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New volume shows when Prophet prayed, he received revelations
By Molly Farmer
Mormon Times
Wednesday, Sep. 30, 2009
When Joseph Smith asked, he received.

That's the basis of the newly released second volume of the Joseph Smith Papers project, says Richard E. Turley, assistant church historian and recorder.

Members and scholars alike who read the "facsimile edition" of the "Revelations and Translations" series will see that each of the revelations came in answer to a prayer or question posed by Joseph Smith.

"I think that when they see that the revelations came, almost all of them, after a question was asked, they'll recognize the truth of the statement, 'Ask and ye shall receive,'" Turley said. "That's the basic concept that this volume establishes."

The 707-page work -- including reference pages -- features high-resolution images of each of the Prophet's revelations as they were recorded in the 1800s. Turley said readers will find that some of Joseph Smith's revelations were recorded verbatim from visions or dreams he had, while others were written down conceptually.

"Joseph Smith was given revelation, and at times I believe that revelation was word for word. But at other times, it was concept perhaps. We don't really know, ..." Turley said. "But it appears that as Joseph received revelations and then reviewed the way they had been written down, he would sometimes make refinements to capture the sense of what God gave him, better than perhaps on the original dictation. And I think that's one thing that people will see."

Robert J. Woodford, one of the volume's three editors, echoed that sentiment, saying that it was up to Joseph Smith to put God's words into the vocabulary of his day.

"He did have a vision now and again. He did have dreams. He did have words dictated to him on occasion, but for the most part these represent the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to him. So he would get the concept, and then, as Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants says, put it in a language that we could understand," Woodford said.

Many of the revelations occurred in front of groups of people, including Sections 76, 21 and 50.

"That happened quite often," Woodford said. "In Section 39 he's sitting at a conference and he stepped forward and had Sidney Rigdon sit at the table and he dictated."

Fellow volume editor Steven C. Harper said he finds it very interesting and compelling that almost all the people who were present when Joseph Smith had revelations believed that they were from God.

"The people who watched him do it believed," Harper said. "The folks 1,000 miles away or the postmaster in Canandaigua thought it was the dumbest thing they had ever heard."

He said he gives greater credence to the testimonies of the men and women who witnessed the revelations than the detractors who were never present.

"I'm not really very interested in the opinions of the people who never watched Joseph Smith receive a revelation, or didn't know him or didn't have any idea about his prophetic gifts. But I'm really interested in the testimonies and the evidence left to me by the people who watched him ... knew what he was capable of, knew what the revelations were and saw a profound difference in Joseph Smith the farmer and Joseph Smith the seer. That's really compelling to me."

Sheri Dew, CEO of Deseret Book, said she believes rank-and-file members of the church will find as great an application for the book as scholars in the academic world. Mormons can learn from Joseph Smith's humility in his revelatory process and apply it to their own.

"The scholarship of this volume is extraordinary," she said. "But this volume absolutely helps reinforce that we believe in revelation."

She said members will be buoyed through reading the book as it reinforces that revelation continues today.

"Revelation opened this dispensation, revelation continues to guide the president of the church, and it guides you and me. This book reinforces that, and you get a glimpse into the revelatory process of Joseph Smith. ... What the Prophet Joseph went through, how he did it ... it has direct personal application."

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com