The mere existence of the manuscript, of course, does nothing to either prove or disprove the authenticity of the story, but it demonstrates the historical fact that in the early 1830s the story of the vision was beginning to find place in the formulation of Mormon thought. The fact that none of the available contemporary writings about Joseph Smith in the 1830s, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary journal or correspondence yet discovered mentions the story of the First Vision is convincing evidence that at best it received only limited circulation in those early days. A possible explanation for the fact that the story of the vision was not generally known in the 1830s is sometimes seen in Joseph Smith’s conviction that experiences such as these should be kept from the general public because of their extremely sacred nature. This singular story has achieved a position of unique importance in the traditions and official doctrines of the Mormon Church. In 1830, Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon and founded what became the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is interesting to note that, in demonstrating the doctrine that the Godhead consists of two separate personages, no mention was made of Joseph Smith having seen them, nor was any reference made to the First Vision in any part of the publication. Additional accounts by people close to the Mormon prophet would undoubtedly reveal similar variations and amplifications. By the 1850s, the story of the vision had become an important part of Church literature. In short, it is almost certain that the document in the back of the book comprises the original notes from which the “Manuscript History” was later compiled and that it is actually a daily account of Joseph Smith’s activities in 1835, as recorded by a scribe. Joseph Smith was not the first person to claim divine revelation.  It might be noted that Fawn Brodie suggests that the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision was something which he invented sometime after 1834. They had eleven children (two adopted), only five of whom lived past infancy. The popular image of Mormon belief centered on such things as the Book of Mormon, the missionary zeal, and the concept of Zion in Missouri. Such important early converts as Parley P. Pratt, Sidney Rigdon, Brigham Young, and Heber C. Kimball all joined because of their conversion through the Book of Mormon, and none of their early records or writings seem to indicate that an understanding or knowledge of the First Vision was in any way a part of their conversion. People who heard it were obviously impressed with different details and perhaps even embellished it a little with their own literary devices as they retold or recorded it. Not only is belief in the First Vision of primary importance to Mormonism, but the story of the vision has what might be termed a number of secondary, although highly important, utilitarian functions. This volume was accepted as one of the standard works of the Mormon Church in 1880.  The Times and Seasons began publication in 1839, but, as indicated above, the story of the vision was not told in its pages until 1842. Joseph Smith’s First Vision Invite the young women to silently read and ponder Joseph Smith’s First Vision and his testimony in Joseph Smith—History 1:11–19, 24–25 Pin It  As quoted in Cheesman, “An Analysis of the Accounts,” 29. According to his account, while praying Joseph was visited by two "personages" who identified themselves as God the Father and Jesus Christ. Not even in his own history did Joseph Smith mention being criticized in this period for telling the story of the First Vision. . No mention was made, however, of the idea that Joseph Smith had beheld Deity. Such an effort at censorship would obviously be unrealistic. . Evidence indicates, however, that they were rare in these early days and that only gradually did this use of the story find place in the traditions of the Church. He was a controversial figure in American historybeloved of his followers and hated by his detractors. It has been demonstrated that an understanding of the story of Joseph Smith’s vision dawned only gradually upon the membership of the Church during his lifetime, and that new and important uses were made of the story after his death.  As transcribed in Cheesman, “An Analysis of the Accounts,” 129. This paper has been an attempt to trace the significance of the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in the development of Mormon thought. The only additional evidence that Joseph Smith’s story was being circulated in the 1830s is found in reminiscences of a few people who were close to Joseph Smith in that decade.  It is located in the back of Book A-1 of the handwritten manuscript of the History of the Church (commonly referred to as the “Manuscript History”). . In Neibaur’s words, Joseph Smith “went into the woods to pray, kneels himself down . It seems apparent that after Joseph Smith decided to write the story in 1838, the way was clear for its use as a missionary tool. This is founded on the claim that Joseph Smith was/is a true prophet. Non-Mormon accounts of the rise of the Church written in the 1830s made no mention of the story of the vision. That is the way it has been from the beginning. Joseph Smith Joseph Smith (1805-1844), American religious leader, was the founder of a unique American sect, the Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence.  By this time, obviously, the story had become well known both to members and non-members alike and was being used as a basic missionary tool. According to this account, the young man was informed that his sins were forgiven and that the “fullness of the gospel” would be made known to him in the future. Smith established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . In the same year, Orson Hyde published in Germany a pamphlet entitled A Cry From the Wilderness, a Voice from the Dust of the Earth. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught an important principle when he explained that “all revelation since the fall has come through Jesus Christ, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Although a mere widow’s son, I felt proud and blessed of God, when he honored us by coming under our roof and partaking of our hospitality. To summarize what has been said so far, it is apparent that the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision was not given general circulation in the 1830s.  John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints (St. Louis: printed by author, 1839), 1. Orson Hyde’s account, published in 1842, is similar to the stories told by Joseph Smith and Orson Pratt. As Smith’s followers moved westward again and again in response both to his revelations and to conflict with neighbors, they played an important role in expanding the frontiers of the United States—particularly after Joseph Smith’s death, when thousands migrated west of the Rocky Mountains.  T. Edgar Lyon, Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: LDS Department of Education, 1955), 209; James R. Clark, The Story of the Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), 186–221.  When Parley P. Pratt converted John Taylor in 1836, the story he told him was of the angelic visitations connected with the Book of Mormon, of the priesthood restoration, and of the organization of the Church. Their message concerned the Book of Mormon, but Corrill reported nothing of having heard of a prior vision. Alexander Campbell, who had some reason to be especially bitter against the Mormons because of the conversion of Sidney Rigdon in 1830, published one of the first scathing denunciations of Joseph Smith in 1832. This discovery is a handwritten manuscript apparently composed about 1833 and either written or dictated by Joseph Smith. As far as the vision is concerned, the only possible allusion to it is in section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which reads, “Wherefore I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jr. and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; and also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world.” The same statement is in the 1833 Book of Commandments, but most would agree that it hardly constitutes a direct reference to the First Vision. It seems apparent, however, that, as in the case of Cheesman’s document, few, if any, people had been aware of it. While reminiscences are obviously open to question—for it is easy for anyone, after many years, to read back into his own history things which he accepts at the time of the telling—some of them at least sound convincing enough to suggest that the story might have been circulating on a limited basis. It is noted by some that in 1838 he declared that his basic reason for telling it even then, eighteen years after it happened, was in response to “reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons” who had distorted the facts. 3 (Autumn 1966): 29–45. In a recent Church News interview, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and descendant of Hyrum Smith, spoke of the history and significance of Topsfield and a monument that was recently erected to honor Joseph Smith… Writing on May 24, 1844, Neibaur said that Joseph Smith had told him that day of his early quest for religion. . As far as missionary work is concerned, it is evident that here too the story of the First Vision had little, if any, importance in the 1830s. In our time, however, it is used by Church leaders and teachers to demonstrate for believers many other aspects of the Mormon faith: the idea that God actually hears and answers prayers; the concept that there is a personal devil who tries to stop the progress of truth; and, perhaps most fundamental of all, the Mormon doctrine that the divine Godhead are actually separate, distinct, physical personages, as opposed to the Trinitarian concept within traditional Christianity. Joseph apparently told his story several times before he released it for publication. Provo, UT 84602 One of the personages said to Joseph, “This is My Beloved Son. . The story is an essential part of the first lesson given by Mormon missionaries to prospective converts, and its acceptance is necessary before baptism. It was entitled Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon. Information was what I most desired, at this time and with a fixed determination to obtain it. 3 The Prophet left some clues as to what he himself understood was the significance his vision in his firsthand accounts of that experience. Joseph Smith’s original purpose in writing the story was apparently to help demonstrate his reasons for not joining any church. . Joseph married Emma Hale on January 18, 1827, and was described as a … The interest, rather, was in the Book of Mormon and the various angelic visitations connected with its origin. A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with unspeakable joy. He declared that he had seen God. In 1835, Joseph Smith’s scribe heard him tell the story to a visitor. As Allen and others have explored at length, the meaning or significance assigned to the First Vision emerged slowly during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. He was not the first person to form a religious cult centered around his personal claims. We were proud, indeed, to entertain one who had conversed with the Father and the Son, and been under the tuition of an angel from heaven. The two persons looked alike, and the second assured him that his sins had been forgiven. From a separate section in the back of Book A-1, 120–21. In 1893, Edward Stevenson published his reminiscences. Joseph Smith’s First Vision 4 stands today as the greatest event in world history since the birth, ministry, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The account published by Orson Pratt in 1840 greatly amplifies upon the story as told by Joseph Smith. In the back of the book, however, is a most curious and revealing document. This early pamphlet contained a detailed account of the First Vision which elaborated upon several details that Joseph Smith touched on only briefly.  Hugh Nibley, “Censoring Joseph Smith’s Story,” Improvement Era, July 1961, 522. On June 27, 1844, a mob broke into the jail and murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Walker wrote of hearing John Alger declare in “Fast meeting” that he had heard Joseph Smith relate the story of the vision, saying “that God touched his eyes with his finger and said, ‘Joseph this is my beloved Son, hear him.’ As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Saviour.”  The latter, of course, is only reminiscence, but together with the earlier narratives it demonstrates at least that a few people had this concept of the vision as it gradually took its place among the fundamental teachings of the Church. During the thirty-nine years of his life, Joseph established thriving cities in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois; produced volumes of scripture; sent missionaries throughout the world; orchestrated the building of temples; served as mayor of Nauvoo, one of the largest cities in Illinois, and as general of its militia, the Nauvoo Legion; and was a candidate for the presidency of the United States. In 1835 he was willing to tell the story to a visitor. This essay was originally published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1, no. This also contained an elaborate account of the vision. Joseph himself wrote at least two different accounts for publication. Nibley takes the point of view that the story of the vision was not told in those early years because of its sacred nature. When he was 24, Smith published the Book of Mormon.  The first important missionary pamphlet of the Church was the Voice of Warning, published in 1837 by Parley P. Pratt. 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