This thesis seeks to answer the question of how Joseph Smith—History found in The Pearl of Great Price developed into a part of the canon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When the prophet Joseph Smith first dictated the text to his scribes it seems he had not intended for the work to become scripture, but simply to follow the Lord's divine mandate to keep a record. Additionally he provided the purpose in his document to "disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they transpired." The format he proposed for the Manuscript History illustrates how it was originally not purposed for scripture. The compiling of that history took the efforts of many men and women and spanned the length of almost twenty years to complete. Joseph Smith had begun the dictation to his scribe George Robinson in 1838, but it was unfinished. Joseph later began the dictation anew to his scribe James Mulholland, first having the man rewrite what he had told to Robinson and then picking up the dictation from there. While the prophet had started and stopped histories before, this particular dictation began the enduring effort. The Manuscript History was developed from the original 59 pages that were scribed by Mulholland. By the efforts of other scribes, but mostly Willard Richards, the history was completed. The official statement of Brigham Young and Orson Pratt upon its completion said nothing of extracting portions for canon. But Mulholland's work seemed destined for a different purpose than the rest of the Manuscript History. It was printed serially in the Times and Seasons, and a few apostles seemed to catch a vision of what the manuscript could do for potential converts and members of the Church. Orson Pratt was especially a proponent of communicating certain key events as illustrated in his missionary tract "Remarkable Visions." A later apostle, Franklin D. Richards, would see the benefit of using the official history to distribute the history of the restoration of the Church to others. He extracted portions from Mulholland's text that covered certain main events in Joseph's life and printed them in his missionary tract The Pearl of Great Price. This pamphlet would eventually be canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1880. Joseph Smith-History's inclusion in the reclamation of revelation that occurred in 1880 was deserved. This is evidenced by examining the process of canonization and the guiding principles of canonization employed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was canonized at the same time as many other revelations and at a General Conference saturated with many important events. Consequently it is difficult to gauge the reaction to its inclusion in canon, except in how it has been used since its canonization. After its inclusion into scripture the text has become a foundational piece of literature for the Church. The impact the text has had can be seen in the culture, missionary work, and doctrine of the Church. The focus of this thesis is to map the text's journey from birth to canonization.
College and Department
Religious Education; Church History and Doctrine
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Bennett, Russ Kay, "Joseph Smith—History: From Dictation to Canon" (2012). Theses and Dissertations. 3245.
Joseph Smith, James Mulholland, Orson Pratt, Willard Richards, Franklin D. Richards, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph Smith-History, The History of the Church, The Manuscript History of the Church, The Pearl of Great Price, England, British Missionaries, Missionary Tracts, The Missouri Persecutions, Times and Seasons, keys, authority, canonization