Well, it finally happened. Due to the overwhelming demands of one listener, Radio Free Mormon loosened its standards Friday morning and agreed to feature me on the podcast. |
Join us as I repeatedly wander off-topic into such areas as: why Connie no longer allows me to choose which movies we'll watch together, why my father was worried I might be gay, and why Superman should never have given that emergency signal watch to Jimmy Olsen.
CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE PODCAST. And comment down below.
UPDATE August 16th, 2020:
Here are two or three items that came up in the interview that I feel warrant further explanation:
1. The First Vision Anomalies:
Friday evening a friend called after listening to the podcast and wondered how I could have possibly confused the 1842 version of the first vision with the one from 1838. "Are you getting senile?" she teasingly asked.
I think the podcast itself contains numerous clues that my cognitive abilities are declining so quickly its a wonder the Democratic party hasn't asked me to run for president. In that interview I frequently stammer, pause, and struggle to remember the names of people and titles of books, and you may have noticed I have a fondness for digressing. I've read that it's a sure sign a person is entering into his dotage when he can't remember the names of famous persons whose names are right on the tip of his tongue, so it's a cinch these days for me to confuse one first vision account with another. I can do it in my sleep.
Here's what happened: a couple of years ago I had read about the 1832 account, which had been hidden from the members for decades and only recently discovered by Church scholars. That is the only account of the experience that we have in Joseph Smith's own handwriting, and for that reason it is widely considered to be the most reliable, despite the fact it contradicts the "official" version that was inserted into the Pearl of Great Price decades after Joseph Smith's death.
Two other facts struck me as I came across them in my reading: first, I had earlier read that most of the early converts to the church were converted without ever hearing anything at all about Joseph Smith's first vision. I find that intriguing because the story of the first vision is the very first thing our missionaries teach prospective converts. They are introduced to the Book of Mormon after being given a recitation of the 1838 account of the encounter in the grove.
Second, Orson Pratt wrote his own account of Joseph Smith's encounter in the grove which he published as a pamphlet in Scotland while he was there on his mission. It was written in the third person, rather than in the first as is the version in our scriptures. Scholars have noted the many similarities in style and wording between the account in Pratt's pamphlet, and the account presumably written by Joseph Smith himself. (Pratt's account was written in the third person, while the one we assume was written by Joseph was written in the first person, i.e. in Joseph's own words.)
I'm not the first to propose that Orson Pratt -or someone else other than Joseph Smith- may have been the actual author of the 1838 version, seeing as how that later version differs substantially from Joseph's original 1832 journal entry. About a year ago I set out to write a blog post about the several conflicting First Vision accounts. I spent a great deal of time comparing, as well as reading what the scholars and historians had written on the topic, when I suddenly realized my whole thesis was crap: for some crazy reason, I had gotten it into my head that the version we are all familiar with in our scriptures was taken from the Wentworth letter, as had the Articles of Faith. I was incredibly, massively, irrefutably, demonstrably wrong about this, of course. It was not the same account at all. The Articles of Faith come from the Wentworth letter, but the account given of the first vision in that letter takes up pretty much just one long paragraph. It's is decidedly not the same account we read in the Pearl of Great Price.
Are you beginning to see where I tripped up? I had my dates all wrong. 1842 (the date of the Wentworth letter) comes after 1838 (the date of the account we all know and love). Once I realized that I was barking up the wrong tree, I scrapped the entire project, after beating myself up for starting off in that direction in the first place.
That was over a year ago, and was one reason for the year-long dry spell when I posted nothing in this space at all. I had worn myself out with all that unnecessary research.
Still, we are still left with a massive contradiction between what we know to be Joseph Smith's handwritten account in 1832, and what we assume to be his later account published in 1838. I ran this past a couple of people I know who have had visions of their own and I'll paraphrase what I was told about their personal experiences:
"The initial vision is about the clearest, most 'real' experience you'll ever have in this lifetime. You find yourself focused entirely on who you are seeing and what you are hearing. If you were to go and write about that experience immediately after, you would likely write about the most important aspects of that experience, because that is where your mind remains focused -on the center, so to speak, in the light. Later, you will likely recall things or figures that were also present, but on the periphery of your vision, and since at the time you were focused on only the primary encounter, you didn't think too much about those peripheral indicators until later. It often turns out that what you saw in your peripheral vision contained important signs, symbols, or meaning that you had not immediately understood the importance of."
So what I had previously assumed was someone embellishing and expanding on Joseph Smith's original 1832 account might actually have been Joseph himself remembering more details later on and describing those details. Or it might not. It could have been someone else adding to and embellishing Joseph's original account. It feels like Orson Pratt wrote some or all of it, but in the end we simply have no way of knowing.
What we do know is that the 1838 version that now resides in our scriptures was excerpted from the multi-volume History of The Church and we also know that most of what is contained within those volumes was not written by Joseph Smith himself, even though each of those volumes credit Joseph Smith as being the author. That may appear disingenuous, but that was how Brigham Young instructed the official histories to be credited. I'm guessing that for the sake of his own credibility, he needed everything that was inserted into the histories to appear as if they had been written by the founding prophet himself.
It doesn't stop there, either. The account included in the History of the Church was originally published in the Times & Seasons, which was the church newspaper at the time. So what was inserted in our scriptures (without the prophet's knowledge, since he was long dead), originated in the church newspaper, years later published in the "official" history books, then many years later inserted into the scriptures by more recent church leaders. The provenance of this account, therefore, is open to debate.
In his compelling book The Editors, Jonathan Neville has done exhaustive research on the pieces published in the church newspapers above Joseph Smith's byline that were never written by Joseph, but instead were fully the work of John Taylor and others who were the ones involved in the hands-on publishing of those papers. Joseph Smith had almost nothing to do with the Church Newspapers.
So getting back to the controversy of the various accounts of Joseph Smith's first vision, if you were to hold a gun to my head and force me to choose which account I feel is more authentic, I would have to choose the 1832 account from his own journal in his own handwriting.
But the question still remains: since I had already concluded over a year ago that the first vision account in our scriptures was not the same version as was in the Wentworth letter, why did I insist, in the above interview with Radio Free Mormon, that it was?
Answer: if you care to, you can chalk it up to Joe Biden Syndrome. But my guess is it was just me being stupid. For some reason I can't make sense of, my brain simply defaulted to a false belief I had previously held for a brief period some time ago, forgot it wasn't true, and posited it in the present time as if it were accurate. I think I may just go with "we did that interview very early in the morning and I had just woke up."
Anyway, the lesson here is that you should never believe anything I say without investigating it yourself. I'm frequently wrong about a whole host of things, and it won't surprise me to be wrong about stuff in the future.
2. John Gilbert and the King James Bible
I'm quite certain I am not wrong about this, although I cannot readily put my hands on the source I referenced in my interview.
I'm referencing here the part in the interview where I tell about an interview someone did with John Gilbert, the presser who was hired by E. B. Grandin to do the actual printing of the Book of Mormon. In this interview, which took place many years after the fact, Gilbert relates how, whenever the manuscript delved into sections from Isaiah, he would simply refer to his print edition of the bible rather than struggle to decipher and copy Oliver Cowdery's handwriting. This would explain why errors that are known to exist in the KJV Isaiah chapters appear today in the Book of Mormon.
As I told RFM on the podcast, I was not able to recall precisely where I read that interview with John Gilbert, but I know I did not find it online. It was in one of my books. Which book, I cannot tell you, but if anyone out there knows where this information resides, I would really like to have the citation. I declined RFM's offer of a friendly wager because I have no desire to do the heavy lifting on this (remember, I'm old and senile). I'll be satisfied to let someone else search for the source if it's important enough to them. I'm sure there are scholars out there who have seen that interview and can tell us where it is found.
I imagine I'll eventually come across it. It might be contained within the pages of Joseph Smith: The Prophet, The Man, a book I own but haven't seen in quite awhile, or it could be in one of the many editions of the Sidney Sperry Symposium, or among hundreds of volumes of BYU Studies, or pretty much any other tome I don't currently care to search in. I own all these books, most of which remain in large, heavy 12 x 12 boxes stacked and buried deep inside a storage unit far from my home, so when I say I don't want to do the heavy lifting, I mean I don't want to do the heavy lifting. If anyone out there knows where the John Gilbert interview can be found, please note it in the comment section and I'll add it to this update.
3. The MGM Studios Debacle.
It's true. This remains the one and only offense that still triggers my anger whenever I am reminded of it. It has been more than 45 years, and the culprits are most certainly all dead by now, but I have not been able to forgive them. I'm still mad about this.