Joseph Smith (1805-1844), was typical of religious leaders in early America, offering frequent speeches to his followers. However, his position among the charismatic preachers of his day was in some sense unique. He functioned not only as a preacher and missionary, he was the founder of what was to become a major American religion. As such, his teachings and writings (he wrote very little himself, relying on volunteer clerks who made notes of his movements and words, etc., for spreading the written word) became part of the origin tradition for the Latter-day Saint movement. Consequently, there is widespread interest in what he said among the adherents to this movement, among its critics, and among American historians, amateur and professional.
Joseph Smith lived prior to the active use of shorthand methods and so literate followers and bystanders who took notes with varying levels of detail must be relied on as sources for his instructions and prounouncements.
From the beginning of his formal religious leadership, Joseph Smith encouraged the Church he orgainized to keep records of all official matters. The imperative was carried out with varying success. Records of official Church actions, conferences, revelations and tribunals are occasionally found only in the records of private individuals: for Joseph Smith's extemporaneous speeches, as noted, it is personal diaries and journals that furnish a large part of the record. Complicating the picture is the fact that Joseph Smith almost never spoke from a prepared text.
Unfortunately, Joseph's public remarks were often simply noted by phrases like "President Smith gave much valuable instruction" with little or no detail of what was said.
As the Church expanded however, more skilled note-takers became associated with Joseph Smith and we find by 1843 that there are several listeners who left significant records of his doctrinal statements and teachings. With multiple accounts available it is sometimes possible to suggest Joseph Smith's exact words on a particular subject.
After Joseph Smith's death, the Church historians and their assistants began to make some attempt at recreating full accounts of his public remarks. This was done by locating notes of his sermons and speeches and then expanding and/or combining these sources to approximate a complete record. Unfortunately these efforts often did not take place until long after the speaker was dead, and were mostly accomplished by persons who were not eyewitnesses in any case.
At least a portion of these expanded/edited sermon-texts found their way into print in a number of ways, most often as the historical annals of Joseph Smith's life were published serially in Church periodicals and newspapers. These annals were finally published in book form beginning in 1902 as the History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, edited by Brigham Henry Roberts.
A more complete collection consisting of both public-oriented dictated writings and sermon-texts was made by Church Historian Josesph Fielding Smith and his staff in 1938, titled Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Sermon-texts found in this book were extracted from the above mentioned History, and early periodicals. Teachings has been reprinted and republished in a number of different formats. Extracted sermon-texts alone were published as Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Alma P. Burton, ed.)
The Parallel Joseph gives a collection of source documents for all Joseph Smith's known sermon-texts. Primary sources for these texts may be characterized in part:
We have used many of the sources found in WJS to begin our collection of teachings of Joseph Smith for the period 1839-1844 together with a others from writings and private meetings. We have divided the texts by topic and where multiple accounts exist of the same sermon we have placed the different records in parallel columns, hence the title of this work. This makes it much simpler to compare the efforts of the various recorders and provides an easier reading experience at the same time. As we collect more records we will gradually add to the present corpus. We have added some notes to the records to point out links between discourses and various themes that run through his teachings. Thematic threads are clearly evident in Joseph Smith's teaching, indicating both a need to emphasize certain ideas, and a frequent change of audience by virtue of location and the addition of converts.
Of course one of our principal goals is to illustrate the effect the translation of the Book of Abraham had on Joseph Smith's thought and instruction. The present collection shows that ideas from the Book of Abraham 2 played a significant role in his teachings to the Saints during the period following its translation (post 1835).
When the Parallel Joseph was completed initially, the texts were edited somewhat to insure that translations would be easier and that novices would feel the texts were more transparent. However, time has shown the wisdom of historical accuracy and we have recently begun re-editing the texts to bring them into alignment with the original sources. In some cases this has revealed some gaps in the first edition texts and some mis-indentification of expansions of abbreviated words in the originals. Texts marked with an asterisk * have been through this editing process at least once.
For future indexing purposes and other reasons already noted, sermon topics are indentified with bold headings. These headings are not part of the original texts, unless otherwise noted. Also, material in [brackets] is not part of the orginal text. Original paragraphs in source documents are indicated by ¶ - other indicated paragraphs are for convenience.
We have divided the collection into segments for the years 1830-33, 1834-1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, 1843 and 1844. You can go to the pages for these years by clicking on the links below:
1. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1991). Church historians who compiled the history of Joseph Smith made every effort to collect copies of Joseph Smith sermons. The different accounts of the same sermon were then amalgamated with varying results. See Howard C. Searle, "Early Mormon Historiography: Writing the History of the Mormons," Ph.D. Dissertation, UCLA, 1979. p. 270ff.
2. See A Joseph Smith Commentary on the Book of Abraham, (Provo, Utah: BOAP, 2008); and for one particular doctrine, Van Hale, "The Doctrinal Impact of the King Follett Discourse," BYU Studies 18, No. 2, (1978), 4-8.