The Standard of Truth: 1815–1846

The Standard of Truth: 1815–1846

In 1820, a young farm boy in search of truth has a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Three years later, an angel guides him to an ancient record buried in a hill near his home. With God’s help, he translates the record and organizes the Savior’s church in the latter days. Soon others join him, accepting the invitation to become Saints through the Atonement of Jesu...

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Title:The Standard of Truth: 1815–1846
Author:The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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The Standard of Truth: 1815–1846 Reviews

  • Chad

    I am shamelessly proud of my Church and the great strides they have made in the publishing of Saints: The Standard of Truth. This is fantastic history and beautiful prose. I have always been an avid reader, my early encounters with Church history weren't positive: I remember reading excerpts from Our Heritage in Sunday School and finding it absolutely dry. Perhaps I have matured since then, and I do feel more invested in my Church and its history now. But I think part of that is finding Church h

    I am shamelessly proud of my Church and the great strides they have made in the publishing of Saints: The Standard of Truth. This is fantastic history and beautiful prose. I have always been an avid reader, my early encounters with Church history weren't positive: I remember reading excerpts from Our Heritage in Sunday School and finding it absolutely dry. Perhaps I have matured since then, and I do feel more invested in my Church and its history now. But I think part of that is finding Church history books not published by Deseret Book. My first Church history book that became a favorite was Greg Prince's David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. I also enjoyed finding alternate interpretations of Church history, such as Denver Snuffer's Preserving the Restoration, and recent publications like Joseph Smith's Polygamy and Seer Stones This book is a fantastic addition to the genre of Latter-Day Saint history, and bravely confronts difficult topics while maintaining a narrative structure in which belief in the divinity of Joseph's calling as prophet.

    Church leaders are using the word "immunize" to describe their hopes of this book: that it will immunize them from doubts and anything "anti-Mormon" in nature. I think the wording is appropriate; but I think any scenario where a form of censorship is present will harbor ill feelings. Leftists on campus are finding this out now: when you make no room for conservative viewpoints on campus, and students encounter facts from alt-right sources, they can start to embrace extremist viewpoints, because they feel that the liberal elites have lied to them. We need to have open discussion about these topics. We shouldn't be ashamed to discuss them, and we shouldn't have to feel we are being untrue to our faith if we bring them up. Let's talk about Joseph Smith's polygamy. Let's talk about seer stones. I'm very excited in this new era where members and youth will be much more familiar with Church history, and hopefully have a complete mental structure of Church history rather than a string of "faith-strengthening" stories cherry-picked from the past.

    Here are a few things that I learned, or at least became much more clear as I read "Saints":

    Joseph Smith wasn't perfect

    You hear this all the time. We acknowledge it, but when we are confronted with his humanity upfront, sometimes it can be a bit hard to take. Joseph was rough around the edges. He didn't "look" or act like a prophet at times. I didn't know that he got into a fist-fight with his brother and fellow apostle in a quorum meeting. He held grudges, and often alienated people both in and outside the Church. Thomas Marsh found out that he was a bit authoritarian at times, often acting without consulting other. Marsh felt hurt that Joseph would take unilateral action in organizing missionary work with England, when he had clearly delegated that to himself. And heck-- Joseph went and instituted polygamy without telling his two counselors in the First Presidency! That doesn't sound like a good way of building trust.

    Critics of the Church have always been around

    We often characterize these doubters and takers of offense as traitors, enemies, and antagonists. But I think these characters had legitimate concerns about Joseph's leadership. I sympathized with all of them, and we need to see how real their concerns are, because we are likely to encounter similar concerns with present-day leaders as well. I think there are plenty of examples of those who struggled and remained faithful: Parley P. Pratt for example. He got absolutely screwed over by Joseph and Sidney when the Kirtland Safety Society went under. He even voiced some criticisms. But, with some help from fellow saints, he was humble enough to accept a prophet with flaws.

    Other critics I had less sympathy for. John Bennett told women that Joseph gave him permission to sleep with them outside of the marriage covenant. He tricked many. When he was excommunicated, he was the one who really sparked off the rumors and sharp criticisms around polygamy. William Law too was an adulterer who couldn't take the consequences of his actions and turned on the prophet.

    Emma is back again

    In most Church literature, you hear about Emma briefly in the happy early days of the Restoration, but she fades out in the Nauvoo years when polygamy was introduced, because she doesn't always play the role of demure, supportive wife. She REALLY struggled with Joseph's polygamy, and they show it really well here. You feel for her. I am so glad to see her character, and her centrality in the restoration, portrayed so well.

    We were kind of jerks in Missouri

    The only two things a lot of Mormons know about Missouri is that we're supposed to build a temple there some day, and Governor Boggs is a horrible bigot who issued the extermination order. This is true. But you find out that there was bad blood on both sides. Mormons often didn't play good neighbors. Remember when the saints got kicked out of Jackson County? That really got rolling right after William Phelps published an inflammatory speech by Sidney Rigdon saying, "If you fight with us, we'll fight back. We're willing to shed blood to protect our rights." Perhaps that's an OK sentiment. But it isn't going to calm things. When some neighboring Missourians burned down the house of a saint, the Mormons retaliated by burning down an entire village. The Saints had a secret group called the Danites who swore to fight off the enemies of the Church with violence. Perhaps we often didn't take the first punch. But we certainly were willing to play 19th century identity politics, take things personally, and get our hands dirty.

    While a lot of it isn't new persay, this is the first time I feel like I have a complete picture of the Restoration complete in my head. I've read specialty books on Mormon history, like Joseph Smith's use of seer stones, or the revelations surrounding polygamy, but this is the first time I feel comfortable with the overarching narrative of not only the life of Joseph Smith, but the lives of everyday saints as well. And it feels so good-- to not feel like I have to be ashamed of inconvenient truths surrounding Joseph Smith. You don't have to feel like some hater out there is going to spring a truth on you that could potentially crash your testimony. I hope this builds self- confidence in Mormons (my bad, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), and I hope it starts of spark to help us re-appreciate the Restoration.

  • Samcwright

    Over the last decade, hundreds of new books have been written that shed new light on polygamy, the priesthood ban, the nature of translation and revelation, the participation of women, the development of the priesthood, and many other topics in the development of The Church of Jesus Christ. While not an in-depth analysis on any one of those topics (since that’s not the intent of the book), Saints does an incredible job of honestly presenting and summarizing information on the entire restoration

    Over the last decade, hundreds of new books have been written that shed new light on polygamy, the priesthood ban, the nature of translation and revelation, the participation of women, the development of the priesthood, and many other topics in the development of The Church of Jesus Christ. While not an in-depth analysis on any one of those topics (since that’s not the intent of the book), Saints does an incredible job of honestly presenting and summarizing information on the entire restoration (including controversial topics) so that readers who study further on individual topics should not feel that the Church withheld something. Readers can disagree on the interpretation of the facts presented in the book (and there is less interpretation going on than critics may suggest), but all the facts are there.

  • Derek Pando

    Most engaging LDS church history book I've read, does not skirt the more controversial parts of the history, while being still faith building.

  • Cary

    I usually give books with a cliffhanger one less star... so there you have it! Ha ha ... I understand there are to be 4 volumes. I happened to get an advanced copy of volume 1 in pdf form. I really enjoyed this narrative history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There was lots of material that I had never heard before and I hadn’t considered myself completely ignorant of Church history. The narrative was well done and had me feeling the poignant emotional road of the founder, p

    I usually give books with a cliffhanger one less star... so there you have it! Ha ha ... I understand there are to be 4 volumes. I happened to get an advanced copy of volume 1 in pdf form. I really enjoyed this narrative history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There was lots of material that I had never heard before and I hadn’t considered myself completely ignorant of Church history. The narrative was well done and had me feeling the poignant emotional road of the founder, prophet and leader of the church, Joseph Smith and others involved in the restoration. It was not a quick read for me as I had to stop sometimes to withdraw from the immersive setting I was drawn into. On another note, this was well edited and the history moved along at a good pace.

  • Devan Jensen

    Review of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2018. 699 pp., $5.75 print, $1.99 digital.

    Short version: The book is very readable, with stories and accurate dialogue to share deep emotions felt during intense times of crisis. The book includes valuable female perspectives (both old and young). It is intimate, referring to Joseph and Emma Smith by first name.

    Review of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2018. 699 pp., $5.75 print, $1.99 digital.

    Short version: The book is very readable, with stories and accurate dialogue to share deep emotions felt during intense times of crisis. The book includes valuable female perspectives (both old and young). It is intimate, referring to Joseph and Emma Smith by first name. The writers weave together moving individual stories supported by solid historical sources. It relies on excellent source material from The Joseph Smith Papers, the Religious Studies Center, and many others. Readers can enhance their experience with new Church History Topics essays:

    .

    Long version: As the first book in the Saints series, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 starts with a bang! A volcano in far-off Indonesia spews tons of ash into the air, causing dry weather patterns in Vermont and leading the Smith family to try farming in upstate New York. Joseph joins the local treasure hunters seeking for Spanish gold, a search he soon abandons. The book then races through uplifting and discouraging scenes of church history. Scott Hales, the book’s literary editor, described the book’s goals: “It’s designed to be a history for people who don’t like history. It’s meant to be very inviting, very engaging, very approachable. Some people hear the word ‘history’ and clam up or tune out. They think about boring high school history classes or history lectures. That’s not the reaction we want from our readers. We want people to read this book! We have written it in a way that will appeal to people from ages 12 to 112. We have been very deliberate in how we present the material so that it is accessible to a wide variety of people from all ages, all educational backgrounds, and all reading levels” (as quoted in “Getting to Know Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days,” Religious Educator 19, no. 2 [2018]: 175).

    Steven C. Harper, the book’s historical editor, tells how the project started: “[It] began as an investigation into the feasibility of updating the Comprehensive History. In 2008 the Church Historian, who was then Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, made a proposal to the First Presidency to update it. The First Presidency authorized the Church History Department to come up with a plan to do it. A committee was called together and proposed the four-volume plan. . . . Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy has served as the Church Historian since 2012. He made Saints a high priority” (as quoted in “Getting to Know Saints,” 174).

    Volume 1 deals transparently with complex issues such as the following:

    • Joseph’s multiple accounts of the First Vision

    • Nineteenth-century folk religion and seer stones

    • Joseph’s 1826 arrest and trial for being a “disorderly person”

    • Translation of the Book of Mormon and testimonies of many witnesses, including Mary Whitmer

    • Restoration of priesthood authority and sealing keys

    • Dedication of the Kirtland Temple

    • The Book of Abraham

    • Complex feelings after the Kirtland Safety Society failed

    • Persecution of members in Missouri and vigilante actions by Danites

    • Plural marriage, including Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger and sealings to other women

    • Destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor

    • The Council of Fifty and its plans to move church members to the West

    A few minor things to quibble about: Because it is written straightforwardly to a believing audience, it might be viewed as nonrigorous history. For example, the term "Urim and Thummim" appears instead of "Nephite interpreters," which might confuse some folks. Revelations are recorded very tidily as the Lord dictated them rather than through a complex process of revision and adjustment as Joseph tried to capture the essence of revelatory thought, as described in The Joseph Smith Papers.

    I look forward to future volumes, as Scott Hales described below: “The second volume depicts the challenges of gathering the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley and the Intermountain West. It ends in 1893 with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. Volume 3 shows the Church entering the twentieth century and branching out beyond the Mormon corridor. It concludes in 1955 with the dedication of the Swiss Temple, the first temple dedicated in Europe. Finally, volume 4 is about the global Church. By the end of that volume, temples dot the earth and sacred ordinances are available to all worthy Saints” (as quoted in “Getting to Know Saints,” 173).

  • Michael

    I have several friends who have left the Church after learning about aspects of the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith, or the history of the Church that disturbed them. This book feels like an attempt to address those issues, and to be up front about them so that people aren’t blindsided by them later, or given the impression that the Church is trying to hide something.

    Being a narrative history it was a quick and easy read, and I can see why it was done this way to make the information more avail

    I have several friends who have left the Church after learning about aspects of the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith, or the history of the Church that disturbed them. This book feels like an attempt to address those issues, and to be up front about them so that people aren’t blindsided by them later, or given the impression that the Church is trying to hide something.

    Being a narrative history it was a quick and easy read, and I can see why it was done this way to make the information more available to the widest possible audience. My preference for history that is important to me though is a more documentary style that dives in to the facts and details, and allows me to construct my own narrative.

    If you have a good understanding of Church history this probably adds little (there were one or two stories of lesser known figures from Church history that I hadn’t previously heard that I did enjoy). If you don’t know much about Church history, I would say this is an excellent starting point. If there are aspects of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s life that disturb you because of his being subject to the frailties of human nature, this book will likely acknowledge those aspects and touch on them, but will do little to assuage those concerns.

    If you really want to know if Joseph Smith was a Prophet I would recommend that you follow the Savior’s council as found in Matthew chapter 7:

    16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

    17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

    18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

    19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

    20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

    You cannot know the fruits of Joseph’s works without reading the Book of Mormon, and deciding whether or not it is what he claims it was through study and prayer.

    My conclusion is that in answer to young Joseph’s prayer, that God the Father and Jesus Christ did in reality appear to him in that grove of trees. And that through the gift and power of God, Joseph was able to translate the Book of Mormon, and restore the Lord’s church to the earth.

  • Cory Howell

    Reading as someone who is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I found this book to be a very detailed account of the early years of the Latter-day Saints movement. As an official Church publication, I suppose one could make the argument that the book is biased in favor of the traditional narrative, but I don't think that really impacts negatively on the book's value as a historical work. There's a lot of fascinating history here, and it's told well, and extensively f

    Reading as someone who is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I found this book to be a very detailed account of the early years of the Latter-day Saints movement. As an official Church publication, I suppose one could make the argument that the book is biased in favor of the traditional narrative, but I don't think that really impacts negatively on the book's value as a historical work. There's a lot of fascinating history here, and it's told well, and extensively footnoted. Well worth reading...

  • Magila

    4.5

    I will admit to being very excited about this book when I first heard about it from an editor around a year ago. The editor is a very well-known and respected Latter-day Saint fiction author. When she described the scope and effort going into this book (series), I thought, awesome.

    Saints should be read by every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like Jesus the Christ. Given the dense previous records of church history and how it stops before the global expansion, this

    4.5

    I will admit to being very excited about this book when I first heard about it from an editor around a year ago. The editor is a very well-known and respected Latter-day Saint fiction author. When she described the scope and effort going into this book (series), I thought, awesome.

    Saints should be read by every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like Jesus the Christ. Given the dense previous records of church history and how it stops before the global expansion, this is a book that fits on any shelf. For a more complete biography of Joseph Smith, of course

    would be preferable. For a more academic, but equally enjoyable, historical account leading through Mitt Romney's presidential run, I'd recommend

    .

    This all said, as a work unto itself, and considering the effort the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put into this book, everyone involved deserves a round of applause. Ten, fifteen years ago, I remember sitting in a friend's home and discussing how essential it was for more people to become acquainted with the history of the church, including the more discomforting elements, that have driven some to lose faith or trust in it as an institution. This book is that and more.

    Undoubtedly there will be complaints about the relatively short treatment that the Book of Abraham and other aspects of church history receive, but it couldn't be 10,000 pages after all. Book of Mormon translation, Plural Marriage (including the earliest aspects of it), The Kirtland Safety Society, early Apostleship in the latter-days, Joseph's martyrdom, Black Saints, it all did more than just dot the book, there were fair treatments. I feel the matters were addressed with respect to the time, for example, the Kirtland Safety Society and Polygamy were major issues that caused schisms in the early church and the writers/editors tackled these issues. It was very well done.

    My favorite part of the book is coming to a better understanding of the individuals, the names and the backgrounds behind some of the stories people frequently hear. Through the meticulous research that has gone into it, this book becomes something that puts to bed and offers clarity regarding many Mormon myths and historic folklore. As a book published by the church, of course it will take on a "faith promoting" angle, but the reality is that the history is being drawn from countless journals and available historic materials and it is a history.

    I'm not sure how other religious institutions would handle themselves if they derived from the modern era and were so heavily scrutinized. This book contains a bit of self-reflection, but mostly history and what truth is available. Some questions simply cannot be answered, but the thoughtful narrative, focus on storytelling, and precision in recounting the foundation of the church is sure to inform and edify. I look forward to future volumes as they are made available.

    Disclaimer: I listened to the book. The reader was not distracting, but neither were they engaging. Listening is a viable way of tackling the book.

  • Brad Hart

    I just finished reading volume 1 of the church's new book "Saints." I know Mormon history has been a hot topic for many Latter-day Saints, so naturally this book has appeal. Let me first start off with...

    THE GOOD:

    -This book is, in my opinion, the very best general audience history that the church has ever published. It is far better than earlier works like "Our Heritage," "Marvelous Work and a Wonder," etc.

    -The book is incredibly reader friendly and flows beautifully. I give high marks to whome

    I just finished reading volume 1 of the church's new book "Saints." I know Mormon history has been a hot topic for many Latter-day Saints, so naturally this book has appeal. Let me first start off with...

    THE GOOD:

    -This book is, in my opinion, the very best general audience history that the church has ever published. It is far better than earlier works like "Our Heritage," "Marvelous Work and a Wonder," etc.

    -The book is incredibly reader friendly and flows beautifully. I give high marks to whomever is responsible for the prose of this book. Very easy, very enjoyable. I can easily foresee the day this book becomes the new manual for Priesthood and Relief Society.

    -There is an effort to include more of the blemishes and warts from our past in this book. Joseph Smith is portrayed as a good man but not elevated to Herculean status. The church is portrayed as a living, evolving entity as opposed to absolute perfection right out of the gate.

    Having said all that, there still is some...

    NOT SO GOOD:

    -The book, thought a big upgrade, still omits a tremendous amount of problematic history. Only a few of Joseph's polygamous wives are mentioned and the controversial ones (with the exception of Fanny Alger, who is only glossed over) are completely absent from the story. The Three Witnesses narrative is the same as it has always been (which is a huge problem) there is little to no mention of the role Freemasonry in early Mormonism, and the historicity of the Book of Abraham/Mormon are not mentioned at all. They do mention Joseph Smith using seer stones in his hat and other similar little tidbits of troubling history, but if anyone was hoping this book would be the new narrative that historians like Richard Bushman have been asking for you will be disappointed.

    -The book feels like watered down Truman Madsen, meets the LDS Church essays, meets "The Work and the Glory." You can see the internal struggle of the authors to be honest while still creating a narrative in which Mormonism emerges victorious and virtuous at every turn.

    -This book is NOT a critical or comprehensive history! I cannot emphasize this enough. If you were looking for that you will be disappointed. The book is a very general, very generic INTRODUCTORY history. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but if you were wanting more you will not find it here.

    Overall I think the book is a plus. It will add to, not subtract from, the ongoing communal conversation that is Mormon history. I salute the church for trying to be a little more open and honest. Though the book does fall short in many respects, I see more good than bad. Just remember one thing if you choose to read it: the book is NOT a comprehensive work. Don't look to this source to answer some of the major doubts so many struggle with today. It won't have many of those answers. Having said that, the book is still, in my opinion, of value.

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