March 25, 2011

From the JSP Blogger Event: On future print and digital publications

I was honored to be among the company of Mormon bloggers invited to meet with editors of the latest Joseph Smith Papers volume on Wednesday. The meeting was unprecedented and very enjoyable. Assistant Church Historian Richard E. Turley, who edited the new volume with Robin Scott Jensen and Riley M. Lorimer, met with bloggers in the Cumorah Room at the new Church History Library. It was another example of Church employees reaching out through new media to publicize and explain the work they do.

During the meeting I live-blogged a few photos and added a brief video clip of Richard Turley's introductory remarks, which a few of the bloggers who were conferencing in online missed due to early technical glitches. After each editor took 10 to 15 minutes to describe their work on the current volume they opened the floor for Q&A. It was a pretty brave move but I think they felt comfortable enough with the audience. Nate Oman of Times & Seasons asked Turley why they thought bloggers would be a good audience for such a meeting, so I'll defer to him on that question (if he decides not to blog it I'll happily do so later on).

Meanwhile, Larry Richman from put a post together to describe the new book. Ardis of Keep-a-pitchin-in fame wrote a great post reflecting on the impressive new JSPP volume, and Clair Barrus at Mormon-Chronicles added his .02. I assume blog posts from FPR, JI, BCC, and a few other places are forthcoming [Links to JI and FPR have been updated].

I need time to digest the new volume before putting a review together but during the Q&A I asked about the potential contents of future volumes. The JSP team originally but tentatively projected to print about thirty printed books. It has subsequently been scaled back to around twenty volumes. Not that any less content will be released; the change affects the format in which content will be published. Some materials will appear online only, rather than in print. Eventually all print items will be available online, though.

During the Q&A Turley discussed a few factors which help determine what items appear in print, verses those which will only appear online. In answer to a question from Nate Oman of Times & Seasons, Turley suggested that some of the online-only material would be legal/business related:

Richard Turley: So there's obviously a huge public interest in Joseph Smith's journals. A lot less public and scholarly interest in Joseph Smith's receipts, for example, or some of the business or legal materials. So for us it seems to make more sense...

Nate Oman: ...I would be very interested...

Turley: Yes! And I am too and we have a crew here, Nate, of lawyers who are extremely interested in those kind of things.

Riley Lorimer: You can still have them, they'll just be on the Internet.

Turley: You'll get them, but they'll be in electronic form.


Turley: One of the challenges with doing a huge project like this is that you're starting at the beginning before the whole thing is formed at the end. It's kind of like, you can see the Conference Center through the windows here, those of you who are in this room. The Conference Center was a design/build project where you did the first drawings and started the construction project before the building had even been finished in the design phase. And a ten to twenty year project like this is that kind of project. You start off with what you know, and then you work your way along and when you're done you know what it's gonna be, but you don't know the end from the beginning. [Some of the documents] may not be materials that Joseph Smith produced by his own hand, but then again there aren't many materials that Joseph Smith produced by his own hand [which will be included]. So one of the challenges that we face is defining what is a Joseph Smith document. We have, I'll say, discussions, sometimes even close to arguments about that question...

Robin Jensen: ...Sometimes very heated discussions, yes...


Turley: ...Every time we have a volume we have to decide, well what are the boundaries of the volume, what goes in what stays out. I can't tell you how many days have been spent discussing that question.


Turley's description echoes the JSPP website's rubric of inclusion:
The Joseph Smith Papers Project is not a “documentary history” project comprising all important documents relating to Joseph Smith. Instead, it is a “papers” project that will publish, according to accepted documentary editing standards, documents created by Joseph Smith or by staff whose work he directed, including journals, revelations and translations, contemporary reports of discourses, minutes, business and legal records, editorials, and notices. The project also includes papers received and “owned” by his office, such as incoming correspondence. (

Volumes on the immediate horizon include more Joseph Smith journals (dates still being divided), papers used in the compilation of the History of the Church, and various legal and business documents. In the meantime, more of the already-published documents (revelation manuscripts, etc.) will periodically be rolled out to the growing JSPP website, which is a pretty killer website.

The new volume (Revelations and Translations vol. 2) contains the first published versions of the revelations (Book of Commandments, The Evening and Morning Star runs, and the first two editions of the D&C), but it does not provide all of the necessary historical context, which is what the Documents series of the JSPP will include. In that series each revelation will be published with its own historical introduction including contextual annotation.

March 23, 2011

Joseph Smith Papers Project Blogger's Gathering

Here's the introductory statement from Church Historian Richard Turley, the audio feed for this part of the webcast was scrambled for some users. The video is sideways for the first minute or so but it gets regular right quick. 

Bloggers via webcam (above)

Nate Oman and Ben Huff contemplate.

Rick Turley shows an original copy of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants

Robin Jensen is into old texts. 

Riley Lorimer worries about editing, typesetting and design for the volumes. 

Bloggers in the window. 

Riley Lorimer and Rick Turley listen to questions from bloggers across the US.

Showing a genealogy of texts. Robin saw me taking it. 

Rick Turley listens to Riley Lorimer discuss decisions about the color used for the photographs of pages of the BoC, etc. 

I'm on TV next to the other bloggers. 

March 21, 2011

Review: Orson F. Whitney, "Saturday Night Thoughts"

Title: Saturday Night Thoughts
("Forgotten Classics" edition)
Author: Orson F. Whitney
Publisher: Grandin Press
Genre: Religion
Year: 2010
Pages: 283
ISBN13: 978-1-936416-10-3
Binding: softcover
Price: $15.95

An estimated 3% of the world's population fell victim to the 1918 flu pandemic.1 Mormons didn't escape unscathed, and as a precautionary measure the Church suspended church services and other public gatherings, including the Church's April 1919 General Conference. The Deseret Evening News sought "to fill in some degree a spiritual void" left by this lapse of meetings by publishing a series of articles by apostle Orson F. Whitney (vii). After receiving acclaim and encouragement from George Brimhall (president of BYU), Heber J. Grant (LDS Church president), Reed Smoot (Utah senator) and "other prominent people," Whitney decided to publish his weekly essays in book form.

Saturday Night Thoughts is thus an interesting if often-overlooked overview of Mormon doctrine as promulgated by an apostle and published "under the sanction of the General Authorities of the Church" in 1921 (viii).2 Ever dispensationally minded, Whitney uses the essays to depict a grand sweep across the history of time, from Adam to the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ, interspersing discussions of prophets, Christ, war, priesthood, life after death, and other topics. "Saturday, in Christian lands," he explains, "is a day set apart for housecleaning, a time for 'putting things to rights,' in preparation for the Sabbath." These regular Saturdays are symbolic of a "greater Saturday" which precedes the Sabbath millennial reign of Christ: "The World's Saturday Night must necessarily precede the World's Sunday Morning" (3). As various signs of the times came to pass, Whitney hoped to encourage holiness in preparation: "Housecleaning is in progress, and Saturday's work must be done and out of the way, before the Lord of the Sabbath appears" (6).    

Whitney and Seeking Respectability
Writing in the midst of Enlightenment-tinged critiques of religion, Whitney was acutely aware of criticisms leveled against the educational attainments of his fellow Latter-day Saints, “a people who are popularly supposed to be enemies of education, despisers of learning, haters of books and schools, and of everything, in fact, that is pure, ennobling and refined.”3 He made a point to use his literary talents to overturn such views, to make Latter-day Saints appear more respectable in the eyes of skeptics. His efforts to this end are traceable throughout Saturday Night Thoughts. For instance, his second essay responds to "a learned gentleman" whose lecture tour passed through Utah, inviting people to come out of their "'haunted houses' and build for their souls 'more stately mansions,' rounded upon the rock of reason and scientific truth" (7). Prevalent proneness to discredit the "supernatural" and deny modern prophets led Whitney to differentiate between false and true prophets. He encouraged readers to use "a simple and sure test of prophecy" by examining a prophet's claims and seeing whether they "come to pass" (10) in order to avoid gullibility.4

Whitney was unimpressed by academic approaches to his own religion: "Strange it is that men and women, intelligent, educated, and profound, do not see in this great religious phenomenon something more than a topic to be treated lightly, or in a spirit of harshness and intolerance. Giants in intellect as to other themes, when they deal with the doctrines, aims and attitude of the Latter-day Saints, they seem suddenly changed into dwarfs, mere children" (53). It would be impossible, Whitney believed, to respond to all accusations and complaints. Instead, publishing "some of the more temperate judgments" would stand as a witness that Mormons could be taken more seriously. Whitney included I. Woodbridge Riley, "a student of psychology and an applicant for a doctor's degree at Yale University." But rather than vilifying Riley, Whitney expressed his pleasure with Riley's attempt at a detached approach to the controversial Mormon prophet. Riley's thesis paper, highly influential to Fawn Brodie's later treatment in No Man Knows My History, examined Joseph Smith as the sufferer of epileptic fits. Whitney appreciated Riley's "distinct departure" from the "charge of conscious duplicity" on Smith's part common to earlier criticisms, but he objected that such a "magnificent church organization" and Smith's "sublime doctrines, replete with poetry and philosophy, couched in logical and majestic phrasing" could not have sprung "from the diseased brain of a fourteen-year-old boy who had fallen in an epileptic fit" (55).

"The Gospel's Accessories"
Other examples of Whitney's accommodation of religion to scientific and technological advances could be given,5 but perhaps the most obvious way he sought to bring respectability to his fellow Mormons was through the use of non-Mormon sources. "Truth, whether uttered by ancient sage or by modern seer, is worthy of all acceptance" (213). Whitney includes multiple extended justifications for his appeal to non-Mormon thinkers. His arguments are a welcome contrast to the typical discussions of the "Great Apostasy" and the "Dark Ages" said to precede the restoration of the gospel in 1830. Article 13 describes various gospel dispensations noting that the gospel "is not of any one time nor of any once place" (73). Before quoting the Book of Mormon's claim that "the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have" (Alma 29:8), Whitney places "all that is precious and exalting" within the sphere of Mormonism:

There is but one Savior, and but one Plan of Salvation; yet that Savior has many servants, saviors in a subordinate sense/ and His saving plan encompasses many truths, apportioned to the several branches of the human family, in measure large or small, according to their capacity to receive, and their ability to wisely use the knowledge meted out to them (74).

Article 34 explains that while there "is only one way into the kingdom of heaven" there are "many ways into the human heart," and the Church, in promulgating truth, "has legitimate use for every avenue to that heart. Poetry, music, art in general, as well as science and philosophy—all these can be utilized as auxiliaries in the carrying on of the Lord's manifold work" (209).  

Whitney makes use of such auxiliaries. His first article kicks things off by invoking Plato, Emerson and Joseph Smith (3). Elsewhere we run into Alexander Pope (17), Austin Farrar (250), Thomas Carlyle (221), Charles Dickens (275), William Shakespeare (245), Dante (253) and multiple other writers. Herbert Spencer and John Fiske are quoted to support Joseph Smith's view of the eternal duration of matter (66) and Cunningham Geike, a forgotten Scottish clergyman, is cited to explain Elijah's importance in the biblical text.6 "Does it sound as if 'Mormonism' takes no cognizance of what is going on in the outside world?" Whitney asks (75).

A perhaps related effort to seek respect from other faiths is Whitney's attempts at respect towards other religious beliefs. Rather than mocking a God "without body, parts, or passions," a repeated criticism propounded by earlier LDS writers like Orson and Parley Pratt, Whitney seeks common ground by comparing that creedal deity to the Mormon understanding of "the Divine personality" of God, which emanates throughout all of creation (17-18). He still invites others to acknowledge the corporeal Father and Son of Mormonism (18) but recognizes that "honest idolatry is infinitely preferable to dishonest worship," including that of some Mormons (228).

Fading themes
The "Approaching Mormon Doctrine" statement from LDS Public Affairs notes that "some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice."7 Whitney's book is interesting for a contemporary Mormon to read in order to get a feel for some of the shifting emphases in popular Mormon discourse. Current Mormons may not be familiar with the "believing blood" motif, which accounts for the type of person who will listen to the gospel message and join the church as opposed to those who do not feel so inclined (113). While focusing on all of North and South America as comprising Zion, Whitney is still quite specific about naming "Jackson County, Missouri" as the specific place for the city of Zion (140). He also includes multiple references to Mother in Heaven (18, 63, 206, 243, etc.). Whitney's "threefold mission of the gospel of Jesus Christ," to "redeem, save, and glorify," is an interesting forerunner to today's fourfold mission (63).

Whitney himself accounted for changes in practice and doctrinal emphasis in Article 29 on "Church Government" (175): "The Church changes in appearance as it grows," he reasoned, "and despite not changing its "character or principles" there would be "an evolution, a great and mighty development" as evidenced by the differences in the Church of Whitney's day compared to that of Joseph Smith's (176-177).

Creative conjectures
Of course, there is plenty of material in Whitney's articles which current Church members will find very familiar (including several anecdotes reused by LeGrand Richards in his book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, see pp. 54, 275 for two examples). Whitney has a way of approaching familiar LDS topics from a different perspective, however, which make for a fruitful reading ("Article 33: Meaning and Mode of Baptism" is one example, 201-208).

Whitney is particularly interested in the Mormon concept of the human spirit as a counterpart to the physical body. Using the Mormon teaching that only the body and spirit united eternally can receive a fulness of glory, Whitney justifies the LDS practice of baptisms in behalf of the dead. The body and spirit are joined for the duration of one's mortal life. In baptism, Whitney advances, the body is represented by the water and the spirit is represented by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Neither the body alone, nor the spirit alone can be baptized, they must be baptized together. "A person can believe and repent in the spirit world," Whitney explains, "but cannot be baptized there. This makes necessary baptism by proxy" (203-204).

Another creative conjecture Whitney includes is his familiar description of "spirit memories." "Why are we drawn toward certain persons, and they toward us, independently of any known previous acquaintance?" (237). Meeting familiar faces, hearing familiar streams of music, and recognizing gospel truths each evince memories from the premortal state, a view which President Joseph F. Smith "heartily endorsed" years previous in a letter Whitney includes in his article (238-239).

Whitney's forty articles of Saturday Night Thoughts certainly make for some interesting Sunday afternoon reading.

Grandin Press edition
As with the two previous volumes in the Orson F. Whitney collection of the "Forgotten Classics" series,8 this reprinted edition does not contain any additional contextual explanations, essays, footnotes, indexes, or other added material. A few errors from the first edition are repeated in this edition, but the editor(s) have realigned quoted material to better offset it from Whitney's own prose (see for example 74, 84, 124). Saturday Night Thoughts is in the public domain and available in free .pdf form. Versions of out of print books like this are quite accessible for users of e-readers, which ought to be an incentive for the series editors to add something extra to their reprinted editions to help justify the purchase, be it a new introductory essay by a noted scholar, an index, or something else. At the same time, as I prefer to read printed books this edition is an inexpensive alternative to printing my own copy or straining my eyes on my pc's screen. I appreciate Grandin Press being able to resurrect the book at a low cost, making it available in paperback, but would have also enjoyed additional material to help situate the book within its time and within contemporary Mormonism.

1.  Jeffery K. Taubenberger and David M. Morens, "1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January, 2006.

2.  Does Whitney's book qualify to be viewed as "official doctrine"? The recent statement from LDS Public Affairs ("Approaching Mormon Doctrine") leans towards no. Although it would be interesting to explore the question of how it was viewed then, having been originally published in "the Church organ" and "under the sanction of the General Authorities" (vii-viii). Grandin's edition notes that it "is not an official publication" of the Church and its views "are the responsibility of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the position of the Church or of Grandin Press, LLC." Grandin's edition does not compare the Deseret Evening News articles with their counterparts in Saturday Night Thoughts.

3. Orson F. Whitney, “Home Literature,” first delivered as a speech by Bishop Orson F. Whitney, at the Y.M.M.I.A. Conference, June 3, 1888. See

4. Whitney quotes Deuteronomy 18:22, a passage which has alternately been used to discredit Joseph Smith. Unlike the other two Grandin Press editions, scripture references are not added into the main body of the text but remain in the footnotes. Grandin Press has silently converted chapter footnotes into book endnotes.

5. For example, Article 35 tackles the question of modern miracles. Whitney exults in "marvelous manifestations of scientific power" which would have "been deemed visionary and impossible in former ages," but cautions readers against "rushing to the opposite extreme [of] that ultrapractical spirit which fain would make all things commonplace, not only in manifestation, but in origin" (218-19).

6. Whitney alternately refers to him as Geikie and Geike, the latter is correct (164, 209, 278). Grandin Press's edition silently repeats the same error. Perhaps this is one of the errors which a new edition could point out to readers in an introductory essay of new footnote. Whitney quotes from Geike's popular low church work, Hours With the Bible: Scriptures in Light of Modern Discovery and Knowledge (New York: John B. Alden Publisher, 1888). Elsewhere Whitney is critical of biblical "higher criticism" which is "a do away with everything savoring of the supernatural" in the Bible (219).

7.  LDS Public Affairs,"Approaching Mormon Doctrine," 4 May 2007.

8. See my reviews of Whitney's Elias—an Epic of the Ages and Life of Heber C. Kimball, the other two Whitney books in the "Forgotten Classics" series.