First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith History, 1838–1856


The one account of the first vision that
every latter-day saint knows and that most scholars would be familiar with is
the 1838 account it’s the fullest and best developed of
all of Joseph’s accounts clearly he designed this one to be his history the
history that he was going to tell and have published to the world he published
this one for example in his lifetime whereas he didn’t publish the earlier
ones. Joseph Smith was aware from the day the church was organized that he had a
responsibility to help provide a history of the unfolding of this work he’s tried
several times to get various history initiatives underway but by 1838 there
is no ongoing history project and the history of the church is still basically
in Joseph Smith’s life and heart and that of his associates so when he moves
at a time of crisis from Ohio to Missouri one of the very first things he
does as soon as he settled in is get together with a clerk
George Robinson and Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith said about producing a
history within a few weeks there are difficulties of Missouri within a few
months Joseph Smith is imprisoned the Saints are driven out and all of this of
course grinds to a stop and there’s no way it could be a priority until they
get reestablished in commerce which becomes Nauvoo in 1839 one of the first
things he does once he’s out of prison once they re-established at a home
beginning to settle he starts working with his clerk James Mulholland to
produce the history one of the things we notice is that Joseph Smith and his
helpers the people he dictated it to and those he he worked on it with are really
determined to make this the the full story but this time instead of writing a
short account as he did in 1832 he envisioned this as being part of a much
larger project a foundation of his personal experiences that became the
corporate story of the Latter day Saints a history of a people of which he was a
leader and so from the beginning he intended this to be an account to be
published he intended it to be account that would
be red and meaningful to too many people latter-day saints and others he frames
it as an opportunity to tell his own story after so many false reports a
story he wants in print and he wants people to know and therefore he’s very
careful to give the most detailed most complete account he can give he
emphasizes that there’s competing churches in his neighborhood this is the
problem as well as the blessing of pluralism or multitude of churches and
Joseph Smith’s time and place and as he shops around among them he’s the more
confused and so the passage about his crisis’s in all of the accounts very
rich and emotional and it’s especially so in the 1838 account I had great
anxiety I reflected on it again and again knowing that if anyone needed
wisdom from God I did how to act I did not know and unless I could get more
wisdom from God than I then had I would never know the crisis of not knowing is
just so pronounced this great storytelling among other things and it’s
Joseph Smith really tapping in to the feelings of what it was like to be his
teenage self and revealing that to us the 1838 then was from the beginning
conceived of as a more elaborate or more detailed account which would be for
publication and for sharing beyond any inner circle it’s clearly his fullest
effort to keep a history as he’d been commanded to do

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