From the Salt Lake Temple capstone: “Compendium”

You know the granite sphere that the Salt Lake Temple Moroni stands on? It’s hollow, and inside there’s something of a time capsule that includes a handful of key Church books. A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel by apostle Franklin D. Richards and co-author James A. Little, published in 1882 and now available free on Project Gutenberg, is one such book. It was sufficiently authoritative that James E. Talmage, listing it among the capstone’s contents, can refer to it as just Compendium. It’s also one of only seven works from the 19th century that makes the Encyclopedia of Mormonism’s list of doctrinally significant books.

So what’s the big deal? Compendium is the first reasonably comprehensive, topically organized doctrinal exposition the Church ever produced. It took 74 key gospel topics and provided a succinct statement regarding each, along with key scriptural and other references establishing the stated doctrine. Think the Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, Index, and True to the Faith all rolled into one, released for the first time ever.

Today, anyone who wants to know the Church’s doctrine on baptism or spiritual gifts or the second coming can Google it, look it up in any number of books, check the various study helps in the scriptures, etc. But lest we forget, the Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary date back only to 1979. The Book of Mormon itself first received an index in Talmage’s 1920 edition, and Reynolds’ Complete Concordance of the Book of Mormon was only published in 1900. In the earliest days of the Church, you had the text of the scriptures (if you were lucky enough to have access to the Pearl of Great Price or its constituent works) and some periodicals or pamphlets.

So if, in 1881, you asked “what is the Church’s doctrine on [insert basic topic], and what are the key scripture reference, talks, etc. establishing that doctrine?” you were courting a substantial research project. But with the 1882 publication of Compendium, for the first time in Church history, that information was at any reader’s fingertips.

As a default source of such information for decades, with reprints as late as 1925, the importance of Compendium as a doctrinal standard can hardly be overstated (although it may seem I’m doing my best). It’s one of those books I can hardly believe no one’s heard of. So go read it. And someone please publish a brilliant paper on its doctrinal impact, and let me know when you do.

Katie Liston, one of our summer 2015 interns, proofread and produced Compendium–many thanks to her!

New Release: “The Myth of the Manuscript Found”

Recently released on PG, The Myth of the Manuscript Found, published in 1883 as the eleventh book of the Faith-Promoting Series, was written to combat the theory that the Book of Mormon was based on a book called The Manuscript Found. This unpublished work was written around 1812 by Solomon Spaulding, a Congregationalist preacher. It was supposedly translated from a Latin parchment found in a cave and gives a history of the first settlers of America, using the names Mormon, Moroni, Nephi and Lamanite. Many anti-Mormon publications and lecturers in the mid-19th century claimed that the Manuscript Found was the foundation for the Book of Mormon. Author George Reynolds combats this claim through accounts of the discovery and translation of the plates from Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris. He also discusses the Book of Mormon’s historical accuracy and fulfilled prophecies, and exposes the discrepancies between the content of the Manuscript Found and the Book of Mormon. At a little over 100 pages, it is a fairly quick but highly interesting read, demonstrating once again how well the Book of Mormon stands up to criticism.

A statement from Orson Pratt toward the end of the book sums up the Book of Mormon’s own evidences of its truthfulness:

“If we compare the historical, prophetical and doctrinal parts of the Book of Mormon with the great truths of science and nature, we find no contradictions, no absurdities, nothing unreasonable. The most perfect harmony therefore exists between the great truths revealed in the Book of Mormon and all known truths, whether religious, historical, or scientific.”

McKayla Hansen, one of our 2015 BYU history summer interns, proofread and produced Myth of the Manuscript Found and contributed to this blog post.

New Release: “The Life of Nephi”

“The age in which we live is one of doubt and unbelief. Skepticism is spreading. All faith in divine things, as taught by the ancient servants of God, is being unsettled,” writes author George Q. Cannon in The Life of Nephi, the ninth book in the Juvenile Instructor Office’s Faith-Promoting Series. This work, written in 1888 and just released as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg, offers a deeply thoughtful look at the life of a central figure in The Book of Mormon. Born circa 615 B.C. in Jerusalem, Nephi was a man of deep faith and devotion to God and his family:

“The Prophet Nephi, whose life we here present, was one of the greatest and most advanced of these teachers of heavenly truths. There have been but few men, so far as we know, who comprehended, and spoke, and wrote about them as plainly as did he. He had a personal knowledge of the doctrines, principles and facts respecting which men now dispute. He has written fully upon them.”

Nephi’s father Lehi foresees the destruction of Jerusalem, a result of the wickedness of the people. His family is instructed by God to flee into the wilderness to avoid impending destruction, and the family consequently spends years wandering in the wilderness, encountering various calamities and trials of faith. Cannon details the challenges, triumphs, joys, and heartaches seen by Nephi and his family as they seek to act in accordance with the will of God.

While Nephi’s story is familiar to many of the LDS faith, Cannon’s book offers deeper insights on Nephi’s unfailing devotion to his faith. Cannon details the lineage of Nephi and his family and provides detailed context to the age in which Nephi and his family lived. These details become enlightening as we learn that acting on one’s faith had far more life-endangering consequences than in present times, thus demonstrating Nephi’s unwavering character and spiritual strength.

This book will provide historical as well as spiritual insights to both LDS and non-LDS individuals alike and will inspire, strengthen, and lift.

Margaret Willden, one of our summer 2015 BYU editing interns, proofread and produced The Life of Nephi and contributed to this post.

New Release: “Sketches of Missionary Life”

Sketches of Missionary Life, by Edwin L. Parry, is full of brief narratives illustrating both the difficulties and the miracles associated with missionary life in the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s now available as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg.

The text was originally produced to provide “fresh reading matter of a wholesome character to the youth of Zion; and it is issued with the hope that its contents may stimulate faith in the heart of the reader, and assist him in his efforts to become more useful in the Kingdom of God.” Many of the stories presented were related to the author or collected by observation during his own missionary endeavors, and they include experiences from the lives Parley P. Pratt and Brigham Young. Despite the book’s age, the faith-promoting events it recounts are similar to the miracles missionaries experience today.

Though brief, Sketches of Missionary Life will build one’s faith in reality of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and will remind those who have served missions of their own miraculous experiences.

MTP editing intern Allie Bowen of BYU proofread and produced Sketches of Missionary Life and contributed to this post.

New Release: “Are We of Israel?”

Are We of Israel? by George Reynolds, just released on Project Gutenberg, offers a deeper look at the twelve tribes and the circumstances surrounding the scattering of the ten. Originally intended for use as a Sunday School manual, Reynolds’ book speaks with clarity and ease. Readers will learn of the historical implications of the scattering of Israel, as well gain a new appreciation for blessings promised to those of the House of Israel, a virtue of the Abrahamic covenant. Reynolds also discusses various speculative theories on the relationship between various European peoples and the lost tribes.

According to the Old Testament, the prophet Jacob had twelve sons, each of whose posterity became known as the one of the twelve tribes of Israel. As the grandson of Abraham, Jacob entered into a covenant with God that promised to bless the people, conditional upon their willingness to obey the commandments of God. Due to the rebellion and disobedience of ten of the tribes, these people were carried up into the “north countries” and lost until a later date.

In the Book of Abraham (which Reynolds quotes) it reads, “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee [Abraham] and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure … for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.”

And so one will come to understand the meaning and significance of belonging to the House of Israel and the “blessings of the gospel” in this succinct yet engaging read. It’s valuable both from a doctrinal perspective and as an example of late 19th century Church understanding of Israel-related historical issues.

Margaret Willden, one of our summer 2015 BYU editing interns, proofread and produced Are We of Israel? and contributed to this blog post.

New Release: “Eventful Narratives”

Eventful Narratives, just released on Project Gutenberg, is the thirteenth book in the Faith Promoting Series. It’s comprised of three narratives: the story of an English convert running away from home to join the saints in Utah; the story of a martyr in the Battle of Nauvoo and the faith of his plural widows; and the account of a member’s survival on a government expedition outside of the Salt Lake Valley into Native American territories. All three of these narratives, written to inspire the youth of the church through the exceptional examples of saints before them, give modern-day saints an insight into the trials, experiences, and faith of the saints in the past.

Most importantly, these events testify of the divinity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These real-life experiences show how the Gospel can bless followers of Christ, and give saints the faith to endure regardless of whatever trials they will face in this life. They also give a historical perspective on the eternal nature of the human soul, and the eternal consequences of mortal actions, for better or for worse. In the words of the publishers, the purpose of publishing these narratives “has been and is to increase faith in the hearts of those who peruse them, by showing how miraculously God has overruled everything for the benefit of those who try to serve Him.”

Steven Fluckiger, one of our 2015 BYU history summer interns, proofread and produced Eventful Narratives and contributed to this post.


New Release: “Helpful Visions”

Helpful Visions, the fourteenth book in the Faith-Promoting Series, is a collection of three stories about early Saints and the visions that they had to help them through their trials. It’s just been released as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg. The Preface summarizes the purpose of the book:

“The Visions here recorded will again prove that truth is stranger than fiction, and we trust that a perusal of these manifestations will lead our young people to seek for the guidance of the Lord in all things, and make Him their constant friend. The article on traitors is very appropriate reading matter for the present season, and will, it is hoped, cause everyone to look upon the men of this class with the contempt they so justly merit, and sustain everyone in shunning as they would poison, any traitorous act.

“Our great desire is that this little book may assist in the education and elevation of the young people and others who may peruse it.”

“A Terrible Ordeal” tells the story of David Patten Kimball, who was lost on the Salt River desert in Arizona. When near death, he had a vision of the afterlife, where he saw his father and many other faithful Saints who had previously passed on. He was told he could remain if he wished, but he chose to return to life, in order to support his family and to repent of his sins, and was given two more years of life.

“Briant S. Stevens” tells of a valiant and extraordinary young man who fell ill following a series of accidents. He was faithful till the end, and was ordained to the Priesthood before his death. He later appears to his father in a vision to provide comfort to his grieving family.

“Finding Comfort” is a first-hand account from Thomas A. Shreeve, who as a young man was called on a mission to Australasia. This section details his experiences while on his mission in a distant land.

Finally, Helpful Visions concludes with an article discussing the characteristics of traitors. Like other books in the Faith-Promoting Series, it’s a quick and inspiring read for anyone interested in stories from the early days of the Church.

Holly Astle, one of our 2015 summer interns, proofread and produced Helpful Visions and contributed to this blog post.