PALMYRA, New York — Some scholars believe March 26,1820, could have been the day that 14-year-old Joseph Smith had his First Vision.
This is the Bicentennial year of that event that led to the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Dating the First Vision
The researchers have used weather data and extrapolations to chose March 26.
“Joseph Smith would have been working too hard tapping sugar maple trees to have gone to the woods to pray until the temperature got right, and he’d have free time and the first day would have been the 26,” says BYU church history professor Steven Harper.
But Harper says there are a lot of “ifs” involved in that.
“The only date in the historical record, is ‘on a beautiful clear day early in the spring of 1820,'” he said, quoting Joseph Smith’s words.
Harper said he doesn’t give much credence to dating the vision, because the exact date isn’t as important as the actual event.
What is the First Vision?
Latter-day Saint faithful believe a young Joseph Smith prayed in a grove in upstate New York, and saw God the Father and Jesus as two distinct persons in a vision.
The Sacred Grove in March has brown and bare trees as winter turns to spring, with spots of green moss on the trunks. It looks like it might have been when Joseph Smith prayed in the trees in early spring 1820.
When Joseph came into the woods, he was seeking answers to his questions about the state of his soul, and which church to join.
“I think of 1832 version. It was raw, never published. And here we get a young boy wanting to connect with heaven, wanting forgiveness for his sins. That speaks to me a lot for the core of the religious experience,” said church historian Spencer McBride. He works with the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
What it means to church members
“In different times in our lives, or to a different audience, we will naturally change parts of the story. If you have rehearsed what you want to say, you will always say the same thing,” said BYU professor of ancient scripture Kerry Muhlestein. “You can tell the audience affects him with what’s going on in his life.”
“At first, it is personal redemption for a teenager. Later, it is the beginning story of the restored church. Those are not at odds with each other,” said Harper.
A vision for anyone
Jennette Cooney from Virginia was one of a few people visiting the Sacred Grove on a windy March day.
“In your own home, you can have those same experiences. It doesn’t have to be where Joseph Smith saw. That’s a big takeaway for us. We can have that same spirit in our home, and we can receive revelation in our own lives, just as Joseph Smith did,” she said.
McBride goes as often as he can.
“I walk quietly in the Sacred Grove. It’s a sacred space for me. But even those who don’t follow our religion can understand and appreciate what happened there. Whether you believe it or not, it symbolizes man’s yearning to connect to heaven. There’s something universal there,” he said.
KSL NewsRadio’s Mary Richards will have much more on the First Vision Bicentennial from upstate New York in our special coverage during General Conference on KSL NewsRadio.
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