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Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants: A Guided Tour Through Modern Revelations by Steven C. Harper has just been published by Deseret Book, just in time for the 2009 course of study in LDS adult Sunday School. I haven’t read it through yet, but I did run some benchmarks on it (see below) to see just what kind of book it is. I’ll give it a thumbs up.
Here are five questions I used to give a quick assessment of how much detail and explanation the book provides concerning the various sections of the D&C.
1. Does the discussion of D&C 2 note that it was not added to the D&C until the 1876 edition?
The main discussion of Section 2 only alludes to the section’s history, noting that Joseph Smith “wrote his history in 1839.” But it is discussed in the first chapter of the book, “A Brief History of the Doctrine & Covenants,” where the author notes that Brigham Young and Orson Pratt “made extensive changes that dramatically influence how we read the book today,” including the addition of 26 new sections (2, 13, 77, 85, 87, and many of the later sections starting with 109).
2. Does the discussion of D&C 20 discuss Oliver Cowdery’s prior draft of the same material?
Yes, it notes that, as directed in Section 18, “Oliver wrote ‘Articles of the Church of Christ’ by putting together doctrines and ordinances from the unpublished Book of Mormon, passages from Joseph’s revelations, and some commentary.” The footnotes cite Scott Fauling’s 2004 BYU Studies article comparing Cowdery’s draft document with Section 20.
3. Does the discussion of D&C 27 note that the majority of the section was added several weeks after the first few verses were recorded?
Yes, it notes that “the rest of verses 5-18 were revealed a few weeks later” and were not in the first published text of Section 27. The later verses were first published as part of the 1835 edition.
4. Does the discussion of D&C 89 provide historical context for the counsel given therein?
Yes, there is extended discussion of alcohol, tobacco, and diet as viewed and used in the 1830s. There is also a one-paragraph discussion of the question, “When exactly did the Word of Wisdom become a commandment?”
5. Does the it explain the statement in the heading to Section 132 of the 1981 edition of the D&C that “it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by [Joseph Smith] since 1831”?
Not really — the first paragraph notes that “parts of it were certainly revealed long before” 1843 (when the text of Section 132 was first recorded in writing) and that “it seems likely that Joseph had years earlier some of section 132,” but there is no discussion of the historical records referred to in the present heading of Section 132. The footnotes do cite the discussion of plural marriage in Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling five times, but include no references to work by other scholars.
So the book scores very well. I think it will give the average reader just about everthing needed to understand the context and discussion of each section of the Doctrine and Covenants, especially if paired with Rough Stone Rolling.