Why I bought Joseph Smith Papers #1

December 11, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 1:13 pm   Category: Life

I bought it, and it’s a beautiful and very attractive book. I could go on about the soft veneer of the pages, the attractive binding, or the how beautiful the book is underneath the cover.

But, I probably won’t ever read it cover to cover.

And I probably will pick using boap.org for looking up quotes by Joseph over this source. (Because it is text searchable and has all the parallel accounts for a single moment lined up together.)

So why did I shell out $50 for this book I will mainly just skim and admire on my shelf?

Because there might be something in these pages I did not know.

Because the fact that the church is publishing these from its office is such an important symbol of openness and good faith

Because I want the church to know this sort of thing is what I want to see in the Ensign

Because I know many people’s lives have been spent over the last three decades working to make this happen, and I want them to know I think there work is important

So have you bought it? Why or Why not?

How will you use it?


  1. More correctly, I even bought two copies and gave one away to my Bishop.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 11, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

  2. I bought it because I am hoping to get a feel for Joseph Smith as a person. There would surely be more efficient ways to get at his teachings, but I am looking for a view of his character that is as unfiltered as possible.

    Comment by rick — December 11, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

  3. Eventually all of the Joseph Smith Papers Project will be available online, searchable and linked, and including some information not published in the books. I might buy the first hard volume, but I’ll probably hold out for the online version for most.

    Comment by Bryce Haymond — December 11, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

  4. Cheapskate.

    Comment by BHodges — December 11, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

  5. I didn’t buy it because it is sold out, thanks to everyone who bought it to protect their bookshelves from dust.

    Comment by Peter LLC — December 11, 2008 @ 2:42 pm

  6. As a bishop I am jealous…I know- thou shalt not covet-whatever…that you would give your bishop such an important gift. For the record if anyone in my ward is reading, high quality books of a historical nature would be more appreciated than you know. You will, however, promptly receive a calling to teach Gospel Doctrine, but please don’t let that deter you.

    Comment by Rldds — December 11, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

  7. I got one from my SIL for my birthday. I too doubt that I will read it C2C but I am glad to have it.

    Comment by mondo cool — December 11, 2008 @ 5:40 pm

  8. I asked for it for Xmas; presumably, I’ll get an IOU since it’s sold out.

    I plan to collect them all as they come out, and it’s easiest to do that as they roll them out.

    I doubt I’ll read it cover to cover; I’ll cherrypick and use it for reference.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — December 11, 2008 @ 6:25 pm

  9. Halfway through the first cover to cover read.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 11, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

  10. I had it on the Christmas list but my wife has not got it for me… doh. And now it is sold out…

    Guess I know what I want for my birthday ;)

    #6 – becoming Gospel Doctrine teacher would definitely NOT be an impediment in my books.

    Comment by Jon W. — December 11, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

  11. Wanted it but it already sold out… :(

    I want to buy it to see Joseph in his own words and to have such a valuable academic resource mere feet from me. I’ll probably buy the all the hard copies and read them all but end up using a searchable online resource more often.

    Comment by dustin heap — December 11, 2008 @ 9:54 pm

  12. I was disappointed and will not buy these (least of all because of the price). There was far more commentary than the actual journal content. Hopefully this is because of the inaugaral edition and not because the editors feel they need to keep writing a book within a book. I suffocated in over explanation and essay fatigue. I just wish that Dean C. Jesse had finished his original Joseph Smith Journals and Diaries. They seemed document oriented rather than commentary heavy.

    I think I’ll wait for the online versions once this (journal) is finished. Perhaps I can develop my own document based version from the dogpile of modern text.

    Comment by Jettboy — December 12, 2008 @ 8:11 am

  13. A reply to Jettboy and others who feel there is too much documentation, from Mark Ashurst-McGee of the Smith Papers. There is still disagreement in the documentary editing community about how much annotation is appropriate. Different people will have different opinions on this, which is fine. The inaugural volume of the new JSP is indeed heavy with essays because it includes not only the General Introduction to the entire edition, which is much larger than that comtemplated when Jessee’s PJS1 came out, and also J1 includes the introduction to the Journals series. No other volume will have to carry this kind of burden in introductory essays. As for the rest of the annotation, I can speak for Dean and most of the staff that we feel very good about the amount of textual and contextual annotation in the document introductions,the footnotes, and the backmatter. The reference tools in the backmatter were specifically crafted to systematically unburden the main body from annotation. Routine notes of geographical and biographical identification and such are there in the back for the researcher to use, yet not competing with the text for space on the page in the main body. Of course, we recognize there are different views on this and we respect them. However, we feel that those researchers who use the Smith Papers most will like them best. If you are suffocated by the introductory essays then feel free to skip them. The volume is designed for research use, not fireside reading. As for the text of the journals, the new edition is significantly improved. If that is all you are after–which is true for many–ignore the footnotes and experience the raw power of this superior text, which has been carefully verified or corrected word for word, letter for letter, character for character. Also, the electronic edition should enable you to view the text free of annotation should you desire it. We are hoping to have a lot of user choice built into the e-version.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — December 12, 2008 @ 9:15 am

  14. I’ll be doing a review (hopefully) soon; but I want to go on record here as saying that the annotation and the editorial contextualizations are helpful and well done. I think the contextualization will be especially helpful for non-Mormon scholars.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 12, 2008 @ 9:50 am

  15. My son recently returned from England, and is kicking himself —especially after he saw the price of the new book!–for not getting it there. He said the Church of Christ has the rights to the papers, and gives them out out for free. If this is true, how do we aquire one here??

    Comment by deb — December 12, 2008 @ 10:43 am

  16. Jett: I personally like the commentary and contextualization. To add to what J. said above, I think it is really helpful to give an idea of the environment Joseph Smith was in and why and how he came to say the things he said. I think it will be a great help to mormon non-scholars to use this context to better understand what Joseph Smith meant in a lot of situations.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 12, 2008 @ 11:00 am

  17. Mark: Thanks for the great info; for what it’s worth, I thought y’all did a splendid job.

    You can just learn to do with Jettboy what the rest of us have sadly learned to do: ignore him. All he does is try to raise commotion with ridiculous complaints on just about anything–especially if it at all resembles scholarship.

    Comment by Emerson — December 12, 2008 @ 11:07 am

  18. Ignore me all you want. My words still exist (on this site or anywhere) and despite what you wish they are not coming from a vacuum. What I say has been said and will be said by far more Mormons outside of the bloggernacle than what exists within it’s small world. In relation to the books, if the volumes are just for academics (and that isn’t a bad thing) then they will serve that purpose and not reach a larger audience. Although, they do seem to be doing well for what they are.

    Cost is also very prohibitive. Mark, I would suggest once the Journals and Diaries are done that the Papers Project think of doing a one or two volume “commentary lite” and cheaper edition for the less-than academic public. Then again, I understand that might be cost prohibitive in production.

    Not that anyone has to do anything other than ignore me. I can live with that.

    Comment by Jettboy — December 12, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  19. Jettboy,

    As has been mentioned above, all the volumes will eventually be available online for free. That seems like a remarkably cheap addition and it will be searchable. You can skip the commentary entirely if you want. Frankly, I don’t really understand your complaint. Why don’t you just not read the parts you are not interested in, it still has all the primary documents you want. You’re angry that they are giving you more than what you would want?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 12, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

  20. To be clear, Jacob J, it is the cost vs. what it contains. Some seem to have the money for this, but I and many others don’t. I was interested in buying the Papers of Joseph Smith. My guess is that the “more than what you want” is contributing to the amount of the price. I don’t want that more, because it clutters what I want. Free online is going to be exciting, but frankly I am still a paper person.

    Comment by Jettboy — December 12, 2008 @ 12:37 pm

  21. Jettboy: You’re in luck, as a ““commentary lite” and cheaper edition for the less-than academic public” is available here.

    And this post is not about Jettboy, so let’s all be civil. Name calling will be edited.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 12, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  22. Jettboy: Ignore me all you want.

    All we want? That’s a lot.

    (I am not sure why I haven’t just banned you. I suppose your trollery is just enough to annoy but not quite enough yet to warrant a full-fledged banning… yet.)

    Comment by Geoff J — December 12, 2008 @ 4:47 pm

  23. We banned the troll long ago at the JI. You have greater patience than we do, Geoff.

    As for the commentary/price debate, the discounted price on amazon is not that prohibitive, even for poor graduate students like myself. Some of Signature’s limited additions, on the other hand, are a bit too much of a luxury for me, and they offer far less commentary and contextualization.

    Comment by David G. — December 13, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

  24. I passed initially due to the cost. I used my Christmas book allowance to pick up the Harper D&C book and the Penguin Book of Mormon. But after reading your reasons why (the amount of work involved, letting the church know to do more of this) I just might reconsider it for my birthday. Which hopefully come August it might be back in stock.

    Comment by TStevens — December 15, 2008 @ 9:51 am