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The April 28, 1842 “Revelation”?

By: J. Stapley - March 13, 2013

On April 28, 1842 Joseph Smith attended a meeting of the nascent Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. He delivered a sermon. Eliza R. Snow recorded a long-hand report of the sermon in the Society’s minute book, and Willard Richards recorded a brief summary in the “Book of the Law of the Lord” [n1]. Smith opened up his discourse by referencing 1 Corinthians, chapter 12. “He said the reason of these remarks being made, was, that some little thing was circulating in the Society, that some persons were not going right in laying hands on the sick &c.” Smith proceeded to deliver an emphatic endorsement of women performing healing rituals. The sermon included other material, but the participation of women in the healing liturgy was a primary concern.

Minute Book, Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, April 28, 1842, image from the JSPP.

Minute Book, Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, April 28, 1842, image from the JSPP.

At the close of the discourse, Smith reconfirmed “the propriety of females administering to the sick by the laying on of hands” and then “said it was according to revelation &c. said he never was plac’d in similar circumstances, and never had given the same instruction.” By this point women had been performing healing rituals for the better part of a decade, perhaps even more. Up to this point, the primary documentation for the authorization of women to do so are Patriarchal Blessings delivered by Joseph Smith Sr. That Joseph Smith never addressed the topic before, suggests that it was normative practice. Women simply laid hands on people to bless and they anointed with consecrated oil. At this meeting however Smith does something that he rarely did in Nauvoo: explicitly invoke the imprimatur of revelation.

In our history of female ritual healing, Kristine and I frequently reference the teachings on this day as “Smith’s April 28, 1842 revelation.” I included a similar statement in a manuscript, which a reviewer recently criticized as an unsupportable characterization. I think that this is a really interesting predicament that leads us to question what a Joseph Smith revelation actually is.

I think that the appellation of “revelation” for the April 28, 1842 minute is not only defensible, but it is accurate. Smith claimed the teaching were “according to revelation,” a threshold far higher than other standards commonly employed. I think that contemporary Mormons generally imagine the text of Joseph Smith’s revelations issuing forth from his mouth or to his hand directly into their canonized place in Mormon scripture. For a number of sections this is a close approximation. My sense, however, is that the same reviewer who was incredulous of my usage of “revelation” for the April 28, 1841, teachings may have been perfectly comfortable if I had called section 128 or 130 of the current Doctrine and Covenants a revelation. There are interesting counter examples not added by Orson Pratt in the 1870s, but the Nauvoo “revelations” are particularly interesting because Joseph Smith had generally moved away from dictating revelations at that point, yet ultimately revealed skads of new stuff (See Robin’s interview here).

Orson had to scour Joseph Smith’s history for Nauvoo materials. Section 128 was a letter about baptism for the dead, which claimed no specific revelatory nature (though it did invoke a previous letter that did). Section 130 is a hodge-podge account of some of Joseph Smith’s teachings in Ramus, Ill with a fascinating textual history. I don’t think that I would cite either as a Joseph Smith revelation.

Historians in Nauvoo had used the highly abbreviated “Book of the Law of the Lord” summary for the April 28, 1842 entry in the early draft of the “Manuscript History.” They did add the minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo to the addendum [n2]. It is unclear to me when this addendum was created and what role Eliza R. Snow may have had in it. When the apostle-historians and their clerks in Utah prepared and published “Joseph Smith’s History” in the 1850s, they included the edited minutes [n3]. However, Orson did not include the April 28, 1842 material in his edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Right now, I can only speculate as to why.

These minutes were frequently reprinted in newspapers and periodicals into the early twentieth century, then they fell out of use, and perhaps favor. Most recently the JSPP published digital images and transcripts and Deseret Book published a version of Joseph Smith’s teachings from this document as The Beginning of Better Days. They will be included, as I understand it, in the forthcoming Relief Society Documentary History.

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  1. A transcript of this entry is available in Journals 2 volume of the JSPP, and in the second volume of Dean Jessee’s incipient Papers of Joseph Smith.
  2. “Manuscript History of the Church,” April 28, 1842, 3:1326; Addendum 3:26–27, 38-43, in Selected Collections, 1:1; also available at the CHL website.
  3. “Manuscript History of the Church,” April 28, 1842, 10:468–71, Selected Collections, 1:2; “History of Joseph Smith,” Deseret News, September 19, 1855, 217–18.
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14 Comments

  1. Also, as a nerdy side note, despite its importance and utility, Ehat and Cook’s Words of Joseph Smith has a number of errors, and in particular its presentation of the April 28, 1842 words of Joseph Smith. It appears that the editors had neither access to the minutes nor the “Book of the Law of the Lord,” instead relying on the “Manuscript History” for their transcript. They give their source, however, as the “Book of the Law of the Lord,” which is mistaken. When digging around the “Manuscript History” once, I came across the chronological index which includes charts with dates and source materials. The charts must have been for the early draft, as the source material listed for the April 28, 1842 was the BotLL. My guess is that Ehat and Cook extrapolated from the chart that the text in the late fair copy of the ms was from the BotLL.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 13, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

  2. Thanks, J, fascinating stuff. I think you’re right to call this a revelation, given JS’s changing approach to committing his revelations to paper in formal “Hearken, O my people” language. My question is whether it is appropriate to attach “April 28, 1842″ to the revelation, since it probably existed in oral form prior to that date, and even here JS didn’t dictate it formally. Would it be more correct (although more cumbersome) to refer to it as an undated oral revelation referenced on April 28, 1842?

    Comment by David G. — March 13, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

  3. That is a really fascinating question, David. And I am not sure quite how to respond. I’ll have to think about it. I’d love to hear Robin’s thoughts in particular. My first thought is to agree that the convention in the post is faulty, but also to wonder if an oral text ever existed.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 13, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

  4. There is a subtle question of canon that may be relevant here. If a JSJ revelation is one canonized by his followers, then the fastidious reviewer might have a (complex) point depending on the perspective of the writing. If you’re looking in real time (i.e. when the pronouncement was made) then you’ll have a hard time distinguishing this from, e.g., D&C 130.

    Comment by smb — March 13, 2013 @ 8:41 pm

  5. Great post! I just got done listening to Rick Turley’s presentation he made at Benchmarkbook where he said his writing his book “How we got the D&C” was to help correct the notion that a JS revelation was dictated directly from God then effortlessly printed as scripture (my paraphrase).

    So with that said if you bring some more of this stuff out, or at least officially sanction such would that the require a new revelation to change policy similar to the 1978 circumstance?

    Interesting implications. Thanks j!

    Comment by n8c — March 13, 2013 @ 9:58 pm

  6. Sam, if I am reading you right, I’m not sure that such a categorization has much analytical utility outside of reception history (a cool area to be sure). It almost forces a presentism in the moment. Then what to do with the non-canonized texts written in the voice of the Lord and clearly designed to be revelations? In the moment we wouldn’t be able to distinguish the difference there either.

    I quite like Rick and Bill’s stuff. Not sure I follow what your question is, though, n8c.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 13, 2013 @ 11:11 pm

  7. Outstanding contribution, one that reminds us there is much yet to be revealed, as well as a whole lot of stuff that has probably been revealed already but not fully appreciated and acknowledged. I would love to see this issue percolate and expand our approach to headings–or more fully restore it.

    Comment by Jeff Lindsay — March 14, 2013 @ 9:13 am

  8. Good work, J.

    Very interesting on many fronts.

    Even if the reviewer is employing a common consent definition of canonical revelation, then they would likewise need to create another subset of “revelations” not included in the canon. Would that breed our own collection of apocrypha–with the sources all lined up next to one another in the Kirtland Revelation book? That seems senseless to me.

    Comment by JJohnson — March 14, 2013 @ 9:16 am

  9. Excellent post, J. It should be noted that Joseph Smith frequently based his authority and justification for specific doctrine on earlier revelations–many of which are know but some of which are not. Even some canonized revelations reference revelations received earlier and not recorded (D&C 3 comes immediately to mind). I think this is so important. When we think of the Doctrine and Covenants as Joseph Smith’s “revelations” then we’re limiting the texts (both oral and written) that influenced JS and the early saints.

    The other complication comes in the way the minutes read–or at least the way I read them. I’m not certain that the minutes are referencing an actual oral or written text that JS received previous to him speaking to the sisters. It seems to me that a viable interpretation of the wording is that JS is making this claim about women participation in healing and that as he’s saying it, he’s getting confirmation of the truthfulness of it. So a rhetorical devise that reinforces what he’s saying, but not necessarily referencing something he’d received earlier. Of course the nature of minutes is that JS could have worded it significantly differently and we wouldn’t know.

    Comment by Robin — March 14, 2013 @ 10:05 am

  10. So, Robin, assuming that there was not even an oral text, would it be more correct to say that female healing was a practice given explicit revelatory authorization on April 28, 1842, rather than referring to an April 28, 1842 revelation? If so, are we saying that in order for something to be a “revelation,” it has to be in textual (either written or oral) form?

    Comment by David G. — March 14, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

  11. Nice work, J. I can feature the reviewer focusing on canon, but it seems doubtful, given the information currently available about JS’s revelations. And thanks for the link.

    Comment by WVS — March 14, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

  12. Robin, another example is KFD.

    Comment by WVS — March 14, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

  13. WVS, yep. I thought of using the KFD as an example as well.

    David, you ask an important question. My initial view is that your first statement is correct (“explicit revelatory authorization”). But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a revelation could only be textual. I think that’s too influenced by our own understanding of the canon (a very textual book of scripture). I don’t think JS viewed his revelations as that limited. He taught various doctrine through varied media and processes and taught that it came from communication with heaven. At the same time, I do think that textual revelations held more weight to early members and to JS himself. Just think of the the revelation on plural marriage. Hyrum asked JS to dictate it to a scribe so that he could show Emma, as if a written revelation would make a difference in Emma’s hesitancy to fully accept the new doctrine. When in doubt, the (written) textual revelation was to prove that the communication indeed came from God.

    Comment by Robin — March 14, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

  14. Thanks for sharing this and for all of your research on this important subject. Makes me want to get back into researching and writing Mormon History.

    Comment by katie blakesley — March 18, 2013 @ 10:53 pm