This is the fourth in a projected twelve volumes in the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers. The Documents series is the core of the JSP project, containing documents that Joseph Smith was personally involved in producing in chronological order. The documents in the book are also available online, but the annotations and introductions – which are very valuable in understanding the documents – are not put online until 18 months after each volume is published.
The main events covered in this volume are Zion’s Camp; the publication of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants; financial difficulties (particularly those related to publishing and the building of the Kirtland Temple); the formation and operation of the Kirtland high council; the call of Joseph Smith, Sr., to patriarch, and the calling of 12 apostles; and the beginning of the writing of the early history of the church.
The main body of the book consists of documents directly involving Joseph Smith, and then there are a series of appendices with documents for which Joseph Smith’s involvement is questionable. Such documents include the first Lecture on Faith, “Letter to the Saints Scattered Abroad”, “Statement on Marriage”, “Declaration on Government and Law”, and patriarchal blessings given to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, and William Smith.
The Lectures on Faith are thought to be primarily written by Sidney Rigdon, although Joseph may have been involved in presenting them. The Statement on Marriage was included because Joseph had put together the Doctrine and Covenants and they were included, although it was thought that it may have been done by Oliver Cowdery without his consent. (This is important because the statement forbids plural marriage and, as explained in a footnote, Joseph may have learned of the doctrine in 1831 and begun sharing it in 1832. He also married Fanny Alger about the time this was published.)
The patriarchal blessings to Joseph’s parents and brothers were given by him, but were expanded by Oliver Cowdery when they were recorded. It is not clear whether he had authorization to do so, and he even charged Hyrum, Samuel, and William for it (as recorder, he routinely charged based on word count), but he felt the expansions were “correct and according to the mind of the Lord.” (page 486)
One interesting item in the main part of the book is a patriarchal blessing given to Joseph and Emma. At this time, the blessings of a husband and wife were considered one blessing, which is why Emma’s is included. The blessings were given just after Joseph, Sr. was called to be the patriarch. He called his family together and gave each of them and their spouses blessings. The footnotes here provide details and context about things that are mentioned in the blessings, such as this about Emma: “A July 1830 revelation called Emma an ‘Elect Lady’ and explained to her that she would ‘be ordained under his [JS’s] hand to expound Scriptures & exhort the Church.’ Emma was eventually named president of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, an ecclesiastical organization of Latter-day Saint women formed in March 1842. During the organizational meeting of the Relief Society, JS stated that Emma had been ordained ‘at the time, the Revelation was given, to expound the scriptures to all.’ JS also commented on the meaning of ‘Elect Lady,’ explaining that ‘Elect meant to be Elected to a certain work &c, & that the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma’s Election to the Presidency of the Society.’” (pages 207-208)
Another item that is included that some may find of interest is in a letter to Emma dated June 4, 1834. Joseph says regarding Zion’s Camp, “The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest
men and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting [p. 57] occasionaly the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity.” A footnote explains: “On 3 June, the Camp of Israel passed through the vicinity of what is now Valley City, Illinois, where several members of the camp climbed a large mound. At the top, they uncovered the skeletal remains of an individual JS reportedly identified as Zelph, a ‘white Lamanite.’ Archaeologists have since identified the mound as Naples-Russell Mound #8 and have classified it as a Hopewell burial mound of the Middle Woodland period of the North American pre-Columbian era (roughly 50 BC to AD 250). (Godfrey, ‘The Zelph Story,’ 31, 34; Farnsworth, ‘Lamanitish Arrows,’ 25-48.) (page 57)
At 668 pages, this volume is the largest in the Documents series to date. For anyone interested in the events of this time period in church history, this book is a must have.