ST. GEORGE – Is $35 million too much to pay for a printer’s manuscript used for the first printing of the Book of Mormon? The LDS church doesn’t think so.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Wednesday evening that it had purchased the manuscript from the Community of Christ. While the LDS church did not release the amount paid for the manuscript in its Wednesday news release, the Community of Christ did.
The $35 million sale is the highest ever for a manuscript as it surpasses the near-$31 million Bill Gates paid in 1994 for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester.”
Members of the LDS church, or Mormons, consider the Book of Mormon to be “the keystone of their faith” and a part of the church’s canonized scripture alongside the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants.
“We hold the Book of Mormon to be a sacred text like the Bible” said Elder Steven E. Snow, church historian and recorder. “The printer’s manuscript is the earliest surviving copy of about 72 percent of the Book of Mormon text, as only about 28 percent of the earlier dictation copy survived decades of storage in a cornerstone in Nauvoo, Illinois.”
So just what did the LDS church buy from the Community of Christ?
“The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon is a copy of the original dictated manuscript. Oliver Cowdery served as the principle scribe,” according to an online Q and A page posted by the Community of Christ. “This copy was provided to the printer, E.B. Grandin, in Palmyra, New York. It became the guide by which the type was set for the first edition (1830) of the Book of Mormon.”
In other words, the printer’s copy provided the format and layout of how the pages in the first print run of the Book of Mormon would look once produced.
The Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has possessed the printer’s manuscript since 1903 when it bought the document, along with other items, for $2,500.
With less than 30 percent of the original dictated Book of Mormon manuscript surviving to present day, the printer’s manuscript is seen as the most complete copy of it in existence as it is only missing three lines of text, according to the Community of Christ.
The Community of Christ’s Presiding Bishopric, which oversees the temporal needs of the church, has been working for several months with many possible buyers – the LDS church being the final purchaser of the manuscript with funds provided by anonymous donors.
Snow expressed gratitude for the care taken of the manuscript by the Community of Christ for more than a century. He also offered appreciation to the donors who provided the means to acquire the document.
The Community of Christ and the LDS church have worked together to preserve the manuscript over the years.
“We are pleased to transfer stewardship of this important document to those who will treasure it and continue to care for it for future generations.” the Community of Christ said on its Q-and-A page.
“Church leaders know that letting go of this document will cause some members sadness and grief. We feel sad, too,” the Community of Christ further stated. “However, the church’s use of the Book of Mormon as scripture and our appreciation and respect for our history are not dependent on owning the Printer’s Manuscript. Letting go of this document does not affect the rights of Community of Christ to publish and protect the copyrights of its editions of the Book of Mormon. When a decision had to be made, we chose the well-being of people and preserving the current and future mission of the church over owning this document.”
The Community of Christ and LDS church have their beginnings in the religious movement originally founded by Joseph Smith Jr. in 1830. The founding came on the heels of the publication of the Book of Mormon, which both churches hold in high regard. The groups would go on to become their own respective institutions following the death of Smith in 1844.
Today the LDS church is headquartered in Salt Lake City while the Community of Christ has its home in Independence, Missouri.
Both churches believe the book to be a divinely inspired translation of an ancient record detailing the history of some of the inhabitants of ancient America who worshipped Jesus Christ and were visited by him following his resurrection.
Historian John Hajicek, of mormonism.org, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the purchase of the manuscript by LDS church was like the U.S. government buying the Constitution.
“This is a founding document of the LDS Church,” Hajicek said. “It is priceless.”
The entire printer’s manuscript was published in 2015 as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. It can be found in Volume Three of the Revelations and Translations series. Eventually, digital images of the entire manuscript will be posted online at josephsmithpapers.org.
Plans are currently under way to display the manuscript to the public at the Church History Library, 15 East North Temple Street
Salt Lake City, in the coming months.
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