Imagine a new Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith

What would it look like? What goes in it? How would this be received if some beloved statements were absent? Could it be a Deseret Book product? Should texts that were obviously (or less obviously) co-productions or contemporarily ghostwritten be allowed? Where should the circle be drawn? Just curious.

9 Responses to Imagine a new Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith

  1. I’ll take a stab at it.

    I think it wouldn’t attempt to include *everything* Joseph Smith ever wrote or said (no matter what the criteria were for reliability) but would be skewed toward what the compilers thought was “useful” in a modern context. I think it would need to be useful to rank and file church members, not only scholars who have, after all, access to a growing body of detailed (down to the last erased comma) scholarly records — for all its flaws, I think the original TPJS fed a hunger in intelligent but non-academic Church members to know what Joseph Smith taught, and I think a new version should be aimed at the same audience by not trying to be absolutely comprehensive, by being selective both in topic and length (that is, extracts on relevant topics would be better than full documents covering many subjects, in some cases). I also think it wouldn’t be necessary to cover in detail what Joseph taught about polygamy or other ideas superseded or expanded by later prophets, because I like the idea of a relevant-to-today compilation — I realize that if adopted, this would be the first point of attack for critics, though.

    I think it would need a solid, but accessible, introduction explaining the problems with separating Joseph Smith’s own words from those of his associates and reporters, and explaining what criteria were used to make selections for the new TPJS. I wouldn’t necessarily limit entries to those that are unmistakeably purely Joseph Smith’s words; if the compilers — scholars of the calibre of the JSPP, I hope — had sufficient reason to believe that Joseph Smith actually taught such-and-such, even if the teaching was recorded in the words of so-and-so, then a teaching could be included with an explanatory note.

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen TPJS, but I seem to recall that the extracts were relatively brief and targeted toward very specific questions or keywords — sort of a prototype Mormon Doctrine? If I’m remembering that correctly, I think it might be helpful to have broader topics, or perhaps a chronological or other non-topical arrangement, so that quotations didn’t get pegged as “the answer to Question X and only to Question X.” Have a very detailed index, perhaps, to suggest that Extract A is relevant to Topics 1, 2, 3, and 4, but don’t put a heading over the extract that narrowly limits its applicability.

    Make it clear that this is an ongoing project drawing on developing scholarship, and that future editions might add, subject, or correct material in the current volume. “… and we believe that he will yet reveal …” should apply to projects like this as well as to divine revelation.

    Don’t know why it couldn’t be sold at Deseret Book. It would almost have to be, if it were aimed at a general LDS audience, to be successful these days.

    • WVS says:

      Nice response, Ardis. TPJS is a chronologically organized book, with headings inserted into the quoted docs. I think the JS P/RS manual does some of what you suggest. Unfortunately, it was not compiled by experts in the docs, though the resources were made available to do a decent job, that turned out to be a problematic exercise.

  2. Jettboy says:

    I thought there was already a book out like that called “The Words of Joseph Smith” that tried to be more text critical for inclusion. What would a new Teachings of Joseph Smith look like? I think it would look like that previously done book, but perhaps expanded to include more items of dictated works like important doctrinal letters.

    • WVS says:

      Words of Joseph Smith was important, but it was limited in several ways, most importantly it covered only the period from 1839-1844.

  3. ricke says:

    What is your take on Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings? I have found it quite useful as a topical reference, but I haven’t investigated the provenance of the individual entries.

  4. WVS says:

    I think it’s mostly an extraction from HC isn’t it?

    • ricke says:

      Larry Dahl and Donald Cannon are the editors, and they acknowledge that the HC is the primary source of the entries; however, they do draw on Words and Personal Writings, etc.

      • WVS says:

        The only problem with HC is that you have to vet everything and then you have to demonstrate that you did it. There’s a small example of this in the “Seventy” series over at BCC. It was mentioned already I think but sort of comes up for real in part 5.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    The teachings that are not systematically extant in contemporanious texts are important, but I’m not sure how to incorporate them in such a project. I think a documentary history of JS’s might be a helpful approach. I don’t think it would need to be completely comprehensive.

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