Journal of Discourses

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The Journal of Discourses (often abbreviated J.D.) is a 26-volume collection of public sermons by early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The first editions of the Journal were published in England by George D. Watt, the stenographer of Brigham Young. Publication began in 1854, with the endorsement of the church's First Presidency,[1] and ended in 1886. The Journal is one of the richest sources of early Mormon theology and thinking. It includes 1,438 sermons given by 55 church leaders, including most numerously Brigham Young, John Taylor, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, and George Q. Cannon.

History[edit]

George D. Watt recorded the first four volumes of sermons himself, and he continued to contribute through volume twelve, but at least eleven other stenographers were involved. Brigham Young has by far the most sermons recorded in the Journal, with 390. It was said that:

Brigham Young secured stenographic reports of his addresses. As he traveled among the people, reporters accompanied him. All that he said was recorded. Practically all of these discourses (from December 16, 1851 to August 19, 1877) were published in the Journal of Discourses, which was widely distributed. The public utterances of few great historical figures have been so faithfully and fully preserved.[2]

Impact[edit]

The Journal was highly esteemed in its day. The preface to the 8th volume, written by Apostle George Q. Cannon, stated:

"The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every rightminded Saint will certainly welcome with joy every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of 'the light that shines from Zion's hill.'"[3]

The term "standard works" is modernly used in the LDS Church as shorthand for "canonical scripture" and applies only to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. However, this usage arose some time after the quotation given above, and Mormon scholars do not believe it to be the sense in which Cannon uses it.[4] In the normal academic sense of the term, the Journal is arguably still a "standard work."

Nevertheless, reservations about the Journal can be found in official LDS publications as early as 1978.[5] Below is the current, official position of the church on the issue:

"The Journal of Discourses is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a compilation of sermons and other materials from the early years of the Church, which were transcribed and then published. It included some doctrinal instruction but also practical teaching, some of which is speculative in nature and some of which is only of historical interest. ... Questions have been raised about the accuracy of some transcriptions. Modern technology and processes were not available for verifying the accuracy of transcriptions, and some significant mistakes have been documented. The Journal of Discourses includes interesting and insightful teachings by early Church leaders; however, by itself it is not an authoritative source of Church doctrine."[6]

Interpretations of some of the themes in the Journal have and are currently under debate between many anti-Mormons and Mormons. Some of the issues under debate between these groups include blood atonement, the Adam-God theory, plural marriage, and the exclusionary Negro doctrine.

See also[edit]

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