Historical Context of the Doctrine & Covenants

Kurt Elieson

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The Story of the Doctrine & Covenants

The easiest scriptures to understand are the ones that have stories. The Doctrine & Covenants is clearly not one of those books, and several Church leaders have said that a key to understanding the Doctrine & Covenants to become familiar with its story by reading additional sourced. That story is told in a single continuous narrative in Historical Context of the Doctrine & Covenants.

This book has different strengths than a commentary. It immerses the reader in a story full of first-person quotes so the historical background is not only understood, but experienced. Every single section is seamlessly integrated into the fabric of church history, including the problems people faced, how the section was implemented, and its relationship to other revelations that came before and after. The point is for references to people, activities, and circumstances to make intuitive sense.

Each section is also briefly summarized to highlight its message, its train of thought, and its role in the development of Mormon doctrine.

Volume 1: D&C 1-70, 74, 107, 133

Volume 1 covers the years 1820 to 1831 and is available for free here as a PDF file or can be purchased here as a Kindle edition or paperback through Amazon.com. It is also reviewed here in BYU Studies by J.B. Haws of the BYU Religion Department.

Volumes 2-3: D&C 71-73, 75-132, 134-OD2

It took eight years working off and on to turn out Volume 1. Ten years later I am still a ways out from finishing this off completely, but I am still making progress.

Status Update

July 2021: Volume 1 came in at 367 pages of text (445 pages after resizing and reformatting a year ago to improve readability). I had originally intended for Volume 2 to run about another 650 pages, for a total of about 1,100 pages (plus supporting material) in two volumes. As of July 2021 my working draft now runs 1,600 pages in three volumes plus a fourth volume of supporting material.

In terms of getting to completion, I currently think of this project as having three parts.

The first part covers 1820-1831 (D&C 1-70) and corresponds to Volume 1. I occasionally make small revisions to this part, but only a couple of changes count as more than minor edits. I am happy with how this part turned out and have no plan to do any major rewriting.

For the last couple years my efforts have been directed primarily at the third part covering the explusion from Missouri in 1838-1839 through today. My original plan was for the Nauvoo Period of 1839-1846 to fill about 50 pages, followed by a 30 page epilogue for the last four items received during 1847 – 2020.

Now this third part begins with a 175 page monster of a chapter on the Nauvoo Period, another 125 pages covering Utah Territory (1846-1907), and 50 pages on the Twentieth Century (1908-2020). Even though only four items from the Doctrine & Covenants were received during 1847-2020, this third part currently comes in close to 375 pages, nearly as long as the entire Volume 1 that covers half the sections in the Doctrine & Covenants in 445 pages.

I am happy with how this third part is turning out. Despite the length, I think it maintains focus as it provides information not only about the circumstances surrounding the receipt of each of these items, but also about the manner in which several key themes in the Doctrine & Covenants have been implemented since Nauvoo. I am currently at the point of going back through to make sure that each of several themes flows naturally and accurately. For example: the building of temples and the implementation of temple ordinances, Brigham Young’s economic initiatives in Utah Territory, the Church’s policy on priesthood ordinations before the Revelation on Priesthood OD 2, the adoption and publication of major editions of the scriptures, etc. I am especially happy with the way that things have come together on the relationship of Bloody Kansas, the Utah War, Reconstruction, and the conflict over polygamy that resulted in the Manifesto, OD 1. My current best guess is that it will take until roughly the spring of 2022 to finish writing, editing, and cite checking this part.

That still leaves the large middle part covering most of the Ohio-Missouri Period, or 1832-1838 (D&C 71-120). This part currently runs 650 pages, which is simply too long, especially the second half of this material. And I still have a handful of major sources to finish working through, including the Manuscript History, as well as several biographies, etc. I did get most of the first three chapters of this part into decent shape a few years ago (Dec 1831 – May 1833, D&C 71-93). But I have not yet really done anything to wrestle the rest of this material into a coherent narrative, and it is currently nothing more than a collection of too much information.

I currently hope to finish off this second part by the end of 2022. I expect-hope-wish that this part will largely write itself as a limited number of principal characters deal with a limited number of issues derived primarily from a limited number of original sources.

That will still leave a final round of cite checking, converting citations in Volume 1 to the Joseph Smith Papers materials that are now available online, getting copyright permissions, and indexing. Last time it took me a month of cheating every spare moment I could find to index the 445 pages of Volume 1, and this will be three or four times longer.

So even if everything goes well, I do not realistically expect to have the final finished product out the door until roughly the end of 2023. But that is currently the goal.

When completed, the material will be broken up into probably four volumes. Volume 1 will likely include the introduction and text for 1820 – May 1833 (D&C 1-93) in 12 chapters of about 580 pages. Volume 2 is expected to then include the text for June 1833 – September 1838 (D&C 94-120) in 6 chapters of about 530 pages. Volume 3 would include all of the remaining text through today (D&C 121 – OD 2) plus a few concluding thoughts in 5 chapters of about 500 pages. All of the supporting material will go into another fourth volume: appendices, endnotes, bibliography, etc. I see no reason for multiple overlapping indexes or bibliographies at the end of each volume, and I believe it is more useful to have endnotes open to the side in a separate volume rather than having to flip back and forth within a single volume.

If you are anxious for me to finish and get this out the door, please know that there is at least one other person in the world who shares that feeling.

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