This week, the Joseph Smith Papers Project announced the release of the first volume of its Documents series, its eighth published volume overall. The project was created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make publicly available every document produced by Church founder Joseph Smith or by his scribes. The first volume of the project was published in 2008.
“This new Documents series will publish, in chronological order, all the early historical documents associated with the Restoration of the Church,” said Elder Steven E. Snow, Church historian and recorder. “Together, these texts provide unparalleled insight into the life and prophetic thought of Joseph Smith, one of the most important figures in American religious history.”
The 640-page book, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, features Joseph Smith’s earliest surviving papers, including more than 60 of his revelations, most of which were later canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants. Also included are letters he sent and received, minutes of meetings he participated in, and other documents. This volume covers a foundational period of Mormon history, when Joseph Smith translated and published the Book of Mormon and organized the Church. Documents, Volume 1 will arrive in bookstores within the next few weeks.
Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant Church historian and recorder, said the documents in the series provide a candid look at Joseph Smith.
“This set of documents allows you to see, without any intervening filter, what Joseph Smith produced,” Turley said. “It’s an excellent way to understand Joseph Smith and his life, because it gives you the pertinent documents, and it gives them to you in a chronological order, so you can see what comes before and after.”
Historians and advisers for the Papers project have collected thousands of documents related to the life and work of Joseph Smith. Due to the limitations of printing, not all of the available documents will be included in the books, but all materials will be available for free on the project’s website, josephsmithpapers.org.
The website provides digital images of the original documents side-by-side with detailed transcriptions, providing easy access for anyone from scholarly researchers to casual history buffs. Some of the fragile, 19th-century documents have never before been available to the public, while others were available only in various archives and libraries around the world.
Kenneth Minkema, director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale Divinity School, has said that the Joseph Smith Papers “will rank among the most significant projects in the history of American religion.”
The print edition of The Joseph Smith Papers is expected to span at least 21 volumes when complete, divided into five series: Journals, Revelations and Translations, Histories, Documents and Legal and Business Records.
The Documents portion of the series will comprise about half of the total volume count. Documents, Volume 2 is scheduled for release in early December 2013 and includes documents from July 1831 through January 1833.
As researchers have combed through the documents, new information has emerged about the life of Joseph Smith and the early years of the Church. Details about Church organization and doctrine and facts about Joseph Smith’s ministry, business dealings, personal life and legal challenges came forth in the research.
The Papers project has been endorsed by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a division of the National Archives. The commission approves qualified documentary editing projects, including collections of the papers and writings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others. In order to obtain the NHPRC’s endorsement, researchers had to comply with strict guidelines, including a review of the project’s schedule, funding and editors. The Joseph Smith Papers volumes undergo extensive peer reviews, from both within and without the Church.
Visit josephsmithpapers.org for more information about The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Volume 1 and other Joseph Smith Papers Project publications.