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Joseph Smith’s First Vision is the foundational event of the Restoration, and the model for our personal experiences of revelation. Yet no explicit accounts of the event were recorded until some dozen years later, in 1832. For this reason, critics of LDS foundations have argued that Joseph Smith crafted the First Vision narrative in the 1830s, rather than experiencing it at the dawn of the 1820s.
If Latter-day Saint belief about the First Vision is correct, Joseph’s narrative reports a memory of his early experience. If, on the other hand skeptical interpreters were to be correct, Joseph’s narrative was created to meet his needs as a church leader in the 1830s, bolstering his authority as prophet.
These two radically different understandings of the First Vision lead us to two radically different predictions about how well Joseph’s First Vision accounts will align with the events of the early 1820s. On the first, the believing, view, Joseph’s narrative should match the 1820s context in some detail. On the second, skeptical, view, his narrative should match the claimed 1820s context poorly or only superficially.
Because these two views lead to such different predictions, we can determine which view is correct by testing those predictions. And this is what Don Bradley does in this presentation.
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