Critics of Joseph Smith’s First Vision account claim that Joseph changed his accounts over the years, resulting in contradictions between the four primary accounts. Could there be other ways to explain these discrepancies? Dr. Steven Harper from BYU has written a book called “First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins” that seeks to answer some of these questions.
Steven: I decided that the first part of the book would be about Joseph Smith’s memory. How did he consolidate? How did he form his memories of the First Vision? And what’s the nature of those memories? The premise, really, from the beginning is that memories are not what we often think they are. Memories aren’t like some kind of data that you can record to a DVD or keep in a file folder somewhere where you just retrieve it, and it’s the same data every time. We talk about memory that way, but that is not how it works. An autobiographical memory, like Joseph’s memories of his First Vision, are real-time creations. He produced the memory every time he told the memory or recorded it. He produced it out of the past, for sure. There were components of memory that he used, but he also always had some present context that was very essential to the way the memory was shaped. This is what we all do. We might think we don’t. But this is what we all do. We have a present situation. It prompts us in some way or other to think about our past. We gather up pieces of the past, and we fuse them together, and form them in a way that makes sense in our present, and that addresses the needs of our present. That’s how Joseph Smith came up with his memories of the First Vision. So, people might ask, are they accurate or inaccurate? It depends on what you mean.
Steven: Memories are accurate, and memories are inaccurate, both. They’re not perfect or distorted. They’re both of those things. There’s no way around that, not for anybody. So, memories are what they are. His [Joseph Smith’s memories] are fascinating. The first chunk of the book tells about how he formed those memories. What was the present context, in which he formed each of his various memories of his First Vision that we have record of? Then the second part of the book is how a collective memory first formed. How did the earliest Latter-day Saints besides Joseph Smith, who came to know about his vision, remember it? What roles did they have? How did that work? That part goes up through the canonization of Joseph Smith’s history in the Pearl of Great Price in 1880. Then, the third chunk of the book is about contested memory. It’s about the fight over what the First Vision means. [The fight] over whether Joseph’s memories are accurate or inaccurate or distorted or made up or half-remember dream, as Fawn Brodie said, or all the various claims. The stakes have really been raised on the First Vision in the last 50 years or more, and so that’s a compelling story.
GT: Yeah, definitely. I’m curious, because you’ve got a background in history, and you’re going into all this memory stuff, which sounds more like a scientific thing. Did you consult with a neurologist or a memory expert, or something, as you wrote this book?
Steven: I did. When I first started, I talked a lot to my brother, who’s a Ph.D. psychologist. I said, “What about this idea? What about that?” He said, “That would work. That’d be good.” He pointed me in the right directions. “Here are some things you need to read. Here are some things you need to stop assuming.” One thing that historians commonly assume is that memories are like something that you can carbon date, that there’s kind of a predictable rate of radioactive decay attached to a memory. You’ll hear people talk about it like that. “Well, this memory was 18 years after the vision, so it’s not as good as one that was 10 years or 12 years after the vision.” There’s no basis for making that judgment. It’s an assumption. But there’s no good criteria that’s testable or verifiable. It’s unscientific, in other words.
GT: Doesn’t that fly against the normal training of a historian, though, because usually you say the first accounts are the best accounts, and then they get worse as time goes on.
Steven: That’s my point. That’s the assumption of a historical method. On what is it based?
GT: I mean, don’t we have centuries of historians that do it that way?
Steven: Maybe so, but a point I want to make in the book is, it’s much better to take each memory on its own merits, evaluated itself.
What do you think of Dr. Harper’s scientific approach to history?
Hmmm. Well, at least he’s a bit nuanced in his approach to memory, history, etc. But the fact that Dr. Harper is associated with BYU automatically calls his objectivity into question. On the one hand, I sort of agree with what he says about memory; how it’s not ironclad, how it changes and how people alter the telling of memories over years. On the other hand, Dr.. Harper seems to be setting up just another apologetic angle: The first vision accounts changed because memory is fuzzy/unreliable/mutable. With this, as with most discussion about the different versions of the first vision, my question is always: If God thought the first vision was so important, why didn’t he clearly dictate, one time, exactly what he wanted Joseph Smith to write down and then unequivocally ratify that version, either to Joseph himself or in front of witnesses so that there would be no question about what, exactly, Joseph saw/experienced? So far, no one has been able to answer that question to my satisfaction.
The attacks on the First Vision account are nothing less than attacks on religion in general and the nature of human capabilities in particular. I wager that if we asked 100 people what they had for dinner last night, 50 wouldn’t remember anything and the other 50 would give different details each time they were asked.
Alexis de Tocqueville searched far and wide for the secret of American democracy. He eventually found it: “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and the genius of America. America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
In fact, William Penn stated that “If we will not be governed by God, we will be governed by tyrants. ” Thomas Jefferson likewise stated, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” In addition, George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
Our society will pay a terrible price if popular culture continues to make unrealistic attacks in the First Vision account.
JCS, There is no such thing as “the” First Vision account. Instead, there are multiple First Vision accounts. Wherever are the crocs, sweatpants and hotdogs in all this?
BrSky, “If God thought the first vision was so important, why didn’t he clearly dictate, one time, exactly what he wanted Joseph Smith to write down and then unequivocally ratify that version, either to Joseph himself or in front of witnesses so that there would be no question about what, exactly, Joseph saw/experienced? ”
I’m satisfied with my answer: It’s NOT so important as many make it out to be. That is evidenced by JS and the Church’s choice not to use it in either missionary work or theology of the godhead in initial years. Others have tried to derive more from it than is warranted beyond the experience of revelation, forgiveness and personal direction as to choice of joining a church. No version is any more significantly different from Trinitarianism than Stephen’s vision in the NT.
It seems clear that memory variation is a factor in the various accounts — possibly including the problem of remembering not only the details of the experience but also the details of the prior accounts. It seems also clear that memory variation was not the only factor. Audience and purpose may also have played their parts. Then there are also the second hand reports and the editing of the canonized account. It also seems clear that JS was not acting as God’s stenographer in writing or assisting in the preparation of multiple accounts. In view at least of changes made to D&C revelations after their first publication, it seems that he was not God’s stenographer in writing those either. Maybe that’s the larger lesson of the multiple versions.
I suspect, with Roger Terry, that the canonized account is “true enough” for God’s purpose(s). Though I suspect the first, handwritten account likely more accurate, I don’t think it’s an omniscient third person or stenographic account either.
Faulty memory can certainly explain some of the more trivial inconsistencies. It cannot explain the glaring ones, in my mind. I think it’s reasonable to assume that if you had a heavenly visitation, you’d remember if you saw one being or two. That’s not a memory problem. That’s an evolving idea of the Godhead problem that you fix with later, “official” accounts. As for the apologetic logic that “just because he only mentions Jesus in the 1832 account, that doesn’t mean he also didn’t see God the Father,” if I told you I had lunch with Susan, you can safely assume I also didn’t have lunch with Bigfoot or Elvis. I probably wouldn’t have left that out of the story. Likewise, I think one of the very few instances of God the Father appearing to man may have warranted a mention, if it happened.
I think Harper is exaggerating the equivalence or equal credibility of memories of recent and long past events. First, there is a physiological or neurological difference between short-term and long-term memory. It is certainly the case that short-term memory is likely to give a more detailed and more accurate account of a recent event than a long-term memory of that same event recalled years or decades later. That supports the very reasonable view of historians that contemporary accounts of a given event are more reliable than late recollections. Confabulation is a thing, and it’s much more of a thing for long-term as opposed to short-term memories.
It’s worth remembering that the First Vision only became a central feature of Mormon belief in the early 20th century. In the 18th century, the Book of Mormon was initially the heart of the Restoration story that missionaries told, then later explaining and defending polygamy became the central feature of Mormon discussion. In mid-20th century, Fawn Brodie called the First Vision a half-remembered dream. Harper depicts the First Vision as a half-remembered event. Dream or event, it’s the “half-remembered” part that is a concern, because what goes into the other half?
Yes, memory is messy and mutable, but it’s sharper when recalling highly emotional events, particularly negative ones. My nonagenarian grandpa can tell me about getting wounded in a firefight in WWII and his details are consistent with what he wrote down decades ago. Since it’s a story he’s told many times, his consistency benefits from rehearsal (which doesn’t seem to be the case with JS). But I imagine if you’d been physically paralyzed by Satan, as JS claims to have been, that would be something you remember with greater clarity than a bygone Christmas or something like that.
Obviously the OP is right about memory being fuzzy. But I think most people can intuitively recognize the difference between someone struggling to get the details right and someone spinning an entirely new yarn every time it suits them (a la the Joker explaining how he got his scars). Whether JS experienced what he said he did (which version?), you can’t blame people for having their BS-o-meter triggered.
The First Vision clearly wasn’t Joseph Smith’s only claimed interaction with the divine. The Doctrine and Covenants is claimed to contain more words of Jesus Christ than the New Testament. And Jesus Christ is pretty clear in the D&C, going to great lengths to spell out matters of church organization, temple construction, and how the Shakers are nuts. Why so much ambiguity about the 1st vision?
John Charity Spring,
“Our society will pay a terrible price if popular culture continues to make unrealistic attacks in the First Vision account.”
Replace First Vision with Marian apparitions and tell me if you think the same? It is fascinating how people insist that others validate the miracles claimed by their own traditions but completely ignore at best, and claim as heretical at worst, the miracles claimed by other religious traditions. You’d think in a sense that the claimed appearances of the Virgin Mary would lend credence to other stories of people interacting with the divine, but I’ve never heard a Mormon standing up in church testifying of their firm belief of how some person saw the mother of Jesus.
John W: I’m actually willing to consider the possibility that someone out there has experienced a visit by the Virgin Mary. I know a person who really believes he experienced this (in Argentina). However, if this person wrote down a first-hand account of the experience, but later told another version of the story with different details (who visited, how many visited, what was said to him, what his purpose was leading up to the visit) I might have some doubts that it took place. And these doubts would strengthen were I able to identify obvious motives for the telling of his experience. Finally, if the “official” version of his experience was different than the original in his own writing , I might tend to believe in the first account.
Also, if my friend had a life-changing experience like this but waited 12 years to tell anyone, I might suspect that he had a motive for telling me when he finally told me.
Mr. Charity: this would not represent an attack on religion. It would represent an attack on credibility.
“But the fact that Dr. Harper is associated with BYU automatically calls his objectivity into question.”
I hate guilt by association. Your comment should leave out garbage like this.
Brother Sky, “If God thought the first vision was so important….” This premise is faulty. Where did God say this? (Hint, he didn’t.)
John Charity Spring, please don’t comment on my posts. Your takes are awful and add nothing of value.
Rob, here is a personal anecdote I posted on my Facebook page when others pointed out the same thing. When my dad died, I gave the eulogy. I announced the births of the first 4 children of my parents. Then my sister got up to announce that they had two more, and I had neglected to mention my younger siblings births. Everybody laughed. Was I nervous? Absolutely. My parents had 6 children, but listening to my eulogy, the audience only knew about 4 of them, and those 2 I left out were there to correct the record. (Of course this was completely unintentional on my part, and I felt pretty stupid leaving them out.) So, maybe I can give a little more leeway to Joseph Smith than you can. Heck I can’t even remember a brother and sister at my dad’s own funeral. So, yeah. It’s clear you have a better memory than me.
I believe Joseph had some kind of mystical experience in his youth where he felt God called him to bring forth the Book of Mormon and had a work for him to perform. This was the kind of experience that was powerful and life-changing, but also hard to put into words. This was also a period of time he was involved money digging and having visions in his seer stone and the golden plates which were very tied to magic and the seer stone. Later when he and the Church were seeking respectability and establishing theology, these experiences were re-worked into more concrete narratives of the First Vision and Angel Moroni visits. The First Vision sounded more like a traditional born again experience that was used by Christians of the time. I think the early blurring between the two and conflicting details can be traced to them being out of the same experience or the mystical call to the BOM (First Vision) and the treasure digging vision/guardian spirit of the gold plates (Moroni). Oliver Cowdery’s early versions of the First Vision sound like Moroni’s visit.
In our time we see tech companies becoming established and wanting a romantic founding myth, usually centered around some nerdy college drop-outs who started in a garage with old computers and built something incredible, against all odds. Many of these companies have really had to get creative to get the real story to fit into a more romantic box and find something they can call a “garage” where it all started. Joseph wanted more of a traditional narrative, wanted to get as far away as he could from the Palmyra magic/money digging days and reworked the story to be respectable and fit the evolving theology. However, I don’t think this means that he didn’t have some kind of powerful experience and sincerely felt called to do what he was doing. We have done ourselves a real disservice by making the stakes so high for the First Vision and making it into a totally rational visitation. When I was a kid I used to wish the cameras were invented at the time so Joseph could have taken a picture, or wished I could have been hiding behind a tree watching. Whatever happened, it was much more in his mind, and I’m sure it would have just looked like he was praying or sleeping and would have been hard to put into words, like a powerful dream.
Dave B, Steve Harper says that our institutional memories of the First VIsion can be traced to Orson Pratt, who talked about it frequently and even coined the term “First Vision.” Orson was told about the vision in 1840, was the first to publish it, and talked about it in the late 19th century. If it weren’t for Orson, the First Vision probably wouldn’t be known among the general membership.
Kirkstall, there are countless memories of the Twin Towers exploding BEFORE the planes hit the towers in the traumatic event of 9/11. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously bad, and there have been lots of people who got important details of a crime wrong. So I think we need to be careful about memories of traumatic events.
No crocs? No sweatpants? No hot dog eating contests? You’re off your game, Brother Spring. I’ll bet those damn kids can still get off your lawn, however.
I’m with Rob.
Totally understandable he may forget the exact location in the grove, or the exact words spoken to him. But to forget the number and nature of the attendees (one account said angels, one said the Lord, one said HF and JC), I find this harder to understand, and should naturally bring into question his credibility.
After all, he was able to remember all the major players of the priesthood restorations, even if the exact location and date is not remembered.
And JCS: The First Vision is not being attacked by pop culture; Hollywood honestly doesn’t care. The First Vision is being scrutinized by the members of the Church. And anecdotally, not by members of the croc wearing, youtube watching persuasion.
Rick B: Since it’s an established fact that BYU faculty have neither the intellectual nor the creative freedom of academics at other universities, I don’t think that that part of my comment was “garbage”. From BYU’s own website concerning academic freedom:
“There can be no unlimited individual academic freedom. Were there no constraints on individual academic freedom, religious universities could converge toward a secular model and lose their distinctive character, thus diminishing pluralism in academia. Furthermore, absolute individual freedom would place the individual faculty member effectively in charge of defining institutional purpose, thereby infringing on prerogatives that traditionally belong to boards, administrations, and faculty councils. Such arrogation of authority is particularly intolerable when the disagreement concerns Church doctrine, on which BYU’s Board of Trustees claims the right to convey prophetic counsel.”
That pretty clearly indicates that one can expect a lack of objectivity on the part of scholars associated with (especially in the employ of) BYU. Calling into question Dr. Harper’s objectivity is not guilt by association, rather it is merely acknowledging that Dr. Harper functions under/within the clear institutional limits placed by BYU upon free inquiry.
And yes, my exact point is that God didn’t say the first vision was important. But as others have pointed out, it came to have more and more significance as the church evolved until you have GBH basically saying that either the first vision is true or Joseph Smith perpetuated the greatest fraud in history (I’m paraphrasing). So what’s happened is that as the first vision has been given more significance by church leaders, it’s had to bear the weight of more and more scrutiny, which it clearly has trouble bearing. And if, indeed, it is so important, God would surely have made the experience less ambiguous.
More interesting to me than the credibility of the first vision (although that’s plenty interesting, particularly in shedding light on JS’s MO) is the credibility of the account of the priesthood restoration. In my view, that’s an event that is (1) even less credibly-documented than the first vision, and (2) more critical to our current organizational hierarchy.
We claim that angels came and restored the power of God in a direct line from Jesus, that only those to whom it was restored or bestowed can bestow it on others, that certain of those men have special access to speak for God (this has been twisted over time to a total over-emphasis on “Follow the Prophet”), and that they get to choose who else gets access and who gets promoted in the ranks (and have used that power to exclude people based on race, gender, and standards of worthiness). To me, that exclusive priesthood hierarchy is the single worst thing about the Church and the root of its worst abuses. And I highly doubt the event it is based on ever happened. Without that, what is our claim to exclusive priesthood authority? Even if the first vision is 100% the way the canonized version describes, there’s still no exclusive priesthood authority there.
The one vs. two beings in the first vision makes for fun and interesting speculation because there’s no reason to do it. Would the doctrine of the father and the son being separate beings be any less true because only one showed up? New Testament only shows Jesus showing up so why would this be a problem?
It’s not like the change was needed. Even if his theology changed, he didn’t need to rewrite his story. He’s the prophet, people believe his revelations and teachings. He doesn’t need to go back and rewrite history. Evidence for this is fact that he shifted the doctrine of the body of the Father being ambiguously as a personage of glory (Lectures on Faith) to having a body without even saying “Thus sayeth the Lord”.
Why are we so readily accept Josephs First Vision but so quickly deny Muhammad’s first revelation in a cave in 610. AD . The story has lasted for thousands of years and is believed millions more than Josephs story. It is still undecided whether JS’s smith story will last anywhere near a 1000 years or will have 20 million followers.
Elisa: to your point:
1. why do we not have an actual date for the restoration of the M priesthood?
2. why was this restoration not mentioned until 1834 if it took place in 1829?
3. why did Lyman Wright ordain JS to the “high” priesthood in 1831 if he already had the M priesthood since 1829?
4. why was this restoration not mentioned in the Evening and Morning Star or Book of Commandments as late as 1833 but a restoration by “angels” was mentioned in official Church history in 1832?
5. what else was happening in 1834? Was JS’s authority being questioned by Hyram page? Was O Cowdery fighting for position with S Rigdon?
These are meant to be rhetorical questions
It is interesting that Rick B writes a post asking for a response to questions, and then he goes on to criticize multiple people for their thoughtful and well reasoned responses. Don’t ask questions if you don’t want answers.
Rick appears to justify the inconsistent reports of the first vision as being consistent with every day memory. This is facetious. For example, most people may not remember what color dress their mom wore and color tie their dad wore at their wedding, but they remember without exception whether their mom and dad were both there or whether it was just one or the other.
And why are there no contemporary accounts of people in Palmyra being told about the first vision? If Joseph was persecuted for this and the people hated him for saying he had a vision, then why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to tell everyone they could that Joseph had made this (to them) ridiculous claim?
6. Why did Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery change the wording of earlier revelations when they compiled the 1835 D&C, adding verses about the appearances of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John as if they were in the original version? And why does the current D&C still characterize this as an 1830 revelation?
Even Richard Bushman wrote that the timing of the account “raises the possibility of later fabrication” – something he never contended w/r/t the first vision accounts.
“That pretty clearly indicates that one can expect a lack of objectivity on the part of scholars associated with (especially in the employ of) BYU. ”
I don’t follow your conclusion here, I’m sorry. I get just as tired of critics claiming everything from the church can’t be trusted, as I get tired of members claiming that they can only trust history from church sources, and all critics are wrong. They are 2 sides of the same, biased coin. I’m trying to break down that false dichotomy.
I think it is a fair statement to say that BYU probably does suppress information that is less than flattering for the Church. But Harper’s book doesn’t fit into that category. Instead, he is trying to take a new approach, one that clearly flies in the face of most historian’s methods. This isn’t the church stifling academic freedom, but allowing it. Not everyone is going to like Steven’s approach, and I get that. It was the first question I asked in episode 2 (to be released): “Why did you start with 1838 account and not 1832? Isn’t that against what a normal historian does?”
The other implication on academic freedom is that the Church must have somehow motivated Steve to publish something pro-Church, but against his own beliefs. I find that implication laughable. I think it is clearly evident in talking to Steve that he believes exactly what he wrote. He’s not professing something he believes just because it is church-friendly. He really believes this. Hence I think you’re way off the mark on claiming that this is an academic freedom issue. I’m positive Steve would say the Church played no role in what he wrote, and I believe him. If you don’t believe him, well I question why, and merely smearing him because he works at BYU isn’t going to be convincing to me at all.
It’s funny because when I released the Dan Vogel interview, I had pro-Mormons attacking Dan, and I told them to calm down and state their disagreements and quit attacking Dan unfairly. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and I have to tell the critics to quit attacking Steve unfairly.
Attack his memory research. I have no problem with that. But I do have a problem with guilt by association, and I wish people would avoid casting aspersions in these types of highly-charged, emotional discussions. I’m trying to be dispassionate here and evaluate the arguments on the merits, and I’m going to get just as irritated with people attacking Dan Vogel unfairly as I am with people attacking Steve Harper unfairly. And trust me, this is a never-ending battle I fight over and over. But I hope to be a model for constructive dialogue. Far too many of our conversations in social media are destructive, not constructive.
Randy wrote, “Why are we so readily accept Josephs First Vision but so quickly deny Muhammad’s first revelation in a cave in 610. AD?”
I can’t say what you believe. Someone else asked me about James Strang earlier. As a neutral observer, I only report what Strang reported and what followers of Strang believe and leave it at that. If I believed Strang, I’d become a member of his movement. If I thought Muhammad had a vision, I’d become Muslim, or Buddha, etc, etc. I always find this question curious, and wonder why people ask it, as it seems off topic to me. What’s the point of asking if I believe visions of other people, except to side-track the discussion?
The person responded, “I am honestly trying to figure out what I believe after having been told what to believe for 49 years, even though so much of it makes no sense. I am honestly curious why “we” believe one person who claims to have had all these “visions,” but when others of that same time period claim the same thing, we say they are lying? I’m just trying to make sense of all of this and work through things in my head… 🤔”
To which I responded, ‘I guess I’m just super careful about saying others are “lying,” such as Strang. Most people on Facebook or other venues are not so careful. But when we are having conversations like this, I wish people would be more careful. It’s easy for LDS to accuse Strang of lying, or ex-Mormons to accuse Joseph Smith of lying, but I make no such emotional judgments. Trust me, I’ve encountered more than one Strangite who bristles at the notion that Strang lied about his vision, and they refer to such accusations as “anti-Mormon propaganda.” So I make no judgments as to the truth or falsity of Strang’s vision, and I would encourage others to be more careful about making such accusations. (You never know when a Strangite might wander in to the conversation, and like I said, they get pissed off quickly. I’ve seen it happen more than once.)
Once again, I strive for respect of my Mormon cousins, my ex-Mormon friends, my LDS believing friends, and I’ve even been called out for expressing irritation with evangelicals, so I try to be much more cautious about my language when discussing other groups, and that goes for Muslims, Buddhists, and even the FLDS. Far too many people flippantly cast aspersions, and I think we should all be more careful on making judgment calls that a person lied about a spiritual experience. I may or may not believe a particular vision happened, but I am not going to make fun of any other group when I discuss their purported visions, or try to imply that the person making the claim is lying. I hope that others will follow my lead when discussing sensitive and emotional truth claims.’
So Caroline, I hope that answers your complaint as well. I am simply try to discuss these topics dispassionately, and I think far too many people don’t understand their “well thought out responses” can be unintentionally offensive. I’m just trying to raise the level of discourse such that we quit throwing around terms like “apologist” or “anti-Mormon” get used less frequently and hence we can have better conversations without getting offended and parting into tribal camps.
“Rick appears to justify the inconsistent reports of the first vision as being consistent with every day memory. ”
Once again, I never said that Caroline. I am only reporting what Steve said, and clearly you didn’t listen to the interview because Steve didn’t say that either. I just ask that you speak with more information before throwing out false premises.
As a reminder once again, I defend Dan Vogel and Sandra Tanner with the same vigor as I defend Steve Harper and Elder Snow. I know you Dan Vogel fans don’t seem to appreciate that, but I promise you that I defend all my guests. Please don’t ascribe my defense of them as being pro or con their arguments. I am simply defending what they said, trying to fend off unfair attacks, and elevate the contentious conversations that arise on topics like this.
I read Harper’s book las year and thought it was quite good. Coincidentally, a month ago I posted an essay on my website—”Making Sense of the First Vision” (https://thewellexaminedlife.com/making-sense-of-the-first-vision/)—that incorporates some of the ideas in his book.
A couple of years ago, that family was sitting around reminiscing at Christmas. One daughter – in her 30’s – shared her favorite Christmas story of when the family turkey was burned and we had to go out for a Chinese dinner where the waiters cut the head off a roasted duck.
We all laughed, uncharitably, and said “That’s from the movie A Christmas Story!” It took a few minutes to convince her.
So, yes. We really can get our memories mixed up. To me the difficulty of the various first vision accounts is that points of doctrine are hung on bits of the various accounts. Perhaps the whole can be reconciled, but we rely on different snippets of the different accounts for things as important as the nature of God [godhead], how Satan acts, etc.
Theological/doctrinal points that hang on divergent accounts makes less authoritative, for me at least, that the “official amalgam” is reliable for all that is asked of it.
“And why are there no contemporary accounts of people in Palmyra being told about the first vision?”
If one believes a teenage Joseph told a Methodist minister about his vision, and that minister scorned Joseph, why should we expect Joseph to continue to tell others in such a was as they would write down, “Hey, I made fun of Joe Smith for claiming a vision today!” No, I suspect Joseph would keep that quite tight-lipped, and I suspect if someone made fun of something that was precious to you, you’d likely not tell a lot of people for fear of being made fun of. But maybe you’re different?
Rick B, Harper addresses that question in his book and comes to much the same conclusion. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that, after his experience with the Methodist minister, Joseph didn’t share his experience with anyone—not even his family—for ten years. And the historical record backs him up on that.
Great post and interview, Rick B. Those commenting should remember that, ideally, an interviewer’s job is to stay relatively neutral and let the interviewee share their own views and observations. In the comments, Rick is sort of defending his interviewee’s right to hold and share those views. There are some interviewers in the Mormon podcasting business who *do* let their own views frame or even overshadow their interviews. I much prefer Rick’s approach. That’s not to say I agree with Harper (I disagreed rather sharply in my earlier comment on this thread). And I’m not saying Rick agrees with everything Harper said. But don’t give Rick a hard time for responding to pointed comments directed at Harper by clarifying Harper’s remarks or by deflecting a misguided criticism. That’s what all contributors do when we engage with readers in the comments to our own posts.
Believing something because the evidence is incontrovertible, and believing something because you “choose” to believe are two completely different animals. Someone mentioned Elvis …
If I had an in-person conversation with God et al, I would remember the major details no matter how much time had passed. Maybe JS’s experience was more of a vivid dream.
As a missionary in the mid-1960’s, I taught a lot of half truths. Somebody, in addition to me, needs to atone for the misinformation.