Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith remove the 1832 account of Joseph Smith's First Vision from its original letterbook and hide it in his safe?

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Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith remove the 1832 account of Joseph Smith's First Vision from its original letterbook and hide it in his safe?

It is not known who removed the pages from the book or why, nor is it known when or why they were restored to the book

From History, circa Summer 1832 on the Joseph Smith Papers site (click the Source Notes tab):

Photocopy and microfilm images of the book, as well as an inspection of the conservation work now present in the volume, indicate that the text block separated from the binding at some point. Also, the initial three leaves containing the history were excised from the volume. The eight inscribed leaves in the back of the volume may have been cut out at the same time. Manuscript evidence suggests that these excisions took place in the mid-twentieth century. A tear on the third leaf, which evidently occurred during its excision, was probably mended at the time. This tear was mended with clear cellophane tape, which was invented in 1930. The three leaves of the history certainly had been removed by 1965, when they were described as “cut out,” although they were archived together with the letterbook. The size and paper stock of the three excised leaves match those of the other leaves in the book. Also, the cut and tear marks, as well as the inscriptions in the gutters of the three excised leaves, match those of the remaining leaf stubs, confirming their original location in the book. The three leaves were later restored to the volume, apparently in the 1990s. This restoration was probably part of a larger conservation effort that took place, in which the entire volume was rebound, including binding the formerly loose index of letters. The first gathering, which contains the history, was slightly trimmed in connection with this conservation work. The volume shows marked browning, brittleness, and wear. It is listed in Nauvoo, Illinois, and early Salt Lake City, Utah, inventories made by the Church Historian’s Office, as well as in the 1973 register of the JS Collection, indicating continuous institutional custody. [1]

A critical perspective

Here is the reference to the document by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, as published in their book Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?:

"Strange" Accounts

For years the Mormon leaders publicly maintained that Joseph Smith told only one story concerning the First Vision. Preston Nibley declared: "Joseph Smith lived a little more than twenty-four years after this first vision. During this time he told but one story--..." (Joseph Smith the Prophet, 1944, page 30)

At the very time that Preston Nibley made this statement the Mormon leaders were suppressing at least two accounts of the First Vision which were written prior to the account which Joseph Smith published in the Times and Seasons. Levi Edgar Young, who was the head of the Seven Presidents of Seventies in the Mormon Church, told LaMar Petersen that he had examined a "strange" account of the First Vision and was told not to reveal what it contained. The following is from notes by LaMar Petersen of an interview with Levi Edgar Young which was held on Feb.3, 1953:

"A list of 5 questions was presented. Bro. Young indicated some surprise at the nature of the questions but said he heartily approved of them being asked. Said they were important, fundamental, were being asked more by members of the Church, and should be asked. Said the Church should have a committee available where answers to such questions could be obtained. He has quit going down with his own questions to Brother Joseph Fielding (Smith) because he was laughed at and put off.

"His curiosity was excited when reading in Roberts' Doc. History reference to 'documents from which these writings were compiled.' Asked to see them. Told to get higher permission. Obtained that permission. Examined the documents. Written, he thought, about 1837 or 1838. Was told not to copy or tell what they contained. Said it was a 'strange' account of the First Vision. Was put back in vault. Remains unused, unknown." [2]

Response to the critical perspective

The statement by the Tanners that there was only one account ever told by the Prophet is certainly incorrect; the first publication of the First Vision was not the account which ultimately became canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. Rather, the Wentworth account was the first, and it differs from the canonized account. It was published March 1, 1842, and was published frequently throughout the 19th and 20th century, and into the 21st. There was never any attempt by the Church or its leaders to suppress that version.

In 1970 Professor James B. Allen of BYU published an article in the Improvement Era listing and discussing 8 accounts, five of which were published prior to the Prophets death (not all by him). The other three, including the 1832 account, were to be found in dairies. [3]

There were actually two accounts in November of 1835, both comments delivered by Joseph Smith himself, to non-Members of the church, one an investigator, the other person a curious traveler (Joshua the Jewish Rabbi). Both of these accounts were part of the original publication of Joseph Smith History in 1852.

The 1838 version is the one dictated by Joseph and eventually became the canonized version. Pratt 1840 was a well known missionary tract; the Hyde 1842 was published in German; The NY Spectator 1843 was actually a reprint of an 1843 Pittsburgh article, written by the editor of the Pittsburgh paper, who had interviewed the Prophet. Neibaur 1844 was a German convert who interviewed the Prophet and recorded it in his diary.

Notes

  1. History, circa Summer 1832, The Joseph Smith Papers.
  2. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, "Chapter 8: The First Vision," Mormonism--Shadow or Reality?
  3. James B. Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. What do we learn from them?” Improvement Era 73.4 (April 1970): 4-13; In the article is a chart comparing the following eight versions: 1832, 1835, 1838, Pratt 1840, Hyde 1842, Wentworth, NY Spectator 1843, Neibaur 1844. http://archive.org/stream/improvementera7304unse#page/n5/mode/2up