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*Staker Weighs in on First Vision (Part 5 of 5)

In a previous conversation with historian Dan Vogel, he indicated visions of Jesus were common among Methodists in Joseph Smith’s day and questioned why a Methodist minister would object to Joseph’s account of a vision.  I asked Dr. Mark Staker to weigh in on that issue, and Mark tells why he thinks a minister may have been upset.  BUt to hear this conversation, you need to be signed up for our newsletter at .

Mark:  Joseph goes to the woods and he begins to pray. What happens? Power falls on him. He says, “an unseen power comes to me that binds my tongue so I can’t speak.”  [This is] exactly what the ministers are telling him is going to happen, happens. And what does he do? He prays that God will release him from this power, and no sooner does he pray asking God to release him from this power, that he sees a light. Then he sees the Father. The Father introduces the Son to him, and tells him, “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” Well, the difference between Joseph and all those Methodists who had exactly that same experience was Joseph recognized that power was not what he wanted. It was not of God, and no sooner did he recognize that and asked to be delivered from that, that he has an experience, unlike any experience that anybody else has had. That’s what makes him different than everybody else.

Mark:  Imagine when he goes back and tells a Methodist minister, “I went out, began to pray, and you know that power you told me was going to fall on me, that’s the devil.” Is that Methodist minister going to like that? No, naturally he’s going to condemn that, because that’s critical of everything he’s been teaching people and telling him to go out and experience. Imagine that he then says, “And then God, the Father, and Jesus Christ came and appeared to me.”  That’s going to contradict all these others who’ve been saying that we don’t have visions like that these days. So, both of those extremes, Joseph’s experience counters, and contradicts, and that everybody is not going to like him, when he begins telling about those details, which is why he waits for so many years to do so because the initial experience was so negative.

GT:  So, you would agree with Steven Harper that it was a Methodist minister that condemned him?

Mark:  That’s the minister that he would know. That’s the one that he would go to, and we know some of those ministers that were in the area that spring in 1820 that he could possibly have gone to.

What do you think of this scenario?  Check out our conversation….

Was the First VIsion in 1820, 1823, or some other year?

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Mark!

36: Lucy’s Dreams, Joseph’s Rational Religion

535: Smith Farmers Were Spiritual, Not Religious

534: When Joseph Met Lucy

533: Smith Family Farm in Vermont

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Orson Pratt’s First Vision Influence (Part 5 of 5)

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 to check out our conversation with Dr. Steven Harper.

Orson Pratt had major influence on institutional church memory of First Vision.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Steven Harper.

517: Comparing the Primary Accounts

516: Did Methodist Minister Scold Young Joseph?

515: Were Revivals in Palmyra in 1820?

514: Memory Problems with First Vision

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Comparing the Primary Accounts (Part 4 of 5)

What are the main differences between the First Vision accounts?  Why are they different, and are these differences significant?  Dr. Steven Harper is the author of “First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins” and he will weigh in on these issues.

Steven:  Excellent question. So, the 1832 and 38 are autobiographies. They are strategic memories. Joseph has stress and anxiety associated with strategic retrieval of his memory that he doesn’t have when it’s a spontaneous memory. So, the 1835 telling is a spontaneous retrieval. Joseph is not planning to write anything. He’s not planning to tell the story of his First Vision. He’s talking to this fellow from the east, Robert Matthews, and they start comparing prophetic credentials. This guy thinks he’s a great spiritual leader. He’s heard Joseph is, so, he’s come to see him, kind of to compare notes. Maybe, there’s kind of a subtle competition going on between them. I think, at least Matthews is trying to figure out if he might ally himself with Joseph Smith in some way or other.

Steven:  So, they’re very curious about each other and they want to know what’s going on inside each other’s brains. They start swapping credentials for what makes them a prophet. Joseph says, “Well, let me tell you how the Book of Mormon came forth.  The first thing that happened is, I was worried about matters that involve eternal consequences, and I worried about it a lot. I had great anxiety.  I was distressed and perplexed, and I went to the woods to pray. I saw a fire, and then one personage revealed another.  It filled me with joy unspeakable [joy.]” It’s a fast moving, relatively easy flow for Joseph.  When you compare it to the autobiographies, you notice that it’s not freighted with the concern about writing. The first thing Joseph does in both of his autobiographies is he offers a disclaimer about why he can’t write well.

GT:  So, the 1835 is not written by Joseph.

Steven:  That’s right, it’s written by Warren Parrish.  Parrish captures it.

GT:  Oh, Warren Parrish.

Steven:  Parrish captures it and puts it into his journal. Joseph is not writing it. He’s not thinking about writing it. He’s not thinking about, “What’s the beginning of the story, the middle of story, the end of the story.  How do I structure this narrative?”  He’s just spilling it out. It comes naturally to him, in that sense. It’s much easier work for him when he tells it like that, than it is when he writes it. We now know that he tells it like that quite a bit in this middle 1830s period, much more than we used to think. He’s telling it that way by shortly after, if not at the same time or before, he writes the 1832 autobiography. So, 1835 memory is really cool. I think one of the most telling things about it is, it doesn’t seem to cause Joseph Smith the psychological need to reconcile with or deal with that Methodist minister’s rejection. It’s one of the things I argue in the book is the 1832 memory is an effort to make good with or at least not offend the minister or the whole world the minister represents, and that Joseph isn’t very satisfied with his memory as a result of that effort. Then, I argue that the 1838 memory is an effort to take that minister head on. This is Joseph in the worst year of his life. He is in a persecution mindset. Notice how many times that account says hot persecution, the bitterest persecution.

GT:  I know Dan Vogel mentions that.[1]

Steven:  It is definitely the present that gives us that version of the past.  It’s saturated with persecution. In that mode, Joseph Smith spits venom at the clergy. He calls the Methodists “priests” three times.  He knows that that’s a way to offend.

[1] See and

We also talk about the 1842 account.  What are your thoughts on First Vision discrepancies?  Check out our conversation….

What are the main differences among primary accounts?

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Steve!

516: Did Methodist Minister Scold Young Joseph?

515: Were Revivals in Palmyra in 1820?

514: Memory Problems with First Vision