Joseph Smith’s First Vision

18 June

Golden plates & Joseph SmithOne of my first memories in life was sitting in my ward building learning for the first time that Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered in 1832 just because he told people about the vision he had.  The horror I felt in my body was something I can still feel just as I did almost 40 years ago.

What I wasn’t taught in those early impressionable years is my focus here today. It wasn’t until after I got out of the Church that I learned about the contradictions in Smith’s story. While there were a handful of questions in my mind when I left Mormonism, it never dawned on me just how many contradictions there were or the vastness and totality of what he’d done.

When someone is born and raised in Utah Mormonism there is a deep loyalty for Joseph Smith and what he went through to institute the “one true church on the face of the earth”. Nothing in our lifetime could equate to the persecution he most certainly went through; at least that’s what you’re taught and programmed to believe.

While Jesus dying for us is/was an important facet of LDS doctrine, these things aren’t focused upon as much as Joseph’s sacrifice and persecutions in those early days of Mormonism.

For me personally, the worst part of his lies was learning how deeply involved he was in witchcraft and the occult.  Even today, some twenty years after learning about his involvement, my heart is broken. As I’ve grown in the Lord the grief isn’t about what I lost in believing Mormonism, but what I was doing to separate myself from God.  Most assuredly, the pain in my heart is also for those who are still stuck in the web of lies this guy spun.  His duplicitous nature still boggles my mind.

I’ve heard over the years while in ministry there are nine distinct versions of Joseph Smith’s first vision, but after studying and researching this topic extensively I’m not so sure about that number. My personal opinion is there were many more than nine. While each version has some element that ties it to another, none of the versions are the same.

One version might mention an angel or angels along with a money-digging incident and then another will speak of an angel in a grove. The next set of stories will talk about an angel with a cut throat and a toad turned man and the next will mention being attacked while running with gold plates.  It’s insane. These types of self-serving tales are nothing but the imagination of one man; Joseph Smith.

The stories come from an array of sources. We’ve included interviews Smith granted to reporters, LDS scripture as well as writings from Smith’s diaries, the scribes Joseph used and the sworn testimonies of those who knew him best – the Book of Mormon witnesses.

As time permits we’ll add to our collection of resources when we come across them. Our criteria for inclusion are the source must be well documented, factual; it needs to come from a reliable source and coincide with other experiences Smith shared on this important event.

If this vision didn’t happen then Mormonism is a sham built upon the fantasies of Joseph Smith. If it was real God abruptly changed His mind and we should all listen up. I’m of the opinion this whole thing is from the former.

1827

Joseph and Richard I. Anderson

This account of Joseph’s vision comes from a non-Mormon source. We’ve included it because it adds credibility to what took place at this critical time in Joseph’s life. Imagine if you were a young man wanting to know who God is and you had this experience! Or if you were one of his neighbors…

Richard I. Anderson, author of Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, shared an insightful look into Smith’s interaction with the locals and Smith’s claims about angels, toads, and buried treasure. One of those neighbors was a man by the name of Willard Chase.

His sworn affidavit from Joseph’s story in 1827 adds depth to other accounts of what he was supposedly experiencing and gives investigators a well rounded understanding of the spiritual, as well as historical, context of this all important part of Mormonism.

Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, pgs 121-126; “I became acquainted with the Smith family, known as the authors of the Mormon Bible, in the year 1820. At that time, they were engaged in the money digging business, which they followed until the latter part of the season of 1827. In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me; the latter of whom is now known as the Mormon prophet. After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity. I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat. It has been said by Smith, that he brought the stone from the well; but this is false. There was no one in the well but myself. The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alledging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but would lend it. After obtaining the stone, he began to publish abroad what wonders he could discover by looking in it, and made so much disturbance among the credulous part of community, that I ordered the stone to be returned to me again. He had it in his possession about two years…

…In the month of June, 1827, Joseph Smith, Sen., related to me the following story: “That some years ago, a spirit had appeared to Joseph his son, in a vision, and informed him that in a certain place there was a record on plates of gold, and that he was the person that must obtain them, and this he must do in the following manner: On the 22d of September, he must repair to the place where was deposited this manuscript, dressed in black clothes, and riding a black horse with a switch tail, and demand the book in a certain name, and after obtaining it, he must go directly away, and neither lay it down nor look behind him. They accordingly fitted out Joseph with a suit of black clothes and borrowed a black horse. He repaired to the place of deposit and demanded the book, which was in a stone box, unsealed, and so near the top of the ground that he could see one end of it, and raising it up, took out the book of gold; but fearing some one might discover where he got it, he laid it down to place back the top stone, as he found it; and turning round, to his surprise there was no book in sight. He again opened the box, and in it saw the book, and attempted to take it out, but was hindered. He saw in the box something like a toad, which soon assumed the appearance of a man, and struck him on the side of his head.—Not being discouraged at trifles, he again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously. After recovering from his fright, he enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders.

There’s nothing in Smith’s official record about a black horse or a toad turned man, being hit upside the head or any other form of violence.

He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them. This spirit, he said was the spirit of the prophet who wrote this book, and who was sent to Joseph Smith, to make known these [p.122] things to him. Before the expiration of the year, his oldest brother died; which the old man said was an accidental providence!

Joseph went one year from that day, to demand the book, and the spirit enquired for his brother, and he said that he was dead. The spirit then commanded him to come again, in just one year, and bring a man with him. On asking who might be the man, he was answered that he would know him when he saw him.

This man ended up being Martin Harris, but no hint of this taking place can be found in Smith’s testimony.

In the fore part of September, (I believe,) 1827, the Prophet requested me to make him a chest, informing me that he designed to move back to Pennsylvania, and expecting soon to get his gold book, he wanted a chest to lock it up, giving me [p.124] to understand at the same time, that if I would make the chest he would give me a share in the book. I told him my business was such that I could not make it: but if he would bring the book to me, I would lock it up for him.

A few weeks after this conversation, he came to my house, and related the following story: That on the 22d of September, he arose early in the morning, and took a one horse wagon, of some one that had stayed over night at their house, without leave or license; and, together with his wife, repaired to the hill which contained the book. He left his wife in the wagon, by the road, and went alone to the hill, a distance of thirty or forty rods from the road; he said he then took the book out of the ground and hid it in a tree top, and returned home…

—He then observed that if it had not been for that stone, (which he acknowledged belonged to me,) he would not have obtained the book. A few days afterwards, he told one of my neighbors that he had not got any such book, nor never had such an one; but that he had told the story to deceive the d—d [p.125] fool, (meaning me,) to get him to make a chest. His neighbors having become disgusted with his foolish stories, he determined to go back to Pennsylvania, to avoid what he called persecution. His wits were now put to the task to contrive how he should get money to bear his expenses. He met one day in the streets of Palmyra, a rich man, whose name was Martin Harris, and addressed him thus; “I have a commandment from God to ask the first man I meet in the street to give me fifty dollars, to assist me in doing the work of the Lord by translating the Golden Bible.”

Martin being naturally a credulous man, hands Joseph the money.”

1830

Joseph and Peter Bauder

Another non-Mormon source, this time by Peter Bauder who interviewed Smith in October 1830 about his experience. Bauder noted how Smith didn’t offer anything in the retelling of his experience indicating the Lord had changed his heart or that his life took an abrupt change of direction.

A few years after the publication of this interview with Joseph, an amended version of the first vision was published by the Church and this time both Jesus and God had appeared.

You can find the interview in Bauder’s publication, “The Kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, 1834, pp. 36-38. It’s also republished in Dan Vogel’s work “Early Mormon Documents, vol.1, pgs 16-17, Signature Books, 1996.

I also found part of the interview on WikiSource

“…Among these imposters there has one arisen by the name of Joseph Smith, Jr. who commenced his system of church government in this state, (New York) in the year 1830… they call themselves the true followers of Christ..

… I will name some of the particular discoveries which through Divine Providence I was favored with in an interview with Joseph Smith, Jr. at the house of Peter Whitmer, in the town of Fayette, Seneca County, state of New York, in October, 1830. I called at P[eter]. Whitmer’s house, for the purpose of seeing Smith, and searching into the mystery of his system of religion, and had the privilege of conversing with him alone, several hours, and of investigating his writings, church records, &c. I improved near four and twenty hours in close application with Smith and his followers: he could give me no christian experience, but told me that an angel told him he must go to a certain place in the town of Manchester, Ontario County, where was a secret treasure concealed..

… He went, and after the third or fourth time, which was repeated once a year, he obtained a parcel of plate resembling gold, on which were engraved what he did not understand, only by the aid of a glass which he also obtained with the plate, by which means he was enabled to translate the characters on the plate into English. He says he was not allowed to let the plate be seen only by a few individuals named by the angel, and after he had a part translated, the angel commanded him to carry the plate into a certain piece of woods, which he did:—the angel took them and carried them to parts unknown to him…”

1831 – 1832

Joseph and Fredrick Williams

Long after (1965) Smith’s first vision was published, Paul Cheesman (archaeologist & BYU professor) discovered documents locked away in the vaults of the LDS Church that contained a handwritten first vision of Joseph Smith. He handed them over to the Tanner’s who published them immediately.

This is the earliest known version of Smith’s first vision story in his own handwriting and the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams who was one of Smith’s scribes at the time.

You can find this on the LDS website minus the information about Cheesman of course. 

Notice the sequence of events;

Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1–6, Ms., handwriting of Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams, LDS Church Archives;

“… by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament…

In Joseph Smith’s History in the Pearl of Great Price Joseph claims he had no idea the churches were all wrong. Now he’s telling us he deduced this from reading scripture long before any vision of God or Jesus.

… I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year of my age a piller of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me…

Again in the Pearl of Great Price he said he was 14, not 15 or 16.

… and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee…they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not my commandments …and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father…

The “official” testimony says that God and Jesus appear, not just Jesus.

…and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but I could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart but after many days I fell into transgression and sinned in many things which brought a wound upon my soul and there were many things which transpired that cannot be writen and my Fathers family have suffered many persicutions and afflictions and it came to pass when I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name…

Other versions of this event claim that it was Nephi, not Moroni that appeared to Joseph.

…and he said the Lord had forgiven me my sins and he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by the commandments of God and kept by the power thereof and that I should go and get them and he revealed unto me many things concerning the inhabitants of the earth which since have been revealed in commandments & revelations. …” (Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1–6, Ms., handwriting of Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams, LDS Church Archives.)”

In this version he added that he’d been forgiven of sins, but gave no location where the plates were buried in Manchester. No mention of the evil presence that surrounded him in the grove.

1834-1835

December 1834

Joseph and Oliver Cowdery

Joseph along with Oliver Cowdery’s help composed an account of Joseph’s first vision and published it in Messenger and Advocate. Two submissions were made with one in December 1834 and then in March 1835.

Messenger & Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 3, pg 42;

…in the first No. of the Messenger and Advocate, that this history would necessarily embrace the life and character of esteemed friend and brother, J. SMITH JR…

…I refer you to his communication of the same, published in this paper. I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the 15th year of his life…

…at this time: One Mr. Lane, a presiding Elder of the Methodist church, visited Palmyra, and vicinity…There was a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion, and much enquiry for the word of life.  Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches, –…

…For a length of time the reformation seemed to move in a harmonious manner, but, as the excitement ceased…Then strife seemed to take the place of that apparent union and harmony which had previously characterized the moves and exhortations of the old professors, and a cry – I am right – you are wrong – was introduced in their stead.

In this general strife for followers, his mother, one sister and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians…

It continues on with Oliver Cowdery’s submission in March 1835…

Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 5, pgs 78-80;

…You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr’s, age – that was an error in the type – it should have been in the 17th. – You will please remember this correction, as it will be necessary for the full understanding of what will follow in time. This would bring the date down to the year 1823…

…And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him…

…on the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, previous to retiring to rest, our brother’s mind was unusually wrought up on the subject which had so long agitated hi mind – his heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was lost to everything of a temporal nature, that earth, to him, had lost its charms, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God.

At length the family retired…he continued still to pray –…

…In this situation hours passed unnumbered – how many or how few I know not…While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven…on a sudden light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room –…It was however, followed with a calmness and serenity of mind, and an overwhelming rapture of joy that surpassed understanding, and in a moment a personage stood before him…

…The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam.

…he heard him declare himself to be a messenger…to witness to him…his prayers were heard; and that the scriptures might be fulfilled, which say – “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…

…He has therefore chosen you as an instrument in his hand to bring to light that which shall perform his act, his strange act, and bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder.  Wherever the sound shall go it shall cause the ears of men to tingle…

…and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham…

…He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose…

…While describing the place where the record was deposited…his mind being opened at the same time, he was permitted to view it critically; and previously being acquainted with the place, he was able to follow the direction of the vision…

1835

Joseph and Joshua, the Jewish Minister

This version was a handwritten account of Joseph’s vision by Oliver Cowdery. The typescript of his diary can be found in Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Compiled by Dean C. Jessee, pgs 74-77.

This time Joseph was 14 in 1820 when he went to a grove and had one personage talk about Jesus. He also saw multitudes of angels and at age 17 had another vision.

Joseph Smith’s Diary Typescript, pg 74

Joseph Smith’s Diary Typescript, pg 75

Joseph Smith’s Diary Typescript, pg 76

Joseph Smith’s Diary Typescript, pg 77

1835 Account, Written by Warren A. Cowdery. Monday Nov. 9th. . .

While sitting in his house this morning between the hours of ten and eleven a man came in and introduced himself to him calling himself Joshua the Jewish Minister. His appearance was something singular, having a beard about three inches in length which is quite grey, his hair was also long and considerably silvered with age. He had the appearance of a man about 50 or 55 years old. He was tall and straight, slender frame, blue eyes, thin visage, and fair complexion. He wore a green frock coat and pantaloons of the same color. He had on a black fur hat with a narrow brim. When speaking he frequently shuts his eyes and exhibits a kind of scowl upon his countenance.

He (Joseph) made some inquiry after his name, but received no definite answer. The conversation soon turned upon the subject of Religion, and after the subject of this narrative had made some remarks concerning the bible, he commenced giving him a relation of the circumstances, connected with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which were nearly as follows.

Being wrought up in my mind respecting the subject of Religion, and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong, but considered it of the first importance to me that I should be right, in matters of so much moment, matter involving eternal consequences.

This differs from the testimony in the LDS vaults saying he knew from reading scripture that all the churches were wrong. 

Being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and there bowed down before the Lord, under a realizing 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 who giveth to all men liberally & upbraideth not. Information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called on the Lord for the first time in the place above stated, or in other words, I made a fruitless attempt to pray

My tongue seemed to be swoolen in my mouth, so that I could not utter, I heard a noise behind me like some one walking towards me. I strove again to pray, but could not; the noise of walking seemed to draw nearer, I sprang upon my feet and looked round, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking. I kneeled again, my mouth was opened and my tongue loosed; I called on the Lord in mighty prayer.

This time he mentions the evil presence, earlier versions do not.

A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with un- speakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared like unto the first: he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee. He testified also unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. I saw many angels in this vision. I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication. . .

There’s no mention of many angels in earlier version. No mention of the Father or the Son, no revival.

1835

Joseph and Erastus Holmes

This version contains Joseph’s testimony that he gave to Erastus Holmes which is very similar to the one he gave to the Jewish minister. The problem here is how the story suddenly changed in History of the Church. When it was first published in Deseret News Smith mentions the visitation of many angels.

History of the Church 2:312 –

This afternoon, Erastus Holmes, of Newbury, Ohio, called on me to inquire about the establishment of the Church, and to be instructed in doctrine more perfectly. I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received my first vision, which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the Church up to this date.

He listened very attentively, and seemed highly gratified, and intends to unite with the Church.

Deseret News, Saturday, May 29, 1852

“This afternoon, Erastus Holmes, of Newbury, Ohio, called on me to inquire about the establishment of the church, and to be instructed in doctrine more perfectly. I gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my juvenile years, say from six years old up to the time I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old; also the revelations that I received afterwards concerning the Book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date.”

1838

Joseph’s Official Version

This is the official account of Joseph’s first vision you can find in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith’s History 1:7-20.

In this version they’ve pulled all the important points together and got rid of those that disagreed in any way with this one.  The irony in all this is the Church’s strong talent of record keeping. They journal everything they’ve ever said or done and then publish it!

This time we see that Smith has mentioned there was a revival taking place, causing him to reflect on which church was right. He mentions it never occurred to him they were all wrong.  We also see how his vision went from the angel or angels and just Jesus showing up to both God and Jesus appearing before him in the grove at the age of 14.

This was originally written in 1838 but not published for another four years. Also see Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842, Vol. 3, No. 10, pgs 727-728, 748-749, 753.

7 I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.

Not surprisingly there’s no account of any revival taking place in 1820. There was a revival in Palmyra hosted by the Methodist church in 1824, but nothing in 1820.

8 During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

This is a contradictory statement from earlier published accounts. He clearly made it known he had come to his own conclusions by reading the Bible long before his vision.

9 My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.

10 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

12 Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

13 At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

14 So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

This contradicts other vision testimonies given to scribes and reporters to write down. Many of the other accounts have no mention of this evil encounter in the woods.

16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Now we have a totally different version. There are no angels, no one showing up with a slit throat, no one telling him to return wearing black clothes while riding a black horse, and two people (the Father & the Son) appear to him. 

18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.

This contradicts what he said in his own handwritten letters in 1831 and discovered in the LDS vaults.

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.”

20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.” It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy?

This testimony also contradicts the Mormon philosophy there is truth everywhere. It also contradicts D&C 84:22 which says no one can see the Father without the proper priesthood authority.

See Inventing Mormonism, pg 89-105 for further insight from Smith’s relatives who share details about Joseph’s first vision. These don’t resemble the LDS’ official version whatsoever. 

In these stories we read accounts of Spanish angels with long beards and a cut throat from ear to ear with blood everywhere.

1843

Joseph and David Nye Waite

August 30, 1843

With this version Joseph told Mr. Waite from the Pittsburgh Gazette God and Jesus appeared to him while he was in a grove praying and asked God which church he should join. There’s no mention of any angels in this vision and no evil powers that overcame him.

This was also republished in the New York Observer on September 23, 1843. 

He revealed himself to me first when I was about fourteen years old, a mere boy. I will tell you about it.

There was a reformation among the different religious denominations in the neighborhood where I lived, and I became serious, and was desirous to know what church to join.

While thinking of this matter, I opened the testament promiscuously on these words, in James, “Ask of the Lord who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” — I just determined I’d ask him. I immediately went out into the woods where my father had a clearing, and went to the stump, where I had stuck my axe when I had quit work, 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 personage 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, ‘don’t join any of them, they are all corrupt.’

The vision then vanished, and when I came to myself, I was sprawling on my back; and it was some time before my strength returned. When I went home and told the people that I had a revelation, and that all the churches were corrupt, they persecuted me, and they have persecuted me ever since.

1844

Joseph and Alexander Neibaur

This version is found in Alexander Neibaur’s diary. Mr. Neibaur was one of the first to join the Church who was a practicing Jew. He joined while living in Alsace-Lorraine which at the time was in Germany, but now lies within French borders.

He was fluent in 7 languages, trained as a rabbi and practiced dentistry. He and Joseph became good friends after he moved to Nauvoo. His daughter married Charles Nibley.

Neibaur’s diary tells us that Joseph had shored up his testimony to sound Christian by mentioning scripture and no mention of angels or money digging.

Alexander Neibaur, Diary, LDS Archives, Pg. 15

May 24, 1844

Called at Brother J. S. [Joseph Smith’s]. Met Mr. Bonnie. Brother Joseph [Smith] told us the first call he had a revival meeting. His mother, brother and sisters got religion.

He wanted to get religion too; he wanted to feel and shout like the rest but could feel nothing. [He] opened his Bible of the first passage that struck him was [James 1:5.], “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.”

[He] went into the woods to pray, kneels himself down, his tongue was closed, cleaving to his roof, could utter not a word, but felt easier after awhile. [He] saw a fire toward heaven, came near and nearer. [He] saw a personage in the fire, light complexion, blue eyes, a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders, his right arm bare. After a while another person came to the side of the first.

Mr. [Joseph] Smith then asked, “Must I join the Methodist Church?” “No, they are not my people. [They] have gone astray; there is none that doeth good, not one, but this is my Beloved Son, harken ye him.” The fire drew nigher, rested upon the tree, enveloped him. Comforted, I endeavored to arise but felt uncommon feeble. [I] got into the house and told the Methodist priest [who] said this was not an age for God to reveal himself in vision. Revelation has ceased with the New Testament.

1844

Joseph and Daniel Rupp

This account was published in an encyclopedic work by Daniel Rupp called “An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States”.

Smith was asked to submit the section for Mormonism. His statement can be found on pages 404-410 or you can find them in New Mormon Studies CD-ROM, Smith Research Associates.

Because he submitted this and made no objections, it’s obvious he approved.

I retired to a secret place in a grove, and began to call upon the Lord. While fervently engaged in supplication, my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enrapt in a heavenly vision, and sawtwo glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light, which eclipsed the sun at noonday. They told me that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as His Church and Kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fullness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.

While he spoke of disagreements amongst the local church denominations, this account doesn’t mention a revival.  This first encounter in the grove says he saw two personages, not one or many and no mention of God or Jesus.

On the evening of the 2lst September, A.D. 1823, while I was praying unto God and endeavoring to exercise faith in the precious promises of scripture, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room; indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire. The appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body. In a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded. This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God, sent to bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled; that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the gospel in all its fullness to be preached in power, unto all nations, that a people might be prepared for the millennial reign.

There’s no mention of the Father and the Son. Also no mention of receiving forgiveness for his sins.

I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of his purposes in this glorious dispensation…

…After having received many visits from the angels of God, unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22nd of September A.D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands.

There’s no mention of who these angels were.

1859

Sidney Rigdon on Joseph’s First Vision in Tiffany’s Monthly

Joel Tiffany published an interview he had with Martin Harris in Tiffany’s Monthly, pgs 163 – 170 in 1859 with details of Smith’s first vision, how he came into possession of the plates and why he founded Mormonism.

This interview was significant because of how contradictory this story was from all the others. It’s also significant because of Harris’ involvement with Smith at the very beginning of when Mormonism got off the ground.

In this rendition the Smith family corroborated the story and Harris approved all of it before it went to print.

MORMONISM. – No. II.

[pg 163] The following narration we took down from the lips of Martin Harris, and read the same to him after it was written, that we might be certain of giving his statement to the world…We did this that the world might have a corrected account of the origin of Mormonism from the lips of one of the original witnesses, upon whose testimony it was first received. For it will be remembered that Martin Harris is one of the three witnesses selected to certify to the facts connected with the origin of that revelation.

Mr. Harris says: “Joseph Smith, jr., found at Palmyra, N.Y., on the 22d day of September, 1827, the plates of gold upon which was recorded in Arabic, Chaldaic, Syriac, and Egyptian, the Book of Life, or the Book of Mormon. I was not with him at the time, but I had a revelation the summer before, that God had a work for me to do. These plates were found at the north point of a hill two miles north of Manchester village. Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase, twenty-four feet from the surface. In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates.

This isn’t anywhere close to the story of the angel appearing to Joseph Smith telling him where the plates were hidden in the ground.                 

[pg 164]
…”Joseph had had this stone for some time. There was a company there in that neighborhood, who were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients. Of this company were old Mr Stowel — I think his name was Josiah — also old Mr. Beman, also Samuel Lawrence, George Proper, Joseph Smith, jr., and his father, and his brother Hiram Smith. They dug for money in Palmyra, Manchester, also in Pennsylvania, and other places…

Joseph digging for buried money in 1827 with a magical stone isn’t mentioned in the official first vision story from the Pearl of Great Price.

….“After this, on the 22d of September, 1827, before day, Joseph took the horse and wagon of old Mr. Stowel, and taking his wife, he went to the place where the plates were concealed…

The absence of the horse in his official version is curious as well.

[pg 165] and while he was obtaining them, she kneeled down and prayed. He then took the plates and hid them in an old black oak tree top which was hollow…

…“Joseph did not dig for these plates.

[pg 166]…“These plates were usually kept in a cherry box made for that purpose, in the possession of Joseph and myself…

…“When Joseph had obtained the plates, he communicated the fact to his father and mother. The plates remained concealed in the tree top until he got the chest made. He then went after them and brought them home. While on his way home with the plates, he was met by what appeared to be a man, who demanded the plates, and struck him with a club on his side, which was all black and blue. Joseph knocked the man down, and then ran for home, and was much out of breath. When he arrived at home, he handed the plates in at the window, and they were received from him by his mother…

Again, there’s no mention of being chased down by someone…

[pg 167]
…“The money-diggers claimed that they had as much right to the plates as Joseph had, as they were in company together. They claimed that Joseph had been traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which belonged to them. For this reason Joseph was afraid of them, and continued concealing the plates. After they had been concealed under the floor of the cooper’s shop a short time, Joseph was warned to remove them. He said he was warned by an angel. He took them out and hid them up in the chamber of the cooper’s shop among the flags…

Up to this point the only persecution we’ve seen is the harassment he received from other money-diggers, not Christians.

…“These things had all occurred before I talked with Joseph respecting the plates. But I had the account of it from Joseph, his wife, brothers, sisters, his father and mother. I talked with them separately, that I might get the truth of the matter. The first time I heard of the matter, my brother Presarved Harris, who had been in the village of Palmyra, asked me if [I] had heard about Joseph Smith, jr., having a golden bible…

[pg 168]
…“A day or so before I was ready to visit Joseph, his mother came over to our house and wished to talk with me. I told her I had no time to spare…

…When she commenced talking with me, she told me respecting his bringing home the plates, and many other things…

…She wished my wife and daughter to go with her; and they went and spent most of the day. When they came home, I questioned them about them. My daughter said, they were about as much as she could lift. They were now in the glass-box, and my wife said they were very heavy. They both lifted them. I waited a day or two, when I got up in the morning, took my breakfast, and told my folks I was going to the village, but went directly to old Mr. Smith’s. I found that Joseph

[pg 169] had gone away to work for Peter Ingersol to get some flour. I was glad he was absent, for that gave me an opportunity of talking with his wife and the family about the plates. I talked with them separately, to see if their stories agreed, and I found they did agree. When Joseph came home I did not wish him to know that I had been talking with them, so I took him by the arm and led him away from the rest, and requested him to tell me the story, which he did as follows. He said: ‘An angel had appeared to him, and told him it was God’s work.’” Here Mr. Harris seemed to wander from the subject, when we requested him to continue and tell what Joseph then said. He replied, “Joseph had before this described the manner of his finding the plates. He found them by looking in the stone found in the well of Mason chase. The family had likewise told me the same thing.

The story of an angel telling him where the plates were buried seems to have slipped away. With Smith’s family agreeing to the same story, it’s easy to see that God and Jesus probably didn’t appear to him.

“Joseph said the angel told him he must quit the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them. He must not lie, nor swear, nor steal. He told him to go and look in the spectacles, and he would show him the man that would assist him. That he did so, and he saw myself, Martin Harris, standing before him. That struck me with surprise. I told him I wished him to be very careful about these things. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘I saw you standing before me as plainly as I do now.’…

This account is also very similar to William Chases’ story.  There’s no mention of a changed heart or a public confession of faith when Harris has to tell him to shape up.

“While at Mr. Smith’s I hefted the plates, and I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph

[pg 170] had not credit enough to buy so much lead…

“The excitement in the village upon the subject had become such that some had threatened to mob Joseph, and also to tar and feather him. They said he should never leave until he had shown the plates. It was unsafe for him to remain, so I determined that he must go to his father-in-law’s in Pennsylvania…I advised Joseph that he must pay all his debts before starting. I paid them for him, and furnished him money for his journey…

…This was the last of October, 1827. It might have been the first of November.”

From this and all the other accounts of Smith’s first vision it’s easy to see a story that went from finding a stone with magical powers in Josiah Stowell’s well to Joseph being visited by God and Jesus telling him that all of Christianity had become the whores of Babylon and the Indians are really Israelites.

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