Matthew C. Godfrey, Brenden W. Rensink, Alex D. Smith, Max H Parkin, and Alexander L. Baugh, eds., Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835, vol. 4 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Ronald K. Esplin and Matthew J. Grow (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016).
Reviewed by Erin and Brent Metcalfe
The Joseph Smith Papers project has released volume 4 in the Documents series, a collection of ninety-three documents (some of which may be new to readers) covering April 1834–September 1835. Transcription intros and annotations provide high-octane scholarly analysis. It’s a must read for serious students of Mormonism.
Volume 4 in the Documents series (D4) produced by The Joseph Smith Papers project is a welcome tour de force that guides students of Mormonism through the public and private activities of Joseph Smith (JS) April 1834–September 1835. Top-shelf scholarly intros and historical- and text-critical annotations accompany ninety-three document transcriptions.
Among the many events discussed in D4 is the 1834 Camp of Israel (later called Zion’s Camp). Letters, revelations, blessings, resolutions all provide the socio-political backdrop for the expedition to escort exiled Mormons back to their homes after having been driven from them by Missourians (see the index under “Camp of Israel (Zion’s Camp),” D4:636). The documents shed light on the camp’s external threats and internal challenges. On June 22, 1834, the camp disbanded under divine edict just as a cholera outbreak spread through the ranks, leaving many ill (including JS) and over a dozen dead (D4:69–77). In the end, the anticipated brutality of Missourian mobs was eclipsed by the onslaught of microbial hordes.
D4 also includes several documents that may be new to readers. One such source, Patriarchal Blessings Book 1, preserves visions and blessings, intimate vignettes of key early Mormon figures.
For instance, on the 1835 autumnal equinox (twelfth anniversary of Moroni’s visitation), scribe Oliver Cowdery put pen to paper as JS gave blessings to four of his closest associates, John Corrill, William W. Phelps, and John and David Whitmer, David’s blessing “by vision” (D4:428–36). When it came to Oliver Cowdery, the script flipped—he gave JS a blessing while in a “heavenly vision,” a prophetic panorama of JS’s life. Although it’s difficult to align several visionary details with JS’s experiences (e.g., “he shall remain to a good old age, even till his head is like the pure wool”), Cowdery’s language exudes heroic aspirations and intimate fondness for JS (see D4:437–41). Ever so briefly we glimpse a scribe’s devotion to his seer.
Also reproduced in D4 are blessings bestowed by JS upon family members on December 18, 1833 (see volume 1 of the Journals series, J1:21–24). They reappear in D4 because when Cowdery added the blessings to Patriarchal Blessings Book 1 in September 1835 they were significantly expanded (all more than double in size, one more than quadruples; see D4:485–94). Post-1833 ecclesiology and theology, such as the office of patriarch and its attendant patriarchal priesthood, now permeate the blessings. JS’s development of an ancestral male “right” to priesthood not only found its way into the revised blessings, but also into his 1835 Egyptian Alphabet project and the portions of the Book of Abraham dictated in Kirtland, where it likely served as the basis for priesthood restriction on Pharaoh and his descendants (Abr. 1:26–27)—a ban on patriarchal priesthood, not Melchizedek or Aaronic.
Editors of D4 distinguish the added material to the blessings by using gray shading for portions that match the 1833 versions; annotations specify word differences between the 1833 and 1835 versions.
Like JS’s blessings to his family, another document that makes a reappearance from an earlier volume is D&C 27 (see volume 1 of the Documents series, D1:164–66), because it too was significantly revised in 1835. Originally issued ca. August 1830, the version published in the 1835 D&C is over triple the size of the initially dictated revelation. Much of the revised text reflects post-1830 theological and narrative innovations that are skillfully discussed in the intro and annotations (D4:408–10).
As reviewers we would be remiss if we didn’t include the obligatory typo “gotcha,” so here it is: in the index under “Eber D. Howe” (D4:645) the page number “73n339” should be 72n339. Yeah, pretty earth shaking.
Expertly written, edited, and researched, D4 is a must read for anyone craving deeper insight into Mormonism and its founder.
 See Brent Lee Metcalfe, “The Curious Textual History of ‘Egyptus’ the Wife of Ham,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 34, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2014): 3n5.
Important Podcast Update
So where on earth did the podcast go?
The podcast is currently on hiatus until the Open Stories Foundation completes some administrative work (already underway for months, and I’m not sure when it will end). Once things settle, the podcast should be up and running again. I’ll keep you apprised.