Historical Context of the Doctrine & Covenants

Kurt Elieson

The story of the Doctrine & Covenants

The easiest scriptures to understand are the ones that have stories. Several Church leaders have said that a key to understanding the Doctrine & Covenants is to become familiar with its story. This book tells that story in a single continuous narrative.

Historical Context of the Doctrine & Covenants has different strengths than a commentary. It immerses the reader in a story full of first-person quotes so the historical background is not only understood, but experienced. Every single section is seamlessly integrated into the fabric of church history, including the problems people faced, how the section was implemented, and its relationship to other revelations that came before and after. References to people, activities, and circumstances now make intuitive sense.

Each section is also briefly summarized to highlight its message, its train of thought, and its role in the development of Mormon doctrine.


Volume 1: D&C 1-70, 74, 107, 133

Volume 1 covers the years 1820 to 1831 and is available for free here as a PDF file or can be purchased here as a Kindle edition or paperback through Amazon.com.


Volumes 2-3: D&C 71-73, 75-132, 134-138

It took eight years working off and on to turn out Volume 1. Ten years later I am still a ways out from finishing this off completely, but I am still making progress.


Status Update

Volume 1 came in at 367 pages of text. I had originally intended for Volume 2 to run about another 500 pages, for a total of about 850 pages (plus supporting material) in two volumes. As of January 2021 my working draft now runs 1,320 pages in three or possibly four volumes.

In terms of getting to completion, I currently think of this project as having three parts.

The first part covers 1820-1831 (D&C 1-70) and corresponds to Volume 1. I occasionally make small revisions to this part, but only a couple of changes count as more than minor edits. I am happy with how this part turned out and have no plan to do any major rewriting.

For the last couple years my efforts have been directed primarily at the third part covering the Nauvoo Period through today. I had expected the Nauvoo Period of 1839-1846 to fill about 50 pages, followed by a 30 page epilogue for the last four sections received during 1847 - 2020.

Now this third part begins with a five page intermission for a quick overview of Church history during the entire 200 years 1820-2020 in order to place D&C 136 and OD 1-2 within that broad context. This is followed by a 120 page monster of a chapter on the Nauvoo Period, another 100 pages covering Utah Territory (1846-1907), and 50 pages on the Twentieth Century (1908-2020). Even though only four sections are received during 1847-2020, this third part currently comes in at 270 pages, nearly as long as the entire Volume 1 that covers half the sections in the Doctrine & Covenants in 367 pages.

I am happy with how this third part is turning out. Despite the length, I think it maintains focus as it provides information not only about the circumstances surrounding the receipt of each of these sections, but also about the manner in which several key themes in the Doctrine & Covenants have been implemented since Nauvoo. I am currently at the point of going back through to make sure that each of several themes flows naturally and accurately. For example: the building of temples and the implementation of temple ordinances, Brigham Young's economic initiatives in Utah Territory, the Church's policy on priesthood ordinations before the Revelation on Priesthood OD 2, the adoption and publication of major editions of the scriptures, etc. I am especially happy with the way that things have come together on the relationship of Bloody Kansas, the Utah War, Reconstruction, and the conflict over polygamy that resulted in the Manifesto, OD 1. My current best guess is that it will take roughly the year 2021 to finish writing, editing, and cite checking this part.

That still leaves the large middle part covering most of the Ohio-Missouri Period, or 1832-1838 (D&C 71-123). This part currently runs 675 pages, which is simply too long, especially the second half. And I still have a handful of major sources to finish working through, including the Manuscript History, as well as several biographies, etc. I did get the first three chapters of this part into decent shape a few years ago (Dec 1831 - May 1833, D&C 71-93). But I have not yet really done anything to wrestle the rest of this material into a coherent narrative, and it is currently nothing more than a bunch of too much information.

I currently hope to finish off this second part during 2022. I expect-hope-wish that this part will largely write itself as a limited number of principal characters deal with a limited number of issues derived primarily from a limited number of original sources.

That will still leave a final round of cite checking, converting citations in Volume 1 to the Joseph Smith Papers materials that are now available online, getting copyright permissions, and indexing. Last time it took me a month of cheating every spare moment I could find to index the 367 pages of Volume 1, and this will be three or four times longer.

So even if everything goes well, I do not realistically expect to have the final finished product out the door until roughly the end of 2023. But that is currently the goal.

When completed, the material will be broken up into probably three volumes, or possibly four. Volume 1 will likely include the introduction and text for 1820 - May 1833 (D&C 1-93) in 12 chapters of 550 pages. Volume 2 would then include all of the remaining text for June 1833 - 2020 (D&C 94 - OD 2) plus a few concluding thoughts, all in 13 chapters that currently take 770 pages. That is too thick, so the text it will be in two volumes if I cut enough from the later Ohio-Missouri Period, or three if I do not. All of the supporting material will go into another final volume: appendices, endnotes, bibliography, etc. I see no reason for multiple overlapping bibliographies, and I believe it is more useful to have endnotes open to the side in a separate volume rather than having to flip back and forth within a single volume.

If you are anxious for me to finish and get this out the door, please know that there is at least one other person in the world who shares that feeling.

Page Last Updated 2021.01.21