Latter-day Saint living today. But what I want to do in the next few moments before I address the manual is to describe how Latter-day Saints through the years have collected and published the teachings of Joseph Smith. The first compilation of those teachings was the serialization of the “History of the Joseph Smith” (the source for the History of the Church) that began in the Times and Seasons in March of 1842, and was finally completed in the Deseret News in 1859. Of course, if you had this collection you would had to have kept all of the individual issues of both the Times and Seasons and the Deseret News, not an easy thing to do. It was not until a generation later after many of the first generation of the Latter-day Saints had died that there was an attempt to compile Joseph Smith’s teachings for the Church and it came through the vehicle of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association monthly organ, The Contributor, serialized between 1881 and 1883 where some of the teachings of Joseph Smith, as you see, were prepared as the “Sermons and Writings of the Prophet Joseph.” Just a year later, in a little volume called the A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel, produced by Elder Franklin D. Richards, of the Quorum of the Twelve, and James A. Little, there is a section toward the back of this little Compendium that is entitled “Gems from the History of Joseph Smith.” And there were selections that were taken, excerpted from the “History of Joseph Smith” that appeared in the Times and Seasons and in the Deseret News, and they were complied into this little addendum as it were to this Compendium.

But then this collection appeared, The History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In many ways, in my opinion, this is the most important thing that the Church has ever published. I believe that we received a new identity with the publication of the History of the Church between 1902 and 1912, edited by Elder B. H. Roberts. This was composed of six volumes containing the “History of Joseph Smith” that were based on the “History of Joseph Smith” as it appeared in the Times and Seasons and in the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, then the seventh volume, which was an Apostolic Interregnum that was applied some years later to give us the seven volumes with which we have familiarity. The Joseph Smith that you know today, the Joseph Smith that the Church became acquainted with in the twentieth century is this compilation of the History of the Church. I do not believe we can overstate its importance. It set the foundation of our doctrine. Everyone who wrote about Joseph Smith used this as the premise upon which they built their work. It was so important.

The year that the sixth volume came out (1912), there was a little volume published by Edwin F. Perry, titled Joseph Smith’s Teachings: A Classified Arrangement of the Doctrinal Sermons and Writings of the Great Latter-Day Prophet and these are excerpts from the History of the Church that had been published over the previous decade. It wasn’t until really a generation later that this significant work the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith as edited by Joseph Fielding Smith was published, 1938. A survey was done a few years ago among the religious educators within the church to identify the most influential and important books that they have used in their teaching and without question the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith among seminary and institute teachers came up number one. Again, it’s pretty hard to overstate the importance of this volume in influencing the generation of which we’re a part in our understanding of Joseph Smith and our appreciation of the things that he taught to the world.

Since that time there have been a number of other publications about his teachings that were published. I’m only going to just mention a few. A religious educator, Alma P. Burton from BYU published in 1956, the Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon Cook in 1980 published The Words of Joseph Smith. This is a big deal. Where all of the other compilations prior to that time and really subsequent to that time are excerpts, arranged topically in many ways, Andy Ehat and Lyndon Cook decided to published all of the sermons that existed at the time in total during Joseph’s tenure in Nauvoo from 1839 to 1844 and, if I remember right, I think there’s 173 sermons represented. You probably know that only a fifth of the 250 sermons we know about that Joseph delivered in this lifetime actually have any substantive text to it. So, all of those, or most all of those, are found here within this volume that is out of print and would cost you several hundred dollars to acquire it. You probably know that Andy Ehat is coming out with the second edition in the near future and has made a number of additions to this really important volume. Robert Millet from BYU, for, interestingly, a secular press published Joseph Smith’s Selected Sermons and Writings that didn’t really have much play in the Mormon market but was meant to be a part of a series about American religion. And then a very useful volume from Larry Dahl and Don Cannon published first in 1997 and then with a name change in the year 2000 to the Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, which is very useful and functional, very user friendly and worth a purchase I believe, in identifying some of the things that we want to know topically about Joseph Smith. And as I say, others have come along during the years.

Now, it is the case, the way in which we determined how we were going to prepare the database for the manual for priesthood and Relief Society, we needed to get our heads around what we really wanted to do with it and how we would properly prepare it with the hope that we had touched every base. A book that influenced me concerned the scholarship surrounding Abraham Lincoln, whom I have studied most of my adult life. This being the 200th anniversary of his birth, some of you may have caught, on C-Span or a similar station, a Lincoln scholar who said that he had done a survey and estimated that one book per week was scheduled for publication in 2009 about Abraham Lincoln. Can you imagine that? And you’ve seen a lot of those, and they are still coming out. In 1996, a Lincoln scholar, an important one, named Don Fehrenbacher and his wife Virginia published through Stanford University Press, The Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln. (Don Fehrenbacher died the next year.) In this book he took the words that Lincoln’s contemporaries and others had reported that Lincoln said and applied with some scrutiny a list of criteria to determine if these reports were reliable or not. And he came up with this little list of categories. Don and Virginia Fehrenbacher would give an A to “a quotation cast in direct discourse and recorded contemporaneously—that is within a few days after the words were spoken.” So, that sounds pretty authentic. They would give a B to “an indirect quotation recorded contemporaneously,” a C to “a quotation recorded non-contemporaneously,” a D to “a quotation about whose authenticity there is more than average doubt,” and an E to “a quotation that is probably not authentic,” all put together in a huge volume. Once you look at that list of criteria it creates in your mind a certain level of expectation about what you read, and you think twice about the texts that you maybe normally accept just because it appears in print. You generally give the printed word, especially something about Abraham Lincoln, a certain level of credibility, and maybe the credibility is not merited. The Fehrenbacher book was designed to help the reader better understand the scope of material attributed to President Lincoln.

Because I was the one who was given the primary charge to assemble together for the Curriculum Department writing committee the Joseph Smith documents from manuscript sources, along with my colleague Mel Bashore who gathered material from the print sources, I decided to do something similar to the words attributed to Joseph Smith that the Fehrenbachers had prepared for those understood to be Lincoln quotes. So, with several other members of our staff – Steve Sorensen, Glenn Rowe, and Grant Anderson—we formed a little committee determined to produce something that a curriculum committee could look at at a glance to know whether this was something that they could include with confidence in the compilation of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual. And so, we came up with a system of document classification for accounts that contained teachings of Joseph Smith. And ours was a bit different than the one created by the Fehrenbachers.

We, for example, assigned a capital A for documents about Joseph Smith that seemed to fall into groupings of accounts attributed to Joseph Smith. So, for material said to have been written, dictated, or spoken by Joseph Smith we would give that material a capital letter A. Then we had sub-groups classified in lower case letters, such as a lowercase “a” that would represent a holograph, something that was written by him; that was as good as it got. We know that this document came from the pen of Joseph Smith and therefore reflected the mind of Joseph Smith. We gave a lowercase “b” to something that was created by one of his clerks that he had signed so that there was his endorsement of what was written or published. We give a lowercase “c” to a contemporary document that included Joseph Smith but may have been attributed to others, for example, something signed by the entirety of the First Presidency. We would give a lowercase “d” to a contemporary document that included something prepared by Joseph Smith and others where the writer is clearly someone other than Joseph Smith but where he likely influenced the text. An example of this would be something like the “Lectures on Faith.” Where did they fit? Long attributed to Joseph Smith, we’ve learned a whole lot about the “Lectures on Faith” and without going into a lot of the detail, we determined that it was not a Joseph Smith document and gave it a classification based on this judgment. Church leaders approved the decision not to include the “Lectures on Faith” in the manual. We would give a lowercase “e” to items that were attributed to Joseph Smith without a signature or an endorsement, such as a couple of items that came out of Kirtland that are very important, one attributed to “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland” that we believe were influenced by Joseph Smith and will be included, interestingly, in the Joseph Smith Papers because we believe these epistles were part of Joseph’s commission.

Well, what about the things that others said that Joseph said? We would give a capital letter B to those who were intimate associates of Joseph: his family members and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, for example. We would give a C to supportive Church members, people who were in the audience who heard him speak, who took notes about what he said. (It is worthwhile to note the warning that Joseph Smith did not, to our knowledge, speak from prepared texts, perhaps with one exception. The sermon on “Priesthood” that was given on the 5th of October in 1840, one of his clerks describes the circumstance of how Joseph dictated the text and then interestingly did not deliver it. One of his clerks Robert. B. Thompson was the person who actually gave that sermon at the October 1840 conference.) So, this classification of C includes notes kept by Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, for example, that are just so significant, and we would be much the lesser without notes that she and others, such as William McIntire and Levi Richards, who took notes of Joseph Smith’s teachings. I can’t imagine what we would be in the absence of note takers, none of whom took shorthand. These are all notes written in longhand, so we have just short excerpts. They are incomplete. For example, of Thomas Bullock’s account, and his is the longest of the four principle scribes who were in the audience who listened to Joseph deliver what we call the “King Follett Discourse,” I can read a typed copy of Thomas Bullock’s notes in seventeen minutes and the sermon lasted, several documents suggest, for over two hours. Well, what would happen if Bullock had not have kept minutes, or kept notes (because they’re not minutes and certainly not verbatim reports). Then there are capital letter D folks who reported Joseph’s words that we called non-supportive Church members. These were people who left later on. David Whitmer, for example, some of the things that David Whitmer said are very important but we know that there was a certain edge to what he said. We just wanted the writing committee to know that. Even Joseph’s own brother, William Smith, in the autobiographical piece that he did later in life fell into this category. We wanted the writers and compilers to know that the events of which David Whitmer wrote were not written contemporaneously, and that William Smith had had kind of a rocky experience with the Church (including a rocky experience or two while he was with Joseph Smith). There were a number of people who were not Latter-day Saints, who wrote what we thought were quite neutral accounts that we think are fairly reliable, such as a number of newspaper reporters who went to town to Nauvoo and what they created we think is quite credible. And so, we wanted the curriculum people to know about that. So, we gave that a capital letter E. We would give capital letter Fs to non-Latter-day Saint antagonists. We know that some of these people came to town with a chip on their shoulder. One of them is Daniel P. Kidder, his diary is at Rutgers University. I went there and read his diary before I read the book that he produced on Joseph Smith in 1842, and clearly he came to town to get fodder for this decidedly anti-Mormon piece.

Two other features affected how we graded a document. One was time. Was this a contemporary report? Was it a year old? Five years old? Ten years old? Twenty years old? Much later than twenty years old? We found that there was a great deal that had been traditional among Latter-day saints about Joseph Smith that was really old, over a generation from the time that he is alleged to have said it. Some of those things we do not dismiss out of hand but they must be qualified, and we wanted to ensure that the committee had that kind of information. And as important, was this an eyewitness report or was it secondhand or third hand? It has a real bearing on the weight that we apply to the credibility of that particular source.

So, what would the documents look like? We created a template that we then populated with the various fields of information about the text. This particular example from our database is as good as it gets: capital A, lowercase a, a 1 (because it’s a contemporary document), and a plus sign (because Joseph wrote it, which we consider an eyewitness account). This letter from Joseph to his wife Emma from Chester County, Pennsylvania, January 20, 1840, is one you can take to the bank. And we would include all of the information about the original source for this so that the writing folks would have all of that.

This example (Joseph Smith to Hancock County Recorder, February 2, 1841) is also reliable: capital A, lowercase b, a 1, and a plus, something that we believe Joseph dictated and then signed. Here is a diary entry from Joseph Smith’s uncle, John Smith, March 6, 1840. We have every reason to believe it was a credible item and so we assigned it a capital letter B, a 1, and a plus. We think that it’s still very credible. Here is one from William McIntire, a supportive Church member taking notes from one of Joseph’s sermons on February 2, 1841. Again, we believe that this was credible: a capital letter C, a 1, and a plus. Here is a newspaper report from the Joliet Courier: a capital letter E, a 1, and a plus. We had no reason to believe, based upon the content and the context, that this was something that was meant to deceive or some type of disinformation that was written about Joseph Smith. Interestingly, it took seventeen 3-inch binders of material to compile, after which people, who are a lot smarter than I am, created an electronic database of the material and we passed that electronic database on to the Curriculum Department. They produced this what I think is a manual that has great power, something that is of consequence, something that it would be foolish to ignore if one wants to get to the morsels of Joseph Smith’s teachings.

Just in closing, I think we need to look at not only what the Church produces but what others produce about Joseph Smith or any other aspect of Latter-day Saint history in light of the quality and reliability of the product. We owe it to ourselves to go to that kind of trouble to consider how our history and heritage is packaged. You should scrutinize every presentation that is given today in this way. If we’re so lazy that we’re willing to accept what somebody else says because they have a white shirt on—well, I didn’t want to say it that way—somebody who’s dressed up in a tie and a coat, we aren’t careful enough. We can’t be lazy about this. This religion is too important and it is very defendable. I have a stronger belief in Joseph Smith and his divine appointment today than ever before. And there’s not much that surprises me anymore. I’ve worked for the Church for 32 years. I’ve been in the belly of the beast that long and I tell you, I feel more strongly about Joseph’s divine appointment and the truthfulness of this religion today than I ever have in my life. We do not have to cut corners. This really is the kingdom, and there are men who really do have keys that were really handed over to them by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and they really were handed down to his successors. I’m banking the rest of my eternal future on it, and I’m very comfortable in doing it. Joseph Smith has won me over in every way. I didn’t mean for this to be a testimonial but I’ve got one, I want to tell you.

In 1974, in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Mormon History, a non-Latter-day Saint scholar who’s been an important friend to the Church for over a generation, Jan Shipps, wrote an article titled “The Prophet Puzzle.” Many people have used this as a point of reference to scrutinize Joseph Smith: whether he was, as Dan Vogel wrote in his 2004 biography of Joseph Smith, a “pious fraud” or, as he was defended by Richard Bushman in his Rough Stone Rolling, a man who had authentic experiences, who represented himself in a real way. Jan Shipps raised the question suggesting that he was somewhere between those two poles. I think it’s worth our while in answering the challenges raised by others regarding Joseph Smith that we create a literature that demonstrates we’re not loosey-goosey in how we deal with the issues and that we’re very careful about the kinds of things that we produce.

Well, Jan Shipps called it a “prophet puzzle” and I came across this little puzzle that I will use in making a closing analogy. Each facet of this little geometrical configuration represents a fact or information, indisputable information if you will. What you conclude about a given matter depends on how you arrange this information, these facts, which, as I say, may be indisputable. Each of these entities, how this information is selectively placed adjacent to the other facts, how it is placed in contrast to other information, has everything to do with how we understand and appreciate the events the facts describe. These facts can be arranged in a way that to some there doesn’t seem to be any similarity to the patterns to which they are accustomed, placed in a way to reflect chaos or disorder. On the other hand, others may selectively order the facts in a way that they look very tight and tidy, that just by the appearance the figure may seem to be conclusive and certain. Depending upon the motives of the arranger, either of these applications can occur. For those of us who are advocates of the legitimacy of Joseph Smith’s claims we do no favors to anyone if we knowingly misarrange information to make the Prophet more attractive or even seemingly more understandable. There are many alternatives regarding the way that scholarship may be applied to this religion. However, it just may be that if we are brave enough and careful enough that we may have a chance to make great headway into our understanding of the irretrievable past, even though we recognize the impossibility to replicate exactly what has gone before. We must give it our best shot. And who knows but that through our best work we might end up with something that gets closer to the truth and at the same time is both attractive and compelling. I think it’s worth any kind of effort to ensure that we do this up right. I think this man Joseph Smith is worth all that is required for us to understand him and what he did. As I said, he’s won me over in every way. I say that in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I was not told that this was going to happen (referring to the small stack of questions written on cards). I’ll try and fly through these.

(Q:1) A major recurring criticism we see is that the church doesn’t discuss difficult or controversial historical events in classroom manuals and even, for example, discourages the discussion of plural marriage in the Sunday School lesson on Doctrine and Covenants 132. Do you think this is going to change any time soon? Are Church leader’s aware of the need for inoculation in church classes? (A:1) Did I write this?

(Q:2) Next question, how would you classify the letter by Joseph transferring church leadership to Joseph Smith III? (A:2) Well, it’s a Hoffman forgery, you know that, don’t you, if I understand the question right? There is other documentation to suggest that the concept of having something lineal in the Smith family is a very real thing. Brigham Young most certainly made appeals, invitations to Joseph Smith’s sons that if they would join with the Latter-day Saints, they would be placed in their rightful positions in the leadership of the church. So, very clearly that is something that I think maybe Mark Hofmann played upon, if that’s what you’re talking about there.

(Q:3) Did other publishers express interest in publishing the Joseph Smith Papers project? If so, why did the Church Historian’s Press end up publishing the papers? Did this allow the church more control of the project? (A:3) There were actually several academic institution who wanted to do this, very prestigious university presses. One of the push backs that they had concerned the length of time it would take to produce the whole series of books. If we would have had everything ready to go and were able to give them the annotated and edited documents that we intend to have in every volume, they would have done it in a heartbeat. But 15 years of publication, two volumes per year, was just more than some were willing to do. And, we wanted to assert control, no question about that. We wanted to have the final say, no question about that. We hope that over time the Church Historian’s Press is going to prove itself to be not only very credible but very predictable. The public will ask all of the hard questions and we trust that we will be able to respond as well as possible. So, it isn’t because we were afraid. It was because we finally made a decision that doing it on our own and doing it right will prove to be the best strategy over time.

(Q:4) Will the Joseph Smith Papers website be searchable with search engines? (A:4) It will, I believe.

(Q:5) Dan Vogel’s preparing an updated version of the seven-volume History of the Church. Do you see a need for this project in light of the Joseph Smith’s Papers project? (A:5) As far as I know, Dan Vogel is preparing his edition of the History of the Church based upon B. H. Roberts’s use of the Millennial Star as the primary source for his work. That’s how I understand it. We’ll use the “manuscript history” in our annotation to show differences and that kind of a thing. We’re going to publish this as well. We’re going to publish from the original and this will be one of those kinds of things that time will tell about who did the best stuff.

(Q:6) Leonard Arrington in the Adventures of a Church Historian related direct negative intervention from some of the Twelve who were not pleased with what was being published by the Church History Department. Has this changed with the Brethren’s support for accurate publishing of history? (A:6) I can only say that we have enormous support for what we are doing and that we have a pass-off on this from the highest levels of church leadership.

(Q:7) If we are so open with our history, then why are most members shocked and/or shaken to find out that Joseph had many wives, Joseph translated with his head in a hat, Joseph was a treasure hunter. (A:7) I had this conversation last night with my son and his wife. It’s up for a much larger discussion than the time that I have to give to this. I don’t understand why we can’t be as forthright and truthful with teenagers as we are with adults. I see no reason why we can’t do that. We have to do it right and it’s going to take a lot more energy and care in what we publish. But I think we can groom people to understand the complexities of our past. Our people are smart enough, they’re faithful enough. I think we can trust people. I’m very confident about that kind of stuff.

(Q:8) Why does the church still publish paintings of Joseph translating the Book of Mormon with the plates open and he is attempting – (A) is this a faith promoting group here, or ? (Q) with the plates open and he is attempting to write the same in English when we know this is not how the translation occurred? (A:8) Head in the hat stuff. Let’s see, was that the same person—yeah, that’s the same person who wrote the last one —and I think it’s a good question, and I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know why they do that.

Oh, I’m getting the press from behind. I’m done. Thanks very much.

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