Anniversaries: The First Vision

First Vision, stained glass, 1913, artist unknown

Last week I had the opportunity to give a talk about the atonement. In the process, I came across a Wikipedia page that was clearly written by someone who purported to know Church doctrine but apparently hadn’t read the Book of Mormon. 1 So I edited the Wikipedia article. In citing the Book of Mormon passages that contain the doctrine discussed by the Wikipedia article, I took the time to insert the publication date of the Book of Mormon, 26 March 1830.

Sitting in Stake Conference yesterday, I had occasion to return to the article I’d edited. And as I stared at the date of publication for the Book of Mormon, I wondered why it was published on that date.

As has been discussed elsewhere, the First Vision occurred on a Sunday right after the Smith family had spent over a day harvesting maple sap. Due to weather records collected nearby, we know the maple sap was running a little over a week before the Easter of 1820.

A quick search confirmed that Easter fell on April 2 in 1820. That places the Sunday before Easter on 26 March 1820.

So it appears Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon on the tenth anniversary of the First Vision.

It’s a small historical grace note that doesn’t affect whether the Church is true or not. But it made me happy. And I hope it makes you happy as well.

Notes:

  1. The article as it stood before my edit attributed key doctrines to Joseph Smith, citing sermons that occurred several years after publication of the Book of Mormon, which clearly contains the doctrine in question.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

8 thoughts on “Anniversaries: The First Vision

  1. Thanks Meg,
    I looked at the data and methodology in the article you so kindly provided and in my opinion there are several problems. Correlating the weather and climate of Palmyra and Sackets Harbor is the main one. The two sites are over 100 miles apart and have very different weather patterns. Sackets Harbor gets around 112″ of snowfall annually, which is a lot more than Palmyra receives. The east end of the big lake really gets clobbered all winter long. It is also much colder. (That region (Watertown south to Rome) was my last area in the mission field… boy, have I got stories about the snow. We nicknamed that area “the ice box.”) So if you have a house in Sackets Harbor and a house in Palmyra… live in the one in Palmyra, especially in the winter and early spring!

    Also, the maple sap season is much longer than the article suggests. It starts slowly in January and progresses through March. The sap flow varies a bit depending on weather, but the processing will be wrapped up by late April. (Mid-March through the first week of April is usually when most NY towns have their maple festivals. They know they will have product in hand.) So the Smith family was likely busy off on and off making sugar through the entire season. A hard life.

    I guess what I am saying is that the suggested date falls in the possible timeline, but I don’t think the John Pratt article really tightens it up as nicely as we would like.

  2. Perhaps, but I also detect a pattern in Joseph’s decision to dedicate the Kirtland temple on the Sunday before Easter. If 26 March 1820 had been the date of the First Vision, it makes sense that Joseph would have gravitated to seeing Palm Sunday as a particularly portentous day for the restoration.

    Then Elijah et alii showed up on Easter/Passover and reset Joseph’s prior preference for Palm Sunday as a particular day of significance for the Restoration.

  3. My granddaughter decided to make a diorama of the First Vision. Most artists have chosen to depict a near summer scene in pictures and stained glass of the scene, but Joseph used the words “early in the spring”. Early spring is when sap begins to rise and tendrils of crocus leaves push through the snow. It is unlikely ‘bees were buzzing’. A quick internet survey of images, both still and video of upstate New York, particularly the Erie Canal, showed bare branches of trees and often patches of snow in late March through mid April. As an artist, I’m familiar with the trap of common assumptions and easy solutions. My choice in the matter of the timing of the First Vision is to accept the idea of sacred calendars. The date of March 26 therefore makes sense to me and my granddaughter’s diorama features bare limbed trees.

  4. Pat Chiu, your granddaughter’s diorama featuring bare limbed trees is most likely correct. I think artists that paint the scene with a lot of green colors are doing so just because green is such a nice color to paint with.

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