They’re finally out! McConkie wrote concerning the Lectures: “They were not themselves classed as revelations, but in them is to be found some of the best lesson material ever prepared on the Godhead; on the character, perfections, and attributes of God; on faith, miracles, and sacrifice. They can be studied with great profit by all gospel scholars.” They were prepared by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon as lesson material for the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, and were included in editions of the Doctrine & Covenants from 1835 through 1921. A good overview of their significance is available in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (also the source of the quote). The Lectures are well worth a read, and quite short.
All you who have already finished volume 1 and have been waiting on pins and needles, rejoice! History of the Church vol. 2 is now available as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg thanks to excellent work by Emma Cahoon, one of our interns last summer, and Mariah Averett, our BYU research assistant. (Mariah’s work is generously supported by a handful of donors, who we also thank.) They’ve put a tremendous amount of work into it; producing a book of this size that maintains the original footnotes, page numbers, index, etc. is quite an achievement.
If you missed vol. 1, that’s available here. More to come in the coming months.
Our multi-format free e-book of History of the Church, vol. 1 by Joseph Smith (ed. B. H. Roberts) is now available on Project Gutenberg thanks to the work of intern Jared Ure and research assistant Mariah Averett. It takes the history of the Church up to 1834 and includes the original 1902 edition page numbers, footnotes, and index.
A discussion of why we’re producing the History of the Church may be in order. The entire History of the Church is available as a paid Kindle e-book or for free as a webpage or .pdf, and the Joseph Smith Papers are reproducing much of the same material. The Joseph Smith Papers are available for free online (in a format that I find isn’t friendly to through-reading, but is fine for looking up one-off documents) and are superior as a scholarly source, but for whatever reason their e-books are absurdly expensive on Kindle (up to $40/volume, last I checked) and many volumes don’t appear to be available in e-book formats.
So why invest a substantial amount of time in producing our own version? Because best I can tell, this is the first time this material has ever been released for free in Kindle and epub formats. I think there are plenty of readers in the Church who would like to give the History of the Church a try, but don’t want to have to sit at a computer or pay to do so. Now they can.
This fits with our broader philosophy: we want to make it as easy as possible to read Church literature and thus increase the total amount of Church lit that actually gets read. Taking obscure works from unavailable (e.g. hard copies exist in one archive) to free improves availability. Taking well-known books from free+inconvenient (e.g. pdf scans) and/or cheap+convenient (e.g. dubious-quality $0.99 Amazon editions) to free+convenient also improves availability. The obscure work wins “most improved” and goes from having one reader/year to five readers/year. The well-known book goes from having 100 readers/year who are willing to deal with the .pdf or risk their dollar on an e-book to 500 readers/year who are willing to download our free e-book. Both projects are good, and we do work on some more obscure books. However, given our goal to increase the total amount of Church lit reading that goes on in the world, we’ll typically work on better-known books, hence the History of the Church. Anyways, look out for volume 2 in the next month or so.
This brief (8 page) political pamphlet (on PG here) presents Joseph Smith’s platform for his presidential campaign. Joseph Smith (General of the Nauvoo Legion) ran for President of the United States in 1844 mostly because none of the other candidates were willing to support the Church against mob violence. (The Ensign ran a good story about the campaign a few years ago.)
So, what does it say? Much of the pamphlet is framed by a discussion, that tends to be neglected, of the patriotic history of the United States. It quotes addresses of many previous presidents and speaks highly of their policies, although he’s not enthusiastic about how the “blooming republic began to decline under the withering touch of Martin Van Buren.” This discussion, on the whole, demonstrates a remarkable patriotism by Joseph Smith, especially considering the legal treatment he was repeatedly subjected to.
Platform-wise, it proposes abolishing slavery by using federal revenue to compensate slaveowners for their resulting losses. (If only.) On economics, he expresses support for a “judicious tariff” and a system of national and state banks. He’s in favor of a hands-off foreign policy but supports the expansion of the United States in all directions, saying:
As to the contiguous territories to the United States, wisdom would
direct no tangling alliance: Oregon belongs to this government
honorably, and when we have the red man’s consent, let the union
spread from the east to the west sea; and if Texas petitions Congress
to be adopted among the sons of liberty, give her the right hand of
fellowship; and refuse not the same friendly grip to Canada and Mexico;
He also advocated radical prison reform:
Petition your state legislatures to pardon every convict in their
several penitentiaries, blessing them as they go, and saying to them,
in the name of the Lord, go thy way and sin no more. Advise your
legislators when they make laws for larceny, burglary or any felony, to
make the penalty applicable to work upon roads, public works, or any
place where the culprit can be taught more wisdom and more virtue; and
become more enlightened. Rigor and seclusion will never do as much to
reform the propensities of man, as reason and friendship. Murder only
can claim confinement or death.
Anyways, it’s a fun little document, and gives you some idea of how a prophet might govern.
We recently produced an edition (available here) of Orson Pratt’s pamphlet, “An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, And of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records.” (Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.) It’s a fascinating piece of work that deserves more attention. Why?
First off, it’s the first published account of the First Vision, and it contains some minor details that aren’t present in the Joseph Smith History account. For example, it states that Joseph was initially worried that he would not be able to “endure the presence” of the pillar of light, and it states that once the pillar descended upon him “his mind was caught away from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision.” It also says that he was not just attacked by the powers of darkness but “severely tempted” by them, which makes sense. Reading about the First Vision from a fresh perspective is always interesting.
Secondly, it describes a vision Joseph Smith had at the hill Cumorah in greater detail than we usually see, noting that “the heavens were opened” and later on that “the Prince of Darkness, surrounded by his innumerable train of associates” were visible. Moroni’s reminder not to seek the plates for riches is more powerful in this context.
After this vision, there’s a discussion of the translation and content of the Book of Mormon that frankly doesn’t contain many surprises, but the pamphlet ends with a bang by anticipating the Articles of Faith. There’s significantly more elaboration of the doctrine than in the Articles of Faith, but the organization lines up very well. To cherry-pick a couple of statements:
First, we believe in God the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost, who bears record of them, the same throughout all ages and for ever.
We believe that wherever the people enjoy the religion of the New Testament, there they enjoy visions, revelations, the ministry of angels, &c. And that wherever these blessings cease to be enjoyed, there they also cease to enjoy the religion of the New Testament.
Apparently (source) the statement of doctrine in this pamphlet used during the preparation of the Articles of Faith and was itself based on an earlier pamphlet by Parley P. Pratt and Elias Higbee, “An Address by Judge Higbee and Parley P. Pratt, Ministers of the Gospel, of the Church of Jesus Christ of “Latter-day Saints,” to the Citizens of Washington, and to the Public in General.” (That’s probably something we ought to digitize in the future.)
So, this fascinating pamphlet has an early statement of basically everything currently contained in First and Third lessons of Preach My Gospel, was the first publication of the First Vision, and anticipates the Articles of Faith. If that won’t convince you to read a 30-some-page pamphlet, I don’t know what will.