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It is simply titled "The Joseph Smith Papers," but there was nothing simple about gathering the materials that went into what historians for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are calling a landmark publication.
Before now, only a few historians, and certainly not everyday citizens, were able to examine Joseph Smith's original 19th-century diaries and journals, which are now rather fragile.
This first volume includes those journal entries and much more during an important seven-year period.
Joseph Smith wrote in one of his journals: "I was very conscious that I had not kept the commandments, and I repented heartily for all my sins and transgression and humbled myself before him whose eyes are over all things."
The year was 1835, and that one and several others are transcribed into the new book "The Joseph Smith Papers." There is enough material for 30 volumes.
Gathering it has taken decades because many papers were scattered across the country. Richard E. Turley, Jr., assistant LDS Church historian, says, "We have sent teams out to gather these puzzle pieces, and they have brought them back, and we have carefully fitted them into place. So that by the time this series is complete, you'll have as complete a picture of the man as we may be able to get during our lifetimes."
Historians are commenting. Kenneth Minkema, from the Yale Divinity School, says, "'The Joseph Smith Papers' rank among the most significant projects in the history of American religion."
"Joseph Smith has been one of the least accessible major figures in the history of American religion. 'The Joseph Smith Papers' will forever change that by producing a monumental critical edition of every document written, dictated or supervised by the Mormon prophet," said Stephen Marini from Wellesley College
Professor Emeritus Jan Shipps at Indiana University-Purdue University says, "'The Joseph Smith Papers' are absolutely central to understanding and interpreting what happened."
Historians call this important because not only does it focus on the big events in Joseph Smith's life but also into his personality.
The book's publisher has printed 12,000 copies, calling volume one unique. CEO of Deseret Book Sheri Dew says, "Created something that is very hard to do, and that is a work that appeals to and satisfies scholars and is also very commercially viable."
Volume 1 is available at Deseret Book for $49.95. I am told they are going quickly.