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What Is the Doctrine and Covenants? Part II.5, The 1844 Doctrine and Covenants

Posted by joespencer on September 30, 2010

Mormonism saw a good deal of change between 1835 and 1840—that is, between the year the Doctrine and Covenants was first published and the year a second edition was first announced. In those five short years, the Kirtland House of the Lord was completed and dedicated, and a marvelous spiritual endowment was bestowed on the Saints; the Kirtland economy entirely fell apart, an event intertwined with the Kirtland banking disaster; the Saints in Kirtland generally floundered in their faith during what has been called the “Kirtland apostasy”; the faithful moved, more or less as a body, to Far West, Missouri, a city which had been built up in the meanwhile; the official History of the Church had finally begun to be written; the “Mormon war” resulted in many leaders of the Church being imprisoned, and the Saints generally being exiled to Illinois; Joseph Smith had come to and established the city of Nauvoo; an enormous mission to England had been arranged for the Twelve; and Joseph Smith had begun to speak more boldly and more publicly about the doctrines that have come to be known as the “Nauvoo theology.” However, so much change in location, culture, understanding, and focus actually called for relatively little change in the D&C.

The new edition was announced during the Church’s general conference in the Fall of 1840, but no serious work on it began for a long while. There had been talk of printing first a New York and then a British edition, but neither of these projects materialized. Interestingly, Hyrum Smith seems to have curtailed the first of them because he was concerned that only the stewards identified in what is now D&C 70 had been divinely appointed to organize efforts to print the volume (see Woodford’s dissertation, p. 53). What would become the 1844 Nauvoo edition seems in turn to have begun as a series of fits and starts. At different points in mid-1840, mid-1841, and early 1842, different people were assigned to launch the project, but none of these attempts seems to have gotten very far. Work seriously began only after Joseph Smith purchased a new printing outfit in February of 1842—the printing outfit that would immediately begin publishing the Church’s new periodical, The Times and Seasons. As with both the 1833 Book of Commandments and the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, it was the acquisition of a printing press and the launching of a periodical that seems to have made the project of printing an edition of the revelations possible.

But while Joseph and the Twelve acquired the printing press in early 1842, it seems that work on creating stereotypes for the Doctrine and Covenants was not begun until early 1843, as Wilford Woodruff noted in his journal. From that point, though, it seems things began to progress more rapidly. Money-raising campaigns were underway in 1843, as were efforts to secure paper for the printing. By June 12, 1844, there was a notice in the Nauvoo Neighbor, advertising the new edition, which was slotted at the time to be on sale within a month. It thus seems that everything was set when tragedy struck: only two weeks after the notice was made public, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were dead, the printer at work on the volume—John Taylor—was severely injured, and the whole city of Nauvoo was in a state of emergency.

The historical record tracing the final stages in producing the volume is sparse. The same advertisement, each time announcing that the volume would be ready “about one month from this time,” appeared in the Nauvoo Neighbor several more times, the last appearance being October 30, 1844. From this one mights surmise that the volume did not appear until October or November of that year, though there is a possibility that it was available somewhat earlier. At any rate, it seems clear that its publication was delayed substantially by both the martyrdom and John Taylor’s need for recuperation.

That the project was effectively interrupted right in its final stages, though, raises a number of interesting questions. Eight sections were added to the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1844 edition. It is clear that one of them—now section 135—was written after the interruption, since it explicitly “announce[s] the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch” (D&C 135:1). This makes clear that, at least in one instance, the volume was altered after June of 1844. And this makes one wonder whether any of the other seven sections was added only after the martyrdom. There may be reasons to believe that some—or even all—of them were. In order to make those reasons clear, let me begin to build up the case for this possibility.

Initial Notes on the Sections Added in 1844

Of the eight sections added to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1844, five were revelations in the traditional sense, three of them received after the 1835 edition had been printed. The added revelations are what we now know as sections 103, 105, 112, 119, and 124 (though they were sections 101, 102, 104, 107, and 103 respectively, in the 1844 edition).

Curiously, the first two of these five added revelations were originally received in 1834, unquestionably in time to be included in the 1835 volume, but they only found their way into the Doctrine and Covenants in 1844. Why they were excluded before 1844 is something of a mystery. They both concern Zion, and together they make up the only major revelations dealing with Zion’s camp (section 103 deals with the camp’s organization; section 105 deals with its dissolution). Was there concern for some reason about having Zion’s camp put on display in the volume in 1835? But whatever reticence there may have been in 1835 about these two revelations, they found their way definitively into the 1844 volume.

The other three traditional revelations—now sections 112, 119, and 124—are all relatively “standard” revelations, the kinds of things that would have found their way into the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835 had they been received before that. The first of them contains revealed instructions to the Twelve from 1837; the second contains the Lord’s word about tithing and consecration after 1838; and the last of them is an enormous revelation with all kinds of instruction about all kinds of things going on in Nauvoo in 1841. But if these revelations could more or less have been expected to end up in the Doctrine and Covenants, it must be recognized that there is something surprising about them, namely, that they alone found their way into the volume. Collectively, these three revelations represent what the Doctrine and Covenants presented in 1844 as the whole of Joseph’s revelatory output from 1835 to 1844—which must have looked a bit sparse when set next to the one hundred printed revelations from 1828 to 1834. I will return to this relative sparsity further along.

Two other sections added in 1844 are not exactly “traditional” revelations, though they unquestionably record revelations. These are the documents that we now know as section 127 and section 128 (sections 105 and 106 in 1844)—two letters written by Joseph Smith while he was in hiding, both outlining instructions about baptism for the dead. The first of the two clearly indicates that it is conveying a direct revelation Joseph had received. The second, however, only explicitly records Joseph’s “further views” on the subject. Nothing in what is now section 128 is marked specifically as a “revelation,” though the letter is unquestionably among Joseph’s most sublime words. The inclusion of these two letters is thus at once somewhat curious and yet not entirely surprising. Without question, Joseph’s teachings about the ordinances of the temple, and of cross-generational sealing, etc., were crucial, and it was perhaps only through these quasi-revelations that they could be inserted into the Doctrine and Covenants.

The last added section was, as already mentioned, what we now know as D&C 135, the announcement of the martyrdom. It is not presented as a revelation, being positioned as the last section of the appendix.

If the clearly non-revelatory announcement of the martyrdom appeared in the appendix, where did the other seven added sections appear in the volume? This question is especially important given the complex organizational structure of the 1835 edition. Here is that structure again, worked out in the post on the 1835 volume:

I. The “Doctrine” – Content: The Lectures on Faith
II. The “Covenants and Commandments” – Content: The Revelations
—A. The “Preface” (section 1) – Content: The Revealed Preface from the Book of Commandments
—B. The “Covenants” (sections 2-29) – Content: Institutionally Privileged Revelations
——1. “On Priesthood” (sections 2-7) – Content: Revelations on Priesthood Organization (Order: Institutional Importance)
——2. Without title (sections 8-21) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Strictly Chronological)
——3. Without title (sections 22-29) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Numbering in the BCR)
—C. The “Commandments” (sections 30-99) – Content: The Rest of the Revelations (Order: Strictly Chronological)
—D. The “Appendix” (sections 100-102, etc.) – Content: The Revealed Appendix, Two Official Statements, and the General Assembly

Where into this structure were the new additions inserted? Quite simply, the seven more strictly revelatory sections were simply tacked onto the end of the “Commandments” section, immediately before the appendix, while the announcement was positioned as the last section in the appendix. If there is nothing terribly surprising about the placement of the announcement, it must be confessed that—upon investigation—there is a series of oddities about the placement of the seven revelatory additions.

First oddity: The revelations we know now as sections 103, 105, and 119 all have to do directly with Zion and/or consecration, and it would seem to have been most consistent in the 1844 volume to insert them into one of the earlier subdivisions of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, either after section 21 (at the end of the first subdivision dealing with the establishment of Zion) or after section 29 (at the end of the second subdivision dealing with the establishment of Zion).

Second oddity: The revelations we know now as sections 127 and 128 both provide rather detailed descriptions of priesthood ordinances and the basic protocol associated with them. As such, it would seem to have been most consistent in 1844 to insert them into the earliest subdivision of the revelations, that is, after section 7 (at the end of the subdivision simply titled “On Priesthood”).

Third oddity: Two of the revelations—namely, the ones we know today as sections 103 and 105—were both received before the latest revelations to be found in the 1835 volume, and so are dated earlier than the last revelations in the “Commandments” sections. As such, one would expect, given the strict chronological ordering of the “Commandments,” that they at least would be woven into the strict chronology by placing them before the last revelations instead of attaching them to the end of the subdivision.

Fourth oddity: One might respond to these first three oddities by pointing out that there was likely a desire to maintain some kind of continuity with the 1835 volume, and so that there would have been reason not to change the section numbers of any revelations already in print. However, there actually was a mistake in the 1835 volume that makes this objection moot: two consecutive revelations in the 1835 volume were accidentally numbered 66. In putting the 1844 volume together, as a result, all the revelations beginning with the second section 66 were renumbered, breaking any direct sense of continuity. And because the continuity had already been broken necessarily, there would seem to be no particular reason not to insert the added revelations at the “appropriate” places in order to maintain any real continuity.

Fifth oddity: Whatever may have been behind the four above oddities, justifying their simply being tacked onto the end of the “Commandments” subdivision, there is this striking, further oddity: though the “Commandments” section onto which they were tacked is internally ordered chronologically—and that quite strictly—the seven sections inserted at the end of the “Commandments” are not chronologically ordered among themselves, despite the fact that every one of them was provided with at least a brief heading that identified the date of their reception. Indeed, they are nothing like chronologically ordered among themselves: the two revelations from 1834 were made sections 101 and 102 (appropriately the earliest of the added revelations, but earlier than the sections they immediately follow); next came, as section 103, the revelation from 1841 (marking a leap of seven years between what was now section 102 and what was now section 103); then, as section 104, there followed the revelation from 1837 (jumping back four years from 1841 to 1837); next came the two letters on baptism for the dead, both from 1842, inserted as sections 105 and 106 (a five-year leap forward again from 1837 to 1842); and the last inserted revelation, assigned to section 107, came from 1838 (another leap backwards, this time a four-year leap from 1842 to 1838). In chart form (the first two appeared in the 1835 volume, but they are included here to make clear that the first two added revelations could/should have been woven into the already established chronological ordering):

99 (today section 104) – April 1834
100 (today section 106) – November 1834
101 (today section 103) – February 1834
102 (today section 105) – June 1834
103 (today section 124) – January 1841
104 (today section 112) – July 1837
105 (today section 127) – September 1842
106 (today section 128) – September 1842
107 (today section 119) – July 1838

The above series of oddities can be summarized, perhaps, in the shape of two questions. First, why were the seven revelatory additions not inserted, wherever appropriate, into the first several subdivisions of the “Commandments and Covenants” portion of the volume? Second, why were they not ordered chronologically where they were inserted, since they seem to have been included in the last of the several subdivisions of the volume, which had before been strictly chronological in its ordering?

Laziness, Structure, Motivations

The two questions worked out in the previous discussion deserve answers. I would like to move through two possibilities—one not very likely at all, the other not terribly likely—to what I think is the right answer to the question.

A first approach to answering both of these questions might simply guess that a kind of laziness lies behind the matter—that it was just easier to tack the added revelations onto the end of the “Commandments” section without giving any real thought to how they might fit into the volume. Or one might, in much the same vein, suggest that the printers were, for whatever reasons, essentially ignorant of the fact that there had been any strong principles of organization in the 1835 volume. Neither version of this first approach, though, really satisfies. Too much thought went into the 1835 production that it would be surprising to see a complete lack of thought in the 1844 production, and it seems a stretch to suggest that the printers were either so clueless or so lazy that they would not have even bothered to put the additions into a basic chronological order among themselves. The “back-and-forth” pattern of the additions (1834 to 1841 to 1837 to 1842 to 1838) seems almost too deliberate to have been the result of negligence.

Turning from negligence to care, then, a second approach might suggest that the seven added revelations form a further subdivision of the volume, something like a “New Additions” stretch of revelations. It might be surprising, to some extent, that there was no heading or title provided to alert readers to a further subdivision, but then, there were no headings to alert readers to the second and third similar subdivisions in the 1835 volume. It might thus have been simply the case that everything added to the volume by way of revelation was gathered together into its own subdivision at the end of the “Commandments.” If this is what was going on, then it would be necessary to adjust the overarching structure of the Doctrine and Covenants from its 1835 rendering:

I. The “Doctrine” – Content: The Lectures on Faith
II. The “Covenants and Commandments” – Content: The Revelations
—A. The “Preface” (section 1) – Content: The Revealed Preface from the Book of Commandments
—B. The “Covenants” (sections 2-29) – Content: Institutionally Privileged Revelations
——1. “On Priesthood” (sections 2-7) – Content: Revelations on Priesthood Organization (Order: Institutional Importance)
——2. Without title (sections 8-21) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Strictly Chronological)
——3. Without title (sections 22-29) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Numbering in the BCR)
—C. The “Commandments” (sections 30-107) – Content: The Rest of the Revelations
——1. “On Priesthood and Calling” (sections 30-100) – Content: Revelations from the 1835 Volume (Order: Strictly Chronological)
——2. Without title (sections 101-107) – Content: Revelations Added for the 1844 Volume (Order: To Be Interpreted)
—D. The “Appendix” (sections 108-111, etc.) – Content: The Revealed Appendix, Two Official Statements, and the Announcement of Martyrdom

This may, in the end, be a good approach to the first of the two questions posed at the end of the preceding section. But it does not immediately provide any answer to the second question: if a “New Additions” subdivision of the record was really what was behind the placement of the seven revelations added to the volume, what sense is to be made of their internal ordering? If the subdivision formed by sections 101-107 really had behind it only the idea of isolating “New Additions,” it would seem that there would be a basic chronological ordering among them (the very word “new” points in the direction of chronology)—unless the non-chronological ordering was meant simply to draw attention to the out-of-placeness-and-therefore-recently-added-ness of the subdivision. But, again, this second approach does not really satisfy. Another approach, it seems, will have to be adopted.

From these first two considerations, at least the following becomes clear: any attempt to make sense of the placement and internal ordering of the seven revelations added to the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants will have to pay careful attention to the content and themes of the added revelations. How might these shed light on the difficulty? Stripped down to their basic essences, the several sections have the following topics:

Zion’s camp (101-102)
Instructions for the Nauvoo era (103)
Instructions to the Twelve (104)
Baptism for the dead (105-106)
Institution of tithing (107)

But just by looking at such a basic list, it is difficult to come up with any helpful insights. The content and themes of the revelations will unquestionably be crucial, but it is apparently not enough just to isolate those themes. More must be drawn on. Hence a third approach, at last: it might be asked what motivations there might have been for adding each of these revelations in particular. This calls for two brief remarks, one justificatory, the other clarificatory.

A justificatory remark, then: I have already pointed out that there is something surprising about how few revelations were added to the 1844 volume. As later editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, as well as the full History of the Church (not to mention documentary sources!), make clear, Joseph Smith had a good deal more than seven revelations between 1835 and 1844. Why were only these seven revelations added to the volume to balance the one hundred revelations from the New York and Kirtland periods? The sheer sparsity of the added revelations fairly screams for attention. And this in turn justifies a careful look at what might have been the motivation behind the inclusion of each of the seven additions. That so few were added seems to suggest that each was understood to be particularly important, while the many other revelatory candidates were not deemed to be crucial for publication in the volume.

And a clarificatory remark: To look for motivations behind each of the added revelations can take two shapes. On the one hand, one might investigate the revelations in order to look for either their revelatory power or their universal force. That is, one might examine the revelations atemporally, looking for what in them would appeal to anybody at any time—aspects or teachings of such universal interest that inclusion would have been nearly demanded. It would not be difficult in this way to justify at least the revelations we know today as sections 127 and 128, as well, to a lesser extent, the revelation we know today as section 124. But what of the other revelations? Little in the other four would seem to have demanded their inclusion. Hence, on the other hand, one might investigate the revelations in order to look for their connection with historical circumstances at the time of the publication of the volume in 1844. That is, one might examine the revelations historically, looking for what in them would have seemed particularly important at the time they were chosen for inclusion. This is perhaps more difficult work, but I think it makes the best sense of things in the end. But such an investigation will necessarily occupy us for a bit longer.

Historical Circumstances

The inclusion of the announcement of the martyrdom is actually one of the most important features of the 1844 volume. This will have especially important consequences when we come to the question, finally, of the canonical shape of the edition. For now, though, we want to look at the historical circumstances under which the edition was produced. And the announcement makes the setting extremely clear: the thing came out only in the aftermath of the death of the Prophet Joseph. As I have already noted, the volume was originally set to be published in late June or early July of 1844. It seems not to have appeared until late October or early November of the same year. The months between those two planned dates are extremely important in Church history. They begin, of course, with the actual death of Joseph Smith; but they trace a good deal of rather turbulent history, history that popular treatments of Church history tend to sum up with reference to one event.

The one event that generally does receive mention from this short stretch of history is the story of Brigham Young’s “transformation.” As the story is usually told, all the Saints got together for a meeting after the martyrdom (I can still remember picturing the folding chairs I assumed everyone must have been sitting on when I heard the story as a child), and Brigham Young stood up to speak. But at some point during his speech, he suddenly both looked and sounded like Joseph Smith, and the Saints collectively knew, and with unshakable immediacy, that Brigham Young had, Elisha-like, received Joseph’s mantle. In the past few decades, historians have done both the helpful work of fleshing out the setting of this fascinating event and the not-always-so-helpful work of suggesting that this event was more remembered than experienced. Whatever may have happened to Brigham on the occasion—and I’m less prone to doubt than historians seem to be—it is on the setting and context of this event that matters here.

Before Joseph Smith died, he did not provide clear—or at least universally recognized or documented—instructions about succession in the Church. Though it seems the most natural thing today that the authority of direction falls immediately on the Twelve when the president of the Church dies and the First Presidency is thereby dissolved, it was anything but clear in 1844. Joseph had made, on various occasions, public statements that could easily be interpreted as suggesting that any of the following would succeed him in presiding over the Church: (1) his oldest son, Joseph III; (2) his unborn son, David Hyrum; (3) the Patriarch to the Church; (4) the Twelve collectively. In addition, there were other claimants who would have made good sense to the Saints generally: (5) one of Joseph’s counselors in the First Presidency; (6) one of the Three Witnesses; (7) the Nauvoo stake president; or even (8) someone Joseph had privately ordained to the task. Several of these options were helpfully disqualified circumstantially at the time: neither Joseph III nor David Hyrum (still unborn!) was old enough to succeed immediately as president; the Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, had died with Joseph in Carthage; all three of the Three Witnesses were at odds with the Church at the time; the Nauvoo stake president immediately cast his lot with one of Joseph Smith’s counselors; and no one immediately came forth with any claims of private ordination (though that would happen a good deal in the following months and years). That left, as immediately obvious successors: the Twelve and one of Joseph’s counselors.

The difficulty was, of course, that the Twelve were all back East when Joseph was martyred. They had been assigned, early in 1844, to travel the country as part of a campaign to have Joseph Smith elected as the president of the United States. Consequently, they were—for the most part—not around Nauvoo or Carthage when the terrible events of June 27 took place. Sidney Rigdon, on the other hand, was not far distant. He immediately made for Nauvoo when he received word of Joseph’s death, and he began to establish his bid for succession. The members of the Twelve who were in the area confronted him and got him at least to wait until the whole of the Twelve could be present, so that everything could be done appropriately.

Meanwhile, Brigham Young, as he later told the story, was dumbfounded when he received the news of the martyrdom. His immediate response was intense fear: he worried that the keys of the kingdom, so recently bestowed and employed in the introduction of the ordinances of the temple, had been taken from the earth with Joseph. (That Brigham could be so concerned about that—even if only for a moment—makes clear how unclear things were regarding succession at the time!) But, as he told the story, almost immediately thereafter, “bringing my hand down on my knee, I said the keys of the kingdom are right here with the Church” (Arrington’s biography of Brigham, p. 111). The keys, Brigham realized in the moment, were held by the Twelve.

That became the case Brigham and the Twelve would make for their right to succession. In what is now a classic thesis, Andrew Ehat argued that what was behind the Twelve’s claim, as well as what was convincing about their claim to the Saints, was the idea that the Twelve uniquely held all the keys to perform all the ordinances of the temple. Much of the question of succession was effectively decided in August of 1844. It was only in that month, a full six weeks after the martyrdom, that the whole of the Twelve returned to Nauvoo from the East. A public meeting—the famous one during which Brigham seems to have been transformed into Joseph in appearance and sound—was held, and Brigham’s few-minutes-long speech made a simple appeal to the work of the temple, and thus won out over Sidney Rigdon’s several-hours-long rhetorical production.

The succession crisis, however, was far from over. A relatively new convert to the Church, James J. Strang, was by this point claiming that he had a letter from Joseph Smith appointing him as successor, and he would soon be claiming that he had been ordained to the office by angels at the very hour Joseph was martyred. The rise of the “Strangites” rose sharply over the following years, and until the 1860 emergence of the Reorganized Church, it was the largest—and rather serious—rival of the Twelve’s claim to succession. Because Strang was soon claiming to translate newly discovered plates and to have further revelations and visions, but especially because he did not espouse any form of polygamy, he garnered a good deal of support from very high ranking members of the Church: the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, the Nauvoo stake president, Emma Smith, etc. And Strang was, of course, not the only other rival for succession that emerged in the months after the martyrdom. Thus, while the Twelve had made their case and gained a good deal of support by August 1844, helping to establish some sense of continuity with the direct ministry of Joseph Smith, the remainder of 1844, as well as the following years in Nauvoo, were turbulent and often contentious.

It was in the midst of this situation that the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants appeared. And it was significantly reprinted (using, for the most part, the original stereotyped plates of the 1844 edition, and so without any significant changes) in both 1845 and 1846. In addition, a European edition, essentially identical to the 1844 Nauvoo edition, was also issued in 1845. In short, during the two years that followed the martyrdom, the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants deluged the Mormon community both in the United States and in England. The Doctrine and Covenants had never been so available. Not only had no actually published collection of Joseph’s revelations appeared until five years after the organization of the Church, the Saints had gone nearly a full decade without any effort at republication. And then, suddenly, four editions of the 1844 edition appeared within two years.

From all of this, it would not be surprising to discover that the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants between 1844 and 1846 had a role to play in the succession crisis. And it seems to me worth asking whether the succession crisis itself—or, better put, the consistent necessity of battling against rival claims to authority—did not play a crucial role in the final shape given to the 1844 edition. Though there is no clear evidence of which I’m aware as to when the revelations added to the 1844 edition were inserted—that is, whether they were added before or after the martyrdom—one can make a very strong case that they all would have spoken very directly to the situation only after the martyrdom. Further, that there were so few revelations added may make the best sense if one sees the Twelve as adding only what might speak to the then-current concerns, rather than attempting to put together a collection that included all of Joseph Smith’s post-1835 revelations.

From all of this, it might begin to appear possible to provide an answer to the questions raised above. I suspect that the 1844 edition that was originally going to be published in late June or early July of 1844 was more or less identical to the 1835 edition. I suspect that it had corrected the misnumbering of the 1835 edition, but that it added no revelations that had not already appeared. And I suspect that it had largely been printed by the time of the martyrdom. However, during the period of John Taylor’s convalescence following the Carthage Jail attack, I suspect that it became obvious to the Twelve that it would be worthwhile adding a handful of sections to the otherwise already completed volume, sections that would help to make clear that it was the Twelve and not any of their rival claimants whom Joseph Smith had indicated would succeed in authority over the Church. I thus suspect that the added revelations, like the added announcement of the martyrdom, were all inserted into the production only after the death of Joseph Smith.

In order to make this case, though, and especially in order finally to begin to look at what all of this has to say about the 1844 notion of canon, it will be necessary to look at each of the eight added sections to see how it spoke to the post-martyrdom situation.

Joseph’s Voice in the Succession Crisis: The Added Sections

How might each of the revelations added to the D&C in 1844 have spoken to the situation in the aftermath of the martyrdom? And how directly would each revelation speak to that situation?

The most obvious revelation that would have spoken to the situation, given the way I’ve outlined it in terms of the succession crisis, is the one we know today as section 112 (section 104 in 1844). The revelation was originally given in Far West in July of 1837, in a period that would seem, by 1844, to have definitively passed. But as it turns out, the revelation was directed to Thomas B. Marsh, the president of the Twelve, and it was given on the first day that the gospel was preached, by a couple members of the Twelve, in England. And after a few words to Marsh, it turns to the subject of the Twelve themselves: “And pray for thy brethren of the Twelve. Admonish them sharply for my name’s sake, and let them be admonished for all their sins, and be ye faithful before me unto my name. And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them” (D&C 112:12-13). The revelation goes on to suggest that Joseph Smith and the Twelve held the same keys (verse 15) and then to explain that the keys held by the president of the Twelve give him authority “among all nations” (verse 16). The revelation then places the president of the Quorum of the Twelve in a rather important relationship to the First Presidency, perhaps even a revealed relationship of being the legitimate successor: the keys are given specifically to the president of the Twelve so that he can “be my servant to unlock the door of the kingdom in all places where my servant Joseph, and my servant Sidney, and my servant Hyrum, cannot come; for on them have I laid the burden of all the churches for a little season” (verses 17-18, emphasis added). This entanglement between the Twelve and the First Presidency is then reiterated: “Whosoever receiveth my word receiveth me, and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth those, the First Presidency, whom I have sent, whom I have made counselors for my name’s sake unto you. And again, I say unto you, that whosoever ye shall send in my name, by the voice of your brethren, the Twelve, duly recommended and authorized by you, shall have power to open the door of my kingdom unto any nation whithersoever ye shall send them” (verses 20-21). And then, towards the end of the revelation, the same point is put with still stronger emphasis:

For unto you, the Twelve, and those, the First Presidency, who are appointed with you to be your counselors and your leaders, is the power of this priesthood given, for the last days and for the last time, in the which is the dispensation of the fulness of times. Which power you hold, in connection with all those who have received a dispensation at any time from the beginning of the creation; For verily I say unto you, the keys of the dispensation, which ye have received, have come down from the fathers, and last of all, being sent down from heaven unto you. Verily I say unto you, behold how great is your calling. Cleanse your hearts and your garments, lest the blood of this generation be required at your hands. (verses 30-33)

It is pretty clear how this revelation would have been regarded as relevant in the months after the martyrdom.

What of the others? The two revelations dealing with Zion’s camp—today sections 103 and 105; in 1844 sections 101 and 102—may well be making an appeal to the centrality of the Twelve. Zion’s camp marked an event of great sacrifice, and one that had come to have a very specific meaning for the Saints: it was there that those who were called into the Quorum of the Twelve proved their willingness to follow Joseph. And significantly, Sidney Rigdon was not at Zion’s camp, and James J. Strang was certainly not at Zion’s camp. That the revelation disbanding the camp, as well as the revelation organizing it, was included is thus perhaps significant. Moreover, given the role of the Twelve in leading the Church everywhere but Zion (something emphasized in what is now section 107, as well as in the revelation to the Twelve discussed immediately above), the official revelatory pronouncement (in what is now section 105) that Zion was not immediately to be redeemed would have implied, at least indirectly, that the Twelve were now in charge of the Church.

Perhaps the case for the importance of these two revelations seems a little weak. But the case for three of the other revelations is much stronger: the revelation that is now section 124 (section 103 in 1844) and the two letters now positioned as sections 127 and 128 (sections 105 and 106 in 1844) very clearly speak to the post-martyrdom situation. The first part of the first of these added sections (now section 124) has a good deal to say about the importance of Nauvoo, and particularly about the importance of building the Nauvoo temple. It mentions baptism for the dead, and makes reference to ordinances of the temple then still to be revealed. Then, at verse 49, it makes a rather sudden turn. The Lord begins to provide an explanation of the loss of Zion. Here, what is now section 124 begins to explain what are now sections 103 and 105. And this retroactively makes sense of the inclusion of those two revelations in the volume: they serve as something like footnotes or an introduction to the discussion this revelation offers of the relationship between Nauvoo and Jackson County, a discussion that heavily emphasizes the need to complete the work on the temple—which was the task of the Twelve after Joseph’s death. The remainder of the revelation speaks mostly of the process for financing the temple, but makes passing references to the ordinances of the temple again.

This revelation, then, seems to be doing triple duty: (1) it makes clear that the project of building the temple in Nauvoo is not something to be abandoned simply because Joseph had died; (2) it makes clear that there is an important connection between the building of the Nauvoo temple and the loss of Jackson County, a loss traced in the two revelations that at first seemed only to have a weak justification for their addition to the 1844 volume; and (3) it gives pride of place to the role of the ordinances of the temple, mentioning both baptisms for the dead and the ordinances still to be revealed when the revelation was given in 1841. This last point should not be overlooked. It should be remembered that the primary claim of the Twelve, and the one that seems to have won them the support of the largest group of Saints, was precisely their claim to hold the keys and knowledge necessary to perform the ordinances of the temple. This in turn points to the inclusion of what are now sections 127 and 128. These two “revelations” deal with baptism for the dead, the recording process for work in the temple, and even an expansive theological discussion of the stakes of the higher ordinances of the temple (sealing in particular). For these two to be included alongside the revelation we know today as section 124 makes perfect sense: only the Twelve had the ability to finish out Joseph’s temple-building project and then to provide the Saints with all the ordinances.

Seven of the eight additions thus seem quite clearly to speak to the post-martyrdom situation with great precision: in addition to the six discussed just above, there was, of course, the announcement of the martyrdom (now section 135). But what of the last, the revelation we know today as section 119 (but section 107 in 1844)? This revelation is a rather short one, from 1838, marking the institution of tithing (which did not differ a whole lot from consecration, if it is read closely). And it is actually not difficult to see how this would have fit into the post-martyrdom period quite well: Joseph left the Church with a great deal of debt (much of which fell on Emma’s shoulders, unfortunately), and with the building of the Nauvoo temple still under way, it is obvious that the Twelve would have been interested in making sure the Saints were aware of their monetary responsibility to the Church.

All in all, then, it seems there may be very good reason to suspect that all eight of the sections added in 1844 were added only after the martyrdom, and that they were all added precisely in order to address aspects of the post-martyrdom situation. The picture that all of this presents us with, it seems to me, is the following:

(1) The plan originally was simply to issue a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, essentially unchanged from the 1835 edition.
(2) The work of printing the sheets of a non-expanded edition was nearly complete (or even complete?) by late June of 1844.
(3) The martyrdom, however, particularly because of the injury to John Taylor, who was the printer, put a hold on the project for a couple of months.
(4) During that hiatus, the succession crisis and the emergence of the Twelve as a strong contender for succession ensued.
(5) When the printing project was resumed, it was thought wise to add revelations that might speak to the complex post-martyrdom situation.
(6) The seven revelatory sections were selected for the way in which they spoke to current concerns, securing the place of the Twelve and highlighting the importance of the claims they put forward, as well as providing a needed emphasis on finances.
(7) The whole thing was topped off with the announcement of the martyrdom.
(8) The expanded volume was published in late October or early November.

The power of this “move” should not be overlooked. One could, of course, take the Twelve to have been doing something somewhat subversive: taking advantage of the printing of the volume, they used it in order to secure their position as Joseph’s successors. But it seems to me that their effort can be interpreted differently. By adding the inserted sections to the volume, they allowed Joseph Smith’s own voice to speak in the post-martyrdom period. Rather than simply making their claims in their own name, they wanted to make it clear that it was Joseph—and Joseph’s revelatory voice in particular—that secured their position. And Joseph’s authority was thus not to be undercut in the course of making decisions about succession.

I believe this approach to the 1844 D&C, moreover, makes the best sense of the first of the two questions raised earlier in this post: if the printing of an edition that had not originally intended to be expanded in any way was essentially complete by the end of June, then any additions decided upon in the aftermath of the martyrdom would have had to be simply tacked on to the end of the almost already completed project.

But, of course, the second of the two questions raised earlier remains to be answered: What of the oddly non-chronological (almost anti-chronological) order of the seven revelatory sections added to the volume? Is one, in light of the historical discussion above, to picture the Twelve working through Joseph’s papers, stumbling on this or that helpful document and setting the print on whatever they found as they found it, essentially ignoring any attempt at chronological ordering because they were setting the print as they found documents, whenever they originated? That’s a possibility. But perhaps, keeping an eye on the historical questions already addressed, there is actually some way of making sense of the ordering. I don’t want to belabor this point, so I’ll offer only a brief possible way of making sense of the ordering in light of the post-martyrdom concerns.

(1) There is nothing terribly surprising about the placement of the first two of the inserted revelations. What today are sections 103 and 105 (then sections 101 and 102) are the earliest of the revelations, and they are closely connected, historically, with the revelations that follow them in the 1844 edition.
(2) That these first two are followed by what is now section 124 (then section 103) makes good sense. As already pointed out, this revelation begins with a lengthy outlining of the loss of Zion and its meaning for the building up of Nauvoo. Its thematic connections to—or even ability to justify the inclusion of—the two preceding revelations are clear.
(3) There is something of a surprise that what is now section 112 (then section 104) is inserted between the preceding revelation and the two following: both what is now section 124 (then section 103) and what are now sections 127 and 128 (then sections 105 and 106) deal with the ordinances of the temple as introduced in Nauvoo (most consistently: baptism for the dead). It would perhaps have been simplest to displace this revelation to a different place, perhaps after the temple revelations, or perhaps before all the other insertions. But perhaps there is also some sense about its position in the volume. The preceding revelation does indeed talk about baptism for the dead, but it also contains instructions about the Twelve, as well as instructions about providing the Church with the finances to tackle the tasks at hand. In some sense, what is now section 124 might be said to serve as a kind of index for the several revelations that follow it. Each of the major concerns of what is now section 124 is addressed by a subsequent addition. That this revelation was selected to be the first of those subsequent additions may well simply point out the concern that the place of the Twelve in relation to the First Presidency be highlighted.
(4) Little justification needs to be provided for the place given next to what are now sections 127 and 128 (then sections 105 and 106). Their extensive focus on baptism for the dead fits very well into the pattern already being laid out.
(5) That what is now section 119 (then section 107) comes last is not terribly surprising. It fits the last part of what is now section 124, with its systematic concern about financing the temple building project. And it comes as a last word concerning duty, closing out the (pre-appendix part of the) volume.

In short, there may actually be some sense about it all. And so we have, as before indicated, an 1844 structure somewhat altered from the 1835 structure of the volume:

I. The “Doctrine” – Content: The Lectures on Faith
II. The “Covenants and Commandments” – Content: The Revelations
—A. The “Preface” (section 1) – Content: The Revealed Preface from the Book of Commandments
—B. The “Covenants” (sections 2-29) – Content: Institutionally Privileged Revelations
——1. “On Priesthood” (sections 2-7) – Content: Revelations on Priesthood Organization (Order: Institutional Importance)
——2. Without title (sections 8-21) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Strictly Chronological)
——3. Without title (sections 22-29) – Content: Revelations on the Establishment of Zion (Order: Numbering in the BCR)
—C. The “Commandments” (sections 30-107) – Content: The Rest of the Revelations
——1. “On Priesthood and Calling” (sections 30-100) – Content: Revelations from the 1835 Volume (Order: Strictly Chronological)
——2. Without title (sections 101-107) – Content: Revelations Added for the 1844 Volume (Order: With an Eye to Current Concerns)
—D. The “Appendix” (sections 108-111, etc.) – Content: The Revealed Appendix, Two Official Statements, and the Announcement of Martyrdom

With all of that established, it is time, at long last, to turn to the central question posed by this series of posts: What notion of canonicity can, in light of all this discussion, be said to have been at work in 1844? Actually, this turns out to be a rather complex question, and it deserves a treatment of its own.

Opening and Closing the Canon

In the end, I want to suggest that the canonical shaping of the 1844 had a double effect. Not only did it provide itself with a particular notion of canonicity, it retroactively affected the canonical shape of the 1835 volume. Perhaps this is a bit surprising. At any rate, it deserves careful attention.

The two effects of the changes made to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1844 can be distributed between the two “kinds” of addition made to the text. On the one hand, the addition of the seven “revelatory” sections attached to the end of the “Commandments” part of the volume retroactively marked the Doctrine and Covenants of 1835 as an open canon. On the other hand, the addition of the announcement of the martyrdom at the end of the appendix (particularly because this happened to be coupled with a removal of the “General Assembly” minutes—something I’ll discuss further along) fit out the Doctrine and Covenants of 1844 as a closed canon. But what does all of this mean?

I want to distinguish between two possible meaning of the phrase “open canon.” Latter-day Saints actually talk a good deal about an “open canon.” That is, because Mormonism was effectively launched by providing the world with new scripture, we talk about our differing from Christianity in that we regard the canon as being definitively open. This is one way of talking about an open canon: it is to make the claim that scripture as such remains to be augmented, that the Bible isn’t sufficient, that there will be more authoritative revelation, etc. And in this sense, the whole of the canon is, for Latter-day Saints, quite open. At the same time, however, there is another way of talking about open canon. If one talks about canonical shape in the fashion of biblical scholars, one does not have reference to the possibility or impossibility of there being more scripture provided for a religious tradition. Instead, one has reference to the shape of a particular volume, a shape give to that volume because it has become, in essence, fixed in its shape. This can be referred to as a closing of the canon as well. What is referred to here is not necessarily a belief that there could never be another book of scripture, but just that this book of scripture has achieved an authoritative, fixed shape.

Thus, while Latter-day Saints have an open canon in the first of the two above senses, much of Mormon scripture is made up of closed canons in the second sense. That is, though Latter-day Saints believe that more scripture could, at any given moment, be bestowed upon the world, they have little reason to believe that, say, the Bible will be changed in its shape or size. Of course, Christians regard the closing of the biblical canon to have been the consequence of historical developments that called for the establishment of an unchanging shape of the text. Latter-day Saints interpret this differently. For Mormons, the closure of the biblical canon is first and foremost a question of the dawn of the apostasy, as was the closure of the Book of Mormon as canon: Latter-day Saints tend to regard scriptural volumes as closing only when a dispensation comes to a definitive close. But whatever one takes as having been historically at work behind the scenes in the closing of a particular canonical volume, it must be recognized that a closure of this or that particular volume does not necessarily imply a belief that no other scripture can or will be produced, only that it would have to be contained in a separate volume of scripture. Mormons as much as non-Mormons recognize this.

In talking about the openness of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants as canon, as well as about the closedness of the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants as canon, I have reference only to the second of the above two senses of canon. I don’t want to suggest that what I will argue was the closing of the canon in 1844 at all meant that there would be no more scripture, only that any further scripture would have to be placed within some other volume. If that’s clear, let me get on to the point.

Let me deal first with the closure of the canon in 1844.

What closed the canonical Doctrine and Covenants in 1844? Quite simply, the addition of the announcement of the martyrdom. The document itself states this: “To seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom” (D&C 135:1); “The testators are now dead, and their testament is in force” (D&C 135:5). Throughout what is now section 1835, the language points to the way in which Joseph smith’s death finished off and so effectively sealed the Doctrine and Covenants, understood to be a book containing the prophetic work of the martyred prophet. This was confirmed by the only other structural change, largely ignored so far in this post, made to the volume in 1844: the 1835 volume included the minutes from the 1835 “General Assembly” during which the Doctrine and Covenants was first presented to the Church, but the 1844 volume dropped these minutes. Why is that significant? It makes clear, it seems to me, that it was not the canonizing process of 1835 that made the difference any more, but the sealing of the “testament” by the death of the Prophet that made the volume what it was. In effect, Joseph’s death took the place of the presentation of the volume to the Church. The importance of that replacement should not be overlooked.

From these details, it makes sense to say that the 1844 volume effectively closed the canon of the Doctrine and Covenants. But there is something rather curious about this, because the inclusion in the 1835 volume of the “General Assembly” minutes, as well as the apparent decision to reprint the 1835 volume without change until the martyrdom, as well again as the strikingly institutional shape of the 1835 volume as such—all these things actually suggest that, until the martyrdom, the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants was not regarded as an open canon. This obviously calls for some clarification.

In my previous post, I suggested that the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was, in many ways, classically canonical. What I meant by that was that the various documents included in the volume were arranged and even edited in order to fit a theological intention that characterized the whole volume. The 1835 volume was, it might be said, complete or integral, and so the process of canonization that went into it was in part characterized by a process of integration, an alteration of the revelations so that they had a place in the teleological intentionality of the book. The volume was, for this very reason, already implicitly a closed canon. Though I doubt too many expected that there would be no further revelations—the Seer was, after all, still alive and well—there was a spirit about the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants that suggested that no further revelations would be called for.

And interestingly, Joseph Smith’s revelatory output slowed remarkably after the publication of the 1835 volume. Richard Bushman, it seems to me, has done the best work in trying to put his finger on the change in Joseph’s prophetic self-understanding in precisely these years. Joseph’s effective retreat from his earlier prophetic intensity seems to have been a question—at least during the years 1834-1836—of several developments: the High Council had been organized in 1834, and it now shouldered a good deal of the burden of the Church’s business; the several quorums of the priesthood had been organized in 1835, and they took up a good deal of the rest of the burden of the Church’s business, even in terms of organizing missionary efforts; the Doctrine and Covenants finally made the revelations available in a strongly institutional format in 1835, and that meant that it was no longer necessary to receive individualized revelations that would repeat material already in circulation; the Kirtland House of the Lord was completed and a significant endowment of power was bestowed on the Saints in 1836, both of which events marked a kind of point of completion. In the midst of all these developments, Joseph Smith seems to have begun to see his work as effectively done, and he began to speak in the weeks just before the dedication of the Kirtland House of the Lord of his having finished the work he was sent to do, and to claim that the Lord could now take him if He saw necessary.

Of course, all of this was immensely complicated by what for Joseph himself was the shocking appearance of Moses, Elias, and Elijah in the Kirtland House of the Lord (he recorded the event in his journal when it happened, and then ceased keeping a journal for two years—as if the event had so baffled him that he was silenced; moreover, he spoke of the event to no one, so far as we know, during his life), as well as by the economic disasters of 1837 and 1838 (disasters that led to the complete collapse of the Kirtland period, with Joseph fleeing for his life from the Saints on horseback to Missouri). By the time Joseph was safely in Far West, Missouri, in 1838, he began again to receive revelations as he had before. But this was again stopped up by the terribly events in Missouri that year: the Mormon War followed shortly after Joseph’s arrival, and he soon found himself in Liberty Jail, wallowing for months without much hope for escape. Though he would occasionally receive revelations in the old, pre-1835 style after this, something changed rather drastically in Liberty Jail. Joseph began to play the role of expositor and preacher, effectively coming out of his shell. By the time he arrived in Nauvoo—and perhaps more especially in the months thereafter while he was in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.—he was teaching what seemed to the Saints an entirely new theology, though it was something that had already been at work in all of his revelations and translations. The more traditional “revelations” were effectively replaced by this more traditionally biblical style of prophetic work: rather than dictating direct revelations, Joseph was now describing what he had felt, seen, witnessed, understood, and so on, turning the attention of the Saints in startlingly new directions. And thus was born what often goes by the name of the “Nauvoo theology.”

But has all this to do with the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants? There is some sense, it seems to me, in which all of this was set in motion—at least in part—by the closure of the revelatory canon in 1835. Though Joseph occasionally received Doctrine-and-Covenants-like revelations between 1835 and 1844, the great majority of his prophetic work was of a different nature. It might be best to see the closure of the 1835 canon as being implied not only in the tight, integral, classically canonical structure and intention of the 1835 volume, but also in Joseph Smith’s own essential departure from the earlier “model” of revelation once the volume was printed and in circulation. The canon complete, Joseph took up the role of expositor.

There is thus something peculiar about what I am calling the closure of the canon in 1835. The modern canon was, in effect, closed, even though the Seer was still alive and receiving revelations (of one kind or another). But all of this changed in 1844. When it was seen fit to add to the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants in the production of the 1844 edition—particularly because the majority of what was added was drawn from the relatively small collection of traditional revelations that had been received between 1835 and 1844—there was a kind of retroactive opening of the 1835 volume. It was as if, all of a sudden, the martyrdom had marked the earlier project as incomplete, and it only became necessary really to close the canon after the death of the Prophet. Thus, on my argument, the 1835 canon was effectively closed between 1835 and 1844, only really being opened for the first time when the 1844 volume was published. But, ironically, the retroactive opening of the 1835 volume was only accomplished by the replacement of the same volume, so its canonical openness never really had an opportunity to do anything.

What, then, of the closure of the 1844 volume? I think it has already been made relatively clear that the addition of the announcement of the martyrdom to the volume marked its definitive closure: it had been “sealed,” and its testament was “now in force.” But, at the same time, the retroactive opening of the 1835 volume, effected by the closure of the 1844 volume, would necessarily have weakened the sense of closure in 1844, at least in subtle ways. That is, the very fact that the publication of the 1844 volume both retroactively opened and at the same time superseded the canon of 1835 would have meant that the new closed canon might, at some later point, in turn be retroactively opened and superseded. Of course, this possibility was likely not generally recognized, if at all: the language of “sealing” the volume would likely have had a stronger effect on the Saints than anything else. And, as will be seen in my next post, the closing of the canon in 1844 had a longstanding effect: there would be no real change made to the Doctrine and Covenants for more than three decades.

In effect, the modern canon was closed in 1844.

A Word about the History of the Church

In a brief postscript of sorts, I would like to say just a word about the publication of the History of the Church during the same years the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was in production. Joseph Smith began writing a new version of his history in 1838 in Far West. As he himself explained in the first lines of the history, he felt he was compelled to produce it because of how widely the misrepresentations of Mormonism and his own self had spread. He now began to work out his finally official history as a result.

By 1842, this history was being published in the Times and Seasons, and so it was appearing serially at precisely the time—and being issued from precisely the same printing outfit—as the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Orson Pratt would explain a few years later that Joseph Smith himself delineated the distinction between the Doctrine and Covenants (what would, it seems, have always been for him the 1835 shape of the volume) and the official History of the Church:

Joseph, the Prophet, in selecting the revelations from the manuscripts, and arranging them for publication, did not arrange them according to the order of the date in which they were given, neither did he think it necessary to publish them all in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but left them to be published more fully in his History. (Millennial Star of April 25, 1857)

This official history was thus appearing alongside the 1844 volume, making clear that there was a stronger and stronger separation between the institutionally oriented volume of the Doctrine and Covenants and the historically oriented publication of Joseph’s History. But these bled into each other in curious ways, particularly once Joseph Smith had been killed. First, it should be noticed that the revelations included in the History of the Church, when they were to be found in the Doctrine and Covenants, were taken from that volume, in their edited state, rather than from the actual historical record. This strongly reinforced the idea that the Doctrine and Covenants represented what had actually been received in the first place. Second, especially once Joseph Smith died, the work of producing the History became heavily documentary, focusing on official and institutional matters because these records were more available to those working on the project. The result was that the History sounded less like a narrative than like an institutional scrapbook—that is, it sounded more like the Doctrine and Covenants itself than like the history that contextualized the published revelations.

Thus, though there was reason even in the 1840s to distinguish between the Doctrine and Covenants and parallel History of the Church, it was not long before the two became effectively entangled, neither separating itself entirely from the other. The importance of this development, though, will not really be seen until the next post, dealing with the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

For now, what we are left with in 1844 is first and foremost a closed modern canon, institutionally oriented as always—a canon that seems to have dominated even the intended-to-be-distinct History of the Church.

2 Responses to “What Is the Doctrine and Covenants? Part II.5, The 1844 Doctrine and Covenants”

  1. […] What Is the Doctrine and Covenants? Part II.5, The 1844 Doctrine and Covenants […]

  2. Cornfed528 said

    It’s a shame D&C section 101 (1835 or 1844) caused such a conflict and was deleted!

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