A newly published “revelation” in Volume 10 of the Joseph Smith Papers, Documents series is quite revealing, but not in the sense that the LDS church urges. It reveals the institutional need to vindicate later leaders by assuming a document is reliable if it helps support their position.

The “revelation” is dated 27 July 1842. The document was typed in April of 1912. It was something the typist got from his father, which he believed came from his grandfather. There is no original. And there is nothing in the journals, diaries or other sources prepared contemporaneously by Joseph Smith or any of his known scribes.

There is little doubt that this provenance for the document would result in it being questioned and likely rejected as an authentic and reliable piece of history, if not for its content. The content suggests something that has haunted and complicated LDS church history since 1852. Before a general conference announcement by Orson Pratt in 1852, polygamy was a taboo subject.

All of Joseph Smith’s public acts and statements about multiple wives denounced the idea as immoral adultery. Public awareness of adultery in Nauvoo began in early May 1842 because the Mayor of Nauvoo, John C. Bennett was excommunicated for adultery. Joseph Smith condemned Bennett, exposed his wrongdoing, and spoke against this adulterous “spiritual wifery” advocated by Bennett.

Joseph investigated the widespread adultery in Nauvoo. He brought charges before the Nauvoo High Council to expose and uproot this sinful behavior. Joseph spoke to the Relief Society about virtue and righteousness. Even John C. Bennett testified, “he never knew the said Smith to countenance any improper conduct whatever, either in public or private; and that he never did teach to me in private that an illegal illicit intercourse with females was, under any circumstances, justifiable; and that I never knew him so to teach others.” Times and Seasons, 1 July 1842, p. 841.

This new “revelation” was purportedly written on July 27, 1842. This was two months after Bennett’s exposure and excommunication on May 11, 1842. This was 26 days after the Bennett testimony about Joseph Smith’s refusal “to countenance any improper conduct, either in public or private.”

The July 27, 1842 document is important for the LDS church to recognize, accept and defend because it gives some faint support to connecting Joseph Smith with the teaching of plural wives. This document is helpful to LDS interests because the LDS church publicly advocated polygamy beginning in 1852, they claim to have preserved the religion founded by Joseph Smith, and they claim authority from him. Those claims are undermined if they cannot connect Joseph Smith to the practice.

There is no way to determine if the missing original was connected to Joseph Smith. There is no way to check to see if it was faithfully transmitted. There is no way to see if some of the language is interlineated. There is no way to compare if the same handwriting wrote the whole of the document, or if interlineated materials are in a different hand.

The document instructs Newel K. Whitney to seal his daughter Sarah to Joseph Smith. The only reference to “wife” in the sealing document is a parenthetical phrase appearing between two comas in the typewritten version. The language is: “…, to be his wife, …” and because it is typewritten and not the original there is no way to know if those words were there originally. This is important because, as I have explained elsewhere, Joseph Smith had one “sealing” version until October 1843, and at that time added another. The one added in October 1843 was “man to man sealing” or “adoption.” The purpose of all “sealing” was to tie the one sealed to Joseph Smith for salvation in the afterlife.

After Joseph Smith’s death, Sarah Whitney married Heber C. Kimball and bore 7 children. She had no children with Joseph Smith, and the JSP, Documents Vol. 10 acknowledges that “sealing was a salvific rite… It promised immortality and eternal life to Sarah Ann, and by extension her entire family, through her sealing to J[oseph] S[mith]. …no documentation exists as to whether Sarah Ann and JS’s relationship was sexual in nature.” P. 311.

I think Joseph Smith sealed others to him, men and women, as part of the plan of salvation. I think his interest was in saving others, not sexual relations with women other than Emma. All the children born of Joseph Smith came through Emma Smith alone.

This addition to the Joseph Smith Papers is a disappointment, given the dubious provenance of the document. At best it deserves only mention in a footnote. Wholesale endorsement of the document as reliable does not reflect well on the project. It smacks more of institutional protection than of good history preservation.

The document is a “revelation” primarily in what it reveals about the institution publishing the Papers.