050: Fresh Views of the First Vision

In this episode, Latter-day Saint historian Ron Barney joins LDF host Dan Wotherspoon to talk about the actual historical records related to Joseph Smith’s “First Vision.” And the documents show that how we generally talk about this event now is far from how it was seen and spoken and written about in the early days of the church, and by Smith himself. Today’s assumptions about a clean history of a magnificent visitation by God the Father and Jesus Christ are the result of a long line of decisions that chose to canonize the 1838 version in today’s Pearl of Great Price. 

This conversation differs from many that simply teach the various accounts and allow those who read or listen to puzzle for themselves how these various tellings agree or disagree with each other. In no way does this discussion tell anyone what to think in these areas, but it instead concentrates on the history of the documents, the circumstances in which they were created, if they were written or overseen and corrected by Joseph Smith himself, who Smith’s scribes were and what scribal choices ended up in the established version (things such as when the event took place!)

Throughout it all, Ron and Dan talk openly about the complexity of all things surrounding the First Vision while also sharing how they hold these documentable complications in a way that allows them to also incorporate elements of faith that are too often easily dismissed by the skeptical world. Even though no one can ever really know the nature of what Smith experienced in the grove or in any of his visions/visitations, both believe the record quite concretely shows that real spiritual and/or revelatory things occurred that affected him greatly and from which he drew great strength throughout his short but action-filled life. There are too many parallels with other theophanies that led to great movements to dismiss Smith’s out of hand simply because he at times shared different details.

LDS General Conference is coming up, and it is said it will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the First Vision. Immerse yourself in Smith’s world as Ron shares fabulous details and offers a clear-eyed view of the documentary record itself as it relates to things church leaders likely will focus on this weekend. This episode is definitely worth your time and attention!

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Links:

Ronald O. Barney, Joseph Smith: History, Methods, Memory (University of Utah Press, forthcoming)

Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin Jensen, Sheralyn D. Howcroft, eds., Foundational Texts of Mormonism (Oxford University Press, 2018)

“Ask of God: Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Video created for the Church History Museum that offers a fairly broad telling of the First Vision, 2017

“Lunches with Dan,” Mondays and Wednesdays from noon til 1:30 MDT. Drop by to lunch virtually with “fellow travelers,” including LDF host Dan Wotherspoon.

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