Mormonism and Wikipedia/First Vision/Background in the supernatural

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    An analysis of the Wikipedia article "First Vision"

A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia: Mormonism and Wikipedia/First Vision
A work by a collaboration of authors (Link to Wikipedia article here)
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Context and development of the vision story  Updated 9/17/2011

Background

From the Wikipedia article:
Joseph Smith, Jr. was born on December 23, 1805 in Vermont, and c. 1816-17, his family moved to a farm just outside the town of Palmyra.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Smith (1832) , p. 1

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Like many other Americans living on the frontier at the beginning of the 19th century, Joseph Smith, Jr. and his family believed in visions, dreams, and other mystical communications with God.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Quinn (1998)

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
For example, in 1811, Joseph Smith, Jr.'s maternal grandfather, Solomon Mack, described a series of visions and voices from God that resulted in his conversion to Christianity at the age of seventy-six.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • "About midnight I saw a light about a foot from my face as bright as fire; the doors were all shut and no one stirring in the house. I thought by this that I had but a few moments to live, and oh what distress I was in....Another night soon after, I saw another light as bright as the first, at a small distance from my face, and I thought I had but a few moments to live. And not sleeping nights and reading, all day I was in misery; well you may think I was in distress, soul and body. At another time in the dead of the night I was called by my Christian name; I arise up to answer to my name. The doors all being shut and the house still, I thought the Lord called, and I had but a moment to live."Mack (1811) , p. 25

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Before Joseph Smith, Jr. was born, his mother Lucy Mack Smith went to a grove near her home in Vermont and prayed about her husband Joseph Smith, Sr.'s repudiation of evangelical religion.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Smith (1853) , p. 54

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
That night she said she had a dream which she interpreted as a prophecy that Joseph, Sr., would later accept the "pure and undefiled Gospel of the Son of God."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Smith (1853) , pp. 55–56; Quinn (1998) .

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
She also stated that Smith, Sr. had a number of dreams or visions between 1811 and 1819,

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Smith (1853) , pp. 56–59, 70–74. Smith, Sr.'s first vision was around 1811 (id. at 56-57), and his "seventh and last vision" was in 1819 (id. at 73–74). Bushman says, "The best barometer of the household's religious climate are seven dreams Joseph Sr. had in the years before and after his son's first vision. Lucy wrote down five of them, calling them visions. Since no other member of the family gave an account of the dreams or even referred to them, and Lucy recorded them thirty years later, there is no way of testing the accuracy of her memory." Bushman (2005) , p. 36.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
the first vision occurring when his mind was "much excited upon the subject of religion."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Smith (1853) , pp. 56–57.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Joseph Sr.'s first vision confirmed to him the correctness of his refusal to join any organized religious group.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Smith (1853) , pp. 57–58. Joseph Smith, Sr.'s second vision as reported by Lucy Mack Smith exhibits many similarities to the Tree of life vision which Joseph Smith, Jr. would later dictate as part of the Book of Mormon Bushman (2005) , p. 36.

FAIR's analysis:


Question: Did Joseph Smith incorporate his father's dream of the tree of life into the Book of Mormon?

The details of Joseph's father's dream were written long after the Book of Mormon was published

Critics point to similarities between a dream Joseph Smith's father had and Lehi's dream of the tree of life as evidence that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon based on his own experiences. Significantly, none of Joseph's family regarded the similarities as evidence that Joseph Jr. was engaging in a forgery.

The details of the dream were written long after the Book of Mormon was published. Lucy's account is (at the very least) influenced in its verbiage by the Book of Mormon. Either Joseph Sr. had a remarkably similar dream, or Lucy used the material in the Book of Mormon to either bolster her memory, or it unwittingly influenced her memory.

There are three potential explanations for the similarities

  1. Joseph Smith plagiarized Joseph Sr.'s dream when he wrote the Book of Mormon. This is the stance adopted by the critics.
  2. Joseph Sr. had a dream that was similar to the dream experienced by Lehi, and this was a sign to the Prophet's family that he was translating a real record that came from God. This is certainly possible, though it is impossible to prove or disprove by historical techniques, and so will not be elaborated on. It remains, however, a viable option.
  3. Lucy Mack Smith's account of the dream (which she recorded many years after the fact, when the Book of Mormon account was well-known and published) may have influenced how she remembered and/or recorded her account of Joseph Sr's dream.

Details of Joseph Smith, Sr.'s dream of the tree of life

According to Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith, Senior, the father of the Prophet, had the following dream in 1811 when the family was living in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Joseph Smith, Junior, would have been 5 years old at the time.

I thought...I was traveling in an open, desolate field, which appeared to be very barren. As I was thus traveling, the thought suddenly came into my mind that I had better stop and reflect upon what I was doing, before I went any further. So I asked myself, "What motive can I have in traveling here, and what place can this be?" My guide, who was by my side, as before, said, "This is the desolate world; but travel on." The road was so broad and barren that I wondered why I should travel in it; for, said I to myself, "Broad is the road, and wide is the gate that leads to death, and many there be that walk therein; but narrow is the way, and straight is the gate that leads to everlasting' life, and few there be that go in thereat."

Traveling a short distance farther, I came to a narrow path. This path I entered, and, when I had traveled a little way in it, I beheld a beautiful stream of water, which ran from the east to the west. Of this stream I could see neither the source nor yet the termination; but as far as my eyes could extend I could see a rope running along the bank of it, about as high as a man could reach, and beyond me was a low, but very pleasant valley, in which stood a tree such as I had never seen before. It was exceedingly handsome, insomuch that I looked upon it with wonder and admiration. Its beautiful branches spread themselves somewhat like an umbrella, and it bore a kind of fruit, in shape much like a chestnut bur, and as white as snow, or, if possible whiter. I gazed upon the same with considerable interest, and as I was doing so the burs or shells commenced opening and shedding their particles, or the fruit which they contained, which was of dazzling whiteness. I drew near and began to eat of it, and I found it delicious beyond description. As I was eating, I said in my heart, "I can not eat this alone, I must bring my wife and children, that they may partake with me." Accordingly, I went and brought my family, which consisted of a wife and seven children, and we all commenced eating, and praising God for this blessing. We were exceedingly happy, insomuch that our joy could not easily be expressed.

While thus engaged, I beheld a spacious building standing opposite the valley which we were in, and it appeared to reach to the very heavens. It was full of doors and windows, and they were filled with people, who were very finely dressed. When these people observed us in the low valley, under the tree, they pointed the finger of scorn at us, and treated us with all manner of disrespect and contempt. But their contumely we utterly disregarded.

I presently turned to my guide, and inquired of him the meaning of the fruit that was so delicious. He told me it was the pure love of God, shed abroad in the hearts of all those who love him, and keep his commandments. He then commanded me to go and bring the rest of my children. I told him that we were all there. "No," he replied, "look yonder, you have two more, and you must bring them also." Upon raising my eyes, I saw two small children, standing some distance off. I immediately went to them, and brought them to the tree; upon which they commenced eating with the rest, and we all rejoiced together. The more we ate, the more we seemed to desire, until we even got down upon our knees, and scooped it up, eating it by double handfuls.

After feasting in this manner a short time, I asked my guide what was the meaning of the spacious building which I saw. He replied, "It is Babylon, it is Babylon, and it must fall. The people in the doors and windows are the inhabitants thereof, who scorn and despise the Saints of God because of their humility."

I soon awoke, clapping my hands together for joy.[1]

There are many obvious connections between this dream and Lehi's vision of the tree of life

There are many obvious connections between this dream and Lehi's vision of the tree of life recorded in 1 Nephi 8:

  • A desolate field representing the world (8:4).
  • A narrow path (8:20).
  • A river of water (8:13).
  • A rope running along the bank of the river (similar in function to the rod of iron in 8:19, 24).
  • A tree with dazzling white fruit (8:10–11).
  • Joseph, Sr. desires that his family should partake of the fruit also (8:12).
  • A spacious building filled with people who are mocking those who eat the fruit (8:26–27).
  • Joseph, Sr. and his family ignore the mocking (8:33).
  • The fruit represents the love of God (11:22).
  • The building represents the world (11:36; 12:18).

The source of the dream is Lucy's manuscript for which she dictated in the winter of 1844–45, 35 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon

The source of the dream is Lucy's manuscript for Joseph Smith, The Prophet And His Progenitors For Many Generations, which she dictated to Martha Jane Coray in the winter of 1844–45. Note the date of Lucy's dictation: more than 15 years after Joseph Smith, Junior, dictated the Book of Mormon.

Dreams are notoriously ephemeral. It is difficult for most people to remember the details of a dream, and those details quickly fade in the first few minutes after awaking.

The amount of detail Lucy records and the second-hand nature and late date of her testimony have led many to the conclusion that Lucy's recollection was strongly influenced by what she read in the Book of Mormon. That is, it is difficult to establish how much Joseph Sr.'s original dream had in common with the Book of Mormon, since the details which we have are only available after the fact, when Lucy's memory would have been affected by what she learned in the more detailed Book of Mormon account (even as it stands, the Book of Mormon account is far more detailed and lengthy than the material from 1844-45).

Thus, it seems plausible that there is a relationship between the Book of Mormon and Lucy's text--but, we cannot know in what direction(s) that influence moved.


From the Wikipedia article:
The Smith family was also exposed to the intense revivalism of this era. During the Second Great Awakening, numerous revivals occurred in many communities in the northeastern United States and were often reported in the Palmyra Register, a local paper read by the Smith family.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Turner (1852) , p. 214

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
In the Palmyra area itself, the only large multi-denominational revivals occurred in 1816-1817 and 1824-1825.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Bushman (2005) , pp. 36, 46; Vogel (2004) , pp. 26, 58–60: "Indeed, it was the revival of 1824-25, his family's conversion, and his mother's pressure that caused [Smith] so much pain and suffering rather than the revival of 1817 or the one he 'remembered' for 1820." Even Bushman does not argue for an 1820 revival in Palmyra, stating only that the "great revival of 1816 and 1817, which nearly doubled the number of Palmyra Presbyterians, was in progress when the Smiths arrived." (36)

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
In the intervening years, there were Methodist revivals, at least within twenty road miles of Palmyra; and more than sixty years later a newspaper editor in Lyons, New York, recalled "various religious awakenings in the neighborhood."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Mather (1880) , pp. 198–199Roberts (1902) .

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
The family also practiced a form of folk magic,

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Quinn (1998) , p. xx-xxi A 1985 memorandum sent from the headquarter of the LDS Church Educational System to regional and local administrators read, "Even if the [Mark Hofmann] letters were to be unauthentic, such issues as Joseph Smith's involvement in treasure-seeking and folk magic remain. Ample evidence exists for both of these, even without the letters."

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
which, although not uncommon in this time and place, was criticized by many contemporary Protestants "as either fraudulent illusion or the workings of the Devil."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), 256.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Both Joseph Smith, Sr. and at least two of his sons worked at "money digging," using seer stones in (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to locate lost items and buried treasure.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Smith (1838a) , pp. 42–43 (saying that he had been a "money digger" but that it "was never a very profitable job to him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it"). Elders’ Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,1: 43 (July 1838). For a discussion of Joseph Smith's money-digging activities by a sympathetic academic biographer, see Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 48-49.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
In a draft of her memoirs, Lucy Mack Smith referred to folk magic:
I shall change my theme for the present, but let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles or soothsaying, to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation. But whilst we worked with our hands, we endeavored to remember the service of and the welfare of our souls.
</blockquote>

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Lucy Smith "Preliminary Manuscript," LDS Church Archives, in EMD, 1: 285

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
D. Michael Quinn has written that Lucy Mack Smith viewed these magical practices as "part of her family's religious quest" while denying that they prevented "family members from accomplishing other, equally important work."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View ((Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 55: "Joseph Smith's mother did not deny her family participation in occult activities but simply affirmed that these did not prevent family members from accomplishing other, equally important work." In a note at EMD 1: 285 (n. 84), Dan Vogel argues that this sentence from the draft may have been excised from the 1853 edition of Lucy Mack Smith's memoirs because of its allusion to folk magic, "which was a sensitive subject for those not wishing to give credence to claims made in affidavits collected in 1833 by Philastus Hurlbut."

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Quinn also notes that the Smith family "participated in a wide range of magic practices, and Smith's first vision occurred within the context of his family's treasure quest."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Quinn (1998) , p. 31. Michael Coe, professor emeritus of Anthropology at Yale, has called Joseph Smith "a great religious leader...one of the greatest people who ever lived" because like "like a shaman in anthropology," like "magicians doing magic," he "started out faking it" but ended up convincing himself (as well as others) that his visions were true. Coe interview on PBS "The Mormons."

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Jan Shipps notes that while Joseph Smith's "religious claims were rejected by many of the persons who had known him in the 1820s because they remembered him as a practitioner of the magic arts," others of his earliest followers were attracted to his claims "for precisely the same reason."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Shipps (1985) , p. 18.

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
Richard Bushman has called the spiritual tradition of the Smith family "a religious melee." Joseph Smith, Sr., insisted on morning and evening prayers, but he was spiritually adrift. "If there was a personal motive for Joseph Smith Jr.'s revelations, it was to satisfy his family's religious want and, above all, to meet the need of his oft-defeated, unmoored father."

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Bushman , pp. 25–27

FAIR's analysis:


From the Wikipedia article:
No members of the Smith family were church members before 1820, the reported date of the First Vision.

Wikipedia footnotes:

  • Quinn (1998) , p. 322. Quinn calls the Smiths "unchurched Christians" who "possessed seer stones, a dagger for drawing the required circles, as well as magic parchments to ward off thieves and communicate with good spirits to help find treasures."

FAIR's analysis:


References

Wikipedia references for "First Vision"
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