The Parallel Joseph-A History?

Years ago, I can’t remember when we started to do it exactly, but we began to collect Joseph Smith’s sermon reports. Of course, Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook had published reports of Nauvoo sermons in the groundbreaking (1980) Words of Joseph Smith -WJS. This was an effort that could be classified as part of the New Mormon History in a way, although it was not analytical per se. It was reprinted 10 years later. It is a work that does not resonate with average Mormons, partly because it brings to the forefront some of the uncertainty that exists regarding what Joseph said. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith has been rather a standby since its 1938 publication and has basically remained fixed since then, except for Richard Galbraith’s Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1993. I think that was a big seller for Deseret Book. Just reading the title, one might think that it merely extracted those teachings of JS which were “scriptural” somehow, or that it sought to supply scriptures implicitly referenced by JS in his speeches or “writings.” But it was neither of those. It was an attempt to match LDS scripture passages with TPJS passages as the author saw links. I do not know if it is still in the D-Book arsenal. Meanwhile, there were some privately published “parallelized” versions of some of JS sermons, some possibly extracted from Ehat and Cook, I don’t know.

Before 1938, there were a few attempts at printing JS sermons/teachings, but I won’t discuss those here.

TPJS had, and has, cachet, it was printed under the signature of the church historian, Joseph Fielding Smith. Where it intersected with B. H. Roberts’ (ed.) History of the Church (HC), it followed those texts, more or less (and those in turn were the work of 1850s historians). But TPJS also drew from more obscure sources, like the Far West Record and long out of print church magazines like Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate or Times and Seasons. In its attempt to use JS’s writings, it was too trusting. Some of what it assumed was written by JS was actually ghostwritten for him or didn’t even come that close. But it was and is a great book. Alma Burton’s Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (1956) did something similar to Edwin Parry’s 1912 book, extracting sermon-texts from HC.

Given that TPJS is based on HC (not quite, but that’s for another day) it also rests in part on the work of the 1850s, particularly church historians George A. Smith, Willard Richards and their battery of able clerks, Tom Bullock as chief assistant and various others who came and went. To find out how these men worked, one needs to know what they used, and how they used it. And that leads us back to WJS. It took a look at sermons in the Nauvoo period, giving the sources (not too literally – they’re not really transcripts in the diplomatic sense, and certainly not typographical facsimiles-and there are some errors) but they give a good idea of what the 1850s historians had to work with (and sometimes more than they had to work with).

GAS and WR and their crews were interested in producing critical texts of JS’s sermons. They would not have called them that, but that is precisely what they were doing. Hence, they tried, crudely in many cases, to mesh surviving accounts into cohesive texts of JS’s sermons.[1]

The 1850s historians knew what they were up against. It was an impossible task, sometimes it led them to do things that would be unthinkable today, they would fill out texts with expanded narrative “fill it up” when needed to make a few disconnected phrases into a sense-bearing paragraph. The tools of textual criticism, literary criticism, documentary editing, bibliographical study or whatever you wish to call it (them) were not available. They did the best they could and they did it with a lot of hand-wringing, wanting to get it as right as they could using home made foolscap,[2] pencils and home made ink.

Now one recognized technique in studying texts especially “oral” texts (where the archetype was spoken) and where there are several witnesses (that is the writings of different people who wrote down what they heard) is to place the witnesses in parallel. It’s not the only way to study the sources but it can be very useful for preliminary study. That is what we (I mostly) decided to do with the sources. Hence The Parallel Joseph (PJ). This was an “internet” effort. Initially, we thought it would be good to do a little text smoothing to make it easier for translators to come along and make some sense of what was said. But after some years, we decided that to be true to the original intention, we needed to, as well as the medium allowed, produce facsimile texts. So we are slowly doing that. Several passes have been made, but it is time-consuming to use the originals and compare them comma for comma so to speak and access to some of the originals is restricted, which takes more time. Moreover, there is some restriction in how well html can duplicate hand-written text.

The Parallel Joseph is not restricted to the Nauvoo period. But it generally does not include writings that may or may not have been done by JS. There is one exception, but if that one was ghostwritten it is still quite close to JS’s ideas.[3]

Finally, there is the question of producing new critical texts.[4] How would this be done? What school of thought should rule the day? If it were to be done, it would require source criticism in the vein of the PJ (that would be only a beginning) but probably also a study of imprints and editorial work (including the 1850s historians) in the years since JS’s life. Moreover, reception of the texts should be considered, internally to Mormonism as well as externally if possible. How were the sermons produced as literary objects and disseminated? What intellectual environment did they originate in?, etc. And then oral archetypes are somewhat of a specialty unto themselves.

So, I thought to myself, how about a restricted version of this project. Just work with funeral sermons. They are very rich in JS’s thought and you can cheat a bit and extend the number of sermons by various means. Seemed ideal. The goal would be to place as little of the editor in the way of the reader as possible, but at the same time produce among many other things, reliable critical texts of the sermons. This of course brings us well beyond PJ, to the multiyear effort around which this blog swirls. It is much more ambitious than I had originally thought, it is about 1/3 done I would say, perhaps a little more. Perhaps it will even be published some day, but printers don’t seem to like more than 4 colors. And there we have a bit of a math joke.


[1] One must keep in mind that there were no stenographers around during JS’s career. He was a decade too early during his Nauvoo production. But one must not put too much faith in the later Taylor or Pittman shorthand reporters. The Lincoln-Douglas debates critical edition shows this in dramatic fashion. Further, the 1850s historians did approach the text with a certain production bias. There would not be too much realism in the sense that if Joseph used frontier grammar or slang, these items would not appear. In general, Joseph would always appear as genteel and with a cultured expression.

[2] Most was not home made, but some of it has a distinctive blue color, because of the color of donated rags used in the paper making process. The call went out for white rags after that.

[3] This one is the Times and Seasons editorial of April 1, 1842. We don’t think it’s April fools.

[4] The term is perhaps a bit dated, but it’s convenient.

12 Responses to The Parallel Joseph-A History?

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Nice write-up. I think the effort to make the transcripts accurate increase the value of the Parallel Joseph many fold. It is a great tool, and I appreciate the hard work you’ve put into it.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    …also, Ehat et al., have been working on a revised edition of Words that should be out sometime reasonably soon. Not only will it have revised transcriptions, but some very important additions.

  3. Matt W. says:

    Thanks for Parallel Joseph, It is a fantastic resource.

  4. WVS says:

    Looking forward to that and the important additions. Is RSC doing it?

  5. J. Stapley says:

    My understanding that it is still the Nauvoo era, and word on the street is that it will be an independent publishing effort, though I haven’t confirmed that with anyone working on the project.

  6. smb says:

    Well done. I think that rather than ghostwriting we should think of Smith’s as “collaborative authorship.” As for “Try the Spirits,” it reads like a collaborative document with Smith’s imprimatur and input. I personally use it in my writings as indicative of Smith’s thoughts on this topic.

    • boaporg says:

      I agree, “Try the Spirits” has some some phrases and ideas that appear to be JS’s. As for the rest, it seems a little like what happens on the nightly news read.


      • WVS says:

        I should have said in the last reply, that it looks like they used Buck’s dictionary of theology to fill in the blanks on prophet-claimants in their little history in “Try the Spirits.”

  7. Pingback: Printing the Sermons of Joseph Smith «'s Blog

  8. Pingback: Printing Joseph Smith’s Sermons – Redux In Two Parts «'s Blog

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