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.
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.
- 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.
- “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.
- “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.