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Using The Joseph Smith Papers: An Introduction to Journals, Volume 1 from the Inside Out

Historians and other scholars use documentary editions like The Joseph Smith Papers as research resources. With a particular writing or research project already in mind, they look up certain documents or journal entries by date or scan a range of dates for information relevant to their work. Or, they may try to hunt down specific information through the index.

For those who wish to study Joseph Smith’s papers but don’t know quite where to begin, we offer the following ideas for using the journal transcripts and reference material in the printed version of Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839:

• The Joseph Smith journals as artifacts. First, take a look at the photograph on page xlii (accompanying the introduction to the Journals series), which shows all of the Joseph Smith (JS) journals together. JS had seven journals, with the final journal kept in four volumes (the stack of four books at the lower right). The first five of JS’s seven journals have been transcribed in Journals, Volume 1. Individual photographs of these five journals can be found on pages 2, 52, 224, 322, and 332. The list of textual illustrations on page x leads you to further images of the journals.

• Varied texture of the journals. JS and his scribes used the journals for more than recording daily events. For some examples of notes and revelations written in the journals, see the photographs on pages 39, 50, and 259. By browsing through the five journals in the volume you can quickly get a feel for the varied texture of these documents. You’ll notice that some entries are less than a single line while others take up several pages. Most entries from the first two journals were either written or dictated by JS and therefore have a personal tone, while entries from the later journals may sound more detached. JS and his scribes used various methods to capture the daily events of his life. Some sampling here and there will help you appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of these various methods.

• JS’s personality. To get a sense for JS’s personality, read the first eleven entries of the first journal (pp. 9–12), all in his own handwriting (identified with boldface).

• Proselytizing in Upper Canada. The journal entries from 4 October to 1–4 November 1833 (pp. 12–16) cover JS’s proselytizing mission into Upper Canada. Using the map on page 13, you can track JS and his traveling companions from place to place as you read through their journey. You might also try looking up some of the locations in the Geographical Directory to get a feel for how large the various communities were. For example, on Sunday, 20 October 1833, JS met with a “very large congregation” in Mount Pleasant, Upper Canada (p. 14). The entry for Mount Pleasant in the Geographical Directory (p. 375) reports that this village had only about 130 residents in 1846. JS and his fellow missionaries likely preached to a substantial portion of the local residents in Mount Pleasant and other villages and towns along the way.

• An urgent mission. JS and other early Saints anticipated the imminent return of Jesus Christ and therefore pursued their mission to “establish Zion” with urgency. For an example of this theme in the journals, review the entry for 5–13 November 1833 (pp. 16–18), which describes a spectacular meteor shower. For more examples, see the entries on “Millennium” and “Second Coming” in the index.

• A promised “endowment.” A major theme of the 1835–1836 journal is preparation for a promised endowment “with power from on high.” See, for example, the entry for 5 October 1835 (p. 68). Look up “endowment” in the Glossary (p. 465) to see how the Latter-day Saints understood that word early on. The index entry on this same term is also a helpful resource. For an account of the Saints receiving this endowment, see the entry for 30 March 1836 (pp. 213–216).

• Growth of the Mormon community in Kirtland, Ohio. The first paragraph in the entry for 29 October 1835 (p. 76) discusses plans for developing the Mormon community in Kirtland, Ohio, and identifies the area as a “stake” of “Zion” (Zion being the name for the Mormon community in Missouri). The maps on pages 386–391 give you a good feel for the growth of Kirtland, which had a small Mormon population early on because of the emphasis on migration to Missouri. Over time, however, the Mormon population swelled to dominate the township.

• A visit from “the Prophet Matthias.” In November 1835, the notorious Robert Matthews, more commonly known as the Prophet Matthias, visited JS in Kirtland. JS talked with him and related to him an account of his first vision of Deity. The journal entry for 9–11 November, along with a photograph of part of this journal entry and images of Matthews, will put you in the midst of this fascinating encounter (pp. 87–95). Don’t miss the editorial note that precedes the journal entry. Background on Matthews can also be found in his entry in the Biographical Directory (p. 422).

• A family outing. See the entry for 2 December 1835 (pp. 113–114), which records that JS went sleighing with his family. You can use the Pedigree Chart (p. 396) to find out which children of JS were likely with him for this sleigh ride. The birth and death years listed on the Pedigree Chart can be used to reconstruct JS’s family for any period.

• Studying Hebrew. JS and other church officers studied the Hebrew language in the winter of 1835–1836. To get a sense for JS’s personal interest in Hebrew, read the journal entry for 22 December 1835 (p. 135)—which he wrote himself. The photographs on pages 108 and 192 show some of the books the Hebrew students used. For further information, see the index entries on “Hebrew language” and “Hebrew School.”

• Early church organization. In order to receive the promised endowment, JS had to hold a “solemn assembly” of the church’s priesthood officers. Preparing to hold this special assembly required not only the completion of the temple but also a more organized priesthood. In early 1836, JS held many meetings to better organize the church ecclesiastically. See, for example, the entry for 15 January 1836 (pp. 153–156). The ecclesiastical diagram on page 455 gives an overview of the structure of the early church. Notice that the Mormon ”ward”—the primary congregational unit in the ecclesiastical history of the church—did not yet exist. Also, the Twelve Apostles had jurisdictional authority only outside of Zion and the organized stakes. For information on the roles of different priesthood officers and bodies in the church at that time, try using the Glossary and the index to look up the offices, councils, presidencies, and quorums listed in the diagram. The ecclesiastical organizational charts that follow the diagram are also useful for further study in early church organization.

• Recording the transcendent. The entry for 3 April 1836 (pp. 219–222) records visions of Jesus Christ, Moses, Elias, and Elijah. It is the original source of section 110 of the modern Latter-day Saint edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, which serves as a major doctrinal foundation for Mormon temple worship. This shows how our understanding of the past and even current religious practice are rooted in historical documents.

• Origins of the “Mormon War” in Missouri. The entry for 7–9 August 1838 (pp. 298–301) is significant for understanding the beginning of the Mormon War in Missouri, which culminated in the forced expulsion of the Latter-day Saints from the state. When some Saints received threats of vigilante activity, a large group surrounded the home of Adam Black, a Daviess County justice of the peace, and demanded that he agree to uphold justice in the county. This deeply concerned the non-Mormon citizens of the county, who sent a peace delegation to meet with the Saints. Both sides agreed to respect each other’s rights and to submit themselves to the law. However, the peace accord was rejected by Adam Black, William Peniston, and other Daviess County citizens. In fact, Black used the incident at his home to rally vigilantes. JS’s journal preserves a contemporaneous account of this crucial event.

• A gap in the record. There are several gaps of time within and among the JS journals. One gap in journal keeping occurred between autumn 1838, when the Mormon War began to intensify, and spring 1839, when JS escaped Missouri custody and joined with the exiled Latter-day Saints in Illinois. For a narrative overview of what happened during this crucial period, see the historical introduction to the 1839 journal (pp. 331–335). For a chronological overview, see the relevant entries in the Chronology for the Years 1832–1839 (pp. 362–363). Other gaps in journal keeping can be bridged in the same fashion—by using the editorial notes accompanying the texts and the Chronology.

• Mormons on the Mississippi. The 1839 journal covers the beginnings of organized Latter-day Saint settlement along the Mississippi River in Illinois and Iowa, following the expulsion from Missouri. See, for example, the entries for 10 May, 2 July, and 16–21 September 1839 (pp. 338, 344, 351–352). The map on page 394 shows how the Saints originally invested in more land in Iowa than in Illinois. Later, they concentrated their settlement efforts on Nauvoo, Illinois.

• Source citations for revelations. Many aspects of JS’s religious mission are originally articulated in his revelations, which are easily accessible in the modern Latter-day Saint scriptural canon. For information on how the current Latter-day Saint scriptures—in addition to earlier sources for JS’s revelations—are referenced in the volume, read the discussion on pages 477–478 and 497–498; see also the figure on page lxv.