As a [Mormon] treasure hunter, I’m often asked the question, “Which book[s] would you most like to track down?” For me, the answer is easy, “Any volume of scripture–the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Pearl of Great Price –that belonged to one of the prophets, apostles, or notable members of the Church“. For me, these scriptures are as close as you can get to the mythical “holy grail”.
I guess I’m just fascinated by which scriptures these men and women chose to highlight or mark. Each of these individuals faced challenges, overcame struggles and was an example to future generations. I believe the study of their scriptures can shed additional insight into their lives.
Over the past twenty years, I’ve tracked down the personal scriptures of several prominent members of the Church, including: Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Phebe Woodruff, Helen Mar Kimball and Newel K. Whitney, to name a few. However, today I would like to focus on three men that I admire: Hyrum Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and Heber J. Grant.
Hyrum Smith’s Scriptures
In Section 135:4 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we are told of a passage of scripture that was read and “marked” by Hyrum Smith: “…The same morning, after Hyrum made ready to go–shall it be said to the slaughter? yes, for so it was–he read the following paragraph, near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it.“
For John Taylor, a witness to the martyrdom, this incident of Hyrum marking his scriptures was important enough to be included in Section 135 of the Doctrine and Covenants—in fact, this reference to marking scriptures is in the very same verse where he quotes Joseph Smith as saying, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offence towards God, and towards all men.”
As I carefully went through each page of Hyrum Smith’s copy of the Book of Mormon, I discovered that he had marked an additional twenty-seven scriptures in the same manner—by “turning down the leaf upon it”. This was how Hyrum marked his scriptures. In his 1841 copy of the Book of Mormon, there were no verses–only chapters. In fact, the Book of Mormon wouldn’t be divided into chapters and verses until 1879. Early copies of the Book of Mormon were divided into lengthy paragraphs. In fact, some paragraphs were two pages in length!
In order to mark a scripture, Hyrum would fold over the edge of the page to the approximate spot that he wanted to mark. For example, on page 67, which has no paragraph breaks, he folded over the edge of the page to the sentence that begins as follows, “For Joseph truly testified saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins”. He had marked what is now 2 Nephi 3:6-15 in our current edition of the Book of Mormon. It makes sense that he would mark that particular scripture–it was a prophecy about his brother Joseph, the prophet.
For me–knowing that Hyrum Smith marked his scriptures by folding down the edge of the page–adds valuable insight to Doctrine and Covenants 135:4. When Hyrum Smith “turned down the leaf” to mark that paragraph in the Book of Ether—the final scripture that he marked in his copy of the Book of Mormon before going to Carthage–he was only continuing a practice that he had commenced much earlier. I find that fascinating!
Wilford Woodruff’s Scriptures
I admit it. I’m a huge fan of President Wilford Woodruff and his wife Phebe. I love their story—how they were both thirty years old when they got married, how they overcame difficult challenges in their lives, and how they both remained true and faithful to the teachings of the gospel.
Two years ago, I acquired an 1852 copy of the Doctrine and Covenants that belonged to President Wilford Woodruff–along with his reading glasses! I also acquired Phebe’s 1841 copy of the Book of Mormon—which was a gift from her husband upon his return from a successful mission to England.
Wilford Woodruff, who was known as a prolific journal keeper, was also very diligent in marking his scriptures. In his 1852 Doctrine and Covenants he marked over 400 verses. Many of these scriptures make reference to the “second coming”, the “latter days” and “signs of the times”. However, I was most fascinated by his decision to cut out a poem and paste it inside the front cover of his scriptures–a poem that reminded him of the importance of being nice to his wife! Over 150 years later, I believe this poem has excellent advice for each of us.
Margaret Elizabeth Sangster (1838-1912)
If I had known in the morning
How wearily all day
The words unkind
Would trouble my mind,
I said when you went away,
I had been more careful, darling,
Nor given you needless pain;
But we vex “our own”
With look and tone
We might never take back again.
We have careful thought for the stranger,
And smiles for the sometime guest,
But oft for “our own”
The bitter tone,
Though we love our own the best.
Ah! lip with the curse impatient;
Ah! brow with that look of scorn,
‘Twere a cruel fate
Were the night too late
To undo the work of morn.
Heber J. Grant’s Scriptures
A few years ago, I tracked down an 1898 copy of the Doctrine and Covenants that belonged to President Heber J. Grant. I felt very fortunate to locate this precious treasure. I went through every page and was interested to learn which scriptures Heber J. Grant chose to mark. I kept track. He marked 545 verses in 76 of the 136 sections of his Doctrine and Covenants.
To this day, his annotation in Section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants stands out in my mind. This section, which may not be that familiar, is a revelation given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery when they inquired as to whether John, the beloved disciple, tarried in the flesh or had died. The first three verses of Section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants read as follows:
1 And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you.
2 And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.
3 And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.
After President Grant read these verses, he made the following notation in the margin of his scriptures, “I desire the same thing“.
Wow! After reading that, I reread it. I’ve since pondered the meaning of that notation for a long time. It is somewhat surreal to read from the scriptures of an apostle who desired the same thing that one of his fellow disciples desired of the Savior over 1,900 years ago. These discoveries will never get old!
In future columns I will go into more detail and share additional discoveries from the scriptures of Hyrum Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and Heber J. Grant. I also plan to share similar stories and insight from the personal scriptures of other interesting figures in Church history.
One final note: As much as I enjoy tracking down scriptures that have belonged to prophets, apostles and prominent men and women in Church history, the scriptures that I cherish the most are the ones that have been passed down through my own family.
For those who have interest, Brother Moon will be presenting a fireside at Zion’s Mercantile in Provo, Utah on Monday, May 18, 2015. The title of the presentation will be “Fascinating Insights from the Scriptures of Joseph, Hyrum and Samuel Smith”. During this presentation, Brother Moon will display copies of theBook of Mormon that belonged to the prophet Joseph Smith and his brothers: Hyrum and Samuel. This event is free of charge and would make an inspirational Family Home Evening activity. Seating is limited. Please RSVP. (Zion’s Mercantile, 4801 N. University Ave., Provo, UT 84604. Tel. 801-802-6064)