Monday, June 21, 2004

When People Lie About Joseph Smith


There is a webpage called which deserves enough attention to ignore it in the future. It has 9 sections covering a range of some seemingly plagiarized stuff from the Tanner’s works:

1. Where are God & Christ in the "First Vision"?
2. Why was the Angel Nephi changed to Moroni?
3. What's up with all the Masonic things in Mormonism?
4. Is the Hill Cumorah in New York the site of 2,230,000 deaths?
5. What if Mormons treated their cars like they do their religion?
6. The most compelling evidence of fraud yet [aka the Kinderhook Plates]
7. Impossible Book of Mormon demographics
8. Changes made to the Book of Mormon since 1830
9. The WHOLE story of why I left Mormonism

Other than a less than believable self-portrait showing the webpage’s author as the only champion of truth among the deluded masses of Mormon spiritual fakers, the rest is a retread of tired, and answered, anti-Mormon arguments. There is nothing new or remarkable, just the same old attacks we see time and again.

So, time to evaluate the arguments and approach.

Universally, the arguments are presentations of half-stories. Tell you about the use of the word angel, in section 1 for example, but forget to tell you that the early LDS Church leaders used it often to describe Christ, and in some instances even God and Christ. They delivered a message, that made them Angels, but since Christ primarily spoke, the First Vision is sometimes described as a visitation of an angel or of angels.

Or in chapter two, tell you about Moroni being called Nephi by some early leaders. Forget to mention it all stems from a single erroneous entry in Joseph Smith’s journal made by one of his scribes. Forget also to tell people that Joseph Smith, the D&C and virtually every early Mormon knew the story backward and forwards to be Moroni.

And so every chapter goes. Provide facts out of context, provide what sounds like a solution to those abridged facts, and then cast aspersions on anyone who tries to set the record straight.

This paper will review each section, starting with section 1 for now, provide some context and historical facts, and share some correspondence with the website’s owner to be certain his motives and intents are correctly portrayed.

Section 1 God and Christ appear to Joseph Smith.

True it is that Joseph Smith did not compose a narrative of the First Vision for the public until 1838, subsequently published in the 1842 Times and Seasons. But he told people about the First Vision starting in 1820 .[1] We know he personally wrote a brief sketch of some of the events of the First Vision in 1832, which Oliver Cowdery used as source material for some of his writings in December 1834.[2]

It is very important to try to understand what words meant to the people who used them. For example, the word “angel” is rarely used today to describe Christ. Yet it was very common in the 19th Century LDS Church to use the word for exactly that purpose. Likewise, Revelations Chapter 10 and Revelations 11:1-3 make it clear that Jesus acts as an angel in delivering the messages of God to men. This is also brought out by the dictionary of the day:

Webster 1828 Dictionary definition of Angel:
4. Christ, the mediator and head of the church. Rev. 10.

Further, in 1835 the LDS Church published the Lectures on Faith in conjunction with early revelations of the Church as part of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. In the Lectures on Faith, the nature of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost is discussed, and the following statement is made:

136Q. How many personages are there in the Godhead?
136A. Two: the Father and the Son. [§5. 1.]
138Q. Do the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute the God-head?
138A. They do. [§3. 2.]

In 1850, John Taylor writes a brochure describing Joseph Smith’s First Vision, noting in the opening paragraph “an holy angel appeared”[3] to Joseph Smith, but then goes on to state “two glorious personages presented themselves before him”. [4] Note how to John Taylor, who was very acquainted with Joseph Smith and Church doctrine, there is no contradiction to Joseph being visited by “an holy angel”(singular), and there being “two glorious personages” (plural) present.

The fact is that since Christ did virtually all of the talking, and was acting as a spokesman for God the Father, there is no contradiction in the minds of the speakers of the early Church between calling the First Vision a visitation of an angel, of angels, or personages or of God the Father and His son Jesus Christ. What may seem imprecise to us today was perfectly consistent with those 19th century speakers. Ultimately, if claims of confusion or obstruction are going to be made based upon the vocabulary used, then it should be based on historical realities and not anachronistic prejudice.

Now for a brief timeline of citations of the First Vision. Eldin Watson has a very good page on the subject, which I recommend to anyone interested. He also includes a harmony of several of the early accounts, and does an analysis of the statements by Joseph Smith’s younger brother, William Smith.

1820, Spring First Vision occurs. Supported by Lucy Mack Smith in 1845/1853 biography of the prophet. His statements concerning the message given in the First Vision are remembered by Orsamus Turner, who moved from Palmyra in late 1820, and also by long time anti-Mormon, Pomeroy Tucker.

1832 Joseph writes his first account of the First Vision in his personal history. It emphasizes his desire for forgiveness, and only talks about the Lord appearing to him, not God the Father. It was written by Joseph Smith and a scribe, and sets the year as 1820 or 1821 for the First Vision, as the age of Joseph is difficult to discern. [Ed. Note: Having seen only a copy of the original text, I think it could be either a 15 or a 16 in referring to the year of his age at the time of the vision. Dean C. Jesse places it as his 16th year without comment in The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol.1, pg 6.

1834 Joseph Smith, Sr. gives Joseph Jr. a blessing, noting the Lord had spoken to Joseph out of the heavens in his youth. [5] Since he was 14 in 1820, and next time he receives revelations are in 1828, when he is 22, it would be unusual to consider the physically large young man a youth at that time.

1834 Edward Stevenson recalls hearing Joseph Smith preach about his First Vision visit by the Father and the Son.[6]

1834-35 Oliver Cowdery uses the 1832 manuscript by Joseph as the basis of writing his own history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, but liberally adapts it for his purposes. He notes he has confused some details, but he initially puts the religious excitement of Joseph Smith in the 1819-1820 period, then moves it to 1821-1823, and then gives the account of Moroni’s visit. Confusing, yes, but also confirming of an 1823 date for Moroni, and setting the historical framework for an earlier visit from God and Christ.

1835 First edition of the Doctrine and Covenants published, which includes the Lectures on Faith. In the Lectures on Faith, God and Christ are described as two personages .[7] This is published in every edition of the Doctrine and Covenants until 1921. The identification of them as “personages” is therefore extremely well known and common among the LDS.

1835, 9 November Joseph is visited by “Joshua, the Jewish Minister”, and describes seeing two personages and many angels. He notes it happened when he was 14, and when he was 17 he had another vision in his bedroom about the Book of Mormon. One “personage” forgives Joseph Smith’s sins, an indication this is not an angel like Gabriel or Michael. It is obviously a divine personage, which is how the Pof GP describes God and Christ.

1835, 14 November Joseph is visited by a non-Mormon and describes seeing angels for the first time when about 14 years old (Dec. 1819-Dec. 1820 is the specific time when he was 14 years old). This is important because it is clear from these two entries that the use of personages and angel or angels is interchangeable for Joseph Smith in describing God and Christ in the First Vision.

1840 Orson Pratt publishes his pamphlet of the First Vision, describing two personages who exactly resemble each other. Published in Scotland, it had wide circulation among the English speaking converts. This was the first publicly detailed account of the First Vision. Sets the year of the First Vision at 1820-1821, and notes that he sees two personages. Elder Pratt must have heard this telling of the First Vision prior to his leaving for England, which was August 19, 1839. It contains remarkable conformity with the official History of the Church, showing a consistency of delivery by Joseph Smith at least starting with the contemporary written accounts from 1835 noted above. It also clearly verifies that Joseph is telling people about the First Vision, even if he has not published it.

1842, 1 March Wentworth letter published in Times and Seasons. Sees two personages, sets the time at when he was 14 years old. This would have been read and seen by virtually every active LDS person in the USA. This is 3-4 years after Joseph has written the official version of the History of the Church, so we can conclude that depending on the audience, Joseph nuances the story for best effect.

1842 (1838/9) 15 March 1842 Times and Seasons; Originally written by Joseph Smith in 1838, copied by Mulholland into Church History in 1839. This became the official position and history of the LDS Church. Virtually identical to current Joseph Smith History in the Pearl of Great Price. Sets the date at 1820, two personages appear, and they are speaking in the first person as the Lord when quoting Old Testament scriptures.

1842 Orson Hyde publishes a pamphlet in German. Describes seeing two glorious personages.

1843, 15 September Pittsburg Gazette reporter David Nye White publishes an interview with Joseph Smith, and quotes him as saying that when he was 14 years old he saw two personages, one of whom he calls the Lord. This shows that personages and divine beings are synonymous phrases to Joseph Smith, and would convey that same understanding to the reading public. This also shows the absurdity of Mr. Norton's position that the members of the Church did not know God and Christ appeared to Joseph, when non-LDS reporters and newspapers are publishing the First Vision accounts using the wording of the official History of the Church, found in the Pearl of Great Price (see entry below).

1844 An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States, Daniel Rupp, ed. A response to an inquiry to provide an entry into this denominational survey, Joseph Smith primarily uses the Wentworth Letter. Notes the two personages and his age as 14.

1844, 24 May Alexander Neibaur recorded this account of the First Vision just a month before Joseph Smith’s murder. Sees two “persons”, one of whom speaks in the first person for God. The first person directs Joseph to not join the Methodists, and then instructs him to hearken to the person next to him; “this is my beloved son”. Some interesting details not in any other account. Very clear that he is understood to be talking about God and Christ appearing to Joseph Smith.

1850 John Taylor publishes his account of the First Vision. He describes it as a visit of “an holy angel” visiting the “about” 15 year old boy, and then notes there are “two glorious personages” in the vision, who looked exactly alike.

1851, 15 June First edition of the Pearl of Great Price is published in England, and gives the 1842 History of the Church as official. Since ¾ of the Church’s membership resided in the British Isles, it is no exaggeration to say that most of the Church knew and understood the official History of the Church version of the First Vision. For many years after this time, the only scriptures published by the Church, D&C and Book of Mormon, were published in England. It proves very popular among the US Church members as well, and by 1878 John Taylor is directing a US edition be prepared.

1853 Lucy Mack Smith’s biography of Joseph Smith is published. She inserts the version of the First Vision found in the Times and Seasons, which is cited as the official History of the Church. She notes it is more complete and accurate than she could have otherwise dictated. This establishes Lucy’s understanding of the date of the First Vision to 1820, and to the two personages being God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Lucy's accuracy of early events involving the family in her book is spectacularly accurate, so her use of the official History of the Church version is not insignificant as a statement of historical fact. Brigham Young wants changes made to the text, owned by the Church, due to inaccuracies involving certain events of later history and her exaggerated role of William Smith in later Church history. President Young does not have the First Vision changed, indicating at least an acceptance of the official version published in the Times and Seasons.

1880, 10 October Pearl of Great Price is canonized as LDS scripture, ratifying the 1842 Times and Seasons official Church History as doctrine. There can be no doubt that every member of the Church in the USA or England knew of the circumstances of the first vision. Therefore statements referring to personages or an “angel” appearing to Joseph Smith cannot be taken in a context of confusion on the part of the speakers involved. They were using shorthand in speech, since all of the English speaking members of the Church possessed a copy of the First Vision account.

Before we look at each citation and assertion by the website’s author, let me insert a comment he wrote to this author about the First Vision, and its use among the 19th century Church. After being questioned about his statements that seem to say “…that John Taylor, Brigham Young, Lucy Mack Smith, George A. Smith and Orson Hyde are unaware of the first vision story”, he responds with this contemptuous statement:

“I do not make the claim that the contemporaries of Joseph's Myth were "unaware" of his first vision in 1820. I stand by my claim that they were unaware that it was a vision of God and Christ though.”

In his personal story of his journey out of the Church, he makes this statement:

“One of the things that I found most disturbing was the fact that Brigham Young and countless other early Church leaders had obviously not been familiar with the "first vision" story as we know it now. As I read through the Church History and the Journal of Discourses I had found numerous quotes from friends and family members of Joseph Smith that made it painfully obvious that the belief that Joseph Smith saw God and Christ in the Spring of 1820 was a doctrine that was totally unfamiliar to virtually every Mormon until nearly 1890 (see for the numerous quotes I found on this subject).” (Emphasis added).

This statement contradicts his direct correspondence with this author:

“I was well aware of the fact that starting in the 1860's "the brethren" started to polish Joseph Smith's story to make it more consistent.”

So did they know about the story, or didn’t they? Were the contemporary accounts recorded during Joseph Smith’s lifetime widely known, since they were widely reported, or unknown?

One more point. From his webpage, he let’s you know that he is a “huge history buff”. [8] He also wants you to know that he has done an enormous amount of study to come up with the ‘facts’.[9] The interesting thing is that apparently there is nothing new to be researched, as every quotation he cites as evidence appears taken from the work of the Tanners. This begs the question, “How big a history buff are you really?”

Now we can look at each quote and misquote.

Brigham Young - "The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven ... but He did send his angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong" Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 171 (1855)

Without citation, this quote is found on page 165 of the Tanners’, Changing World of Mormonism, which is also out of their 1972 Mormonism: Shadow or Reality, page 153. But it is this reviewers opinion he actually obtained this citation from the Tanner's "The Case Against Mormonism", as all 11 of his citations are found in that particular work. That may not bother anyone, but at least it shows that no matter how much independent study Mr. Norton did, the known universe of relevant citations is to be found in the Tanner's work. That really makes an apologist's job easier.

This is the context of the quote as President Young is speaking to an audience in the Tabernacle:

“The messenger did not come to an eminent divine of any of the so-called orthodoxy, he did not adopt their interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. The Lord did not come with the armies of heaven, in power and great glory, nor send His messengers panoplied with aught else than the truth of heaven, to communicate to the meek the lowly, the youth of humble origin, the sincere enquirer after the knowledge of God. But He did send His angel to this same obscure person, Joseph Smith Jun., who afterwards became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong; that they were following the precepts of men instead of the Lord Jesus; that He had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before Him.”

President Young uses the word angel, which is not controversial since it means “Jesus Christ” in the context of the First Vision. Comparing Pres. Young’s remarks with known versions of the First Vision accounts, he seems to come closest to the official History of the Church in terms of what is communicated to Joseph Smith, particularly his use of the phrase “he should not join any of the religious sects of the day”, as virtually all other accounts of the First Vision use “go not after them”. In any event, he adds an otherwise unknown detail, “He had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before Him”. Such information was unpublished, suggesting the facts of this account come from a private conversation with Joseph Smith, as well as whatever contact he had with published or available sources.

Wilford Woodruff - "The same organization and Gospel that Christ died for ... is again established in this generation. How did it come? By the ministering of an holy angel from God, out of heaven, who held converse with man, and revealed unto him the darkness that enveloped the world ... He told him the Gospel was not among men, and that there was not a true organization of His kingdom in the world" Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 196 (1855)

To the next quote, coincidentally also to be found in the Tanners' work. Not a big surprise, really. But there is a real advantage from doing original research, and reading the citations: You can read the whole statement. At the end of the above paragraph, as Pres. Woodruff winds up his thought, he makes this statement:

“This man to whom the angel appeared obeyed the Gospel; he received it in meekness and humility, and bowed down before the Lord and worshipped Him, and did the best he could in his illiterate state;” JD, vol. 2, pg. 198.(1855) (Emphasis added)

As the valley girls say: “Oh my gosh!” We know Pres. Woodruff was very familiar with the statements of the official History of the Church, and we see that like John Taylor, he freely uses the term ‘angel’ to speak of Christ. Looking too hard for contradictions can lead to stretching the evidence, as we have now seen.

Orson Hyde - "Some one may say, 'If this work of the last days be true, why did not the Saviour come himself to communicate this intelligence to the world?' Because to the angels was committed the power of reaping the earth, and it was committed to none else." Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 335 (1854)

It would be refreshing if Mr. Norton would actually quote a passage in some form of context. This passage has nothing to do with the First Vision. It is about angels being given the power for the harvesting of converts and gathering them in the Last Days. Judge for yourself:

“When we take a more extensive view of the subject, we find that the grand harvest is reserved until the last--until the winding up scene; for it is said, "The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels," by whose agency this reaping dispensation was committed to the children of men.

Some one may say, "If this work of the last days be true, why did not the Saviour come himself to communicate this intelligence to the world?" Because to the angels was committed the power of reaping the earth, and it was committed to none else. And after the mighty champions that hold the keys of this dispensation came and brought the intelligence that the time of the harvest was now--that the time of the end was drawing nigh,--when this proclamation was made, and the announcement saluted the ears of the children of men, what was to be done next? Behold, the gathering of the Saints begins.” Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 335 (1854)

Since Elder Hyde wrote a pamphlet in 1842 precisely detailing two glorious personages appearing to Joseph in his 15th year (1820), and in that pamphlet describes the later visitation of Moroni, these 1855 comments are 100% in line with his other statements. It would seem a string of academic/historic oversights are piling up here for this “historical buff”.

Turn now to the next quotation, which like all the previous quotations, can also be found in the Tanners works:

George A. Smith - "...he [Joseph Smith] went humbly before the Lord and inquired of Him, and the Lord answered his prayer, and revealed to Joseph, by the ministration of angels , the true condition of the religious world. When the holy angel appeared , Joseph inquired which of all these denominations was right and which he should join, and was told they were all wrong" Journal of Discourses, vol. 12, p. 334 (1863)

Well, he deserves credit for doing some research here. He copied this out of the original printed text of the Journal of Discourses. How can one tell? Because the type in the printed editions improperly set, making the 1868 look like 1863. So he looked for himself at this quote, but managed to get the date incorrect. Mr. Norton contends he discovered all of the citations in the original books, the Journal of Discourses. This bears him out to some degree. He just happens to have 100% agreement with the Tanner's previously published material. I can see how that could happen. My calculations tell me this is more likely than the Bible being printed as a result of an explosion in a type shop, so it could happen.

In this passage, George A. Smith, Joseph’s first cousin, seems to blend the two accounts. We know this because in the previous paragraph, Elder. G.A. Smith correctly places the date of the First Vision as 1820, but then mixes the First Vision with Moroni’s visit in 1823. He has all the details sort of blurred together. Consider the following:

G.A. Smith was one of the assemblers and finishers of the History of the Church,

G.A. Smith was one of the editors assigned to revise Lucy Mack Smith’s biography of Joseph Smith,

G.A. Smith quotes verbatim the official History of the Church version in a talk in 1864 [10], 4 full years before this talk.

Either the scribe got the details wrong as the speech proceeded, or Elder Smith just got confused. The paragraphs of this particular talk are quite long, and but for the omission of a word or two, there would be both visions described here. Or maybe he just misspoke, and the scribe got the details correct. Or maybe a little of each. The problem for Mr. Norton is that all the details are very accurate, just slightly confused, and it is obvious from Elder Smith’s talks he knows Joseph Smith’s official version. Compare Elder Smith’s statement with Joseph Smith’s official history:

G.A. Smith: [Joseph] “inquired which of all these denominations was right and which he should join”

Joseph Smith 1839 History: “ I asked … which of all the sects was right, … and which I should join”

The detail of which of the denominations/sects to join is only found in the 1839 account of the First Vision, so either he received this information directly from Joseph, which is quite possible, or he copied it out of the published History of the Church account, which we know he quotes ealier.

George A. Smith - "[Joseph] was enlightened by the vision of an holy angel. When this personage appeared to him, one of the first inquiries was 'Which of the denominations of Christians in the vicinity was right?' " Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 78 (1869)

Elder Smith uses a familiar format, calling Jesus an “angel” in this account. Elder Smith has all of the details correct, and as stated above, there is no question he knows, teaches and believes the ‘angel’ which appeared to Joseph Smith was Christ. It is utterly indefensible to suggest it is anything else.

Next citation also to be found in the Tanners' work:

John Taylor - "None of them was right, just as it was when the Prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right." Journal of Discourses, vol. 20, p. 167 (1879)

The offending word for Mr. Norton is the use of “angel” again by John Taylor. Consider this:

1850 Elder Taylor writes a detailed account of the First Vision describing the visitation of “an holy angel” in the opening narrative, then describing in the text the visitation composed of “two personages”.

1878 President Taylor authorizes the printing of the first American edition of the Pearl of Great Price, which included the History of the Church’s account of the First Vision.

1880 Pearl of Great Price is canonized as scripture in the same meeting as President Taylor is sustained as President of the Church. It is beyond imagination that he would be unaware of the content of the official version of the First Vision.

It is literally impossible to believe President Taylor misspoke. To speak of Christ as an angel was completely acceptable and common to 19th century Latter-day Saints.

Moving on to the next quote:

George Q. Cannon-"But suppose that the statement that Joseph Smith says the angel made to him should be true-that there was no church upon the face of the earth whom God recognized as His, and whose acts He acknowledged-suppose this were true..." Journal of Discourses, vol. 24, pg. 135 (1889)

Two paragraphs earlier, Elder Cannon says this:

“He was told that there was no church which God recognized as His own, while there were many that had parts of the truth, portions of the Gospel. There was no church which God acknowledged amid the multiplicity of sects as His. He was told to wait until the Lord should give the power and communicate the authority. Now, though he had received this communication from heavenly messengers, Joseph Smith did not presume to take one step towards organizing a church because of the fact that he had received communications of this character.” Journal of Discourses, vol. 24, pg. 135 (1889)

He speaks of “the angel” in one paragraph, but “heavenly messengers” in the earlier paragraph of the same talk. Remember, angel commonly meant Jesus to 19th century Mormons and Christians. Below is a comment from Elder Cannon from 6 years before the above citations, but importantly, those comments are made three years after the adoption of the Pearl of Great Price which includes the official History of the Church account. By this point in time the circumstances of the 1820 First Vision account found in the History of the Church was known and understood by over 90% of the Church membership, based upon the printing of the Pearl of Great Price in England and its unanimous adoption in General Conference in 1880. Which explains this understanding expressed in 1883 by Elder Cannon:

“But all this was swept away in one moment by the appearance of the Almighty Himself--by the appearance of God, the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, to the boy Joseph, as he kneeled in the forest beseeching God for knowledge concerning Him, and concerning the Gospel of salvation…The Father came accompanied by the Son, thus showing that there were two personages of the Godhead, two presiding personages whom we worship and to whom we look, the one the Father, and the other the Son. Joseph saw that the Father had a form; that He had a head; that He had arms; that He had limbs; that He had feet; that He had a face and a tongue with which to express His thoughts; for He said unto Joseph: "This is my beloved Son"--pointing to the Son--"hear Him."” George Q. Cannon, JD vol.24 page 373, September 2, 1883.

Do the circumstances of the adoption of the official First Vision account and the comment above make anyone out there think, as Mr. Norton asserts, that “the belief that Joseph Smith saw God and Christ in the Spring of 1820 was a doctrine that was totally unfamiliar to virtually every Mormon until nearly 1890.”

On to the next previously published statement to be found in the Tanners' work, but used here by Mr. Norton. He is very thorough, since this did not come out of Journal of Discourses, but from a long out of print book by Joseph Smith's younger brother, William. My Gospel link library has over 1000 LDS publications, and to find this needle in a haystack is incredible. To find this without referring to the Tanner's research should be hailed as almost miraculous, and his work deserves the fullest measure of respect for its originality and refreshing insight. Behold the next Fawn Brodie.

William Smith- "He accordingly went out into the woods and falling upon his knees called for a long time upon the Lord for wisdom and knowledge. While engaged in prayer a light appeared in the heavens, and descended until it rested upon the trees where he was. It appeared like fire. But to his great astonishment, did not burn the trees. An angel then appeared to him and conversed with him upon many things. He told him that none of the sects were right..." William Smith On Mormonism , By William Smith, Joseph Smith's brother. pg. 5 (1883)

For some excellent background about William Smith and his value as a witness of Joseph’s First Vision account, see or Richard Anderson’s article, quoted above, in BYU Studies .[11]

As Brother Watson ably demonstrates at the above weblink, William Smith’s writings prove he misunderstands the First Vision and Moroni’s visit. He admits that he has the details wrong by directing the reader of his account to Joseph’s “more elaborate and accurate description”.[12]

The reader will note that the confusion in this account is because of some problem on the part of William Smith in keeping the visions separated, not the vision (singular) he erroneously portrays, and tells the reader to get the accurate details from the published and official history written by Joseph Smith. This is important to further discredit Mr. Norton’s revisionist presentation of history, since it is clear from William Smith’s comment the official History of the Church account was readily available to the readers of William Smith’s narrative. The book was published in Lamoni, Iowa, but the Pearl of Great Price had officially been adopted as scripture by the Church three years earlier, and the official version of the First Vision had been published in Nauvoo 41 years earlier. If the official version of the First Vision were unknown to most of the Church until nearly 1890, why would William Smith invite his readers to compare his work to it to get the more accurate account?

Next completely independently researched citation, also coincidentally to be found in the Tanners' widely circulated work.

" The angel again forbade Joseph to join any of these churches, and he promised that the true and everlasting Gospel should be revealed to him at some future time. Joseph continues: 'Many other things did he (the angel) say unto me which I cannot write at this time' " Church Historical Record, Vol. 7, January, 1888 [It should be noted here that in this quote the first reference to "the angel" was later changed to "the Holy Being" and the second reference to "the angel" was changed to "the Christ"]

Same as before. Angel in early LDS usage, and society at large, had the connotation of, among other things, Jesus Christ. Since this is not Joseph Smith speaking or writing, but someone’s comments upon the First Vision accounts, it is a confirmation that the words “holy being” and “Christ” are inserted to prove their understanding of who was in fact speaking, and the unambiguous meaning in this context of the word “angel”.

Next great insightly citation. He even includes commentary about the citation's content, some nearly exactly like the Tanner’s comments about the changes (1972 Mormonism: Shadow or Reality, pages 149-150). It appears to be a case of spontaneous composition.

Joseph Smith, Nov. 1835 - "...I received the first visitation of Angels when I was about 14 years old..." Personal writings of Joseph Smith, pg. 84 [It should be noted that this entry has been changed in the History of the Church, Vol. 2, pg. 312. It now reads "my first vision" instead of "visitation of Angels"]
As noted in the historical outline above, this event transpires on Nov. 14, 1835. Five days earlier, Nov. 9, 1835, Joseph is describing the First Vision to Joshua the Jewish Minister, and mentions seeing two personages and many angels. The visit on Nov. 14 is from a non-member, and the journal entry itself was written by Warren Cowdery, and was a summary of a conversation lacking any detail of what was specifically said. Br. Cowdery was obviously aware of the more complete telling of the story he had written five days prior, and nothing can be deduced from what is essentially an abstract of a conversation. It is consistent with his statement from 5 days earlier, and what we know of the First Vision. More cannot be read into the statement, since accusatory detail is lacking. At most, one could be upset a complete retelling is not included, but nothing more.


Brigham Young - " Do we believe that the Lord sent his messengers to Joseph Smith, and commanded him to refrain from joining any Christian church, and to refrain from the wickedness he saw in the churches, and finally delivered to him a message informing him that the Lord was about to establish his kingdom on the earth..." Journal of Discourses, Vol. 18, pg. 239

First of all, remember this is a speech given by President Young, not a citation from a book by him. Each of the points is a detail, not necessarily a continuous dialog. Let’s change the presentation, but keeping the words and expanding to include the full context of the quotation, which is, incidentally, about Moroni to start with:
1. “Has the angel flown through the midst of heaven and delivered the Gospel to the children of men? Yes, we believe all this.
2. Do we believe that the Lord
a. sent his messengers to Joseph Smith,
b. and commanded him to refrain from joining any Christian church,
c. and to refrain from the wickedness he saw in the churches,
3. and finally delivered to him a message informing him that the Lord was about to establish his kingdom on the earth
4. and led him on step by step until he gave him the revelation concerning the plates?
5. Yes, this is all correct. Did Joseph receive these revelations?
6. Did the heavenly messengers come to Joseph, and commit to him the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood? Yes, we believe all this.
7. Did the Lord speak from the heavens through Joseph, commanding his people to gather out from the wicked before the scourges--sickness, pestilence, wars, bloodshed, and the various calamities spoken of by the Prophets and Apostles, should pass over the nations? Yes, we believe the Lord has called upon the people who received the Gospel to come out of Babylon, to separate themselves from the wicked and to stand in holy places preparatory to the coming of the Son of Man.”

Notice in Point 2, the main point is the Lord, as each of the sub-points are actually taking their commands from the Lord, singular, not plural. This is brought out fully in point 2.c., “the wickedness he saw in the churches.” Singular pronoun, relating back to the Lord, not plural relating back to the “messengers”. Notice Point 5. Not one revelation, but several revelations. Notice point 6. Who committed the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery? It was John the Baptist. Yet as a figure of speech, as part of the group of messengers being sent to Joseph, President Young says “messengers”, plural instead of singular. President Young’s talk, like Orson Hyde’s from 1854, is describing the role and work of angels in the restoration and gathering. Point 7 could equally be about the First Vision, since it seems to describe a direct revelation by the Lord to Joseph. But that is really silliness.
President Young is not trying to relate a precise written history. President Young was very involved in getting the History of the Church completed, and reediting Lucy Mack Smith’s history of Joseph Smith. He also favorably looked upon the British publication of the Pearl of Great Price. His statement which Mr. Norton challenges is correct. The Lord did send messengers to Joseph Smith. He also did command him to not join any Church. Those are two separate thoughts in a stream of thoughts in a speech. Like the original Book of Mormon printer’s manuscript, the punctuation of the passage is not Brigham Young’s. It is illogical to force an error into something which is on its face correct.
From here on out, Mr. Norton moves to a series of misleading and often erroneous statements to try and justify a twisted reading of history.

Isn't it odd that over 40 years after Joseph's alleged "first vision", Church leaders like Brigham Young and John Taylor were still unaware of Joseph Smith's claim of seeing God the Father and Jesus Christ?

We have shown this is completely untrue. While writing and speeches by Brigham Young are mostly after 1860 which support his understanding of the First Vision, we have no doubt in the case of John Taylor. This statement is false. By 1860, the official version of the First Vision, found in today’s Pearl of Great Price, was in the hands of over 90% of the Church. It was well known throughout the Church. This is just a completely baseless statement. How big of a history buff is Mr. Norton?

That's because Joseph's "first vision" was a consistently changing story that was virtually unknown to early Latter-day Saints. Over the years Joseph's story changed from an event in the year 1823 to 1821 to 1820.

This is another set of falsehoods. At most we can say the First Vision accounts varied between 1820-1821, but since Mr. Norton contends those accounts were “virtually unknown to early Latter-day Saints”, one must wonder what he believes this proves. Joseph Smith’s accounts and Lucy Smith, Orson Hyde, John Taylor, Brigham Young, Orson Pratt all state it occurred in 1820 with but one variation in one of Joseph Smith’s unpublished accounts, which this author from the photocopy seen of the journal believes could also confirm an 1820 date. The date since 1840, when the first published account of the First Vision was made public, have all stated it occurred in 1820. No inconsistency there whatsoever.

His motive for seeking God in prayer also changed significantly over the years. From no motive (a spirit appears with news of gold plates), to a desire to know if God exists, to a desire for forgiveness of sins, and finally, to a local religious revival.

At this point, one really starts to question the motives of Mr. Norton. He uses an interesting literary tool here. “From no motive……and finally, to…” This would seem to be a time line of changes. But that is not at all what Joseph Smith writes. He is concerned about which Church to join in most accounts, but also about his standing before God. Others may ascribe motives, but Joseph’s direct writings and comments on the situation are very consistent.

Most importantly, even the heavenly visitor(s) that he saw were constantly changing. Depending on the account Joseph gave, it was either a spirit, an angel, two angels, many angels, Jesus, and finally, the Father and the Son.

Joseph Smith relates in his very first, brief account that it was the Lord who appeared. In his second account, he says there were two personages, and many angels, but the personages are obviously God and Christ, since his sins are forgiven, a divine function. There is no question that the understanding of all early Latter-day Saints was that God and Christ appear. The use of the term ‘angel’ is contextually and historically accurate when referring to Christ, and certainly ‘angels’ is correct in the context of bringing the messages to Joseph from Heaven. This is another example of trying to create a tempest in a teapot.

LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley stood in General Conference and said "Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud." (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, pg.78) If this "First Vision" of Joseph Smith did occur, it certainly didn't happen the way the Church wants us to believe it did.

At the end of the day, everyone he cites voted to accept the Pearl of Great Price as scripture, and thereby endorsed the official account as told by the Prophet Joseph Smith. The only two exceptions were William Smith and Lucy Mack Smith, who actually invite readers to get the details correct by reading Joseph Smith’s official version. There can be no doubt the First Vision accounts as published are not 100% accurate, since Joseph repeatedly taught he was not allowed to reveal all of the details delivered to him. But we have the version he felt should be disseminated to the world, and his contemporaries and family agree in its essential detail. What we really need to know is that it happened. And from all the evidence, in 1820 something happened to Joseph to change the course of his life, and told him that all Churches were in error. Absent other first hand plausible accounts, the most logical choice is the first vision as told in the Pearl of Great Price.

Have a look at the next page to see that Joseph's "first vision" wasn't the only story that has changed over time.

The point to be taken away from this review is how really small the variations are. We have several retellings of the same event, with a few different details related in each account. Hardly the stuff of a conspiracy or faith destroying experience. Quite the opposite. The variation in details and language indicate a complete lack of conspiracy, and if Mr. Norton and the Tanners can ever get over the correct 19th century usage of the word ‘angel’, he would literally have nothing to complain about. More obvious, however, is how blatantly false Mr. Norton's statements are that until 1890, most members did not know God and Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, and his citation of talks by General Authorities of the Church to supposedly support this view. It is completely false, and as documented above, a distortion lifted from the works of the Tanners. If the truth is so devastating to the LDS position, why distort history? The answer appears to be because history is actually quite supportive of the LDS position.

1. Lucy Mack Smith notes Joseph told her and others (“religionists”, pg 79) in 1820 that he knew all churches were wrong, and suffered persecution for it. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations, Liverpool, 1853.
Richard L. Anderson also discusses Orsamus Turner and Pomeroy Tucker’s experiences around 1820 with Joseph Smith, and their published comments, showing their knowledge of his statements that all the Churches were wrong and his withdrawal from exploring Methodism. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision through Reminiscences," BYU Studies 9 (Spring 1969): 378-84.
2. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision through Reminiscences," BYU Studies 9 (Spring 1969): 373-404.
3. “The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was first organized in the Town of Manchester, Ontario County, State of New York, U.S.A., 6th April 1830. Previous to this an holy angel appeared unto a young man about fifteen years of age, a farmer's son, named Joseph Smith, and communicated unto him many things pertaining to the situation of the religious world, the necessity of a correct church organization, and unfolded many events that should transpire in the last days, as spoken of by the Prophets.”
4. “While he was thus engaged, he was surrounded by a brilliant light. and two glorious personages presented themselves before him, who exactly resembled each other in features, and who gave him information upon the subjects which had previously agitated his mind.”
5. Anderson, page 403.
6. As cited by Watson 29. Edward Stevenson, "Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Published by the Author, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1893, p 4.
7. “How many personages are there in the Godhead? Two: the Father and Son. Lecture 5:1”, N.B. Lundwall reprint of Lectures on Faith, 1835, page 49.
8. “Being a huge history buff and a very active and believing Mormon, I thought I should put my love of history and my love of the Church together and purchase an original Hoffman forgery of perhaps a Joseph Smith or Brigham Young document.”
9. “As I read through the Church History and the Journal of Discourses I had found numerous quotes from friends and family members of Joseph Smith that made it painfully obvious that the belief that Joseph Smith saw God and Christ in the Spring of 1820 was a doctrine that was totally unfamiliar to virtually every Mormon until nearly 1890…However, I was determined to not use any anti-Mormon sources for my information because I didn't want the "facts" to be skewed by those people who might have an ax to grind with the Church…”
10 George A. Smith, JD, vol. 11, pages 1-2, delivered in the Ogden Tabernacle November 15, 1864.
11 Anderson, pages 398-401.
12 As quoted by Watson. The entire context of Watson’s citation is as follows: “In this 1883 account, William specifically and sequentially details events from both visions, which were separated by more than three years, and then wrote: "A more elaborate and accurate description of his vision, however, will be found in his own history." The words "his vision" make it clear that he considered the two visions to be a single event. By the above comment William also acknowledges that Joseph's account is more accurate than his own. Remember that this account was personally composed and hand written, as opposed to being recorded by someone taking notes of a verbal discussion. William incorrectly perceived the 1820 first vision and the 1823 visitation of the angel Moroni as a single event, which he believed occurred on September 21, 1823.”

1 comment:

Evan said...

So are you going to post the rebuttal of the rest of the site or leave it at that?