I recently had the opportunity to meet with the editors of this latest volume and see some of the included documents firsthand. The volume covers the first four and a half months of 1844, ending just 43 days before Joseph Smith’s death. There will be one more volume published after this, and then the series will be finished. There are 99 documents, including letters to (mostly) and from Joseph Smith, discourses, a short revelation, and a poem he wrote in an autograph book. During the time period covered, Joseph started the Council of Fifty, announced his presidential campaign, dealt with increasing hostility from various sources including former church members, and brought forth new doctrine, among other things.
All seven known versions of the King Follett Discourse are included, along with notes about the strengths and weaknesses of each. For instance, “While [George] Laub’s account captures only part of JS’s discourse, the portion it does record is fairly detailed and contains unique phrases” (page 315). There is also information about how the discourse was received, such as: “[Joseph] Fielding affirmed that ‘Josephs Discourse on the Origin of Man, the Nature of God and the Resurrection was the most interesting Matter of this time and any one that could not see in him the Spirit of Inspiration of God must be dark, they might have known that he was not a fallen Prophet even if they thought he was fallen.'” William Law, on the other hand was not impressed and said that “some of the most blasphemous doctrines have been taught by J. Smith & others” (page 314).
There are six versions of the discourse given on March 10, 1844, on the spirits of Elias and Elijah. This is also where he said that the Second Coming would not occur in the same year a rainbow appears, and that it would be at least 40 years from then. These range from a seven page version from Wilford Woodruff, to a brief summary by Willard Richards:
preached on the subject of the spirit of <Elias> Elijah. Elias & Mesiah clearly defini[n]g the offices of the 3 personages.The Savior will not come this year. <nor 40 year to come.>The bow has been seen in the cloud & in that year that the bow is seen seed time and harvest will be. but when the bow ceases to be seen look out for a famine. [5 lines blank] [p. ]
One of the fun things in this volume is an autograph book that was owned by Barbara Neff. On one page, W. W. Phelps wrote a poem to her and then signed it. Below that, Joseph Smith also wrote a poem and then signed. Then, 57 years later, it was also signed on the same page by Joseph F. Smith, which makes this page a unique treasure in multiple ways. Heber J. Grant’s signature also appears on the facing page.
As with past volumes, it has been an uplifting and educational experience for me to peruse the documents from Joseph Smith’s life, and it has increased my testimony that he was a prophet of God. The thorough notes and supplementary material are again very helpful in contextualizing and understanding the documents, and are worth having the printed book for the added accessibility to them. I’m looking forward to the next volume, but will also be sad that this adventure will come to an end.
Trevor Holyoak is the Vice President of FAIR. He has been actively involved with FAIR for many years and received the John Taylor Defender of the Faith Award in 2014. He graduated magna cum laude from Weber State University with a BS in computer science and now works as a programmer and systems administrator. He is currently serving as a stake emergency preparedness director and in the leadership of the Utah Valley Amateur Radio Club. He and his wife have five children and live in Cedar Hills, Utah.