joseph smith significance
 For a copy of the Pratt story, see Cheesman, “An Analysis of the Accounts,” appendix C.  Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records (Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840), 5. I immediately went out into the woods where my father had a clearing, and I kneeled down, and prayed, saying, “O Lord, what church shall I join?” Directly I saw a light, and then a glorious personage in the light, and then another personage, and the first person said to the second, “Behold my Beloved Son, hear Him.” I then addressed this second person, saying, “O Lord, what church shall I join?” He replied, “Do not join any of them, they are all corrupt.” The vision then vanished. In 1843 Joseph Smith told the story to a non-Mormon editor, who later quoted him in an article in the New York Spectator. Perhaps the closest one may come to seeing a contemporary diarist’s account of the story is in the journal of Alexander Neibaur, which is located in the LDS Church Historian’s Office. .  Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet (Salt Lake City, 1893), 4–5. In the back of the book, however, is a most curious and revealing document. This, of course, is to be expected, for the same thing happens in the retelling of any story. Other reminiscences may be found which would indicate that the story was being told in the 1830s, but at this point the extent of the telling is not clear, and the weight of evidence would suggest that it was not a matter of common knowledge, even among Church members, in the earliest years of Mormon history. Through it all, however, there seems to be no deviation from Joseph Smith’s apparent intent in telling the story in the first place: to demonstrate that he had had a visitation from Deity and that he was told that the religions of his day were wrong. B. Turner published Mormonism in All Ages, which included one of the bitterest denunciations of the Mormon prophet yet printed, but even at this late date, no mention was made of the First Vision. He related the religious revival which he ascribed to the discovery of the Book of Mormon. Morgan's ancestors were Joseph Smith's neighbors in Nauvoo, Ill., where Mormons congregated after their expulsion from Missouri. These were printed the same year in the same periodical yet differed somewhat in their emphasis. By the 1880s, if not earlier, it was being used in sermons as support for the Mormon doctrine of God, although Joseph Smith himself never used the story for that purpose. The character of God—whether He was a personal being, whether His center was nowhere, and His circumference everywhere, were matters of speculation. (Salt Lake City) After the difficult journey they greatly improved their land through wise forms of irrigation. 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. The person who would understand the history of any institution must be concerned not only with chronology but also with an understanding of what the people in that institution were thinking, what they were being taught, and how these ideas compare with present-day thought. The Untold Story of the Death of Joseph Smith The events leading to the death of Mormon founder Joseph Smith are much like the events surrounding his life—full of contradiction. . rev.  For a transcribed copy of the handwritten manuscript, see Cheesman, “An Analysis of the Accounts,” appendix A. Why was the talkative old man so close-lipped on the one thing that could have made him famous? Orson Pratt and Orson Hyde both said that it happened when Joseph was “somewhere about fourteen or fifteen years old.” The Wentworth letter said “when about fourteen years of age.” Joseph’s brother, William Smith, wrote that the Smith family’s concern with the prevailing religions of the day came when Joseph was about seventeen. Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was a translation from a gold plate that an angel named Moroni showed him.  Quoted in LeRoi C. Snow, “How Lorenzo Snow Found God,” Improvement Era, February 1937, 83. 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 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. Additional accounts by people close to the Mormon prophet would undoubtedly reveal similar variations and amplifications. It is clear, of course, that Joseph Smith taught these doctrines, but it is of special interest to note that, as far as any recorded material reveals, he never used the story of his vision specifically to illustrate them. This article explains that Joseph claimed to be restoring the true, original meaning of the Bible, and looks at examples of Joseph's changes to the Gospel of … I kneeled again, my mouth was opened and my tongue loosed; I called on the Lord in mighty prayer. His path to the formation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was influenced by this time period, . 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. Joseph Smith Jail This was very well done and you learned what jail conditions were like at the time, as well as the beliefs of Joseph Smith/LDS. Again, the details of the story vary somewhat from the accepted version, but the manuscript, if authentic, at least demonstrates that by 1835 the story had been told to someone. It seems probable, however, that as far as non-Mormons were concerned, there was little, if any, awareness of it in the 1830s. As Allen and others have explored at length, the meaning or significance assigned to the First Vision emerged slowly during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. The several variations in these and other accounts would seem to suggest that, in relating his story to various individuals at various times, Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of it and that his listeners were each impressed with different things. He testified also unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. There is little, if any, evidence, however, that by the early 1830s Joseph Smith was telling the story in public. The First Vision, according to the Mormon prophet, came as a result of his prayerful inquiry concerning which church to join. 801-422-6975, New Evidence of Limited Circulation in the 1830s. Years later, he recalled the experience in these words: As I looked upon him and listened, I thought to myself that a man bearing such a wonderful testimony as he did, and having such a countenance as he possessed, could hardly be a false prophet.  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. To hear Mormons tell the story, Smith did no wrong; for others, he did no right. The Significance of Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” in Mormon Thought by James B. Allen JAMES B. ALLEN, Associate Professor of History at Brigham Young University, is the author of articles on Mormon and Utah history and on teaching religion which have appeared in the Utah Historical Quarterly and the Improvement Era. As 1849 dawned, America prepared for a change in presidential administrations. Nor do the pages of the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate, printed in Kirtland, Ohio, from October 1834 to September 1836. The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote or dictated four known accounts of his First Vision. The importance of the manuscript here lies in the fact that the scribe wrote down what Joseph Smith said to his visitor, and he began not by telling the story of the discovery of the Book of Mormon but with an account of the First Vision. The question for historical consideration, then, is when and how the story of Joseph Smith assumed its present importance, not only as a test of faith for the Mormons but also as a tool for illustrating and supporting other Church doctrines. Orson Hyde’s account, published in 1842, is similar to the stories told by Joseph Smith and Orson Pratt.  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. After that revelation faith began to grow up in men’s minds and hearts. In this account he told of a force of darkness which tried to stop him from proceeding, then the appearance in a pillar of light of two personages. 5  If Cheesman’s discovery is authentic, Brodie’s argument will have to be revised. The first regular periodical to be published by the Church was the Evening and Morning Star, but its pages reveal no effort to tell the story of the First Vision to its readers. 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. It is not known, of course, how generally the membership of the Church knew of the story by the end of the decade, but in the year 1840, Orson Pratt published in England a missionary tract entitled Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records. When Joseph Smith finally wrote, or dictated, the “Manuscript History” in 1838, he told of his great uneasiness in the midst of the religious confusion of 1820 and his quest to determine which of the churches was right. 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.  The document was brought to the attention of this writer in June 1966, and he had the opportunity to examine it. 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. Finally, in order to read the document, one must turn the book upside down, which suggests that the manuscript certainly was not intended to be part of the finished history. It seems apparent that if Joseph Smith told the story to friends and neighbors in 1820, he stopped telling it widely by 1830. 185 Heber J. 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. Other vigilantes attacked Mormon farms around Nauvoo in an attempt to expel them. 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. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. Hear Him!”. 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. “When I came to myself,” he said, “I found myself lying on my back looking up into Heaven.”  The story as told in Joseph Smith’s published history of 1842 and in the Pearl of Great Price does not differ appreciably from his manuscript history. In 1834, E. D. Howe published Mormonism Unvailed [sic], which contained considerable damaging material against Joseph Smith, including letters of the Mormon apostate Ezra Booth, but again no mention of the First Vision. While not specifically named in the story, the two personages have been identified by Latter-day Saints as God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ; Joseph Smith indicated that the one said of the other, “This is My Beloved Son. Their message concerned the Book of Mormon, but Corrill reported nothing of having heard of a prior vision. The most unusual statement, however, is Joseph’s declaration that he saw many angels in this vision.  John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints (St. Louis: printed by author, 1839), 1. . . Joseph Smith, inspired of God, came forth and declared that God lived. The only way to keep it from changing is to write it only once and then insist that it be read exactly that way each time it is to be repeated. There is further evidence, based on reminiscences, to suggest that the story was known on a limited basis in the 1830s, but it is clear that it was not widely circulated. 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. He declared that he had seen God.  He describes in more detail, for example, the problems running through young Joseph’s mind when he was “somewhere about fourteen or fifteen years old.” The appearance of the light is described in more vivid detail, and the whole account takes on a more dramatic air than any recorded story told by Joseph himself. In 1827, Joseph retrieved this record, inscribed on thin golden plates, and shortly afterward began translating its words by the "gift of God. What forces and events have led Church leaders to place special emphasis on special ideas in given periods of time? James B. Allen, "The Significance of Joseph Smith's 'First Vision' in Mormon Thought," in Exploring the First Vision, ed. These were the famous missionaries to the “Lamanites” of 1830. John Corrill tells of his first contact with the Mormons through Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson. When the light appeared, the force of darkness left. In 1835 he was willing to tell the story to a visitor. He was forbidden to join any of them, for all were wrong.  Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1961), 136–51. When it is discovered that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, what he taught, and what Mormonism has become based on those teachings, can and should be abandoned.  For a transcription of the entire document, see Cheesman, “An Analysis of the Accounts,” appendix D.  Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York: Knopf, 1946), 25. Early years. Describing the light, for example, Pratt wrote, As it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. 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. Provo, UT 84602 When it was first told, the story of the vision was used primarily to demonstrate the concept that Joseph Smith had been visited by Deity and that he had been told that all contemporary churches were wrong. William, however, did not record the story of the First Vision. Neither Mormon nor non-Mormon publications made reference to it, and it is evident that the general membership of the Church knew little, if anything, about it. They make Joseph’s First Vision the best-documented vision in history. In 1961 the official missionary plan of the Church required all missionaries to use the story in their first lesson as part of the dialogue designed to prove that the Father and the Son are distinct personages and that they have tangible bodies. 3 (Autumn 1966): 29–45. Never before did I feel such power as was manifested on these occasions.  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. The idea that the “fullness of the gospel” should be given to him in the future was recorded here, in agreement with Orson Pratt’s account. No one had seen him. Joseph Smith’s First Vision 4 stands today as the greatest event in world history since the birth, ministry, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 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. Therefore, he declared, I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th [see footnote] year of my age a piller of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day came down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the Spirit of God and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son Thy Sins are forgiven thee, go thy way walk in my Statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world. In reply he was told some remarkable things, which he wrote down in his journal that very day. Throughout most of the 1830s, the story was not circulated in either Church periodicals or missionary literature. Belief in the story certainly was not a prerequisite for conversion, and it is obvious that the story was not being used for the purpose of illustrating other points of doctrine. Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012), 283–306. 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. Precisely when these revival periods occur… In 1823, Joseph Smith said he was visited by an angel named Moroni, who told him of an ancient record containing God's dealings with the former inhabitants of the American continent. Such an effort at censorship would obviously be unrealistic. saw a fire toward heaven come nearer and nearer; saw a personage in the fire; light complexion, blue eyes, a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders, his right arm bear [sic]; after a while another person came to the side of the first.”  A fourth reference to this idea is seen in the diary of Charles L. Walker on February 2, 1893. Being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and there bowed down before the Lord, under a realising sense (if the Bible be true) ask and you shall receive, knock and it shall be opened, seek and you shall find, and again, if any man lack wisdom, let of God [sic], who giveth to all men liberally & upbraideth not. Nibley takes the point of view that the story of the vision was not told in those early years because of its sacred nature. But in the ensuing forty years of his life . In 1835, Joseph Smith’s scribe heard him tell the story to a visitor.  The letter was reproduced in William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen, eds., Among the Mormons (New York: Knopf, 1958), 28. 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. Another source reports that Smith was arrested at least 42 times, including in the states of New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Joseph married Emma Hale on January 18, 1827, and was described as a loving and devoted husband.  Compare with Roberts’s edition, History of the Church, 2:304. Joseph Smith came of age during the Second Great Awakening. Had he not blocked Lucas, Joseph Smith and the other prisoners would most assuredly have lost their lives.  See N. B. Lundwall, comp., A Compilation Containing the Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, n.d.). This early pamphlet contained a detailed account of the First Vision which elaborated upon several details that Joseph Smith touched on only briefly. In conclusion, this essay perhaps demonstrates the need for new approaches to Mormon history by sympathetic Mormon historians. The significance of Doniphan’s intervention in behalf of the Mormon leaders cannot be overstated. The canonization of the Pearl of Great Price in 1880, with Joseph Smith’s 1838/39 account of the First Vision in it, was naturally an important factor in how the Vision came to take center stage, but there were other factors as well. The Wentworth Letter, published in 1842, and Rupp’s history, published in 1844, contained identical but very short accounts of the vision. According to his account, while praying Joseph was visited by two "personages" who identified themselves as God the Father and Jesus Christ. .  As transcribed in Cheesman, “An Analysis of the Accounts,” 129. . However, the pious Taylor refused to take the oath on the Sabbath, so he and his vice president were not sworn i… Portrait of Joseph Smith, September 1842. Credit: Courtesy Community of Christ Library-Archives, Licensed to Joseph Smith Papers Project. . Not even in his own history did Joseph Smith mention being criticized in this period for telling the story of the First Vision. In this account, Joseph emphasized the difficulty he had in uttering his first prayer, and the “noise of walking” seems to suggest the evil opposition which became an essential element in the official version of the story.  Hugh Nibley, “Censoring Joseph Smith’s Story,” Improvement Era, July 1961, 522. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages. Furthermore, he told of having seen two persons, although one preceded the other. 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