The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text & Commentary
Place Published: Salt Lake City, UT
Publisher: Signature Books
Date Published: 1999
Edition: First edition
Book Id: 47648
440pp. Octavo [23.5 cm] in boards.
There was frustration in Oliver Cowdery's 4 February 1835 letter to Bishop Newel K. Whitney. Oliver Cowdery was trying to acquire "the original copy of ... The Law of the Church" and had so far been unable to locate a reliable source. He even confessed publicly to being "not a little surprised" in preparing the revelations of Joseph Smith for publication "to find the previous print[ing in the church newspaper] so different from the original." The problem, as historian Richard P. Howard has noted, was that Cowdery was using "a different original" from what he had seen four years earlier.Indeed, agrees author H. Michael Marquardt, it is apparent that the 1835 version of Smith's revelations was a "revised, expanded text that contained material anachronistic to the original 1831 setting." More specifically, many documents were "added to, excised, and in some cases assigned different historical settings. ... Among other emendations, the changes softened language, reinterpreted economic matters, added offices existing at the time of revision, and inserted references to priesthood restoration." Where events had "not unfolded as proposed," prophecies were reevaluated and, where necessary, revised.What does it matter? Many of the changes are significant, whether one sees them as historical curiosities, background to the intent of now ambiguous passages, or as insight into God's "line upon line" dealings with mortal men and women. The latter may be the most important, as the "evolution of the canon" implies something about the nature of revelation itself. The obvious casualty for anyone undertaking a careful study of church documents is the assumption of infallibility versus a fluid, dynamic model of revelation, what Marquardt calls the "richness of the living text as it is transformed over time." This new understanding reveals "important, fundamental vistas" for understanding doctrine, policy, and history.