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.

Palmyra_register_28_June_and_5_July_1820_drunken_man_dies_at_camp_meeting

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.


Additional Resources:

“Accounts of the First Vision”, LDS.org.

Milton V. Backman, “Joseph Smith’s Recitals of the First Vision,” Ensign, January 1985.

Dr. James B. Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision – What Do We Learn from Them?”, Improvement Era, April 1970, 4-13.

FAIRMORMON: Joseph Smith’s First Vision

 “First Vision Accounts” from LDS.org

“A Seeker’s Guide to the Historical Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” by Steven C. Harper

“Primary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” from JosephSmithPapers.org

Four Accounts and Three Critiques of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” (2011 FAIR Conference) by Steven Harper

The First Vision: This Is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! Essay

Joseph Smith’s Visions: His Style and his Record” (2013 FAIR Conference) by Ron Barney

The First Vision” by Michael Ash

The Original Context of the First Vision Narrative: 1820s or 1830s” (2013 FAIR Conference) by Don Bradley

“Ask the Apologist: Did Early LDS Leaders Misunderstand the First Vision?”

“Verification of the 1838 Account of the First Vision,” by Milton V. Backman Jr.

“The First Vision: Re-Visioning Historical Experience,” Adele Brannon McCollum,

Early Church History: First Vision

“First Visions: The Opening Events of the Mosaic, Nephite, and Final Dispensations,” by Douglas N. Marsh

“A Harmony of First Vision Accounts,” by Michael Baldwin

“Suspicion or Trust: Reading the Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” by Steven C. Harper,

“The First Vision and Religious Tolerance,” by Joseph Fielding McConkie

The Cowdery Conundrum: Oliver’s Aborted Attempt to Describe Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1834 and 1835” by Roger Nicholson

Evaluating Three Arguments Against Joseph Smith’s First Vision” by Steven C. Harper

Variants in the Stories of the First Vision of Joseph Smith and the Apostle Paul” by John A. Tvedtnes

 Mormon FAIR-Cast 215: The First Vision

“Joseph Smith’s First Vision — A Guide to Historical Accounts” Fair Mormon Podcast

Firsthand Accounts of the First Vision

Reported Accounts of the First Vision

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith History, circa Summer 1832

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, Journal, 9–11 November 1835

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith History, 1838–1856

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, “Church History,” 1 March 1842 (Wentworth Letter)

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, “Latter Day Saints,” 1844

Four Accounts and Three Critiques of Joseph Smith’s First Vision

 First Vision 1 Joseph’s Different Accounts

First Vision 2 Differences Between the Accounts

First Vision 3 But If He Was a Prophet

First Vision 4 He Saw Angels

First Vision 5 Confusion About the Year

First Vision 6 Why Are So Many LDS Unaware

First Vision 7 No Religious Revivals Around 1820

First Vision 8 Conclusions

The First Vision of Joseph Smith

The First Vision movie

Firsthand Accounts of the First Vision

Reported Accounts of the First Vision

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith History, circa Summer 1832

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, Journal, 9–11 November 1835

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith History, 1838–1856

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, “Church History,” 1 March 1842 (Wentworth Letter)

First Vision Accounts: Joseph Smith, “Latter Day Saints,” 1844

BYU-TV Documentary on the First Vision Accounts Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V

 

Books:

Harper, Steven C. Joseph Smith’s First Vision: A Seeker’s Guide to the Historical Accounts. Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2012.

Harper, Steven C. “Suspicion or Trust: Reading the Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.” In No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues. Edited by Robert L. Millet. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011.

Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds., Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839. Volume 1 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers. Edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012).

Dean C. Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002).

John W. Welch, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011).

Karen Lynn Davidson, David J. Whittaker, Richard L. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee, eds.,Histories,Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories 1832–1844. Vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers. Edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012).

“Primary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of Deity,” The Joseph Smith Papers, http://josephsmithpapers.org/site/accounts-of-the-first-vision.

Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper, eds., Exploring the First Vision (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2012).