First Vision Special Edition

Before I move on from discussing the First Vision, I wanted to share something that I find exciting.  Once in a while in Mormon studies journals, special volumes focus on the First Vision—such as the Spring 1969 issue of BYU Studies and a 1980 volume of the Journal of Mormon History.  These volumes, along with a few other essays, books, and articles published from time to time form the backbone of the academic discussion about Joseph Smith’s earliest visionary experience.  The latest volume of BYU Studies, as it turns out, is the next volume to focus on the topic of the First Vision, featuring papers presented at the conference “The First Vision of Joseph Smith, Jr.: 200 Years On”, held at the Huntington Library earlier this year and a few other notable articles as well.  It’s a stellar issue with authors that run the gamut from general authorities to notable Latter-day Saint scholars to academic Evangelical Christians, etc., and builds upon previous scholarship to flesh out the context and our understanding of the First Vision in some interesting and satisfying ways.

Many of the papers featured in the journal focus on the context of the culture in which the First Vision occurred.  For example, Richard L. Bushman wrote about how Joseph Smith’s words reveal his reaction to modernism and skepticism in the cultural milieu of his time.  George M. Marsden wrote about how Joseph Smith’s understanding of the Millennium fit within the various premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial views of Christian groups contemporary to his time.  John G. Turner discussed the background of early Latter Day Saints and Presbyterians being strongly at odds with each other, focusing on a Presbyterian minister who served in Palmyra around the time that the Smith family lived there. In addition, David F. Holland compared and contrasted the first visions of Joseph Smith and Ellen White (an 1844 experience that led to the founding of the Seventh-day Adventists), yielding some interesting insights about both, while Rachel Cope discussed three women of various religions who were roughly contemporary to Joseph Smith and their diverse experiences with divine revelations, exploring how their inner histories shaped their experiences.  Each of these discussions add insight and depth to the context of Joseph Smith’s visionary experience.

One of my favorite articles providing context for the First Vision was John H. Wigger’s discussion of the context of Methodism in the early 19th century United States, focusing on how they were transitioning from a charismatic religion that displayed intemperate zeal in expressing spiritual gifts and visions to a more respectable and refined religion.  This resulted in a rupture within the movement, with some (both among preachers and members) supporting the “old Methodism” (leading to groups such as the Pentecostals) and others supporting the more educated and cosmopolitan “new Methodism” that is the mainstream version of that religion today.  Joseph Smith had considerable contact with Methodism and it is estimated that roughly one third of the first generation of early Church converted from Methodist backgrounds.  Thus, Methodism can be seen as an important part of the context in which Joseph Smith approached God in prayer and experienced a vision in western New York and how his experiences were viewed by contemporaries.  As Wigger put it:

Joseph Smith’s first vision occurred just as this divide [between Old and New School Methodists] was becoming readily apparent in western New York.

This is not the same as saying that Methodist supernaturalism led directly to Smith’s first vision. Correlation does not imply causation. But correlation can demonstrate context, and movements need a receptive context in which to take root. The divide between the supernaturalism of early Methodism and the respectability of middle-class Methodism formed a backdrop against which Smith’s audience could situate his visions and revelations. Whether they believed him or not, they would have understood that he stood in a long line of visionaries who also had their critics.[1]

While this isn’t all new information, it was still an interesting paper with a lot of great details.

A few of the other articles focus on how the First Vision became such an important story to Latter-day Saints over time.  Steven C. Harper of Brigham Young University discusses many of the key moments that led to the First Vision being our “all or nothing” proposition, such as Orson Pratt’s efforts to keep the memory of the vision alive, Joseph F. Smith’s work in shifting attention away from polygamy and towards the First Vision during a difficult transition period for the Church, and other important events in the twentieth century that have led to it being viewed as central to the Church today.  Likewise, Richard E. Bennett of Brigham Young University discussed how the story of Moroni and the Book of Mormon was the dominant founding narrative of the Church through most of the nineteenth century, but that vision faded in importance as the First Vision was emphasized in response to both the end of plural marriage and the rise of modern philosophy (including, notably, the theory of evolution).  (As an aside, this history might be interesting to explore in comparison with the current de-emphasizing of Moroni as the Church’s symbol in favor of the Christus.)  Together, these historians flesh out and build upon the work of James Allen in analyzing how Latter-day Saints have viewed the First Vision over the years.

A third article covered some interrelated territory with Harper and Bennett’s work, but in a very different way.  In what was, perhaps, my favorite article of the periodical, Anthony Sweat discussed the evolution of artwork depicting the First Vision over time (complete with figures showing much of the artwork he talked about).  He discussed how much of the artwork was initially shaped by a Tiffany Glass stained glass window in the Salt Lake City Temple, with Joseph Smith on his knees, shielding his eyes, in a summer woodland in front of God the Father and Jesus Christ in white robes.  While Joseph Smith was usually depicted wearing dark brown clothing in earlier stain glass windows and paintings, it gradually became more standard for him to wear a white shirt with brown pants, though still in a similar position to the Tiffany Glass window.  This has become the case so much, that Sweat was able to take a highly abstracted version made up of basic geometric shapes in the standard colors around BYU and find that students recognized it as a depiction First Vision.  Sweat also discussed how depictions of the vision have become more common as the First Vision has become more important to Latter-day Saints.  He went on to discuss possibilities of how the event might be depicted in the future, since we have more accounts (and thus more details) of the vision available to artists today and as we become a more multi-cultural, global faith.  Included in this part of the article was a beautiful oil painting by Anthony Sweat that focused on including less commonly featured parts of the story, such as the light appearing to be fire, many angels being present, the experience taking place in the woodlands in early springtime (rather than summer), Satan fleeing, and even an ax in a stump.  It was a fascinating study in how artwork and symbolism about the First Vision has developed over the years.

Perhaps the most challenging paper for believing Latter-day Saints (and likely one of the most impactful essays in the ongoing discussions about the First Vision) published in this volume of BYU Studies is Ann Taves’s piece that continues the debate over when (or if) the events Joseph Smith described in his First Vision accounts occurred.  From analysis of the timing of religious revivals in the area, Lucy Mack Smith’s history in its original form, and the earliest religious documents Joseph Smith produced, Taves suggests that Joseph Smith may have not had his first experiences with the Lord speaking to him directly until 1829 and explores the implications of Joseph Smith communicating first with Moroni rather than with the Father and the Son.  She ends with listing many different interpretive possibilities opened by the First Vision controversy.  The article challenges the official Church narrative of how events unfolded, but it was very interesting from the perspective of historical analysis.

On the other end of the spectrum, we also get to hear from the current Church Historian, Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.  While perhaps the least interesting in the way of presenting scholarship on the subject of the First Vision, I still appreciated it as an articulation of how the Church is currently approaching the First Vision.  I felt that it wouldn’t have been too out of place as a general conference talk, truth be told, focusing on what the vision means to the Church today (with emphasis on revelation) and how the Church shares information about Joseph Smith’s experience through several different means these days.  (Actually, I’m quite surprised, in retrospect, that the Church Historian didn’t talk at the special general conference commemorating the 200th anniversary of the year Joseph Smith said the First Vision occurred.)  Kathleen Flake of the University of Virginia took a different approach to understanding the importance of the First Vision to Latter-day Saints, examining it through the lenses of history and prehistory, metanarrative and mythos, discussing how the vision is ritualized by Church members and, ultimately, what the First Vision tells us about religion rather than history.  Both are important ways of looking at the subject.

There are other interesting articles in the issue as well, such as Richard J. Mouw’s view of the First Vision from a (relatively generous) Evangelical point of view and an exploration of when Joseph Smith may have arrived at the conclusion that God has a tangible body of flesh and bone by John W. Welch.  All told, the volume is a worthwhile read (or listen, if you go to the Huntington Library site to listen to the recordings of the conference, though you’ll miss out on the articles by Turner, Welch, and Sweat that way) and will likely be a landmark publication in the historiography of the First Vision.  And, since BYU is shifting towards making online content of BYU Studies available for free, you can easily access the articles without even having to pay.


Lead image: Ben Crowder, “Let Him Ask of God,” 2019, used as the cover of the BYU Studies 59:2.


[1] John Wigger, “Methodism as Context for Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” BYU Studies 59:2 (2020),

43 comments for “First Vision Special Edition

  1. Joseph Smith, knowing as he no doubt did that the adversary would use his oft used tactic of “believe it not” (Moses 5:13) he began his history as follows:- (Remembering that we class this as scripture, rather than the philosophies of men.)

    1 Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession.

    2 In this history I shall present the various events in relation to this Church, in truth and righteousness, as they have transpired, or as they at present exist, being now [1838] the eighth year since the organization of the said Church. (JSH 1-2)

  2. Jeff, could you elaborate on what you’re getting at with your comment? It seems pretty vague what you’re aiming to say. Are you specifically pushing back against the Taves article or against the idea of historical examination of the First Vision beyond reading the 1838 account in general? Or something else entirely?

  3. Well either we as a church accept Joseph Smith History as scripture or we don’t. I believe that he, speaking as a prophet, was giving us what the Lord wanted us to accept as true. If not then was Joseph Smith lying!!! If so which of the versions of the First vision put forward by others is the word of the Lord to us.

    I believe that the Lord will not allow a President of the Church to lead us astray. As a former Prophet said, “It is not in the programme”.

  4. Personally, I feel like there is more nuance to the situation than that–both in how we view scripture and in how to understand the different accounts of the First Vision. You also have to keep in mind that the 1838 account didn’t become scripture until around 1880 (so about 40 years after Joseph Smith wrote it as an attempt at an official history, in the John Taylor era of Church History). So, to me, it is just as true to say that the 1832 and 1842 accounts were also Joseph Smith’s efforts to tell what the word of the Lord on the issue was. None of them were perfect in how they capture the moment or everything that happened–nor do I believe that something needs to be perfect to be used as scripture.

    As far as “which of the versions of the First vision put forward by others,” goes, are you looking at the various accounts shared (either by Joseph Smith by other individuals), or are you discussing the efforts of historians and scholars to try to get a better understanding of the event (whether in favor of the Church’s official account of the issue or not)? I just want to make sure that we’re not having two separate conversations here.

  5. I wonder if JS’ “so far as I have [present tense – 1938] such facts in my possession” should be read as an acknowledgment that the 1938 account is as he then remembered it — possibly without referring back to his earlier account(s).
    Sometimes I think we get dangerously close to thinking that “scripture” means “inerrant” in the fullest sense of the word or that our understanding of scripture is inerrant. I am not able to make that work for me..

  6. Wondering, surely you meant 1838 not 1938.

    Chad, I was in attendance at the October General Conference in the Conference Centre, and was there when President Nelson said that the April 2020 Conference would be a special commemoration of the 200th year anniversary of the first vision. (Not the 196th, the 200th year). He also asked the Church members to familiarize ourselves with the Prophet Joseph’s account of the first vision. Since then I have spent months reading and listening to many accounts by many people, faithful and anti. I do not know why many of these accounts intimate that Joseph Smith was “making it up as he went along”!! Many saying that maybe Joseph’s first encounter with the heavenly personages began with his visit from Moroni in 1823. Why, when we have the scriptural account of the First Vision from the one who was involved, do we have to hear from others who were not involved and their explanation about what happened.

    Satan is past master of teaching the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. He wants the world to think that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not the restored Church of Jesus Christ. It is getting a little fashionable on this site to hear from those who either have fallen away or have doubts and some speak about the fallibility of the Prophets of God intimating that they often make mistakes, which afterwards need to be rectified. ie Brigham Young and the priesthood ban etc. Personally I have faith from Brigham’s word that when he announced this he was speaking as the Mouthpiece of the Lord and not because he was racist. Plus the fact when President Kimball proclaimed the ending of the ban he said that it required a revelation to end it from the same person who pronounced it.

    I hope that this clarifies where I am coming from.

  7. Thanks for the review, Chad. Subscribers should also be aware that this expanded issue (320 pages) will be mailed shortly, packaged together with a supplemental (free) issue of BYU Studies Quarterly containing the proceedings of the 2017 conference on chiasmus held at BYU. This free volume is 360 pages. So we’re offering a lot of reading for the second half of summer. For nonsubscribers, the First Vision issue (vol. 59, no. 2) will be available online (or can be ordered in print on our website), and the supplemental issue will be available in book form from Book of Mormon Central.

    BYU Studies will be publishing another special issue (vol. 59, no. 3) on women’s suffrage in late summer. This issue will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment and the 150th anniversary of women gaining the vote in Utah Territory.

  8. Yes, Jeff. So much for the accuracy of my typing!
    Incidentally, can you tell us where to find a record of President Kimball’s statement you note?

  9. Jeff, that does clarify where you are coming from, thank you. We do seem to have some different perspectives on how prophets and scriptures work, but I appreciate you sharing your views on these issues. Even though as one of the bloggers on the site, I do express some of my own doubts and concerns at times, I appreciate the reminders of more orthodox perspectives.

    I personally agree with you on the belief that the First Vision took place, and thus disagree with Taves on the issue. I believe, though, that it is valuable to hear from and understand many perspectives, even if I disagree with them, to help me think through where I stand. I can understand how she came to the conclusions she did with the sources at hand, even though it isn’t the same conclusion that I make from the evidence and historical record.

  10. Roger, thanks for the information on what subscribers will be receiving! I will be watching my mailbox with great anticipation now.

  11. When considering the matter of God’s dealings with man, I tend to prefer the lens of faith, hope, charity, and testimony rather than academics, historians, and other persons who are learned in the things of this world. That’s just me. I’ll accept Joseph Smith’s testimony and that of others among the faithful that say it happened faster than I will the studies and analyses and sophistries of those who say it did not (or probably did not, or maybe did but not in the way Joseph said, or so forth). But again, that’s me.

  12. Chad,

    There are two incompatible modes of religious/spiritual interpretation that lead to very different beliefs.

    The first believes that historicity and chronology will help us better understand the mind of Joseph.

    The second believes that archetype and hierarchy will better help us understand the mind of Joseph.

    What is our expectation for the visionary experience? The question of translation is a question of revelation.

    It would be silly to ask: “how did Joseph get revelation?” or “how did Joseph translate?” and expect an answer in historical or chronological context. Yet LDS scholars are ALWAYS doing this—an admission they don’t have a clue about the visionary experience.

    On the other hand, Kabbalist scholars like Gershon Scholem, Harold Bloom, Carl Jung, Erich Neumann, etc., leave a body of evidence that validate and authenticate Joseph’s visions.

    Joseph’s study of Kabbalah teaches me that the young prophet was focused on archetype, order, hierarchy. Joseph could not have organized the restored gospel with historicism or chronological insight; he was vested in the hierarchy of heaven, the visionary world-of-archetypes. LDS scholarship is silent on this.

  13. Wondering, I am sorry not to have responded to your request for the source of Elder Kimball’s remark. If you read Edward L Kimball’s paper on BYU Studies 47 No 2 2008 Elder Kimball’s son quotes his father’s answer to the question why former prophets had not changed “the policy”

    “The conferring of priesthood, and declining to give the priesthood is not a matter of my choice nor of President McKay’s. It is the Lord’s program. . . . When the Lord is ready to relax the restriction, it will come whether there is pressure or not. This is my faith. Until then, I shall try to fight on. . . . I have always prided myself on being about as unprejudiced as to race as any man. I think my work with the minorities would prove that, but I am so completely convinced that the prophets know what they are doing and the Lord knows what he is doing, that I am willing to rest it there.”

    I would encourage the reading of the whole paper’ it is very revealing. The next paper by Marcus H Martins is also very instructive.

  14. Jeff, that same article has another quote in which Pres Kimball admits that his 1978 revelation also involved wrestling with his own racist beliefs:

    “I had a great deal to fight . . . myself, largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it and defend it as it was.

  15. Ryan thanks for the reminder, but the point was as Elder Kimball pointed out it was the Lord that introduced the ban, (not racism or any of the Presidents of the Church ie Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or any of the Presidents of the Church).

    We do not know when the ban was introduced although from the Book of Abraham we are told that Cain (and apparently his descendants or seed were not allowed to hold the Priesthood). If that ban was in force throughout the Old Testament, with The Lord commanding the tribes of Israel not to mix seed with the Canaanites, and even maybe the New Testament ( ref Matt 15:22-28). Then when the true Church was restored the ban would still be in force. this is why Joseph Smith and Brigham Young declared that the descendants of Cain could not hold the priesthood.

    Following the revelation ending the ban it is significant that some have speculated that when Elder Mcconkie remarked that everyone should forget about what he and others including Brigham Young had said about the ban, that he was saying the priesthood ban was a mistake. If one reads what he did say and indeed what the Gospel Topic says is that he was speaking about the speculations of what he and others had put forward for the REASONS why the ban was imposed, not that the ban itself was wrong.

  16. Joseph Smith never said that the descendants of Cain could not hold the priesthood, that was a Brigham Young and Parley Pratt thing. In fact, at least three black men held the priesthood during Smith’s lifetime, none of whom had their priesthood revoked by Church leaders during their lifetimes for being black.

    As far as the curse of Cain thing goes, the Book of Abraham doesn’t say that Noah married into Cain’s family (or really even mentions Cain), just that Pharaoh was “was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth” and that it was “Noah, his [Ham’s] father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood” (Abraham 1:21, 26-27). There are two separate Canaanite groups that could be referred to here, and neither of which has a known connection to Cain. One that was cursed in Enoch’s time for an act of genocide (See Moses 7:7-8) and descendants of Ham’s son Canaan that lived in the Levant. It’s not entirely clear which is being referred to in Abraham, but there’s a good chance it’s referring to the latter. In Genesis 9, there’s the odd story of Ham looking at Noah when he was drunk and naked while his two brothers covered Noah’s nakedness, then because Ham did that, Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan: “‘Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. May God make space for Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave” (Genesis 9:25-27, NRSV). Because the table of nations in Genesis 10 puts Ham’s sons as the ancestors of the peoples of northeastern Africa and the Near East, it became assumed in Judaeo-Christian culture that they were the ancestors of all Africans. Then, after the slave trade of Africans became a thing, that curse of Noah on Canaan to be a slave was used to justify the enslavement of Africans (even though it was specifically on Canaan, whose geographical region given in Genesis 10 is more the area later taken over by the House of Israel than Africa–see Genesis 10:19), and those justifications of black African slavery were mixed up into justifying the priesthood ban as well. The whole Cain tradition is a bit faulty when you dig into the details.

  17. It’s not easy to untangle the confusing stories of Abraham 1 and Genesis 9 about Noah, Ham, Canaan, Egyptus (maybe two women named Egyptus), and Egypt, the son of Ham. There have been many varied attempts to imagine and articulate a more consistent and sensible story. But two things are clear enough in those sources, as given — (i) that it was Noah and not God who cursed someone (Canaan or Pharaoh and/or descendants of Canaan) as to the priesthood [Abraham 1:26 “…Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.”] and (ii) that race or skin color is never mentioned.

    On the other hand, Abraham 1:23 tells us, on the basis of an etymology I cannot evaluate, that Ham had a daughter by a woman whose name “signifies that which is forbidden;” Maybe that same Egyptus was the mother of Canaan, but in vv. 24-25 it was the sons of Ham’s daughter who somehow “preserved the curse in the land.”

    And all this because Noah got himself drunk and passed out and Ham misbehaved?

  18. Jeff, though we’ve kind of gone off on a tangent, your point that the discussion was more about President Kimball believing that the ban was introduced through God’s will rather than man’s and that a revelation was needed is noted, and thank you for sharing that source. I’m working on a more in-depth look at some of these issues that will come out in a couple weeks and it’s useful to be reminded of that statement. Personally, my take is that President Kimball was raised in a culture where that idea was accepted (partly on faulty information), and thus he felt that a revelation was necessary, though he may or may not have been wrong in believing that. I admit, however, that I don’t entirely know how to square my take on it with President McKay and President Lee praying to know if the ban should be lifted and saying that they receiving answers along the lines of “not yet.”

    As far as Elder McConkie goes, Wondering and I have discussed this on a different blog post a couple months back, but McConkie seems to have only been rejecting the idea that blacks would not be able to hold the priesthood until sometime far in the future (i.e. the Millennium), not any other aspect of the ban or the racist teachings used to support it. In fact, he continued to perpetuate the teachings that the Church since disavowed (in the 2013 “Race and the Priesthood” Gospel Topics essay), even in the speech in question. It was more President Dallin H. Oaks who began articulating that the reasons given for the ban were wrong.

  19. Chad, I have remarked before that it is sometimes a little difficult to keep up with the discussion because of the time difference between the UK and the US. But here goes my answer to your remarks. Although you say that Joseph Smith never said that the descendants of could not hold the priesthood, I beg to differ. Joseph Smith was given two rolls of papyrus which came from the catacombs of Egypt via Antonio Lebolo and Michael Chandler. He began translating by revelation from God one of the rolls which He found were the writings of Abraham in 1835 which was published in 1842. What is contained in the Book of Abraham, cannonized later is only a very small fragment of the roll of papyrus estimated by some as some 40 feet plus long. Indeed Joseph told us that a volume as large as the Bible would be filled if and when the whole roll was translated. By the way this makes ridiculous that the tiny fragments which were given back to the Church back in the 1960’s which some egyptologists claimed did not match up to the BOA translated by Joseph which proved that he was a fraud. The small fragments were not the source of the Book of Abraham.

    We read, and no doubt Joseph knew the importance of the contents of the BOA which I believe was the basis for the Priesthood ban. We read about the land of Egypt being discovered by a woman called Egyptus who was the daughter of Ham and his wife also called Eqyptus. We are also told that the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh or King of Egypt who was a descendant from the loins of Ham and was partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. We are also told that this Pharaoh was the eldest son of Egyptus the daughter of Ham. Then most significantly sought earnestly to imitate the that “order” established by the fathers in the first generation in the days of the first patriarchal reign. The scripture then goes on to explain that Noah, his ‘Father’ who had blessed him with blessings of the earth and with wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood. We are also told that the Pharaoh’s would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham. As a result of then not being able to claim the Priesthood they were led away through idolatry.

    So here we find that because Ham married a Canaanite woman the consequences of Cain’s curse and mark were brought through the flood.

    I have reread Lester E Bush Jr.’s paper In Dialogue which given in Spring 1973 which is a very thorough and detailed paper but I am afraid that in my opinion he comes to some wrong conclusions. Even though he reports from the “Messenger and Advocate” Joseph Smith saying:-

    “The sons of Canaan (or Ham) whom he identified as the Negro were cursed with servitude by a “decree of Jehovah”, and that curse was not yet taken off the sons of Canaan, neither will there be until it is affected by as great a power as caused it to come… and those who are determined to pursue a course which shows a opposition… against the designs of the Lord, will learn… that God can do his own work without the aid who are not dictated by his counsel”

    Bro Bush still comes to conclusions that the ban originated with Brigham Young. I would encourage study into what Bro Bush has written but also read Dialogue’s invitation to three individuals to respond to Mr Bush’s article from various perspectives. These three were Gordon Thommasson, Hugh Nibley, and Eugene England, who come up with the suggestions that further further areas of study needed before we can have a complete picture of this sensitive matter.

    Of course Lester Bush’s paper came some 5 years before the matter was settled by the Lord through revelation to President Spencer W Kimball and His treatment of the topic, as I referred to in my previous post which I would again recommend study needs to be made.

    Personally I would prefer to accept scripture before relying on academic reasoning to answer this very important topic. Especially most if not all of the Presidents of the Church asked for and answers prior to President Kimball and were told “Not Yet”.

  20. Jeff, can you show me an exact quote in the canonized scriptures (inside the BOA or elsewhere) that says that Cain was cursed as to the priesthood? The other explicit quote that I need to see to find your argument plausible is an explicit link to Cain with Ham’s wife (again, note that Canaanite is a different word than Cain or a potential Cain-ite and seems to refer to two different groups that have no explicit link to Cain). I ask this because it is apparent that Wondering and I see different things in the BOA than you do, and I want to make sure I’m not missing anything. To me, it feels like you are reading things into the text that are not there.

  21. Wondering,

    Noah’s drunkenness takes place in a temple setting. Part of the hidden ritual within the inner chamber involved “judging” the Creation. This is symbolized by tasting the fruit of the vine. Why? Because wine reveals the true essence of the fruit: “in vino veritas.” By extension, wine produced from the grape reveals the “blood-spirit-truth” of Creation.

    The fruit produced from man and earth symbolizes covenant. If man and earth are in harmony, the covenant is sealed, the wine is good; if man and earth are out of balance, the fruit produces sour, bitter-like vinegar. So when Jesus drinks vinegar at cruxifixion, He mediates judgement “forgive them, they know not what they do.”

    Ham’s entering the Holy-of-Holies is an expression of his unrighteous desire to rule—his tendency towards the “exercise of unrighteousness dominion.”

  22. Jeff, thanks for your response. I went to the Messenger and Advocate letter by Joseph Smith and found no mention of any curse as to priesthood. The curse in question there was Noah’s curse (JS called it a prophecy) that Canaan (perhaps meaning his descendants) would be a servant to Shem and Japheth. Bush was right that JS identified the “sons of Canaan” with black slaves. But JS made no mention at all of Cain or sons of Cain or priesthood in that letter.

    “… the first mention we have of slavery is found in the holy bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation and walked with God. And so far from that prediction’s being averse from the mind of God it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Him in servitude!
    ‘And he said cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem and Canaan shall be his servant.’—Gen. 8:25, 26, 27.
    Trace the history of the world from this notable event down to this day, and you will find the fulfilment of this singular prophecy. What could have been the design of the Almighty in this wonderful occurrence is not for me to say; but I can say that the curse is not yet taken off the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great power as caused it to come…” M&A vol II April 1836, p.290.

  23. Well, Travis, that is a fine re-imagining of the story that has come down to us. There are, of course, others, including, e.g.,theories that Ham’s action was to sodomize his father in forced incest (or that the original story was really about Canaan sodomizing his father Ham). See, e.g. Dr Rabbi David Frankel’s educated speculations. .
    I think I’ll regard the whole thing as none of my business.
    But I am curious as to how you get from the stories of Genesis or Abraham to the theory that Noah’s drunkenness took place in a temple setting.

  24. Wondering,

    Dr. Frankl might not be far off. Jews understand the symbols of atonement better than most Christians, and the act of castration (think Osiris-Set myth) is a symbol for usurping the power of a king. The archetype is consistent with texts.

    (Replying to the question) “how you get from the stories of Genesis or Abraham to the theory that Noah’s drunkenness took place in a temple setting?”

    Noah’s drunkenness takes place in the tent after a priestly act fulfilling Creation. Atonement rituals were geared to purge, cleanse, purify, heal, then to sanctify and consecrate. The high priest performed for himself, for the people, and for earth/creation. It was believed that by atonement, the “fallen” creation could be restored and preserved—like returning to, or reconstituting Eden.

    One of the ordinances of the inner chamber resembled a wedding feast, wine, bread, olive oil, vinegar, herbs, water, fire, smoke—all had symbolic value, meaning, and affect.

    Noah’s drunkenness symbolizes the preservation of creation. The garden, the tent, and temple are interchangeable.

  25. Just one last point, whether the PH ban is called the curse pronounced upon Cain or Ham, it is the same curse. Following the universal flood when only 4 families were left on earth. Ham’s wife Egyptus would bring the restriction through the flood and because she was a descendant of Cain all of her children would carry the curse.

  26. Yes, Jeff. That is what I was taught in the 60s. It is still in the Church’s on-line OT student manual: “Therefore, although Ham himself had the right to the priesthood, Canaan, his son, did not. Ham had married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain (Abraham 1:21–24), and so his sons were denied the priesthood.”
    Unfortunately for that argument, the citation for Egyptus being a descendant of Cain says nothing at all about Cain. The student manual story is consistent with a number of verses in both Abraham and Moses, but perhaps none compels it.
    Per the Church’s Race and the Priesthood essay: “Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.” The essay notes that “According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel. Those who accepted this view believed that God’s “curse” on Cain was the mark of a dark skin. Black servitude was sometimes viewed as a second curse placed upon Noah’s grandson Canaan as a result of Ham’s indiscretion toward his father.”
    It may be appropriate to look outside that student manual for any explanation of the former priesthood ban. It may even be appropriate to look for another way to view the potentially relevant verses in Abraham and Moses in the PoGP.

  27. Wondering, The way I understand what the Race and Priesthood essay is saying is that the reasons why the ban was imposed is not now recognised by the Church. Such as those put forward saying that the there were some spirits were less valiant in the pre-existence for example. The Lord has never revealed why the Priesthood ban was imposed. I do not believe the essay is saying that the ban was a mistake. What Elder Mcconkie said about forgetting what he and others said concerning WHY the ban was was imposed is now disavowed.

  28. Jeff, I agree that the essay doesn’t say the ban was a mistake.

    I also think, however, that what Wondering and I have more been trying to say is that the whole narrative about the ban starting with Cain should be treated the same way as less valent in the premortal existence theory. As you say, “The Lord has never revealed why the Priesthood ban was imposed.”

    There are two different points being discussed (whether the ban was from God and whether the ban resulted from a curse put on Cain and carried on through Ham’s descendants). While I have feelings about the first point, I’m not intending to force my opinion on you there (and I apologise if I made you feel that way). I really am more interested in getting people to think about the latter point in this discussion, which is why
    I asked you earlier for explicit statements in the scriptures about Cain and his descendants being barred from the priesthood or that Ham’s wife was among his descendants. I don’t think that there are any (though if you can prove wrong, I’m willing to listen). I’m trying to say that maybe we should be more cautious about using that narrative as a reason to believe the ban was of divine origin.

  29. I’ll probably put a post up next week explaining where I’m coming from in greater detail, because I feel like I might not be doing a great job at that in this shorter comment format. Sorry if I haven’t explained myself well here.

  30. Chad, Thank you for explaining your understanding of the restriction, I look forward to reading your post. For myself I joined the Church in 1965 after I received a witness from the Lord that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is His Church and the men called by Him were true Prophets to whom He revealed His true gospel. I just cannot comprehend why if President Brigham Young made a mistake when he pronounced in 1852 very positively that it was The Lord’s will that the restriction was instituted. Then allowed this mistake to continue on for 126 years before He revealed His will to President Spencer W Kimball to rescind the ban. When I consider the pain and suffering and restrictions that the multitudes of the Negro race has endured, and accept that all of this was inflicted, and endured, and think that it was built on a mistake and then allowed it to continued as I say for a further 126 years, how can anyone believe that this was not the Lord’s will.

    I am reminded of the time when in the Book of Mormon the Lord expounded all things to the Nephites who He visited following His resurrection. We read in 3Ne: 26 That Jesus expounded unto the multitudes all things both small and great. Nephi writes that not one hundredth part of His teachings were recorded in the Book of Mormon we have today, because Jesus forbid him from recording everything He had taught the multitudes because He said ” I will try the faith of my people” (3 Ne 26:11). But the Lord revealed to His prophet that if we to whom the Book of Mormon was written would accept the Gospel revealed in the Book of Mormon, then greater things would be revealed to us.
    I believe that the truth which would include the words recorded in the Book of Abraham regarding the curse and the mark placed upon Cain are revealed, were eventually to be explained, including the reasons for the restrictions will be given to us. I believe that when the reasons why are given, the Church and all His Prophets, including Brigham Young will be vindicated.

  31. Jeff, thank you for being willing to discuss back and forth. I understand where you’re coming from, and I hope we can continue to have some good discussion over the next little bit.

  32. Jeff, You probably intended the following question to be rhetorical, but I’d like to answer it regardless. It is not my intent to persuade you personally, but to explain how I can actually believe that the priesthood restriction was not God’s will.

    “how can anyone believe that this was not the Lord’s will.” Quite easily. I believe that God is not racist. Since the priesthood and temple restriction used race as its single disqualifying criterion, it was a racist policy. Therefore, the God I worship was not the author of the priesthood ban.

    Further, I believe that prophets are not infallible or quasi-infallible. They can make mistakes—even big, centuries-long, soul-crushing mistakes. In my experience, it is infinitely better to lay the priesthood and temple restriction at the feet of a fallible prophet, than to attribute it to the very God with whom I and my BIPOC brothers and sisters have covenanted to love and follow.

  33. Ryan, BIPOC? please explain. Also tell me was Noah fallible and a racist when he cursed Pharaoh and all his lineage, who were partakers of the blood of the Canaanites by birth as pertaining to right of priesthood. Was Moses obeying God when the right of holding the Priesthood was just given to the tribe of Levi, but restricted from the other 11 tribes of Israel. Are our Prophets Seers and Revelators fallible and racist by not allowing sisters to hold the Priesthood, or is it possible that maybe you are wrong in saying that the Priesthood restrictions is down to mistakes made by “fallible” Prophets. The Priesthood that we hold in the Church is called The Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God, and it is His right to choose as to whom and when it can be be conferred. Shame on you for implying that out Church Leaders are racist and often fallible and therefore make many mistakes. I believe that your sentiments come close to evil speaking of the Lord’s Annointed.

    By the way you seem to be implying that “in your experience that other “big, centuries-long, soul-crushing mistakes” have been made, please enlighten us.

  34. Jeff, I wonder if you have inferred more than Ryan stated or implied. After all, according to some of our Church leaders, our Church leaders have made mistakes.
    “And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.
    I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us?—His imperfect children?—and imperfect people make mistakes.” Dieter Uchtdorf
    ““There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his preaching and teaching has not been ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ You will recall the Prophet Joseph declared that a prophet is not always a prophet.” and
    “Brother Brigham preached to the people in a morning meeting a sermon vibrant with defiance to the approaching army, and declaring an intention to oppose and drive them back. In the afternoon meeting he arose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning, but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address, the tempo of which was the opposite from the morning talk.” J. Reuben Clark, Jr., quoted in part by D. Todd Christofferson
    “We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality.” Dallin Oaks
    I expect there are others. E.g., Whoever wrote the Lectures on Faith, once included in the D&C, did not teach the same doctrine of the Godhead that the Church now teaches. BY taught that the priesthood ban would not be lifted until the “redemption of the earth:” SWK taught otherwise.
    I am accordingly hesitant to suggest that anyone’s efforts to make sense of things constitutes or even “comes close to evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.”

    While I tend tentatively toward Ryan’s view on the ban (with some modification for Eugene England’s old theory — which has its own problems), I think, for some Ryan’s view does not absolve God of responsibility by placing it on “fallible leaders.” For them, Ryan’s solution leaves God responsible for failing to instruct those leaders to change or eliminate the ban. The stories of Saul/Paul and Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah are enough to show those faithful members that God can clearly instruct people who are not seeking instruction. So why not to prohibit the ban or to end it much earlier, if that were God’s will?
    This is a conceptual problem for which I don’t have a good solution. I can only note my inability to predict reliably when and to whom the Lord will reveal what.

  35. Wondering, I am not speaking about apostles here, but specifically about Presidents of the Church. I cannot accept that the Lord would allow His prophet to make a mistake in 1852 and allow that mistake to continue on for 126 years, unless it was his will. Further we would also have to accept that other Presidents of the Church who have asked if the ban could be lifted, and the Lord telling them “Not Yet” Were they lying?

  36. Well, Jeff, I guess you disagree with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young about their own mistakes, with J Reuben Clark about mistakes of Presidents of the Church and with Elder Christofferson quoting Clark quoting BY about one of BY’s mistakes. Fine with me. I sometimes disagree with them also.,
    Seems like you’re one of those for whom Ryan’s view could not absolve God of responsibility for leaving the ban in place so long if He, according to some, did not originate it.
    If BY could be as mistaken as he was in 1852 about when the ban would be lifted, why could he not be mistaken about more than that?
    As to the Lord telling others “not yet”, there are ways to understand their perception of such a response (whether accurate or not) without accusing them of lying. Some have understood that response as having more to do with what church members and leaders were then willing to accept than a stamp of approval on the ban itself. Some think that situation in concept rather like the lesser law given to the Israelites out of Egypt when they would not accept a higher law at that time. If so, then a “not yet” direction from the Lord doesn’t mean the ban or its initiation was ever His will.
    I certainly don’t know the answers. I sometimes think you’re arguing that others cannot reasonably disagree with your interpretation. i don’t know if that’s right or if I simply don’t always grasp your tone or choice of words. I suspect at the heart of the differences of opinion about the issues lie differences in understandings of the nature of revelation, its various forms, whether there is human input in the way it is communicated to others, the scope of any such input, and the extent to which the Lord lets His church leaders make mistakes. Dealing with that would be a much broader and more lengthy discussion than I can undertake.
    I appreciate your faith and commitment. I am troubled, however, when its expression seems to me to imply denial of others’ faith and commitment. I hope that impression of mine is wrong.

  37. Why is it necessary to declare the priesthood restriction to have been a mistake? And then to apportion blame? Who are we to judge, even to judge God? It’s over — it’s in the past — I am happy it is in the past, and I feel no need to judge that it was God’s will or that it was God’s or a particular man’s mistake — it’s just history. But maybe that’s just me.

  38. Standards of decency evolve, mostly for the good. It is only recently in human history that slavery has become morally objectionable. I am current plowing through the New Testament and have noticed that Paul deals matter-of-factly with the issue of slavery; it was simply a given in the Roman Empire.

    The same applies to racism. It is only recently that we have tried to come to grips with racism. Many abolitionists who fought to abolish slavery in the 1800s held very retrograde views on race. Attitudes evolve. Let us be wary of the sin of presentism, because I guarantee that future generations will find things to condemn us for.

    Attitudes on race are also evolving in the Church, for the better, I think. When I joined the Church in 1974, four years before SWK’s revelation, I was bothered by Church leaders who would rant against the evils of interracial marriage. Don’t read Deseret News editorials from the 1950s and 1960s on civil rights. They will make your toes curl in embarrassment. I still see racist assumptions in Church culture today.

    So as we attempt to deal with the origin of the Mormon priesthood ban, and efforts to parse the justifications used to defend the ban, which revolve mostly around the BOA, I just wish to say:

    I am all in favor of trying to understand the issues surrounding the ban. But when it goes beyond a certain point, it is far better to just simply start trying to do a better job of loving God and our fellow man, of all races and cultures.

    Racism is NEVER going to disappear. All societies and all people are racist. Racism is based on the fundamental human need to feel superior to the Other, and the need to despise the Other. The urge to dominate others is hard-wired into almost all people. I am 68 years old, and am an American who has spent half my life, 34 years, living overseas: Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Mainland China, and Thailand. I learned the languages of most of those countries, which allows one much greater access to the prevailing cultural attitudes. EVERY society suffers from the plague of racism—some more than others..

    Let us work to improve things, but let us also recognize that we are “fallen men.” We do not improve things in the Church by holding God responsible for having failed to make BY or JS better men than the times they lived in. I can accept the idea of fallible Church leaders struggling, and sometimes failing, to understand the will of God. That does not disqualify them from being called of God and doing good things.

    I am with Ji, here. Apportioning blame for past misdeeds is sometimes necessary, but it can also very dangerous. I lived 18 years in Germany immediately after WW2, and came to realize that vengeful Allied punishments against Germany for WW1 only sowed the seeds of anger and resentment that led to WW2 only 20 years later.

  39. Wondering, To misquote Sir Walter Scott, “Oh what a tangled web Satan weaves when first he practices to deceive.” Lets leave it there . When our Father in Heaven explains why the Priesthood ban was imposed then and only then will we know the truth. Until then I have better things to do with my time than continue discussing the issue.

  40. Jeff, I don’t think that it’s fair to apply that misquote to Wondering, particularly because he does seem well-informed on the issue and still holds space open with his statement that “I certainly don’t know the answers.” But, it probably is a fair time to close this discussion for the time being.

  41. Chad, I wasn’t aiming the misquote at Wondering or anyone in particular, The comment was to express my thoughts that the adversary will use any means to to confuse.

  42. Chad, back on the topic of the OP: I have been reading through this issue over the past week. It is chock full of historical details and thoughtful analysis. Thanks for bringing to my attention. I wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise.

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