LDS Church History

Episode 81: A Closer Look at the Foundational Texts of Mormonism – Sharalyn D. Howcroft

Tune in as Laura Harris Hales interviews Sharalyn D. Howcroft on Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources, a new book that carefully analyzes essential texts that are repeatedly used by historians as they reconstruct Mormonism’s founding era. Scholars have frequently mined early Mormon historical sources for the information that they contain, though with little attention to source criticism.

A noteworthy exception is the work of Dean C. Jessee. Jessee’s examination of The History of the Church showed that unlike the subtitle of its first six volumes—Period I: History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, by Himself—the history was written by a dozen different scribes and clerks, not Smith. Although Smith started the history, his office staff quickly assumed most of the burden of production, barely half of it was completed at the time of Smith’s death in 1844, and it took many more years before it was finished. Jessee’s scholarship showed the necessity of understanding authorship, textual origins, and record production.

Foundational Texts of Mormonism was conceived as a compilation of essays honoring Dean C. Jessee. Taking a page from Jessee’s playbook, this volume scrutinizes documents as products of history rather than sources of historical information. When records are examined as artifacts of the culture from which they originate, it reveals things about historical sources beyond the content of the records themselves.

Chapters in the book provide original and notable contributions on early Mormon history sources using methodologies advocated by Jessee. Richard Lyman Bushman’s “The Gold Plates as Foundational Text” focuses on the Book of Mormon’s account of its creation, viewing the gold plates as a document in the Book of Mormon narrative. Its disparate texts reflect both divinely inspired and human elements.

Grant Hardy’s “Textual Criticism and the Book of Mormon” assesses Royal Skousen’s Book of Mormon Critical Text Project and what it divulges about the process of dictation and textual transmission, including Joseph Smith’s views on scriptural text.

Thomas A. Wayment, in “Intertextuality and the Purpose of Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible” studies Joseph Smith’s motivation for revising the Bible and how it steered Smith to re-envision the Bible.

Grant Underwood, in “The Dictations, Compilation, and Canonization of Joseph Smith’s Revelations” traces the unfolding of Smith’s revelations from their initial dictation to canonization.

In “Joseph Smith’s Missouri Prison Letters and the Mormon Textual Community,” David W. Grua examines Smith’s epistles given to the Latter-day Saint community during his incarceration, and how they connected the suffering of the Saints with revelation.

Jennifer Reeder in “The Textual Culture of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society Leadership and Minute Book” studies the undercurrent of polygamous relationships evident in the society’s minute book, based on what was and was not recorded.

William V. Smith’s chapter on “Joseph Smith’s Sermons and the Early Mormon Documentary Record,” examines how a more extensive documentary record of Smith’s sermons was the direct result of the increased importance place upon Smith’s preaching.

In “Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo Journals,” Alex D. Smith and Andrew H. Hedges analyze Smith’s journals kept during the last two and a half years of his life and their contribution to our understanding of Smith’s last few years and the Nauvoo community at that time.

The prolific writings of Wilford Woodruff are reviewed in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s “The Early Diaries of Wilford Woodruff, 1835–1839.” Woodruff’s painstaking care when recording his diary indirectly chronicles his lived experience through earthly and heavenly bonds, his faith, and missionary work.

In “An Archival and Textual Reexamination of Lucy Mack Smith’s History,” Sharalyn D. Howcroft reconstructs the original order of the history, studies its composition methodology, and explains its complicated provenance.

Primary sources of early Mormon history are not only written texts but also include photographs. In “The Image as Text and Context in Early Mormon History,” Jeffrey G. Cannon considers photographs as texts. Many early Mormon images were taken within the context of rivaling succession claims.

Ronald O. Barney’s chapter on “Joseph Smith and the Conspicuous Scarcity of Early Mormon Documentation” investigates what records were and were not created, the gaps in the records, and what it tells us about early Mormon recordkeeping.

About the Guest: Sharalyn D. Howcroft has been employed by the Church History Department since 2000 as an archivist and document specialist for the Joseph Smith Papers. She received a BA in English with a minor in Hebrew language from Brigham Young University. After finishing an intensive Hebrew program in the Middle East, she completed an intensive Arabic program that was part of a Middle Eastern languages consortium at the University of Utah. She received an MA in library and information science with an archival studies concentration from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and is a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists.

Extra Resources:

Episode 81 Transcript

Foundational Texts of Mormonism.

History of Joseph Smith by His Mother

LDS Perspectives Podcast

Episode 81: A Closer Look at Foundational Texts of Mormonism with Sharalyn D. Howcroft

(Released May 9, 2018)

This is not a verbatim transcript.

Some grammar and wording has been modified for clarity.

Laura H. Hales: This is Laura Harris Hales, and I’m here today with Sharalyn D. Howcroft to talk about a book she edited along with Mark Ashurst-McGee and Robin Scott Jensen, Foundational Texts of Mormonism.

Sharalyn has been employed by the Church History Department since the year 2000 as an archivist and as a document specialist for The Joseph Smith Papers—almost before it was the Joseph Smith Papers.

Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Yes.

Laura H. Hales: Tell us a little bit about that.

Sharalyn Howcroft: When I started my employment with the Church History Department, my responsibilities entailed a few things. I worked part time on gathering source materials for the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith manual, and part time on the Papers of Joseph Smith (renamed Joseph Smith Papers in 2001). The majority of my time was spent down at BYU in the documentary editing office at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History. I worked on the papers project before there were volume editors. It basically amounted to Dean Jessee, Ron Esplin, Scott Faulring, and Richard Anderson. We discussed documents and Church Archives resources that were essential to the project. I initially organized the documents in our physical and electronic files.
Laura H. Hales: You have a rich educational background. I was amazed at some of your degrees. Tell us about a few of them.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: I received my BA in English from BYU, my minor ended up being Hebrew, and I went to the BYU Jerusalem Center in 1998. I was part of the first group of intensive Hebrew students that went there. The prior semester was the first intensive Arabic program. It was an interesting experience being among the first in the language program. When I returned, I paid for all of my student loans and then moved to Salt Lake City. One of the students who went to Jerusalem with me told me about an intensive Arabic program at the University of Utah that was part of a Middle Eastern Languages Consortium. We participated in the program together. I was studying Arabic eight hours a day. It was intense, but very worthwhile. After that I applied at the Church Office Building, and the rest is history.
Laura H. Hales: The rest is really history. I feel like I need a drum roll right there. What do you consider the foundational texts of Mormonism?
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: For the volume itself, there were two things we considered. By “foundational,” we were referring to the founding period of Mormonism. When we referred to the texts, we were specifically talking about the sources that are used repeatedly when historians and scholars study Joseph Smith and early Mormonism. Those founding texts are, of course, the Book of Mormon, but also Joseph Smith’s journals, his history, and Lucy Mack Smith’s history—the texts that are really pivotal to early Mormonism.
Laura H. Hales: Just give us a blueprint of the book. What are the authors doing with these foundational texts? Are they giving summaries? Are they analyzing them? Are they talking about provenance? What are they doing with these?
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: The chapters themselves are looking at these texts from a number of angles. One of the things that we attempted to do with the volume is to not just look at records and documents as historical sources, but as products of history. Historians mine sources for information and then create a narrative history, but we wanted to go beyond that and analyze the records as artifacts of history.

Part of the reason we wanted to do this was because there’s more information going on in the records than what is written, and it can become problematic to approach sources with the sole intent to mine information. Using a critical approach to the records reveals some insights that aren’t explicitly stated in the historical sources.

Some of the chapters do delve into provenance. For example, my chapter on the Lucy Mack Smith history delves into the provenance in part because it has been so thoroughly misunderstood. Other chapters explore the context of records and their production, transmission, and reception.

Laura H. Hales: I can see as an editor there is a need for this book because sometimes when I’m working with historians or amateur historians they’ll use this source, and I’ll go back to them and say, “I’m sorry, that source has been supplanted. It’s inadequate.” And sometimes they’ll go, “Why?” Well, lots of times we can just say, “Well, Joseph Smiths Papers, they are the primary source now instead of say, the History of the Church or the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” But also, there are some sources that have been commonly used in the past that have become suspect or people have even questioned, “Where is this coming from?”

This isn’t really a book for the layman, but it’s not strictly for the historian. What audiences were you targeting?

Sharalyn D. Howcroft: We tried to target both scholars and non-scholars who have an interest and passion for history. Part of the reason is because there are pitfalls regarding records. Some historians and lay readers are very aware and very connected with the records; others are not. What we wanted to do is put up road signs to some of these records. We’re aware that a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to delve as deeply into the records as we do at The Joseph Smith Papers; and yet, we wanted to supply people with that knowledge, that information, and that toolkit that would make them more aware and more cognizant, more savvy, about the records themselves and how to use them.

We also wanted to unwind some of the misperceptions that have occurred in the past with some of these records. For example, prior to Dean Jessee writing his article on the Joseph Smith history, a lot of people would take the seven volume History of the Church and say, “Oh, Joseph Smith said this.” Similarly, with the Lucy Mack Smith history, “According to Lucy, this is what happened.” What Dean did for the Mormon scholarly community was dissect Joseph Smith’s history and say, “Hey, it is not what we think it is.” There are many times in the History of the Church where the narrative is written in first-person as though Joseph Smith wrote it. Well, it was actually Willard Richards, William Clayton, and a host of other scribes who did the writing. It was a multi-scribed history that took decades of work—much of it occurring way after Joseph Smith died.

There is a liberal use of records that simply aren’t coming from Joseph Smith. And so, all of a sudden the way we perceive the Joseph Smith history becomes more complex, but it also becomes more rich and more nuanced. Our hope in bringing materials to light in this volume is to advocate a critical approach to the records, and help readers understand the records are far more complicated than they appear. In the example of the Lucy Mack Smith history as well as Joseph Smith’s history, we simply can’t write like this. We can’t say that Joseph or Lucy said certain things given how layered and nuanced their histories are.
Laura H. Hales: And I think we did that for a long, long time. There was such a dearth of direct information regarding what Joseph was giving in his sermons in Nauvoo. If we got it from the History of the Church, that seemed so authoritative. And then, that was kind of turned on its head by Dean Jessee where he’s like, “No. They wrote it in first-person, but it was really third-person after the fact.”

You talked about being able to add more nuance to historical research. How does this book give historians the tools to do that?

Sharalyn D. Howcroft: A lot of the toolset is not explicitly stated. It’s more along the lines of what one could infer from the chapters. For example, in Jenny Reader’s chapter on the Relief Society Minute Book, part of what Reeder deals with is what is and is not explicitly stated. You come to understand why certain women are not participating in the Relief Society or why certain scribes are no longer writing in the Relief Society book.
Laura H. Hales: I found that very interesting.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Yes.
Laura H. Hales: What the record doesn’t say speaks volumes.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Yes.
Laura H. Hales: That may be a direct quote from Jenny. I don’t know.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Well, it does speak volumes. A lot of times when it comes to using these records, we think we’ll just use this information. The absence of certain people speaks volumes. The absence of Phoebe Rigdon from the Relief Society membership I think is quite telling given some of the volatility that was going on with Sidney Rigdon at the time. It’s fascinating how these records come together. And the fact that a good chunk of these women who are participating in Relief Society are plural wives of Joseph Smith is also interesting. There’s this undercurrent of plural marriage in the organization that’s very dynamic. And yet, it’s not being spoken of in the record. There is instruction on the morals and virtue of the women of the Relief Society, but plural marriage is always in the background and vital part of the framework.
Laura H. Hales: You along with Mark and Robin are all documentary editors. What would you say are the objectives of documentary editing?
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: There are a couple of objectives with documentary editing. One is to publish authoritative texts. A lot of times when people start researching and writing about key figures in history, they want to know that the documents being used are authentic, that they aren’t questioned or not forged. Part of the objective of documentary editing is to give that type of information to readers and also create an access point to the records. A lot of interested parties, a lot of scholars, don’t have the luxury of going to archive after archive to mine these rich sources. And most people frankly don’t have the budget to travel that extensively. Documentary editing also looks at the intention, production, transmission, and reception of a document. The purpose is to illuminate these texts, but not to interpret them, which allows scholars to encounter the records on their own terms without another scholar interpreting them. It’s the raw data that can be used to write biographies. One of the things that historians such as David Mccullough say is, “I wouldn’t be able to write these biographies that I do were it not for these documentary editions.” Someone is paving the way and going before them. I’m convinced that the best biography on Joseph Smith is yet to be written.
Laura H. Hales: Oh, I agree. Definitely. Let’s talk about your chapter in the book.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Sure.
Laura H. Hales: You examined the History of Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith—a book that many, many people are familiar with. It’s been used to write curriculum. I think it’s kind of been used as a proof text for the Restoration. I don’t know how many people have made it all the way through. I’ve started it about ten times. I get to like chapter five, and then I’ve heard about the genealogy and the Colesville Saints, and then I’m done.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Well, I’m sure you’re not the only one. The Lucy Mack Smith history was a history that was written beginning in ‘44 and continuing through ‘45. There’s a couple of stories about who motivated the writing of the history. One is that Martha Jane Coray, who had known the Smith family for a few years, wanted to create a simple book for children. She was interested in the Smith family and had gathered information on them for several years. Another story is coming from Lucy Mack who says, “I’ve undertaken by the direction of the Twelve, a history of the Smiths. Yet another story is that Lucy Mack instigated the history herself. Martha Jane Coray worked with Lucy to compile the history. At some point in the winter, Howard [her husband] ends up quitting his work as a school teacher in Nauvoo and assists his wife in writing Lucy’s history. They work on the history together and complete it at the close 1845.
Laura H. Hales: And then what happened?
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Oh, it has a very interesting story after that. When the Corays finished writing the history, a copy of it was given to the church, and a copy of it was given to Lucy Mack Smith. There are competing custodial history stories about Lucy’s copy. There are references to Almon Babbitt having it, then William Smith. It was apparently transferred to Isaac Sheen and eventually came into the possession of Orson Pratt. Pratt took it to England and had it published in 1853 without the authorization of the Quorum of the Twelve. There were some concerns about accuracy that were voiced over a decade later. As a result of that, attempts to revise the manuscript occur in the Historian’s Office in the 1860s.
Laura H. Hales: I heard that. Brigham didn’t like it.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: That is correct. He had some pretty strong language towards the history itself. There are other people who have done much more research into his claims and whether they were legitimate. I didn’t necessarily discuss that in my chapter. But it is interesting to note that questions about accuracy of the record coincide with the rise of the RLDS church, claims of succession, and legitimacy of priesthood.
Laura H. Hales: You spoke to reception history, and I talked about starting this book several times. The first time I was a teenager, and I opened it up, and I started reading it, and I thought, “Wow. She wrote really, really well.” I mean, an uneducated housewife in the early 1800s, a farmwife … Sometimes we don’t connect the dots; we just take it at face value. I started reading your chapter, and I realized that this is the work of two very good writers that you mentioned, created by repeated interviews with Lucy Mack. Lucy Mack actually didn’t pen any of it.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: That’s correct. As far as who’s inscribing the rough manuscript, it’s Martha Coray. The first half of it is written by Martha, but it’s edited by Howard who is making little corrections and changes and finessing sentences. In the second half, things shift a bit. It’s still in Martha’s handwriting, but there begins to be instructions to a reviser. They are paratextual insertions. I refer to it in my chapter as a type of scaffolding the scribe and reviser use discuss the history project’s construction; they reference what text to include. There is a reference directed to the reviser to “express sympathies at length” or to infuse certain parts of the narrative with emotion.
Laura H. Hales: Here’s this foundational text of Mormonism—Lucy Mack Smith’s history. Like I said, it’s been used kind of as a proof text because it has these visions that Joseph Smith Sr. had. They’re very similar to visions in the Book of Mormon, and supposedly then that helped the Smith family accept Joseph’s story easier.

You go through and show what it is in the rough draft and how the Corays revised it. As an amateur, not as a documentary specialist, but as an editor, it seems to me, substantively, we can reasonably accept that Lucy gave this information to the Corays. It might not be word-for- word what happened, but it grabs the essence of what happened years later and what more could you do at that point?

Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Right.
Laura H. Hales: I’m looking at this, and I think, “So how does that help me decide how to judge this source?”
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Well, the source itself is complicated. Falling back to the scenario with the Joseph Smith history. There’s been this sense that we can just say Joseph Smith said this and be fine. The problem we have doing that with Lucy Mack Smith history is that it’s not a pure text. We can’t say this is Lucy’s authentic voice because it’s not.

The Lucy Mack Smith history is a product of social publication. That’s probably a term unfamiliar to most readers of Mormon history. It’s a multi-faceted approach to publishing. Social publication is a sense of trying out texts on audiences before broader distribution. For example, Lucy Mack told her son William she had recited the history of the Smiths over and over to the point of destroying her lungs. She decides to commit her history to print. This is very much in the vein of social publication. She’s trying out this text on audiences. She’s telling people a narrative of her family. This telling and retelling essentially is creating a narrative she builds upon each time she tells it. By the time the history is actually written, the history of her family is very much a part of her life and her experience. She’s not building this from scratch because she’s been telling the story over and over again.

Laura H. Hales: I wondered when you were talking about social publication if it were like a comedian trying jokes out at a comedy club: “Okay, that didn’t play well. I need to change it a little bit.” I hate to say that, but did she try it out and say, “Oh, I need to add a little bit more because I didn’t get the reaction I wanted. “Or, is she just refining it?
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: We really don’t have a lot of information on the intellectual things that she’s doing to package this history, but what we do know is—yes, she’s telling this and retelling it. Do we get a sense of how frequently she’s doing this? No. She’s telling her story at Jonathan Hales’ home. She recites a history of the family to that point. You also get the sense that she’s telling this to other members of the church. She is incrementally working on it. If you look at how we rearticulate and redefine experiences based on passage of time and our sense of memory, she’s probably reworking the history and finding a different sense of meaning with each time she tells it.
Laura H. Hales: What you’re telling us is when she tells it to Martha Coray, she’s telling the story of her story rather than the story of her memory.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: She’s telling the story of her story, yes. Reflecting on the writing of the history. Martha Coray Lewis, Howard and Martha’s daughter, says her mother would go to Mother Smith and Mother Smith would dictate her history. Martha would write it down, and they went back and forth on the text until Mother Smith grew weary. There’s a part of this text that’s very much Lucy Mack telling and retelling her story, which is an important component of the history. You get the sense of that in the early phases of the history, but then by the time you get to the end of it, it’s nowhere like it was. The initial parts of the history are very intimate—a very personal, one-on-one type of thing. Then it gets watered down from there.
Laura H. Hales: Yeah, the book is very aloof.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Yes, and part of that is we’re losing her voice.
By the time you get to the latter part of the book, it feels very impersonal. Part of it is this sense of social publication, the drawing upon pre-existing texts or oral sermons. Lucy throws in portions of Joseph Smith’s history and miscellaneous correspondence. She throws in Smith family genealogy that she solicits from family members and others. There are portions of biography and the autobiography of Solomon Mack. You get the sense that this is just such a multi-authored text, and it is. This is a characteristic of social publication.

But there’s also publishing that occurs through multiple scribal copies that are read aloud. So, you have all of these things at play in the history. It’s simply not what we’re used to. When we talk about someone writing their history, we think that they are the sole source of information. and that they wouldn’t throw in all these other texts. Social publication is a distinct process that Lucy inherited from her New England forbearers.

Laura H. Hales: Before we leave the technical, let’s talk about Joseph Smith Sr.’s dreams because that seemed to be the most problematic part of the text—just deciding where they came from and whose voice they were written in.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Okay. There are seven visions that Joseph Smith Sr. has. Some of them end up in the fair copy, others do not. We have loose pieces in the Lucy Mack Smith history collection of the visions. It’s apparent that the visions were copied from non-extant documents. One of them is very peculiar because it switches from third-person to first-person narrative.

You have to ask yourself, “What in the world is going on here?” First of all, we know a selection process has occurred. For some reason, some of these visions simply weren’t considered important, or not as important as others. Someone is deciding what to include or exclude.  Second, one has to question who is telling these visions. Is it Joseph Smith Sr. or is it Lucy Mack Smith? It’s clear Lucy is pulling the visions from a precursor text. You become very aware that there’s a filter here, and the filter is Lucy.

As much as we want to believe that this is an authentic experience of Joseph Smith Sr., there is an intermediary present in the copying of the text. Then that text is further copied by Martha Coray. Martha’s copies of the dreams are dated to the mid-1840s, but where is the original text? Where is the physical copy that pre-dates Martha’s copy? It is all very complicated.

Laura H. Hales: We don’t know at what point Joseph Smith Sr. shared these with Lucy Mack. Was it before or after he read the Book of Mormon? Would that have played into it?
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: That’s a good question. Joseph Smith Sr. died in 1840, so the visions have to predate that point.” There is this question of when the visions are being told and how are they transmitted to Lucy. Did Joseph Smith Sr. write them down or tell Lucy about them? There’s a point where Lucy laments, “I really don’t know much about my husband’s life prior to our marriage so I’m going to borrow information and adapt it to my purpose.” She’s literally pulling these texts from other sources. This isn’t something that is being done solely by Martha and Howard Corey in creating the history. Lucy is borrowing information and attempting to homogenize it in her narrative.
Laura H. Hales: It doesn’t homogenize very well. There are clumps here and clumps there, and they’ve cut and pasted things together, especially in the beginning where they’re trying to get this history before the story officially begins.

Let’s leave the technical behind. Let’s talk about some of the fun. What were some of the fun things you found when you were doing this research?

Sharalyn D. Howcroft: What immediately came to mind was when I was doing an initial sweep through the record. I thought, “Okay, there has to be something here to tell me what the original order is and how or if Martha and Howard imposed an order.” I remember reading and being simultaneously fascinated with the record and brow-beating myself at my attempt to take up the challenge, because I thought, “How on earth do I expect to do this? There’s been so many people that have looked at this manuscript and tried to put it in order. Who am I to do this?” I kind of vacillated back and forth, “Am I really going to find anything?” I was into it several days, thinking, “Okay, just keep on reading, just keep on reading.” And that eureka moment came. I think I probably let out an audible squeal when I recognized, “Oh! Are you kidding me? There’s an order here!” For me, that was an incredibly exciting and gratifying moment as an archivist to recognize the original order of a manuscript.

It was absolutely delightful to see the paratextual insertions and amusing asides. I enjoyed seeing how the Corays confronted their experience compiling the history and how they in some respects wove themselves into the narrative.

Laura H. Hales: That was interesting. I thought that at some points Howard was even checking his wife with statements such as, “Don’t go that far.”
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Yes. Part of knowing that Howard is checking his wife has to do with understanding Howard’s work on Joseph Smith’s history. In 2009, Howard Coray’s copy of Joseph Smith’s history was transferred from the First Presidency’s office to the Church History Library, and it was published in The Joseph Smith Papers. In analyzing that record, I saw composition methodologies that were very similar, which was helpful. I sincerely doubt that I would’ve been able to assess aspects of the composition methodology that were going on in Lucy Mack’s book were it not for Howard Coray’s copy of the Joseph Smith history.

There are several times in the Joseph Smith history—some very emotional instances —where Howard kind of pulls back. If you compare Howard’s copy of JS’s history with James Mulholland’s copy, the texts and how they’re working on things, there is a sense of Howard trying to remove emotive elements or keep them emotionally neutral. Considering this in light of the Lucy Mack Smith history, there are parts where Martha instructs the reviser to express sympathies at length at the death of Joseph Smith Sr. or express the grief of the widow that are ultimately removed. But the thing that is interesting … this I did not include in the chapter. That is the part that’s frustrating. Anyone who writes chapters or articles faces the moment when it is pried out of their hands to be published. And then new things continue to be found.

Laura H. Hales: Oh, and you send the emails to the publisher. “Is it too late?”
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Yes. Even when it’s been pried out of your fingers, there are annotations or expansions you’d like to include and it just doesn’t happen so you have this moment of regret.

Back to the part that was not included but should have been in the chapter. In the final paragraphs of the fair copy, there is a winding up scene that does not appear in the rough manuscript. It is a point where Lucy Mack details the persecution and the tribulation of the Smith family. She concludes the record with an appeal for divine retribution at the judgment bar of God for what has happened to the Smith family. And it is scathing. Now readers probably think, “Oh, this is a hefty way of winding up the history,” but we have to understand what has occurred as the history is being written. The trial for the accused murderers of Joseph and Hyrum Smith was held in May 1845. It is the backdrop for writing Lucy’s history. Her history concludes with the understanding that retribution will not occur in mortality; the trial going on in Carthage is not providing the family justice for the death of Joseph and Hyrum.

You get this emotive experience at the end, that’s very moving, very powerful. And the emotion is not censored as it has been in earlier parts of the history. I find that fascinating. Who allowed this torrent of emotion to remain? I don’t know what to make of it, but I find it very telling of the compromises made in producing the history.

Laura H. Hales: Maybe Orson added that.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Well, it’s in the fair copy.
Laura H. Hales Oh, okay.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: We’re fortunate to have it in the fair copy because we don’t have it in the rough manuscript. Part of it is because the rough manuscript, by the time we get to the latter parts of it, is heavily mangled.
Laura H. Hales: Probably in the back of a wagon—
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Yeah …
Laura H. Hales: —coming across the plains.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: But also it shifts to more memory-jogging types of entries than fully expanded text.
Laura H. Hales: Sometimes as an editor you can be involved with interesting projects, or groundbreaking projects, or important projects. I think this is one that fits all three categories. It’s such an important book. Some of the chapters are very technical, but others are not. For those non-academics wanting to get their head around these resources, it really makes you think. Even Richard Bushman’s chapter on the provenance of the Book of Mormon was fascinating—something you’re not used to reading from Richard Bushman. Just makes you think of things in different ways and not necessarily bad, just good. And then also your chapter, you would really think twice about quoting Lucy’s book, wouldn’t you?
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Well, at the very least saying that she said a certain thing.
I still think it’s a very useful piece. It should continue to be used as heavily as it has been used in the past. But, I think that now, going forward, people can use it a little more critically like they do the Joseph Smith history. We can pull apart the pieces and understand the pieces rather than wrapping it up as one homogenous text.
Laura H. Hales: A gift.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: Yes.
Laura H. Hales: Thank you so much for spending so much time with us today, Sharalyn.
Sharalyn D. Howcroft: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Disclaimer:     LDS Perspectives Podcast is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed on this episode represent the views of the guests and the podcaster alone, and LDS Perspectives Podcast and its parent organization may or may not agree with them. While the ideas presented may vary from traditional understandings or teachings, they in no way reflect criticism of LDS Church leaders, policies, or practices.

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