Joseph Smith's First Vision/Church Hides Accounts (1969-1978)

Church publications which discuss various First Vision accounts
Author: Various
LDS-authored publications (1969-1978)

LDS-authored publications which discuss various accounts of the First Vision (1969-1978)

1978 Dean Jessee, "The Spirituality of Joseph Smith", Ensign Sept 1978, 14-20. Jessee writes: "In an early account of his First Vision, Joseph elaborated upon the struggle that preceded the event--the searching, the solemn and serious impressions, the concern for mankind, the application to scripture and teachers, the years of pondering, the parental teachings, the sorrow for sin, the serious contemplations of the works of nature, and the yearning to God for mercy, because 'there was none else to whom I could go.' He wrote the experience with his own pen: [he then quotes the 1832 version, beginning with] 'At about the age of twelve years my mind became seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal soul...." (page 17-8).

1977 Jeane Woolfenden, “Lovely Was the Morning,” New Era, Oct 1977, 22. She quotes from the canonized version; and then cites some “recently discovered account of the vision written by Joseph”, and refers to Dean Jessee’s “Early Accounts….” 1969.

1976 Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Gold Plates and Printer’s Ink,” Ensign, Sep 1976, 71-82. “Although most Church members are familiar with the basic events surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon—the First Vision, the delivery of the gold plates, the translation, the 1830 publishing date, etc.—few know the story in all the detail that is now available, since hundreds of interesting new facts have come to light only in the last decade. Recently discovered accounts by Joseph Smith and those close to him have filled in gaps in what could formerly only be told as a partial story. In 1831 Joseph Smith said that “it was not expedient” then to “tell the world all the particulars” about the Book of Mormon. However, he later made his history a priority project, compiling nearly a hundred pages of narrative and documents on the Book of Mormon years. Had there been no Liberty Jail, this record would have appeared earlier than 1842, when the Nauvoo Times and Seasons began serializing it as the detailed “History of Joseph Smith.” Informed Latter-day Saints have read this account, or the condensed form in the Pearl of Great Price. But, in fact, Joseph Smith reviewed his visions many times, adding details to the official history. Here we will principally use his early 1832 narrative, some of which is in the Prophet’s own handwriting, and also his secretary’s notes of a private summary in 1835—each of these manuscripts hereinafter identified by date of writing. And just as Joseph Smith’s recollections can be multiplied, his mother’s printed history is supplemented by an early manuscript compiled from talks with her, often adding detail….. Joseph Smith’s 1832 notes on the First Vision gave personal details unmentioned in public accounts, stressing that the Savior had appeared and assured him of forgiveness of sins, followed by Joseph’s falling “into transgression … in many things, which brought a wound upon my soul.” [after this the article deals strictly with the Book of Mormon] [NOTE: Anderson cites 1832, Nov. 9, 1835, Lucy Mack Smith 1853 and earlier rough drafts, as well as Anderson Improvement Era 1970, and Jessee BYU Studies 1969, both elsewhere in this list, under date]

1976 Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, (1976 Deseret Book Company): 7-13. After quoting extensively from the canonized version, Ludlow writes “The Prophet bore testimony many times of the sacred experience he had when he talked with the Father and the Son.” In addition to quoting the Wentworth Letter (1842), he quotes two reminiscences from Edward Stevenson, one from Joseph Grant Stevenson, Stevenson Family History [Provo: Joseph Grant Stevenson, 1955], 1:19-21; and a second one quoted in William E. Berrett and Alma H. Burton, Readings in L.D.S. Church History [Deseret Book Co., 1953], 1:17.

1975 James B. Allen and Malcom R. Thorp , “The Mission of the Twelve To England, 1840-41: Mormon Apostles and the Working Classes” BYU Studies, 15. 4 (Summer 1975): 526 Refers to Orson Pratt’s 1840 pamphlet “which contains the first version of Joseph Smith's First Vision to be published in Church sources.”

1971 Review of Milton Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith’s First Vision, by Hyrum L. Andrus, Ensign (September 1971): 54-55. “Dr. Backman’s… book sets the first vision of the Prophet Joseph ‘Smith in its historical context and shows that the latter-day seer’s statements on the background of that divine manifestation are compatible with its historical setting at every point. This book is the most recently published response to a charge that was made a few years ago that Joseph Smith fabricated the story of the first vision several years after it allegedly occurred…. It is followed by a treatment of the several accounts of the first vision that have come down to us from Joseph Smith’s day. The full statements of these accounts are given as appendix materials, and for this reason this volume is an important source of reference materials”

1971 Richard L. Anderson, "Heritage of a Prophet". Ensign February 1971, page 15-19 He begins by referring to "The Prophet Joseph Smith's first known autobiographical sketch...."; in the footnote he refers to the 1832 Manuscript History, in Dean Jessee, "The early accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision,' BYU Studies 9 (Spring 1969): 279 [below]. He doesn't quote the first vision portion of it, but quotes the part about being born 'of goodly parents, who spared no pains to instruct me in the Christian religion'. The article then deals with his grandparents on both sides.

1971 Dean C. Jessee “How Lovely Was the Morning”, Review of Joseph Smith's First Vision: The First Vision in its Historical Context. By Milton V. Backman, Jr. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1971). Dialogue, 6.1(Spring 1971): 85-88. “Ten of the fifteen documents reproduced in the Appendix are accounts of the First Vision as recorded by Joseph Smith or those who heard him relate it. These are the 1832, 1835, 1838, and Wentworth accounts, the first publication of the event by Orson Pratt in England in 1840, a translation from a pamphlet published by Orson Hyde in Germany in 1842, a non-Mormon account based upon an interview with Joseph Smith and published in the New York Spectator in 1843, Alexander Neibaur's diary notation of his hearing Joseph relate the incident on 24 May 1844…” [the remaining accounts are late reminiscences]

1971 Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith’s First Vision. The First Vision in its Historical Context (Bookcraft 1971; 2nd edition, revised and enlarged 1980)

1970 Richard L. Anderson, “The Trustworthiness of Young Joseph Smith”, Improvement Era (October 1970): 82-9. [primarily deals with knowledge of Moroni’s visit, not the first vision; but does refer to the 1832 version; the November 9, 1835 interview; the Wentworth letter, 1842; Lucy Mack Smith 1853, as well as two articles from the 1969 BYU Studies special issue, by Anderson and Jessee, below].

1970 Richard L. Anderson, “Confirming Records of Moroni’s Coming”, Improvement Era (September 1970): 4-8. “The past few years have seen intense study of the First Vision by Latter-day Saint scholars and the consequent publication of several little-known narratives of Joseph Smith’s earliest spiritual experience. However, every major record of the First Vision continues its narrative through the coming of Moroni. Therefore, recently publicized records of the First Vision also permit the visions concerning the Book of Mormon to be told in greater depth. First it is necessary to review the five sources that detail Moroni’s first appearances:

1.The most important account of the early visions is also the most widely used [1838, published in Times and Seasons March 14, 1842]
2.Next in importance is the earliest known manuscript record of the early visions. Through the invaluable work of Dean Jessee, of the Church Historians Office, it has been known that this account was written in either 1831 or 1832. However, he has recently discovered that the recorder (Frederick G. Williams) did not begin to write for the Prophet until the later date. This earliest manuscript history is therefore fixed at 1832. This early attempt at official history is more detailed than any other account except the ‘History of Joseph Smith’ [1842; now in PofGP]
3.In 1842, the Prophet approved for publication the Wentworth Letter, a summary of the main points of Church history up to that time….
4.The spontaneous quality of a personal conversation with Joseph Smith is preserved in the 1835 record of the interview with the notorious pretender ‘Joshua, the Jewish minister…. The 1835 conversation was taken down at the time by Warren Cowdery.
5.The first published history of the coming of Moroni appeared in letter form in the Messenger and Advocate in 1835. Its author was Oliver Cowdery, but its wealth of detail must be attributed largely to the Prophet….

Because critics of Joseph Smith have misused the Cowdery letters, it is important to stress their limitations. Like many writers, Oliver Cowdery aspired to more than he could perform. His preface envisioned ‘a full history of the rise of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interepesting parts of its progress….’ What he actually produced, however, was a history of the years in which the Book of Mormon was revealed and delivered for translation, 1823 to 1827. Skeptics assert that Joseph Smith did not have a First Vision because Oliver Cowdery did not narrate it…. Although Oliver Cowdery apparently began to narrate the background of the First Vision, he shifted his chronology and jumped from 1820 to 1823—we do not know why” (5) “The records discussed above make it obvious that Latter-day Saint history is in the process of its own correlation program. Multiple narratives of major events challenge historians to the hard work of collecting and the hard thinking of comparing” (6) In his footnotes Professor Anderson cites the following articles: BYU Studies 9 (Spring 1969), articles by Dean C. Jessee Richard L. Anderson 1966 [see under date] James B. Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts…” Improvement Era April 1970.

1970 President Loren C. Dunn, of the First Council of the Seventy, “A Prophet’s Story”, General Conference April 1970, Improvement Era June 1970: 48. [Quotes from BYU Studies, 9 (Spring 1969): 235: “’the sweet dream of a pure-minded boy.’”]

1970 James B. Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. What do we learn from them?” Improvement Era 73.4 (April 1970): 4-13; In addition to the article itself, it contains a chart comparing the following versions: 1832, 1835, 1838, Pratt 1840, Hyde 1842, Wentworth, NY Spectator 1843, Neibaur 1843. “The differences between the accounts may be grossly overemphasized, for the truth is that there is wide and general agreement in detail among all of them” Includes a chart comparing the various versions.

1969 Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Brigham Young University Studies, Vol. 9 (Spring 1969): 275-94. Contains text of 1832, Cowdery 1834, Nov. 9,1835, November 14, 1835, 1838, 1842 (Wentworth).

1969 Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Awakenings in the Burned-Over District: New Light on the Historical Setting of the First Vision,” Brigham Young University Studies, Vol. 9 (spring, 1969): 301-320

Further reading

First Vision Publications