Joseph Smith's First Vision/Persecution

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Persecution of Joseph Smith in response to his First Vision

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as it [is] written of me in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but [I] could find none that would believe the hevnly vision...

—Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision
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Question: Does Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision not mention that he was persecuted for telling others about the vision?

The Prophet's 1832 history of the Restoration talks about persecution in very close proximity to the First Vision recital

Joseph Smith's 1832 First Vision account does not explicitly say that he was persecuted for relating his spiritual manifestation to others. Some have claimed that this stands as evidence that the Prophet's story evolved over time—probably to add a sense of drama. However, the Prophet's 1832 history of the Restoration talks about persecution in very close proximity to the First Vision recital. The persecution is situated squarely between the First Vision experience and the angel Moroni visitations. The documentary evidence presented above demonstrates conclusively that Joseph Smith did not see anything wrong with telling the basic elements of his First Vision story and either giving a passing reference to other elements or leaving them out altogether. Regardless, it was still a record of the very same experience that took place at the Smith homestead near Palmyra, New York.

"My father's family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions"

Joseph Smith made some remarks in his 1832 First Vision account that have a marked degree of relevance to the argument being put forward by his critics. In relation to the period of time between the First Vision and the appearance of the Book of Mormon angel he said,

  • "I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart"
  • "there were many things which transpired that cannot be written"
  • "my father's family have suffered many persecutions and afflictions"

Since it is explicitly stated by Joseph Smith that nobody believed his story, it would be unreasonable to assume that all of the responses to it were friendly in nature. In fact, the Prophet says right in this text that before the Book of Mormon angel visited him his family was persecuted and afflicted for some unspecified reason(s). He did not elaborate upon the nature of the "many persecutions" that took place against his family because—as far as this particular document was concerned—he had elected not to write down "many things which transpired."

Documentary evidence from the 1838 First Vision account

The following documentary evidence from the 1838 First Vision account strengthens the argument that the 1832 text is referring to some type of persecution that took place because of Joseph's initial spiritual experience.

  • Back "then" (i.e., between 1820 and 1823) Joseph's mind was engaged in "serious reflection" over the notion that he had been the recipient of "the bitterst persecution and reviling" by adherents of religion, simply because he had spoken about his First Vision.
  • Persecution over the vision was also heaped upon Joseph Smith by "irreligious" persons.
  • His words were treated not only lightly but also with great contempt.
  • It was implied that he was a liar.
  • He was told that his experience originated with the Devil.
  • People became prejudiced against him. They spoke "all manner of evil against [him] falsely". He was "hated".
  • The persecution increased over time and even became "severe".
  • Some people tried to get Joseph Smith to "deny" his vision.
  • The Prophet relates: "I was led to say in my heart, 'Why persecute me for telling the truth?'"

This 1838 description corresponds very well with the "many persecutions and afflictions" that are mentioned in the 1832 account. It also matches closely with the 1832 statements that nobody would believe Joseph's story and he reflected upon this adverse situation in his heart.

The persecution aspect of the 1838 account is rarely mentioned in subsequent accounts

It should be pointed out that even though the 'persecution' theme is very pronounced in the 1838 account it is a piece of the story that was not always mentioned or emphasized in subsequent retelling (both published and verbal).

  • It is missing in Orson Pratt's 1840 missionary tract called An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions.
  • It is missing in the Prophet's 1842 Wentworth Letter recital.
  • It shows up again in David White's 1843 newspaper interview with the Prophet where an interesting insight is provided about the reason for the pronounced negative reaction by some of those who heard the story. The Prophet said, "When I went home and told the people that I had a revelation, and that all the churches were corrupt, they persecuted me, and they have persecuted me ever since."
  • Rejection, but no outright persecution, is mentioned in Alexander Neibaur's 1844 diary notes. There Joseph is said to have “told the Methodist priest [about the experience], [but he] said this was not a[n] age for God to reveal Himself in vision[. The priest said that] revelation ha[d] ceased with the New Testament.”

This last example is especially significant because it is an obvious reference to the Methodist minister who is spoken of in the 1838 History of the Church account. The 1844 rehearsal of events is less detailed but it is, nevertheless, the same exact story. The 1844 document clearly demonstrates that Joseph Smith did not always include an equal amount of story elements in his recitals of the First Vision. Critics of this manifestation should, therefore, not expect any such thing when they scrutinize the pertinent documents. If an element of the story was not known by one particular audience it cannot be automatically assumed that it was not known by another.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here