Exploring the First Vision

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Exploring the First Vision
Editor Alonzo Dodge Editor Steven C. Harper
Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012

Exploring the First Vision

Reviewer James T. Summerhays

This book sets out to do exactly what the title says it does—explore the First Vision. For most readers, that exploration will take them places they have not yet seen. Writings by many well-known Church scholars are brought together to give a broader and deeper meaning to the genesis event of the Restoration. Contributors include scholars such as Steven C. Harper, John W. Welch, Milton V. Backman Jr., Richard Lloyd Anderson, and Larry C. Porter. Their qualifications, research, and insights are impressive, and they have strived, in an evenhanded and rigorous way, to achieve the "coupling [of] historical study with faith" (xviii).


This book sets out to do exactly what the title says it does—explore the First Vision. For most readers, that exploration will take them places they have not yet seen. Writings by many well-known Church scholars are brought together to give a broader and deeper meaning to the genesis event of the Restoration. Contributors include scholars such as James B. Allen, Richard Lloyd Anderson, Milton V. Backman Jr., Steven C. Harper, Dean C. Jessee, Larry C. Porter, and John W. Welch. Their qualifications, research, and insights are impressive, and they have strived, in an evenhanded and rigorous way, to achieve the “coupling [of] historical study with faith” (xviii).

This volume includes foundational, classic scholarship in previously published articles, such as “The Earliest Documented Accounts of the First Vision” by Jessee and “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought” by Allen. Newer scholarship is also included, such as Anderson’s chapter on the historical setting of the First Vision, a chapter by Allen and Welch comparing the multiple accounts of the First Vision, and Harper’s response to three common arguments made by those who dispute the First Vision narrative.

Each chapter of this book works together to create a sharper picture of the First Vision. The previous scholarship enriching this volume acts as a foundation on which the new First Vision scholarship stands. Together they make this volume the most thorough approach to date for studying this axial gospel event.

While Exploring the First Vision is valuable because it brings the best scholarship, once diffused in sundry books and journals, into a single volume, the book is especially valuable for Latter-day Saints who have struggled to make sense of the different accounts of the First Vision. For instance, the evidence in the chapter by Allen and Welch demonstrates that the multiple accounts of Joseph’s First Vision consistently harmonize, and moreover they possess a casual quality to them that lends credence to their authenticity. As the studies in this book show, these are honest accounts, hardly the writings of one bent on perpetrating any kind of fraud.

All who are interested in the spiritual roots of Latter-day Saint historical and religious experience can welcome this book as an enlightening and up-to-date resource. It takes Joseph’s prophetic calling far beyond its basic details and opens valuable pathways to new vistas of understanding.