Other Issues: Palmyra Revival Evidence?
CES Letter Core Question
Was there a revival in 1820 like Joseph said?
The CES Letter claims: “The historical record shows that there was no revival in Palmyra in 1820.” Yet, it is documented that Methodist “camp-ground” meetings were held, but even if Joseph’s memory was inexact, this is not a strong argument against the First Vision accounts.
Clearly the Methodists in the vicinity of Palmyra were holding “camp-ground” meetings. Since they did not have a chapel yet, they would meet in the woods on Vienna Road. These articles from the Palmyra Register refer to such meetings.
These “camp-ground” meetings were not otherwise advertised in the Palmyra Register, but were mentioned only because a death occurred at one of them. This demonstrates that religious meetings did occur that were not publicized and otherwise documented in the historical record.
It is impossible to prove something did not happen. The lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.
Pomeroy Tucker (an anti-Mormon writer) stated that “protracted revival meetings were customary in some of the churches, and Smith frequented those of different denominations…”
Larger religious “revival” activity is documented in the Palmyra area in 1817-1818 and 1824-1825.
Joseph Smith never used the term "revival" in his descriptions, rather saying there was "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists." To a 14 year old who had been concerned about religion starting at age 12 after the 1817 revival, the ongoing camp meetings in the town where he lived would certainly have qualified as "unusual excitement on the subject of religion."
If the 1838 account mixed some historical details from the 1817-1818 revival with the circumstances surrounding the 1820 First Vision prayer, it would not be evidence of deception or a fabrication of the narrative. It would be a small discrepancy in Joseph’s memory, not unexpected in light of all the details that are consistently recounted.
Critics seem to focus on this point but it is not a strong argument against the validity of the First Vision accounts. If Joseph fabricated the whole story, memory lapses would be unexpected.
Emphasis upon this point by those hostile to Joseph Smith demonstrates an overall weakness in their argumentation. If they had more convincing evidence supporting their allegations, they would likely be focusing there rather than upon this small issue.