Joseph Smith and the Taxonomy of “Intelligence(s)” – Part 1.

The ontological/cosmological fundamentals of Mormonism have been batted about the orbiting literature for many decades. But the discussion has rarely been formal and in the context of textual studies (the closest attempt might be the 1978 BYU studies issue treating King Follett – our treatment is more- “formal”). Such studies might be useful in clearly defining the terms used by Joseph Smith in some respects. I believe this is necessarily a nuanced question, not one where it is overwhelmingly useful to appeal to, say, European philosophical constructs (see the last paragraph as well).

I want to address one sliver of what is certainly a very broad discussion. Joseph Smith’s use of words is, I think, vital in understanding these issues. At least in a historical, if not in a currently accepted doctrinal sense.

For background purposes to the discussion I’ll tell you that I have been deeply involved in a project the last several years which proposes to produce an edition of Joseph Smith’s funeral sermons (and that of course is the general subject of this blog). I use the term “edition” in a somewhat broader sense than just a documentary edition.[1]

To give you a sense of what is going on, and hopefully give you perhaps a little confidence in the points I’ll raise later, I’ll describe chapter 5 of the book, in fact I’m just finishing the first draft of chapter 5. Here’s what it looks like in rough outline, along with some general remarks about discussions in other chapters:

Chapter 5 table of contents:
[Working title: The James Adams Funeral Sermon]

1. Introductory essay -discusses Adams’ life in brief, his relationship to Mormonism and Joseph Smith, the circumstances of the funeral sermon, available texts of the sermon and associated reporters, past editorial treatments both manuscript and imprint, timeline, impact of the sermon through time, and a stemma (briefly, an analysis of textual dependence of manuscripts and imprints). In terms of previous editorial work, some of the more interesting textual evolution is noted (severally among manuscripts, manuscript to imprint, and among imprints themselves) and briefly discussed. I should say that there is a glossary covering all chapters which identifies various persons appearing in the book as well as defining Mormon terminology, some obscure expressions appearing in the sermons, places and things referenced, as well as words and phrases that tend to have somewhat different meanings to Joseph Smith, than to modern readers.

2. Any available manuscript reports are presented in typographical facsimile form (essentially this means a text which mimics as closely as possible the actual manuscript layout, words, text marks and geometry[2]). I settled on Latex for this task by the way, since it offers a large variety of useable packages for text critical work. Some Acrobat tools are also useful.

3. Often, church clerks took sermon manuscripts and fused them together to form texts in which they tried to present the ideas of the speaker (Joseph Smith) in a readable form. (For the most part, this effort took place under church historian George A. Smith in the 1850s.) As one may guess, the process was not driven by any consistent system of criteria. The scholarship paradigms, as we think of them now, didn’t really exist. These efforts, (occasionally there were several, depending on the sermon) are also presented either in facsimile again, or by other means, using standard text-critical tools.[3]

4. The fused sermon-texts (see 3) are presented in parallel with color-coded manuscript sources. (Source Criticism.) The fused texts are color encoded to show how the fusion was arrived at by the clerk(s). Additions not apparently based on source manuscripts are given a different encoding, usually red. (If a number of source manuscripts were used, the choice of colors can get interesting.) Textual notes are given concerning Joseph Smith’s reported expressions, their cultural context and in many cases illuminating expressions and ideas which appear in reports of other remarks given by Smith. Some manuscripts underwent complex alterations and at times these are noted both in this source criticism and in other texts, such as the facsimiles.

5. Finally, a new critical text is proposed, using applicable principles of modern text criticism. (These new texts may be useful to some students of Mormonism who wish to quote from a single reliable source in scholarly work for example.) These texts are in no way “clear” texts. In fact they are all referred to as “probability texts” and sources are clearly identified.[4] Each of the funeral sermons is different in many respects and the production of a critical text may be more or less reliable depending on available data. In some cases the exact words of Joseph can be given with some confidence. At the other extreme, only some ideas expressed in the archetype can be given with some certainty.

This gives some background to part 2 of the post which will discuss Joseph Smith’s ideas and usage of terms that relate to the title. It is generally not enough to appeal to contemporary dictionaries or devotional (or other) literature to discover how Joseph Smith used words. His vocabulary was enriched and changed by not only his study but also the impact of his experience with the divine. This is where textual (as distinct from contextual) studies can be useful I think. We shall see.


[1] A useful reference on textual criticism for the interested reader is D. C. Greetham, Textual Scholarship. (New York: Garland, 1994). The Modern Language Association also publishes a handbook which supplies helpful standards and styles. The bible for documentary editing is perhaps Mary-Jo Kline, A Guide to Documentary Editing. The Association for Documentary Editing publishes a journal , “Documentary Editing.” If you can lay your hands on the most recent issue, the article on unpublished Gilbert and Sullivan scores is particularly relevant to what I’m talking about here.

[2] See Kline, chapter 6, for instance.

[3] Edited sermons were often recorded in a “Sermon Book” but also loose sheets still exist which can be used to show how the editing/fusion process evolved. (Unfortunately some intermediate texts don’t seem to exist now.)

[4] Some people would call this a chicken text. But I confess that using such a text myself would require knowing exactly how it was arrived at. Trust issues.

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10 Responses to Joseph Smith and the Taxonomy of “Intelligence(s)” – Part 1.

  1. I love the work that BOAP does in dealing with as-original-as-possible sources. Looking forward very much to the second post; I was not aware that there was much to be studied regarding the Adams funeral.

    As an aside, let me just say that I love your choice of using Latex; it’s all I ever use nowadays. Awesome system.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Man, this is cool. I can’t wait.

  3. WVS says:

    We hope it’s useful to someone, NCN. Got to grade finals first, J.

  4. Jacob J says:

    Very interesting, looking forward to this. With the “probability texts” I think I get the nature of the endeavor and why the confidence depends totally on the available sources. Do you ever actually assign relative probabilities (or some metric of confidence) to various words and phrases? Sometimes arguments hinge on quotes from these sermons and we all sit around arguing about this or that phrase only being in the Bullock account (or whatever). It would be nice to have a more rigorous analysis of the confidence we can place in various parts of the KFD, for example.

  5. W. V. Smith says:

    Jacob, the answer is yes, but the metric is not a number, it’s typological, in a typographical way.(grin) A problem with these texts is illustrated by your question. Getting too sophisticated with reconstruction or too tied to predetermined canons can actually make assigning probability more obscure. The rules may actually change, based on a number of variables.

  6. Tod Robbins says:

    Ah! Mathspeak! ;-)

  7. Pingback: Joseph Smith and the Taxonomy of “Intelligence(s),” Part 2-Ground Rules. «'s Blog

  8. Pingback: Joseph Smith and the Taxonomy of Intelligence(s), Part 3. «'s Blog

  9. Pingback: Joseph Smith and the Taxonomy of Intelligence(s), part 4. Text and Context for the King Follett Discourse «'s Blog

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