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A number of church historians recently published a book through Oxford entitled "Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources” (Oxford University Press, $74, 448 pages.)
In the last chapter (13) pg 390 the historian Ronald Barney quotes Donald Enders, the senior curator at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City where he states, "There is no evidence, that Joseph told his mother that he had talked face-to-face with God. Certainly his mother never claimed to have heard such a declaration."
I knew that very few had heard about Joseph's first vision in the earliest days of the church, I didn't know his own mother was unaware. Then I was digging through the JSP where they have Lucy Mack's original 1844 - 1845 history draft, and I found a first vision account similar to the 1835 account in which the unnamed personage testifies that Jesus is the Christ in the 3rd person. Also compare with Lucy Mack Smith's letter to her brother Solomon Mack, Waterloo, New York, 6 January 1831
"our sons were actively employed in assisting their Father to cut down the grain and storing it away in order, for winter One evening we were sitting till quite late conversing upon the subject of the diversity of churches that had risen up in the world and the many thousand opinions in existence as to the truths contained in scripture Joseph who never said many words upon any subject but always seemed to reflect more deeply than common persons of his age upon everything of a religious nature This After we ceased conversation he went to bed <and was pondering in his mind which of the churches were the true one.> an but he had not laid there long till <he saw> a bright <light> entered the room where he lay he looked up and saw an angel of the Lord stood <standing> by him The angel spoke, "I perceive that you are enquiring in your mind which is the true church there is not a true church on Earth No not one Nor <and> has not been since Peter took the Keys <of the Melchesidec priesthood after the order of God> into the Kingdom of Heaven the churches that are now upon the Earth are all man made churches."
There is a fascinating podcast recently published by Interpreter of an interview with Sharalyn D. Howcraft about early foundational documents of Mormonism in which the difference between "what really happened" and how history is recorded.
For those like me who do not like podcasts, there is also a transcript which is a pretty short and totally fascinating read.
I highly recommend both.
"What really happened" as I have said forever is virtually unknowable, so all we are stuck with are historical accounts which may or may not be "true representations"
I say this often to underscore the necessity of being guided by the Spirit in all matters, regarding virtually every document we read as "HIS-STORY" rather than necessarily "what really happened" which in a historical sense is unknowable in most cases. Observed recorded events like the assassination of Lincoln of course are "facts" and those are another case.
But when it comes to hearsay, questions of motivation, how ideas evolved or what ideas were developed by whomever, we just have to be cautious and in my opinion, regard everything as a story written by a human being and all human beings have a point to make, prejudices to expose or hide, and in some cases the "truth" is simply impossible to know.
So especially in religious matters, we must follow our "gut" or in more regular Mormon parlance, "follow the Spirit".
This podcast and transcription illustrate these points extremely well.
This link goes directly to the transcript
I'm sure some have seen this already, but the church released a new first vision video (see link above).
A few questions came up after I watched this video:
- How do you reconcile the differences between the 1832 account and the 1838 account? (i.e. JS seeing just Christ in 1832; and seeing both Christ and God in 1838)?
- Why would JS wait 12 years to record such an important event, along with so many varying accounts (the church admits to nine)?
- Did JS join and/or attend a Methodist church following the 1st vision when he was commanded not to (as stated below)?
Joseph Smith History
"19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
Finally, the article below, IMO, highlights many of the problems with the first vision accounts. How do you make the different accounts harmonize, given the many inconsistencies?
I was reading the various versions of hte First Vision and I had a question about Joseph's experience.
Satan did not have a body, what was causing the apparent noise of walking that Joseph was hearing?
Joseph says he heard a sound "like" someone walking. A noise of walking that "seemed" be come nearer. Joseph saw nothing that he could see "to produce the noise of walking."
By Benjamin Seeker
One of the common criticisms leveled against the first vision is that the 1832 First Vision account only has Jesus Christ present in the theophany, and considering that it is the earliest account and it being in JS's own hand, it makes the later accounts (with two personages) look like the First Vision developed over time. Many people find validity in this criticism, and some leave the church over this. Apologists have done a good job of pointing out that God and Jesus Christ are separate and coexistant in the book of Moses, a text predating the 1832 account, which demonstrates that Mormon doctrine posited that God and Jesus were separate and distinct as early as 1830. They have also pointed to passages in the BOM, which I find somewhat less convincing. I propose that the doctrine of Jesus and God the Father being separate beings was possibly a sacred and guarded (read secret) doctrine in early Mormonism, likely due to its controversial nature. If the doctrine was indeed a secret, that could account for the 1832 account's omission of two personages.
Keeping controversial items secret was not foreign to Mormonism. Polygamy was kept a secret from the early 1830s. Knowledge of how the Book of Mormon translation occurred was more or less kept within the bounds of a select few. In Nauvoo, the endowment was kept secret. All of these items were controversial in their own ways, and engendered criticism from various corners. The separate nature of the Father and Son had enormous potential for controversy, and comments by JS in 1844 indicate JS' frustration with prevailing notions and possibly with criticism of his teachings.
Evidence that God the Father and Jesus being separate beings was not only controversial but also a secret doctrine comes from JS' revelations and an account of the school of the prophets given by Zebedee Coltrin. According to Coltrin and another witness, the men experienced a vision of God the Father and Christ, likely in 1832 or 1833. First they saw Christ walk through the room, and following that, they saw God the Father walk through the room. After the vision, Joseph Smith told the men there, "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages." His comments place emphasis on God and Christ's separate nature and makes it a qualifier for apostleship. Further, intimate knowledge of God's existence can be considered a divinely granted privilege reserved for apostles or others who qualify through great faith, according to JS' revelations. JS' comments to the school of the prophets infer a type of categorical equivalence between intimate knowledge of God's existence and the knowledge that the Father and the Son are separate beings. This makes knowledge of the Father and Son's separate nature a sacred mystery revealed by God to the privileged and prepared.
As noted earlier, the Book of Moses gives fairly clear accounts of God the Father and Jesus being separate beings present at the same time (ie. council in heaven and the creation). Notably, this revelation contains two statements that prescribe that the text only be shared with true believers.
It's also worth noting that the council in Heaven and account of Satan's casting out, which is one of the places the separate nature of the Father and the Son is clear, is found in chapter 4.
The above are the earliest instances of the doctrine being clearly delineated (as far as I've identified), and both the school of prophets vision and the Moses revelation can be interpreted as sacred secrets.
Another supporting evidence is the public nature of the Book of Mormon text and its sometimes trinitarian-like portrayal of God (ex. Abinadi's comments about God/Christ), which dates to just a year before the Book of Moses. Even in the BOM's grandest theophany, the Brother of Jared's vision, only the preexistant Christ is seen. I would argue that the 1832 account, like the Book of Mormon, was meant to be a public document. The exaggerated language (mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Christ), the Book of Mormon like summary at the beginning, and it's inclusion in a letter book instead of a private journal suggest that it may have been intended for public use, and for this reason the theophany account was limited to a a manifestation of Christ, similar to the Brother of Jared's theophany.
An edited 1832 vision is also consistent with how Joseph would later edit or be complicit to editing controversial items from his 1838 history. For example, the seer stone is not mentioned, and the history simply gives a description of the Urim and Thummim and breastplate and states that it was by this means that the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph's treasure digging was also minimized in the history. Essentially, editing controversial material along with sacred secrets are consistent with early Mormonism and provide a compelling explanation for the omission of two personages from the 1832 account of the First Vision.
That's the gist of the argument. Comments?