Early Mormon apostle Orson Pratt probably did more to keep the memories of the First Vision alive in the LDS Church more than any other person. In our next conversation with Dr. Steven Harper, author of “First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins” we’ll talk about Orson’s outsized influence.
Steven: I think it’s likely that if not for Orson Pratt, we would have a much diminished collective memory, as Latter-day Saints of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. He is the foremost selector and relator and repeater of the vision, to use the technical terms that Thomas Anastasio and his colleagues use, for the people who choose what we remember. That happens because someone selects it, someone repeats it often, and relates it to other important components of our shared story. Nobody did that like Orson Pratt did that in the middle of the 19th century. He got the story from Joseph Smith’s own mouth.
Orson Pratt heard Joseph tell his First Vision on his way to Scotland on his mission. Joseph was on his mission to Washington, D.C. to seek redress for Missouri grievances. He and Orson Pratt cross paths in the Delaware River Valley. Orson learns the story from Joseph. He writes it in a missionary pamphlet in Scotland. That circulates all over the globe. Orson, ever after, tells that story. He tells the First Vision often. He tells it early, he coined the term First Vision, as far as we can tell. It’s in his writing in 1849, that those two words are used together for the first time in the historical record. Throughout the mid-decades of the 19th century, other church leaders are not telling the vision nearly as often, and they’re not telling it in the same way. Even though Joseph Smith’s records now and they’ve been published in the Church newspaper, Joseph Smith’s History will be published in the Pearl of Great Price in Britain in 1851. It’ll be canonized in 1880. But in that 30 years, you find quite remarkable variations on the story from George A. Smith, John Taylor, Brigham Young, and others. So, it’s Orson Pratt, who tells the story pretty much the way Joseph tells it and repeats it and keeps it on the forefront of minds. Finally, then, it gets canonized. We remember it the way we remember it today, largely because of the work that Orson Pratt did.
We’ll also talk about how some modern critics view the First Vision. To hear the conclusion, sign up for our free newsletter at https://gospeltangents.com/newsletter to check out our conversation with Dr. Steven Harper.
Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Steven Harper.