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
There is nothing quite so delightful to a lover of history (even if one is but a dabbler) than leafing through original documents rather than getting information through a second-hand filter. This book offers plenty of opportunities for casual perusing.
Likely readers will have heard of the bank established by Joseph Smith and other church leaders to spur the Kirtland economy. They also will have heard of its failure and the accompanying fallout, disappointment, and loss of faith of local members whose investments became worthless.
It is one thing to know that it was a great time of apostasy in the church. A time when even men in high leadership left the church. Or a time when Orson Pratt’s temporary loss of faith led him to not only turn against his friend Joseph but also lose his seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a position that otherwise would have led to tenure as president of the church.
It is another thing altogether to read the stinging words penned by dissenting church members and signed by Orson Pratt, Joseph’s friend and former apostle.
If one looks closely at the letter, it appears the original signature was from Lyman E. Johnson and Orson Pratt added his name as an afterthought. It is amazing what a hastily scribbled note may reveal.
What do you think?
“To the Bishop & his council in Kirtland the Stake of Zion
We prefer the following charges against Pres. Joseph Smith Jr. viz. for lying & misrepresentation — also for extortion — and for — speaking disrespectfully against his brethren behind their backs, —
Lyman E. Johnson
Kirtland May 29th 1837″
Something for the Serious
If one prefers history by the bushel, then there is a bountiful harvest to be found on these pages.
During the winter of 1835-1836, 100 members from the Kirtland area were either “invited” or chose to attend the Kirtland Hebrew school where they were taught basic Hebrew and attempted their own translation of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible.
Joseph Smith was an avid student, attending extra lectures and appealing for private tutoring. At the end of the course, Joshua Seixas, the Hebrew instructor, awarded Joseph a makeshift certificate.
It isn’t much to look at, I have displayed fancier Pee-Wee Soccer participation awards. One can imagine that Joseph Smith, who was fascinated by the study of ancient languages, may have treasured it throughout his life.
Something for the Beginner
If you are new to church history or maybe too busy to lazily peruse the Joseph Smith Papers’ latest offering, the website provides insightful videos by LDS Church historians.
Three editors of the current volume offer interesting observations into the late Kirtland period:
Elizabeth A. Kuehn introduces us to women’s voices in early Mormon history.
Christian K. Heimburger talks about Mormon proselytizing in Europe.
Brent M. Rogers speaks to Joseph Smith’s Kirtland: Triumph and Tribulation.
Whether you are a historical dabbler or fanatic fan, there is plenty to appreciate here. Volume 5 of the Document series is hardly a book destined for everyone’s bookshelf, but all can nibble on its offerings through the generous online portal provided by the Joseph Smith Papers project.