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Penmanship Leads to Errors in Church History

Alex D. Smith can imagine what people might think when they read this quote from a sermon by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Do not as the brethren do.”

“OK, we know we are all human and make mistakes. ... Is he giving that kind of message or is he being facetious? Where is he coming from?” said Alex Smith, a church historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and volume co-editor for the Joseph Smith Papers.

“He actually said, ‘Do not as the heathens do.’ ‘Brethren’ and ‘heathen’ looked so similar (in the handwritten document) that it was an easy mistake to make. Now it makes more sense.”

When it comes to deciphering the handwriting in early LDS Church documents, one misidentified word or letter can change everything. It’s one of the challenges historians have faced while producing the Joseph Smith Papers series.

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