Season 2 of The Joseph Smith Papers Television Documentary Series contains 42 episodes on 6 DVDs. It takes a closer look at some of the areas covered in Season 1, such as the First Vision. It contains episodes devoted to things like the production of modern scripture, a tour of church history sites, a look at Joseph’s family, the early music of Mormonism, and brief biographies of other early members, such as Hyrum Smith, the Pratt brothers, the Snows, and others. There are also some episodes devoted to the books published so far as part of the Project. The final episode is a tribute to Larry H. Miller, who provided financial support for the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Viewers who use closed captioning will be happy to learn that it’s been employed for Season 2 (although it’s a little rough in places). And I’m very happy to see that the list of episodes also says which disc they’re on this time. (Both of these things were missing for Season 1.)
There are 2 episodes about the manual containing the teachings of Joseph Smith that was used recently in priesthood and Relief Society. It begins by recounting a history of publications of his teachings, and then spends the rest of the time talking about the preparation of the new manual. It was intended not to be a comprehensive source of known teachings, but rather to be selected teachings that apply to our day. They were very careful in what was included, and the standards for determining such, which depended on the sources, were explained.
The Word of Wisdom episode was particularly interesting to me, since this topic can often be a stumbling block for people who assume that it has always been followed and enforced the way it is today. It is pointed out that the first 3 verses of D&C Section 89 were not actually part of the revelation, but were originally a preface. It is explained what the restrictions on hot drinks, alcohol, and meat meant at the time it was given. A history of the Word of Wisdom from moderation to abstinence is recounted. Unfortunately, here I feel the episode falls short. The groundwork is laid to mention that not just church members but also church leaders had difficulty with it at first, but then it doesn’t quite go that far. It can be confusing for someone that was taught that Joseph refused alcohol for his leg operation to learn that he did not always abstain (see, for instance, History of the Church, vol. 7, page 101), and I thought this episode could have done a little better towards inoculating against that.
Another interesting episode is about D&C section 76, which outlines the different degrees of glory available after this life. It was referred to originally as “The Vision,” since it was the first vision to be published (accounts of the “First Vision” were not published until later). It was one of just a few visions that had a witness – Sidney Rigdon participated in it along with Joseph Smith. Until then, the understanding of the afterlife was black and white. Those who didn’t like it considered it to be universalist. It was written down immediately by Smith and Rigdon, and because they were commanded to write it down, copies were allowed to be made freely. Joseph was probably tarred and feathered for it.
This DVD series should be of interest to anyone that enjoys church history or is interested in learning about it. There is some that is glossed over – such is the nature of the medium – but this is the most in-depth and accurate treatment of Joseph Smith and the early history of the church that has been made available for viewing, and it could even lead those that don’t particularly like non-fiction reading to do further research.