Authorship of the History of Joseph Smith

Review Essays
Journal: 21:1
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Leland Nelson has compiled an interesting narrative of first-person passages from the History of the Church in an attempt to expand the familiar "Joseph Smith Story" into an entire volume. In doing this he has included a great deal of material that was not authored by Joseph Smith at all. In spite of this fact, he claims on the dust cover and in the introduction that "this book is exactly what the title says it is—the personal journal or diary of Joseph Smith Junior." Although he makes assertion that the book contains "Joseph's own personal account of his feelings, revelations, persecutions . . . and day-to-day happenings," and that it "assembles together into one handy volume the great majority of Joseph's personal journal entries," the Journal of Joseph is not taken directly from Joseph Smith's diaries but from material written by scribes and the Church Historians for the Church annals. Mr. Nelson admits that "Joseph dictated most of his journal entries to scribes," but the implications of this practice are totally ignored in the identification and description of the book's contents.

Although Mr. Nelson has put together an engrossing—and apparently popular—first-person narrative of excerpts from the early Church annals, what is in the book has been grossly misrepresented in newspaper ads, radio spot commercials, and the introduction to the book. The compiler has (I hope unknowingly) become the promulgator of many misconceptions about the History of the Church that have been rather common among Latter-day Saints since about the turn of the century. In perpetuating some of these inaccurate and misleading notions, Mr. Nelson is in the good company of many devoted speakers, teachers, and writers throughout the Church; but this does not excuse his failure to determine the exact origin, authorship, and nature of the material he has published as "Joseph's writings." Even a cursory examination of Dean C. Jessee's articles in BYU Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 439–73 and the Journal of Mormon History 3 (1976): 23–46 could have saved the compiler from making misleading claims about the contents of his publication.