Is Meridian worth 13 cents an issue? If it is, please become a voluntary subscriber and donate today. We need your support. Click here. Editor’s Note: See previous articles by Reid N. Moon: Ten Little-Known Facts about the Book of Mormon and Ten Little-Known Facts About the Pearl of Great Price.
A few years ago I was doing research at the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University [Dallas, Texas]. I spent the afternoon wearing white gloves going through every page of Mary Elizabeth Rollin’s copy of A Book of Commandments. She was the young woman who, with the aid of her sister Caroline, rescued some of the sheets of the Book of Commandments that had been scattered in the streets after a mob destroyed the press in Independence, Missouri on July 20, 1833.
I was especially intrigued by her memories of that eventful day. In Mary’s own beautiful hand, she inscribed the following inside the front cover of her book:
“These Revelations were taken from the mob in Jackson County where the Printing Office was torn down–it was in large sheets Just from the press, the Mob threw them into the Street. Mary E. Rollins and Caroline Amelia Rollins Gathered some of them and ran away, the Mob pursued them but we hid in a corn field. I saved the first Revelations ever published.” M. E. [Rollins] Lightner
As I sat there gently thumbing through the text of Mary’s book, it was as if I could feel and see the history that I was holding in my hands. I could see the mob destroying the press. I saw Mary and Caroline anxiously awaiting the opportunity to come out of their hiding place and rescue some of the sheets. I could feel the tensity in the air as they hid in the cornfield as the mob desperately searched for them.
I could see Mary quietly reassure Caroline that the Lord would protect them as they lay motionless on top of the sheets protecting the revelations. I could feel the relief felt by these sisters as, later that evening after the mob had left, they found the printer’s wife, Sally Phelps, and gave her the pages. And finally, I could feel the immense joy felt by Mary Elizabeth Rollins as she was given this very copy of the Book of Commandments by Oliver Cowdery–after he had finished binding the loose sheets.
I am fascinated by the early history of the Church–especially the history of “how” we got the scriptures. Here are “Ten Little-Known Facts About the Doctrine and Covenants”:
1. On September 24, 1834, a little over a year after the Independence press was destroyed , another effort to print Joseph Smith’s revelations in book form was made. The Kirtland high council appointed Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams to select the contents and publish the book. (A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, Peter Crawley, pg. 54, 1997). This book of revelations would no longer be called A Book of Commandments. Rather, this new volume of scriptures, with additional content, would be called Doctrine and Covenants. A year later, in September 1835, the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants came off the press.
2. The first part of the book contained seven lectures “on the DOCTRINE of the Church”. These seven lectures had been taught in the school of the prophets the previous winter. These “Lectures on Faith” would become part of the Doctrine and Covenants for the next 86 years. However, the Doctrine and Covenants committee of 1921, which included James E. Talmage and Joseph Fielding Smith, recommended that the “Lectures on Faith” be removed. The reason for doing so was stated in the Preface: “Certain lessons, entitled ‘Lectures on Faith’, which were bound in with the Doctrine and Covenants in some of its former issues, are not included in this edition. Those lessons were prepared for use in the School of the Elders, conducted in Kirtland, Ohio, during the winter of 1834-35; but they were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons“.
3. The second part of the book contained 103 sections–including all sixty-five chapters from the Book of Commandments, . This second half of the book was called “Part Second. COVENANTS and Commandments of the Lord to his servants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints”.
4. The original publication of Joseph Smith’s revelations was titled “A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ”. The title of the new book “Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints” reflected a change in the Church’s name and the volume’s content. The Church’s original name, the Church of Christ, had been changed in 1834 to the Church of the Latter Day Saints in order to distinguish it from other churches with similar names. In 1838, Joseph Smith received a revelation to change the name to its current “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants, Richard E. Turley and William W. Slaughter, pg. 52, 2012)
5. About 3,000 copies of the first edition Doctrine and Covenants were printed in 1835. Copies of this new book were sold for one dollar. In comparison, 5,000 copies of the first edition Book of Mormon were printed in 1830, and they sold for $1.25.
6. As few as 30 copies of the Book of Commandments  have survived. It is a prized possession amongst collectors. Recently a copy sold for over $1,000,000! In comparison, there are about 500 surviving copies of the first edition Book of Mormon. Copies currently sell for around $75,000 – $100,000. There are fewer than 100 surviving copies of the first edition Doctrine and Covenants  and copies of this rare edition of scripture can sell for over $100,000.
7. The Book of Commandments and Doctrine and Covenants were actually quite small books. The Book of Commandments was only 12.5 cm tall (4.9 inches) and had 160 pages. The Doctrine and Covenants was 15 cm tall (5.9 inches) and had 257 pages . In comparison, the first edition Book of Mormon was 18.5 cm tall (7.25 inches) and had 588 pages.
8. The events and revelations recorded in sections 2-19 of the Doctrine and Covenants occurred before the restoration of the Church on April 6, 1830.
9. Section 11 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a revelation given through Joseph Smith to his brother Hyrum Smith. This revelation was recorded in Hyrum Smith’s own hand. I’ve attached a photograph of the first eight verses–as written by Hyrum Smith. I’ve also included the modern text–as found in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. See how well you can do at reading Hyrum’s handwriting.
10. In 1876, Orson Pratt compiled and edited the Doctrine and Covenants under the direction of Brigham Young. Numerous changes were made to the Doctrine and Covenants. Twenty-six new sections were added–including Section 121 (the prayer and prophecies written by Joseph Smith the Prophet in an epistle to the Church while he was held prisoner in the jail at Liberty, Missouri). This 1876 edition was also the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants printed in Utah–and the first printed in America since the 1846 edition in Nauvoo. President Wilford Woodruff marked 805 verses in his 1876 copy of the Doctrine and Covenants. In the accompanying photograph of President Woodruff’s scriptures, you can see that he marked almost every verse in the newly-added section 121 of theDoctrine and Covenants.
If you enjoyed this article, you may want to read my two previous columns: Ten Little-Known Facts about the Book of Mormon and Ten Little-Known Facts About the Pearl of Great Price.
For those who are interested in learning more about the fascinating history of the Doctrine and Covenants, I highly recommend “How We Got the Doctrine and Covenants” by Richard E. Turley, Jr. and William W. Slaughter, Deseret Book, 2012.
Reid N. Moon is the owner of Moon’s Rare Books (moonsrarebooks.com) in Provo, Utah. He and his family are members of the Edgemont 14th Ward in Provo, Utah.