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Primary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of Deity

There are two general categories of accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision of Deity that were written during his lifetime:

The firsthand accounts recorded by Joseph Smith or under his direction are as follows:

1. JS History, ca. Summer 1832, pp. 1–3. This is the earliest and most personal account, and the only one that includes Joseph Smith’s own handwriting.

2. JS, Journal, 9–11 Nov. 1835, pp. 23–24. Joseph Smith described his early visionary experiences to a visitor at his home in Kirtland, Ohio, in November 1835. His description was written down, and Warren Parrish later copied it into Joseph Smith’s journal.

a. Parrish later repurposed Joseph Smith’s 1835–1836 journal for inclusion in a history, and he included a lightly edited copy of this same account:JS History, 1834–1836, entry for 9 Nov. 1835, pp. 120–121.

3. JS History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, pp. 2–3. This best-known account of Joseph Smith’s first vision opened what was to become a six-volume history of his life. Copied by scribes into a large bound volume, this account was later canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Pearl of Great Price.

a. In the early 1840s, Howard Coray began making an edited copy of the history begun in 1838. His copy was discontinued after a hundred pages. Although some portions of this copy vary from the original, the account of Joseph Smith’s first vision is virtually identical to its source text: JS History, 1838–ca. 1841, draft copy, pp. 2–4.

b. Around the same time, Coray made a fair copy of the pages he copied from the 1838 history: JS History, ca. 1841, fair copy, pp. 2–4.

4. JS, “Church History,” Times and Seasons, 1 Mar. 1842, 3:706–707. This brief history of the church, often referred to as the “Wentworth letter,” was prepared at the request of a Chicago newspaper editor. The extent of Joseph Smith’s involvement in writing it is not known, but it was published with his signature. This account borrowed language from Orson Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (see below).

a. An updated version of this history was prepared for a collection of essays about religions in the United States, published in 1844. The account of Joseph Smith’s vision was a word-for-word copy of the 1842 version: JS, “Latter Day Saints,” in Israel Daniel Rupp (ed.), He Pasa Ekklesia [The whole church], 404–405.

The early accounts written by contemporaries who heard Joseph Smith speak about the vision include the following:

1. Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account, pp. 3–5. This is the earliest published account of Joseph Smith’s first vision of Deity. It was written by Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and published as a pamphlet in Scotland in 1840.

2. Orson Hyde, Ein Ruf aus der Wüste [A cry out of the wilderness], pp. 14–16 (original German) (modern English translation). Another member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Orson Hyde, published this account of Joseph Smith’s earliest visions in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1842. He wrote the text in English, relying heavily on Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account, and translated it into German for publication.

3. Levi Richards, Journal, 11 June 1843. Following an 11 June 1843 public church meeting at which Joseph Smith spoke of his earliest vision, Levi Richards included an account of it in his diary.

4. Interview, JS by David Nye White, Nauvoo, IL, 21 Aug. 1843; in David Nye White, “The Prairies, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, &c.,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, 15 Sept. 1843, [3]. In August 1843, David Nye White, editor of the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, interviewed Joseph Smith in his home as part of a two-day stop in Nauvoo, Illinois. His news article included an account of Joseph Smith’s first vision.

5. Alexander Neibaur, Journal, 24 May 1844. On 24 May 1844, German immigrant and church member Alexander Neibaur visited Joseph Smith in his home and heard him relate the circumstances of his earliest visionary experience.

For further discussion of record keeping and Joseph Smith’s first vision of Deity, see also the Historical Introduction to History, circa Summer 1832, in JSP, H1:6.