Glimpses into the Past: The Joseph Smith Papers’ Latest Offering

The Joseph Smith Paper’s publishes tomes that remind me of the volumes in the dog-eared Encyclopedia Britannica that held a special place of honor on my mother’s bookshelf.

Growing up I would occasionally pick out a volume on a rainy day and leaf through the pages to escape to an adventure in the jungle, marvel at the pyramids, or travel back in time to the Middle Ages.

I never read a volume front to back but would thumb through looking for something that caught my interest and imagination.

The Joseph Smith Papers volumes allow the reader to imagine themselves in the nineteenth century and a life familiar yet foreign.

Within its 694 pages, readers will get a closer look at a forgotten Kirtland. It is a time filled not only with joy, peace, revelation but also betrayal, panic, and loss.

The editors bemoan a scarcity of sources for the period between late 1837 and Joseph Smith’s emigration, but that only feeds one’s curiosity. What was happening in Kirtland? Why was it so quiet?

Something for the History Dabbler Continue reading

The Witnesses of the Book of Mormon

By June 1829 Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer had verbalized a desire to be the special three witnesses alluded to in the Book of Mormon.

D&C 17 records a revelation affirming their roles as witnesses and was given to Joseph Smith through a seer stone he apparently found while digging a well in 1822.

As witnesses, the three were very different. Martin Harris was zealous, impetuous, and even a bit eccentric. Oliver Cowdery was an intellectual. And David Whitmer was regarded as clear-thinking, down-to-earth, and honest.

David Whitmer was, perhaps, the strongest witness because he lived so long, never wavered in his testimony of the vision, and gave several newspaper interviews that give us additional details regarding the experience. David reported seeing several plates, the sword of Laban, the Liahona, and the Urim and Thummim.

Joseph Smith was understandably relieved to have others to testify of the existence of the plates. Larry Morris concludes that the experience of the Three Witnesses was both an empirical and spiritual experience.

Join Nick Galieti of LDS Perspectives Podcast as he interviews Larry Morris as part of the Revelations in Context podcast series.

Mormon Studies in the 21st Century

Historian, author, and educator Patrick Mason tells his students that Mormon studies is just a really fun place to play. It gets to the heart of the questions we have in 21st century society.

By studying Mormonism, we can learn more about the world we live in as it touches on the following:

  • Minority/majority relations;
  • How we can organize a democratic society;
  • The role of religion in the public sphere;
  • Gender issues;
  • Marriage; and
  • Family.

Mormonism, Mormon history, Mormon theology usually has something to say about these foundational issues.

Host Russell Stevenson of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Patrick Mason about how the way historians do their business has changed over the last 100 years. In the 19th century, history tended to be bipolar with anti-Mormons on one end and church leaders, members, and historians offering their version from a faith-promoting perspective that acknowledged God’s involvement in affairs.

By the late 20th century, historians began to weigh truth claims in a more dispassionate manner. Their goals were less polemic and more directed toward enhancing understanding–wherever that may lead.

Please join us for this interesting discussion.

Recapturing the Mormon Trail

Artists Josh Clare, John Burton, and Bryan Mark Taylor worked for years on a project called Saints at Devil’s Gate. It consists of landscapes capturing the Mormon Trail, the 1,300-mile route from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah, that mid-19th century pioneers traveled on their migration west.

The artists’ intention was to pair their paintings with excerpts from historical trail journals by Mormon immigrants, which would allow them to construct a singular persona that could stand for the whole of the pioneer experience.

The paintings record the mundane trail that accompanied the pioneers’ daily wanderings. Practical activities are detailed such as washing clothes, picking wildflowers, and playing music and dancing together in the evenings.

Beyond picturesque beauty, the paintings also explore a sense of the sublime and also sometimes the horrific.

LDS Church History Museum Curator Laura Allred Hurtado discusses with Laura Harris Hales of LDS Perspectives Podcast how researching the history for the book that accompanies the exhibit expanded her understanding of the experience of those who traveled the Mormon trail. For many, it was a rite of passage and the experience of a lifetime.

Join us as we seek a more nuanced glimpse into what the Mormon trail meant to those who traversed it and discuss what we can learn from reading their experiences.

Revisiting the Journal of Discourses

In LDS Perspectives Podcast’s first doubleheader, they present an episode covering the discrepancies between the shorthand versions of speeches of early LDS Church leaders in Utah and their published versions. First, Russell Stevenson interviews Gerrit Dirkmaat about the research he and LaJean Carruth did comparing the shorthand notes of George Watt to some of the speeches in the Journal of Discourses.

Dirkmaat-Gerrit-1

The authors examined hundreds of sermons and sometimes they varied by hundreds of words. Dirkmaat points out that when one is talking about doctrine, words matter. While the essence of these speeches are similar in the shorthand and published versions, the words used vary greatly.

The Journal of Discourses have historical and religious value, but Dirkmaat urges members to be careful quoting specific passages and to realize that in most cases, there is know way to know the specific words used.

LaJean Purcell Carruth has an unusual skill: she can read the shorthand of George Watt, the transcriber of the speeches contained in the Journal of Discourses, his private printing venture. Over the past thirty years, she has learned his distinctive style — the unique upturns and curves he made in his notations. As she transcribed his notes, she noticed that they varied — sometimes greatly — from the printed versions of the same speeches. She wrote a poem about what she noticed:

There was a man named George Watt,

Who could improve Brigham Young, so he thought.

So he took out words here,

And he added words there,

And his accuracy was not what it ought.

LaJean Purcell Carruth©

LaJean expounds on what she has learned about the speaking styles of early religious leaders. They spoke extemporaneously and without notes and were more prone to engage in speculative theology than current leaders.

She emphasizes that Brigham Young was a powerful speaker. He cared about the people, and they knew that he cared about them. When George Watt changed Brigham Young’s words, he changed what Brigham Young said about himself. She feels the real Brigham Young has been lost to us as we view him through his discourses printed in the Journal of Discourses.

In her research, she discovered that the “one drop” phrase attributed to Brigham Young by Wilford Woodruff did not exist in the original shorthand transcription of George Watt and other statements relating to the priesthood and temple ban varied as well.

LaJean shares with Laura Harris Hales what she has learned about Brigham Young from the words left out of the Journal of Discourses and other important speeches.

Be sure and check out the resources mentioned in this podcast at LDS Perspectives Podcast.