I have added to the Do-It-Yourself Scriptures page the text files for the Doctrine and Covenants. If you’d like to see one finished example of a customized D&C, see my version: The Doctrine and Covenants: Structured Edition, which you can download for free, or purchase the print copy of the book. Also, you can download a small collection of handouts giving an overview of the D&C, which includes a timeline of when the revelations were received, a list of suggested titles for each section, and a checklist for reading the D&C in chronological order, in harmony with Joseph Smith—History and the Articles of Faith.
In this post, I want to discuss some of the interesting aspects that are unique to the Doctrine and Covenants, as well as how those aspects might affect the way a person would redesign the book.
Perhaps the most unique and challenging feature is that the D&C has no overarching narrative; there is no storyline that links one section to another. The result (at least for me) is that, unless readers are familiar with Church history, it can be very disorienting to read it because it is filled with allusions to people, places, and events without introducing them or explaining more about them.
When I tried redesigning the Doctrine and Covenants, this fact led me to consider adding historical interludes between each section, explaining the most basic, bare-bones information that a reader would need to at least understand what was happening between each section. I ended up not doing it because (1) I don’t know enough currently to do a satisfactory job of it, and (2) it would take too long, and I want to have a version of this done sooner than later. However, if you would be interested in doing this, I have a few books to recommend:
- Steven Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants.
- Lyndon W. Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith
- Robert J. Woodford, Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants
(Interestingly, a friend told me that he had reservations about adding a storyline because it appears that Joseph Smith was planning on doing this very thing—creating a narrative framework for his revelations. Apparently the seven-volume History of the Church may have been a first rough draft, but he never finished it. My friend felt it would be far more interesting to see a prophet’s version of an overarching narrative.)
Whereas the other standard works are subdivided into books with titles (e.g., Exodus, Luke, Mosiah, Abraham), the Doctrine and Covenants has no subdivision beyond section numbers (well, I guess you could say there are sections and then official declarations). Without book titles, we are left with only numbers to refer to different passages. It’s hard to remember the content of and differences between “section 76” and “section 93.” Contrast this with, say, the New Testament, where we can talk about Paul’s “letter to the Corinthians” versus his “letter to the Ephesians.” Since the Doctrine and Covenants sections have no titles, it can be harder to remember what they are about, who they are addressed to, and what events led to the revelation being received.
When I tried redesigning the Doctrine and Covenants, I tried creating a unique title for each section—one that would make it memorable and allude to some fundamental idea in the section, such as its audience or subject. I considered a list of names that was proposed (I believe) by an Institute teacher at some point in time and which often floats around the internet (for example, see here). I also looked at a proposed naming system inspired by the Quran (see Dane Laverty’s post here), as well as the titles created by Ben Crowder for his edition (see here). I usually came up with my own section title based on different priorities, but I found it useful to use these other people’s work to generate ideas. It actually became quite a fun exercise, and I think that everyone should try coming up with their own titles. My list of titles is still fluctuating, but you can see the current list by downloading my D&C overview handouts. I’ll get around to dedicating a whole post to my section titles some day.
Another idiosyncrasy of the Doctrine and Covenants is that, while its sections are in mostly chronological order, there are a few exceptions (in part because of its publication and expansion history). Based on the Chronological Order of Contents, there are seven sections that are not printed in correct order, based upon the date they were received (sections 1, 10, 133, 99, 134, 137, and OD–1). This naturally raises the question of whether a redesign would include rearranging the sections in chronological order (Ben Crowder decided to do just that in his version).
When I tried redesigning the Doctrine and Covenants, I originally planned to place them in chronological order as well. However, after getting familiar with some of the latest research (i.e., The Joseph Smith Papers project), I found an article by one Robert J. Woodford and discovered that many of the dates in the current LDS edition have now been revised based on new historical research. This complicated things a bit; the number of sections that would have to be rearranged jumped from seven to more than twenty, a prohibitively large portion which would make the book very difficult to navigate. In the end, I decided on a compromise: I would leave the sections in numerical order, but put little icons off to the side at the end of some sections, telling the reader to jump to section x if they wanted to read in chronological order. The only exception was section 133, which I placed at the very end because it is specifically identified as an appendix to the Doctrine and Covenants—the Lord’s intended way of summarizing the main take-away message of the entire collection of revelations.
Jumping around according to chronological order might sound confusing at first, but it can be a fun way to read the Doctrine and Covenants. It definitely helps you remember the historical context in some places. If you want a concise list of how to read the whole book in historical sequence, download my chronological reading checklist.
One purpose of posting these thoughts is to generate discussion about redesigning the scriptures, and to give readers a place to discuss their thoughts and preferences about this exercise. Please share your thoughts: What other considerations come into play when redesigning this particular standard work, the Doctrine and Covenants? How would you address the issues I’ve mentioned in your own version?