Joseph Smith's First Vision/No mention in non-LDS literature before 1843

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    Was there no mention of the First Vision in non-Mormon literature before 1843?

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Overview:


Leading up to the vision:


The vision:


After the vision:


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Moroni's visit:


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Questions


It is claimed that there is no mention of the First Vision in non-Mormon literature before 1843, and that if the First Vision story had been known by the public before 1840 (when Orson Pratt published it in his pamphlet) that the anti-Mormons “surely” would have seized upon it as an evidence of Joseph Smith’s imposture.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Answer


These statements simply cannot be sustained in the light of the historical record. There are a number of reports in non-Latter-day Saint source which allude to the First Vision having occurred.

Detailed Analysis

These statements simply cannot be sustained in the light of the historical record.

The first statement (no non-LDS mention prior to 1843) is negated by the following evidence:

  • Report in a non-LDS newspaper of Mormon missionaries teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God personally and received a commission from Him to teach true religion (The Reflector, vol. 2, no. 13, 14 February 1831).
  • The “Articles and Covenants” of the Church - which contained a reference to something that happened during the First Vision - were published in a non-LDS newspaper (Telegraph, 19 April 1831).
  • Report in a non-LDS newspaper that Mormon missionaries were teaching at least six of the beginning elements of the First Vision story (Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).
  • In April 1841 the British publication Athenæum (a literary weekly) reprinted material from Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account pamphlet.
  • A non-LDS newspaper printed the first elements of the First Vision story. They were first reported in the Congregational Observer [Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut] and then reprinted in the Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, vol. 5, no. 23, 3 September 1841.
  • First Vision story elements from Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet were reprinted in The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, vol. 14 (new series), no. 42, July 1841, 370. Philadelphia: E. Littell and Co. (copied from the 1841 Athenæum article called “The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites”).
  • When the Rev. John A. Clark published his autobiography he mixed nine First Vision story elements together with the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and said that he learned them all in the Fall of 1827 from Martin Harris (John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way [Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simmon, 1842],---).
  • A non-LDS college professor published the beginning story elements of the First Vision (Jonathan B. Turner, Mormonism in All Ages [New York: Platt and Peters, 1842], 14).

The majority of these reports are garbled, fragmentary, and out of proper context but this evidence still shows that the claim being made in the source cited above is not accurate.

The second statement (critics of Joseph would have used the vision accounts) is negated by the following evidence:

  • Daniel P. Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons (New York City: Lane and Sandford, 1842), 334. The appendix heading explains that the author was drawing material from the January through June editions of the 1842 Times and Seasons (two separate First Vision stories were found in the March and April editions). Joseph Smith, as editor of the Times and Seasons, Kidder said, “commenced publishing his autobiography. It is, however, nothing but the old story about the plates and the angel, with a few emendations to save appearances.”
  • Quincy Whig, vol. 4, no. 46, 12 March 1842 – Acknowledgment that the “Wentworth Letter” had recently been published in the Times and Seasons on 1 March 1842. No mention is made of the First Vision story.
  • The Morning Chronicle, vol. 1, no. 190, 24 March 1842 [Pittsburgh] – quotes from the “Wentworth Letter” directly before and after the First Vision material but completely ignores the story (focuses on Joseph Smith’s birthday and the Book of Mormon instead).
  • John Hayward, The Book of Religions (Boston: John Hayward, 1842), 260-65, 271. This author indicates that he has possession of the Wentworth Letter and says, "we . . . are now enabled to tell [the] story [of the Latter-day Saints] in their own words." But he paraphrases the material about Joseph Smith's birth and background, completely skips over the First Vision story, provides lengthy quotes about the angel and the plates and even includes the Articles of Faith.

This is clear evidence that even if an anti-Mormon had multiple authoritative, unambiguous, printed copies of the First Vision story sitting right in front of them they would NOT necessarily seize upon it as evidence of an imposture. Some of them simply did NOT pay close attention to what Joseph Smith was saying openly.

Hugh Nibley pointed out years ago that anti-Mormon authors often went to great lengths to distort, ignore, or omit Joseph's telling of the visit of the Father and the Son.[1]

Notes

  1. See, for example, "Censoring the Joseph Smith Story," in Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991),55–96. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct linkGL direct link

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