Documents, Volume 3 of the Joseph Smith Papers released

I had the good fortune to attend a media event with members of the Joseph Smith Papers (JSP) team on Dec 1st for a couple of exciting announcements and updates.

A major web “refresh” was just released for the JSP website, and the 3rdDocuments” volume covering February 1833 to March 1834 has been released. We had a chance to hear from four members of the team.

City of Zion plat

Included in Documents, vol 3 are plans for the City of Zion, Jackson County Missouri – including 24 central temples between Jerusalem, Zion, Bethlehem and Kirtland Streets.

Matt Grow (Managing Historian)

Matt talked generally about the progress of Joseph Smith Papers project, noting that the Documents series will have about a dozen volumes in total. Next summer, we can expect to see a 3rd volume in the Revelations and Translation series – an over-sized two-book set of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Like the 1st volume of this series, an image of each manuscript page will be on the left, with the text on the right.

In the fall, the 3rd volume of the Journals series will be released. Matt described the content of Joseph Smith’s journals in the latter-Nauvoo era as “rich,” which will include interpretative information on plural marriage, and other relevant information.

Intently taking notes

Bloggers and news personal intently taking notes

In 2016, plans are to release a 4th Documents volume and the highly anticipated Council of Fifty volume, which will be the first of the Administrative series. This council was a secret theocratic organization formed in 1844. Shortly before Joseph Smith’s death he ordered the scribe of the council – William Clayton – to bury or burn the documents. Fortunately he buried them and was able to retrieve them later. We look forward this content being published for the first time.

Regarding the website, Matt also noted there has been a 3-fold increase in traffic, with 50K followers in social media. A major “refresh” of the Joseph Smith Papers website was unveiled on the 1st, which provides a better user experience, searches and navigation, with an overhaul for tablet users. New informational item include:

  • Curriculum for secular universities who may want to include Joseph Smith in their courses.
  • Pages on topics such as the 1837 panic or the status of women in the early 19th century
  • Videos that give background on each volume, as well as videos giving historical context to the world of Joseph Smith. There are currently 32 videos.
  • Additional maps and photographs

Garret Dirkmaat (Volume Editor)

Garret Dirkmaat (Volume Editor)

Garret Dirkmaat provides historical context for the documents

The 3rd volume of the Documents series “contains 88 documents, including [about a dozen] revelations, correspondence, minutes of meetings in which Joseph Smith participated, licenses provided to church officers, legal documents, architectural and city plans, and an effort to create a topical guide to the scriptures.”[1] The 1st half of 1832 was a peaceful time which saw Joseph Smith planning to expand Kirtland and Missouri. Their plans for growth were very expansive, particularly considering their financial status. Doctrinal development also continued. For example, a March 1833 document records one of the few collective visionary experiences by the saints, including a vision of Jesus and angels.

 …much useful instruction given for the benefit of the saints with a promise that the pure in heart that were present should see a heavenly vision, and after remaining for a short time in secret prayer the promise was verified to many present having the eyes of the eyes of their understanding<s> opened so as to behold many things afte[r] which the bread and wine was distributed by Bro Joseph after which many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the savior and concourses of angels and many othe[r] thing[s] of which each one has a record of what they saw &c —-

By mid-summer, difficulties in both Kirtland and Missouri shifted the tenor of the documents towards crisis management. Philastus Hurlbut and Eber D. Howe worked together to discredit Joseph Smith, culminating in the publication of Mormonism Unvailed (sic). Documents demonstrate, for example, an attempt to essentially disenfranchise the Saints through legal maneuvering by “warning” out the supposedly “poor” Latter-day Saints – exploiting a common practice of the time of forcing out indigents in order to preserve a township’s poor fund.

Alison Palmer (Lead Editor)

Alison Palmer, production editor

Alison Palmer explains some of the  challenges of representing large, graphic images in the pages of the volume

The volume contains images of a number of interesting drawings including the interior and exterior plans for the “House of the Lord” in Kirtland, plus a revised version of the same. Also included are plats of the “City of Zion” and Kirtland, with revised versions of each.

A number of challenges were faced by Alison in how to represent these large, detailed documents within the pages of this volume. Volume co-editor Brent Rogers called Alison’s graphic work “groundbreaking”.

Several of these documents were on site, available for our viewing. Particularly interesting to me was how the city central block was modified in one of the City of Zion plats. A revised square was glued over the original. The JSP team used a number of methods to try to get an accurate image of the hidden original drawing, but it was too obscure to render in the volume, and removing the glued piece would have damaged the original. The image can be made out by holding the plat up to the light which provided us with a real treat.

Kirtland Temple plans and plats for the cities of Kirtland and Zion

Various Kirtland Temple plans and plats for the cities of Kirtland and Zion

Also of interest was how pieces of a discarded plan for the House of the Lord in Kirtland became backing for some fragments of Joseph Smith’s Egyptian papyri. For example, by carefully viewing the papyrus fragment upon which Facsimile #1 is based, one can make out pews and part of a chimney of the Kirtland Temple.

Careful inspection reveals a chimney and pews from on backing, used from discarded plans of the Kirtland Temple

Careful inspection of the backing reveals a chimney and pews from discarded plans of the Kirtland Temple

Brent Rogers (Volume co-Editor)

Brent Rogers (Volume co-Editor)

Brent Rogers describes the logistics of communications in 1832

Brent described some of the logistics of communications in the early church. Letters, such as those included in this volume, could take three weeks to deliver from Kirtland to Missouri, and another three weeks for a return reply.

Problems caused by lagging communications are illustrated in an example where developing events far outpaced communications. In response to an abolitionist article by the Saints, Missourians feared their slaves would revolt, and hostilities broke out with the local Mormons. Meanwhile, building plans for the City of Zion were sent from Kirtland, while the Missouri saints were in the process of making an agreement to leave the county.

The volume is handsomely bound and matches the same high quality as previous volumes. Readers will be in for a real treat.


[1]Project Also Updates Website,”  2014-12-02


Documents, Volume 3 of the Joseph Smith Papers released — 3 Comments

  1. The Joseph Smith Papers team have also announced that their first-ever Twitter event will take place next Tuesday, 9 December:

    “Several of our historians will be taking over the @churchhistory account for a few hours to tweet answers to questions posed to them using the hashtag #AskJSP. Feel free to get your questions rolling in advance! Watch the Joseph Smith Papers Facebook page and the LDS Church History Twitter account in the coming days for times and more details.”

  2. Clair, Thank you for the wonderful account of the media event. Sounds like an amazing experience. Now you have me focused on whats behind the city square plat image. Hopefully in the near future, the preservationist will figure out how to remove the later drawing so we can actually see the original plat. Thanks again Clair.

  3. Hey, I was in that meeting. I wish I could have picked the editors’ brains for a couple hours. Thanks for the article because I didn’t take notes!