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The Canadian Copyright Revelation


DonBradley

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Several comments have been made on the Joseph Smith Papers thread regarding the 1830 revelation commanding four of Joseph Smith's associates to journey to Canada to secure and then sell a Canadian copyright to the Book of Mormon. Some argue that the revelation failed because the copyright was not sold; others argue that failure to sell the copyright does not make the revelation a failure because it was conditional in the first place.

On this issue, I think it's clear that the latter group is correct. With the text of the revelation finally available, we now know that it promised a sale only "if the People harden not their hearts against the enticeings of my spirit." In itself, failure to sell would not discount the revelation. On this issue, the case may simply be closed.

But there is a second issue, raised by one of the revelation's recipients, Hiram Page, in an 1848 letter to William McLellin. Page reported that when he and the others sent to Canada arrived they found that they had been sent to the wrong city:

Joseph heard that there was a chance to sell a copy right in Canada for any useful book that was used in the States. Joseph thought this would be a good opportunity to get a hand on a sum of money which was to be (after the expenses were taken out) for the exclusive benefit of the Smith family and was to be at the disposal of Joseph. Accordingly Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Knight, Hiram Page and Joseph Stoel were chosen (as I understand by revelation) to do the business; we were living from 30 to 100 miles apart. The necessary preparation was made (by them) in a sly manner so as to keep Martin Harris from drawing a share of the money. It was told me we were to go by revelation, but when we had assembled at Father Smiths, there was no revelation for us to go, but we were all anxious to get a revelation to go; and when it came we were to go to Kingston where we were to sell if they would not harden their hearts; but when we got there, there was no purchaser, neither were they authorized at Kingston to buy rights for the Provence; but little York was the place where such business had to be done. We were to get 8,000 dollars. We were treated with the best of respect by all we met with in Kingston - by the above we may learn how a revelation may be received and the person receiving it not be benefitted.

(Letter, Hiram Page to William McLellin, Fishingriver, Feb. 2, 1848; Community of Christ Archives, spelling and punctuation standardized by Eldon Watson)

So, as previously discussed on this board, here, Page's account would suggest that the revelation did "fail." If Page was correct, the revelation's conditional clause would not cover the cause of the failure. The problem would not be one of potential buyers "hardening their hearts." Whether their hearts were hard or soft, it would have been impossible for them to buy the copyright at the time because one could only be secured hundreds of miles west in "Little York" (Toronto), whereas the revelation had sent Page, et al. north, to transact the business in Kingston.

There are two questions we need to ask to know whether Page was correct and the revelation did indeed "fail" in this way:

First, was Page's recollection correct? Did the revelation send them specifically to Kingston to secure the copyright?

Second, was it true that a Canadian copyright could not be secured in Kingston but only in Toronto?

The newly available text of the revelation enables us to answer the first question. Here is the relevant portion of the transcription from the Fair Blog:

Behold I say unto you that I have coven=

=anted & it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram

Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing yea

Copy

even in securing the ^ right & they shall do it with an eye single

to my Glory that it may be the means of bringing souls

unto me Salvation through mine only Be{t\gotten} Behold I am

God I have spoken it & it is expedient in me Wherefor I say

unto you that ye shall go to Kingston seeking me continually

through mine only Be{t\gotten} & if ye do this ye shall have my

spirit to go with you & ye shall have an addition of all things

amen

which is expedient in me^. & I grant unto my servent a privelige

a copyright

that he may sell ^ through you speaking after the manner of

men for the four Provinces if the People harden not their hearts

against the enticeings of my spirit & my word for Behold it

lieth in themselves to their condemnation &{◊\or} th{er\eir} salvation

Behold my way is before you & the means I will prepare

This text confirms Hiram Page's recollection that the group was sent specifically to Kingston--he had even recalled the exact phrase: "go to Kingston." It also confirms his memory of the incident generally, verifying his account on several points, including Martin Harris being frowned on, the identity of the men sent to Kingston, the sale being conditioned on the Canadian audience not hardening their hearts, etc.

That the revelation's promise of a sale--even conditionally--and its direction to go specifically "to Kingston" were later seen as problematic is evident from the fact that editing marks on the revelation indicate that these elements (along with the negative judgment on Martin) were to be omitted from the (anticipated) published version. Stricken from the revelation were Martin's name, the statement that the copyright sale was "expedient," the phrase "to Kingston," and all of the last five lines, with an "Amen" being added to terminate the text before the revelation's original ending.

The second question--of whether the copyright could have been secured in Kingston--remains open. Those sent to Kingston were given the understanding that they could not copyright the book there. And the editor of the revelation's text in the Book of Commandments and Revelations appears to have shared or accepted this understanding, and therefore removed elements promising that a copyright could be secured and sold in Kingston. That this editor saw the revelation as problematic is further evidenced by his removal of even its conditional clause. If he thought that clause eliminated any problems with the revelation, he would have had motivation to retain the promises and their conditional clause, rather than removing it all. But noting the understandings of those involved in and aware of the revelation does not answer the fundamental question. Legal research is needed to determine whether it a copyright could have been secured in Kingston. If so, then, despite the understandings of those involved, the revelation could have been fulfilled, perhaps through greater diligence on their part or greater receptivity on the part of their Canadian audience. If not, then the revelation would appear to have promised the impossible, which would suggest that Joseph Smith's reported response to the apparent failure was quite appropriate: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil."

In this latter case, it would be clear that Joseph Smith and other early saints were able to accept the idea that a true prophet could have apparent revelations that were not truly (or fully) from God. With this precedent, their present-day heirs should be able to accept it as well.

Don

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And the editor of the revelation's text in the Book of Commandments and Revelations appears to have shared or accepted this understanding, and therefore removed elements promising that a copyright could be secured and sold in Kingston. That this editor saw the revelation as problematic is further evidenced by his removal of even its conditional clause. If he thought that clause eliminated any problems with the revelation, he would have had motivation to retain the promises and their conditional clause, rather than removing it all.

Any idea of the identity of the editor?

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Theres another possibility that needs to be taken into consideration. Even if Tornoto (Little York) where the only place for a copyright to be secured. Who's to say that Kingston wasn't the beginning of this Journey? That God had a person in Kingston in mind that they should meet and who wanted to put-up-the-doe and who would then travel with the to Tornoto or where ever the transaction needed to take place.

Of course if this person hardened their heart.... the whole deal was off.

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Odd that Nephi was unfamiliar with the principle of conditional commandments and prophecies. Perhaps there is more to the verse than we know?

7 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

7b. Yeah, verily he shall prepare a way for them, unless it behooveth the Lord to place a condition on the commandment, in which case He shall not prepare a way, but instead the commandment may only be accomplished upon the situation in which the servant findeth himself. For whether or not it may be accomplished, we know not, until after we go and try to do.

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Odd that Nephi was unfamiliar with the principle of conditional commandments and prophecies. Perhaps there is more to the verse than we know?

I suppose that would apply if all commands and revelations were identical. It seems you would like to fit God into some kind of bottled-up paradigm...good luck with that one.

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I suppose that would apply if all commands and revelations were identical. It seems you would like to fit God into some kind of bottled-up paradigm...good luck with that one.

I'm not the one who came up with 1 Nephi 3:7. :P

As it's taught in the Church, it isn't very nuanced.

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I'm not the one who came up with 1 Nephi 3:7. :P

As it's taught in the Church, it isn't very nuanced.

If it's taught that God's commandments are always without conditions, you're right, that's not very nuanced -- or even accurate.

But the scriptures also contain this instruction:

49 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their adiligence, and their enemies come upon them and bhinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to crequire that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.

50 And the iniquity and transgression of my holy laws and commandments I will avisit upon the heads of those who hindered my work, unto the third and fourth bgeneration, so long as they repent not, and hate me, saith the Lord God.

D&C 124:49:50

Also,

4 Wherefore I, the Lord, command and arevoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the brebellious, saith the Lord.

D&C 56:4

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I'm not the one who came up with 1 Nephi 3:7. :P

Obviously, since your name isn't Nephi and it isn't 600BC.

As it's taught in the Church, it isn't very nuanced.

So? And in some situations it's the right answer. In others, it may not be. Must it be all or nothing?

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I'll remember that next time someone tries to exhort me to follow a commandment with the 1 Nephi 3:7 reference.

Fine...but don't forget my whole statement either. Furthermore, perhaps you should check said commandment and see if it had any conditions regarding its success, like this one obviously did.

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Conditions are useful if the author isn't 100% confident in the outcome. Given that 1 Nephi reports history - the outcome had already occurred.

Conditions are also useful when the outcome hinges on them. David and Solomon come to mind.

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Obviously, since your name isn't Nephi and it isn't 600BC.

So? And in some situations it's the right answer. In others, it may not be. Must it be all or nothing?

I think it noteworthy that God preparing a way does not necessarily mean the commandment will be accomplished. Men may choose not to follow the way God has prepared. As it turned out, Nephi and his brothers had great difficulty accomplishing their task, and had Nephi not been diligent and persistent, they might well have failed.

So even this commandment given to Nephi was not without a condition.

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I won't. It'll give my reply an extra edge.

Do you frequently find yourself having to defend your actions with respect to commandments? If not, I am unsure why you would really need to file away this conversation for such a purpose.

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I think it noteworthy that God preparing a way does not necessarily mean the commandment will be accomplished. Men may choose not to follow the way God has prepared.

Obviously people always have the option to follow a commandment or not. That's not really part of the "condition". 1 Nephi 3:7 seems to say that if you choose to do something that the Lord has commanded, He will prepare a way for you to accomplish it.

If there's a chance that you won't be able to accomplish it even with your best, most faithful efforts, then that seems to contradict the verse.

And if factors beyond your control can conspire to impede your accomplishment of the commandment in spite of your most faithful efforts, then God really hasn't "prepared a way" for you, has He?

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Obviously people always have the option to follow a commandment or not. That's not really part of the "condition". 1 Nephi 3:7 seems to say that if you choose to do something that the Lord has commanded, He will prepare a way for you to accomplish it.

If there's a chance that you won't be able to accomplish it even with your best, most faithful efforts, then that seems to contradict the verse.

And if factors beyond your control can conspire to impede your accomplishment of the commandment in spite of your most faithful efforts, then God really hasn't "prepared a way" for you, has He?

"Behold, if you ask Sister X to marry you, and if she be so inclined and harden not her heart, she will agree to marry you."

versus

"Behold, if you ask Sister X to marry you, she will agree to marry you."

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Obviously people always have the option to follow a commandment or not. That's not really part of the "condition". 1 Nephi 3:7 seems to say that if you choose to do something that the Lord has commanded, He will prepare a way for you to accomplish it.

If there's a chance that you won't be able to accomplish it even with your best, most faithful efforts, then that seems to contradict the verse.

And if factors beyond your control can conspire to impede your accomplishment of the commandment in spite of your most faithful efforts, then God really hasn't "prepared a way" for you, has He?

So the event in 1 Nephi 3:7 is universal and makes clear that any effort to show an exception thereto must, by definition, be apologetic drivel. Am I reading you correctly?

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So the event in 1 Nephi 3:7 is universal and makes clear that any effort to show an exception thereto must, by definition, be apologetic drivel. Am I reading you correctly?

Actually, I don't think "apologetics" has anything to do with it.

But regardless, Don's OP is worthy of better discussion than this, so I respectfully withdraw my comment regarding 1 Nephi 3:7, and submit the following interesting observation from the OP as a direction for future ruminations:

In this latter case, it would be clear that Joseph Smith and other early saints were able to accept the idea that a true prophet could have apparent revelations that were not truly (or fully) from God. With this precedent, their present-day heirs should be able to accept it as well.
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