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About Steven C. Harper

Steven C. Harper is a historian for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was professor of church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University from 2002–2012 and at BYU Hawaii from 2000–2002. Since 2002 he has served as an editor of the Joseph Smith Papers and as document editor of BYU Studies. He earned a PhD in early American history from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is the author of a book on colonial Pennsylvania titled Promised Land and of Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants, along with several articles. His book, Joseph Smith’s First Vision: A Guide to the Historical Accounts, is forthcoming from Deseret Book.

Evaluating Three Arguments Against Joseph Smith’s First Vision

Abstract: Historically there have been just three basic arguments against the authenticity of Joseph Smith’s first vision. They all begin with the a priori premise that such a vision simply could not have happened. The arguments originated with the Methodist minister to whom Joseph related his vision, author Fawn Brodie, and the Reverend Wesley Walters. The minister’s critique is explained by Methodism’s shift away from ecstatic religious experience. Fawn Brodie is shown to have made innovative yet flawed arguments within the narrow scope allowed by her conclusion that Joseph was a charlatan—a conclusion that did not allow for alternative interpretations of new evidence. Walters is shown to make fallacious arguments of irrelevant proof and negative proof in his understandably determined effort to undermine Joseph Smith’s credibility. Close-minded believers in Joseph’s vision are similarly likely to make unfounded assumptions unless they become open to the rich historical record Joseph created. Belief in the vision should correspond to Christian empathy for and civility toward critics. Continue reading