Appendix 5: Blessings, September and October 1835, Introduction
In November and December 1833, JS pronounced blessings on , , , and some of his own family members. In September and October 1835, the blessings to and , , , , , Cowdery, Williams, and Rigdon were recorded in Patriarchal Blessing Book 1 with extensive modifications. Because JS’s role in producing the altered 1835 texts is unclear, they are presented as an appendix rather than being included in the body of the volume itself.
The manner in which JS originally gave these blessings is likewise unclear. It is likely he dictated the blessings, though each individual recipient may not have been present, after which and recorded them in JS’s journal in 1833. Cowdery wrote that the blessings, as recorded in the patriarchal blessing book, contained “the words which fell from his [JS’s] lips while the visions of the Almighty were open to his view.”
In September 1835, soon after being appointed church recorder, made the first entries in ’s patriarchal blessing book. Among those initial entries, Cowdery re-recorded JS’s 1833 blessings in the patriarchal blessing book. This copying work occurred over several days in September and early October 1835. At the time Cowdery recorded these blessings, he noted that they “were given by vision and the spirit of prophecy, on the 18th of December, 1833, and written by my own hand at the time.” Cowdery made an error and conflated the date of the earlier blessings with his own blessing from JS, which he received on 18 December 1833. and actually received their blessings in mid-November 1833; Cowdery had assisted in writing the blessings into JS’s journal. is not named in blessings recorded in the November or December 1833 journal entries, but a few sentences concerning the Smith family in the 1833 blessings are included in the text of his 1835 patriarchal blessing.
Comparing the blessings as recorded by in 1835 in Patriarchal Blessing Book 1 with the 1833 versions in JS’s journal shows that most sections of the 1835 texts are expansions of and alterations to the earlier blessing texts, while other passages correspond word for word. For example, over eighty percent of the text of JS’s blessing for his and is not found in the earlier journal version. Nearly ninety percent of the text of JS’s blessing to is new or different from the earlier journal version, and an even greater portion of the blessing to Oliver Cowdery is new or altered. In the 1835 patriarchal blessing book, the texts of JS’s blessings to and contain, respectively, sixty-six and seventy-nine percent new or different words from the journal versions. Each of the blessings includes several long passages that are the same in both versions, and those portions of the patriarchal blessing book texts seem to derive from the words of the blessings found in the journal. Some passages found in the journal are missing from the patriarchal blessing book, particularly in the Rigdon, Williams, and Cowdery blessings.
It is not clear when or by what means the blessings were expanded and altered. With only the journal text and no loose blessing texts extant, it is not possible to trace the origin of the additional or edited words that appear in the 1835 blessing texts. It is not clear if JS participated in the process of expanding or editing the text of the re-recorded 1833 blessings or if the project was ’s alone. It is conceivable that after dictating the blessings in November and December 1833, JS at some point either dictated or wrote the expansions himself, but there is no evidence that he did.
The only evidence of JS working with on blessings in September and October 1835 is for 22 September 1835, not in October when Cowdery inscribed these blessings into the patriarchal blessing book. On that September day JS pronounced blessings upon church leaders David Whitmer, John Whitmer, John Corrill, and William W. Phelps. Cowdery began a new JS journal on that day by writing, “This day Joseph Smith, jr. labored with Oliver Cowdery, in obtaining and writing blessings.” To this JS added in his own hand, “This day Joseph Smith, Jr. was at home writing blessings for my most beloved Brotheren.” These entries provide the only extant evidence that JS was involved in giving, obtaining, or recording blessings of any kind in this period, and they likely refer not to work on 1833 blessings but to the process of JS and Cowdery preparing written blessings given orally at various times throughout that day to the four Missouri leaders. In the absence of a trained stenographer who could write the blessings as they were spoken, such oral blessings were apparently filled in after the fact based on incomplete notes and memory. In an 1835 letter to his wife, Lydia Clisbee Partridge, about the recording of his own recent patriarchal blessing from , noted that the blessing was “not delivered and written sentence by sentence” but that Smith “delivered them as fast as he naturaly speaks.” In the meantime, Partridge continued, “the heads were sketched down and they had to be filled out from memory.” It is likely that on 22 September 1835, JS and Cowdery were similarly inscribing on loose sheets of paper the details of blessings that JS had delivered orally earlier that day. Cowdery then took those loose pages and recorded the blessings in the patriarchal blessing book on 2 and 3 October 1835.
Though it is possible that JS worked with on the changes or instructed him to expand the blessings on his own, it seems more likely that Cowdery made the expansions without direction from JS. This would not have been the only occasion he did so: there is evidence that Cowdery altered at least one other blessing text—his own—when he recorded it in the volume. Because Cowdery was acting in his role as church recorder when he recorded the blessings, he may have felt authorized to “improve” the texts on occasion. However, Cowdery stated that the blessings as recorded in the patriarchal blessing book were “correct and according to the mind of the Lord,” suggesting that he believed he was operating within his calling and that his work met the expectations of JS and of heaven. This seems to be what he meant when he said that the words he recorded came from “the mouth of the Seer,” rather than meaning that every word he wrote was congruent with the words JS spoke in 1833.
As presented here, the blessings are dated according to when inscribed them rather than when they were originally given. Some of the material in the expansions seems to originate from 1835 sources. and ’s blessing, for example, contains an explanation of Jesus Christ appearing to Adam and his sons in “the valley of Adam-ondi-ahman”—text that first appears in writing in the Instruction on Priesthood prepared sometime in late winter or spring 1835. The inclusion of such material in the blessings may indicate that JS, Cowdery, and others considered the blessings subject to revision as they gained new understanding of church doctrine. JS and other church leaders believed that revelation texts could change based on new understanding, so it is possible that blessings were regarded in a similar way.
In summary, there is no direct evidence that JS was involved in expanding and editing the 1833 blessings in September or October of 1835, and there are reasons to think he was not—but there remains a possibility that he, with , authored the alterations to those blessings around the same time he bestowed blessings on and , , and on 22 September 1835. The 1833 text of the blessings is reproduced in the first volume of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers, and the expanded 1835 texts are reproduced here. Gray shading in the blessings indicates the parts that are the same in both versions, and footnotes provide text found in the journal version that is either missing or modified here. Because JS’s role in the expansions is not clear, the blessings as recorded in Patriarchal Blessing Book 1 are included in the appendix rather than as featured texts.
For example, when copying his own blessing, which was also given in December 1833, Cowdery omitted references to “two evils” that he was admonished to forsake. The omitted text appears in JS’s journal under the 18 December 1833 entry. (JS to Oliver Cowdery, Blessing, [18 Dec. 1833], in Patriarchal Blessings, 1:12–13; JS, Journal, 18 Dec. 1833.)
Beyond the fact that Cowdery was the recorder and the blessing book was his responsibility, the fact that he charged Hyrum, Samuel, and William Smith money for recording their blessings underscores the official nature of his actions. The amount Cowdery charged was based on the number of words in the blessing. He routinely charged individuals ten cents per one hundred words. (Cowdery and Cowdery, Financial Account Books, 2–3.)
Cowdery, Warren A., and Oliver Cowdery. Financial Account Books, 1835–1836. CHL.