Joseph Smith's First Vision/Church Hides Accounts (1979-1983)

Church publications which discuss various First Vision accounts
Author: Various
LDS-authored publications (1979-1983)

LDS-authored publications which discuss various accounts of the First Vision(1979-1983)

1983 Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Deseret Book 1983, 1986). “On four different occasions Joseph Smith wrote or dictated a detailed account of this marvelous and sacred experience of 1820. Three of these recitals [have been referred to in the first chapter]: the autobiography and history written in 1832 (which is the only account of the First Vision in Joseph’s handwriting, the others being dictated to scribes), the history of the Church which was initiated in 1838, and the Wentworth Letter. A fourth history is the record of a conversation between Joseph Smith and a visitor to Kirtland, Ohio, a man named Matthias. This latter account is recorded in Joseph Smith’s Kirtland diary by his scribe, Warren Cowdery, under the date Monday, November 9th, 1835” (17-8) “In addition to the four accounts recorded by Joseph Smith regarding his visions, before the Prophet’s death in 1844, four contemporaries wrote accounts of the First Vision based upon testimonies related to them by the Prophet. The first published account of the First Vision was written by Orson Pratt, and appeared in a work entitled A Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, 1840)” …. Orson Hyde, another apostle who was well acquainted with Joseph Smith, also prepared an account of the First Vision. His description of the early visions of Joseph Smith as written in German and was basically a translation of the English version prepared by Orson Pratt [Germany 1842]. A third early rendition of Joseph Smith’s First Vision was written by a non-Mormon newspaper editor who visited Nauvoo and, following a conversation with the Mormon prophet, published a description of what he learned from Joseph Smith in the New York Spectator of September 23, 1843 [it was not known yet that it had been previously published in Pittsburgh Gazette, by David Nye White] On May 24, 1844, one month prior to the death of Joseph Smith, Alexander Neibaur, another convert and friend of the Prophet, listened as Joseph Smith related to him his experience in the sacred grove. Following this conversation, Neibaur recorded in his journal his impressions of what Joseph said on that occasion” (19) Backman published these accounts in a running story, drawing from each of the various accounts (22-28). He then quotes from Orson Pratt, JD 12. 353-5; and Orson Pratt, JD 14. 141. He also includes a harmony in Appendix A (201-3) He refers to “additional descriptions (by contemporaries) of what Joseph Smith saw and learned during his First Vision”, referring only to volume and page: JD 2. 170-1; 2. 196-7; 7. 220-1; 8. 354; 11.1-2; 12. 67; 12. 302; 12. 352-4; 13. 65-7; 13. 77-8; 14. 140-1; 14. 261-2; 15. 180-2; 18. 239; 20. 167; 21. 161-5; 22. 29; 24. 371-3; 25. 155-7 (32, note 41) Backman also writes: “In the early history of the Church, some leaders referred to Jesus as an angel (a messenger from the Father)” (32, note 41) Backman also writes the following regarding Lucy Mack Smith’s Biographical Sketches, published in 1853: “During the winter following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, Lucy commenced dictating this history (which included a biography of her son, Joseph) to Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, a school teacher who had married Howard Coray, one of the scribes who had assisted Joseph in writing his history. In an attempt to obtain increased accuracy in her work, Lucy directed Martha and Howard Coray to assist in rewriting her history. A copy of the revised edition of Lucy’s manuscript was obtained by her son, William. Eventually a copy of the document was secured by Isaac Sheen, a member of the Church living in Michigan. While Orson Pratt, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was traveling to England on a mission, he was shown the manuscript copy and purchased it from Sheen. This work was subsequently published in England under the title Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and his Progenitors for many Generations (Liverpool: published for Orson Pratt and S.W. Richards, 1853)” (2-3)

1983 Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound. A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio 1830-1838 (Deseret Book 1983). “In a conversation with Robert Matthias also known as ‘Joshua the Jewish minister,’ a visitor to Kirtland in 1835 [November 9], Joseph Smith described his first vision. He said that while he was engaged in a quest for religious truth, he called upon the Lord and beheld a glorious vision. ‘A pillar of fire appeared above my head,’ he explained, ‘and filled me with unspeakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared like unto the first: he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee.’ During the 1830s the Prophet identified in his writings the two personages who appeared to him in the spring of 1820 as the Father and the Son” (231-2). In the footnotes he refers us to his book Joseph Smith’s First Vision (1980), and further states that the official version was begun in 1838, after he had moved to Missouri (422, notes 87, 88)

1982 Marvin Hill “The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation” Dialogue, 15. 2 (Summer 1982): 31-44.

1982 Richard L. Anderson, “The Credibility of the Book of Mormon Translators,” in Book of Mormon Authorship. New Light on Ancient Origins Edited by Noel B. Reynolds (BYU 1982): 213-37. Although this is an article about the Book of Mormon, the First Vision is included in all the recorded discussions of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, by Joseph Smith. Anderson quotes frequently from the “1832 manuscript that was the Prophet’s first attempt to give ‘an account of his marvelous experiences’”, and refers the reader to Dean Jessee, “Early Accounts…” BYU Studies 1969 (232-3, note 1. Another note refers to the 1832 manuscript which “is now the earliest priesthood restoration reference” (235, note, 28).

1981 Adele Brannon McCollum, “The First Vision: Re-Visioning Historical Experience”. Neal A. Lambert, ed., Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, (1981 Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University): 177-195. [Conference held Thursday and Friday, March 7-8, 1979, at BYU; reviewed Ensign (December 1979): 70-72] She refers to the 1832 version, and the official version; also refers to previously published items by Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision (1971; suggesting it was time for a new edition (which happened in 1980); James Allen Improvement Era (1970, and Allen, Dialogue 1966; and to Dean Jessee and Richard L. Anderson, both in BYU Studies 1969]

1981 Klaus Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience (University of Chicago 1981). “Whatever power Smith may have had over other men, he emphatically insisted that he had the ability to see visions from his early youth. In 1838 he claimed in his official autobiography (later canonized) that as early as 1820, when he was a mere boy of fourteen, he had suffered from a severe religious anxiety regarding the truthfulness of various competing sects…….. Smith made things difficult for himself by writing eighteen years before setting down what was to become the official, authorized account of events that purportedly occurred in 1820…. In recent years Mormon historians have assembled fragments of earlier accounts, none can be traced back to the year 1820. Moreover, the versions differ in some of their details. While Latter-day Saint scholars tend to regard these earlier accounts as confirmation of Smith’s veracity, some non-Mormon scholars have come to exactly the opposite conclusion, seeing them as evidence of the evolution of his fertile imagination. Because of their fragmentary nature, these accounts do not support firm conclusions for either side. Circumstantial evidence, likewise, has not helped to close the case” (21-23) He cites several earlier books and articles: Jessee, “early accounts” (1969): Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts” (1970); Anderson, “Circumstantial Confirmation” (1969) Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision (1979).

1980 Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith’s First Vision. The First Vision in its Historical Context; second enlarged edition of (Bookcraft 1971; 2nd edition revised and enlarged 1980). This volume has full citations from 1832, 1835, 1838, 1842 (Wentworth Letter), Orson Pratt (1840), Orson Hyde (1842 German), 1843 Pittsburgh Gazette, 1844 Alexander Neibaur, Edward Stevenson reminiscence (1893), John Taylor 1879. The 1980 edition includes two new appendices. One of them (Q) includes a “Reply to Critics” in which a harmonization of the various accounts is included. He also gives references to 4 sermons by Orson Pratt in later years.

1980 Neal E. Lambert and Richard H. Cracroft, “Literary Form and Historical Understanding: Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 31-42.

1980 Review of recent meeting of the Mormon History Association, during which James Allen delivered the paper [below], in Ensign (July 1980): 79. In that review was the following: “Another presentation on the First Vision was that of James B. Allen of BYU’s History Department. Members of the Church now see it as ‘the most central event’ of the restoration of the gospel, but he reviewed how missionaries used the Book of Mormon much more than the First Vision to prove Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission and that the First Vision did not receive strong emphasis until the 1880s when “George Q. Cannon set the tone for the next hundred years’ by suggesting it be taught to children. Dr. Allen concluded his presentation with a list of thirty-four statements by various General Authorities from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries about what the First Vision proves, including: the Father has a body of flesh and bones, he is approachable, and he answers prayers; Jesus is a being similar to the Father; and revelation is continuous” (79). [NOTE: The Cannon connection was already made by Fawn Brodie in 1945]

1980 James B. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 43-61. ]

1979 “Symposium Examines ‘Literature of Belief’,” Ensign, Dec. 1979, 70–72. [BYU Conference March 7, 8, 1979, consisting of LDS and many non-LDS scholars representing various religious traditions] “The story of the First Vision—not only what happened there but the fact that it happened—was the subject explored by Adele B. McCollum, who teaches philosophy and religion at Montclair State College in New Jersey. “To believe in the vision of Joseph Smith is to believe that one may have to look on God and yet live. And that risk is great because one will never again live in the same way.” She discussed in greater detail one of the most threatening aspects of that vision: the multiplicity of Gods. Part of what Joseph Smith found out is that God and man do not belong to two completely different species, that man cannot only experience God but also “experience himself as god, that is, to experience Godness. In Mormonism, man, though finite, is not completely separated from God.” [NOTE: The book containing the papers presented at this conference was published 1981; see under date]

1979 James B. Allen, “Line upon Line,” Ensign, Jul 1979, 37. “Finally, it is interesting to observe that LDS understanding of the nature of the Godhead has also seen considerable growth since the Church was organized in 1830. There was no question among the Saints from the beginning that God was a personal being, or that man had direct access to him through prayer. Joseph Smith had seen him, as well as his Son, Jesus Christ, in vision, years before the Church was organized. But in the early years, few members of the Church were fully aware of Joseph Smith’s first vision, for at first he did not widely circulate any account of it.[note 13] Only in 1838, to correct “the many reports which have been put into circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons,” would he prepare it for publication (JS—H 1:1).” [Note 13 refers to James B. Allen, “The Significance of Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’ in Mormon Thought,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 (1966):40–41.]

1979 Marvin Hill, ‘On the First Vision and Its Import in the Shaping of Early Mormonism,” Dialogue 12 (Spring, 1979): 90-99.

1979 Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience. A History of the Latter-day Saints (Random House 1979; Vintage Books August 1980). [At the time of writing Arrington was Church Historian, and Professor of History at BYU; Bitton was Professor of History at University of Utah]. Quotes from both 1832 and 1838 [=1842 publication; canonized version]. “Textual analysis shows several differences between this early version and the later ones, but these are mainly matters of emphasis” (7-8). Cites Anderson ‘Circumstantial Confirmation…” (1969); Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision (1971); Jessee, “Early Accounts…” (1969); Paul R. Cheesman, An analysis of the Accounts Relating Joseph Smith’s Early Visions (Master’s Thesis, BYU 1965). Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches (1853)

1979 J. Christopher Conkling, A Joseph Smith Chronology (Deseret Book 1979): 3 “The first known record of the first vision was not made until 1831 or 1832”. Refers to1839 version which was eventually canonized, and Orson Pratt’s 1840 version. “For comparisons of the several early versions of the first vision, see BYU Studies, (Spring 1969), 275-96; and Improvement Era (April 1970): 413.” Refers to Pratt’s 1840 version as “the first known time that Joseph Smith's first vision is put into print.” (147)

1979 David Whittaker, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision. A Sourced Essay”, Mormon History Association Newsletter 42 (November 1979): 7-9. “Until the 1940s few in depth historical studies had dealt with the vision itself. Here are some major historical works available to the interested student. Dean Jessee (Dialogue 6 (Spring 1971): 85-8; Richard L. Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised,’ BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 283-314; Marvin Hill article continues with the following: unmentioned Hill source is Dialogue 1979; Jessee, BYU Studies (1969); Cheesman 1965; Backman, 1976; Backman (1971); JB Allen, Dialogue (1966); JB Allen Improvement Era (April 1973).

Further reading

First Vision Publications