The LDS Church obtained the Book of Mormon printer’s manuscript from the Community of Christ for $35 million using funds provided by generous donors, according to Deseret News. BYU-Hawaii faculty share the significance of the manuscript to LDS members.
Daniel Sharp, an assistant professor of religion, described the manuscript is one of the most important books in the world and “a pearl of great price.” He said, “It is amazing to own the second copy of one of the most important books in the history of the world. Do you realize that, when it comes to the Bible, there are no copies from within two centuries of when it was written?
“There is no copy of the original Bible. There are no copies of those copies. There are no witnesses to the text of the Bible until generations after the original authors are dead. Biblical scholars would pay any amount of money to have a copy of the original text of the Bible.”
Tad Walch, author of the Deseret News article, reports, “As for the printer's manuscript, Oliver Cowdery, who wrote it out by hand, gave it to David Whitmer shortly before his death in 1850. Whitmer guarded the manuscript until his grandson, George Schweich, sold it to the Community of Christ in 1903.”
Formerly called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ is headquartered in Independence, Missouri and has owned the manuscript since 1903 when it had bought it for $2,500, according to a news release from the organization’s website.
The release reports the Community of Christ’s Presiding Bishopric evaluated what the artifact’s market would pay and worked with potential buyers in the last several months.
The purchase is the highest ever recorded sale of a manuscript, the report says. It listed Bill Gates’ purchase of the Leonardo da Vinci Codex Leicester in 1994 for just under $31 million as a comparison. The manuscript is only missing three lines of text.
Sharp added, “In my own understanding, the printer's manuscript is complete.”
Kathy Kittelson, a senior missionary from Arizona, said she was thrilled about the purchase because the money used was all donated. “It’s a huge blessing, and it’s wonderful that the church had the opportunity to buy the manuscript.
“I think it’s important for the church to put the original manuscript in the archives. It would be very interesting to see it, but it’s not something I have to see to strengthen my testimony. I have a sure testimony with or without the printed manuscript,” Kittelson concluded.
Sharp said the printer's manuscript was given to the church as a gift from the donors. He said, “Who would not accept a gift? The church has the resources and facilities to preserve this priceless artifact. They have an obligation to do it.”
When asked about aspects of the manuscript used in his classes, Sharp said he uses it all of the time when he teaches the Book of Mormon. He said, “There have been several changes in the Book of Mormon over the years, and finding out what the printer's manuscript had written is an important tool to uncovering when, where, and why those changes have been made.
According to the Mormon Newsroom press release, “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.”
The Community of Christ statement says its church leaders know that letting go of the manuscript will cause some members sadness and grief: “We feel sad, too. 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.”
Plans are currently underway to display the manuscript to the public at the Church History Library in the coming months, says the Mormon Newsroom statement. According to the Community of Christ press release, the manuscript is now housed in the LDS Church’s international headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The manuscript can be viewed online for free at the Joseph Smith Papers website.