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More Problems With The First Vision -- Sandra ja Jerald Tanner
Answering Dr. Clandestine 10: A Response to the Anonymous LDS Historian Pages 37-40

In the first part of Answering Dr. Clandestine, pp. 7-9, we pointed out that the anonymous Mormon historian has made a grave error in attempting to minimize the importance of Joseph Smith's First Vision. On pages 30-32 of his rebuttal, he goes so far as to try to separate the First Vision from Joseph Smith's divine calling. In the face of all the evidence to the contrary, Dr. Clandestine says that "the distinction between private experience and divine calling explains the contrasting publicity given to the Angel Moroni story and the story of the First Vision.... the private experience of the First Vision that had nothing to do with the rise of Mormonism, except that it (like the bone surgery incident Joseph Smith included in one of the manuscript histories of his early life) was one of a mass of autobiographical details that would be of interest to persons trying to understand the life of the man who brought forth the Book of Mormon and Mormonism itself. When Joseph Smith finally published an account of the First Vision, he appropriately titled it (in significant contrast to Cowdery's 1834 narrative): 'History of Joseph Smith."' (Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Distorted View of Mormonism, pp. 31-32)

Dr. Clandestine would apparently have us believe that since Joseph Smith titled his account "History of Joseph Smith;' instead of "History of the Church" in the Times and Seasons, we do not have to believe that it had anything to do with the rise of Mormonism. If he had read the paragraph which appears just above the title, Dr. Clandestine could have never made such a grave error:

"In the last number I gave a brief history of the rise and progress of the Church. I now enter more particular into that history, and extract from my journal.

Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, p.726

If Dr. Clandestine had turned to the April 15, 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, p. 753, he would have discovered the same title ("History of Joseph Smith"), yet he would have found the account of the Angel Nephi--later changed to Moroni--telling Joseph Smith about the "gold plates" from which he translated the Book of Mormon. The logical extension of Clandestine's reasoning would be that the story of the Book of Mormon has nothing to do with the Mormon Church.

Joseph Smith claimed that he received his First Vision just after a revival swept through his neighborhood in 1820. The Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe maintained that "All acceptable evidence within and beyond the Church confirms Prophet's story that his first vision occurred when he was between fourteen and fifteen years of age in the year 1820 and before the Book of Mormon revelations occurred." (Evidences and Reconciliations, 3 Volumes in 1, p. 339)

In 1967 Wesley P. WaIters published an article in which he demonstrated that "in 1820 there was no revival in any of the churches in Palmyra or its vicinity" (see Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? pp. 155-161). Dr. Clandestine seems to realize that it would be difficult to maintain there was a revival in 1820 in light of Walters' research. Therefore, he tries to fit Joseph Smith's story into the framework of a revival which occurred in 1817:

"The combined data from the 1838 and the 1832 accounts therefore establish the possibility that the religious revivals that impressed Joseph Smith had occurred as early as 1817-1818. Despite their insistence on the year 1820, the Tanners themselves present information that supports the above possibility: On page 65 they quote the 1887 book of M. T. Lamb that the revival occurred 'sixty or seventy years ago' (1817 to 1827), and on page 156 they quote Reverend Walter's verification that a religious revival did occur in Palmyra in 1817.... the ambiguity of Joseph Smith's own dating does not allow the year 1820 to be seized upon as the only date for the revival, the vision, or both.... Many Mormon writers until recent years interpreted Joseph Smith's 1838 reference to the location of the religious excitement ('... in the place where we lived... in that region of country, indeed the whole district of Country seemed affected by it...') as meaning that there was a religious revival in Palmyra in 1820. Reverend Walters has demonstrated that there was no revival in Palmyra in 1820, and therefore he and the Tanners claim that they have refuted the historicity of the First Vision, when all they have done is show that Mormon writers have misinterpreted the sketchy descriptions of the First Vision." (Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Distorted View of Mormonism, pp. 35-36)

Since Joseph Smith would have only been 11 years old at the time of the 1817 revival, we doubt that many people will take Dr. Clandestine's reconstruction seriously. Joseph Smith's 1838 account says that he was in his "fifteenth year" at the time of the "great excitement" (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2:7-8). It is interesting to note that Clandestine admits that Joseph Smith's earliest account of the First Vision "does not mention revivals or religious excitement beyond his own,..." page 35)

In the past Mormon apologists have maintained that Joseph Smith was very precise in his dating. Dr. Clandestine, however, concedes that "There is abundant evidence that Joseph Smith had only the vaguest idea of the years in which these events of his youth transpired. " (page 35)

On pages 7-8 of this pamphlet we demonstrated that Joseph Smith's first handwritten account of the First Vision only mentions one personage (Jesus Christ), whereas the official account says that both God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared. Dr. Clandestine does not seem to feel that this discrepancy is very important:

"One objection is that the 1832 account indicated that Joseph Smith communed with only one representative of Deity, rather than both the Father and the Son as separate personages, as stated in the conventional 1838 account....

"I see no problem with viewing the 1832 description as Joseph Smith's emphasis upon only a part of an overwhelming experience, and the absence of specific reference to two personages does not prove the later accounts to be fiction." (Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Distorted View of Mormonism, pp. 39-40)

In a footnote on page 41, Dr. Clandestine charges that "the Tanners force upon the several accounts of the First Vision a requirement for consistency that they do not require of the New Testament." On page 7 of the same pamphlet, we find the following:

"Are they as willing to dismiss the story of Christ's resurrection as fabrication because His apostles disagreed as to whether there were one or two angels at the tomb (Matthew 28 :5; John 20:12)? Or do they likewise claim that Luke's report of Saul's vision on the road to Damascus was 'made up years after it was supposed to have occurred' merely because Luke could not retell the experience twice in the same letter without contradicting himself (Acts 9:7, 22:9)?"

While we must admit there are some discrepancies in the Bible, we do not feel that they should be used to try to justify the serious changes in Joseph Smith's story of the First Vision. It is true that Matthew 28:5 speaks of an "angel" being at the sepulcher, while John 20:12 says there were "two angels." We must remember, however, that these accounts were written by two different authors. Whenever we get more than one account of an incident there are bound to be some discrepancies. We agree with Dr. Clandestine when he states: "...perfect consistency is as often a trait of deception as of truth, ..." (page 7) We have tried to take this into consideration in our study of Mormon history. We do not expect all accounts of an incident to agree perfectly. For instance, according to the History of the Church, Vol.6, p. 618, just before Joseph Smith was murdered he exclaimed: "O Lord, my God!" John D. Lee, however, adds eight additional words after "O Lord, my God." While this could be viewed as a contradiction, we feel that since both accounts use the words "O lord, my God'; the contention that Joseph Smith uttered these four words is strengthened.

Thomas Paine criticized the Bible because "Not any two of these writers agree in reciting, exactly in the same words, the written inscription, short as it is, which they tell us was put over Christ when he was crucified; and besides this, Mark says: He was crucified at the third hour (nine in the morning), and John says it was the sixth hour (twelve at noon).

"The inscription is thus stated in these books:

MATTHEW . This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.
MARK . . The King of the Jews.
LUKE . . This is the king of the Jews.
JOHN . . Jesus of Nazareth , king of the Jews.

We may infer from these circumstances, trivial as they are, that those writers, whoever they were, and in whatever time they lived, were not present at the scene." (The Age of Reason, reprinted by the Thomas Paine Foundation, New York, pages 151-152)

While Thomas Paine is correct in stating that the four Gospels disagree as to the exact wording of the inscription, we feel that there is real agreement in that all four use the words "the king of the Jews." The quotation from John in Paine's book (at least in the printing we have) omits the word "the" before "king of the Jews" (see John 19:19). It is unreasonable to demand absolute agreement in every detail from two or more witnesses. For instance, we recently talked to a couple who told us of a sign they had on the fence in front of their house. The wife claimed that it read, "Beware of Dog'; whereas the husband maintained it said, "Dog on Duty." Although they disagreed on the exact wording of the sign, we know that they had both seen it on many occasions.

Now, when we turn back to the handwritten accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision, we see that the discrepancies cannot be attributed to different authors because Smith was responsible for all of them.

In an account of the First Vision which was recorded in Joseph Smith's "1835-36 Diary" (see Mormonism-Shadow or Reality? p. 579), Smith claimed that he saw "many angels" in the vision. Neither the official account nor the version written in 1832 mention that angels were present. Now, if this were the only discrepancy in the accounts of the vision, one could perhaps excuse the matter by saying that since angels are far less important than Deity, it was not necessary to mention them. This type of reasoning, however, could not be used to explain the absence of God the Father in the 1832 account. We can see no conceivable reason for Joseph Smith to leave out the most important personage in the entire universe.

Whether there was one angel or two at Jesus' sepulchre does not affect doctrine, but Joseph Smith's different accounts of the First Vision affect a person's view of the Godhead. Mormon leaders use the official account of the First Vision to try to prove that God the Father is an exalted man and has a body of flesh and bone. The Apostle John A. Widtsoe admitted that "It was an extraordinary experience. Never before had God the Father and God the Son appeared to mortal man." (Joseph Smith--Seeker After Truth, p. 4)

Dr. Clandestine claims that Luke contradicted himself when he recorded Saul's vision on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:7 and 22:9. Acts 9:7 says that those who were with Saul "stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man," whereas Acts 22:9 indicates they "saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spoke to me." While there does appear to be a contradiction here (for an attempted reconciliation see The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1140), both accounts make it plain that those with Saul were aware that he was having a vision and were afraid. Except for the discrepancy pointed out above, the two accounts of Saul's vision are very complementary. They both claim that when Saul was near Damascus a great light appeared. In both accounts Jesus spoke to him and said "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" The message that the Lord gave is essentially the same, and in both cases Saul became blind and was led "by the hand" to Damascus.

If the handwritten accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision harmonized as well as the accounts of Saul's vision, Dr. Clandestine would really have something to boast about. As it is, he is left with a very weak argument.

After reading Dr. Clandestine's pamphlet, Michael Marquardt pointed out something that is very interesting. The two scriptural examples that Clandestine uses to try to show contradictions in the Bible have been altered to remove the problem in Joseph Smith's Inspired Version of the Bible. The King James Version of Matthew, Chapter 28 says that an angel" of the Lord appeared at the sepulchre, but Joseph Smith's Inspired Version 28:2 says that it was "two angels." In the Story of Saul's vision (King James Version, Acts 9:7), it says that the men with him were "hearing a voice," but in the Inspired Version, Joseph Smith changed this to read that they "heard not the voice of him who spoke to him."

While Joseph Smith's rendition of these verses outwardly appears to reconcile the problems, his work is not based on any ancient manuscript and is therefore without any foundation in fact. What can we think of a man who has the audacity to alter ancient Biblical texts when he cannot even get the details of his own First Vision straight? In the first handwritten account of his vision, Joseph Smith said that he saw one personage. The second account says there were many, and the third says there were two. In addition to this, there are discrepancies with regard to when the vision occurred and what Joseph Smith was told by the personage(s) who addressed him. While we would expect some variations in any story, the discrepancies in Joseph Smith's story of the First Vision are of such a nature that they make it impossible to believe.

Since printing Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? some new evidence concerning the First Vision has come to light. For example, Mormon writers have always depended on a book by Joseph Smith's mother to prove the First Vision actually occurred. Dr. Clandestine says that "when Lucy Mack Smith came to the early visions of her son Joseph Smith, she (or her ghost writers, Howard and Marthy Coray) simply quoted from the published version in the Times and Seasons." (Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Distorted View of Mormonism, p. 20) The fact that Mrs. Smith's book used Joseph Smith's official account of the First Vision has convinced many Mormons that she knew no other story. Wesley P. Walters, however, has recently examined a "preliminary draft" of Lucy Smith's manuscript in the Church Historical Department. Instead of a vision of the Father and Son in the woods, Joseph Smith's mother reports that it was an angel who appeared to Joseph Smith in his bedroom and told him all churches were wrong. We feel that this manuscript destroys the value of Lucy Smith's book as evidence for the First Vision.

In Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? p. 148, we pointed out that when Joseph Smith's History was first published in the Deseret News, he referred to his First Vision as merely a "visitation of angels": "...I received the first visitation of angels, which was when I was about fourteen years old; ... (Deseret News, May 29, 1852) Later Mormon historians changed the wording so that the word "angels" was completely left out. In the History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 312, it reads as follows: "...I received my first vision, which was when I was about fourteen years old;..."

On page 150 of Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? we made this statement: "Now that we are able to examine the journal found in the 'Manuscript History,' Book A-1, we not only find that the words 'first visitation of Angels' are correct, but we also find that the entire statement was originally written in the third person singular. " Since the Mormon Church was suppressing Joseph Smith's 1835-36 Diary we were not aware of the fact that it contained the same statement written in the first person. Now that we have obtained access to the 1835-36 Diary (page 37), it is obvious that Joseph Smith himself is responsible for the word "angels" in the account: "...I received the first visitation of angels..." Before the discovery of the statement written in the first person, one might have argued that the account written in the third person was a mistake. Such an argument now becomes completely untenable.

Fortunately, just before we went to press on the 1972 edition of Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? we obtained Dean C. Jessee's transcript of the portion of Joseph Smith's Diary were he gives "Joshua the Jewish minister" an account of the First Vision. We were able to include this important account in Appendix B, page 579. This account also appears in the back of the "Manuscript History," Book A-1, although it is written in the third person.

At first we felt that Joseph Smith had the account copied into his diary from this manuscript (see Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? p. 579). Michael Marquardt, however, felt that Joseph Smith's Diary was the original source and that the account was copied into the back of the "Manuscript History;' Book A-1, from Joseph Smith's Diary. We feel that his evidence is rather convincing. In any case, the fact that it is in the first person singular in Joseph Smith's Diary shows that Smith was completely responsible for this "strange" account of the First Vision.

In Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? p. 579, we show that when the History of the Church was compiled, this account of the vision was completely omitted. The reason for this is obvious: it did not agree with the account which appears at the beginning of Joseph's History.



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