When did the First Vision take place? Dr John Lefgren and Dr John Pratt worked together to come up with a date: March 26, 1820. Dr Lefgren discusses how he used weather records and understanding of maple syrup making to confirm Dr Pratt’s proposed date. We’ll talk more with John Lefgren to discover how he came up with those weather records. Check out our conversation…

Intro to John Lefgren

John  03:01  I went to Helsinki on a Fulbright for one year, took my family. I took the foreign service entrance exam when I was in Helsinki at the American Embassy. And when I came back, I got a position as a as a diplomat, as a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department.

GT  03:24  Oh really? Wow.

John  03:26  From there, after some work in Washington, I was assigned to the American Embassy in Helsinki. It was a very exciting time.

GT  03:40  Now I don’t know much about Finland, but they speak English pretty well there, I guess. You didn’t have to learn…

John  03:46  I learned Finnish on my mission.

GT  03:48  Okay.

John  03:48  All my research was done in the Finnish language. My wife is Finnish, and I speak excellent Finnish. I have lived in Finland six years. I’ve traveled probably half a million miles.

Discussing Birth/Death of Christ

GT  05:07  Very good. Well, I know the reason why we’re having you here, you and John Pratt got together to triangulate when the First Vision was.

John  05:18  It was never our intent to do that. You know how things happen in life? You make a plan, and then something else happens.

GT  05:26  Yeah. So how did you get involved with John and all that sort of stuff?

John  05:32  Well, I wrote a book called April Sixth, dealing with the date of the organization of the Church, and the birth of Christ. That book was published by Deseret Book. And it was pretty well received. It came out in 1980. BYU Studies reviewed the book and didn’t have much good to say about it.  It was very annoying for me. They didn’t understand the argument. And they were using what scholars have used for the last 100 years concerning the date, the likely date of Christ’s birth. It goes around Herod.  The arguments are pretty interesting. It’s now shifting more in favor of a 1 BC birth year. But most scholars for a long time, have thought maybe it was a 4 BC birth year. Well, that wasn’t my idea. And I took the Book of Romans…

GT  06:39  Isn’t Talmage a 1 BC guy?

John  06:40  He’s a 1 BC, man, for sure. And to this date, BYU is not yet there where they need to be. But I was young. I didn’t know who they were. And they tore into my book in their review. And John Pratt had done work. I didn’t know him. He was my age. He was living in Layton, working for the Hill Air Force Base. He was on the Minuteman missile.

Dating First Vision

John  18:57  Indeed, it was all east of the Mississippi. And most of the military posts were pretty close to the oceans. And these were doctors and they all had thermometers. Thermometer was, like, a big instrument. Up until that time, it probably would not have been possible to collect weather temperatures. So, Lovell instructs his–this is the Surgeon General, a young guy, he puts together a system for them to report to him every day on the weather, three times a day. They have to fill out a report and they have to give him temperature and general weather conditions, just a short statement. These reports are collected in Washington. They cover nearly a million square miles of territory. This is the first national weather reporting system in the history of man. Now, up until that time, [you] probably could not have done what would have–you needed an instrument to measure. So, the thermometer, the Fahrenheit scale had already been developed. Mercury thermometers were common for the doctors, and they could, in the morning, see what the temperature was and write it down and then in the afternoon, and then in the evening. These are tens of thousands of observations, handwritten with a quill pen, sent into Washington. Now some doctors are better than other doctors. In the area of New York–New York had, at one time, a third or fourth of all the military assets of the United States, because of the War of 1812 and the British up there. So, Sackets Harbor was a big port.

John 22:43  Well, it had been collected. So, they started in 1820, that’s January 1820.

GT  22:49  That’s interesting an year, 1820.

John  22:51  And we have, then, this flood of data. I mean, we have, before that, you might get one or two temperatures. Thomas Jefferson, he liked his thermometer, and he kept his temperature in his diary or in his journal often. But until that time, you had no systematic effort to collect weather information.

GT  23:16  And so if this [First Vision] had been 1819, we’d be out of luck, right?

John  23:19  Absolutely out of luck. Absolutely out of luck. It’s never been done before. The Germans won’t do it for another 10 years, the English will try to follow us. But this young doctor and that Surgeon General, he developed a system for data collection. And then he prints up a report in the local newspaper, National Intelligencer, and printed it in Washington. It’s a neat sheet. It has all these numbers on it with data for America, just tables of temperatures. And he says, “I don’t know why I’ve done this, but maybe somebody would like to look at it later on.” And so, in this printing of the first ever National Weather Report, we have the First Vision. Can you believe that?

GT  24:20  So how did you know about this?

John  24:22  I didn’t.

GT  24:22  Okay, because John…

John  24:26  I read and it’s in the Church history, that on April 6, 1830, it was a beautiful day. So in Lake Seneca, Joseph Smith, Sr. is baptized. The weather was unusually warm, and it was clear. That was in the Church record. And I said, “Well, is there a weather record that I can find that might confirm that?”

GT  24:55  In 1830?

John  24:56  In 1830, and I found it. It was there, April 6, 1830, clear day, beautiful day. Lake Seneca [was] not a bad place to be baptized.

John 25:55  It might have been some planning records. Joseph Smith wanted Tuesday, April 6.  He was told, by revelation, Tuesday, April 6, 1830, is the day on which this Church will be organized. Why?

GT  26:12  It’s weird that it wasn’t a Sunday.

John  26:15  It’s really weird. It’s a workday. It’s a sunny day. The farmers should be out working. But they gathered together. That day was by revelation. And the reason that Joseph Smith says we’re going to organize the Church on this day is, it’s the birth of Christ, 1830 years since the birth of Christ. He was told on that day to organize. So, the weather’s great in the Church records. The weather record in Sackets Harbor is the same kind of weather. It’s beautiful weather. I said, “Well, that fits, April 6, 1830, a clear day, nice temperatures. They’re pushing up over 70.” The spring in New York, the spring in New England is powerful. It can come in just a few days. The weather is incredibly convenient, incredibly beautiful. So, that fits. And I said, “Well, let me see if I can find a weather report for 1820.” The same guy, Dr. Wheaton keeping it 10 years before. And guess what? It was cold. It was miserable. There was sleet, 1820 was not a beautiful morning.

GT  27:42  April 6th.

John  27:43  [Yes,] April 6, 1820, it was not nice. And so, I said, “The weather is not there. [There was] no, How Lovely Was the Morning, singing [about it] on that day. And I told John Pratt, and he didn’t quite catch it. He didn’t understand these weather records. And so, years later, he comes up with a view on the First Vision, which was Sunday, March 26, 1820. And that he gets from the Calendar of Enoch. And, I said, “I don’t know how you got there. I know you’re really careful in what you do.” I mean, when John Pratt counts days, he’s counting days. He goes down to the hour. He’s got a head for it, too. He knows a number line. And he’s obsessed with these numbers. It’s not some kind of, I mean, if he can’t get the numbers to line up, he won’t have much opinion. That’s how he comes to it.

John  32:41  I had a business in New Jersey and they had a microfilm reader in the library. I went there, I said, “This is going to be so easy. It’s either a beautiful spring morning,” the likelihood in spring in that part of the country is it’s miserably cold. Because we’re in this period of transition. I couldn’t believe it. There were three days–it was snow on–we’re talking about a Sunday. So, there’s snow on Thursday. There are temperatures that are freezing, and then it breaks. And you can see it right in that sequence. And you come, and March 26th is written out in a quill pen, a brilliant, beautiful day.

GT  33:35  What was the temperature? Do you remember?

John  33:37  It was 72.

GT  33:37  Oh, 72, nice.

John  33:39  It is so incredible when you get a 72 degree temperature in New England in the spring. It’s like the sweetest thing you can imagine. It is really amazing. So, I called John and I said, “Hey, I don’t know how you did it. But I got the weather, and the weather is completely in alignment with what you’re suggesting. I went to the back. I went to the front of that spring period of six weeks. So, there’s no other place. And that’s where we sort of landed, two different, strange ways of going, but I’m absolutely confident in what he did and what I did. I have, as a matter of fact, I was able to buy the 1820 newspaper, the original, I have that.

Starting Heartland Research Group

John  09:13  I was satisfied that Palmyra, Hill Cumorah was the place. So, it was a question of starting from there and then just branching out and seeing how do you put this thing together? And so, my training is in economic history. And I’ve done quite a bit of work on some famines. And so, my tendency was to look at the world, the world of history, and to see where can I find an ancient army that has–ancient armies that are in the field where we have 500,000 men?  And they’re there. They’re in India. Again, they’re in China. They’re in Europe. That’s what I was looking for.

GT  09:59  Okay.

John  10:00  It’s a big fight, requiring a lot of space. And if you can’t feed them, they can’t fight. And the fight is really, really complete in its detail. It’s really amazing. So, for me, that was it. I mean, there’s no place, I could see where this thing could fit into Mesoamerica that it would work.

GT  10:25  And so, how did you go to start the organization, the Heartland Research Group?

John  10:32  Well, I wanted to bring some new technologies. They are expensive. They come from Germany. Magnetometry census is a big leader in this area. They are good at what they do. They’ve been doing it for 60 years. And they have done some work in Ohio. I thought that would be interesting. We could cover a few hundred acres in one day. It was new for us. It was new for them. But we started there. It was expensive. So, by the time you put an expedition together on the first go around it’s $30,000. [They are] wonderful people, and the first money was…

GT  11:20  That’s a lot of money.

John  11:23  Well, if you’re not looking, you can’t find it. And we’re talking about a lot of land. Not thousands of acres, but millions. And there’s a lot of water. So, we’re looking for something that is in a small space, for sure. But you have to be able to manage, or at least begin the search someplace.

Focusing on Zarahemla

John  13:36  Then we shifted after the first two expeditions in Ohio. Ohio is a big place and there are tens of thousands of mounds. Everywhere you look in Ohio, is full and rich in ancient history, in the ground. [It’s] really, really hard to understand. We’re talking the Book of Mormon has 1000 years of history, a million square miles. And if you’re looking for Book of Mormon evidence in that kind of space, it’s hard. So, after spending $120,000, I said, “I’ve got to focus.” I, then, took on the theory that Zarahemla was across the way from Nauvoo.

GT  14:31  Because that’s something Joseph Smith said?

John  14:34  No, God told Joseph Smith. It was not a throwaway line. It was part of our scripture. It’s in the Doctrine & Covenants.

GT  14:43  Okay.

John  14:45  I think it’s a good place to start. The most confirming piece, for me, was Alma Chapter 2. This is probably the most complete battle account we have in ancient America, involving three armies. [There were] probably as many as, on the army side, 100,000-150,000. And on the civilian side, we have refugees or people who are–so, we have movements of people that are total movement of about 200,000. They’re going into Zarahemla for protection. This battle lasts for 36 hours. And it’s in a grid of five square miles. And we know they were crossing the river Sidon. And so that’s all useful. And there’s no other place where you can, I mean, it was a tight space, lots of people and a short time. And we have 200 verses of scripture. It is Alma’s own, it’s the battle of Zarahemla in 87 B.C.

John  16:14  It’s a firsthand account. He was the chief judge and the commander of the army. So, the detail of all that is still preserved, well preserved. Mormon/Moroni made sure that that battle report was given, as it was originally written. And that, for me, is probably the most important thing. We’re in the right place.

GT  16:49  Have you found anything that you can say is confirming of the Book of Mormon, yet?

John  16:53  Oh, yeah, lots.

GT  16:57  Give us some examples.

John  16:58  [There were] 10,000 firepits. The most interesting piece we are working on, we hope to bring it out of the ground that we think we have found the defensive wall of Zarahemla. That is at least four and a half miles, but maybe as much as 10 miles. Pieces of it are there. The LIDAR imaging of that space is remarkable. Yeah, there’s a lot there. We scanned with a German technology and then with a Russian technology, about 200 acres. We worked with the local landowners. They’ve been very cooperative, or at least the big landowners have been very fun. Very fun. It’s hard. It costs a lot of money. You get these pieces of equipment that are $120,000. You lease them. You’ve got six days. You bring in a crew. And before you know it, you’ve gone through $50,000. So, there’s a risk in all of this, of course. So about six months ago, maybe eight months ago, we shifted things. The Phoenicia has much less risk. It’s very real. It has a clear history. It allows us to be more effective with the use of our money and our time.

Buying Lehi’s Boat (The Phoenicia)

GT  18:33  And so, the Phoenicia, that’s the ship that went around Africa, almost ended up in Florida, and then headed back and circumnavigated Africa, right?

John  18:43  Yes, indeed. We bought that ship.

GT  18:47  Yeah.

John  18:48  And the very fact that we have it is a complete miracle. A complete miracle.

GT  18:55  And so, you think that the Phoenicia basically followed Lehi’s travels, as well as, Mulek’s travels from the Old World to the New World?

John  19:04  I don’t have anything except the experience of the experts. I know that Philip Beale demonstrated the reality of those two crossings. We have the ship, and we have Philip Beale.

GT  19:25  He’s your Columbus and your Lehi, all in one.

John  19:27  He is. He’s very genuine. And for anyone to imagine that they can improve on what he experienced, I think, is a mistake.

GT  19:39  So, you’ve bought that ship and you’ve got a museum there in Montrose, Iowa.

John  19:43  Well, we have the ship. We’re putting the ship together.

GT  19:45  Right.

John  19:46  It may be 15% together, but this is the largest artifact from the ancient world that has significance for the Book of Mormon. It’s 2600 years old. It’s coming out of the Mediterranean.

GT  20:08  Now, could you tell us a little bit? You said there was a ship found in France that Philip based his ship on?

John  20:16  For sure.

GT  20:17  Yeah. Tell us more about that story.

John  20:19  I’ll tell you Marseilles is a city in France on the western Mediterranean coast. And Marseille is an older city than Rome. It’s a French city, but it’s older than the city of Rome. It has a long history of seafaring activity. And it has a port. It has a port today, an important port in France. In the mud of the port, in July 1993, there was a backhoe that was digging for foundations on a seaside project for a theater or something like that. And while they were digging, the backhoe hit these timbers of a shipwreck. It turns out that these timbers are 2600 years old. And they are the remains of a Phoenician ship with the remarkable Phoenician joint.  That was discovered in 1993. It takes time, of course, to sort this all out. But by 2000, it was clear that they had an ancient ship, that is 600 B.C. So, taking that design, Philip Beale faithfully reconstructs a ship that would have been very familiar to the Phoenicians and that’s where his story begins. We can connect every year, for the last 2600 years, to this ship. There is nothing made up here. It is as real as it can be. The original wreck is in the museum. People, anybody can go see it.

GT  22:36  In your museum in Iowa?

John  22:38  No, no, in Marseille.

GT  22:39  Oh, in Marseille, okay.

John  22:40  The original 2600 year-old wreck is in the Museum of Marseille. It’s a beautiful display. Anybody can go see it. It’s as real as it can be.

GT  22:54  As long as you happen to be in Marseille, France, right? (Chuckling)

John  22:57  Well, it’s an unusual artifact.

GT  22:59  Yeah.

John  23:01  It deserves protection, and it deserves public attention. So, without that, we don’t have that Phoenicia. With that, we can replicate using the same materials and methods. And that’s what Philip Beale [did.] Then, he sails that ship. He calls it the Phoenicia. It’s wonderful, very wonderful, because we can get as close as we possibly can, I think, to 600 BC, at the time when Lehi was alive. Jeremiah was alive. We come into the city of Jerusalem, at a time when the Babylonians are going to destroy the walls and burn the temple. [It was a] very destructive and very chaotic time in all of that part of the Mediterranean. This is where the Book of Mormon finds its origin. It’s really exciting, really, really exciting. The thing is that now this ship is in Iowa. You can put your hand on it, and it’s not small. It’s 40 tons. It’s big.

GT  24:20  And it could have supported, say 30 people from Lehi’s family.

John  24:24  Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Now you’ve got to feed them. You’ve got to have water and everything else. And it’s not an easy thing to cross the Atlantic in a square-rigged vessel. But this is a strong ship. This ship is amazing. It’s all because of the technology that the Phoenicians had developed for the joints. It has 7500 joints. So, a force, a 120-ton wave [were to] come crashing down on this ship, it takes the blow, and it moves like that a little bit, but then it comes right back.

GT  25:01  So, is that your biggest evidence, then, would you say, is this Phoenician ship?

John  25:07  So, the evidence of anything, has to have a time and a place. The evidence of the Book of Mormon is immense. Of course, the time and place is, like, huge. And we are looking at maybe a 25-year period. We are looking at the time of Jeremiah, the time of Lehi. I want to be completely focused. It’s a narrow focus, because the truth is always brought out in its clearest definition, when you put limits on it. So, essentially, it’s a microscope, looking down on the ship to see what we can find out about how it… The crossing of the Atlantic is an important part of the Book of Mormon story, for sure.

What are your thoughts about John pinpointing the date of the First Vision as March 26, 1820? Philip Beale (who is not LDS) is the subject of next week’s interview. Are you surprised the Philip Beale basically re-created Lehi’s voyage to America, proving that the journey could have happened?