Ep 191 – Book of the Law of the Lord (BoLoL)
On this episode, money issues in Nauvoo become the springboard for a discussion of the Book of the Law of the Lord. What is contained in the enigmatic pages of this unique artifact? What was the purpose of creating it? What happened with the controversy surrounding it? Find out the answers to these questions and more about a rare Mormon artifact you didn’t know you needed to know about! Yes, I know that was clickbaitish, but it’s a really cool book more people should talk about! Also, Apostle Boyd K. Packer didn’t want the world to see it so you know it has to be good!
Book of the Law of the Lord (BoLoL) full text
JS 1842 journal included as part of BoLoL
The Book of the Law of the Lord by Alex D. Smith
Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington
edited by Gary J. Bergera
Merch Store https://groundgnomes.launchcart.store/shop
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
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Joseph Smith’s plans for the Mormons and America at large were quite grand. He had a lot in store for the world if he could but carry his plans to fruition and show the world that a better version of itself awaited should it trust him as its supreme temporal leader and Elohiem as its supreme spiritual leader.
How do you build a kingdom? You basically have to buy it if you’re averse to bloodshed, which Jo was. For this reason, money was always in a shortage. This is one of those bedrock issues we talk about relatively frequently on the show like polygamy, power struggles, dissent among trusted elites, and a few other fundamental issues which seem to influence nearly everything that happens in Nauvoo Mormonism.
Desperation fueled these desperate money ploys. The primary income for building the Nauvoo empire was tithing donations, but those can be quite unreliable especially as more Mormons giving more money to the church resulted in an overall more destitute population. Beyond that, those who had more tended to give more. Those folks became frequent targets of the leadership to extort as much possible from them. But, you’re a rich guy and the prophet or apostles come knocking a couple times a month asking for money, it gets old pretty quickly and the promises become more grand and less fulfilled.
At the end of the day, Nauvoo in 1844 was a big city, but had little town charm. It had grown from a small, homogenous group of people into a relatively large metropolis but it still retained many of the trappings of a small town. Everybody talked to everybody about everybody else’s business. People saw their neighbors every day and that small-town drama pervaded the culture, especially because those in authority in Nauvoo were also the same figures in ecclesiastical authority. In normal small towns, you have the pastor to gossip about, and then the city council and mayor with their own set of gossip. In Nauvoo, however, those were the same people who were subjects of town gossip. People were constantly nosing into other’s business as a form of entertainment before radio and television became centers of attention.
The thing with a small town is it’s also really challenging to hide one’s business. If a farmer has a herd of cattle on the outskirts of town goes on a cattle drive to sell off a portion of the herd, everybody in town saw that the herd was decimated after his return, and everybody knew this guy was walking around with some money in his pocket. A wandering trader might come into town with some rare or desirable items, stay for a few days, then leave town without carrying those items and it wasn’t long before all the Nauvoo townsfolk knew that somebody in town had just traded a sum of money for that desirable thing. Maybe they kept it in a trunk at the foot of their bed, maybe they carried it on their person. Is the item in a place which isn’t well-guarded? How did they get the money to buy it in the first place? Do they have more money laying around unguarded somewhere in their house?
Not only did this gossip pervade everyday interactions of many citizens of Nauvoo, but Jo had his little birdies in every dark alley of the city funneling information back to him. Nothing escaped his notice. Perception was a skill he’d curried in his early days of New York treasure-digging and occult practices and it served him well in building his religious empire. When somebody in Nauvoo had some money, he knew about it and the gear cogs of the cycle of religious extortion would lurch into motion.
I offer as an example of this a Mr. Orme. Orme was a Mormon and apparently pretty wealthy. It seems he’d answered the door to the apostles asking for money quite a few times and he was sick of unfulfilled promises. Instead of going himself, Jo sent a couple of trusted thugs to Orme’s house to get some of that piggy bank he’d been hiding away for some time.
Being in a strait to raise money to assist the hands in the Pine country, I sent Elders B[righam]. Young and W[illard]. Richards to borrow some money from Mr. Orme, who, it is believed, had a large sum of money lying idle, but did not get any.
The Mormon leadership was always “in a strait to raise money” whether that was for a specific project like Lyman Wight’s Pinery Mission or for general operating costs of the church and its functionaries. The apostles simply didn’t carry as much clout as the prophet himself did. Mr. Orme’s refusal to give up any of his money can be readily juxtaposed with Jo personally approaching a Mr. John Wilkie the previous day. Jo went to Wilkie’s house and asked for some of the money he’d been hoarding.
Vogel HoC 6:293
[W]ent to see brother John Wilkie; he had sent to me to come and see him; he wanted to know what he should do. I told him of the order of tithing, &c., and he wanted I should come again.
The next day, Jo did just that and had the exchange recorded in the Book of the Law of the Lord. We’ll discuss what that is in a minute but this is how it was recorded:
This day President Joseph Smith rode over to brother John Wilkie’s, at his special request, to give him some instructions relative to his duty in regard to tithing and consecration.
Brother Wilkie has for a long time back been struggling with his feelings, designing to do right, but laboring under many fears and prejudices in consequence of having in some degree given way to believe the base reports circulated by individuals for the purpose of injuring the authorities of the church, and also from various other causes. His faithful companion has persevered diligently, and with fervent prayer has called upon God in his behalf, until she has realized her utmost wishes.
Brother Wilkie now feels anxious to do right in all things, and especially to pay his tithing to the full. President Joseph showed him the principles of consecration, and the means whereby he might realize the fullness of the blessings of the celestial kingdom, and as an evidence that he desired to do right, he paid over to the Trustee-in-Trust the sum of three hundred dollars in gold and silver for the benefit of the Temple, and which is now recorded on consecration. $300.28
He also signified his intention of paying more as soon as he could get matters properly arranged. The President then pronounced a blessing upon him and his companion, that they should have the blessing of God to attend them in their basket and in their store; that they should have the blessing of health and salvation and long life, inasmuch as they would continue to walk in obedience to the commandments of God.
May the Lord grant his Spirit and peace to abide upon brother Wilkie and his companion through the remainder of their days; may their hearts expand and become enlarged to receive the fullness of the blessings of the kingdom of heaven; may they have the light of eternal truth continually springing up in them like a well of living water; may they be shielded from the powers of Satan, and the influence of designing men, and their faith increase from day to day until they shall have power to lay hold on the blessings of God and the gifts of the Spirit, until they are satisfied, and finally may they live to a good old age, and when they have lived while they desire life, may they die in peace, and be received into the mansions of eternal life, and enjoy a celestial glory forever and ever, even so, amen.
That’s how Brother John Wilkie’s donation was recorded on page 449 of the Book of the Law of the Lord. Let’s discuss the contents of the passage and then discuss what it meant to have a person’s name and contribution included in the Book of the Law of the Lord.
First, the content of John Wilkie’s questions, Jo’s instructions, and Jo’s blessings upon the Wilkies after the contribution was made. The law of consecration as it was used in Kirtland could be used as a euphemism here during the Nauvoo era. Consecration in Kirtland was the act of dedicating all of one’s property to the bishop’s storehouse to be controlled by the United Order, the church’s communalistic property controlling entity. The law of consecration was how Jo was able to vacuum up all of the Mormon leadership-owned businesses in Kirtland and use their income for his own personal gain. This worked until it didn’t and he ran most of the businesses into the ground. However, in Nauvoo the law of consecration was utilized more broadly. Tithing at the time meant dedicating one in every ten days to the mission of the church. If a person was unable to donate time, then they had to tithe resources like livestock, property, or money. The law of tithing was essentially a mechanism built into the law of consecration of dedicating one’s time, talents, or possessions to the church. However, because this was the rampant polygamy era of Nauvoo Mormonism, consecration could also refer to John’s wife. This is a complicated issue to tease out and the record as we read it from the Book of the Law of the Lord is just ambiguous enough it could mean a few things.
First, John Wilkie was apparently apprehensive of donating to the church because of the rumors about the leadership. That means polygamy. Where it says “but [, Wilkie,] laboring under many fears and prejudices in consequence of having in some degree given way to believe the base reports circulated by individuals for the purpose of injuring the authorities of the church” that means he believed the rumors of polygamy.
What immediately follows is quite interesting. “His faithful companion has persevered diligently, and with fervent prayer has called upon God in his behalf, until she has realized her utmost wishes.” What could that mean? Was she operating under the Law of Sarah and received her spiritual confirmation that she was to accept of any woman John brings home to be his second wife or she would be damned? Was she wanting a sister-wife for some reason and both her and John had picked a candidate they both could agree on? Was it her or John who was the instigator of their coming plural marriage? Like I said, the entry is just ambiguous enough that we could read a fair amount from it. Polygamy is almost always perceived as a reward system for the men because that’s how it was initially conceived, but it should also be noted that there were plenty of reasons for women to benefit from it in different ways beyond practicing it because it was a requirement for salvation and to enjoy “the fullness of the blessings of the celestial kingdom.” Let’s face it, in this Victorian era of repressed sexuality, for lesbians, polygamy was about the best option available to them. I don’t mean to be crass or sound insensitive here, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. In many plural relationships, primarily in Utah but a bit in Nauvoo, wives had a say in who their sister-wife would be. The more sister-wives they had, the less time they’re forced to spend with the husband they probably don’t love and the more time they spend with a partner they had some sway in choosing. For a society that repressed women and sexual expression outside of cis-hetero marriages, polygamy opened up a world of possibilities for women that they otherwise could never access. So, when I say that the line about John Wilkie’s companion calling upon God until “she has realized her utmost wishes” could mean anything, it really could mean anything.
Once John Wilkie coughed up the $300.28, the promises and blessings flowed from the Prophet as long as they “continued to walk in obedience to the commandments of God.” “may their hearts expand and become enlarged… the light of eternal truth continually springing up in them like a well of living water;… shielded from the powers of Satan, and the influence of designing men, and their faith increase from day to day until they shall have power to lay hold on the blessings of God and the gifts of the Spirit”
This contribution and Jo’s many blessings on the Wilkies was all recorded in the Book of the Law of the Lord, which actually is the primary focus of our episode today and thus the title. What does that mean?
Let’s take this opportunity to do a deep-dive on the Book of the Law of the Lord. First, the contents: The Book of the Law of the Lord was created in 1841 in a beautiful ledger book by Robert B. Thompson while he was Jo’s scribe. Our examination of the Book of the Law of the Lord will be broken up into three parts today. First, the content. Second, the purpose. And third, the controversy.
The BoLoL, as I like to call it, was broken up into 3 separate parts. It starts out with 9 of Jo’s revelations. These revelations are the smash hits of Jo’s revelations; the billboard list of Jo’s theocracy-building words of god. The content and context of each of these revelations bears examination because it sets the scene for the purpose of the BoLoL, which we’ll discuss after we cover the actual contents.
The first of these included revelations in the BoLoL was Jo’s first official Nauvoo revelation in modern D&C 124. This is the longest of Jo’s revelations and it essentially establishes the city of Nauvoo as the kingdom of God, a sovereign theocracy within the boundaries of the United States. It is truly one of Jo’s most important and iconic revelations and it’s the very first written words in this book, setting the tone for the theocratic purpose of the book in general.
The next revelation it includes is a revelation about specific people carrying out specific Nauvoo kingdom building operations dealing with the Nauvoo House and what consecrating properties means. The revelation following that is modern day D&C 125 which tells the saints in the Iowa territory what to do, which is essentially more kingdom building stuff when they named the Mormon headquarters in Iowa Zarahemla. The project of building a Mormon settlement in Iowa as a twin city to Nauvoo right across the Mississippi river was quickly defunded and the resources were instead devoted to the Nauvoo Temple and Nauvoo House hotel projects.
The included revelation after these two is really interesting as it progresses further back in time to a rough time of Mormon history. This was an unpublished January 1838 revelation that essentially adjudicated the power of a previous revelation. That previous revelation was the 1835 edition of the D&C section 3 verse 37. That published revelation, titled “On Priesthood” reads as follows:
37 And inasmuch as a president of the high priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counsellors of the high priesthood; and their decisions upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him. Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God; that all things may be done in order and in solemnity, before him, according to truth and righteousness.
This was the mechanism Jo built into his revelations for checking the power of the leadership. If the presidency of the high priesthood, meaning Jo and his councilors, does something, this verse governs the presidency’s impeachment and the tribunal process required to remove them. Now, the unpublished revelation included in the BoLoL provides interesting context as the leadership was attempting to determine the powers this verse provides and how far it extends. A little background on why this was included and why the unpublished revelation in the BoLoL is important. In January of 1838, the Kirtland church was melting down. The Fanny Alger incident had occurred and hearings were held to determine if this was adultery and Jo was to be removed for the charge. The Kirtland Safety Society had failed and hundreds of Mormons had lost thousands of dollars as a result. The Missouri stake of the church was being run by Oliver Cowdery, D-Day David Whitmer, and John Goebbels Whitmer who were all three pretty opposed to the way Jo was running things. The Quorum of Twelve’s power was continuing to grow under Bloody Brigham’s presidency. Hingepin Sidney Rigdon was Jo’s partner in crime through all of this. Legal issues were a constant weight on the leadership as Jo and Rigdon owed tens of thousands of dollars to creditors throughout the country. A court ruling had just handed the 3-story printing and school building behind the temple into the hands of non-Mormon creditors. Martin Harris had stood up during worship service in the temple and said he’d only seen the gold plates with his “spiritual eyes”. The Parrishite faction of Mormons, led by Warren Parrish, had just stormed a meeting with pistols and bowie knives to wrestle power out of Jo’s hands, which led to multiple legal complaints and arrests. 1838 was a tough time for Jo’s leadership. The result of the tribunal determining if Jo was in error sided with him, instead of the will of the people. Jo had successfully got away with his crimes and remained as president of the church. As a result, a faction of the church organically formed to oppose Jo and they determined to excommunicate him, leaving the Kirtland Temple in their hands. Jo, Rigdon, and the Quorum of Apostles were forced to flee in shame under the cover of night. This is all episodes 19-41 if you want a long refresher on everything I just talked about. So, back to the BoLoL. This unpublished revelation included in the 9 revelations at the beginning of the BoLoL was given while Jo was on the run on January 12, 1838. He was hiding out with some of the Twelve on a farm near Kirtland before crossing the state toward the Missouri church. They asked Jo if the ruling of the tribunal siding with Jo was binding on all stakes of the church, or just the Kirtland stake. They’d need that revelation in hand when they got to Missouri so the Missouri stake leadership, Cowdery and the Whitmers, couldn’t hold their own tribunal and excommunicate Jo when he got there. The functional provision reads as follows:
Thus saith the Lord, let the first presidency of my Church, be held in full fellowship in Zion and in all her stakes, until they shall be found transgressors, by such a high council as is named in the above alluded section, in Zion by three witnesses standing against each member of said presidency, and these witnesses shall be of long and faithful standing, and such also as cannot be impeached by other witnesses, before such Council, and when a decision is had by such a Council in Zion it shall only be for Zion, it shall not answer for her stakes, but if such decision be acknowledged by the Council of her stakes, then it shall answer for her stakes, but if it is not acknowledged by the stakes then such stake may have the priviledge of learning for themselves, or if such decision be acknowledged by a majority of the stakes, then it shall answer for all her stakes.
So, in summary, the unpublished BoLoL revelation states that the judgement of the Kirtland stake doesn’t hold for the Zion stake, meaning the Missouri stake, unless the Zion stake agrees to the ruling. When Jo got to Missouri with this revelation in hand, the Missouri stake wanted their own tribunal to excommunicate Jo, so instead he excommunicated the Whitmers, Cowdery, and W. W. Double-Dub Phelps and issued the Danite Manifesto giving them all 3 days to leave town or suffer the consequences. It was a hell of a power grab and it worked. The reason this unpublished revelation was included was to put into place the impeachment powers for the theocratic Mormon Kingdom of God that the BoLoL was created to establish. We’ll discuss that further after we get through the contents.
The next revelation included in the list of 9 was another unpublished revelation further adjudicating the powers of the First Presidency and what constitutes a stake. It says:
Thus saith the Lord, verily I say unto you nay. No Stake shall be appointed except by the first presidency, and this presidency be acknowledged by the voice of the same, otherwise it shall not be count[e]d as a Stake of Zion. And again, Except it be dedicated by this presidency it cannot be acknowledged as a stake of Zion, for unto this end have I appointed them in laying the foundation of, and establishing my kingdom. even so Amen.
Therefore, the stake established by the Kirtland defectors who kicked Jo, the first presidency, and the Quorum of Twelve out of Kirtland was ruled to not be an officially recognized stake by the will and power of God. This also granted powers to the first presidency claiming the BoLoL as their constitution as the ruling body. If the first presidency didn’t recognize a stake or chose to withdraw their recognition of a stake, then it held no power or sway with the leadership of the church. The previously unpublished revelation established the power play, this unpublished revelation insulated that power play from being questioned or nullified by a competing stake leadership.
The next included revelation is the Fishing River Revelation given at the conclusion of Zion’s Camp, the first military expedition of Joseph Smith in 1834 in response to the Mormons being kicked out of Jackson County in 1833. We discussed Zion’s Camp with David Michael back on episodes 30 and 31 of the show. It was a disaster but I suspect the reason it was included in the beginning of the BoLoL is because of this passage:
Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom, otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself; and my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be by the things which they suffer.
The BoLoL also includes the revelation Jo gave during his treasure-digging trip to Salem, Massachusetts back in August of 1836 stating, in part:
And it shall come to pass in due time, that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver, shall be yours.
Salem was an important and historical city in New England. This revelation was obviously quite important to include in the introductory revelations in the BoLoL.
The next included revelation is super interesting. It’s modern D&C 87. This is the revelation he gave about the American rebellion taking place in South Carolina and the slaves rising up to overthrow the government. That revelation states, in part,
And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be disiplined for war. And it shall come to pass, that the remnant who are left of the land, will marshal themselves, and shall become exceeding angry and shall vex the gentiles with a sore vexation.
This revelation being printed in the original book of Jo’s revelations, the Book of Commandments, catalyzed the first Missouri uprising against the Mormons in 1833 where the Missourians in Jackson County literally burned down the printing press and whipped, tarred and feathered, stabbed, and shot a small number of the Mormon leadership. For slave states, like Missouri, this revelation was either a harbinger of a coming slave revolution, or a direct declaration of war by abolitionist New Englanders against Southern Democrats that were the majority in Missouri. If we could boil issues down to brass tacks, this revelation alone catalyzed Zion’s Camp, the exodus from Kirtland to Missouri, the Missouri-Mormon War, leadership internment in Liberty Jail, the third exodus to the state of Illinois and Iowa territory, and so many other terrible events in Mormon history. However, because the wording is so strong and it captured the true intent of the Mormon theocratic empire, it should be no wonder it was included in the introductory revelations to the BoLoL.
The final of the 9 included revelations was Jo’s response to the intel of the Missourians violent treatment of the Mormons in Jackson County. This revelation, when taken in context of the previously included revelations, is an actual declaration of war against the United States. This is included as modern Mormon D&C 103 and the relevant passages are as follows:
Verily I say unto you my friends, behold I will give unto you a revelation and commandment, that you may know how to act in the discharge of your duties concerning the salvation and redemption of your brethren, who have been scattered on the land of Zion, being driven and smitten by the hands of mine enemies; on whom I will pour out my wrath without ~~mercy~~ measure in mine own time:… But verily I say unto you, I have decreed a decree which my people shall realize, inasmuch as they hearken from this very hour unto the council which I the Lord their God shall give unto them. Behold they shall, for I have decreed it, begin to prevail against mine enemies from this very hour,--and by hearkening to observe all the words which I the Lord their <God shall> speak unto them, they never cease to prevail until the kingdoms of the world are subdued under my feet, and the earth is again given unto the saints to possess it for ever and ever.
What follows these revelations in the Book of the Law of the Lord is part 2 of the BoLoL. Part 2 comprises a chunk of Jo’s journal entries covering the entire year of 1842 written in the hands of White-out Willard Richards, Erastus Derby, Eliza R. Snow, and William Clayton, or Quilliam Claypen as we call him. 1842 was a super-important year for Joseph Smith’s history because it included the translation and publication of the Book of Abraham, the introduction of the endowment ceremony, Jo’s ascendency to Master Mason, the formation of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge, the Lilburn W. Boggs assassination attempt debacle, the sharp and public removal of John C. Wreck-it Bennett from church leadership as well as the orchestration of the campaign to discredit the allegations made in his expose, Jo’s arrest in Dixon, Illinois and the resulting near extradition to Missouri to answer for his crimes during the 1838 Missouri-Mormon War, the introduction of the Anointed Quorum, and half a dozen other issues of major consequence. 1842 may be the best accounted for life of Joseph Smith’s entire ministry because Jo constantly had a scribe by his side detailing the events of his everyday life. It’s also interesting to see the transition from one scribe to the next. The majority of White-out Willard Richards’s journal entries in this part 2 of the BoLoL are one or two lines. Once Quilliam Claypen takes over the scribal duties for White-out Willard, many entries span an entire page or more and dozens of letters are copied documenting Jo’s correspondence with church leaders, political figures, and creditors. The BoLoL is one of the greatest resources historians have for Jo’s life because part 2 is such a detailed account of his daily activities.
Finally, part 3 of the Book of the Law of the Lord includes over 400 pages of donation records to the church from November 1841 through May of 1844 just like the one we just read about John Wilkie and his companion.
So, that’s the simplistic breakdown of the three parts of the BoLoL. I say simplistic because the divisions aren’t actually this simple. The last over 400 pages are accounting records for donations, but the book isn’t broken perfectly of Revelations, then Jo’s journal, then donations. The donations seem to have taken precedent from pages 27- 477, while the journal entries seem to be filled in the line breaks between the donation pages. I’ll read a brief excerpt from an article we’ll discuss a bit in a minute. The article was written by Alex D. Smith and it was published in the Journal of Mormon History in 2012. Alex Smith was one of the guys working on the Joseph Smith Papers Project when they published the full scans and transcript of the BoLoL. This is what Alex Smith says about the breakdown of the donations and journal entries.
These earliest entries in the book may be more appropriately termed “historical” entries rather than “journal” entries, as apparently the record was not immediately viewed as a journal for Joseph Smith. A number of headings in the early journal-entry portion of the book indicate a developing conception of the book’s purpose…
Smith goes on to describe the structure of these entries he labels as “historical” instead of journal where they seem to be topically listed regarding prophecy, or a meeting about a coal mine, or a visit from various people selling land to Jo. Then Alex Smith goes on to write:
Then finally, on page 58—thirty-two pages after the entries begin—the heading appears: “Journal of President Joseph.” Additionally, the first few months of entries are not always in chronological order, and occasionally entries bear the same date as earlier entries (for instance, the month of January 1842 contains several instances of multiple entries with the same date but different content)…
The journal entries and donations are kept concurrently, sometimes alternating every other page, until page 215…
The concurrent and interspersed journal entries and donations evince a unifying purpose or, at the very least, a common function of the recorder’s responsibilities. The alternating donations and entries, with their contemporaneous dates, and the degree to which they are interspersed, suggest that they were kept at the same time. On occasion, either the donations or journals were recorded for some time, with the other added in when time permitted. For instance, one sentence in the August 16, 1842,… is divided, mid-sentence, by twenty-eight pages of donations—an indication that space left between the donations was being used to record journal entries. At times, the journal entries and surrounding donations are concretely related, with one elucidating the other.
Now that we know the contents, part 1 of our discussion, let’s discuss the second issue, the purpose of the BoLoL.
Alex Smith’s article provides an interesting window into what he sees as the purpose of the Book of the Law of the Lord. First, keeping it as a record was consistent with prior revelation. Jo had given a revelation in the form of a letter to William Wines Double-Dub Phelps all the way back in 1832, only 2 years into his ministry, that “It is the duty of the lords clerk whom he has appointed to keep a history and a general church record of all things that transpire in Zion and of all those who consecrate properties… and also there [their] manner of life and the faith and works and also of all the apostates who apostatize after receiving ther inheritances.” This was later included as part of the modern D&C section 85. Alex Smith’s article speculates that the Book of the Law of the Lord was consistent with this previous revelation as the content of the BoLoL contains exactly those contents to a certain extent.
Quoting from another portion of Alex Smith’s article, the BoLoL was the first actual tithing book used by the church. But, it wasn’t a normal accounting book the way we’d expect a donation ledger to read.
In addition to reflecting general worthiness, donations made for temple construction were seen more literally as denoting owner ship in the temple. For instance, in a message to the Saints in Britain, Wilford Woodruff wrote, "I wish the Female Society, in all the branches, to continue their subscriptions for the temple until it is finished; let their money and names be brought together the same as all other tithings and offerings, that, when the temple is finished, the whole amount they have paid may stand opposite their names in the Book of the Law of the Lord, that it may be known who are the owners of the house."…
Church leaders’ emphasis on recording donations, both for access to the temple once it was completed and as a demonstration of general worthiness, gave members motivation to ensure that their donations were recorded in the book. Apparently responding to complaints that contributions were not being properly recorded, Joseph Smith repeatedly counseled that all donations for the temple's construction be collected only by authorized agents, directed to the trustee, and logged by the temple recorder in the Book of the Law of the Lord.
According to Alex Smith and the Joseph Smith Papers calculation, almost 80% of the BoLoL is just listing donations. Some are long passages, some are just names with the amount. What’s really interesting, though, is that the amounts were never totaled. So, what the donation list actually amounts to is a guest list, not an actual accounting of how much has been donated to the temple construction. This is noted by Alex Smith’s article when he discusses the utility of the BoLoL.
It is also the first financial record to combine the element of worthiness with the concept of the "tithe." As the donations were initially to be entirely for the construction of the temple, it appears that Joseph Smith viewed the Book of the Law of the Lord as a literal fulfillment of the instruction to keep a "Book of the Law of God"—"a general church record... of all those who consecrate properties."27 Expanding on the revelatory language in the letter to Phelps that Church members "whose names are not found written in the book of the law . . . in that day shall not find an inheritance among the saints of the Most High," Smith introduced the principle that a physical record of worthiness—as demonstrated by the payment of tithes—on the pages of the Book of the Law of the Lord was a requirement of eligibility for the blessings of the temple.
You donate to the temple, you get access to the temple. The BoLoL is where your donation is recorded and bound within this book. What is bound on earth by the lord’s anointed is bound in heaven. It’s also very interesting to note that donations were returned to some, usually women whose husbands were serving missions. Once again, from Alex Smith’s article:
For instance, while Apostle Orson Hyde was on a mission (departed from Nauvoo on April 15, 1840), his wife, Marinda Johnson Hyde, on January 29,1842, "presented her offering for the Temple, a Table cloth value $5.00. which was accept[e]d and returned to her again, for her benefit, she having to support herself. & two little, children by her industry while her husband is absent, and this offering shall be her memorial To all Generations, whereever the knowledge of the building of the Temple of the Lord in the city of Nauvoo shall come" (71 ). Nor is this the only example in the Book of the Law of the Lord of donations being accepted, recorded, and returned for the donor's use. Two days after Marinda's offering, on January 31, 1842, Agnes Moulton Coolbrith Smith, the widow of Joseph Smith's brother Don Carlos, "presented her offering, four large, & twelve smaller glass, curtain knobs value. $8.—and 1 fir. for a coat collar. $2.—which was accepted and retur[n]ed to her. benefit. & her three little daughters. and may the blessings of Abraham be sealed upon them forever through the new & everlasting covenant. & the priesthood of the son of God. Amen-" (71). A few days earlier on January 18,1842, Willard Richards records that another donor "offered a silver watch, purchased and saved by her own labor, as she stated to the Recorder, beside supporting her children, her husband having neglected his family the past year; contrary to the principles of Righteousness, her offering was accepted, and returned to her again, for the purpose of assisting her to provide for her children, and the priviliges of the Font, given her. & her children. - and may the blessings of Abrahams God rest upon her forever & ever Amen
This is notable in that the Nauvoo leadership recognized the value of the widow’s mite and how hard it was for families to get along who still chose to donate when times were tough. They were compassionate enough to return the donations and still record those people as having made the contribution. Whether those widows or abandoned wives gave something in turn to have their donation recorded is a matter of question and entirely possible as 2 of the women Alex Smith listed in his paper were Joseph’s wives when these donations were given and returned to them.
However, that just relates to the purpose of the donation portion. You give money, you get in the temple. What about the other parts, the Joseph Smith journal for 1842 and the 9 revelations at the beginning? Alex Smith had this to say about the revelations in his article, which, of course, you’ll find linked in the show notes. [T]here is no apparent intrinsic relationship among the nine revelations.” In response, all I have to say is, WHAT?! How can the relationship connecting these revelations not be apparent? We discussed the content and context of all 9 in part one of this episode, they’re clearly Jo’s hits of theocracy building. These were revelations included for the implicit reason of running a theocratic empire. Anybody who reads them together clearly isn’t seeing what I’m seeing, because the whole damn book is titled “The Book of the Law of the Lord”. It was the book established to be the code of the law of the lord to replace or supersede the law of the land! Each revelation works with the previous and next revelation to form a system of governance of the church which could be mapped to a larger system of governance.
This is how I see the plan. Nauvoo was established as the headquarters of the church. The resolution would be passed declaring it a sovereign territory within the boundaries of the United States. The Council of Fifty was Jo’s parliament and he the theocratic monarch. The Council of Fifty minutes contained the proceedings of the internal meetings and were never meant to be public. The Book of the Law of the Lord was meant to be public and essentially form the constitution of the Mormon theocracy based on the laws of the lord, meaning the revelations given through his prophet. The list of names, the people who gave time, goods, or talents to the construction of the temple would be the elite list of founding members of the Mormon theocracy headquartered at Nauvoo. This idea is perfectly captured during the schism crisis when Bloody Brigham Young was grabbing power left and right. In 1845, less than a year after Jo’s death, Brigham commissioned a portrait to be painted by Seala Van Sickle in which he’s standing next to a table with the Bible and the Book of Mormon sitting on it. In his hand is a little book with “Law of the Lord” painted on the binding. This book was supposed to be the foundation of the American Mormon theocracy. That was the true purpose. The compilation of seemingly disparate revelations at the beginning, Jo’s journal, and the donations, when taken altogether, reveals how important this book was supposed to be for the Mormon revolution.
This also exhibits something I neglected to mention on last week’s episode. Jo’s journals were initially written with a tacit understanding that one day they’d be public. The BoLoL included his first successful attempt at actually keeping a regular journal. His 1842 journal is peppered throughout the pages of the BoLoL and his subsequent Nauvoo journals were included in 4 separate little notebooks that represent his daily walk in Nauvoo. Understandably his journals are relatively reliable but far from complete when it comes to his actual conduct in Nauvoo, which is why historians are forced to other journals by Wilford Woodruff, William Clayton, Eliza R. Snow, and a small handful of others to illustrate what was actually going on. Let me reiterate this and be perfectly clear. Jo’s Nauvoo journals were initially written so he could present himself in a good light to the public when they were made public at some point later in his life. His multiple times telling people to stop practicing polygamy, his multiple denials of the practice, his smearing of John C. Wreck-it Bennett for practicing “spiritual wifery” contained throughout dozens of pages of his Nauvoo journals was recorded with the understanding that they would be read by the public one day.
When a person writes a journal, it’s usually understood that they do so with the intent of writing their experiences and internal thoughts about them in a place that will be private during their life and hopefully not public after their death. Jo, on the other hand, wrote his journal as a PR stunt he could use in the future to clear his name of accusations or provide an alibi. He died before those journals could be properly utilized, but how they were best used was by White-out Willard Richards and George A. Smith in compiling the History of the Church in the 1850s, later published by B.H. Roberts under Joseph F. Smith’s presidency. Jo’s journals are crucial to Nauvoo history but obviously slanted and written in such a way as to make him a demigod.
All of that leads us perfectly into the third and final portion of our episode talking about the BoLoL, the controversy. Part one established the content and context, part two describes the purpose as I see it, even if others are unable to draw the overarching conclusion I’ve done. Now, part three we get to discuss the impact and suppression of this book, because obviously this was withheld in the first presidency vault and hidden from the public until very recently.
Historians have known about this book for well over a century. B.H. Roberts, the greatest historian the church has ever had, likely saw the Book of the Law of the Lord, possibly just when he was putting the touches on volume 4 of the History of the Church and needed Jo’s 1842 journal to do so. He may have had restricted access just to the journal portion of it under the watchful eye of Joseph F. Smith. The BoLoL was initially in the first presidency’s archive, which is a bank-vault sized safe of the most valuable and controversial documents and artifacts of Mormon history. However, due to the sensitivity of the BoLoL, Joseph F. Smith chose to keep it in his personal archive. Joseph F. Smith’s personal archive, instead of being a bank vault, was a small safe that could be loaded onto a hand dolly and moved around at a moment’s notice. This personal safe retained the absolute most sensitive and damaging documents in Mormon history like the Council of Fifty minutes, the William Clayton Journals, Joseph Smith’s 1832 first vision account, and a small handful of other documents, some of which have been released to the public.
Only a very small number of men have been able to even see the BoLoL, let alone open it, study it, and take transcripts. The first indication we have of a historian having access to even see it after B.H. Roberts comes from the diaries of Leonard J. Arrington. Arrington was official church historian from 1972 to 1982 when the office was essentially retired. His diaries were recently published by Signature Books in 3 books totaling over 2700 pages. He refers to the BoLoL a couple of times and peripherally chronicles its journey through the archives by who was able to see it.
The first time Arrington references the BoLoL is in July of 1972 when he was barely 6 months into being the church’s official historian. That day he went to lunch with Homer Durham. This is what he remembered from their conversation:
He told me about some of his experiences working for the Historical Department in [the] 1940s. He was doing research for the Gospel Kingdom, containing excerpts from the sermons and writings of John Taylor, and for other books and articles. He said this was in the early 1940s. He said the staff of the Chruch historian’s office allowed him pretty much free reign. Alvin Smith on occasion showed him material in the safe and he remembers seeing there the original copy of the revelation which called Heber J. Grant and George Teasdale to be members of the Quorum of the Twelve. He also saw there some letters of Joseph Smith, the Far West [Missouri] record, and the Book of the Law of the Lord. He does not remember seeing there the diaries of John Taylor.
The existence of the Book of the Law of the Lord was known of, but even the official Church Historian didn’t have unfettered access to it. G. Homer Durham somehow was shown the content of the First Presidency’s vault by Alvin Smith in the early 1940s, but by the time the early 1970s rolled around they’d been buttoned up much tighter.
Another passage in Arrington’s diary the following month of August 1972 perfectly illustrates the mentality of the church presidency with respect to the archives and how hard the job of church historian really was. Arrington was in a meeting with President N. Eldon Tanner and the Prophet Harold B. Lee discussing the archives and this is what Arrington remembers of the conversation.
President Lee then said with respect to one of the items—making available the source materials in the vault of the First Presidency and in President Smith’s safe: “I am not sure how far we can go on this without investigating it more completely. There are some things that have been kept in our vault for more than a hundred years, and perhaps they should always remain there. For example, the seerstone and the law of the Lord—I don’t even know what that is, and there are some other artifacts in that same category.” I said, “Of course we are not interested in those items. They ought to remain in the vault of the First Presidency. We are thinking in terms of diaries and journals, minutes, and other such records that are necessary in writing history.” President Lee said, “The history or possession of many of these things goes back many years—before I ever became a member of the First Presidency. Brother Joseph Anderson was given care and keeping of many things and we will have to discuss it with him to see reasons why these things were kept in our vault. We agree with you that it needs investigation and thought and we will give it consideration and be in touch with you later.”
I said the main thing is that whatever we may have access to that we be given access to these as soon as possible so that we can use them in writing our history. Brother Lee seemed to nod his head in the affirmative to this suggestion.
This was in August of 1972. A wild card factor was also beginning to influence the scene of Mormon history in the early 1970s which nobody could account for, Boyd K. Packer. Leonard Arrington, along with a few other scholars including Richard Bushman, conceived of an idea to create a narrative of early Mormon history that accounted for and dealt with controversial issues. Packer, being very well-read in the subject of Mormon history, didn’t like the idea. Packer was capable of shutting down New Mormon History and pushed to have the office of official church historian retired. Arrington and Packer constantly butted heads. Harold B. Lee was in his early 70s when he had this conversation with Arrington about the seerstones and the Book of the Law of the Lord and publishing about the artifacts. However, Lee died just a year later in December 1973. Spencer W. Kimball took over and the trifecta of evil, Benson Packer and Peterson were on Kimball’s shoulder as the church was coming under attack for racial issues, controversial Mormon history in the era of Dialogue, Sunstone, and Mormon History Association. Packer successfully lobbied Kimball to shut down New Mormon History and further suppress documents like the Council of Fifty Minutes, the Book of the Law of the Lord, the Clayton diaries, and dozens of other documents and artifacts researchers were asking for and publishing about in these secular academic fora.
In 1981, Boyd K. Packer attacked church historians in his talk titled “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater than the Intellect.” In that talk, in no uncertain terms, he said “There is a temptation for the writer or teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.” Packer railed against academics from top to bottom of the talk and it was so controversial that the talk was initially suppressed, only to be quietly published in a BYU Studies article a few months later after enough pushback. If you want to learn more about this, go listen to Whack Pack Attack, episode 33 of the Glass Box Podcast with Joe Geisner. Needless to say, Packer decried Mormon History academia, issued a statement against those wishing to attend Sunstone symposium, and his all-out war against historians was in full swing in the early 1980s.
There was a huge issue though when it came to the Book of the Law of the Lord. The Church History Department wanted to publish the Joseph Smith journals, primarily the Nauvoo era books. But, his journal begins in December 1841 in the Book of the Law of the Lord. So, if the church was going to publish Jo’s journals, they’d have to publish the 1842 portion included in the BoLoL. The only problem was that publishing just one portion of an artifact with many other important entries in its pages leaves a lot to be desired and looks like suppression of everything else the BoLoL contained. That’s what it was, suppression, but the optics looked bad. I’ll quote again from Alex Smith’s article about the BoLoL from 2012.
For today’s researchers, the journal entries in the Book of the Law of the Lord are frequently the most primary sources for descriptions of Joseph Smith’s daily activities during 1842. Certain details about key events (e.g., the organization of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, John C. Bennett’s expulsion from the Church, the second attempt to extradite Joseph Smith to Missouri, the creation of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge, and the construction of the temple and Nauvoo House) are found only in this book. Some of the earliest extant drafts of a few of Joseph Smith’s revelations are found here. It is the Church’s first tithing book, and its record of financial donations are a rich cultural history resource—providing valuations of common goods and services.
Publishing the crucial resource of Jo’s Nauvoo journal while suppressing the remainder of the artifact was an abrasive concept to Arrington and other church historians. However, they attempted to do just that. Arrington’s diary recounts when he received word that the diaries of Joseph Smith would be published, including his 1842 journal from the pages of the BoLoL.
December 18, 1986—Thursday
Ron Esplin telephoned today to say that Elder Dallin Oaks had telephoned him to say that the First Presidency had today approved the proposal he had presented to allow us (the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute) to publish the diaries of Joseph Smith. This includes the diaries of Willard Richards, and the portion of his diary in the First Presidency vault in the Law of the Lord book. Elders [Boyd K.] Packer and Oaks to be liaison with us to forward the project. Deseret Book to be the publisher. To be delivered to them in 1987. Dean Jessee to be the editor.
So, yes, the Nauvoo Joseph Smith journals would be published under the watchful eye of Boyd Packer and Dallin Oaks while the remainder of the Book of the Law of the Lord would remain suppressed. Even just publishing the 1842 journal entries was music to the ears of Arrington, Esplin, and many other historians who’d been asking for Jo’s Nauvoo journals to be released for decades. Arrington writes:
Ron was almost ecstatic, and said he was confident [vice] president Jae Ballif of BYU would be equally so. The is the first time the First Presidency have given us the go-ahead on anything since Elder Packer attacked the historians for being too negative.
Dean Jessee was the editor who published it not in 1987, but in 1992 in his The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 2: Journal 1832-42. Why did Jessee finally get clearance to publish the 1842 Joseph Smith journal? Because there wasn’t anything about polygamy in it because, remember, when it was initially recorded Jo only recorded information he was okay with eventually getting out into the world. He’d planned on his journals being published at some point so it was censored from the beginning. He never recorded anything in the 1842 journal about polygamy. In fact, much of it tells a story about him constantly fighting rumors of polygamy. Therefore, Packer and Oaks determined that the information in Jo’s 1842 journal wouldn’t actually be damaging to the church and gave Arrington and Jessee the green light as long as it was just the journal.
Many people were elated to finally have the Nauvoo journals published, but Jessee’s publication of the 1842 journal was also widely known to be simply extracts from the Book of the Law of the Lord. Historians knew the BoLoL was still being suppressed and many greeted Jessee’s book with outrage instead of elation. Jo’s 1842 journal is super important, but so are the revelations, both published and unpublished included at the beginning, and so are all of the tithing contributions that comprise over 80% of the actual book. The whole issue was very frustrating for many historians who felt like this wasn’t enough. It felt criminal to only release a small portion of the Book of the Law of the Lord when the remainder of its contents are so incredibly valuable and one-of-a-kind to researchers. Fast forward to 2012, 20 years of historians howling at the church to release the Book of the Law of the Lord finally drew out an article published in the Journal of Mormon History, written by Alex D. Smith, one of the historians working on the Joseph Smith Papers Project, which discussed the provenance, content, and importance of the Book of the Law of the Lord. We’ve read a number of extracts from that very article today.
This Alex Smith article was published while the church was still suppressing the Book of the Law of the Lord. When I say suppressing, that word almost sugar coats what’s really going on. They were hiding it. They knew there was information in it which could be damning so they chose to keep it from the harsh light of academic scrutiny by shoving it into a dark corner of their personal vaults and blatantly refusing any researcher requesting access to it for any reason because the leadership is scared of truth. The BoLoL is one of those truths that aren’t very useful, according to Packer. They hid this artifact like they did the seer stones, the first visions accounts, the first first-vision account, the Council of Fifty minutes, the Clayton Journals which are still suppressed, this is just one more thing to add to the list of stuff the church has been hiding for decades in spite of historians knowing it existed and repeatedly requesting access to it. Finally, in 2014 the Book of the Law of the Lord was published in its entirety on the Joseph Smith Papers, but with a caveat. Because the JSP had already published Jo’s 1842 journal extracted from the pages of the BoLoL, they published the high-resolution scans of the entire book, but only a transcription of the revelations. If you want to read the 1842 journal entries and the donation records, you have to find the page and read the handwritten note yourself, which is in stark contrast to nearly every other document uploaded on JSP where the full transcripts are available and indexed for searching juxtaposed to the scans of the document.
The controversy of the Book of the Law of the Lord illustrates how resilient the Mormon church is and always has been to critical questions. People have known of this artifact’s existence for decades and it’s been silently hidden away in a vault for over a century and a half, completely closed to researchers with only a couple of exceptions. Even the publication of just one part of it was tightly controlled by the apostles. The remainder of the book being hidden away for 2 decades after that journal portion was published has successfully hindered the advancement of Mormon history academia because maintaining a false narrative has always been more important than allowing verifiable information to dictate the direction of the institution.
Alex Smith’s conclusion is particularly poignant in light of everything we’ve discussed today.
The Book of the Law of the Lord and later tithing volumes were a reflection of the Prophet’s ongoing conception of a “book of the law of God.” Perhaps the greatest importance of the book lies in its theological implication—a record decreed by revelation to record for heaven and earth the deeds and consecrations of the Saints. As a historical record of the early Church, the Book of the Law of the Lord is supremely significant.
I would add, it’s not only important for the theological implications of fulfilling Joseph Smith’s record-keeping revelations, but the real importance of the BoLoL lies in its theocratic implications of fulfilling Jo’s greatest dreams, a complete and total overthrow of society, seating him atop a theocratic throne of a Mormon America. For its contribution to contextualizing the mindset of the founding prophet of Mormonism, calling the Book of the Law of the Lord “important” does a disservice to the artifact. It’s one of the most integral pieces of Nauvoo Mormon history and the church successfully masked it from the world for longer than any of us have been alive. Any institution this bulletproof to facts which relies on lying and misrepresenting or obfuscating reality to thrive is not an institution worthy of adoration. It deserves nothing better than unequivocal condemnation and exposure. In the words of the late and terrible Packer himself, Some things that claim “truth” are not very useful.
Utah Psych Soc
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