An abundance of new content, including full-color images, transcripts, hundreds of LDS Church Nauvoo era documents and more have recently been uploaded to the Joseph Smith Papers website at josephsmithpapers.org.
Most notable among the new content are images and transcripts of Joseph Smith's Bible revision manuscripts for the Old and New Testaments, published for the first time with full-color photographs.
The publication of Joseph Smith’s revision of the Bible is important because it can bring members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints closer to one of the important revelatory documents of the Restoration, said Kent P. Jackson, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.
Joseph Smith, founder and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, undertook a revision of the Bible from 1830-1833. He dictated the text to six different scribes — Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Emma Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Jesse Gause and Frederick G. Williams. The Prophet and his contemporaries referred to this work as "the New Translation." The term "Joseph Smith Translation" was invented in conjunction with the publication of the English LDS edition of the Bible in 1979, Jackson said.
From Joseph Smith's death until now, Latter-day Saints have had limited access to the manuscripts of his original Bible translation. BYU researchers published all of the writing on the manuscripts in a large book in 2004, followed by an electronic publication on a DVD in 2011, Jackson said.
"But as part of the Joseph Smith Papers project, the transcriptions are now online and accessible to anyone in the world who has a computer and an internet connection," Jackson said. "Anyone can now access high-resolution images side-by-side with the transcriptions. The online presentation in the Joseph Smith Papers is extremely attractive and easy to use."
The transcriptions represent the text as written on the manuscript pages, including the original spellings, punctuation, cross-outs and insertions. Readers can see the variety of spelling and handwriting practices of the scribes. Joseph Smith’s handwriting appears only on a few of the pages, Jackson said.
"Publication as part of the Joseph Smith Papers will hopefully facilitate continuing high-quality research on this important part of the Prophet’s ministry," Jackson said.
Altogether, Joseph Smith made changes in about 3,400 verses, including 1,300 in the Old Testament and 2,100 in the New Testament. The changes in the LDS Bible edition are those that were considered to have the most importance in terms of doctrine and history, Jackson said.
"The publication of the entire New Translation gives us access to all of the Prophet’s changes," Jackson said. "Readers will now see that in addition to doctrinal and historical changes, the Prophet made scores of revisions to simplify and modernize the language of the King James translation to make the Bible more accessible to modern readers."
As with any documentary project, there are places where modern printed texts do not always have the original author’s intended words. This is true with the Joseph Smith Translation manuscripts, which were not accessible for so many decades. Readers on the Joseph Smith Papers website may notice some original wordings that differ from current printed texts, but there won’t be any dramatic surprises, Jackson said.
Other additions to the site as of Oct. 31 include more than 100 documents dating from August to December 1842, including letters, land deeds and Nauvoo City Council resolutions; documents from the Nauvoo Mayor's Court, 1841-1844; a topic article pointing to dozens of documents that relate to the Council of Fifty in Nauvoo and other Joseph Smith documents from 1844; new and updated reference material, including nearly 30 new biographical entries, almost 20 geographical entries, three glossary entries and more than 200 new or updated chronology entries, according to josephsmithpapers.org.
In addition to the new content, the website's "Browse the Papers" page has been upgraded for more mobile-friendly use and improved navigation. Similar improvements have also been made for the "Document Viewer," offering visitors several new features.
Joseph F. Darowski, Joseph Smith Papers web historian, said the Joseph Smith Papers website complements the printed volumes by offering free and instant access to the same printed content as well as additional content not featured in the volumes. Last year, the website served about 283,000 unique visitors from around the globe and recorded more than 1.3 million page views. About 30 percent of website visitors use a mobile device, Darowski said.
"More people use the project website than will ever purchase a print volume," Darowski said. "That is OK with us since our primary mission is to publish the papers digitally and in print for use by scholars, members and others interested in our history."
The next Joseph Smith Papers volume, "Documents, Vol. 5," is scheduled to be available in May 2017. It covers the period from October 1835 through January 1838 and primarily centers on events in Kirtland, Ohio, and Missouri, including the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, the Kirtland Safety Society and growing dissent and apostasy in both Ohio and Missouri, Darowski said.
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