Friday, January 08, 2010

Review: "The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelation Books" (reviewed by Trevor Holyoak)

The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revelation Books

By Steven C. Harper, Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford

Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak
On 1/8/2010

Church Historian's Press and Deseret Book, 2009 Hardcover:
726 pages
ISBN-10: 1-57008-850-0
ISBN-13: 978-1-57008-850-6 Price: $99.95

This is the second book to be released in the Joseph Smith Papers project, and the first volume of the Revelations and Translations series. It is a “facsimile edition” of Revelation Book 1 (also known as “Book of Commandments and Revelations”) and Revelation Book 2 (“Book of Revelation” or “Kirtland Revelation Book”). It is quite large, measuring approximately 9.25 by 12.25 inches and weighing nearly 8 pounds. This means it won't quite match the previously released Journals volume on your shelf (which it effectively dwarfs), but apparently there will be a few other volumes of the same size to go along with it, so the finished set of 30+ volumes should end up looking quite nice together, in spite of the two sizes. And there is a very good reason for the larger size – the body of the book consists of photographs of each page of the two books, with the photos on the left side, and a transcription running parallel on the right.

Both manuscript books were used for keeping revelations, which were written into them by scribes such as Oliver Cowdery, Orson Hyde, W. W. Phelps, Sidney Rigdon, John Whitmer, and Frederick Williams, as well as Joseph Smith. The books were also used in publishing many of the revelations in the church's first newspaper (The Evening and the Morning Star), the Book of Commandments, and the Doctrine and Covenants. Most of the revelations contained in the books are the earliest extant versions. There are also some of which no other copy is known to be in existence. Nine of them have never been published as scripture.

This volume contains general reference material similar to what was in the previously published Journals volume, such as a timeline of Joseph Smith's life, maps, and series and volume introductions. It also has a scribal directory and tables showing where each item has been published in The Evening and Morning Star, the Book of Commandments, and Latter-day Saint and Community of Christ editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, where applicable. What it does not contain is historical or contextual information for each revelation. Instead, it contains detailed information about what is on each page, with color-coded transcriptions to identify each scribe who wrote anything on the page or made changes. There will be a Documents series that will concentrate on the earliest and best versions and will put each revelation into context, whereas the present series helps us to see all the changes that were made in each revelation, as they were composed and then prepared for publication.

One of the revelations contains valuable information to help us understand the process of reception and recording of revelation: “I am God & have spoken it[.] these commandments are of me & were given unto my Servants in their weakness after the manner of their Language that they might come to understanding.” Although the revelations were from God, there were limitations inherent in expressing them in the language used by the people receiving them, and appropriate changes were made to many of them prior to publication, which are easily studied in this volume. [1]

Each manuscript page was photographed in high enough resolution to produce a file of about 229 megabytes in size and the process is described in detail. The photographs in the book have been reduced significantly for print, but the original files are still available for research. Techniques such as multispectral imaging were used to reveal things that were invisible to the human eye, such as a notation that had been written in graphite and then erased. Between the transcription and the annotations, everything on the manuscript page is thoroughly described, down to pinholes in the paper.

I found it very enjoyable to be able to see and read the revelations I am already familiar with from the scriptures, in the handwriting of people like Joseph Smith and Olivery Cowdery. I also found the material which had not been canonized to be very interesting. One such item is apparently a song:

Sang by the gift of Tongues and Translated
age after age has rolled away, according to the sad fate
of man. Countless millions [for] ever gone at length the
period of time has come that oft was seen by a prophetic
eye and writen too by all holy men [Inspired] of the Lord
a time which was seen by Enoch of Old at a time when
he stood upon the mount which was called the mountain
of God as he gazed upon nature and the corruption [of]
man and mourned their sad fate and wept
and cried with a Loud voice and heaved forth
his sighs Omnipotence Omnipotence o may I
see thee- and with his finger he touched
his eyes and he saw heaven he gazed on
eternity and sang an Angelic song and
mingled his [voice] with the heavenly throng
Hozana Hozana the sound of the trump around the throne
of God and echoed & echoed again and rang and
reechoed until eternity was filled with his
voice he saw yea he saw and he glorified
God the salvation of his people his city
caught up through the gospel of Christ
he saw the beginning the ending of man
he saw the time when Adam his father
was made and he saw that he was in
eternity before a grain of dust in the
ballance was weighed he saw that he em
-enated and came down from God he saw
what had passed and then was and is present
and to come therefore he saw the Last days the Angel
that came down to John and the Angel that [is]
now flying having the everlasting gospel to com
mit [unto] men- which in my soul I have recivd
and from death and bondage from the Devil
I'm freed [and] am free in the gospel of Christ
and Im waiting and with patience Ill wait
on the Lord hozana loud sound the trump cause
eternity to wring hozana for ever Im waiting the coming
of Christ a mansion on high a celestial abode a seat
on the right hand of God Angels are coming the holy
Ghost is falling upon the saints and will continue to fall
the saviour is coming yea the Bride groom prepare
ye prepare yea the cry has gone forth go wait on
the Lord the Angels in glory will soon be descending
go join you in singing the praises of God the trump
Loud shall sound the dark vail soon shall rend
heaven shall shake the earth shall tremble and
all nature shall feel the power of God, gaze ye
saints gaze ye upon him, gaze upon Jesus
hozana loud sound the trump his church is
caught up hozana praise him ye saints they
stand at his feet behold they are weeping they
strike hands with Enoch of Old they inherit a
city as it is writen the City of God, Loud sound
the trump, they receive a celestial crown hozana
hozana the heaven of heavens and the heavens
are filled with [the] praises of God Amen
Given February 27- 1833- [2]

This volume should be helpful for scholars as well as anyone interested in church history or the production of modern scripture. Reading the revelations in the handwriting of those involved is a different experience from reading the typeset versions in our scriptures. I have found it to be a spiritual experience, which will lead me to treasure the book for more than just the educational interest it originally held for me.


[1] The volume introduction discusses the appropriateness of editing revelations beginning on page xxvii, where the quoted portion appears which later became D&C 1:24. It is then discussed further on pages 6 and 7. For another good explanation of how revelation can be received and then revised to better communicate what was intended, see “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance” by Elder Richard G. Scott, given in General Conference, October 2009 (,5232,23-1-1117-2,00.html ).

[2] Pages 509-511. The accompanying annotation says “No other version of this item exists to provide additional detail about its creation, so its authorship is unknown. This item was never canonized.” According to the color coding, the original inscription was by Frederick G. Williams and Joseph Smith made a few corrections.

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