February 20, 2019

Book Notice: Read Primary Sources on the Origin of the Book of Mormon in One Volume

Post contributed by


Stephen Smoot

Oxford University Press has recently published A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon, the first “single-volume collection of documents to focus exclusively on the origin of the Book of Mormon.” Compiled and edited by Larry E. Morris, a writer and historian living in Salt Lake City, Utah and formerly an editor with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, this new volume features a “compilation of both first- and secondhand accounts relevant to the inception of the Book of Mormon,” including accounts about the visitation of Moroni, Martin Harris’s visit to scholars in New York, the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, and the Three and Eight Witnesses.

As described on the Oxford University Press website,

The story of the creation of the Book of Mormon has been told many times, and often ridiculed. A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon presents and examines the primary sources surrounding the origin of the foundational text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the most successful new religion of modern times.

The scores of documents transcribed and annotated in this book include family histories, journal entries, letters, affidavits, reminiscences, interviews, newspaper articles, and book extracts, as well as revelations dictated in the name of God. From these texts emerges the captivating story of what happened (and what was believed or rumored to have happened) between September 1823–––when the seventeen-year-old farm boy Joseph Smith announced that an angel of God had directed him to an ancient book inscribed on gold plates–––and March 1830, when the Book of Mormon was first published.

Earlier projects to catalogue primary sources of this nature were undertaken by John W. Welch with his edited volume Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestation, 1820–1844 (BYU Studies, 2005) and by Dan Vogel in his series Early Mormon Documents (Signature Books, 1996–2003). Welch’s volume, while still in print, covers material beyond the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Vogel’s five-volume series is out of print and prohibitively expensive for most casual readers. Furthermore, new sources have come to light since Vogel’s volumes were published. With Morris’s single-volume edition, lay readers as well as students and scholars of Latter-day Saint history have an accessible and up-to-date way to dive deep into the primary source documents relating specifically to the origin of the Book of Mormon.

Morris’s new book appears in print during a time of increased scrutiny of and interest in Latter-day Saint history. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself recognizes the need for presenting a faithful yet robust narrative of its early history to the general public, which has resulted in the recent publication of the first volume in its new series Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days.

Book of Mormon Central research associate Brant A. Gardner has given his own endorsement of the book. “[A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon] is the essential bedrock upon which future studies of the Book of Mormon will be based,” says Gardner in an endorsement on the book’s dustjacket. “Whether mined for understanding the believer’s viewpoint or its reception among the wider population, these are documents that matter. Morris has collected the essentials for both novice and specialist alike. The carefully edited and introduced collection provides a rich and rounded view of this important topic in American history.”

This is not the first publication of Oxford University Press on the Book of Mormon. Previous volumes such as By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion and The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction, both by noted Latter-day Saint author Terryl L. Givens, have appeared through the press, adding immeasurably to the academic discussion on the Book of Mormon.

Morris himself has published previous pieces on Latter-day Saint history in such venues as the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon is available for purchase in hardcover and eBook from the Oxford University Press website and Amazon.com.

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