“Brave departure from the past”
SALT LAKE CITY — For a man considered by many a confident and charismatic religious prophet, the first sentence of Joseph Smith’s journal betrays an inkling of self-doubt — it’s scratched out.
“He’s making this very deliberate effort to keep a record. At the same time, he has this self-consciousness,” said Richard Turley Jr., assistant historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “So he writes it out, scratches it out, takes a deep breath, writes it again.”
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By the next line, Smith is on his knees in prayer as he asks for God’s help.Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Mormon Church is considered by Mormons to be the Prophet of the Restoration. What was he like as a man? This video was done with the permission of GoodNewsforLDSOrg.
For Turley, the picture of Smith — unvarnished and somehow more human than a prophet should be — represents the beauty of the “The Joseph Smith Papers,” the first book published by a new Mormon church-owned press.
“What I get from this — besides the information, most of which has been accessible in the past — what I get from this is a feeling for the man,” Turley said Monday, when the book was released to the public.
Smith founded the Mormon church in 1830 with just six adherents, most of them members of his own family.
By the time Smith was shot and killed in 1844, hundreds had joined the church, which was maligned and persecuted for its practice of polygamy and the exhortations of its colorful leader.
Painstakingly transcribed from hundreds of fragile, handwritten pages, the 500-page volume builds on decades of historical scholarship to provide a more accurate and complete look at the early church and Smith’s life, Turley said.
The inaugural work of The Church Historian’s Press covers Smith’s writings from 1832 to 1839 and includes his account of the “First Vision,” in which God and Jesus Christ tell Smith he must restore the original church on Earth.
Historians have long criticized the Mormon church for glossing over the unflattering parts of its history and censoring materials of interest to scholars.
Publishing Smith’s papers marks a brave departure from that past, said Jan Shipps, a professor of religious history and a Mormon expert at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“It’s saying our story is there for anybody to see,” said Shipps. “They are becoming a full-fledged religious tradition and they are not trying to hide the details.”