Salt Lake City -- The writings and documents known as the McLellin collection had once been considered nothing more than Mormon mythology, a rumored set of papers from an influential 19th-century church apostle who was close to founder Joseph Smith but fell away.
The papers of William E. McLellin, however, are real -- and for the first time are now available to the public.
His letters, sermonlike essays and journals are being published in a 570-page book that was recently released by Signature Books, a Salt Lake City company that specializes in Mormon history.
"It provides the opportunity for a snapshot into early LDS history," said Stan Larson, an editor of the book and curator of manuscripts at the University of Utah's Marriott Library.
McLellin's writings have sparked enormous curiosity among church historians. Mormons wondered whether they would be critical of Smith's leadership and what the religion teaches. McLellin left the church in 1836 and was excommunicated in 1838.
McLellin joined the church in 1831, just after its creation, and quickly became an original member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, the second-most-powerful group of Mormon men.
McLellin's struggle was with Smith and a changing church, not Mormon theology, according to book co-editor Sam Passey, director of the Uintah County Library and Regional History Center in Vernal, Utah.
"He bought onto Mormonism as it was preached by Joseph Smith in the early 1830s, and as it changed he really didn't," Passey said.
Letters between McLellin and his John Traughber reveal a Mormon story far different from the one believed today.
McLellin said he never heard Smith tell of what is now known as his "first vision," the visit by God and Jesus Christ to a young, prayerful Smith in a grove of trees that led to the church's founding in New York state.
McLellin said he also wasn't aware of the angel Moroni, who led Smith to buried gold plates that became the church's foundational text, the Book of Mormon, or the story that John the Baptist had appeared to Smith.
McLellin's claims raise questions about whether Smith was padding the Mormon story as time passed, or whether McLellin was so embittered that he was trying to undermine the church.