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Celebrating the Restoration Day 2: Accounts of the First Vision
How many accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision in 1820 are there? Their sheer number can make things confusing. But the below article by Dean C. Jessee can be very helpful in answering this question. Reading the full texts of this whole collection of First Vision accounts was for me a powerful spiritual experience. The impact of these original writings is immeasurable. I recommend reading them slowly, thoughtfully, and at times even out loud.
Dean Jessee is the documentary historian whose work, beginning already in the 1960s, blazed the trail for the full Joseph Smith's Papers project that we now are blessed to have. Dean’s article, originally published in BYU Studies in 1969, as updated here for Joseph Smith's bicentennial in 2005, gives the complete texts of 8 accounts in Joseph's own first-person voice. It also includes 5 substantial accounts written by witnesses who had no doubt heard Joseph tell of this all-important experience.
The Joseph's main account of this stunning event is included in the Pearl of Great Price, which was canonized as scripture in 1880. See Joseph Smith's History (JS-H 1:8-26). Those verses are an extract from The History of the Church, which Joseph Smith began dictating in 1838. Thus, it is often called the 1838 account. It is by far Joseph's most familiar account.
All these accounts are commonly referred to by the year in which they were written, such as the 1832 account, or the 1835 accounts, etc. But all of them report things Joseph experienced in 1820. Sometimes people will refer to the "four" First Vision accounts, because the content of those four accounts is most similar. Several of these 13 accounts are also available on https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/
In addition, personal journals or recollections (not included here) of ten other people have been located, mentioning times when they heard Joseph tell about his First Vision. Although these usually short statements add little to our knowledge of what Joseph saw or heard in 1820, the quantity of these accounts confirms that Joseph spoke fairly frequently, openly, and candidly to a wide range of people, both in private or in public, about his first vision of the living Lord Jesus Christ.
Dean C. Jessee, “The Earliest Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, edited by John W. Welch, 1–35. Provo, UT/Salt Lake City: BYU Press/Deseret Book, 2005.
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