Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Chapter 1

Response to claims made in "Chapter 1: Vagabond Visionaries"


A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods
A work by author: Richard Abanes
Claim Evaluation
One Nation Under Gods
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Response to claim: 6 - Did "most" of Joseph Smith's contemporaries consider him "a charlatan from a family of illiterate wanderers"?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Did "most" of Joseph Smith's contemporaries consider him "a charlatan from a family of illiterate wanderers; a shiftless trouble-maker—albeit a charismatic and imaginative one—with a penchant for superstitions, storytelling, and decision-making based on the occult traditions of nineteenth century rural folk magic?"

Author's sources: Nathaniel Lewis cited in *Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 267. (Affidavits examined)

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author is taking statements that were published in an anti-Mormon book in 1834, four years after the publication of the Book of Mormon and 14 years after the First Vision, and accepting them as if they were proven fact. The reality is that there were many who attested to Joseph Smith's good character during his youth.

Question: What are the Hurlbut affidavits?

The Hurlbut affidavits are a collection of affidavits from Joseph Smith’s neighbors which claim that the Smith family possessed a number of character flaws

Many critics cite a collection of affidavits from Joseph Smith’s neighbors which claim that the Smith family possessed a number of character flaws. These affidavits were collected by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut ("Doctor" was his first name, not a title). [1] Hurlbut had been excommunicated from the Church on charges of "unvirtuous conduct with a young lady," [2] and for threatening the life of the Prophet.

  1. There are many statements from Joseph's contemporaries attesting to his good character—These people did not sign sworn affidavits, but their accounts are recorded in their journals and histories.
  2. It is also important to note that none of these statements regarding Joseph Smith, Jr. was a firsthand account from the Prophet himself, but instead represent second or third-hand accounts. It is interesting that Fawn Brodie and other modern anti-Mormons readily dismiss the affidavits supporting the Spalding theory (which has since been discredited), suggesting the Hurlbut "prompted" those making statements, yet accepts without question the affidavits attesting to the bad character of Joseph Smith and his family.
  3. Finally, Hurlbut's motive in collecting the affidavits is a factor. The Hurlbut affidavits were collected by a man who not only had a grudge to settle with the Church, but who had actually been brought before a judge for issuing a death threat against Joseph Smith, Jr. His family had likewise lost a court case brought by the Smiths, and young Joseph's testimony played a significant role in their victory. (This occurred despite the Hurlbuts being more wealthy and prominent in the community than the poverty-stricken Smiths.)

Hurlbut had been hostile to the Smith family long before he collected his affidavits

Hurlbut's hostility to the Smiths may have been of long date. In 1819, the Smiths sued a local family of Hurlbuts over the sale of a pair of horses and some work they had done for him. (Aside from the name, it is not known if there was a family connection.) One author explains:

Joseph Smith's introduction to the legal system came at an early age. His father and oldest brother, Alvin, initiated a lawsuit in January 1819 against Jeremiah Hurlbut arising from his sale of a pair of horses to the Smiths for $65. The Smith boys had been working for Hurlbut to both pay down the $65 obligation and for other goods the previous summer. Twelve witnesses were called during the trial, including Hyrum and Joseph Smith Jr. Under New York law, being just thirteen, Joseph's testimony about the work he had performed was admissible only after the court found him competent. His testimony proved credible and the court record indicates that ever item that he testified about was included in the damages awarded to the Smiths. Although Hurlbut appealed the case, no records have survived noting the final disposition of that case; perhaps it was settled out of court. The significance of this case is not limited to the fact that a New York judge found the young Joseph, just a year prior to his First Vision, to be competent and credible as a witness. Also, the suit being brought against a prominent Palmyra family and involving two other prominent community leaders as sureties on appeal may have contributed to Joseph Smith Jr.'s memory of his family's estrangement from much of the Palmyra community....

Under applicable New York law, "qualified citizens" [for jury duty] were limited to male inhabitants of the county where the trial was being held between the ages of twenty-one and sixty; and who at the time had personal property in the amount of not less that $250 or real property in the county with a value of not less than $250. In the rural community of Palmyra this effectively meant that those qualified to be on the jury would be the more affluent and prominent men of the area. Ironically, none of the Smiths would have qualified to be a juror.

The trial was held on February 6, 1819. Twelve jurors were impaneled, all men and property owners. The Smiths called five witnesses, Hurlbut [the farmer they were suing] seven. Both Joseph Jr. and Hyrum were called to testify. This appears to be young Joseph's first direct interaction with the judicial [130] process. He had turned thirteen years old a month and a half previously. New York law and local practice permitted the use of child testimony, subject to the court's discretion to determine the witness' competency. The test for competency required a determination that the witness was of 'sound mind and memory.' A New York 1803 summary of the law for justices of the peace notes that 'all persons of sound mind and memory, and who have arrived at years of discretion, except such as are legally interested, or have been rendered infamous, may be improved as witnesses.' This determination of competency rested within the discretion of the judge....

From the record it appears that Judge Spear found Joseph Jr. competent, and he indeed did testify during the trial. This is evident in a review of the List of Services that was part of the court file. Joseph Jr.'s testimony would have been required to admit those services he personally performed....[3]

Hurlbut's collection of the statements was made at the request of an anti-Mormon committee in Kirtland, Ohio

At any rate, Hurlbut's later collection of statements was made at the request of an anti-Mormon committee in Kirtland, Ohio. [4] According to B.H. Roberts:

It was simply a matter of "muck raking" on Hurlbut's part. Every idle story, every dark insinuation which at that time could be thought of and unearthed was pressed into service to gratify this man's personal desire for revenge, and to aid the enemies of the Prophet in their attempt to destroy his influence and overthrow the institution then in process of such remarkable development. [5]

Hurlbut was unable to publish the affidavits himself after his trial for making death threats against Joseph Smith, so he sold them to E.D. Howe for publication in his book Mormonism Unvailed

Hurlbut was unable to publish the affidavits himself after his trial for making death threats against Joseph Smith, Jr. (And, it is possible that his family's animus dated back far longer.) He sold his material to Eber D. Howe, who published it in his anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed in 1834. In addition to the affidavits attacking the character of the Smith family, Hurlbut gathered statements from the family and neighbors of Solomon Spalding in order to "prove" that Spalding's unpublished manuscript was the source for the Book of Mormon. Mormonism Unvailed contained the first presentation of the Spalding theory of Book of Mormon origin. Some critics, such as Fawn Brodie, are selective in their acceptance of Hurlbut's affidavits—They readily accept affidavits that attack the character of the Smith family, yet admit that some "judicious prompting" by Hurlbut may have been involved in those affidavits that were gathered to support the Spalding theory. [6]

E.D. Howe thought that Joseph was "lazy," "indolent" and "superstitious"

Howe's bias is evident throughout the book. He introduces the Smith family with the following:

All who became intimate with them during this period, unite in representing the general character of old Joseph and wife, the parents of the pretended Prophet, as lazy, indolent, ignorant and superstitious—having a firm belief in ghosts and witches; the telling of fortunes; pretending to believe that the earth was filled with hidden treasures, buried there by Kid or the Spaniards. [7]


Response to claim: 9-11 - The Smith family eventually gave up on any sort of "legitimate" employment to become lazy money-diggers

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: 9-11 - The Smith family eventually gave up on any sort of "legitimate" employment to become lazy money-diggers.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

There is plenty of evidence that Joseph was not lazy. Nor did the Smith family consider "money digging" their employment.

Question: Was Joseph Smith's family lazy, shiftless and seeking to make a living without performing any labor?

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors

It is claimed by some that Joseph Smith and his family were lazy, shiftless, and sought to make a living without labor. The claims of a "lazy" Smith family come largely from the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits, published in Mormonism Unvailed, the first anti-Mormon book.

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors. The attacks on their industry date from after they had become notorious for the Book of Mormon and the Church, and probably spring from religious hostility more than truth.

"The Smiths' farming techniques, it seems, were virtually a textbook illustration of the best recommendations of the day"

Were the Smiths truly lazy? Some research sought to address this question,[8] and Daniel C. Peterson summarized the results:

Working from land and tax records, farm account books and related correspondence, soil surveys, horticultural studies, surveys of historic buildings, archaeological reports, and interviews with agricultural historians and other specialists—sources not generally used by scholars of Mormon origins—Enders concludes that, on questions of testable fact, the affidavits cannot be trusted.

The Smiths' farming techniques, it seems, were virtually a textbook illustration of the best recommendations of the day, showing them to have been, by contemporary standards, intelligent, skilled, and responsible people. And they were very hard working. To create their farm, for instance, the Smiths moved many tons of rock and cut down about six thousand trees, a large percentage of which were one hundred feet or more in height and from four to six feet in diameter. Then they fenced their property, which required cutting at least six or seven thousand ten-foot rails. They did an enormous amount of work before they were able even to begin actual daily farming.

Furthermore, in order to pay for their farm, the Smiths were obliged to hire themselves out as day laborers. Throughout the surrounding area, they dug and rocked up wells and cisterns, mowed, harvested, made cider and barrels and chairs and brooms and baskets, taught school, dug for salt, worked as carpenters and domestics, built stone walls and fireplaces, flailed grain, cut and sold cordwood, carted, washed clothes, sold garden produce, painted chairs and oil-cloth coverings, butchered, dug coal, and hauled stone. And, along the way, they produced between one thousand and seven thousand pounds of maple sugar annually. "Laziness" and "indolence" are difficult to detect in the Smith family.[9]

Of four families who gave negative testimonials against the Smiths (Staffords, Stoddards, Chases, and Caprons), only one farm of then ten they owed was worth more than the Smith's farm. The Smith farm was improved to the point that it was worth as much or more per acre than 71% of the farms in the region. Even in Palmyra township, the Smith's farm was worth more than 60% of the farms.[10] Given that the Smiths' property was worth more than 90% of their critical neighbors', and more than over half of all the farms in the area, it is difficult to credit the after-the-fact claims by some neighbors in the Hurlbut affidavits that the Smiths were lazy ne'er-do-wells.

If the Smiths were so lazy in 1825, before the Book of Mormon made them notorious, then why did so many neighbors try to help them save their farm from foreclosure?

Other Smith neighbors tell a story that is more in keeping with the available financial data.

Richard Lloyd Anderson noted that:

All who claimed to know Joseph Smith in this area had contact in the townships of either Palmyra or Manchester, and the 1830 census contains about 2,000 males old enough to know the Smiths in these two localities. From that possible number, Hurlbut procured the signatures of seventy-two individuals who claimed firsthand experience with Joseph Smith. At best, Hurlbut selected one-half of one percent of the males who potentially knew anything about the Smiths. Although Howe presented these as representative, they are matched by approximately the same number in those communities known to have a favorable opinion of the Smiths in the late 1820's. Dr. Gain Robinson, uncle of the Smith family physician, gathered sixty signatures on a certificate attesting the Smiths' reliability in an attempt to prevent loss of their farm in 1825.[11]

If the Smiths were so lazy in 1825 (before the Book of Mormon made them notorious) then why did so many neighbors try to help them save their farm from foreclosure?

Orlando Saunders: ""They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died"

Former neighbor Orlando Saunders recalled that: "They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died....[The Smiths] were very good people. Young Joe (as we called him then), has worked for me, and he was a good worker; they all were. . . . He was always a gentleman when about my place."[12]

John Stafford: Joseph "would do a fair day's work if hired out to a man"

John Stafford, eldest son of William Stafford said that the Smiths were "poor managers," but allowed as how Joseph "would do a fair day's work if hired out to a man...."[13]


Response to claim: 15 - Do local newspapers show that no revival occurred in 1820 in the area of Palmyra-Manchester, New York?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Do local newspapers show that no revival occurred in 1820 in the area of Palmyra-Manchester, New York?

Author's sources: *H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 15-41.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph mentions an "excitement" on the subject of religion, which most interpret to mean "revival." However, Joseph's 1832 account shows that he began to become concerned about religion at age 12, which coincides with a known 1818 revival.

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 35

Question: Was there no mention of revival activity in 1820 in the newspaper?

References to regional revival activity in the Palmyra Register, a newspaper which Joseph's family would have read, are clearly evident

A Presbyterian historian on Wikipedia comments on this FAIR Wiki article:

FAIR disagrees with your assessment and stubbornly holds to an 1820 date, Methodist camp meetings as interdenominational revivals, no date conflation, and local newspapers not reporting local news. The FAIR page never suggests that the time and place of the interdenominational religious awakening is irrelevant...[14]

Indeed, we "stubbornly hold" to the 1820 date, and we do not consider the time and place of religious awakening irrelevant. This claim by critics that there is no record of revival activity in the region surrounding Palmyra during the 1820 timeframe has simply not stood up to historical scrutiny. References to regional revival activity in the Palmyra Register, a newspaper which Joseph's family would have read, are clearly evident. While these revivals did not occur in Palmyra itself, their mention in the local newspaper would have given Joseph Smith the sense that there was substantial revival activity in the region. [15]

  • GREAT REVIVALS IN RELIGION. The religious excitement which has for some months prevailed in the towns of this vicinity...This is a time the prophets desired to see, but they never saw it....—Palmyra Register, June 7, 1820 (Ballston, NY - 196 miles away from Palmyra)
  • REVIVAL. A letter from Homer [N.Y.] dated May 29, received in this town, states, that 200 persons had been hopefully converted in that town since January first; 100 of whom had been added to the Baptist church. The work was still progressing.—Palmyra Register, August 16, 1820 (Homer, NY - 76 miles away from Palmyra)
  • REVIVALS OF RELIGION. "The county of Saratoga, for a long time, has been as barren of revivals of religion, as perhaps any other part of this state. It has been like 'the mountains of Gilboa, on which were neither rain nor dew.' But the face of the country has been wonderfully changed of late. The little cloud made its first appearance at Saratoga Springs last summer. As the result of this revival about 40 have made a public profession of religion in Rev. Mr. Griswold's church....A revival has just commenced in the town of Nassau, a little east of Albany. It has commenced in a very powerful manner....—Palmyra Register, September 13, 1820 (Saratoga, NY - 193 miles away from Palmyra)
  • FROM THE RELIGIOUS REMEMBRANCER A SPIRITUAL HARVEST. "I wish you could have been with us yesterday. I had the pleasure to witness 80 persons receive the seal of the covenant, in front of our Church. Soon after 135 persons, new members, were received into full communion. All the first floor of the Church was cleared; the seats and pews were all crowded with the members...Palmyra Register, October 4, 1820 (Bloomingsgrove, NY - 209 miles away from Palmyra)

There wasn't even any mention of the 1818 revival in Palmrya in the local newspaper

Critics often wish to place the revival which Joseph spoke about in 1818. However, even though we know that a revival occurred in Palmyra during June 1818, there is no mention of it in the town paper, despite the fact that it was attended by Robert R. Roberts, who was one of "only three Methodist bishops in North America." [16]

Once again, the commonality of such an event did not ensure that it would get a mention—yet, by the critics' same argument, this "silence" in the newspaper should mean that the 1818 revival didn't happen either.


Christofferson (2013): "Critics have also claimed that there were no religious revivals in the Palmyra, New York, area in 1820"

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, at a BYU Idaho devotional in 2013:

Critics have also claimed that there were no religious revivals in the Palmyra, New York, area in 1820, as Joseph Smith reported in his history. With today’s greater access to original sources, including the Palmyra Register newspaper, there is ample evidence of religious revivals in the area during 1820 and some years prior. It appears that the Methodists had a regularly used camp meeting ground, and that revivals were common enough that often they garnered no coverage in the newspapers unless something out of the ordinary occurred such as a death. (Footnote 12)[17]


Palmyra Register (1820): "It was far from our intention to charge the Methodists with retailing ardent spirits while professedly met for the worship of their God"

28 June 1820: "The deceased, we are informed, arrived...from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication"

Palmyra Register, 28 June 1820:

Effects of Drunkenness--DIED at the house of Mr. Robert McCollum, in this town, on the 26th inst. James Couser, aged about forty years. The deceased, we are informed, arrived at Mr. McCollum's house the evening preceding, from a camp-meeting which was held in this vicinity, in a state of intoxication. He, with his companion who was also in the same debasing condition, called for supper, which was granted. They both stayed the night--called for breakfast next morning--when notified that it was ready, the deceased was found wrestling with his companion, who he flung with the greatest ease,--he suddenly sunk down upon a bench,--was taken with an epileptic fit, and immediately expired.--It is supposed he obtained his liquor, which was no doubt the cause of his death, at the Camp-ground, where, it is a notorious fact, the intemperate, the lewd and dissolute part of community too frequently resort for no better object, than to gratify their base propensities.

The deceased, who was an Irishman, we understand has left a family, living at Catskill this state. [18]

Mention of "the Camp-ground" did not endear the paper to the local Methodists, who objected to the implication that this (the location of their worship services) was the site of drinking to excess and a place of gathering by the "dissolute part" of the community. An article appeared in the same paper a week later which said:

5 July 1820: "Methodists...we did not mean to insinuate, that he obtained it within the enclosure of their place of worship"

Palmyra Register, 5 July 1820

"Plain Truth" is received. By this communication, as well as by the remarks of some of our neighbors who belong to the Society of Methodists, we perceive that our remarks accompanying the notice of the unhappy death of James Couser, contained in our last, have not been correctly understood. "Plain truth" says, we committed "an error in point of fact," in saying that Couser "obtained his liquor at the camp-ground." By this expression we did not mean to insinuate, that he obtained it within the enclosure of their place of worship, or that he procured it of them, but at the grog-shops that were established at, or near if you please, their camp-ground. It was far from our intention to charge the Methodists with retailing ardent spirits while professedly met for the worship of their God. Neither did we intend to implicate them by saying that "the intemperate, the dissolute, &c. resort to their meetings."--And if so we have been understood by any one of that society, we assure them they have altogether mistaken our meaning. [19]

Palmyra register 28 June and 5 July 1820 drunken man dies at camp meeting.jpg


Response to claim: 15 - Did Joseph incorporate a documented 1824 revival into his First Vision story?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Did Joseph incorporate a documented 1824 revival into his First Vision story?

Author's sources: Marvin S. Hill, "The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Summer 1982), vol. 15, 31-46.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph describes a religious "excitement" in the region in 1820, and states that his interest in religion began when he was twelve years old. This coincides with the 1818 revival.

Question: Did Joseph Smith simply conflate elements of the 1818 and 1824-25 revivals in his story of the First Vision?

There is documentary evidence that shows abundant religious activity in the region surrounding Palmyra, New York during the 1819-1820 time period

Some critics and armchair scholars have come to the conclusion that some of the revival story elements found in Joseph Smith's 1838 historical narrative are not really accurate, but rather are representative of a conflation of facts. These people believe that Joseph Smith was actually mixing parts of 1818 and 1824-25 Palmyra revival activities into his storyline about what happened in 1820. In other words, they claim that the Prophet's narrative is not historically accurate - but not deceptively so.

The problem with the 'conflation theory' is two-fold: (1) It can be demonstrated that one of the most important pieces of documentary evidence which is used to support this theory does not actually say what some people think it says - see the FAIRwiki paper called Conflation of 1824-25 revival?. (2) There is plenty of documentary evidence that shows abundant revival activity in the general region surrounding Palmyra, New York during an 1819-1820 time period. A careful examination of Joseph Smith's 1838 narrative reveals that three distinct zones of revival activity are being referred to by him and each of these can be confirmed in non-LDS newspapers and ecclesiastical sources. When all of these sources are taken into account the idea of conflation loses most of its strength.


Response to claim: 15 - Why does Joseph's 1832 First Vision account state that he was 15 rather than 14 years old?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Why does Joseph's 1832 First Vision account state that he was 15 rather than 14 years old?

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Joseph's scribe Frederick G. Williams inserted the phrase about Joseph being in the "16th year" of his age in the 1832 account.

Question: Why does Joseph Smith state in his 1832 First Vision account that he was in his "16th year" of age?

The only account showing a different age is the 1832 account, which states age 15 rather than 14

In the 1832 account, Frederick G. Williams inserted the "in the 16th year of my age" above Joseph's text after Joseph had already written it. (See: "History, circa Summer 1832," The Joseph Smith Papers)

1832.account.16th.year.png

Joseph's 1832 account states the "16th year" of his age in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams

In Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision recital he said that he was "in the 16th year of [his] age" when the manifestation took place but in all other accounts in which he mentions his age, he was in his "fifteenth year."

  • Is this evidence that the Prophet's story evolved over time, and was thus a fabrication to begin with?

The only First Vision account that provided a different age was the 1832 account written in Joseph Smith's own handwriting. In 1832, 12 years after the First Vision, Joseph wrote, "we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructid in reading and writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements."

There is nothing nefarious in Joseph Smith correcting his own slight mathematical miscalculations

Although the portion of Joseph's 1832 history is in his own handwriting, the text insertion of "in the 16th year of my age" was in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, Joseph's scribe. It is likely that Joseph's dating schemes were slightly off when he dictated his age to Williams, many years after-the-fact. There is nothing nefarious in Joseph Smith correcting his own slight mathematical miscalculations.

Two years later, Oliver Cowdery had Joseph's 1832 history in his possession when he began publishing history of the Church in late 1834 in the Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate. Oliver clearly established Joseph's age as 14 ("the 15th year of his life") during the period of religious excitement (although Oliver ultimately never described the actual First Vision at this time). Once the date of the First Vision was correctly established it remained steady throughout all subsequent recitals as the "15th year" or "age 14."


Response to claim: 15 - Why does Joseph's 1832 account state that he only saw Jesus without mentioning God the Father?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Why does Joseph's 1832 account state that he only saw Jesus without mentioning God the Father?

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The 1832 account states that Joseph saw and conversed with the Lord, without explicitly mentioning the presence of the other personage.

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 30, 337n52

Question: Why does Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision not mention two personages?

Although the 1832 account does not specifically indicate that the Father appeared, He is mentioned

The theophany portion of the 1832 account does not specifically indicate that the Father appeared to Joseph Smith together with Jesus Christ. The relevant text (in its original form) reads as follows:

"a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day c[a]me down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the <Lord> opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph <my son> thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy <way> walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life <behold> the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not <my> commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which <hath> been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud <clothed> in the glory of my Father."[20] (emphasis added)

Even though the Savior makes a direct reference to the Father there is no indication in this portion of the 1832 document that God appeared to Joseph Smith alongside His Son.

The same pattern exists in the Book of Mormon with Lehi's vision of God on His throne

This type of pattern is seen in the Book of Mormon, translated in 1829: The Book of Mormon begins (1 Nephi 1:8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on His throne. One [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi—thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both God the Father and Christ.


Response to claim: 15 - The main message of the 1832 account was the forgiveness of Joseph's sins

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The main message of the 1832 account was the forgiveness of Joseph's sins.

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Joseph had two motivations: obtain a forgiveness of sins, and a desire to know which church was right

Question: What was Joseph Smith's motivation for going to the grove to pray in 1820?

Joseph had two motivations: obtain a forgiveness of sins, and a desire to know which church was right

Joseph Smith's stated motivation for praying to the Lord changes between the first known account of the First Vision (1832) and the official version of it (1838). The 1832 account emphasizes his desire for a forgiveness of sins, and the 1838 (official) account emphasizes his desire to know which church was right. Some critic claim that Joseph changed his story in later years.

The texts that are employed by critics to justify the charge of 'differing motivations' are as follows:

1832

"I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy"

1838

"My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join."

The words that precede the point at which Joseph Smith offers his prayer in the 1832 text demonstrate that the anti-Mormon claim about his motivation changing is not sustainable. These words read as follows (standardized for readability):

At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul which led me to searching the scriptures believing, as I was taught, that they contained the word of God.
Thus applying myself to them, and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations, led me to marvel exceedingly. For I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository. This was a grief to my soul.
Thus, from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind: the contentions and divisions, the wickedness and abominations, and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind.
My mind become exceedingly distressed for I became convicted of my sins.
And by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.
And I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world.
For I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday, today, and forever. That He was no respecter to persons, for He was God. For I looked upon the sun - the glorious luminary of the earth - and also the moon rolling in their majesty through the heavens, and also the stars shining in their courses, and the earth also upon which I stood, and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven, and the fish of the waters, and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in majesty and in the strength of beauty - whose power and intelligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and marvelous, even in the likeness of Him who created them.
And when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed, "Well hath the wise man said, 'It is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God.'" My heart exclaimed, "All all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent power; a Being who maketh laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds; who filleth eternity; who was, and is, and will be from all eternity to eternity." And when I considered all these things and that that Being seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth, therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy.


Response to claim: 15 - The 1832 account omits information about "God condemning Christian churches as corrupt"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The 1832 account omits information about "God condemning Christian churches as corrupt."

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

God did not condemn other Christian churches - he condemned their creeds and those who taught false doctrines.

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 30

Question: Does the 1832 account of the First Vision not prohibit Joseph from joining any church?

The 1832 First Vision account does not portray the Lord giving Joseph Smith an injunction against joining any church

The 1832 account of the First Vision does not portray the Lord as announcing that all the creeds were corrupt. These details do not show up until the 1838 account. Is this evidence that the Prophet's story evolved over time?

The claim that Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision story does not contain a divine injunction against joining any churches does not take evidence within the document itself into proper consideration. The information is implicit instead of explicit, but it is there nevertheless. This point cannot be legitimately used as evidence of an evolving storyline.

Joseph went to pray in the grove because he had concluded that the behavior of the churches was not in accordance with the Bible

A quick look at the 1832 First Vision text reveals how untenable this claim is. Joseph Smith states that before he went into the woods to pray he had concluded in his own mind that "those of different denominations [which he was personally acquainted with]. . . did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and godly conversation agreeable to what [he] found contained in [the Bible] . . . . [There were] contentions and divisions [among them] . . . . [T]hey had apostatised from the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.”

Jesus Christ informed Joseph in the 1832 account that "they draw near to me with their lips while their hears are far from me"

Then, when Jesus Christ Himself made a personal appearance to Joseph in the grove, He informed the young boy that -

“the world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned aside from the gospel and keep not <my> commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which <hath> been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud <clothed> in the glory of my Father”

To summarize:

  • Joseph Smith could not find a church that he thought was adhering to biblical teachings.
  • Jesus Christ confirmed Joseph Smith's observation by saying that the entire world was in a sinful, ungodly condition; they did not keep divine commandments; they had turned aside from the gospel—“not one” person was doing good in His estimation.
  • Jesus Christ said that those who professed Christianity were in a state of hypocrisy.
  • Jesus Christ said that He was angry with the inhabitants of the earth and was contemplating their punishment.

This is an unambiguous indication on the Lord's part that joining any of the denominations would be unacceptable

How can critics possibly see this as anything other than a forceful and unambiguous indication on the Lord's part that joining any of the Christian denominations would be an unacceptable path for Joseph to take? Notice in the remainder of the 1832 text that Joseph says he felt great joy and love because of his experience and pondered the things which he had seen and heard during the vision . . . but during an interval of several years he did NOT join any church. Why?

As the 1832 text so plainly says—Joseph Smith believed that Christians had turned aside from the gospel; Jesus Christ confirmed that Christians had turned aside from the gospel; Joseph was therefore provided with a set of golden plates that contained writings which were "engrave[d] by . . . the servants of the living God." The 1832 account speaks three times of the "work" that God wanted Joseph Smith to do, while the 1838 account explicitly connects this "work" with the bringing forth of "the everlasting gospel." The 1842 First Vision account ties all of these themes together. There the Prophet relates: "I was expressly commanded to 'go not after them,' at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me."

Jesus Christ said that He would bring to pass "that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and apostles"

Another indication from the 1832 document that Joseph Smith knew from the First Vision event that he should not join any of the churches can be found in something the Savior said to him. Jesus Christ explained that He was going to take action against the situation the world was currently in by “bring[ing] to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles." What did this statement mean? In a canonized text written at approximately the same time as the 1832 First Vision account (September 1832) the following phraseology is found:

  1. A revelation of Jesus Christ unto his servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and six elders, as they united their hearts and lifted their voices on high.
  2. Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints . . . . (DC 84:1-2).

The Lord was telling Joseph Smith during the First Vision about the coming Restoration and so there would not be any need for him to join an existing church

In other words, the Lord was telling Joseph Smith during the First Vision about the coming Restoration and so there would not be any need for him to join an existing church. This viewpoint is bolstered by several instances where the Prophet utilized the same phraseology used by the Lord during the First Vision to speak about the Restoration.

  • “The work of the Lord in these last days, is one of vast magnitude and almost “beyond the comprehension of mortals. Its glories are past description, and its grandeur unsurpassable. It is the theme which has animated the bosom of prophets and righteous men from the creation of the world down through every succeeding generation to the present time; and it is truly the dispensation of the fullness of times, when all things which are in Christ Jesus, whether in heaven or on the earth, shall be gathered together in Him, and when all things shall be restored, as spoken of by all the holy prophets since the world began”.[21]
  • “I . . . hold the keys of the last kingdom, in which is the dispensation of the fullness of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy Prophets since the world began”.[22]
  • “in the last days, . . . that which shall precede the coming of the Son of Man, and the restitution of all things spoken of by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began”.[23]
  • “the great purposes of God are hastening to their accomplishment and the things spoken of in the prophets are fulfilling, as the kingdom of God is established on the earth, and the ancient order of things restored[24]
  • “when the purposes of God shall be accomplished: when ‘the Lord shall be King over the whole earth,’ and ‘Jerusalem His throne.’ ‘The law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’ This is the only thing that can bring about the ‘restitution of all things spoken of by all the holy Prophets since the world was’—‘the dispensation of the fullness of times, when God shall gather together all things in one’”.[25]
  • the last dispensation, . . . bringing to pass the restoration spoken of by the mouth of all the Holy Prophets . . . . the restitution of all things spoken of by the holy Prophets be brought to pass”.[26]


Response to claim: 16 - Did LDS leaders only begin teaching that Joseph saw both Jesus and God the Father in the 1870s-80s?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Did LDS leaders only begin teaching that Joseph saw both Jesus and God the Father in the 1870s-80s?

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

There are at least 39 published sources mentioning the First Vision which include the phrase "This is my Beloved Son" spanning 1843 to 1863—many of these prior to 1870.

Question: Did any publications prior to 1870 mention the phrase "This is My Beloved Son" in connection with the First Vision?

Dozens of accounts were printed in LDS and non-LDS sources prior to 1870

The claim that no publications mentioned the phrase "This is My Beloved Son" prior to 1870 is false. The following publications mention the First Vision and contain the phrase "This is My Beloved Son." Many were published prior to 1870, contrary to critics' assertion that this was not widely known.

  • 1843: New York Spectator, September 23, 1843: [reprint of the Pittsburgh interview of Joseph Smith]
  • 1849 Orson Pratt, “Are the Father and the Son Two Distinct Persons”, Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 11 (October 1849): 281-84, 309-12, at page 310
  • 1850 Orson Pratt Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, No. 4 Evidences of the Book of Mormon and Bible Compared: 52-53: (1850), p.53 [cf. A Series of Pamphlets on the Doctrines of the Gospel by the Late Elder Orson Pratt, Salt Lake City, George Q. Cannon and Sons Company, 1881]
  • 1851: Joseph Smith History part of PGP published by Franklin D. Richards, The PEARL OF GREAT PRICE Being a CHOICE SELECTION from the REVELATIONS, TRANSLATIONS, AND NARRATIONS of JOSEPH SMITH First Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Liverpool: Published by F. D. Richards, 15, Wilton Street 1851);
  • 1852 William Willis, Calcutta, “The Prophet, Joseph Smith”, Millennial Star 14.19 (July 3, 1852): 303-4
  • 1852 The Danish translation of the “History of Joseph Smith” was published in the Danish periodical ‘Scandinavian Star’, beginning August 1852, with the Father introducing the Son, Skandinaviens Stjerne 1.11 (August 1852): 161-164, head note indicates it was taken from Times and Seasons 3. 726ff. “Denne min elftelige Son, hor ham”, 163a
  • 1853 Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors for Many Generations By Lucy Smith, Mother of the Prophet (Liverpool: Published for Orson Pratt by S. W. Richards 1853): 75:
  • 1853 John Jaques “Salvation. A second Dialogue between Elder Brownson and Mr. Whitby,” Millennial Star 15. 40 (October 1, 1853): 649-653; 657-661. Also released as a pamphlet.
  • 1853 John Jaques. “Catechism for Children”, Millennial Star 15. 47 (November 19, 1853): 755 ff. [multi issue; later republished as pamphlet,
  • 1853 Elder Thomas B.H. Stenhouse began editing the French monthly, The Reflector. The first volume contained “extracts de l’Histoire de Joseph Smith.” [Times and Seasons 3. 726 ff.]: “Je vis deux personnages … L’un d’eux me parla, m’appelant, par mon nom, et me dit (en montrant l’autre): C’est ici mon fils bien aime, ecoute-le.” Le Reflecteur, organe de l’Eglise de Jesus Christ des Saints-des-Derniers jours (Lausanne, Switzerland) 1.1 (January 1853): 7-10..
  • 1854: John Jaques, Catechism for Children Exhibiting the Prominent Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (London: F.. D. Richards, 1854)
  • 1857: Franklin D. Richards, A compendium of the faith and doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: compiled from the Bible; and also from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and other publications of the church; with an appendix. (Liverpool: Orson Pratt, 1857): 152:
  • 1859: Orson Pratt, August 14th, 1859, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Deseret News 9. 25 (August 24, 1859): 193-5; Journal of Discourses, 7:220-221.
  • 1859 William Jefferies, “Deceivers and Deceived”, Millennial Star 21. 45 (November 5, 1859): 709-710.
  • 1860 “History of Joseph Smith,” Millennial Star 22. 7 (February 18, 1860): 102-3. Includes letter to Harrisburg of September 7, 1843 which recounts the First Vision, and Moroni’s visit. This is the Rupp account:
  • 1862 L. A. Bertrand, Memoires d’un Mormon (Paris 1862): 19
  • 1864: George A. Smith, November 15, 1864 “Historical Discourse”, in the Tabernacle, Ogden City. Journal of Discourses 11:1-2:
  • 1867 Elias Morris, “Living Apostles and Prophets, Millennial Star 29. 28 (July 13, 1867): 441-3
  • 1867 Charles W. Penrose [London Conference President], “Man’s Communion with His Maker”, Millennial Star 29. 31 (August 3, 1867): 481-4. [response to article in Dublin University Magazine, on “A New View of Miracles”].
  • 1867 Charles W. Penrose, “Jesus Christ,” Millennial Star 29. 35 (August 31, 1867): 545-548.
  • 1869: Orson Pratt in the Tabernacle, February 24th, 1869 (Journal of Discourses, 12:353-354):
  • 1869: Orson Pratt, “Revelations and Manifestations of God and of Wicked Spirits,” Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, December 19, 1869. Journal of Discourses 13:65-6;
  • 1871: Orson Pratt in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, March 19th, 1871 from Deseret News 20. 12 (April 26, 1871): 137-8; JD 14. 140, 141, 142 (1872); [reprinted in Skandinaviens Stjerne 20. 18 (June 15, 1871): 273-9; 282-3]:
  • 1872: Orson Pratt, New Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, September 22nd, 1872: Journal of Discourses, 15:182-183.
  • 1873 T. B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1872, 1873;
  • 1873 Editorial: Whom we Worship. Millennial Star 35. 47 (November 25, 1873): 744-6:
  • 1874 Orson Pratt, September 20, 1874 Tabernacle, SLC, Journal of Discourses 17:279-280 (Reported by David W. Evans.) JOSEPH SMITH'S FIRST VISIONS--.
  • 1876 John Taylor December 31, 1876 Journal of Discourses 18:325-6, 329, 330;
  • 1877 John Taylor November 14, 1877, Journal of Discourses 19:151-2;
  • 1878: George Manwaring, “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer,” Juvenile Instructor 1878; Millennial Star 43 (September 19, 1881): 608. As a hymn it first appeared in Deseret Sunday School Union Music Book in 1884; and appears as hymn 26 in current hymnal. A String of Pearls, Second Book of the Faith-Promoting Series. Designed for the Instruction and Encouragement of Young Latter-day Saints. SECOND EDITION (1882; 1st 1880): 96
  • 1878 Edward W. Tullidge, Life of Joseph The Prophet (New York: Tullidge & Crandall, 1878;
  • 1879 John Taylor, November 28, 1879, Journal of Discourses 21:116-7.

The phrase also appeared in some non-LDS accounts

  • 1843 “The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, etc.,” editor, David Nye White, The Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette 58 (September 15, 1843): 3
  • 1843: New York Spectator, September 23, 1843 [reprinted from Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette above]
  • 1854 Review Article, “Mormonism and the Mormons”, London Quarterly Review 2 (March 1854): 95-127.
  • 1854 The Californian Crusoe; or, The Last Treasure Found. A Tale of Mormonism (London: John Henry Parker 1854; New York: Stanford and Swords). [claims to have heard Joseph speak in Nauvoo].
  • 1855 T.W.P. Taylder, The Mormon’s Own Book; or, Mormonism tried by its own standards—reason and scripture, with an account of its present condition. Also a Life of Joseph Smith. New Edition (London: Partridge and Co., 1857; 1st published 1855): xxiii-xxv
  • 1856 Jules Remy and Julius Brenchley, A Journey to Great Salt Lake City, with a sketch of the History, Religion, and Customs of the Mormons, and an Introduction on the Religious Movement in the United States, in two volumes (London: W. Jeffs 1856): 235.
  • 1863 Le Prophete du XIX Siecle ou vie des Saints des Derniers Jours (Mormons), Hortense G. Du Fay (Paris: Dentu 1863): 39-40


Response to claim: 16-17 - Orson Pratt said that the two personages that appeared to Joseph in the First Vision were angels

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Orson Pratt said that the two personages that appeared to Joseph in the First Vision were angels.

Author's sources: Orson Pratt, sermon by Orson Pratt, reprinted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, vol. 1, 146-147.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Critics of the Church note that Orson Pratt said on 19 December 1869 that Joseph "proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him." However, they fail to note that Orson Pratt also said on 19 December 1869 that he also "saw two glorious personages clothed upon with this pillar of fire."

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 31

Question: Did Orson Pratt state that it was an angel that appeared during the First Vision?

Elder Orson Pratt was never confused about the identity of the Beings who appeared to Joseph Smith during his inaugural theophany

The two quotations used by critics to try and establish the 'Orson-Pratt-said-it-was-an-angel' argument read as follows:

What critics of the Church note that Orson Pratt said on 19 December 1869: "proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him"

"By and by an obscure individual...proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him...This young man, some four years afterwards, was visited again by a holy angel."[27]

What critics fail to note that Orson Pratt actually said on 19 December 1869: "and saw two glorious personages clothed upon with this pillar of fire"

The use of the 19 December 1869 quote is a prime example of how some Church critics are not very careful in their evaluation and presentation of historical texts. This document actually makes an explicit reference to the identity of the Prophet's First Vision visitants but the critics have edited that part out! The original quote is presented below. Notice the semi-colon after "God had sent an angel to him" which marks the beginning of a new thought.

'The canon of scripture is full, it is complete, and it is the very height of blasphemy to suppose that God would give any more!'

This was the condition of mankind before this Church arose, forty years ago. By and by an obscure individual, a young man, rose up, and, in the midst of all Christendom, proclaimed the startling news that God had sent an angel to him; that through his faith, prayers, and sincere repentance he had beheld a supernatural vision, that he had seen a pillar of fire descend from Heaven, and saw two glorious personages clothed upon with this pillar of fire, whose countenance shone like the sun at noonday; that he heard one of these personages say, pointing to the other, 'This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.' This occurred before this young man was fifteen years of age; and it was a startling announcement to make in the midst of a generation so completely given up to the traditions of their fathers; and when this was proclaimed by this young, unlettered boy to the priests and the religious societies in the state of New York, they laughed him to scorn. 'What!' said they, 'visions and revelations in our day! God speaking to men in our day!' They looked upon him as deluded; they pointed the finger of scorn at him and warned their congregations against him. 'The canon of scripture is closed up; no more communications are to be expected from heaven. The ancients saw heavenly visions and personages; they heard the voice of the Lord; they were inspired by the Holy Ghost to receive revelations, but behold no such thing is to be given to man in our day, neither has there been for many generations past.' This was the style of the remarks made by religionists forty years ago.

This young man, some four years afterwards, was visited again by a holy angel. It was not merely something speaking in the dark; it was not something wrapped up in mystery, with no glory attending it, but a glorious angel whose countenance shone like a vivid flash of lightning."

It is clear to any person who is familiar with the primary literature which describes Joseph Smith's early spiritual manifestations that when Elder Pratt said that Joseph was "visited again by a holy angel" several years later he was NOT talking about an additional visit by an angel. What he was saying was that Joseph Smith was "visited again" after an interval of several years and this time it was not by the Father and the Son—but by an angel.

What critics of the Church note that Orson Pratt said on 10 December 1871: "that God had sent his angel from heaven"

"Here was Joseph Smith, a boy...he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age...Would he stand forth and bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips and had received a message from the Most High, at that early age? And then...to have the finger of scorn pointed at him... 'No visions in our day, no angels come in our day...' and still continue to testify...that God had sent his angel from heaven."[28]

What critics fail to note that Orson Pratt actually said on 10 December 1871: "when the Lord first revealed Himself to that little boy, he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age"

The 10 December 1871 quote has been taken out of its proper context, as the more complete text below demonstrates.

Now then, let us come back again. Here was Joseph Smith, a boy, his very youth ought to testify in his favor, for when the Lord first revealed Himself to that little boy, he was only between fourteen and fifteen years of age. Now, can we imagine or suppose that a great impostor could be made out of a youth of that age, and one that could reveal the doctrine of Christ as he has revealed it to this generation? Would he stand forth and bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips and had received a message from the Most High, at that early age? And then, after having declared it, to have the finger of scorn pointed at him, with exclamations, 'There goes the visionary boy! No visions in our day, no angels come in our day, no more revelation to be given in our day! Why he is deluded, he is a fanatic'; and to have this scorn and derision and still continue to testify, in the face and eyes of all this, while hated and derided by his neighbors, that God had sent his angel from heaven. Can you imagine that a youth would do this?

After Elder Pratt provided the correct background for the First Vision story he switched over to speaking about a hypothetical situation - not an historical one. Notice that the hypothetical situation can naturally be interpreted along the very same lines as the orthodox story of Joseph Smith's experience: "bear testimony that he had seen with his own eyes a messenger of light and glory, and that he heard the words of his mouth as they dropped from his lips [i.e., the angel Moroni visitations] and had received a message from the Most High [i.e., the First Vision], at that early age."

There is ample documentary evidence that both before and after Elder Orson Pratt made the disputed comments above he was teaching that the Prophet's First Vision visitants were the Father and the Son.


Question: What did Orson Pratt state about Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Orson Pratt was well aware of the details of the story of the First Vision

The details of his recitals did not vary and therefore show no signs of uncertainty.

15 October 1849

Orson Pratt quotes from the History of the Church First Vision account in part 2 of “Are the Father and the Son Two Distinct Persons?”[29]

15 December 1850

Publication - The First Vision material is a quotation of the "History of Joseph Smith" taken from the Millennial Star, vol. 3, no. 2, June 1842, 21, which in turn was copied from the 1842 Times and Seasons Church history.[30]

1851

Publication - Early in the year Orson Pratt gathered together his pamphlets and issued them as a book.[31] Among this collection is “Remarkable Visions” and “Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon” #4. This combination is significant because the "Divine Authenticity" material clarifies who the two Personages are in the "Remarkable Visions" pamphlet.

1853

Publication - Orson Pratt had the autobiography of Lucy Mack Smith (the Prophet's mother) published. The editors of this volume inserted the Times and Seasons First Vision account into it. This First Vision text identifies the Prophet's visitors as the Father and the Son.[32]

14 August 1859

Orson Pratt said that he had "often" heard Joseph Smith relate that in a "cloud of light he saw two glorious personages; and one, pointing to the other, said, 'Behold my beloved Son! hear ye Him.'"[33]

6 October 1868

Orson Pratt said, "The Lord revealed Himself to this youth [i.e., Joseph Smith] when he was between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and as soon as he related this vision, although at that young and tender age, the wrath and indignation of the people were stirred up against him."[34]

24 February 1869

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith "saw, in the midst of this glorious pillar of fire, two glorious personages, whose countenances shone with an exceeding great lustre. One of them spoke to him, saying, while pointing to the other, 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him.'"[35]

19 December 1869

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith saw "two glorious personages . . . he heard one of these personages say, pointing to the other, 'This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.'"[36]

19 March 1871

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith "saw in this light two glorious personages, one of whom spoke to him, pointing to the other, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.'"[37]

22 September 1872

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith "saw these two glorious personages, their countenances shining with exceeding great brilliancy. One of them, while pointing to the other, addressed him in this language, 'Behold my beloved son, hear ye Him.'"[38]

20 September 1874

Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith "saw nothing excepting the light and two glorious personages standing before him in the midst of this light. One of these personages, pointing to the other, said - "Behold my beloved Son, hear ye Him.'"[39]

20 May 1877

Orson Pratt said that several years previous to 1823 Joseph Smith "received a heavenly vision . . . in which he had seen the face of God, the Father."[40]

19 September 1880

Orson Pratt said that "a wonderful revelation was given to[Joseph Smith], the first one he ever received. In a great and glorious open vision, in answer to his prayers, there was the manifestation of two of the great personages in the heavens — not angels, not messengers, but two persons that hold the keys of authority over all the creations of the universe. Who were they? God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ."[41]

10 October 1880

[This was the day the Pearl of Great Price account of the First Vision was canonized] Orson Pratt said, "You find a little boy, Joseph Smith, calling upon the name of the Lord, in the spring of the year 1820 before he was not yet fifteen years of age; and the result of his calling upon the name of the Lord was that a pillar of fire appeared in the heavens above him, and it continued to descend and grow brighter and brighter, until it reached the top of the trees that were growing around about where he was praying; and so great was the glory of this light that this lad, this youth, this boy, seemed to feel almost fearful lest the trees themselves would be consumed by it. But it continued to descend until it rested upon this lad and immediately his mind was caught away from the surrounding objects, was swallowed up in a heavenly vision, in which he saw two glorious personages, one was the Father, the other was the Son."[42]


Response to claim: 17 - Church historian Andrew Jenson said that "The angel again forbade Joseph to join any of these churches"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Church historian Andrew Jenson said that "The angel again forbade Joseph to join any of these churches"

Author's sources: Andrew Jenson, Joseph Smith, The Prophet, Jan. 1888, vol. 3, nos. 1-3, p. 355.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Andrew Jenson is quoting - at length - from the official 1838 Church history account of the First Vision. He was aware that one personage had declared the other as his "beloved Son." Jenson deliberately referred to Jesus Christ as "the angel."

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 31

Question: Who was the "angel" in the First Vision that Andrew Jenson was referring to?

Jenson identified the second personage, Jesus Christ, as the "angel"

Critics also neglect to tell their audience about the context of the remarks in question. Andrew Jenson is quoting - at length - from the official 1838 Church history account of the First Vision (first published in 1842). Jenson made an important modification to the quoted material that needs to be noted. When Jenson reached the part where the Prophet's two heavenly visitors identified themselves he capitalized the entire phrase, "THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, HEAR HIM". It is the "Son" who is, just a few paragraphs later, twice identified as "the angel". Thus, Jenson does not in any way confuse facts and state that an angel (in the sense of a heavenly being who is subordinate to Deity) appeared during the First Vision. Rather, Andrew Jenson was applying the title of "angel" to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The chronological timeline below demonstrates, with ample documentation, that both before and shortly after Brother Jenson produced his disputed text he understood that Joseph Smith's First Vision consisted of seeing the Father and the Son.

4 July 1877

On 4 April 1877 Andrew Jenson publicly announced that with the approbation of the First Presidency of the LDS Church, and under the direct supervision of Apostle Erastus Snow, he and another LDS convert would publish Joseph Smith's history in the Danish-Norwegian language.[43] The first pamphlet in this series was printed on 4 July 1877. [44] In the First Vision section of this pamphlet one of two personages - who are both suspended in the air - points to the other one and says, "Denne er min elskelige Son, hor ham" (Danish trans. - "That is my loveable Son, listen to him").

1879

All of the pamphlets in Jenson's series on the history of the Prophet were combined in book form and entitled Joseph Smiths Levnetslob. The First Vision account is found near the front of the book. [45]

17 April 1883

Elder Erastus Snow wrote to Andrew Jenson and informed him that he would be allowed to publish his translation of the Pearl of Great Price in his Danish periodical called Morgenstjernen ("Morning Star").[46] Jenson read proofs for this project on 18 November 1883 [47] and the text was published in Morgenstjernen, vol. 2, 1883, pp. 81-107 and 161-78. This text identified the Prophet's visitors in the Sacred Grove as the Father and the Son.

January 1886

In The Historical Record, vol. 5, no. 1, January 1886, page 1 Andrew Jenson quoted a Church history text that was written by Elder George A. Smith in 1855[48] Jenson's quote includes the portion of Elder Smith's history that speaks of the "two glorious Beings" who appeared to the Prophet. Elder Smith's capitalization of the word "Beings" makes it clear that these individuals were Deity.

5 April 1888

In a General Conference address - only about three months after issuing his January 1888 "angel" text - Andrew Jenson said,
"We claim in regard to the Latter-day Saints that it is necessary for them today . . . to know whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God or not, and whether or not he did receive the manifestations and power of God; to know if he did see the Father and the Son when he went to the woods to pray . . . . When [Joseph Smith] made the declaration that all were going astray that none of the sects of the day were right and that the Lord acknowledged none of them, he only repeated what was told him. It was very presumptuous for a boy of his standing in society to make such sweeping declarations as these, especially when that boy lived in the wilderness of New York . . . withal unlearned in the things of this world, a mere youth, and yet he made the declaration that all the Christian world had gone astray, that none of the sects were right, and that he had heard the voice of Jehovah."[49]

1890 Revision

Another thing that critics have not acknowledged in their published comments about Andrew Jenson's text is that near the top of the page of Jenson's revised article he provided an important note about his source material. There he clearly stated that his record was “Compiled in part from the history of Joseph Smith, published in the Millennial Star, and from Geo[rge] Q. Cannon’s writings about Joseph, the Prophet, as published in the Juvenile Instructor.” This is very significant information since a consultation of Brother Cannon’s writings reveals that precisely twenty-two years earlier he was teaching in the Juvenile Instructor that Joseph Smith “had the glorious privilege of beholding the Father and the Son.”[50] And, of course, the story of the First Vision that Jenson was drawing details from in the Millennial Star was the 1838 official Church history account, where the Father and Son are clearly identified.

16 January 1891

In a public discourse Andrew Jenson spoke of the Prophet attending revivals, entering the woods to pray for wisdom in accordance with James 1:5, being attacked by the power of darkness, a light descending from the sky, and "then a vision of two glorious personages standing above him in the air, one of whom speaking to him, while pointing to the other, said: 'This is my beloved [S]on, hear him.' Here, then, was Jesus Christ being introduced by His Father to Joseph Smith, the praying boy, who next was informed by the Great Redeemer Himself, that all the sects of the day were wrong" [51]


Response to claim: 18 - Did the 1824 revival cause Joseph's mother, sister and two brothers to join the Presbyterian church?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Did the 1824 revival cause Joseph's mother, sister and two brothers to join the Presbyterian church?

Author's sources: Wesley Walters, "New Light On Mormon Origins From the Palmyra N.Y. Revival," Evangelical Theological Society (Fall 1967), vol. 10, no. 4, 227-244; Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, (Spring 1969), vol. 4, no 1, 60-81.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Lucy Mack Smith was baptized before her son Alvin died.

Question: When was Lucy Mack Smith baptized?

Richard Bushman: "In recounting her baptism around 1803, Lucy Smith by implication suggested a date for her membership in the Presbyterian church in Palmyra"

Lucy Mack Smith recorded in her history that she sought out baptism sometime around 1803, without formally joining any Church at that time. The Reverend Wesley Walters attempts to place Lucy's association with the Presbyterians at 1824, to coincide with the formal 1824 revival. In 1987, Richard Bushman summarized the debates about Lucy's Presbyterianism to that point:

In recounting her baptism around 1803, Lucy Smith by implication suggested a date for her membership in the Presbyterian church in Palmyra. She had searched for a minister who would baptize her without the requirement of commitment to one church. She found such a man, who left her "free in regard to joining any religious denomination." After this, she says, "I stepped forward and yielded obedience to this ordinance; after which I continued to read the Bible as formerly until my eldest son had attained his twenty-second year." Biographical Sketches, pp. 48-49. Alvin was twenty-two in 1820. Unfortunately, the Presbyterian records that could confirm this date are lost. In an 1893 interview William Smith said that Hyrum, Samuel, and Catherine were Presbyterians, but since Catherine was only eight in 1820, and Sophronia, whom Joseph named, was seventeen, Sophronia was more likely to be the sister who joined....All the circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, the date of Lucy Smith's engagement to Presbyterianism remains a matter of debate. It is possible to argue plausibly that she did not join until later Palmyra revivals in 1824. [52]

Thus, a definitive answer to the question will probably elude us, though Bushman clearly favored the early date.

Critics act as if the matter has been settled the way the Reverend Wesley Walters hoped it would be--insisting that the 1824 date was the only viable one. This is false, and the weight of evidence is probably on the side of the "traditional" understanding of Lucy and at least some children as Presbyterians prior to an 1820 First Vision.


Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith join the Presbyterian Church after her son Alvin died in 1823?

Lucy Mack Smith did not say in her autobiography that she joined the Presbyterian church after her son Alvin died

It is claimed that the Prophet's mother joined the Presbyterian church after Alvin Smith died in late 1823 (Joseph Smith said she joined in 1820). If Lucy Mack Smith joined the Presbyterian Church in 1823, then this contradicts Joseph's statement that she joined in 1820, thereby dating Joseph's First Vision to no earlier than 1823.

There are several problems with this argument. The most serious one is that Lucy Mack Smith did NOT say in her autobiography that she joined the Presbyterian church after her son Alvin died. The original manuscript of the autobiography (including the crossed-out portion) actually says:

  • Alvin Smith died (19 November 1823).
  • "lamentation and mourning filled the whole neighborhood".
  • Those from Alvin's immediate circle felt "more than usual grief".
  • The funeral and the interment took place.
  • "The circumstances of [Alvin's] death aroused the neighborhood to the subject of religion".
  • The Smith family "could not be comforted" because of Alvin's loss.
  • "About this time there was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest flocked to the meetinghouse to see if there was a word of comfort for us that might relieve our overcharged feelings."
  • One man was laboring in the area "to effect a union of all the churches that all denominations might be agreed to worship God with one mind and one heart".
  • Lucy Mack Smith thought that this idea "looked right" and tried to persuade her husband to "join with them" (i.e., the unionized group of "all denominations").
  • Lucy Mack Smith "wished" to join herself with this group.
  • All the Smith children were "inclined" to join this group except Joseph (who refused from the first to attend the meetings).
  • Joseph told his mother that he did not wish to prevent her or any member of the Smith family from attending any church meeting or "joining any church" that they liked but stated his own desire not to go with them. Joseph also stated that if they did join any church they would not be with them long because of "the wickedness of their hearts".
  • Father Smith attended one meeting of the unionized church group but declined thereafter. He said that he did not object if Mother Smith and the children wanted to attend these meetings or join with the group.

There are several observations that will help to clarify the meaning of this text.

The effect of Alvin's funeral on the Smith family

Alvin's funeral was conducted by a Presbyterian clergyman named Benjamin B. Stockton. [53] This detail raises the strong possibility that someone in the Smith household had an affiliation with the Presbyterian church by November 1823 (Stockton did not become the official pastor of Palmyra's Western Presbyterian Church until 18 February 1824). [54] Indeed, in one of William Smith's recountings of Church history he seems very clearly to say that his mother and some of his siblings were members of the Presbyterian church at the time of Alvin's funeral. [55] And in another recounting he states that they had this affiliation in the year 1820. [56]


Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith state when she joined the Presbyterians?

Lucy does not say when she joined the Presbyterians

Lucy Mack Smith does not say in her autobiography that she actually joined with the religious group that was composed of "all the churches". She only says that she desired to join with them. She may well have already been associated with the Presbyterians.

Lucy was baptized first and THEN in 1820 she formally joined a denomination

One Presbyterian author claims that "when Lucy reached Palmyra, she developed a connection with the Presbyterian church, even though she held aloof from membership." As support for this assertion, he cites Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 11-13 and notes that "Solomon Mack, Lucy's father, was a Universalist during her childhood but converted to orthodox Christianity in 1810." The author does not clarify the nature of Lucy's connection to the Presbyterian church after her arrival in Palmyra. Although he notes that Lucy "had sought spiritual comfort from a noted Presbyterian minister" while in Randolph, Vermont (citing Lucy's autobiography), he fails to note that this same autobiography provides the timeframe for when she was baptized. She says, “I concluded that my mind would be easier if I were baptized and I found a minister who was willing to baptize me and leave me free from membership in any church after which I pursued the same course until my oldest son [Alvin] attained his 22nd year” - which took place on 11 February 1820.

The "revival" mentioned by Lucy occurs one year prior to the 1824 revival

The "great revival in religion" that is mentioned in Mother Smith's autobiography appears to take place not long after Alvin's death in November 1823. In fact, it seems that it was Alvin's death that instigated this particular event. A disparity in timeframes (a one-year gap) calls any perceived connection between this event and Palmyra's 1824-25 revival into doubt. A ministerial eyewitness says that nothing much like a recognizable revival even took place in the village of Palmyra until December 1824 (The Methodist Magazine, vol. 8, no. 4, April 1825). Mother Smith does not mention any conversions during the December 1823 denomination-welding event which she describes while the December 1824 revival garnered more than 150 converts who joined themselves with various separate churches.

Lucy's family was suspended from fellowship in the Presbyterian church in March 1830

Church records confirm that Lucy's family was suspended from fellowship in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra on March 10, 1830. The charge was 18 months of inactivity, which indicates that they had not attended since September 1828. This was one year after Joseph had received the plates. [57]

Joseph's actions support the First Vision account of his relatives joining the Presbyterians

Joseph Smith's comments to his mother about joining "any" church are significant. He said that taking such an action would be a mistake because of what was in the hearts of the adherents. During the First Vision the Lord told Joseph that the hearts of the members of the Christian denominations were far from Him (1832 account). Joseph also told his mother that if she did decide to join one of the churches she would not be long with them. This make perfect sense when it is remembered that just a few months prior to this time Joseph had informed his family that an angel had told him about golden plates and indicated that God was about to reveal "a more perfect knowledge of the plan of salvation and the redemption of the human family" (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], chapter 18).

The facts contained within the primary source documents do not support the conclusions of the critics. Joseph Smith said that his mother and siblings were members of the Presbyterian church in 1820 when he had the First Vision and the writings of his mother and brother support that statement. Joseph Smith was not in a state of confusion or bent on deception when he recorded the occurrences of his past. Readers of the Prophet's history can have confidence in what is presented before them.


Response to claim: 18, 487n62-63 (PB) - Did the 1824 revival actually cause Joseph to join a Baptist church, contrary to his instructions in the First Vision?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:


  • Did the 1824 revival actually cause Joseph to join a Baptist church, contrary to his instructions in the First Vision?
  • Joseph is also claimed to have become an "exhorter" for the Methodists after his First Vision.

    Author's sources:
  • Fayette Lapham cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, vol. 1 458.
  • Orasmus Turner, Lockport Daily Courier, May 5, 1854.; Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Nobody who has charged Joseph Smith with joining a church between 1820 and 1830 has ever produced any authentic denominational membership record that would substantiate such a claim.

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 35, 342n78, 348n130

Question: Did Joseph Smith become a baptized member of the Baptist Church in 1822?

Fayette Lapham claimed to have learned this from Joseph Smith, Sr. 50 years after the First Vision had occurred

Fayette Lapham claimed to have interviewed Joseph Smith Sr. in 1829-30, and published a report forty years later. In it, he reported:

About this time [1822, perhaps as late as 1824] he [Joseph, Jr.] became concerned as to his future state of existence, and was baptized, becoming thus a member of the Baptist Church.[58]

There are no records to support the claim that Joseph joined the Baptist Church

The Lapham source is secondhand at best—putting forward information that reportedly came from the Prophet's father. There are no records beyond this late, second-hand recollection to support this claim.


Question: Did Joseph Smith join the Methodists as an "exhorter" years after being told not to join another church during the First Vision?

Joseph was not a "licensed exhorter" for the Methodists, but instead participated in a "juvenile debating club"

Although the Palmyra Register does not specify the location of the Methodist camp meeting in 1820, we do have evidence that meetings were indeed occurring on Vienna Road. John Matzko cites Orsamus Turner,

At some point between 1821 and 1829, Smith served as “a very passable exhorter” at Methodist camp meetings “away down in the woods, on the Vienna Road.”[59]

It should be noted that Matzko's assertion that this occurred "between 1821 and 1829" is not supported by the source, since Turner never specifies the timeframe during which Joseph acted as an "exhorter." Despite the fact that Turner is a hostile source , the full quote does contain some important additional information,

But Joseph had a little ambition, and some very laudable aspirations; the mother's intellect occasionally shone out in him feebly, especially when he used to help us to solve some portentous questions of moral or political ethics, in our juvenile debating club, which we moved down to the old red school-house on Durfee street, to get rid of the annoyance of critics that used to drop in upon us in the village; amid, subsequently, after catching a spark of Methodism in the camp-meeting, away down in the woods, on the Vienna road, he was a very passable exhorter in evening meetings.[60]

Joseph could not have been a "licensed exhorter" without being a member of the Methodist Church

This quote presents critics with a dilemma (as can be seen in the Wikipedia article "First Vision"). Critics wish to demonstrate the Joseph was associated with the Methodists after being instructed during the First Vision not to join any church. They attempt to do this by minimizing the mention of a "debate club" and instead imply that Joseph was a formal "exhorter" in Methodist meetings. It is noteworthy, however, that even critic Dan Vogel states that Joseph "could not have been a licensed exhorter since membership was a prerequisite."[61]

This is consistent with Joseph Smith's own history, in which he stated that he became "partial to the Methodist sect" and that he "felt some desire to be united with them"

Joseph Smith:

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.[62]


Question: Did Joseph Smith join the Methodist, Presbyterian, or Baptist churches between 1820 and 1830 despite the claim made in his 1838 history that he was forbidden by Deity from joining any denomination?

Nobody who has charged Joseph Smith with joining a church between 1820 and 1830 has ever produced any authentic denominational membership record that would substantiate such a claim

Three of the primary sources that charge Joseph Smith with joining sectarian churches between 1820 and 1830 were produced in the latter part of the nineteenth century, over a half-century after the First Vision. None of the three are contemporary records; the earliest one was written 50 years after the First Vision took place.

  • Fayette Lapham claimed that Joseph had joined the Baptist Church.
  • Joseph and Hiel Lewis claimed that Joseph Smith joined the Methodist Church.
  • S.F. Anderick claimed that Joseph Smith joined the Presbyterian Church.

We must note too that none of these sources confirms the others—they all discuss different denominations and different time frames. Thus, the stories are not mutually reinforcing.

Eyewitness reminiscences and contemporary records provide strong evidence that these claims are not valid and, therefore, do not reflect historical reality. The three sources are all late, and all from hostile voices.


Questions: Are there contemporary witnesses that confirm that Joseph Smith didn't join any church after the First Vision?

Eyewitness sources indicated that Joseph Smith was not formally attached to any church, and had rejected all of them

The eyewitness sources that follow below indicate that up until the time that Joseph Smith announced the existence of the golden plates of the Book of Mormon to his family (23 September 1823) he was not formally attached to any church, but had instead publicly rejected all of them and manifested his desire NOT to join their ranks. Some are contemporaneous, others are later remembrances, but the hostile and friendly voices are clear that he had no denominational affiliation.

Reminiscence Around 1820

Pomeroy Tucker (a non-Mormon critic who knew Joseph Smith in Palmyra, New York) said that Joseph joined the Methodist probationary class in Palmyra but soon "withdrew from the class" without being converted; announcing that "all the churches [were] on a false foundation."[63] This information corresponds with historical details dated by Joseph Smith at around 1820.

Reminiscence of Fall 1823

Lucy Mack Smith:

Joseph Smith's mother recalled in her autobiography that shortly after her son Alvin died on 19 November 1823 Joseph "utterly refused" to attend church services with the intent to convert, and he made the specific request: "do not ask me to join them. I can take my Bible, and go into the woods, and learn more in two hours, than you can learn at meeting in two years, if you should go all the time."[64]

As can be seen by the continuing chronological sources which follow, Joseph Smith and his associates were teaching from 1825 to 1832 that the Prophet did not belong to any church between the years 1825 and 1827.

Reminiscence Concerning 1825

Josiah Stowell, Jr. (a non-Mormon):

I will give you a short history of what I know about Joseph Smith, Jr. I have been intimately acquainted with him about 2 years. He then was about 20 years old or thereabout. I also went to school with him one winter. He was a fine, likely young man and at that time did not profess religion.”[65]

Reminiscence Concerning 1827

Peter Bauder:

In 1827 David Marks (a non-Mormon minister) went to Palmyra and Manchester, New York where he “made considerable inquiry respecting . . . [Joseph] Smith” and learned from “several persons in different places” that Joseph was “about 21 years [old]; that previous to his declaration of having found the plates he made no pretensions to religion.”[66]

Reminiscence Concerning 1830

In October 1830 Peter Bauder (a non-Mormon minister) spoke directly to the Prophet. Bauder commented: “he could give me no Christian experience,” meaning that he did not belong to any church before his experience with the angel and plates in September 1823.[67]

Contemporary Document - 1830

Observer and Telegraph (newspaper):

Four LDS men from New York state taught that at the time the angel appeared to Joseph Smith (22 September 1823) he “made no pretensions to religion of any kind.”[68]

Contemporary Document - 1831

Palmyra Reflector (newspaper):

The editor of a Palmyra, New York newspaper claimed that he has been “credibly informed,” and was “quite certain,” that “the prophet . . . never made any serious pretensions to religion until his late pretended revelation” -- meaning the Book of Mormon, which was made known among Palmyra's residents in the Fall of 1827.[69]

Contemporary Document - 1832

Orson Pratt:

Orson Pratt and Lyman Johnson taught on 8 April 1832 that “in 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination [i.e., not belonging to a church], but under conviction, inquired of the Lord . . . [and] an angel [appeared to him] . . . who gave information where the plates were deposited.”[70] Pratt clarified in a much later statement that between 1820 and 1823 Joseph Smith "was not a member of any church."[71]

Thus, a great deal of contemporary evidence disproves the late, second hand claims.


Response to claim: 18 - No publications from the Palmyra or Manchester areas in the 1830s mentioned Joseph's vision

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

No publications from the Palmyra or Manchester areas in the 1830s mentioned Joseph's vision.

Author's sources: *Persuitte, p. 21.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Why would the newspapers be interested in a story of a fourteen year old boy who had claimed to see God? Joseph didn't even tell his own family about it initially - he appears to have only told at least one of the local ministers, who severely chastised him for it.

  • This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 34

Question: Why didn't the newspapers in Palmyra take notice of Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Newspapers would not have considered a visionary claim from a 14-year-old boy to have been newsworthy

This claim by critics is indeed strange. We are apparently to believe that the newspapers of the area would consider a claim from a 14-year-old boy as newsworthy. We know that Joseph didn't even tell his family about the vision at the time that it occurred—when his mother asked him, all he said to her was that he had found that Presbyterianism was not true.

When Joseph told the story of his vision to a local minister, he was strongly refuted for doing so

Joseph did, however, make mention of his vision to a Methodist preacher. According to Richard Bushman, Joseph's perceived persecution for telling his story may not have actually been because it was a unique claim, but rather because it was a common one. According to Bushman,

The clergy of the mainline churches automatically suspected any visionary report, whatever its content...The only acceptable message from heaven was assurance of forgiveness and a promise of grace. Joseph's report of God's rejection of all creeds and churches would have sounded all too familiar to the Methodist evangelical, who repeated the conventional point that "all such things had ceased with the apostles and that there never would be any more of them."[72]


Response to claim: 22, 490 n.78 (HB) - Didn't Lucy Mack Smith say that the first vision was that of a "holy Angel"?

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Was the vision of Moroni the only vision that was discussed for many years? After all, didn't Lucy Mack Smith say that the first vision was that of a "holy Angel?"

Author's sources: Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, vol. 1, 216.

FairMormon Response


Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Lucy Mack Smith's 1831 letter does NOT say that her son's first heavenly visitation was from an angel: Her letter contains an easily recognizable First Vision storyline fragment.

This claim is also made in Becoming Gods, p. 34

Question: Did Joseph Smith's mother say that the First Vision was of an "angel"?

Lucy Mack Smith's 1831 letter does NOT say that her son's first heavenly visitation was from an angel: Her letter contains an easily recognizable First Vision storyline fragment

The Prophet's mother—Lucy Mack Smith—wrote a letter in 1831 which seems to indicate that her son's First Vision consisted of seeing an "angel" instead of Deity. Critics suggest that this demonstrates that the Prophet's story evolved over time and that his claim to have seen God was a relatively late addition to his story.

Lucy Mack Smith's 1831 letter does NOT say that her son's first heavenly visitation was from an angel. Her letter not only contains an easily recognizable First Vision storyline fragment, but also cites a text that refers directly to the First Vision experience. Lucy's intent was NOT to focus attention on the First Vision, but rather on the heavenly manifestation associated with the Book of Mormon. There is no evidence that the letter was hidden or "suppressed"—the first publications of it were all by LDS authors in works supportive of the Church.

The purpose of Lucy's letter is to introduce the Book of Mormon to her siblings

The full text of the letter in question (written on 6 January 1831 in Waterloo, New York to Lucy's siblings) can be found in Benjamin E. Rich, ed., Scrapbook of Mormon Literature (Chicago: Henry C. Etten and Co., 1913), 1:543–46.

Anyone who reads the full text of this letter will soon discover that its stated purpose is to introduce the Book of Mormon to Lucy's siblings, to prepare them to receive a copy of it when it was presented to them, to explain that the book represented the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and to summarize how it came forth in their day. The letter says absolutely nothing about Joseph Smith's encounter with the Book of Mormon "angel" being his FIRST spiritual manifestation.

Lucy's letter closely paraphrases a section of the Articles and Covenants of the Church that is recognized by LDS scholars as the earliest published reference to the First Vision experience

Critics fail to mention that Lucy's 1831 letter not only contains a very distinct First Vision storyline theme ("the churches have all become corrupted...the Lord hath spoken it") but it also closely paraphrases a section of the Articles and Covenants of the Church that is recognized by LDS scholars as the earliest published reference to the First Vision experience. This material was recorded by April 1830 and is reproduced below:

  • D&C 20:5-8 (April 1830)
(verse 5) "After it was truly manifested unto this first elder [i.e., Joseph Smith] that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world; (verse 6) But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness; (verse 7) And gave unto him commandments which inspired him; (verse 8) And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon."(DC 20:5-8

Compare this with Mother Smith's letter:

  • LUCY'S LETTER (January 1831)

"Joseph, after repenting of his sins and humbling himself before God, was visited by an holy angel whose countenance was as lightning and whose garments were white above all whiteness, who gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high; and who gave unto him, by the means of which was before prepared, that he should translate this book."

Compare both of the above sources with the Prophet's 1832 First Vision narrative:

  • FIRST VISION ACCOUNT (September-November 1832)

"I felt to mourn for my own sins....[The Lord said during the First Vision,] 'thy sins are forgiven thee'....after many days I fell into transgression and sinned in many things....I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me....the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters."

Critics also fail to point out that almost exactly two months before Lucy Mack Smith wrote her letter, four LDS missionaries (Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr. and Ziba Peterson) were publicly teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and had received a commission from Him to preach true religion.[73] It is specifically stated in the newspaper article that records this information that the missionaries made their comments about 1 November 1830 - shortly after the Church was formally organized. Some critics who do acknowledge this newspaper article attempt to dismiss it by calling it a "vague" reference, despite the clear wording that the missionaries taught that Joseph "had seen God frequently and personally."[74]

The Lucy Mack Smith letter was not even available for publication until just shortly before it appeared in print because it was in a descendant's possession

Although one critic of the Church indicates that the letter was “unpublished until 1906”,[75] he does not indicate where, or by whom. First published by Ben E. Rich, President of the Southern States Mission, the letter has been long available to interested students of LDS history.[76]

It should be noted that the Lucy Mack Smith letter was not even available for publication until just shortly before it appeared in print because it was in a descendant's possession. The introduction to the letter published in the Elders' Journal states: "The following very interesting and earnest gospel letter written by Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the Prophet Joseph, to her brother, Solomon Mack and his wife, was presented to President Joseph F. Smith a few weeks ago by Mrs. Candace Mack Barker, of Keene, N[ew] H[ampshire], a grand-daughter of Solomon Mack, to whom the letter is addressed. Mrs. Barker stated that it was her desire to place the letter in the hands of those who would appreciate its contents and preserve it as she felt it properly deserved."[77]


Notes

  1. "Doctor" was not a title—It was Hurlbut's actual given name.
  2. Benjamin Winchester, The origin of the Spalding story, concerning the Manuscript Found; with a short biography of Dr. P. Hulbert, the originator of the same; and some testimony adduced, showing it to be a sheer fabrication, so far as in connection with the Book of Mormon is concerned. (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, Printers, 1834), p. 5.
  3. Jeffrey N. Walker, "Joseph Smith's Introduction to the Law: The 1819 Hurlbut Case," Mormon Historical Studies 11/1 (Spring 2010): 129-130.
  4. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:41. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  5. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:41. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  6. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 446–447.
  7. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: Telegraph Press, 1834), p. 11.
  8. Donald L. Enders, "The Joseph Smith, Sr., Family: Farmers of the Genesee," in Joseph Smith, The Prophet, The Man, edited by Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, Jr., (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1993), 213–25.
  9. Daniel C. Peterson and Donald L. Enders, "Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 286–87. off-site
  10. Enders, 220.
  11. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 no. 3 (1970), 285. For more details, see Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 2 (Summer 1969), 16, 19.
  12. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," 309; cited by Matthew Roper, "Review of The Truth about Mormonism: A Former Adherent Analyzes the LDS Faith by Weldon Langfield," FARMS Review of Books 4/1 (1992): 78–92. off-site
  13. William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:121.
  14. Wikipedia editor "John Foxe", (9 December 2007)
  15. These primary sources, not surprisingly, are omitted from the "First Vision" Wikipedia article. For further information, see: An analysis of Wikipedia article "First Vision"
  16. Discussed and cited on pages 9–10 of D. Michael Quinn, "Joseph Smith's Experience of a Methodist 'Camp-Meeting'," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought - Dialogue Paperless: E-Paper #3 (12 July 2006), PDF link
  17. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, "The Prophet Joseph Smith," Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional (24 September 2013)
  18. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 28 June 1820.
  19. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 5 July 1820.
  20. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 9–20. off-site [PRECISE page numbering is needed; the words "emphasis added" need to be inserted after a ";" and space after the numbering designation.]
  21. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:185. Volume 4 link
  22. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:77–78. Volume 6 link
  23. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:271. Volume 2 link
  24. Times and Seasons 3, 761. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  25. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:64. Volume 5 link
  26. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:210–212. Volume 4 link
  27. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 13:65-66.
  28. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 14:262.
  29. Orson Pratt, "Are the Father and the Son Two Distinct Persons?," Millennial Star 11 no. 20 (15 October 1849), 310.
  30. Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, No. 4: Evidences of the Book of Mormon and Bible Compared (Liverpool, England: R. James, 1850), points #10–11. This is a pamphlet (#4 out of 6) written on 15 December 1850.
  31. Orson Pratt, A Series of Pamphlets (Liverpool, England: R. James, 1851).
  32. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), chapter 17.
  33. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 7:221.
  34. JD 12:302. (6 October 1868). wiki
  35. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 12:354.
  36. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 13:66.
  37. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 14:140-142.
  38. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 15:182-183.
  39. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 17:279-280.
  40. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 19:16.
  41. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 21:310-311, (emphasis added).
  42. JD 22:29. (10 OCtober 1880). wiki
  43. Deseret News, vol. 26, no. 12, 25 April 1877, 178.
  44. See Autobiography, 102-103.
  45. Andrew Jenson and Johan A. Bruun, Joseph Smiths Levnetslob (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Office, 1879), 2-4.
  46. See Autobiography, 132.
  47. See Autobiography, 134.
  48. See Deseret News, vol. 5, no. 26, 5 September 1855, 2.
  49. Millennial Star, vol. 50, no. 18, 30 April 1888, 276-77.
  50. George Q. Cannon, "Joseph Smith, the Prophet," The Juvenile Instructor 1 no. 1 (January 1866), 1.
  51. Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), {{{vol}}}:2. [Discourse given on 16 January 1891.]
  52. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition, 1987), 53n32. ISBN 0252060121.
  53. "W[illia]m. B. Smith's last Statement," [John W. Peterson to Editor], Zion's Ensign (Independence, Missouri) 5/3 (13 January 1894): 6. Reprinted in "Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph, the Prophet," Deseret Evening News 27 (20 January 1894): 11; and "The Testimony of William Smith," Millennial Star 61 (26 February 1894): 132-34; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:513.
  54. See Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 69. Also see Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:487n13.
  55. Zion’s Ensign, vol. 5, no. 3, 13 January 1894.
  56. "William B. Smith. Experience and Testimony," in "Sketches of Conference Sermons," reported by Charles Derry, Saints' Herald 30 (16 June 1883): 388; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:490–492.
  57. Milton V. Backman and James B. Allen, "Membership of Certain of Joseph Smith's Family in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra," Brigham Young University Studies 10 no. 4 (1970), 482-484.
  58. Fayette Lapham, "Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the Finding of the Sacred Plates," Historical Magazine [second series] 7 (May 1870): 305-309; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:456-466.
  59. John Matzko, "The Encounter of the Young Joseph Smith with Presbyterianism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 40 no. 3 (Fall 2007), 78 note 2, citing Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve (Rochester, N.Y.: William Alling, 1851), 214, in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 3:50...
  60. Orsamus Turner (1801-1855) "Origin of the Mormon Imposture," Littell's Living Age Vol. XXX, No. 380 (August 1851): 429.
  61. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 3:50, n. 15.
  62. Joseph Smith - History 1:8.
  63. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 17–18.
  64. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother (Salt Lake City: Stevens and Wallis, 1945), 90.
  65. Letter, Josiah Stowell Jr. to John S. Fullmer, 17 February 1843.
  66. Morning Star, 7 March 1833 [Limerick, Maine].
  67. Peter Bauder, The Kingdom and Gospel of Jesus Christ (Canajoharie, New York: A. H. Calhoun, 1834), 36.
  68. Observer and Telegraph, 18 November 1830 [Hudson, Ohio].
  69. “Gold Bible, No. 3,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 12 (1 February 1831): {{{pages}}}. off-site
  70. The Catholic Telegraph, 14 April 1832 [Cincinnati, Ohio].
  71. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 14:140-141.
  72. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 41.
  73. “Gold Bible, No. 4,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 13 (14 February 1831): {{{pages}}}. off-site
  74. For example, Richard Abanes, in his anti-Mormon work Becoming Gods, boldly declares in the main body of his text on page 34 that "[n]ot a single piece of published literature" mentions the First Vision, yet in an endnote at the back of the book on page 338 acknowledges this newspaper account. He attempts to dismiss this by claiming that the reference is "vague," yet acknowledges that "as early as 1831 Smith might have been starting to privately tell select persons that he had at some point seen God."
  75. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 32. ( Index of claims )
  76. Elders Journal 4 (1 November 1906): 60-62 [Southern States Mission, Chattanooga, Tenn.]. It was later published in Rich, Scrap Book of Mormon Literature, 2 volumes (Chicago: Henry C. Etten and Co., no date [Vogel suggests 1913]): 543-5; also by Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America. The Book of Mormon, 2 Volumes, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Brigham Young University 1942; 1960), 1:66.
  77. Elders' Journal 4/3 (1 November 1906): 59