This post is a direct continuation of Part I and follows without introduction.
The “History of Joseph Smith History” (HJS) version of the KFD or the “Manuscript History of the Church” from which it was prepared, is the textual foundation for all subsequent popular accounts of the sermon. As noted, the HJS was prepared by the Church Historians and as the recent LDS Priesthood/RS lesson manual points out, the leaders of the Church felt very confident in the production. (1) It was reprinted in four other nineteenth-century publications (2); however, aspects of the sermon’s teaching led to several controversies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In the nineteenth century, perhaps the biggest concern was over the teaching of child resurrection. Joseph Smith was recorded as teaching on several occasions some peculiarities of child resurrection, the most famous of which was recorded in the KFD. This controversy was settled when Joseph F. Smith sought out affidavits from Church members that witnessed first-hand Joseph’s teaching and reinterpreted the texts to make them more comfortable with the idea of a just God. For a review of this controversy see my review of child salvation in Mormon thought at BCC.
The twentieth century brought different challenges. As the Church hierarchy struggled to divest itself of no-longer-favored pioneer theologies and systematize Mormon thought for the modern age, the KFD again became a source of controversy.
B. H. Roberts, a member of the First Council of the Seventy, was one of the leading pioneers of Mormonism’s new theology. At the turn of the century, he prepared a multi-year curriculum of study for the Seventy’s quorums entiled, Seventies Course on Theology. In many ways Roberts, who worked in the Historian’s Office and was familiar with Joseph’s early teachings, tried to synthesize Joseph Smith’s teachings with the pioneer theological expansions that remained popular. In doing so he frequently appealed to philosophers and scholars of the day. Stan’s 2008 MHA presentation, which he kindly published at the Juvenile Instructor (part 1 and part 2) is a wonderful study into Robert’s theological dialectic.
Perhaps Roberts’s most lasting contribution to Mormon thought is the renaissance of the eternal existence of humanity. Though he created an entirely new cosmology in the process – the tripartite model (see here and the comments in this post) – Robert’s championed the concept of an eternal, uncreated mind. In his Seventy’s theological course he gave these minds the appellation of “intelligencies” (3).
Subsequent to the theological course work, Roberts was involved in the preparation of two serial publications. The first was Roberts’s preparation of the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1902-1932). The second was a recurring feature in Americana, a periodical published by the National Americana Society, in which he published forty-two-page installments between July 1909 and July 1915 and which were ultimately aggregated into Roberts’s Comprehensive History of the Church as the centennial history of the Latter-day Saints in 1930.
In 1911 Roberts was preparing volume 6 of the History of the Church, which covered the KFD, and his serialized writings in Americana also referenced some of Joseph Smith’s teachings during the same period. In one article for Americana, Roberts relied heavily on the KFD and the Book of Abraham to systematize Joseph’s teachings that the existence of humanity is eternal. However, when the reading committee, consisting of the two councilors in the First Presidency, reviewed it, Roberts’s ideas were deemed not acceptable. Anthon Lund, First Councilor wrote in his journal:
[August 25, 1911] Today we had Bro Roberts read his article on the Philosophy of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Bro. Penrose made a splendid speech on eternalism opposing the view of Bro. B. Roberts who holds that intelligences were self-existent entities before they entered into the organization of the spirit.
[August 29, 1911] Bro. C. W. Penrose and I listened to Bro. Robert’s reading his concluding chapter on the prophet Joseph Smith. We got him to eliminate his theories in regard to intelligences as conscious, self-existing beings or entities before being organized into spirits. This doctrine has raised much discussion and the inference on which he builds his theory is very vague. The Prophet’s speech delivered as a funeral sermon over King Follett, is the basis of Bro. Robert’s doctrine; namely, where he speaks of mans eternity claim. Roberts wants to prove that man then is co-eqal with God. He no doubt felt bad to have us eliminate his pet theory; but if so he didn’t stick on retaining any of the verses of words we asked. (4)
Three months later, Roberts published the version of the KFD, which he had prepared for volume six of the History of the Church in the Liahona/Elders’ Journal: B. H. Roberts, ed., “The King Follett Discourse: The Kind of Being God is; the Immortality of the Intelligence of Man,” Liahona/The Elders’ Journal 9 (December 5, 1911): 369-379 and 380-382 (PDF Transcript). The Liahona was the organ of the Central States Mission and this printing of the KFD was fundamentally based on the HJS. Minor differences in sentence structure are evident in the comparison (PDF) which I produced to contrast the versions. This printing included not a few typographical errors, but the largest differences in Liahona version are the omission of the section on child resurrection and the addition of Roberts’s footnotes, which frequently cite the scholars that Stan discussed in his MHA presentation.
The First Presidency learned of this printing, and was not pleased. They wrote on December 28 to Joseph A. McRae of the Central States Mission:
Do not print or circulate any more of the King Follett Sermon without hearing from us. (5)
The following week the First Presidency wrote McRae again with an explanation:
On receiving notification that a large number of copies of the Liahona were being printed & circulated containing what is known as the King Follett Sermon, as it has since been corrected and interpolated, with notes added, we sent the following telegraph:
…When the sermon was first published it did not receive the revision or sanction of the Prophet Joseph, who preached it, and it was reported from the impressions obtained by four different persons who heard it, neither of whom was a shorthand writer.
There are some points in the sermon which appear to be in direct conflict with revelations accepted by the Church as divine. Some portions of the original report have been expunged from the version which appears in Liahona; there are some interpolations also which have been made without authorization. Then there are footnotes added introducing ideas not warranted by the text, which state plainly that the original report is evidently incorrect in some particulars. Such a doubtful production we think is not proper to publish as authentic. For these reasons we sent you the dispatch referred to. (6)
Later that month Apostle George Albert Smith wrote to the Central States Mission President:
I have thought that the report of that sermon might not be authentic and I have feared that it contained some things that might be contrary to the truth.. . . Some of the brethren felt as I did and thought that greater publicity should not be given to that particular sermon. (7) [EDITORIAL NOTE: Commenter BHodges transcribed and taken pictures of the entire letter, which he shared with us in comment #29]
It is uncertain with which revelations the First Presidency felt the KFD was in tension. However, there is no question that they sought to prevent the sermon’s circulation. When volume six of the History of the Church was released later that year, it was mysteriously missing the pages (302-317) which included the KFD. T. Edgar Lyon addressing the 1973 Mormon History Association gave a wonderful account of Roberts’s response:
One day–as nearly as I can figure out, it must have been the summer of 1913 when I was somewhere around ten years of age–I was sitting at a table interleafing office forms when a rather stocky man with a dark mustache came in. My father turned and said, “What can I do for you, B. H.?” And the reply was, “Dave, I want you to print a pamphlet for me.” He handed him a manuscript. It was the manuscript of the King Follett discourse. He said, “I completed reading the page proofs of volume six of The History of the Church, Period I. The book went to press. Shortly before it was put on sale, I received a call to tour the mission, and I was gone for three months or so. When I returned I found on my desk a leather bound copy with my name stamped in gold on the sixth volume. I flipped it open and put it up on the shelf. A Sunday or two later I was speaking at stake conference, and I referred to the King Follett discourse. Somebody came up and asked me if that were in print. I said, ‘Of course it is.’ ‘Well where?’ ‘It’s in the sixth volume of the documentary history.’”
Roberts went on to say that during afternoon session of conference–and we used to have two sessions in those days–the man handed President Roberts the book and said, “I have looked through it and I can’t find it.” Roberts replied, “I know it’s in there because I wrote it.” He turned to the place where it should have been, but the sermon wasn’t there. Sixteen pages had been left out of the book.
Well, Brother Roberts said when he got back in Salt Lake City he went to the bookstores and looked at the copies. The King Follett discourse was not in them! When he asked what happened to it, he learned that some of the brethren were not persuaded that the King Follett discourse was authentic. Now I don’t know what the brethren meant in those days, but Brother Roberts did, and he said that he felt very unhappy about it! “David, I want you to print 10,000 copies of this sermon, and please hurry it through the press. I want to take them to the stake and mission conferences and give one to every member of the stake presidencies and high councils and bishoprics, and presidents of the missions and the branches. I’ll give this wider circulation than that book will ever get. (8)
This pamphlet staid in publication and for sale at Deseret Book until the 1960’s. Apparently, Roberts’s persistence won the day. When the now President George Albert Smith asked Robert’s to publish the Comprehensive History of the Church in 1930 it included the material that had been struck from the Americana article. (9) Moreover, when the History of the Church was republished in 1950 the missing pages were included (10 – PDF Transcript). A comparison of the History of the Church version against the Liahona version indicates only subtle changes and many of the notes are retained (comparison of sermon text – comparison of footnote text).
Perhaps the greatest contributor to the shift in institutional perspective regarding the KFD is Roberts’s erstwhile antagonist: Joseph Fielding Smith. Unlike his father, Joseph Fielding felt that the KFD was worth publishing and included an edited version in his very popular (and fairly historiographically flawed) Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (TPJS), first published in 1938.
For fun I have compared the TPJS with the History of the Church (PDF).
[EDITORIAL NOTE: Because of a server glitch, some of the comments on this post were truncated and I was unable to restore them. My apologies to readers.]
- E.g., George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff, Deseret News (January 20, 1858), pg. 363 as quoted in No Author, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 562-563 declares:
The History of Joseph Smith is now before the world, and we are satisfied that a history more correct in its details than this, was never published. To have it strictly correct, the greatest possible pains have been taken by the historians and clerks engaged in the work. They were eye and ear witnesses of nearly all the transactions recorded in this history, most of which were reported as they transpired, and, where they were not personally present, they have had access to those who were. Moreover, since the death of the Prophet Joseph, the History has been carefully revised under the strict inspection of President Brigham Young, and approved of by him.
We, therefore, hereby bear our testimony to all the world, unto whom these words shall come, that the History of Joseph Smith is true, and is one of the most authentic histories ever written.
- For a list see, Donald Cannon, “The King Follett Discourse: Joseph Smith’s Greatest Sermon in Historical Perspective,” BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1977-1978), 190.
- It is uncertain why Robert’s used this term, however as Justin pointed out, the Times and Seasons printing of the Book of Abraham (3 [March 15, 1842], 720, vs. 21 [Abraham 3:22]) includes a usage of the word that appears to be a typographical mistake. The word does appear in the philosophical writings contemporaneous to Joseph Smith as a synonym for “intelligence.”
- John P. Hatch, ed., Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, 1890-1921 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with the Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2006), 464-465. The First Presidency also held the publication of John Widtsoe’s Rational Theology in order to strike language about tripartite cosmology and the evolution of God, as being speculation. Ibid., 558-9, December 7 and 11, 1914.
- Joseph F. Smith, Letter [possibly the telegraph referred to in note 6] to Joseph A. McRae, December 28, 1911, in typescript of the First Presidency Letterpress, Scott Kenney Research Collection, Marriott Library Special Collections, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. Kenney frequently abbreviated words in his typescript to facilitate transcription. I have expanded the abbreviations and normalized capitalization.
- Office of the First Presidency, Letter to Joseph A. McRae, January 6, 1912, in typescript of the First Presidency Letterpress, Scott Kenney Research Collection. Abbreviations and capitalization normalized.
- George Albert Smith to Samuel O. Bennion, January 30, 1912, George Albert Smith Family Papers, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah as quoted in Donald Cannon, “The King Follett Discourse: Joseph Smith’s Greatest Sermon in Historical Perspective.”
- T. Edgar Lyon, “Church Historians I Have Known,” Dialogue 11 (Winter 1978): 14-15.
- B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Century I, in Six Volumes, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930), 2:392.
- Joseph Smith, et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1950), 6:302-317.