If I were looking for a published edition of Joseph Smith’s papers, which edition should I choose? Any assistance that readers could give me would be greatly appreciated.

Some background: Last weekend, I was looking to identify published editions of the Joseph Smith papers for library acquisition and discovered that there is an older edition of his papers, as well as a current, ongoing project to publish a definitive edition.

The newer project is headed by Richard Bushman and Dean Jessee. Bushman is best known for his biographies of Joseph Smith. (Rough Stone Rolling, his most recent, offers a great look into the life of the founder of the LDS Church.) Thus far, only two volumes have been published, so while having them would be useful, they won’t meet the need for a definitive edition for many years.

The older edition, edited by Jessee, is a two-volume work. Jessee also edited Smith’s personal writings a few years ago. I’m not sure what the difference is between the two Jessee works, nor do I know how definitive they are. From what I can tell, though, Jessee is the authority on Smith’s writings.

To complicate things, there apparently is a critical text edition of the Book of Mormon consisting of several volumes. I don’t think our undergraduate students would be interested in this set, but it would be interesting to examine the book’s evolution. By the way, if you are at all interested in Mormonism, textual analysis, or historic preservation, you should read the two-part series in my last link. Absolutely fascinating!

2 thoughts on “Definitive Edition of Joseph Smith Papers?

  1. Hello, Mark Ashurst-McGee from the Smith Papers here, I could best explain it chronologically,

    First, Jessee produced the _Personal Writings of Joseph Smith_ (1984).

    It turned out that this volume included documents produced by the infamous forger Mark Hofmann, so a second edition (also expanded) was published (2002).

    Smith is responsible for a substantial corpus of writings, but he produced most of it with the help of scribes taking oral dictation or by communicating ideas to a writer–he’s more of an Andrew Jackson than an Adams or a Jefferson. So while a comprehensive edition of documents bearing his name would fill many volumes, his personal writings fit in one.

    So, after finishing the Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Jessee launched the broader project of _The Papers of Joseph Smith_. Two volumes of this edition were published. Then the project found a very generous benefactor (Larry Miller, owner of many large Salt Lake City business and the Utah Jazz) and a dramatically increased staff. Although the earlier volumes are respectable in their own right, Jessee was able to take the work to a significantly higher level of quality.

    So, joined by Ron Esplin and Richard Bushman, Jessee has started over on the comprehensive edition of Smith documents under the new title _The Joseph Smith Papers_. As you mentioned, 2 volumes are out. A third is at the press and there will be a fourth out by the end of the year. By next Spring, the new edition will have covered everything covered in the old edition and much more. There is also a good website:

    To be comprehensive, our project will eventually cover the Book of Mormon, and when we do, we hope to have Royal Skousen’s help. He has been carefully studying the original manuscripts and early printed editions of the Book of Mormon for two decades. Your library can probably live without Volumes 3-4 of his work, which is the multi-book in-depth analysis of textual variants. You probably want to get volumes 1-2, the transcripts of the original manuscripts, and _The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text_ (Yale, 2009), which is his critical reconstruction of the earliest text based on his analysis of textual variants.

    1. Mark,

      Thanks for the comprehensive reply. I suppose I could have just e-mailed you directly, eh?

      I’m particularly glad you wrote because of the Hofmann issue. I was aware that there were forgeries, but I wouldn’t have known enough to avoid the first Jessee volume.

      Thanks also for the insight into the Book of Mormon volumes. I feel better about asking for the volumes you identified.

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