A Pleasant Surprise

It seems 2008 has delivered its first miracle — the new Joseph Smith manual. Who would have thought that a correlated manual could actually be interesting? That’s doubly rewarding as the new Joseph Smith manual will be with us for two years. A short write-up with several striking illustrations is posted online at the Church News. I’ll add a few things I noted while browsing through the manual on Sunday afternoon.

First, the cover, which is likely to become the new standard image of Joseph Smith. If I ever get a portrait painted, remind me to look this artist up. I suspect if Joseph were presented with a copy of the new manual, his first response would be, “Wow, did I really look that good?” The book mixes new illustrations of this type with some of the old classics, as well as a few nice maps. Somehow it always surprises me that young Joseph lived within walking distance of the Erie Canal (see p. 3).

Second, each of the 47 lessons starts off with a couple of pages titled “From the Life of Joseph Smith.” It’s nice to have a chunk of history at the start of every lesson, a short narrative that actually hangs together as a whole as opposed to the cut and pasted paragraph quotations that, strung together, constitute the balance of the chapters. [I know they have done this for prior manuals, but the Joseph Smith history selections are inherently more interesting.] There is also an introductory 24-page “Life and Ministry of Joseph Smith” that (brace yourself) does not mention Haun’s Mill.

Third, I detect a real effort to get the details right, for example in a mere eight lines on pages 23-24 relating that, in June 1844, Joseph was first charged with riot; then acquitted in Nauvoo; subsequently required by Governor Ford to answer to the same charge in Carthage; freed on bail in Carthage; then hit with a new charge of treason against the state of Illinois and immediately thrown in the local jail. The footnotes are careful to give full references to sources as well as qualifications to the source when appropriate. There are many quotes from the History of the Church (“HC”), generally with additional explanation such as the particulars of a letter included in the HC and quoted in the manual, or noting who reported the specific material being quoted from the HC. There are no citations to Rough Stone Rolling or any other book or article in the secondary literature.

I’ll close by letting the manual briefly speak for itself, giving a short quote from the introductory chapter (from pages 19-20):

Throughout his ministry, the Prophet loved to be among the Saints. Of the city of Nauvoo and its inhabitants he said, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens.” … One convert observed, “There was a personal magnetism about him which drew all people who became acquainted with him to him.” “He does not pretend to be a man without failings and follies,” one Nauvoo resident wrote. “He is a man that you could not help liking; ….”

13 comments for “A Pleasant Surprise

  1. January 2, 2008 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for the preview and links, Dave! We were supposed to have received our manuals this past Sunday, but no such luck. I hope they arrive soon.

  2. Adam Greenwood
    January 2, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for this, Dave B.

  3. Dan
    January 2, 2008 at 10:14 am


    There are no citations to Rough Stone Rolling or any other book or article in the secondary literature.

    Most likely there are no citations to Rough Stone Rolling because both RSR and the Manual were being prepared at about the same time.

  4. East Coast
    January 2, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I got mine two weeks ago, but my husband hasn’t gotten his yet. (See Chapter 39: Relief Society: Divine Organization of Women.) :)

    I actually didn’t open it until I read your post today since our holiday season has been so hectic. Here are some observations.

    The heft is considerable. Will it make a difference in the number of people who bring it on Sunday?

    I noticed that one of our Relief Society teachers had her copy ring bound.

    There are six pages in the back discussing the sources used in the production of this book. They are:

    * Recorded sermons

    * Articles in the Evening and Morning Star, Messenger and Advocate, Elders Journal, and Times and Seasons

    * Letters signed by Joseph Smith

    * Joseph Smith’s Journals (I’ll have to use his technique and have one of my children follow me around, documenting my life)

    * Recollections of family and peers, used only when the person recording the events was actually there

    * Scriptures

    * The History of the Church. These books have an interesting history themselves, which I imagine you’re all familiar with, and if you’re not, it’s worth reading about. You can find it in the appendix, pages 558-63.

    Given this selection, it seems like sourcing Rough Stone Rolling would be rather superfluous, regardless of the production dates.

    It looks like a very well thought out and produced manual, and I hope that it spurs the teachers of the church to make their lessons worthy of the material.

  5. Matt W.
    January 2, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve had the book for about a month and a half. It’s very dry, and I am somewhat disappointed in the way it selects quotes from sermons. It defintely will need supplementing from boap.org or RSR if any sort of historical value is to be had from it. I think the quote selection also obscures some theological points as well.

    I guess I was hoping for more King Follet and more Sermon in the Grove.

  6. January 2, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    What would have been spectacular is if the JS Papers would have gotten their critical edition of the HC together and available. Seeing as they can’t get the diaries out, it is strictly wishful thinking.

  7. Matt
    January 2, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Thanks for your positive review. I’m not sure why so many people are discouraged that this manual doesn’t include substantive history. It’s the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, not the history of said prophet. While the historic context often spurred and inspired the teachings they are separate subjects, each meaty enough that to do justice to one would be at the cost of the other.

  8. January 3, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    This manual will be the first Church produced book I\’ll be reading and studying.(besides the Scriptures)

    I\’m learning about the LDS faith.

    It would be fun if there was an online study group for this manual, maybe a yahoo group.

    Or maybe you could set up something like this on your blog?

  9. Matt W.
    January 3, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Bethie, I think Joe Spencer is going to do something at the “Fest Upon the Word” Blog.

  10. Anita
    January 3, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    The spiral-bound versions are available through Distribution, specifically intended for teachers, I believe.

  11. Matt Donaldson
    January 3, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    I’ve always jokingly referred to the spiral-bound versions as the High Priests-edition because they are a large-print edition.

  12. January 4, 2008 at 5:40 am

    I’m glad to see the positive review. I get tired of all the “intellectual” gripings over church-produced stuff.

    That said, I have an utterly non-intellectual gripe. Most people I know would consider their spouses to be at least a minor player in their lives. If they’re going to erase plural wives from the prophet’s bios, I wish they’d leave the bios out altogether. As much as polygamy bothers me, it bothers me more that we erase the women who were faithful enough to live it.

  13. January 4, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Matt, (#9), thank you SO much for this link!!!!!

    This is exactly what I was looking for.

    How amazing to know that my prayers are answered, even before I ask!

    God Bless!

Comments are closed.