A bit more on the variant accounts of the First Vision

A bit more on the variant accounts of the First Vision June 10, 2018


A stained glass of the First Vision
The First Vision (public domain image)


One of the many great treats afforded by the recent tour of Egypt that my wife and I accompanied was having Steve Smoot and Steve Densley among the group.


Some of you will be interested in an interview with Stephen Smoot by Tarik La Cour that has just appeared.




I published a column regarding the First Vision a couple of weeks ago:


“The supposed scandal of multiple First Vision accounts”


That column has received a remarkably harsh and angry response in certain quarters.  (Plainly, I touched a nerve.)  Several critics have vocally claimed not only that I was wrong, but that I was being deliberate deceitful.  I am, it’s said, being justly demolished for my lies


Now, as it happens, I’m back in Virginia right now spending time with family, including my toddler granddaughter.  This has entailed a number of activities, ranging from shoveling mulch through visiting a farmers market to walking baby and dogs.  I haven’t been paying much attention to the responses, which apparently include at least one (and possibly two) podcasts. When and if I do pay serious attention, I’ll probably respond in some fashion or other.


In the meantime, I plead innocent to the charge of being a deliberate liar.  (Why do certain types of critics immediately resort, quite commonly from the safe retreat of anonymity, to the harshest possible construal of such disagreements?)  I’m pretty confident that nobody out there will actually be able to prove me a liar, since, simply, I’m not a liar and I wasn’t lying.  And surely there are other options.  Maybe I’m just stupid, for example, or incompetent, or ignorant, or blind.


Moreover, I point out (a) that the article in question is less than 740 words long and that (b) it was never intended as my last word on the topic nor as an exhaustive treatment of the issues that have been raised with regard to the First Vision.


In other words, I stand by it.


Is there more to be said?  Yes.  Of course.  And, sooner or later, I’m likely to say it.  There are only so many things that can be covered, though, in individual instantiations of a column that invariably runs between 736 and 739 words.


Of course, I also received some positive responses to the column.  (The consensus that I’m a mendacious and toxic hack has never quite been unanimous.)  One of them came via email from my longtime colleague Kent Jackson, recently retired from Brigham Young University.  Here is what he wrote:


I started teaching the Pearl of Great Price in the mid-80s. By actual account, I taught 59 sections. If we estimate 40 students in each, I taught 2360 students. In every class, the students were required to read the four accounts of the First Vision, and we spent three days talking about the accounts and what we learn from them. Never once did a student raise a concern about differences, though we discussed them openly. You are right, this scandal is one of the most artificial complaints possible.


When I replied, asking whether I could quote him on my blog, Professor Jackson answered as follows:


Sure, of course!

Also, I included the four accounts in my 1996 book, From Apostasy to Restoration (Deseret Book), which has sold over 13,000 copies. If we were supposed to keep them under wraps, why didn’t anyone tell me?

By the way, even if it’s true that Joseph Fielding Smith didn’t want to make the 1832 account public, that ended in the 1960s, which was over half a century ago! That’s ancient history. Paul Cheesman (BYU religion professor) analyzed the accounts in his 1965 MA thesis at BYU, then Dean Jessee published them in 1969. Yeah, keeping it under wraps.


Posted from Richmond, Virginia



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