The LDS Church announced Monday it has created a new publishing arm to produce early Mormon documents.
It will be known as The Church Historian's Press and its first project will be the Joseph Smith papers, a documentary series eventually made up of 25 to 30 volumes. The first two volumes are due out this year, said Marlin Jensen, official historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
LDS Church-owned Deseret Book will produce and distribute the volumes, while historians will edit them. Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller and his wife, Gail, set up an endowment to fund the project.
The church has only about 40 to 50 pages in Smith's handwriting, Jensen said. The rest were dictated or approved by Smith, who founded the church in 1830. The collection includes journals and diaries kept by scribes, correspondence, transcripts of what Smith said were divine revelations and translations of ancient texts, administrative details and legal proceedings.
The journals held few surprises, because most of them are already in the public domain, Jensen said Monday.
Notably, they will be published largely as is. "What you will get are the documents with a small amount of annotation and scholars can draw their own conclusions," he said.
The series will not omit any Smith documents, he said, except possibly those having to do with the temple ceremony, which Mormons consider to be sacred and private.
"We live in an age of transparency," Jensen said. "We want to be as open as we can and correct the perception that we're not."
Jan Shipps, a non-Mormon historian who has studied LDS history for four decades, welcomes this new publishing venture.
"I know they approached university presses like Yale's but, in the long run, it seemed better for the church to be in control of the papers," Shipps said from her home in Indiana. "It's especially exciting to see this work in the hands of the church's most gifted historians, with the help of prominent outside scholars on its advisory board."