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Joseph Smith's First Vision

Rich Kelsey

 Kolob (For a compilation of Joseph Smith's first vision accounts with Rich Kelsey's observations: Click here )


"Knowing the truth of Joseph Smith’s testimony requires each earnest seeker of truth to study the record ..." (Gospel Topics Essays, First Vision Accounts, LDS.org)


Millions of people express faith in Joseph Smith’s “First Vision.”[i]  According to the story, due to the recent conversion of his mother, two brothers and one sister to the Presbyterian faith, and the confusion in Smith’s mind over which church he should join,[ii] a fourteen year old Joseph Smith walks out to the woods early one morning to pray.[iii]  While praying, a pillar of light descends upon him and God the Father and His beloved Son appear.

The Father pointing to the Son said,

“This is My Beloved Son Hear Him."[iv]


Smith asked which church he should join and the Son answered,

“…join none of them, for they were all wrong."[v]

The first vision is among the first lessons Mormon Missionaries teach to potential converts.  Professing faith in the first vision is necessary[vi] before one can be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

"…the First vision of 1820 is of first importance in the history of Joseph Smith. Upon its reality rest the truth and value of his subsequent work."[vii]

As important[viii] as this vision is today in promoting and defending[ix] the LDS Faith, one might expect to see an early history of the LDS Church proclaiming it to the world.  At the very least, one might expect to see the first vision included in early Church publications.  However, this was not the case. Not one LDS publication in the 1830s included the first vision story, even though there were several which could have:

·  The Evening and Morning Star — first church magazine, printed from 1832-1834.

·  The Book of Commandments, which was the forerunner to the Doctrine and Covenants — first published in 1833.

·  Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate, printed from 1834 to 1836.

·  The Doctrine and Covenants, which contained the Lectures on Faith — 1835.

·  Voice of Warning, published in 1837 — church pamphlet used by missionaries.

·  Times and Seasons, church magazine, first published in November 1839[x]

Not one newspaper[xi] from 1820 when the vision supposedly occurred, throughout the 1830s, mentioned one word about the first vision; neither did any pro or anti-Mormon media-sources.[xii]

LDS Church assistant historian James B. Allen wrote,

"…none of the available contemporary writings about Joseph Smith in the 1830's, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary journal or correspondence yet discovered mentions the story of the first vision is convincing evidence that at best it received only limited circulation in those early days." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966).

An account of the official first vision story was written in 1838, however it was unknown to the LDS Church in America until it was published in the church magazine Times and Seasons in 1842; which is over two decades after the vision supposedly occurred.  Why Smith’s bedroom vision of an angel telling him about golden plates was well-known throughout the 1830s, and yet Smith’s vision of him seeing God in the flesh was unheard of during the same time-period is a problem for Mormons, especially when one considers that today the first vision is touted by the LDS Church as,

“…the greatest event in world history since the birth, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[xiii]


With the help of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery[xiv] published this account:

“…One Mr. Lane, a presiding Elder of the Methodist church, visited Palmyra, and vicinity… There was a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion, and much enquiry for the word of life. Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches. …Then strife seemed to take the place of that apparent union and harmony which had previously characterized the moves and exhortations of the old professors, and a cry — I am right — your are wrong — was introduced in their stead.  In this general strife for followers, his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians.” (Messenger and Advocate, December, 1834, p. 42)

Oliver Cowdery continues this narrative in the next issue of the Messenger and Advocate; on pages 78-79 he wrote:

“You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year[xvii] of our brother J. Smith Jr.’s age — that was an error in the type — it should have been in the 17th.”

Joseph Smith's age during “the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity” is very important; if he was in his 17th year when the religious excitement in Palmyra took place, then that may discredit the official first vision story; because it was also religious excitement in Palmyra, which Mr. Lane was involved in, that supposedly led Joseph to go to the sacred grove and pray.

Which Vision Came First?

On “the evening, of the 21st of September, 1823”[xv]  Joseph Smith had once claimed that he was in his bedroom, while seeking,

“…the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him…”  (Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 1834, vol.1, p.78)

This is the bomb that blows the lid off of any claim that Joseph Smith was visited by God in 1820.  Because if God had revealed Himself to Smith in 1820, as the later-dated first vision story maintains, then Smith would have known that a Supreme-being did exist three years before this 1823 bedroom vision[xvi] supposedly took place.

Looking at the “official” first vision story below; one can see the same unique details between it and the bedroom vision story recorded in the earlier Mormon publication: the Messenger and Advocate, December, 1834.  Both stories spell out religious excitement which resulted in the same four Smith family members converting to the Presbyterian faith:


(Official First Vision Story: The following account became the official version, it is considered Mormon Scripture; it’s found in the Pearl of Great Price, and Joseph Smith History, 1:7-20. It was penned in 1838 and published in Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842, vol. 3, no. 10) 

Verse (7) I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father's family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.

Verse (8) During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; …so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.  (1838 Joseph Smith History of the Church, Vol. 1, Chapter 1) 

As spelled out in the story, because of Smith’s great uneasiness over the religious strife of 1820, the conversion of his mother, two brothers and one sister to the Presbyterian faith that same year, and his desire to know what church to join, Joseph Smith goes out into the woods kneels among a grove of trees and prays.  In this sacred grove Joseph experiences the first vision in which he sees the Father and His beloved Son.  The Son tells Joseph not to join any church. The rest is history.[xviii]

Let’s do some math:

·  In the account published in 1834 of the bedroom vision — religious excitement led four Smith family members to join the Presbyterian faith in 1823.

·  In the account published in 1842 of the sacred grove vision (the first vision) — religious excitement led four Smith family members to join the Presbyterian faith in 1820.

Obviously, if Joseph’s,

"mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians"[xix]

in 1823, then they had not already joined the Presbyterian Church in 1820, as recorded in the later-dated official first vision story.

The one consistent element in those vastly different vision stories is the description of a revival and the conversion of Joseph Smith’s mother Lucy Smith, and three of her children to the Presbyterian faith.

Lucy Smith’s History:[xx]

Smith’s mother had her own perspective on these events.  On the left is Lucy’s hand written first draft:  On the right is the 1853 published edition:[xxi]

Lucy: 1844-45

there was <at this time> a man then laboring in that place to effect a union of all the churches that all denominations might be agreed to worship God with one mind and one heart

Coray/Pratt: 1853

Shortly after the death of Alvin, a man commenced labouring in the neighbourhood, to effect a union of the different churches, in order that all might be agreed, and thus worship God with one heart and with one mind.

This I thought looked right and tried to persuade My Husband to join with them as I wished to do so myself and it was the inclination of them all except Joseph he refused from the first to attend the meeting with us He would say Mother I do not wish to prevent you from going to meeting or joining any church you like or any of the Family who desire the like only do not ask me to go <do so> for I do not wish to go But I will take my Bible and go out into the woods and learn more in two hours than you could if you were to go to meeting two years

This seemed about right to me, and I felt much inclined to join in with them; in fact, the most of the family appeared quite disposed to unite with their numbers; but Joseph, from the first, utterly refused even to attend their meetings, saying, “Mother, I do not wish to prevent your going to meeting, or any of the rest of the family’s; or your joining any church you please; but, do not ask me to join them. I can take my Bible, and go into the woods, and learn more in two hours than you can learn at meeting in two years, if you should go all the time.”

Alvin’s death is mentioned in the right-hand column, in the opening verse.  Lucy’s son Alvin died on the 19th of November, 1823.  Therefore, this section in Lucy’s biography describes a time shortly after November 19th 1823.


Lucy: 1844-45

My husband also declined attending the meetings after the first but did not object to myself and such of the children as chose to go or to become <going or becoming> church members doing as suited us <if the if we wished>

Coray/Pratt: 1853

To gratify me, my husband attended some two or three meetings, but peremptorily refused going any more, either for my gratification, or any other person’s.

Joseph also said I do not want to to keep any of you from joining any church you like but <if y it will do you no hurt to join them but> you will not stay with them long for you are mistaken in them you do not know the wickedness of their hearts

During this excitement, Joseph would say, it would do us no injury to join them, that if we did, we should not continue with them long, for we were mistaken in them, and did not know the wickedness of their hearts.

Some of the most telling details in Lucy’s first draft never made it into print.  For example, by looking at the column on the right, the following conversation from the column on the left is missing:

"[Lucy’s Husband]…did not object to myself and such as the children as chose to go or to become church members if we wished."

Also, please notice that some of Lucy’s words in the first draft have been crossed out and in places her text had been reworded with notes in the margin; this is typical with a hand written manuscript.  However, what is not clear is who crossed out Lucy’s words?

What is clear is that by the time this work was published it went through a filter;[xxii] apparently the history that didn’t look good was filtered out.  Then, official LDS Church history was inserted, including the first vision story from the History of the Church Volume I.  Lucy had failed to include one word about the first vision in her first draft which speaks volumes as to its rightful place in her work.

Time Key:

Please keep in mind that shortly after Alvin’s death Lucy recorded a conversation she had with her husband Joseph Smith Sr., and also her son Joseph Smith Jn., in which she was considering becoming a member in the local church; along with some of her children.  Because Alvin had just died, this would indicate that Lucy considered joining the local church in either late 1823, or, in early 1824.


Lucy: 1844-45

…With this before our minds we could not endure to hear or say one word upon that subject for the moment that Joseph spoke of the record it would immediately bring Alvin to their <our> minds with all his kindness his affection his zeal and piety and when we looked to his place and realized that he was gone from it to return no more in this life we weep <all> wept with one accord our irretrievable loss and it seemed as though we could not be comforted because he was not about

About this time their was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest flocked to the meeting house to see if their was a word of comfort for us that might releive our overcharged feelings

Coray/Pratt: 1853

…in consequence of which we could not bear to hear anything said upon the subject. Whenever Joseph spoke of the Record, it would immediately bring Alvin to our minds, with all his zeal, and with all his kindness; and, when we looked to his place, and realized that he was gone from it, to return no more in this life, we all with one accord wept over our irretrievable loss, and we could “not be comforted, because he was not.”


About this time their was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest flocked to the meeting house to see if their was a word of comfort for us that might releive our overcharged feelings

Also, please note that in the column on the right, Lucy’s account of a great revival is missing.  

·  That great revival has all the markings of the revival spelled out in the official version of the first vision story Lucy’s dialog of a revival after Alvin’s death would have no doubt caused people much confusion on the subject of the first vision.  Is that why her words were crossed out?

·  Possibly the most troublesome dialog in Lucy’s history is the account of her son Joseph’s casual attitude concerning her decision whether or not to become a church member during the very years that he was supposedly being persecuted by all the churches.

One may wonder, did the religious atmosphere in the general area of Palmyra, New York, as spelled out in Lucy’s history, match the persecution of Joseph Smith by the churches in that area as recorded in the official first vision story?

Lucy had written,

“[We] …flocked to the meeting house to see if their (sic) was a word of comfort for us…”

Because of Alvin’s recent death, Lucy along with other members of her family were looking for a word of comfort.  They chose to go to the meeting house, or in other words; to the local church.  Therefore, let’s contrast Lucy’s words about her and her family seeking a word of comfort among the local religious crowd in 1823 – 1824 with what her son Joseph wrote about that same religious crowd, years later:

First Vision Account of Joseph’s Persecution: (History of the Church, Vol. 1:1)

Verse (22) I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age [1820], and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.  

Verse (23) It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself   

Verse (25) …I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation. 

Verse (27) I continued to pursue my common vocations in life until the twenty-first of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-three, all the time suffering severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious, because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision.

Lucy did not mention one word about Joseph going through years of severe persecution in the first draft of her history.  Her desire to participate in the local church during the early to mid 1820s is in complete disagreement with her son's supposed persecution during that same time-period.  Because, if all the sects were really persecuting her son during this time, there is little doubt that Lucy would not have felt comfortable associating with any of them! 

Records[xxiii] indicate that Joseph’s mother Lucy did end up joining the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra, along with Joseph’s brothers Hyrum, Samuel Harrison and his sister Sophronia.  That Presbyterian Church was the only Church in Palmyra with a meeting house; it only makes sense that this was the meeting house” spoken of by Lucy in her history: 

"For a time, Lucy affiliated with a Presbyterian church in Palmyra, though she was excommunicated for nonattendance the month before the LDS Church was organized." (BYU Studies, Smith, Lucy Mack, by Anderson, Richard Lloyd/The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan, 1992)

To get a glimpse into Mormonism’s true foundation one must continue to dispel the fog.  What needs to fade away completely is any notion that the revival Joseph Smith spoke of in the first vision story took place in Smith’s neighborhood in 1820.  A revival in that area is documented in the local New York newspapers; it took place in 1824.

Let’s do some math: 

The LDS Church was organized on April 6th 1830, if Lucy was excommunicated the month before, this would mean that she was still a member in good standing up until about March, 1830.  Church records indicate that she was in attendance as late as 1828.   

One might wonder why Lucy and the other family members joined a church and continued to be members year after year after Joseph had experienced the first vision!  Did they not believe Joseph’s story about the Son telling him,

"…join none of them, [churches] for they were all wrong."[xxiv]

Here is one way this question has been answered at Brigham Young University:

“The Prophet does not suggest that he confided his first vision to his family, and his mother reports only that she had early knowledge that an angel later revealed the Book of Mormon.” (BYU Studies, Smith, Lucy Mack, by Anderson, Richard Lloyd/The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan, 1992)

Lucy and the rest of the Smith family not hearing about Joseph Smith’s first vision during their years with the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra makes more sense than the story of Joseph suffering severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious, because he continued to affirm that he had seen a vision:[xxv] 

“It appears that prior to this time [Moroni's visit of the evening of September 21, 1823] Joseph had not related to his family his initial visionary experience of some three and one half years earlier in which he saw both God the Father, and Jesus Christ. It would also appear from the published text of an interview by Rev. Murdock that [Joseph’s brother] William was unaware of Joseph's first vision as distinct from his visitation by the angel Moroni, as late as 1841.” (THE WILLIAM SMITH ACCOUNTS of JOSEPH SMITH'S FIRST VISION by Elden J. Watson © copyright 1999 Elden J. Watson)

Today, LDS theologians claim that Joseph Smith discussed what was to become the 'First Vision,'

only privately with a few trusted friends during the Church’s first decade.”  (Mormon Publications: 19th and 20th Centuries / A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church. Volume One, 1830-1847. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, [1997], Item 82, p. 127-29.)

Brigham Young University historian and LDS bishop, James B. Allen said,

"There is little if any evidence, however, that by the early 1830s Joseph Smith was telling the [First Vision] story in public. At least if he were telling it, no one seemed to consider it important enough to have recorded it at the time, and no one was criticizing him for it." (The Significance of Joseph Smith's First Vision in Mormon Thought, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, p. 30).

Obviously, these statements are at odds with Joseph Smith's 1838 First Vision story. 

Lucy’s History Continued:

According to Smith's mother, the only vision that Joseph did tell her and the other family members about was the 1823 bedroom vision:

“One evening we were sitting till quite late conversing upon the subject of the diversity of churches that had risen up in the world and the many thousand opinions in existence as to the truths contained in scripture. …After we ceased conversation he (Joseph) went to bed and was pondering in his mind which of the churches were the true one… he had not laid there long till he saw a bright light entered the room… an angel of the Lord stood by him.  The angel spoke I perceive that you are enquiring in your mind which is the true church there is not a true church on Earth No not one  (First draft of Lucy Smith's History, p. 46, LDS Church Archives/Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 289-290).

The angel went on to tell Joseph about the plates,

“Joseph there is a record for you and you must get it one day… the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars—<of cement> then the angel left him…”[xxvi]

·  Lucy claimed this angelic vision happened in 1823,[xxvii] in Smith’s room at night.

·  Oliver Cowdery wrote of an angelic vision occurring in 1823,[xxviii] in Smith’s room at night.

·  In the History of the Church there is account of an angelic vision occurring in 1823, in Smith’s room at night.

According to the various vision stories, the year 1823 is well established as the time an angel appeared in Smith’s room telling Joseph about the golden plates.  Yet there is something very troubling about Lucy’s account of this 1823 room vision.  It sounds a lot like Joseph’s later-dated first vision story.  Because the angel perceived that Joseph was enquiring in his mind,

“…which is the true church…”

Then the angel told Smith,

there is not a true church on Earth No not one.”[xxix]

It’s worth mentioning that in 1853, when Lucy Smith’s history was published:

·  The angel had told Joseph something completely different![xxx]


·  The dialog of the angel telling Joseph that there was not a true church on earth had been deleted!

The Son’s message to Joseph Smith in '1820' is basically the same as the angel’s message in '1823,'

·  In 1820 the Son said: "…join none of them, for they were all wrong."[xxxi]

·  In 1823 the angel said: "there is not a true church on Earth, No not one" (First draft of Lucy Smith's History, p. 46).

Yet, does it make any sense that in 1823, Joseph Smith would be,

"enquiring in...  [his] mind which is the true church" (First draft of Lucy Smith's History, p. 46)

if he had already been enlightened in this matter three years earlier:

“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join.” (Joseph Smith History of the Church, Volume 1:18)

This is one more indication that the official first vision story is a later invention, in which Joseph Smith used some of the same elements from the story he was originally telling; then separated the two stories and backdated his later version to the year 1820.

More LDS Accounts Which Mention an Angel:

"... 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. What, none of them? No. We will not stop to argue that question; the angel merely told him to join none of them that none of them were right." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 20, p. 167, John Taylor delivered in Kaysville, March 2, 1879)

"He sought the Lord by day and by night and was enlightened by the vision of an holy angel. When this personage appeared to him, one of his first inquiries was, which of the denominations of christians in the vicinity was right? He was told they had all gone astray, they had wandered into darkness, and that God was about to restore the Gospel in its simplicity and purity to the earth; he was, consequently, directed not to join any one of them, but to be humble and seek the Lord with all his heart, and that from time to time he should be taught and instructed in relation to the right way to serve the Lord." (President George A. Smith, delivered in the tabernacle SLC June 20, 1869, Journal of Discourses Vol.13, p.78)

The Record Gets Worse:

The LDS Church teaches that a teenage Smith came out of the sacred grove after experiencing the first vision in 1820 with a new and better understanding of the nature of God, 

“He [Christ] together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages.'" (LDS Church News, June 20, 1998, p.7)

Mormons envision Joseph Smith, while praying for the first time in his life, having a vision of the Father and His Son, and coming away from that experience with more knowledge about God’s nature,

 “…than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages.”

Since Latter-day Saints believe the gospel was first preached[xxxii] in Adam’s day, from the beginning[xxxiii] of creation, they are expressing that in a matter of minutes the teenage Joseph Smith learned more about God’s nature than all the learned ministers of the gospel from the beginning of creation up until the year 1820.

Specifically, what is being said by,

"he [Smith]  knew more of the nature of God,"

is the LDS teaching that the Father and His Son have bodies of flesh and bones.  This teaching is spelled out in Mormon Scripture and is currently accepted as essential doctrine:

"The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit.  Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us." (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 130:22)

Section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where God’s nature is spelled out, was not written in the early years of Mormonism.  It was penned in 1843, which is 23 years after Smith supposedly prayed in the grove, experienced the first vision, and learned about Heavenly Father’s flesh and bone nature.

Section 130 is found in a work with the full title description: Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God.  This title indicates that the understanding of the Father having a body of flesh and bones is a revelation of God.  If Joseph Smith was teaching that both the Father and the Son have a flesh and bone nature in the 1830s, it seems odd that the Church would be given a revelation on this teaching in 1843.

Also, if Smith had made it clear to his church that Heavenly Father has a body of flesh and bones in the early 1830s, they didn’t get the message!  Because in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in Lectures,[xxxiv] which were once published as doctrine, it is written,

"There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made, whether visible or invisible, whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space. They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man..." [xxxv]

In the entire volume of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, there is not one word mentioning that Heavenly Father has a body of flesh and bones.  On the contrary; the Father is called,

“…a personage of spirit…” (1835 Doctrine and Covenants) 

Compare this to,

"…but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit..." (2012 Doctrine and Covenants, Section 130:22)

If the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones but is a personage of spirit, then what about the Father?  When Heavenly Father was described as,

a personage of Spirit...”

Wouldn’t that also indicate that He does not have,

a body of flesh and bones

like the Holy Ghost?

Eventually, the Lectures were removed from the Doctrines and Covenants.  Reasons[xxxvi] given for their removal were so that people might avoid confusion[xxxvii] on the subject of the Godhead. 

There is little doubt that that the first vision story is the basis for the teaching of Heavenly Father’s flesh and bone nature.   However, the later development of the teaching on the Godhead indicates that the first vision is also a later development of Mormon thought.[xxxviii]

More Contradictory Statements:

If Smith really did have a vision in 1820 which set the stage for the teaching of Christ and Heavenly Father as separate gods, he must have forgotten about that vision, while spelling out:

“…And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.” (1830 Book of Mormon, Testimony of Three Witnesses)


“…Jesus is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD… BY JOSEPH SMITH, JUNIOR, AUTHOR AND PROPRIETOR” (1830 Book of Mormon Preface)


In the year 1820, (the year the First Vision supposedly took place) if Smith had learned that Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father were different beings, then why would he correct a Bible verse thirteen years later to demonstrate:

“…no man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but him to whom the Son will reveal it.” (Luke 10:23, Joseph Smith Translation)

The original wording is:

“…no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him." (Luke 10:23, KJV)

The conventional reading of Luke 10:23 in no way demands or even implies that,

“the Son is the Father”


“the Father is the Son.”

If Smith would have left this verse unchanged it would not have contradicted what he would later publish as the ‘First Vision.’  Yet, he did correct this verse in Luke; which gives every indication that in the early 1830s Smith had yet to form the basis of the official LDS 'First Vision' story.

The Original First Vision Story:

In the early years of Mormonism the only vision that Smith’s neighbors, family, friends, and associates[xxxix] were aware of was Smith’s dream[xl] or vision[xli] of an angel in his bedroom telling him about a [golden] record.  People living in the 1830s considered this bedroom vision Joseph Smith’s first vision, not his second vision[xlii] as it is referred to today.

Many have heard of that story.[xliii]  Joseph Smith claimed he was visited by the spirit of a dead man[xliv] (Moroni) who had buried golden plates about 1,400 years earlier; and, that he had been led to the treasure[xlv] by divine providence in 1823.  Yet, Moroni did not allow Smith to obtain the plates until 1827; four years to the day after Smith first attempted to retrieve them.

This story has been told many times and in many different ways.  The name of the angel differs[xlvi] in most early accounts, as do many other details in the story; however, the timing of the events remain basically the same — that in 1823 Joseph Smith first discovered where the golden plates were buried; then in 1827 he obtained them. 

The concept of a dead man’s spirit who had buried treasure earlier and was now keeping charge over it was common in Smith’s day.  These spirits would almost always need to be appeased by doing exactly as they instructed before the treasure seeker could receive the desired gold or silver.

In the case of the golden plates, the spirit instructed the young Smith in what he needed to do,[xlvii] and what he must not do.  Joseph Smith was told that he must not set the plates on the ground but he must go directly on his way with them.  According to the story, Smith did set them on the ground and because of that misdeed the spirit did not allow Smith to have the plates the first time he attempted to get them.

The angel told Smith to come back on the same day the following year.  This went on for four years in a row until Smith finally met the spirit’s requirements and was allowed to take the plates.

Joseph Knight’s Recollection:[xlviii]

One of Joseph’s Smith’s most trusted and faithful-friends was a farmer named Joseph Knight.  

Speaking of Joseph Knight, Smith said,

“[He] was among the number of the first to administer to my necessities, while I was laboring in the commencement of the bringing forth of the work of the Lord, and of laying the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."[xlix]

Smith had told[l] Knight about events leading up to his obtaining the golden plates.  Knight penned a hand written account of Smith’s story.  This account was written sometime between 1833 and Knight’s death in 1847.  This manuscript is now in the LDS Church’s archives.

In 1976 the work was published at the LDS/Mormon University (BYU) as part of “BYU Studies” by Dean Jessee, who, during his career was a leading expert on the early writings of Joseph Smith; Jessee worked as a historian at the Church’s Historical Department.

The wonderful thing about Knight’s account is that it is an early version of the story based upon what Smith told him in the late 1820s.  The only part of the work that is missing is the first page or two which no doubt included the bedroom dream or vision that led Smith to the plates.

What is left of the manuscript starts with the words,

“From thence he went to the hill where he was informed the Record was…”

The details of the story are:

·  Smith went to the hill, uncovered a plain box and took out the book.

·  He laid the book down by his side and went to cover the area back up because he thought that there might be something else there.

·  Although he had been told to take the book and go right away.

·  After he covered up the place he turned around to take the book but it was gone.

·  When he opened the box for the second time he saw that the book was back in the box.

·  He took hold of the book, but this time he could not move it.

·  Smith asked, “Why..?”

·  He was answered, “You can’t have it now.”

·  Smith asked, “When can I have it.”

·  He was answered, “The 22nd day of next September if you bring the right person.”

·  “Joseph says, ‘Who is the right person?’”

·  “The answer was, ‘Your oldest Brother.’”

·  “But before September came his oldest Brother died.”

Let’s pause for a moment.  This story has all the markings of typical American folklore and/or folk magic associated with buried treasure and guardian spirits.  It doesn’t help that the spirit told Smith to bring his oldest Brother (Alvin) the next year, promising Smith that if he brought Alvin he could have the plates next September 22nd.  Surely God knew that Alvin would be dead by then!

·  Smith didn’t know what to do.  Next September 22nd he went there again, and, “the personage appeared and told him he could not have it now.”  “But the 22nd day of September next he might have it if he brought the right person.”

·  “Joseph says, ‘Who is the right person?’ the answer was, ‘You will know.’”

·  “Then he [Joseph Smith] looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale.”

The reference he looked in his glass” was a reference to one of Smith’s seer stones.[li]  (see excerpts from LDS.org on seer stones

During the very years[lii]  that Smith was waiting to obtain the golden plates he was selling his services[liii] as a “glass looker.”[liv] Toward the end of Knight’s account of Smith’s early history, Knight mentions a trial[lv] in which a “warrant[lvi] had been issued against Smith for “pretending to see underground.[lvii] Knight claimed that this trial* lasted “all day,” and then, the next day “until midnight.”

The story continues:

·  Joseph was married to Emma Hale.

·  A seer by the name of Samuel Lawrence “had been to the hill and knew about the things in the hill and was trying to obtain them.”

·  Come the next 22nd day of September, Joseph borrowed Knight’s horse and carriage without his knowledge and early in the morning Knight got up and noticed that the horse and carriage were missing.

·  When Joseph returned with the horse and carriage, he exclaimed, “It is ten times better than expected… Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates’ and said, ‘they appear to be Gold…'  But he seemed to think more of the glasses… [Joseph Smith said] ‘I can see anything; they are Marvelus (sic).’” 

If people were to look into the environmental settings the young Joseph Smith was raised in, they might get a better understanding of the folklore and/or folk magic which Smith based his stories upon.  Knight’s account contains many of the same details[lviii] as other early versions of the story; it is sugarcoated to some extent, but one can still get a taste of the bitter pill[lix] that lies underneath.[lx] 

For example:

In 1831, the local Palmyra newspaper said this about the Smith family and their history of money digging:

"We are not able to determine whether the elder Smith was ever concerned in money digging transactions previous to his emigration from Vermont, or not, but it is a well authenticated fact that soon after his arrival here, he evinced a firm belief in the existence of hidden treasures, and that this section of country abounded in them. --  He also revived, or in other words, propagated the vulgar, yet popular belief that these treasures were held in charge by some evil spirit...

This opinion however, did not originate by any means with Smith, for we find that the vulgar and ignorant from time immemorial, both in Europe and America, have entertained the same preposterous opinion.

It may not be amiss in this place to mention that the mania of money digging soon began rapidly to diffuse itself through many parts of this country; men and women without distinction of age or sex became marvellous wise in the occult sciences, many dreamed, and others saw visions disclosing to them, deep in the bowels of the earth, rich and shining treasures, and to facilitate those mighty mining operations, (money was usually if not always sought after in the night time,) divers devices and implements were invented, and although the spirit was always able to retain his precious charge, these discomfited as well as deluded beings, would on a succeeding night return to their toil, not in the least doubting that success would eventually attend their labors.

Mineral rods and balls, (as they were called by the imposter who made use of them,) were supposed to be infallible guides to these sources of wealth -- "peep stones" or pebbles, taken promiscuously from the brook or field, were placed in a hat or other situation excluded from the light, when some wizzard or witch (for these performances were not confined to either sex) applied their eyes, and ... declared they saw all the wonders of nature, including of course, ample stores of silver and gold." (THE REFLECTOR February 1, 1831)

In conclusion:

·  Before Joseph Smith came up with the story of finding golden plates, both he and his father were seeking golden treasure hidden in the earth.

·  Smith used a stone in a hat during his treasure seeking days; which is the same method he later supposedly used to translate the Book of Mormon, and also to receive revelations from God.

·  Obviously, Smith's credibility should be considered when investigating his claims:


 For more information on this subject: Joseph Smith's First Vision Accounts





[i] “On a spring day in 1820 14-year-old Joseph Smith sought solitude in a grove of trees and prayed to know which church was true… Joseph Smith's first vision stands today as the greatest event in world history since the birth, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (The First vision, THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINT’S, lds.org, 2009)

[ii] “My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join.” (Joseph Smith History of the Church, Volume 1:18)

[iii] “It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.” (History of the Church, Volume.One, 1:14)

[iv]  (Joseph Smith History of the Church, Volume One, 1:17)

[v] (Joseph Smith History of the Church, Volume One, 1:19)

[vi] "The story is an essential part of the first lesson given by Mormon missionaries to prospective converts, and its acceptance is necessary before baptism" (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn, 1966, p.29).

[vii] (Apostle John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith – Seeker After Truth, 1951, p. 19)

[viii] "Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First vision.... Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life." (Ensign Magazine, Nov. 1998, pp. 70-71)

[ix] The late Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not…” (Salt Lake Tribune, October 7, 2002)

[x] The first vision was published in Times and Seasons, on March 15, 1842, vol. 3, no. 10:

[xi] The Wayne Sentinel was a weekly newspaper published in Palmyra, New York beginning in 1823, and continuing at least until 1863.  In the late 1820s, the newspaper was one of the first media sources to report on the spiritual claims that were made by Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Latter-Day Saint movement.  On 26 June 1829, the Sentinel reported on local rumors of a "Golden Bible" and reproduced the text of the title page of the Book of Mormon, which was not published until March 1830.   The Wayne Sentinel was published in Palmyra by E. B. Grandin.

[xii] “I continued to pursue my common vocations in life until the twenty-first of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-three, all the time suffering severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious, because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision.”  (Joseph Smith History of the Church, Vol. 1, 1:27)

[xiii] (Joseph Smith, Mission of the Prophet, the First Vision, JosephSmith.net, an official website of the LDS / Mormon Church, 2009)

[xiv] …Revelation on Church Organization and Government, given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, April 1830...

(Verse 3) And to Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church, and ordained under his hand;  (Doctrine and Covenants 20:2-3)

[xv] the evening of the 21st of September, 1823…  (Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 1834, vol.1, p.78)

[xvi] Bedroom Vision Continued:

“ — You will please remember this correction, as it will be necessary for the full understanding of what will follow in time. This would bring the date down to the year 1823. I do not deem it necessary to write further on the subject of this excitement. …And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him. …On the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, previous to retiring to rest, our brother’s mind was unusually wrought up on the subject which had so long agitated his mind … all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind of messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God. … While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness burst into the room … It is no easy task to describe the appearance of a messenger from the skies… But it may be well to relate the particulars as far as given — The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam. Though fear was banished from his heart, yet his surprise was no less when he heard him declare himself to be a messenger sent by commandment of the Lord, to deliver a special message, and to witness to him that his sins were forgiven, and that his prayers were heard;”

[xvii] “You will recollect that I informed you, in my letter published in the first No. of the Messenger and Advocate, that this history would necessarily embrace the life and character of our esteemed friend and brother, J Smith Jr. one of the presidents of this church, and for information on that part of the subject, I refer you to his communication of the same, published in this paper. I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the 15th year of his life. “It is necessary to premise this account by relating the situation of the public mind relative to religion, at this time: One Mr. Lane, …”( Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 1834, vol.1, page  42)


1838 Joseph Smith History — This account became the official version, it is now considered Mormon Scripture; it’s found in the Pearl of Great Price, and Joseph Smith — History, 1:7-20. It was penned in 1838 and published in Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842, vol. 3, no. 10:

Verse (7) I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father's family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.

Verse (8) During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

Verse (9) My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.

Verse (10) In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

Verse (11) While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Verse (12) Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

Verse (13) At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to "ask of God," concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

Verse (14) So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

Verse (15) After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

Verse (16) But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction — not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being — just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

Verse (17) It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other — This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Verse (18) My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)÷and which I should join.

Verse (19) I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof."

Verse (20) He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time...

[xix] (Messenger and Advocate, December, 1834, p. 42)

[xx] (A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir, Edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson© 2001 by Signature Books Publishing, LLC. Chapter 21)

[xxi] “The project, which began in the winter of 1844-45, ended almost exactly a year later with the creation of two finished manuscripts (in addition to the rough draft). One of the finished manuscripts stayed in Nauvoo with Lucy and eventually came into possession of Orson Pratt, an LDS apostle, who took it with him to England and published it in 1853. It generated considerable controversy; and Brigham Young, twelve years after the fact, ordered the Saints to deliver up their copies to be destroyed.” (The Textual History of Lucy's Book , Introduction, (A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir, Edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson© 2001 by Signature Books Publishing).

[xxii] “Lucy’s book has a very complicated documentary history. In any given passage,…  it is not always immediately clear if we are listening to Lucy’s voice or to that of Martha Jane Coray, Howard Coray…” Textual History, Lucy's Book A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir Edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson © 2001 by Signature Books Publishing, LLC).

[xxiii] “Membership of Certain of Joseph Smith’s Family in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra.” (Backman, Milton V., Jr., and James B. Allen, BYU Studies 10 (Summer 1970): 482-84)

[xxiv] (Joseph Smith History of the Church, Volume One, 1:19)

[xxv] “I continued to pursue my common vocations in life until the twenty-first of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-three, all the time suffering severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious, because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision.” (History of the Church, Vol. 1, Chapter 1:27)

[xxvi] (First draft of Lucy Smith's History, p. 46, LDS Church Archives/Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 290)

[xxvii] According to Wesley P. Walters, “Wheat harvest in New York state fell during the latter part of July (whether one planted winter wheat or spring wheat). By contracting for the property sometime after mid-July the harvest for that year was over and the first wheat harvest for the Smiths would fall in the summer of 1821. Accordingly, the third harvest brings us to the summer of 1823” (Vogel 1:289).

[xxviii] (Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 1834, vol.1, p.78)

[xxix] (First draft of Lucy Smith's History, p. 46, LDS Church Archives/Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 289-290).

[xxx] “…He called me by name, and said unto me me [sic] that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi; that God had a work for me to do, and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues; or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people…” (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations, Lucy Mack Smith, Coray/Pratt 1853, Chapter 18).  

[xxxi] (Joseph Smith History of the Church, Volume One, 1:19)

[xxxii] “And thus all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance, and the Gospel preached, and a decree sent forth, that it should be in the world, until the end thereof; and thus it was. Amen.” (Moses 5:59)

[xxxiii] “Adam and Eve bring forth children—Adam offers sacrifice, serves God—Cain and Abel born—Cain rebels, loves Satan more than God, and becomes Perdition—Murder and wickedness spread—The gospel preached from the beginning “ (Chapter description: Book Of Moses, Chapter 5)

[xxxiv] Authorship of Lectures is uncertain; however, studies suggest that Lectures was largely written by Sidney Rigdon with substantial involvement and approval by Joseph Smith and possibly others.  Smith was involved, both in their authorship in November 1834 and in their later preparation for publication in January 1835. (See History of the Church 2:169-170 and 2:180).  The original title of each lecture was "Of Faith." It was not until 1876, in an edition of the Doctrines and Covenants edited by Church Historian Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that the title was changed to "Lectures on Faith."

[xxxv] (1835 Doctrine and Covenants — Lectures on Faith, lecture 5)

[xxxvi] According to Joseph Fielding Smith, at the time an Apostle-theologian in the LDS Church, the reasons were:

"(c) They are not complete as to their teachings regarding the Godhead. More complete instructions on the point of doctrine are given in section 130 of the 1876 and all subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants.”

[xxxvii] "(d) It was thought by Elder James E. Talmage, chairman, and other members of the committee who were responsible for their omission that to avoid confusion and contention on this vital point of belief, it would be better not to have them bound in the same volume as the commandments or revelations which make up the Doctrine and Covenants." (as told to John William Fitzgerald, A Study of the Doctrine and Covenants, M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, page 344).

[xxxviii] "His [Joseph Smith’s] greatest contribution I think is defining the nature of deity. He saw the Father and the Son. He spoke with them. They were beings of substance. They were in the form like a man. And they could express themselves and he could speak with them. …such a warm and reassuring thing to know the nature of God." (Statement by LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley in Newsweek Magazine article, “The Making of the Mormons,” October 17, 2005)

[xxxix] “I will name some of the particular discoveries which through Divine Providence I was favored with in an interview with Joseph Smith, Jr. at the house of Peter Whitmer, in the town of Fayette, Seneca County, state of New York, in October, 1830. I called at P[eter] Whitmer’s house for the purpose of seeing Smith, and searching into the mystery of his system of religion, and had the privilege of conversing with him alone, several hours, and of investigating his writings, church records, &c. I improved near four and twenty hours in close application with Smith and his followers; he could give me no christian experience, but told me that an angel told him he must go to a certain place in the town of Manchester, Ontario County, where was a secret treasure concealed, which he must reveal to the human family. He went, and after the third or fourth time, which was repeated once a year, he obtained a parcel of plate resembling gold, on which were engraved what he did not understand, only by the aid of a glass, which he also obtained with the plate, by which means he was enabled to translate the characters on the plate into English.” (1830 interview with Joseph Smith by Peter Bauder.  Recounted by Bauder in his book: The Kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, printed in 1834, pp. 36-38 /Early Mormon Documents, vol.1, compiled by Dan Vogel, Signature Books, 1996, pp. 16-17)

[xl] (THE PALMYRA FREEMAN Palmyra, NY, August, 1829)  "In the fall of 1827, a person by the name of Joseph Smith, of Manchester, Ontario county, reported that he had been visited in a dream by the spirit of the Almighty, and informed that in a certain hill in that town, was deposited this Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of a divine nature and origin. After having been thrice thus visited, as he states, he proceeded to the spot, and after having penetrating "mother earth" a short distance, the Bible was found, together with a huge pair of spectacles! He had directed, however, not to let any mortal being examine them, "under no less penalty" than instant death!”

[xli] “In the month of June, 1827, Joseph Smith, Sen. related to me the following story: ‘That some years ago, a spirit had appeared to Joseph his son, in a vision, and informed him that in a certain place there was a record on plates of gold, and that he was the person that must obtain them, and this he must do in the following manner: On the 22nd of September, he must repair to the place where was deposited this manuscript, dressed in black clothes, and riding a black horse with a switch tail, and demand the book in a certain name, and after obtaining it, he must go directly away, and neither lay it down nor look behind him…”  (Account of Willard Chase, spelled out in his 1833 affidavit,  Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, Rodger I. Anderson, Signature Books, 1990, p. 121)

[xlii] “September 21, 22, 1823, Joseph Smith, Jr., second vision and shown plates of Book of Mormon.” (Appendix - Important Events in Church History - The Story of the Church by Inez Smith Davis)

[xliii] “…for lo! yesternight stood before me in the wilderness of Manchester, the spirit, who, from the begining, has had in keeping all the treasures, hidden in the bowels of the earth,

     And he said unto me, Joseph, thou son of Joseph, hold up thine head; do the crimes done in thy body fill thee with shame? -- hold up thine face and let the light of mine countenance shine upon thee -- thou, and all thy father's household, have served me faithfully, according to the best of their knowledge and abilities -- I am the spirit that walketh in darkness, and will shew thee great signs and wonders."

     And I looked, and behold a little old man stood before me, clad, as I supposed, in Egyptian raiment, except his Indian blanket, and moccasins -- his beard of silver white, hung far below his knees. On his head was an old fashioned military half cocked hat, such as was worn in the days of the patriarch Moses -- his speech was sweeter than molasses, and his words were the reformed Egyptian. “  (July 7th 1830 Reflector  — satire)

[xliv] "Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them." (Smith 1838b, pp 42-43).

[xlv] “When Joseph obtained the treasure, the priests, the deacons, and religionists of every grade, went hand in hand with the fortune-teller, and with every wicked person, to get it out of his hands, and, to accomplish this, a part of them came out and persecuted him.” Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1854–86), 2:180–181.

[xlvi]  Early accounts call the being a "spirit," a "ghost," or a "personage."  The angel was also called "Moroni" by Oliver Cowdery in his 1835 history of Joseph Smith.  And, in 1835, while preparing the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith made additions to an earlier revelation regarding sacramental wine, and indicated a number of angels who would come to the earth after the Second Coming and drink wine with various saints, including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery; among those angels, the revelation spelled out "'Moroni'. whom I have sent unto you to reveal the book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel…” (D&C 27:5 His mother's published history referred to the angel as "Nephi" (Lucy Mack Smith, Coray/Pratt 1853, Chapter 18).   .  His scribe Oliver Cowdery, also referred to the angel as "Nephi" in a Church magazine: "When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi." (Times and Seasons 1842, Vol. III p. 749)

[xlvii] Alvin Smith (1798-1823), the oldest son in the Smith family died in November of 1823 of an overdose of calomel prescribed for a stomach ailment. On his deathbed Alvin, Joseph Smith’s brother encouraged the seventeen-year-old Joseph to "be a good boy, and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the Record," referring to the Book of Mormon plates (Smith, p. 87).

[xlviii] (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, LDS publication, BYU Studies, 1976, by Dean Jessee)

[xlix] (Joseph Smith, Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols., 2nd ed. Revelation, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1964, 4:124–125).

[l] “It appears from all the circumstances that the Prophet took Josiah Stoal and Joseph Knight into his confidence, as to the time when he was to receive the plates of the Book of Mormon, and hence their presence at the Smith residence on the morning of the 22nd of September, 1827. Messrs. Knight and Stoal had business at Rochester, New York, and in leaving their home in Chenango county, so timed their journey that they arrived at the Smith residence on the 20th of September and remained there for a number of days; and were not only present when Joseph Smith obtained the records, but were there when he brought them to the house a day or two later.” (New Witnesses for God, B. H. Roberts, p.354)

[li] "Joseph Smith Jr. never repudiated the stones or denied their power to find treasure."(Rough Stone Rolling - 2006, Richard L. Bushman, p. 51)

[lii] “…In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stoal, who lived in Chenango county, State of New York. He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards in Harmony, Susquehanna county, State of Pennsylvania; and had, previous to my hiring to him, been digging, in order, if possible, to discover the mine. After I went to live with him, he took me, with the rest of his hands, to dig for the silver mine, at which I continued to work for nearly a month, without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money-digger. ( Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 1, Chapter 1:56)

[liii] “Joe used to be usually their guide, putting into a hat a peculiar stone he had, through which he looked to decide where they should begin to dig." (Gleanings by the Way, 1842, p. 225)

[liv] See existing court document:

Same [meaning People]
Joseph Smith
the Glass Looker
March 20, 1826

[lv]  ACCOUNT OF 1826 and 1830 TRIALS:  

“Messrs. Editors -- In the sixth number of your paper I saw a notice of a sect of people called Mormonites; and thinking that a fuller history of their founder, Joseph Smith, jr., might be interesting to community, and particularly to your correspondent in Ohio, where, perhaps, the truth concerning him may be hard to come at, I will take the trouble to make a few remarks on the character of that infamous imposter. For several years preceding the appearance of his book, he was about the country in the character of a glass-looker: pretending, by means of a certain stone, or glass, which he put in a hat, to be able to discover lost goods, hidden treasures, mines of gold and silver, &c. Although he constantly failed in his pretensions, still he had his dupes who put implicit confidence in all his words. In this town, a wealthy farmer, named Josiah Stowell, together with others, spent large sums of money in digging for hidden money, which this Smith pretended he could see, and told them where to dig; but they never found their treasure. At length the public, becoming wearied with the base imposition which he was palming upon the credulity of the ignorant, for the purpose of sponging his living from their earnings, had him arrested as a disorderly person, tried and condemned before a court of Justice. But considering his youth, (he being then a minor,) and thinking he might reform his conduct, he was designedly allowed to escape. This was four or five years ago. From this time he absented himself from this place, returning only privately, and holding clandestine intercourse with his credulous dupes, for two or three years.

It was during this time, and probably by the help of others more skilled in the ways of iniquity than himself, that he formed the blasphemous design of forging a new revelation, which, backed by the terrors of an endless hell, and the testimony of base unprincipled men, he hoped would frighten the ignorant, and open a field of speculation for the vicious, so that he might secure to himself the scandalous honor of being the founder of a new sect, which might rival, perhaps, the Wilkinsonians, or the French Prophets of the 17th century.

During the past Summer he was frequently in this vicinity, and others of baser sort, as Cowdry, Whitmer, etc., holding meetings, and proselyting a few weak and silly women, and still more silly men, whose minds are shrouded in a mist of ignorance which no ray can penetrate, and whose credulity the utmost absurdity cannot equal.

In order to check the progress of delusion, and open the eyes and understandings of those who blindly followed him, and unmask the turpitude and villainy of those who knowingly abetted him in his infamous designs; he was again arraigned before a bar of Justice, during last Summer, to answer to a charge of misdemeanor. This trial led to an investigation of his character and conduct, which clearly evinced to the unprejudiced, whence the spirit came which dictated his inspirations. During the trial it was shown that the Book of Mormon was brought to light by the same magic power by which he pretended to tell fortunes, discover hidden treasures, &c. Oliver Cowdery, one of the three witnesses to the book, testified under oath, that said Smith found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates.

So much for the gift and power of God, by which Smith says he translated his book.

Two transparent stones, undoubtedly of the same properties, and the gift of the same spirit as the one in which he looked to find his neighbor's goods. It is reported, and probably true, that he commenced his juggling by stealing and hiding property belonging to his neighbors, and when inquiry was made, he would look in his stone, (his gift and power) and tell where it was. Josiah Stowell, a Mormonite, being sworn, testified that he positively knew that said Smith never had lied to, or deceived him, and did not believe he ever tried to deceive any body else. The following questions were then asked him, to which he made the replies annexed.

Did Smith ever tell you there was money hid in a certain glass which he mentioned? Yes. Did he tell you, you could find it by digging? Yes. Did you dig? Yes. Did you find any money? No. Did he not lie to you then, and deceive you? No! the money was there, but we did not get quite to it! How do you know it was there? Smith said it was! Addison Austin was next called upon, who testified, that at the very same time that Stowell was digging for money, he, Austin, was in company with said Smith alone, and asked him to tell him honestly whether he could see this money or not. Smith hesitated some time, but finally replied, "to be candid, between you and me, I cannot, any more than you or any body else; but any way to get a living." Here, then, we have his own confession, that he was a vile, dishonest impostor. As regards the testimony of Josiah Stowell, it needs no comment. He swears positively that Smith did not lie to him. So much for a Mormon witness. Paramount to this, in truth and consistency, was the testimony of Joseph Knight, another Mormonite. Newell Knight, son of the former, and also a Mormonite, testified, under oath, that he positively had a devil cast out of himself by the instrumentality of Joseph Smith, jr., and that he saw the devil after it was out, but could not tell how it looked!

Those who have joined them in this place, are, without exception, children who are frightened into the measure, or ignorant adults, whose love for the marvellous is equalled by nothing but their entire devotedness to the will of their leader; with a few who are as destitute of virtue and moral honesty, as they are of truth and consistency. As for his book, it is only the counterpart of his money-digging plan. Fearing the penalty of the law, and wishing still to amuse his followers, he fled for safety to the sanctuary of pretended religion.   A. W. B. S. Bainbridge, Chen., co., March, 1831.” (EVANGELICAL MAGAZINE AND GOSPEL ADVOCATE, Vol II Utica, NY. April 9. 1831 No. 15)

Note: The "A. W. B." who signed this letter was Abraham W. Benton of South Bainbridge, Afton twp., Chenango Co., New York.  Joseph Smith spoke of a “young man named Benton …who swore out the first warrant against me” (JS-H1 : History of the Church Vol. 1, Chapter 10)

[lvi] State of New York v. Joseph Smith:

Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgeman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an impostor.

Prisoner brought before Court March 20, 1826. Prisoner examined: says that he came from the town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowel in Bainbridge most of time since; had small part of time been employed in looking for mines, but the major part had been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going to school. That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times, and had informed him where he could find these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them. That at Palmyra he pretended to tell by looking at this stone where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds; that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account of its injuring his health, especially his eyes, making them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having anything to do with this business… “ “Costs: Warrant, 19c. Complaint upon oath, 25 1/2c. Seven witnesses, 87 1/2c. Recognisances, 25c. Mittimus, 19c. Recognisances of witnesses, 75c. Subpoena, 18c. - $2.68.”

Oliver Cowdery wrote, “while Joseph Smith was in southern New York, some very officious person complained of him as a disorderly person and brought him before the authorities of the county…” (Messenger and Advocate in 1835)

[lvii] “But along toards fall Joseph and Oliver Cowdray and David Whitmore [Whitmer] and John Whitmore Came from Harmonyin Pennsylvany to my house on some Buisness. And some of the Vagabonds found theyware there and they made a Catspaw of a young fellow By the name of Docter Bentonin Chenengo County to sware out a warrent against Joseph for as they said pertending to see under ground. A little Clause they found in the york Laws against such things.The oficer Came to my house near knite [night] and took him. I harnesed my horses and we all went up to the villige But it was so late they Could not try him that nite andit was put of[f] till morning. I asked Joseph if [he] wanted Counsell he said he thot he should. I went that nite and saw Mr James Davison [Davidson] a man I was acquainted with. The next morning the gatherd a multitude of people that ware against him. Mr Davison said it looked like a squaley [squally] Day; he thot we had Better have John Read [Reid]a prety good speaker near by. I told him we would, so I imployed themBoth. So after a trial all Day jest at nite he was Dismissed. Then there was another oficer was Ridy [ready] and took him on the same Case Down to Broom County Below forth with. I hired Boath these Lawyers and took them Down home with me that nite. The next Day it Continued all Day till midnite. But they Could find no thing against him therefore he was Dismist., Joseph Smith’s account of this trial is found in HC 1:88–96” (Joseph Knight’s Recollection  Joseph Smith’s Early History).

[lviii] he put forth his hand <and> took them up <but> when he lifted them from their place the thought flashed across his mind that there might be something more in the box that might would be a benefit to him in a pecuniary point of view in the excitement of the moment he laid the record down... The angel appeared to him and told him that he had not done as he was commanded in that he laid down the record…     Joseph was then permited to open raise the stone again and there he beheld the plates the same as before he reached forth his hand to take them but was hurled back     (First draft of Lucy Smith's History, LDS Church Archives/Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 289-290)

[lix] “Certain ceremonies were always connected with these money-digging operations. Midnight was the favorite hour, a full moon was helpful, and Good Friday was the best date. Joe would sometimes stand by, directing the digging with a wand. The utmost silence was necessary to success. More than once, when the digging proved a failure, Joe explained to his associates that, just as the deposit was about to be reached, some one, tempted by the devil, spoke, causing the wished-for riches to disappear. Such an explanation of his failures was by no means original with Smith, the serious results of an untimely spoken word having been long associated with divers magic performances. Joe even tried on his New York victims the Pennsylvania device of requiring the sacrifice of a black sheep to overcome the evil spirit that guarded the treasure. William Stafford opportunely owned such an animal, and, as he puts it, ‘to gratify my curiosity,’ he let the Smiths have it. But some new ‘mistake in the process’ again resulted in disappointment. ‘This, I believe,’ remarks the contributor of the sheep,’ is the only time they ever made money-digging a profitable business.’(The Smiths ate the sheep)

These money-seeking enterprises were continued from 1820 to 1827 (the year of the delivery to Smith of the golden plates). This period covers the years in which Joe, in his autobiography, confesses that he ‘displayed the corruption of human nature.’ He explains that his father's family were poor, and that they worked where they could find employment to their taste; ‘sometimes we were at home and sometimes abroad.’ Some of these trips took them to Pennsylvania, and the stories of Joe's ‘gazing’ accomplishment may have reached Sidney Rigdon, and brought about their first interview. Susquehanna County was more thinly settled than the region around Palmyra, and Joe found persons who were ready to credit him with various ‘gifts’; and stories are still current there of his professed ability to perform miracles, to pray the frost away from a cornfield, and the like.” (quotes from Lippincott's Magazine, August, 1880 / narrative from the book: Mormon Origin, William Alexander Linn, Hackensack, n. j., 1901).

[lx] In her History, Joseph’s mother: Lucy Mack Smith speaks of the family drawing “magic circles,” “abrac” — which is short for (abracadabra), and “sooth saying.”  Magic circles are used to form a space of magical protection from the spirit the person is invoking: “Let not the reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt (sic) our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business.” (Rough Rolling Stone, Bushman, 2006, p.p. 50-51; quoted from, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations. Smith, Lucy Mack, Liverpool, England: S. W. Richards. 1853)