Thursday, March 24, 2011

The sixth gathering of the Book of Commandments

Sample from the Book of Commamdments

In ways, it reads like a Dan Brown novel.  A handwritten book of revelations hidden in a vault is finally uncovered. Its publication reveals mysterious content including unpublished revelations, text written in the "Adamic" language, a song sung with the gift of tongues, versions of revelations different than those we have today, and more. Episode 1 of this Dan Brown-ish story occurred in 2009. But now, a sequel is available.  Using clues from the book recovered in episode 1, scholars have been able to reconstruct the so called "sixth gathering" or missing portion of the Book of Commandments.

Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations, is the latest volume from the Joseph Smith Paper's project.  It features the Book of Commandments, versions of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) and the other major printed versions of Joseph Smith's revelations that were published or in the process of being published during his lifetime.

Perhaps one of the more interesting sections of this volume has to do with the missing portion of the Book of Commandments.

Plans for a compilation of revelations began in 1831 and by 1833, five of probably six "gatherings" (a "gathering" is large sheet containing 32 printed pages) had been printed.  But in a story well known to Latter-day Saints, the printing press in Jackson County, Missouri was destroyed.  Some of the sheets of the Book of Commandments were salvaged and later hand-bound. Today, an original copy of the Book of Commandments is very rare, and commands a 7-digit price tag.
The Book of Commandments ends abruptly
Due to the destruction of the press, the the 6th gathering was not printed, nor is there any record of what it was to contain.  For years, the full content of the Book of Commandments could only be speculated on.  But now, historians working on the project have followed a number of clues enabling them to deduce the likely content of that 6th gathering. 

The handwritten volume of revelations ("Revelations Book 1") [1] had previously been unavailable to researchers.  However church leaders made that book available to the Joseph Smith Papers historians, who published it in 2009. [2] This earliest known collection of revelations had clues that helped determine what items might have been included. Coupled with the physical makeup of the Book of Commandments, textual patterns and other evidence, researchers were able to reconstruct what was probably the missing portion of this book of scripture.

After assembling the proposed text, the editors were able to count the number of words in the five successfully published gatherings, and use that value to check the proposed text of the sixth gathering to see if it matched. The word counts fell within the expected range, validating the evidence already used.

So what was missing from the The Book of Commandments?

The Book of Commandments ends abruptly in the middle of verse 36 of chapter 65, "For, verily I say that the rebellious are not of the blood of Ephraim").  The proposed sixth gathering begins with the rest of verse 36 and contains the remaining text of the revelation (D&C 64:36-43). Twelve additional revelations are included that correspond with these sections in the modern L.D.S. D&C:  65-73, 75, part of 107,133 and "The Testimony of Witnesses."

Of course, the story doesn't end here.  The entire volume contains plenty of other adventures for those interested in the history of the revelations, as demonstrated by the Table of Contents.

Detailed Contents
Timeline of Joseph Smith's Life
Map: Joseph Smith's Residences
Volume 2 Introduction: Joseph Smith - Era Publications of Revelations
Editorial Method
Published Revelations
Book of Commandments
Appendix 1: Proposed Sixth Gathering of the Book of Commandments
Revelations Printed in The Evening and the Morning Star
Doctrine and Covenants, 1835
Appendix 2: Selections from Oliver Cowdery's Copy of the Book of Commandments
Doctrine and Covenants, 1844 (Sections 101-107)
Reference Material
Chronology for the Years 1831-1835, 1844
Directory of Printers
Substitute Words in the 1835 and 1844 Editions of the Doctrine and Covenants
Works Cited
Corresponding Published Versions of Revelations

[1] "Revelations Book 1" as titled by the Joseph Smith Papers project, the title in the manuscript is A Book of Commandments and Revelations.
[2] "The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revelations Books."

Discounted prices of the book can be found here:

Salt Lake Valley
Benchmark Books
3269 S. Main St., Ste. 250
Salt Lake City, UT 84115
Utah Valley
Confetti Antiques & Books
273 North Main St.
Spanish Fork, UT 84660