On September 4, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released the first church history in nearly a century, Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days. Unlike past histories, this book brings the stories of past members to life with vivid storytelling that doesn't shy away from controversial church topics, such as polygamy, Joseph Smith's plural wives, seer stones, etc. The book—which is available in 14 different languages in the Gospel Library app and through saints.lds.org, Deseret Book, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble—is groundbreaking in many ways. Here are just a few reasons members should consider reading Saints.
It Places History in Context and Can Deepen Testimonies
Saints 1815-1846: The Standard of Truth is the most well-documented and easy-to-read history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints yet to be published. Citing 600 sources, the Church History Department has laid out well-known and little-known facts about the Restoration. The facts that have been taught for years, and those that may have been perceived as controversial, are presented to the reader for open inspection. Saints, volume 1, provides an opportunity to learn for oneself the complete story of the beginnings of the church and to search the sources to deepen our testimonies of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
It Humanizes Our History with Vivid, Accurate Detail
Since the book is written in a narrative style, it is quick and interesting reading. But even with this writing style, “it does not go beyond information found in historical sources. When the text includes even minor details, such as facial expressions or weather conditions, it is because these details are found in or reasonably deduced from the historical record” (Note on Sources, p. 660.) For example, near the end of Joseph’s life, when he was speaking to a council of the church, he “picked up a long ruler and gestured broadly with it, as a schoolmaster might do. . . .When Joseph finished speaking, he accidentally snapped the ruler in half, to the surprise of everyone in the room” (p. 529). Or this example when “in a burst of revelation, Brigham [Young] remembered how Joseph had bestowed the keys on the Twelve Apostles. Bringing his hand down hard on his knee, he said, ‘The keys of the kingdom are right here with the church’” (p. 559). Details such as this—not assumed but coming from original sources—offer the reader a factual look at the human side of many of the early saints.
It Provides Information About Controversial Topics
With nearly 100 pages of notes of the sources cited, the reader can quickly see where the information included in the text is found. While reading, if a new piece of the story is discovered, one can find the citation and, in many cases, follow a digital link to read the original source. To illustrate, much of the beginning chapters of the book come from the prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith’s, history. An interested reader can click on the note, and go to mother Smith’s history which shows the original, hand-written text and a transcribed version for the modern student to easily read. In this way, we can see for themselves how the text of Saints was composed.
Additional resources bring further richness to the story. The “Topics” referenced throughout the book provide a deeper look into many issues. I found the “Seer Stones” topic very interesting and learned how Joseph found a seer stone before his vision of the Father and the Son and used it to “help neighbors find missing objects or search for buried treasure.” There is even a picture of a seer stone Joseph Smith owned. This same seer stone was later used during the translation of some of the Book of Mormon.
It's So Much More Than a Single History
The podcasts which can be found on iTunes or the Mormon Channel are another rich source of more detail for the book. Historians, writers, editors, and others talk candidly about the preparation of the book and its implications to modern church members. I found the approximately 25-30 minute episodes very insightful as some questions I had while reading the book were discussed. I listened to a discussion about a new fact to me that Joseph heard for first time about reading in James 1:5 to “ask in faith” from a minister while attending a sermon. Only after hearing this from the minister did Joseph go home and read and ponder the verse from the Bible.
For me, Saints is the beginning of a new opportunity to study church history and search deeper into resources that bring much original information to light. I appreciate the Church History Department, under direction of The First Presidency, and the way they are making all details of our history available. I believe that it will “enlarge [our] understanding of the past, strengthen [our] faith, and help [us] make and keep the covenants that lead to exaltation and eternal life” as the Message from the First Presidency indicates in the beginning pages of the book. I highly recommend this book to all readers, young or old, and believe you will find your testimony strengthened as I have by allowing the telling of church history with greater detail and openness to distill upon my mind.
Lead image from Newsroom
The Standard of Truth is the first book in Saints, a new, four-volume narrative history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fast-paced and meticulously researched, Saints recounts true stories of Latter-day Saints across the globe and answers the Lord's call to write history "for the good of the church, and for the rising generations" (Doctrine and Covenants 69:0).