The Joseph Smith Papers

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Joseph Smith Papers
© Intellectual Reserve

The Joseph Smith Papers Project, an ongoing project for many years, entailed researching, collecting, and publishing every manuscript and document that was either personally created by, or by others under the direction of Joseph Smith, Jr., the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon” Church by the media and others). The documents include the journals, personal correspondence, sermons, revelations, business and legal documents, and biographical accounts of Joseph Smith, all of which are compiled, transcribed, annotated, and published using the most advanced technological methods. As the volumes in the series were completed, they were made readily available to members, as well as non-members, of the Church of Jesus Christ, both online and in printed form.

The project is sponsored by the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The website is maintained, and the volumes are published, under the Church History Department’s imprint, the Church Historian’s Press.

The Martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith was assassinated by enemies of the Church of Jesus Christ on 27 June 1844, at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, in the county jail at Carthage, Illinois. His brother, Hyrum Smith, was also assassinated. John Taylor, who was also present in the jail and severely wounded, would later refer to Joseph and Hyrum as “'martyrs of religion" and declared that the Restoration of the Gospel had "cost the best blood of the nineteenth century.'” [1] Modern day scripture as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 135:1-3, 6 reveals the events that occurred on that somber day:

To seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. They were shot in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844, about five o’clock p.m., by an armed mob—painted black—of from 150 to 200 persons. Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God! They were both shot after they were dead, in a brutal manner, and both received four balls.
John Taylor and Willard Richards, two of the Twelve, were the only persons in the room at the time; the former was wounded in a savage manner with four balls, but has since recovered; the latter, through the providence of God, escaped, without even a hole in his robe.
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!
Hyrum Smith was forty-four years old in February, 1844, and Joseph Smith was thirty-eight in December, 1843; and henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world; and that if the fire can scathe a green tree for the glory of God, how easy it will burn up the dry trees to purify the vineyard of corruption. They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified.

The Joseph Smith Papers Project Timeline

Following Joseph Smith’s death, a collection of his papers were carried west by Brigham Young and other church leaders, while some other significant documents remained in the possession of John Whitmer, one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Emma Smith, Joseph’s widow, and others. Many of these papers were not published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ (formerly called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), or independent researchers until years later.

The project had its earliest beginnings in the late 1960s, when Dean C. Jessee, then an employee of the Church Historian’s Office, was invited by Truman G. Madsen, emeritus professor of religion and philosophy at Brigham Young University (BYU) and director of the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, to contribute documents relating to Joseph Smith and early Mormonism to issues of BYU Studies. In 1972 when Leonard J. Arrington was appointed as Church Historian, he directed Jessee to continue with the work of locating, collecting, and transcribing the writings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In 1984 Jessee published The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, which was followed by two other volumes entitled Papers of Joseph Smith. The first was published in 1989 and the second was published in 1992.

In 2001, the project begun by Jessee began to expand when BYU and the Church Archives decided to collaborate and rename the project The Joseph Smith Papers. Added funding for the project was provided by Larry H. and Gail Miller.

In August 2004, the Project received endorsement by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a division of the National Archives, to ensure research is conducted according to the highest scholarly standards. The Project was moved back to the Church History Department in 2005.
Although not an official part of the project, a documentary TV series also called The Joseph Smith Papers was created. This series documented the creation of and work involved in the Joseph Smith Papers Project. It was produced by KJZZ-TV in cooperation with the Church Historical Department. [2]

In February 2008, The Church Historian’s Press, an imprint of the Church History Department of the Church, was established "for publishing works related to the Church’s origin and growth." The publication of The Joseph Smith Papers is the press's initial project. [3]

Joseph Smith Papers Podcast

The martyrdom, the key events leading up to it and its aftermath, are explored and discussed in “Road to Carthage: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast,” a 2023 eight-part, documentary style miniseries hosted by Spencer McBride, an associate managing historian with the Joseph Smith Papers project. The podcast features interviews with two senior Church leaders, including President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and President M. Russell Ballard.

“The Road to Carthage” is the fifth and final podcast produced by the Joseph Smith Papers. The previous podcasts are:

Publication Process of the Series’ First Volumes

High resolution images of many of the original documents were published by Brigham Young University Press in 2002 as part of Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The two volume set contains 76 DVDs of images from 1830 to 1923, including complete images of the Joseph Smith Collection, circa 1831-1844, the Revelations Collections, circa 1831-1876, architectural drawings of the Nauvoo Temple, and several volumes containing minutes from meetings Joseph Smith attended or oversaw. Annotated transcriptions of the Joseph Smith–related document from this DVD collection, in addition to the number of Joseph Smith documents housed in widespread repositories and in private collections will make the documents far more accessible to scholars of American religious history, historians, researchers, and the public. [4]

Before a volume was sent to the press to be published, the transcripts and manuscripts contained within the volume were verified three times, and annotations were inserted within the text to accentuate the historical context of the documents. To guarantee the highest quality and accuracy of information provided within each volume, all footnotes and citations are also verified, and often cross-checked by production editors, and then copy edited. The actual manuscripts are examined by project editors, and a draft of the volume is reviewed by external scholarly reviewers and General Authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ.

In December 2008, The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839, the first volume in the series, was published. The price of the volume was $50, and due to high demand, the original supply of 12,500 copies sold out in two weeks, causing the publishers to triple the number of printed copies for the second order to 16,500. Wanting to give the volume as Christmas gifts that year, many purchasers bought gift certificates in anticipation of the second printing, and some remaining first edition copies were sold at more than twice the retail price. By 10 October 2009, over 48,000 copies of the first volume had been sold.

The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Volume 1: Manuscript Revelation Books, the second volume in the series, was made available for purchase on 23 September 2009. The original sales projection was 3,000 copies, however, once again due to high demand, over 6,100 copies were sold in Deseret Book stores, and there were requests for over 11,000 copies by other bookstores within a two week period.

In 2008, Journals, Volume 1: 1832-1839 received the Special Award in Textual Criticism and Bibliography from the Association for Mormon Letters, and the Steven F. Christensen Best Documentary Award from the Mormon History Association in 2009. [5]

The Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project “presents in chronological order the core of Joseph Smith’s documentary record.” [6] The second volume in the series, Documents, Volume 2: July 1831-January 1833 was released in December 2013, and contains “revelations, correspondence, minutes of meetings in which Joseph Smith participated, and licenses provided to church officers.” [7] The documents contained within the volume afford the reader an opportunity to see how The Church of Jesus Christ grew administratively, as well as how Joseph Smith matured as its leader.

The editors for Documents, Volume 2 are Matthew C. Godfrey, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, and William G. Hartley. This new volume contains over forty revelations, many of which were later printed in the Doctrine and Covenants, and chronicles administrative and doctrinal developments in the Church. Also included in the volume are two letters from Joseph Smith to his wife Emma. These letters help to illustrate the loving husband and father that the Prophet Joseph was.

The Division of the Series

The Joseph Smith Papers website reported:

The Joseph Smith Papers Project is a comprehensive edition, meaning it will include all known and available documents meeting the project’s criteria as Joseph Smith documents. While selective editions may exclude some documents because they are of less interest or importance, comprehensive editions such as this one make no such exclusions. All Joseph Smith documents, even routine ones such as certificates, will be published on this website, and many documents will be published in print volumes. It is expected that twenty-seven print volumes will be published, at a rate of about two per year.
The print and digital editions of the Joseph Smith Papers are divided into seven series. The Documents series is the core of both editions, presenting, with the exception of some documents featured in other series, all of Joseph Smith’s papers from July 1828 to June 1844. The other series will publish larger record books and standalone genres. The Journals series presents Joseph Smith’s diaries from 1832 to 1844; the Histories series publishes Joseph Smith’s many attempts to record his own story and the story of the church; the Revelations and Translations series provides textual studies of Smith’s revelatory texts; the Administrative Records series presents minute books, letterbooks, and records of organizations Smith was associated with, such as the Council of Fifty; the Legal Records series presents the legal cases Smith was involved in; and the Financial Records series presents documents related to his business and financial dealings.

Fifteen volumes of the print edition of the Documents series are comprised of correspondence, sermons and other addresses, official declarations and pronouncements, editorials and articles from periodicals, early versions of revelations, and "selected minutes and proceedings."

The Journal series contains three volumes featuring Joseph Smith's journals.

The two-volume Histories series was planned to contain Joseph Smith's complete manuscript history, begun by Smith in 1838, and continued by clerks after his death in 1844. Two volumes are included in the print edition, but according to the website, "the entire multi-volume manuscript history" will be published online. Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844 was published 19 March 2012, and Volume 2: Assigned Historical Writings, 1831-1847 was published September 2012.

The Legal series will contain legal papers in which Smith was a judge, witness, plaintiff or a defendant, and financial records including land transactions and "accounts of church-owned businesses." One volume is available online.

The five volumes of the Revelations and Translations series contains the earliest known manuscripts text of revelations received by Joseph Smith and published in his lifetime to include the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon, the published Book of Mormon, and the Book of Commandments.

The Administrative Records series contains published records relating to the "institutions that were established under Smith's directions" as well as minutes for meetings Smith attended. These records are available online. Minute Book 1, Minute Book 2, and Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book were published online in 2011.

According to the website:

All of the papers included in these printed works will also be published on this website at some point, with the annotation that appeared in print. It is contemplated that this website will include the following additional material not available in the print edition: as part of the Histories series, the entire multi-volume manuscript history of Joseph Smith (later edited and published as History of the Church); as part of the Documents series, a number of certificates and other routine documents only samples of which will be included in print; as part of the Legal and Business Records series, the equivalent of about two additional volumes’ worth of material not included in print; as part of the Revelations and Translations series, Joseph Smith's Bible revision manuscripts; as the Administrative Records series, transcripts of minute books, letter books, and other institutional records; a number of other Joseph Smith documents and closely related documents; and various reference materials. [8]

The Progression of the Project

The first of the 10-volume Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, a 640-page volume, was published in 2013, and the second, published at the end of 2013, includes documents from July 1831 through January 1833.

Concerning the Documents series, Richard E. Turley, Jr., Assistant Church Historian said,

We are laying it all out. In these volumes you get Joseph Smith straight up.
This set of documents allows you to see, without any intervening filter, what Joseph Smith produced. It’s an excellent way to understand Joseph Smith and his life, because it gives you the pertinent documents, and it gives them to you in a chronological order, so you can see what comes before and after.
As I have studied these documents I continue to be impressed by the complexity of his life. He was a husband, father, businessman, prophetic leader, community builder. Reading these documents, it becomes even more clear what a fascinating and marvelous leader he was.” [9]

Elder Steven E. Snow, past Church historian and recorder, stated,

This new Documents series will publish, in chronological order, all the early historical documents associated with the Restoration of the Church. Together, these texts provide unparalleled insight into the life and prophetic thought of Joseph Smith, one of the most important figures in American religious history. [10]
This first volume contains the earliest documents that have been found penned in Joseph Smith’s own hand. This volume also includes a broadside (poster) of the first known publication of characters that may have been copied from the gold plates. Editors of the Prophet, a Mormon newspaper published in New York, produced this after Joseph Smith’s death I 1844. [11]

According to the Meridian Magazine article titled "LDS Church Publishes Earliest Joseph Smith Documents" written by Maurine Proctor,

The introduction to the volume notes, “At the outset Joseph Smith wrote very little. His family were not writers. He and many of his peers read comfortably but were less practiced and perhaps less at ease expressing themselves in writing. While he was clearly literate, no specimen of his handwriting created before 1829 is extant.
Even as a mature adult, Smith noted ongoing frustration with the limitations of writing. In a 6 June 1832 letter to his wife Emma he wrote, “I hope you will excuse . . . my inability in convaying my ideas in writing.”
Nonetheless, beginning in 1827 at age twenty-one, he produced extensive texts given him, he said, “by the gift and power of God.” In practice this meant dictation rather than writing in his own hand, and in this mode he was prolific. Not only did he dictate to scribes the more-than-500 page text of the Book of Mormon, beginning in the summer of 1828, he also dictated hundreds of pages of revelatory texts in the voice of God.”

As the project progressed, more documents were made available for all to have a full and complete insight into the life and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. A recent announcement on the website states that the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has “approved the use of the Nauvoo-era Council of Fifty minutes in annotation for forthcoming volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers and the eventual publication of those minutes as a separate volume.” [12]

Joseph Smith established the Council of Fifty in March 1844, a few months before his death. Until now, the minutes from those meetings were not available for research, and therefore, had never been published. The minutes record “unpublished Joseph Smith sermons and instructions, as well as his participation in council discussions that illustrate early Latter-day Saint views on government and the Kingdom of God.” [13] The minutes were recorded in three small, hardbound volumes by William Clayton, the council’s clerk. It is projected that the Nauvoo-era minutes of the Council of Fifty will be published in the Administrative Records series of the Joseph Smith Papers.

With the publication of these vital documents, in print and electronic format, which accurately portray the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the life and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, prayerfully no stone will be left unturned, and many of the myths and criticisms that have prevailed over time, will finally be put to rest.

The Final Volumes

The final two volumes of the project come from its “Documents” series.

“Documents, Vol. 14, 1 January-15 May 1844,” was released in the spring of 2023. “Documents, Vol. 15, 16 May-28 June 1844” covers the final six weeks of Joseph Smith’s life and will be released on June 27, 2023, the anniversary of Prophet’s martyrdom.[14]

The Website

People can still go to the Joseph Smith Papers website at as “the” continuing resource, free and available to all, even after the final volume is published.

The project staff is still preparing web content for three series — administrative records, financial records, and legal papers.

“It’s kind of a misnomer to say that the Joseph Smith Papers project is going to be completed in 2023,” Rogers said. “There will still be a lot of releases and new content coming that will be available in the years beyond 2023. ... There is still going to be some substantial work ongoing online.”

The website also allows visitors to view scans of original documents and images.[15]

The Conclusion to the Project

The seventh annual Joseph Smith Papers Conference was held on September 15, 2023. With completion of the Joseph Smith Papers project on June 27, the Church is now ready to effectively tell the story of the Prophet of the Restoration, said President Dallin H. Oaks in his remarks at the conference.

“We announce today that the First Presidency has commissioned a new biography of the Church’s founding Prophet, to be titled ‘Joseph the Prophet,’” President Oaks said to hundreds of attendees in the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City.
The new biography will be written by Richard E. Turley Jr., former assistant Church historian and recorder, with help from teams of historians and other professionals at Church headquarters, Brigham Young University and elsewhere.
“The Joseph Smith Papers project has laid a firm foundation on which we can now build a biography of the Prophet Joseph Smith unlike any that has previously been written,” Turley said. “This book will focus on Joseph Smith’s role as a Prophet, which will distinguish it from other recent biographies that focus on other aspects of his life.”[16]
Before announcing the new biography, President Oaks began his remarks by thanking the “hundreds whose devoted research, analysis, writing, editing, financial support and permission to use documents not owned by the Church have brought this monumental project to completion.”
“To none will these materials be more precious than those of us who esteem Joseph Smith as a Prophet called of God to lead the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Beyond the Conclusion to the Project

In April 2024, The Joseph Smith Papers Project unveiled its latest historical study aid: “Legal Records: Case Introductions.” This compilation contextualizes Joseph Smith’s multifaceted interactions with the law, casting light on his roles as a plaintiff, defendant, witness, or judge in approximately 200 cases spanning the years 1819 to 1844. Available exclusively as an e-book for purchase at Deseret Book and on Amazon.[17]

Additional Resources


External Links