‘Witnesses’ is a Rare Surprise

I’m a notorious Grinch on the subject of religious film.

I have a theory that the standards for religious films are so low because they only tell the audience what they want to hear. The popular God’s Not Dead, for example, is a lousy movie on multiple levels, made to pander to our lowest intellectual tendencies; the part of us that wants a movie to spoonfeed us proof that atheists are all a bunch of idiots. Beyond this main thread, there are about a dozen other plots in God’s Not Dead, a hodgepodge of unrelated ideas and clumsily connected characters, including Duck Dynasty guy for some reason in possibly the movie’s dumbest scene. An ambush reporter who doesn’t talk over her subject but instead allows him to speak while respectfully listening? Give me a break.

I’m mentioning my prejudice to indicate how how surprised I am to say this: Witnesses is a great movie.

Here is a movie that understands that its role is not to be a sermon or a polemic, but an emotional journey. It doesn’t flatter the audience by telling them how right they are, it “discomforts the comfortable,” and takes the audience to doubt and back.

Witnesses is based on the mostly familiar story of Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. It’s framed by an interview David Whitmer (Michael Zuccola/Paul Kandarian (older)) gave to a reporter as an old man, as well as an incident back in 1833 where he was ordered at gunpoint by a mob to renounce his witness. Even though Whitmer frames the story, most of the heavy dramatic lifting in the movie is done in Martin Harris (Lincoln Hoppe), in the turmoil leading up to and perpetually following the loss of the first manuscript.

Hoppe gives a unique performance, taking us through his Harris’s desperate conflict to reconsile his powerful doubts with his powerful faith. He has a face that is constantly showing his thought process for us to see; big, formalistic expressions playing on top of each other.

Director Mark Goodman’s style here is moderately expressionistic – emphasizing the emotional perspectives of the characters – but it is also grounded in reality. There are no angelic choirs swelling in the background when the prophet speaks. The camera rarely engages in the pointless “artistic” shots endemic to independent film. The gold plates are not magical glowing relics, they are a solid presence throughout the film. Joseph Smith (Paul Wuthrich) even uses them as an improvised club in an early scene when being chased by thieves. This lack of distracting adornment makes the situation of the members of the Smith family living in close contact and even touching the plates with but never seeing them directly even more emotionally surreal.

A lesser movie would have Joseph giving the audence a speech about why he does not show the plates to the world and Harris should just have faith. Witnesses shows, rather than lectures. Joseph says that he intends to keep his covenant about the plates. Martin Harris makes the same covenant about the 116 pages, and we see in visual and emotional terms how he lets his covenant slip away while Joseph stays firm to his.

We are taken through the difficult journey of the witnesses, which combines the despair of not being able to see the plates with the later despair of disillusionment in Kirtland. Having already seen the angel and plates, they still experienced a crisis of faith, leaving Kirtland and the Church after condemnation from a demagoging Sidney Rigdon (Joseph Carlson).

Two of the Three Witnesses, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery (Caleb J. Spivak, who looks uncannily like the real Cowdery), rejoined the Church years layer. David Whitmer never did, though his witness survived both the guns of an angry mob and 50 years of bitterness at the church.

But if you’re expecting a movie to give you proof of how right you are and how dumb those atheists and anoying evangelical billboards are, Witnesses might not be for you. Witnesses shows us the emotional problem of being lost in doubt and points toward the way out. Whitmer says in the end that “The Book of Mormon was not meant to be proven, it was meant to be read, and then asked of to the creator of all.”

If you want the full stories and facts about the witnesses, try to hunt down a copy of Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard Lloyd Anderson, the late BYU historian and my inspiration and friend. Witnesses is dedicated to his memory and – to my surprise – it is a beautiful and fitting tribute.

Reviewing Moon’s Rare Books

The Greatest Collection of Church History in the World is Tucked Away in Provo

I would say it’s the “best-kept secret in Utah,” but according to a billboard I recently saw on I-15, that title belongs to a carpet warehouse in Spanish Fork, and I wouldn’t want to challenge them. But Moon’s Rare Books, located in the Shops at Riverwoods in northeast Provo, is a unique place that everyone should have a chance to visit. It’s more museum than bookstore, with museum-quality displays of books and historic artifacts from the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as well as displays from early modern Britain, middle Christianity, Victorian literature, and American film.

This is me with George Lucas’s original Star Wars script after an event at Moon’s Rare Books. You won’t see me this excited about something at any other time.

Reid Moon’s collection includes countless one-of-a-kind books and artifacts from both the Church and the wider history of the English-speaking world. Nowhere else do you have the chance to see the personal copies of the Book of Mormon owned by Joseph, Hyrum, and Samuel Smith during their lifetimes. Or the original fedora and whip used in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Or a first-edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone signed by an 11-year-old Daniel Radcliffe. Or a King James Bible that belonged to its namesake, King James I.

I say that it’s a like a museum, but it’s more of a journey, a unique experience every time. I’ve visited on multiple occasions. Once I left overwhelmed by the volume of knowledge in the world of which I’ve only scratched the surface. Once I spent several hours going from artifact to artifact, book to book, and Wikipedia article to Wikipedia article as I explored the past. Once I saw and held things so sacred, I hesitate to mention it online. And not just the Star Wars script.

The collection rivals the Church History Museum in content, and far surpasses it in engagement. It includes an original dictation of a revelation received by Joseph Smith, the only original section of the Doctrine and Covenants not owned by the Church today, as well as at least one article of scripture belonging to each Latter-Day Prophet.

The front room contains a large collection of early modern Bibles, a staple of any great book collection, while the back room contains an immense collection of Books of Mormon (Book of Mormons?), in every language in which it has been published, including a few in the nineteenth century “Deseret Alphabet.” The Bible collection includes a few large partially damaged Bibles, single pages of which are available for sale and framing as a beautiful display. The front room also contains a layout in the form of an old English street full of shops, each with various themed displays to view through the windows.

The front room and main area are free to visitors, open six days a week and alone are worth the visit. But some of the greatest treasures can only be seen on in the back room, on the giant side of a giant oak door imported from an English castle. The back room is typically only accessible during Mr. Moon’s lectures and live events, which he gives over a hundred times a year. It’s during these events that he shows off the amazing breadth of his collection, which he does in the form of requests for books related to any subject. For example, when given the subject of magic he pulled out a book of magic tricks owned and marked up by Harry Houdini himself.

Next time you’re in Provo, Moon’s Rare Books should top your list of things to do. And if you’re not visiting any time soon, it might be worth making the trip anyway. After your visit, I’d recommend either Seven Brothers or Happy Sumo for dinner, which are both just a few shops away in the Riverwoods. Seven Brothers has one of the best burgers in Utah Valley, and Happy Sumo has great sushi in a relaxing atmosphere. Reid Moon also has an Instagram page with enough history to make me break my resolution to never use Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/reidnmoon/

More information is available at https://moonsrarebooks.com/.

Neither Moon’s Rare Books nor any other business has offered any compensation in exchange for this review. Maybe one day…

Intelligences, Subjective Phenomenology, and Transcendence

Note: This essay was written for BYU’s Philosophy of Religion course (PHIL 215) in August of 2019. If you should ever have the opportunity to take a class from Brother Roger Cook, I can’t recommend him highly enough. This is probably the densest writing you’ll find here on LibertySaints, but if you can muscle through it, you might find the topic of philosophy of mind as fascinating as I do.

In 1831, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received a revelation, recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, concerning the religious experiences and beliefs concerning the Shakers. The Shakers and certain members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who believed some of their teachings believed, among other things, that Jesus Christ had returned in the form of a woman, Ann Lee. The Shakers had been “deceived” by what they believed as revelation.1

Revelation, miracles, the confirmation of the Holy Ghost, and even mystical and visionary experiences are the “rock” on which the Church is built.2 Doctrine and Covenants Section 42 says “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things…”3 But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not the only sect that believes in and attempts to derive doctrine from revelation. This begs the question: is revelation inconsistent? Why would revelation from God mean different things to different people? And if it is inconsistent, does it remain valid as a source of knowledge? Or even as a real phenomenon?

Late philosopher of religion Louis Pojman argues that “religious experience is amorphous and too varied to yield a conclusion with regard to the existence of God.”4 He compares the religious experiences of western Christians to that of a polytheist in East Africa who receives a vision of the hippopotamus-god to show that religious experience is varied across people and varies with cultural beliefs.

Those who have observed mysticism and revelation from a physiological perspective acknowledge that religious experience is a real mental and neurological phenomenon in some sense and that it may be epistemologically convincing to the person who experiences it for a limited period of time. But the ability of revelation to give us knowledge by which we live our lives remains in doubt for those who make such studies. As William James says in his classic study on The Varieties of Religious Experience:

There are moments of sentimental and mystical experience. . . that carry an enormous sense of inner authority and illumination with them when they come. But they come seldom, and they do not come to everyone; and the rest of life makes either no connection with them, or tends to contradict them more than it confirms them. Some persons follow more the voice of the moment in these cases, some prefer to be guided by the average results. Hence the sad discordance of so many of the spiritual judgments of human beings…5

If revelation seems disconnected from the physical world as measured scientifically or empirically, its value as knowledge is in question. Furthermore, the perspective of the physicalist challenges the very possibility of religious experience having any value outside the neural processes of the brain. The brain in the physicalist model is mechanically reductive, in that it can be completely understood as a complex system of interacting pieces of biological matter, like an electronic calculator or computer on a larger scale. Mathematician Bertrand Russell denies the possibility of any mental existence beyond the matter that can be scientifically observed and analyzed:

The continuity of the human body is a matter of appearance and behavior, not of substance. The same thing applies to the mind. We think and feel and act, but there is not, in addition to thoughts and feelings and actions, a bare entity, the mind or the soul, which does or suffers these occurrences.6

A different conception of the mind is necessary to explain both religious experience and the relationship between the mind, religious experience, and the world. This is where transcendent experience has a place, as it represents the relationship between the divine and the conscious mind. Transcendent experience can be usefully defined here as all mental phenomena that access the transcendent reality, or the reality beyond the scientifically measurable physical world.

The concept of mental phenomena, or “phenomenology,” is necessary to understand the mind in its connection with the transcendent. To explain the processes of the mind or consciousness we do not refer primarily to the anatomy or physiology of the brain, we instead speak of what the consciousness experiences, or “mental phenomena.” Mental phenomena include not only the raw sensations of the senses, but also certain more complex mental events, such as love, learning, or appreciation of art.

Consider the classic question on this subject: what does the color red look like? And does it look the same for all people? This is not referring to the physical nature of visible electromagnetic radiation that can be measured at a wavelength of approximately 625­-740 nanometers at a frequency of 405-480 terahertz. Visible radiation (“light”) is what causes the mental phenomenon of the color red, but it is not the color red itself. It is only when radiation of this type reaches the retina, is processed by the brain, and reaches the conscious mind that the mental phenomenon of seeing the color red actually occurs.

Imagine a man completely blind from birth, who through intensive study managed to become a leading expert on the properties of light and of the neurology of the cerebral cortex where much of the brain’s visual processing occurs. Would this intensive study give him access to the experience of seeing red or any other color? Would one be able to describe the color red to him based on their own experience, calling it “warm” or “like a sunset”?

Tommy Edison, a YouTuber who was born blind, said about this problem, “I don’t have any concept of what [color] is… It doesn’t mean anything to me. Over the years people have tried and tried and tried to explain color to me, and I just don’t understand it…People will try to explain a sense with another sense: ‘It’s like the way this smells, maybe, this is what a particular color is like.’ What?”7 Not just specific colors, but the entire concept of color as a category of sensory phenomenon is beyond comprehension to those who have never experienced it. While it might be possible to teach someone like Tommy Edison how certain objects reflect certain wavelengths of radiation into the eye, the mental phenomenon remains beyond scientific understanding.

Phenomena not precisely explainable by scientific reduction of their parts are aspects of mind that should not exist in a physicalist/reductionist system like that which was proposed by Bertrand Russell. The existence of some aspect of mind that cannot be scientifically explained as a series of interactions between particles and waves, and the fact that this aspect of mind can interact with the observable physical world, is a threat to the reductionist program. The reductionists can hold to the hope of an eventual hypothesis to scientifically explain the process of mental phenomena and keep consciousness out of the equation, but such an explanation seems unlikely. David Chalmers uses the color example to address the possibility, or lack thereof, of scientific experimentation on mental phenomena through neurology, saying:

“…imagine that two of the axes of our three-dimensional color space are switched— the red-green axis is mapped onto the yellow-blue axis, and vice versa. To achieve such an inversion in the actual world, presumably we would need to rewire neural processes in an appropriate way, but as a logical possibility, it seems entirely coherent that experiences could be inverted while physical structure is duplicated exactly. Nothing in the neurophysiology dictates that one sort of processing should be accompanied by red experiences.”8

Colors are just one basic unit of larger mental phenomena in the real sensory world. More complex phenomena, like the cinema or music, combine thousands of mental phenomena to create a new mental phenomenon, making the reducibility of consciousness even more difficult. These phenomena are also tinted by our memories and the peculiarities of our minds. We can see this in the diversity of tastes in mental phenomena, in which stimuli that can be scientifically measured as identical to two people are perceived as completely different as mental phenomena by those people. The exact same stimulus can result in the mental phenomenon of a favorite song to one person and an annoying racket to another.

Beyond these references to phenomena of the senses, there are further indicators of the existence of a non-reducible consciousness. One example is Chalmers’s hypothetical “zombie twin,” a being physically, neurologically, and psychologically identical to Chalmers, but lacking the ability to receive these mental phenomena.9 This “philosophy zombie” would behave identically to a human, though it may be confused if asked questions related to its consciousness and phenomenology. It would not have a consciousness the way other humans do, though that lack would not be immediately apparent based on observation of the zombie, which would walk around and eat and use sight to avoid obstacles and respond to pain. But even in being mechanically identical to a human, there is still a fundamental difference between it and those humans. The difference is that of consciousness, or the feelings of being itself and of experiencing phenomenology.

Thomas Nagel, in his classic paper “What it is Like to Be a Bat?”, pointed out that the phenomenological experience of echolocation, which comes naturally to the mind of a bat, is beyond the understanding of human minds, even those biologists who have studied the process extensively.10 Human-built submarines, which “see” through echolocation in the form of sonar, must translate the mechanical process into something visible on a screen for it to be seen by sailors.

Nagel argues elsewhere that consciousness in a basic sense does not follow from evolution as we understand it. He says in Mind and Cosmos:

“We recognize that evolution has given rise to multiple organisms that have a good, so that things can go well or badly for them, and that in some of those organisms there has appeared the additional capacity to aim consciously at their own good, and ultimately at what is good in itself. From a realist perspective this cannot be merely an accidental side effect of natural selection, and a teleological explanation satisfies this condition. On a teleological account, the existence of value is not an accident, because that is part of the explanation of why there is such a thing as life, with all its possibilities of development and variation. In brief, value is not just an accidental side effect of life; rather, there is life because life is a necessary condition of value. This is a revision of the Darwinian picture rather than an outright denial of it.”11

Nagel is claiming the universe is teleological (created intentionally), but he is not arguing the traditional conception of the universe being created by a deity, rather that consciousness has some part in creating or organizing matter and exists in some kind of symbiotic relationship with it. This consciousness, the mind that experiences the ineffable, non-reducible mental phenomenon, is sometimes referred to as the mind or the soul but is known in Latter-Day Saint thought as “intelligence.” This was revealed to Joseph Smith and recorded in Doctrine and Covenants Section 93: “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.”12

The most non-reducible phenomena are in the forms of religious experience; revelation, mysticism, miracles, the feeling of the Holy Ghost, the spiritual use of dowsing and seeing stones, visions, etc. Catholic writer Evelyn Underhill says in her response to William James, “True mysticism is active and practical, not passive and theoretical. It is an organic life-process, a something which the whole self does; not something as to which its intellect holds an opinion.”13

But even without religious experience as typically defined, there is a connection to the divine in human phenomenology. In the Book of Mormon, Alma argues against Korihor, an anti-Christ critic, that “…all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”14 This is typically interpreted as a teleological argument, but with a Latter-Day Saint understanding of the intelligences, the statement that the elements of creation “witness that there is a Supreme Creator” can be taken literally. If so, this witness is based on a transcendent separate from the traditional understanding of religious experience.

This conception of consciousness avoids the problem of “the ghost in the machine,” or an immaterial consciousness or spirit that somehow controls the matter which composes the brain and body. Consciousness, or the intelligence that constitutes it, is composed of what Joseph Smith called “finer matter.” Doctrine and Covenants 131 says, “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.”15 Finer matter cannot be directly studied by human instrumentation, nor can the human mind understand it reductively. The part of the mind that receives non-reducible mental phenomena, including transcendence, is composed of this finer matter.

Transcendence in this sense is much broader and includes every sort of mental experience that can “denote there is a God.” These are events that in certain mental conditions can create a feeling of connection with God, despite having no claims of visionary or supernatural phenomena accompanying them; seeing a religious work of art or music is a common source of such experience, as is a walk alone in nature.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell formulates a model of this sort of experience based on a Freudian theory of the subconscious, in which certain phenomenological experiences, particularly the hearing of a story about a “hero’s journey,” are affirmed by the subconscious to the conscious, creating a feeling of transcendence. “The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man. The objective world remains what it was, but, because of a shift of emphasis within the subject, is beheld as though transformed.”16

More modern examples of his theory can be seen in certain films that evoke something like a transcendent experience without overtly addressing a religious topic, such as Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), or The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003). These are movies that depict the archetypical “hero’s journey” Campbell studies. Leading film writer Roger Ebert compares Star Wars to “an out-of-the-body experience at a movie… The movie relies on the strength of pure narrative, in the most basic storytelling form known to man, the Journey.”17 George Lucas, writer/director of Star Wars, credited Campbell’s influence in achieving this effect that resonated with popular audiences to make Star Wars the most successful film to that point.

Campbell’s theory of transcendence is based on a Freudian/Jungian understanding of the subconscious mind, and he asserts that evolutionary psychology has created this system by which humans subconsciously crave storytelling to provide meaning. This understanding is adequate to understand the feelings of transcendence associated with a select few types of phenomena, like the receiving of a “hero’s journey” story, but inadequate to explain those things that are not evolutionary beneficial. Joan of Arc’s transcendent experience led her not to “evolutionary success,” but martyrdom.

Catholic philosopher Stephen Fields attempts to explain transcendent experience through the grace of Jesus Christ. In his model, Christ is the standard to which all aesthetics strives, and his grace acts through us when we experience art that imitates Christ in some way:

“If the intrinsic structure of reality is radiated forth in the incarnation, then all deeds and words of the particular Jewish man Jesus must reveal, apriori, the divine standard of beauty. In other words, if God is beautiful by definition, and if Christ is God, then the acts of Christ must set the first principles of authentic aesthetics. It follows that Christ’s beauty must accordingly judge, or cast into a shadow, the beauty of all other created forms.”18

The wider scope of transcendent experience; heroic tales, other religious art, secular art, or the beauty of nature, are understood in this model as falling short of the artistic standard of depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ, and only have artistic value in so far as they share in his grace. This model, however, fails to adequately explain the richness contained in the wider scope of transcendent experience, or why those without a Christian understanding are unmoved by the images of him that represent the perfect artistic ideal.

The understanding of transcendent experience as a special class of mental phenomenon is essential to understanding its value to human knowledge and to explain why transcendent experiences disagree. The diversity of religious views and understandings demonstrates this problem, as does the inability of transcendent experience to address fine details of theology and metaphysics.

When revelation like that received by followers of Ann Lee as mentioned appears to be contradicted by that of revelation received by the prophet Joseph Smith, it is not, in fact, a contradiction of revelation. It is rather a difference in perception and interpretation, similar to the differences in perception of ordinary sensory phenomena. In our perceptions of the transcendent, “The fault… is not in our stars, But in ourselves.”19

Transcendence is not felt or understood uniformly because it is a phenomenological experience, similar to the mental experiences of seeing a color or hearing music. There is no transcendent experience outside human phenomenology. Transcendent experience is a feature of the conscious mind, not of scientifically reducible brain matter. But it reflects the physical reality of “higher matter” just as ordinary sensory experience reflects the reality of matter as we ordinarily understand it.

Though we as humans do not perceive everything identically, our subjective phenomenological sensory experiences can still collectively show underlying truths. For example, we know that even if two people disagree on whether a certain piece of music is good or bad, they do agree on the underlying fact that there is some kind of sound being made. The subjective phenomenological experience of hearing music is evidence of the concrete fact that sound waves are traveling nearby.

We disagree even on the nature of our consciousness itself, the thing which we are phenomenologically closest to. Physical reductivists like Russell observe their own consciousness and see nothing beyond the mechanical, or at least nothing great enough to overcome their worldview that denies the transcendent self. But when the spiritually attuned observe their consciousnesses they perceive God through transcendence. As Truman Madsen, late BYU emeritus professor of religion and philosophy, says:         

“One begins mortality with the veil drawn, but slowly he is moved to penetrate the veil within himself. He is, in time, led to seek the “holy of holies” within the temple of his own being… There is inspired introspection. As we move through life, half-defined recollections and faint but sometimes vivid outlines combine to bring a familiar tone or ring to our experience. One feels at times at home in a universe which, for all that is grotesque and bitter, yet has meaning.”20

Everything witnesses there is a God when questioned by the intelligence of mankind because everything material has underlying intelligence of its own, composed of the finer matter. This is transcendence in its fullest sense, and it is how we understand God and our nature. Religious experience in all its forms is phenomenological, giving it commonality with our everyday sensory perception, but it is also transcendent, giving us access to the “finer matter” beyond the world of our ordinary understanding.


1. Doctrine and Covenants 49:23 (1981 Edition).

2. “Revelation” in Guide to the Scriptures (Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2013), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/gs/introduction?lang=eng. See also Matthew 16:18 (KJV).

3. Doctrine and Covenants 42:61 (1981 Edition).

4. Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy of Religion (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2001), 57.

5. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2005), 12, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/james/varieties.pdf.

6. Bertrand Russell, “The Finality of Death” in Philosophy of Religion, An Anthology, ed. Louis P. Pojman and Michael Rea (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2008), 337.

7. The Tommy Edison Experience, “Describing Colors As A Blind Person,” YouTube Video, 2:39, December 4, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59YN8_lg6-U.

8. David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 100.

9. See Robert Kirk, “Zombies”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2019/entries/zombies/.

10. Thomas Nagel, “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, no. 4 (October 1974): 435–50.

11. Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 122-123.

12. Doctrine and Covenants 93:29-30 (1981 Edition).

13. Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (1911; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2005), 78, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/underhill/mysticism.pdf?membership_type=b10f8d8331236b8b61aa39bc6f86075c12d7e005.

14. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Alma 30:44 (1981 Edition).

15. Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8 (1981 Edition).

16. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949; repr., Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 21.

17. Roger Ebert, “Star Wars” (Chicago Sun-Times, 1977), https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/star-wars-1977.

18. Stephen Fields, Analogies of Transcendence (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2016), 156.

19. William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar I.II.147-148.

20. Truman G. Madsen, Eternal Man (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1966), 20.

Top image: A Group of Shakers, from an 1875 woodcut.

Foundation of Our Faith: The First Vision in Church Publication and Film

In 1911, the Danish silent crime film A Victim of the Mormons was a huge success in the United States and England, initiating a decade of sensationalistic anti-Mormon motion pictures in popular cinema with lurid titles like Marriage or Death and Trapped by the Mormons.1 A Victim of the Mormons was a wild tale of a Danish girl seduced and kidnapped by missionaries and taken to Utah to be married to a villainous polygamist before she is rescued by the Danish hero.2

Trade journal advertisement for A Victim of the Mormons (1911)

In the early years of cinema, the typical response of any institution that objected to the content of a motion picture was an attempt to ban the film, one state and distributor at a time if necessary. Various interest groups lobbying to ban pieces of media was a common and acceptable practice before the 1950s. But the efforts of leaders and connected members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known colloquially as the Mormon Church or the LDS Church, hereafter referred to as simply ‘the Church’) to ban the film had failed even in the state of Utah, and served only to draw more publicity to the A Victim of the Mormons. Therefore, in June of 1912 Church leaders planned a different response to the new wave of anti-Mormon film: they would sponsor their own motion picture.3

Newspaper ads for One Hundred Years of Mormonism (1913)

One Hundred Years of Mormonism told the story of the Church from the birth of its founder Joseph Smith to the trek west of the 1840s and 1850s. It was an ambitious undertaking, made at a then impressive cost of $50,000 and running six reels—making it one of the longest films made at the time. The now lost film included the 1844 martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, staged multiple elaborate and expensive scenes of hundreds of pioneers trekking west, and used double-exposure photography to depict the 1823 appearance of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith described in the introduction of the Book of Mormon.4 But the feature length motion picture omitted an event modern members and leaders of the Church consider central to their faith, secondary only to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—the First Vision of Joseph Smith.5 It wouldn’t be until 1976 that the event would be depicted in narrative film.

One of the Few surviving images from “A Hundred Years of Mormonism” This is one of the earliest uses of double-exposure in film special effects, a technique that had recently been pioneered by French filmmaker Georges Méliès in the early 1900s.

Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church from 1995 to 2008, said in a 2002 General Conference, “We declare without equivocation that God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared in person to the boy Joseph Smith… Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision.”6 Moreover, beginning in the early 1960s, Church missionaries have been expected to memorize and recite the portions of Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as the key part of their first lesson.7

The First Vision is used as the modern Church’s primary symbol of the power of prayer, the founding of the Church (“the Restoration”), the nontrinitarian nature of the Godhead, and of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. This, however, was not always the case. The story of the First Vision was almost entirely unknown in the early Church and did not occupy its current high place in the teachings and culture of Church until the middle of the twentieth century.8 Just as the Church created One Hundred Years of Mormonism in response to cinematic critics, we see a similar pattern of criticism and response shaping the way the First Vision story was and continues to be told in the Church, which this paper will examine.

The First Vision in Historiography

James B. Allen, former Assistant Church Historian and professor of history at Brigham Young University, has done the most extensive research on “The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought,” as he titled a 1980 paper. He attributes the “metamorphosis” to the teachings of Church leaders and theologians in the decades after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in 1847, particularly those of George Q. Cannon, Church apostle from 1860 to his death in 1901. It was Cannon’s teachings, Allen argues, that prompted the first wave of depictions of the First Vision in works by Church artists in the late 1870s.9 It was C.C.A. Christiansen’s now lost painting “Mormon Panorama One/The First Vision” that inspired George Manwaring to write “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” (“O How Lovely Was the Morning”) in 1878, which would eventually be included in the Church Hymnbook seventy years later.10

Allen describes the course of the First Vision story from obscurity in 1830 to relative prominence in the late nineteenth century, and says that “from there the story of the First Vision as a fundamental theme in the presentation of Mormon doctrine only expanded upon the pattern established by the artists, preachers, and writers of the 1880s.” In this paper, I will further explore this expansion, particularly where it involves the Church’s expanding filmmaking efforts and missionary work.

I will also examine the changing emphasis on aspects of the story as seen in the examples of Church films depicting the First Vision. The creation of One Hundred Years of Mormonism as a response to cinematic detractors shows a criticism and response relationship between the Church and its critics; and we will see how this relationship applies to the Church’s narrative of the Vision, particularly where the first First Vision film is concerned. It took until 1976 for a film featuring the First Vision to be made, but in the last 15 years (2004–2019) the church has made three films of high technical and artistic sophistication depicting the First Vision, and we can see a significant change in their respective narratives responding to new criticisms of Joseph Smith’s accounts.11

Earliest known artistic depiction of the First Vision. Woodcut by J. Hoey, 1873.

The “metamorphosis” was a paradigm shift, after which it becomes necessary to describe the place of the First Vision by addressing those occasions where it is omitted rather than those occasions it is included. It’s important to note that this change is one of emphasis, and in how a narrative is constructed from the historical accounts. Church doctrine regarding the Restoration did not change after its canonization in scripture in 1880, though lesson books, missionary manuals, and common topics of sermons did and undoubtedly will continue to change for the foreseeable future.

Two Narratives of the Genesis of the Church

Did the Restoration begin with Joseph Smith’s First Vision? Or did it begin with the Book of Mormon and the visions of the angel Moroni?

When The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was founded April 6, 1830 in Fayette, New York, early members were typically converted by the teachings of the Book of Mormon and its origin story in the visitations of the angel Moroni to the young Joseph Smith.12 In his account, 16-year-old Joseph Smith was praying in his family’s home in upstate New York in 1823 when there appeared a heavenly messenger. The messenger said his name was Moroni, and that there was a book of ancient scripture buried in a hill nearby.13

This narrative gained early prominence in the Church, possibly because a people familiar with apocalyptic literature could have seen Moroni as being the angel “having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth” referenced in the Book of Revelation.14 He is the angel depicted in statue on the spire of most of the Church’s temples from 1893 to the present day and according to the Book of Mormon, Moroni is the son of the ancient historian for which the book is named.15 This is the story that would be dramatized in 1913 in One Hundred Years of Mormonism.

The angel Moroni depicted above the Utah Provo City Center Temple

The first image that present-day visitors to the main exhibit at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City will encounter is a vibrant floor-to-ceiling photograph of a forest in rural New York. It was in this small forest, now known as the Sacred Grove, where Joseph Smith claimed to have seen his First Vision in the spring of 1820. According to his recollection written in 1838 and canonized as Church scripture in 1880, the fourteen-year-old Joseph was concerned with questions of religious uncertainty, owing to a series of Protestant revivals in his area which contended with each other over matters of doctrine.16 After reading in the Epistle of James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him,”17 he resolved to pray about the matter and retired to the woods now known as the Sacred Grove to do so, and describes the prayer thusly:

15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God….
16 …I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me….
17 …When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong…18

The story would not appear in print until 1840—twenty years later—when it was included in a pamphlet published in Scotland by early Church missionary Orson Pratt entitled A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records.19 Pratt was likely working from his memory of Joseph Smith’s 1832 account, as Joseph had wrote or dictated the story on five known occasions. It would be Joseph’s 1838 account that was published in 1851 as part of the Pearl of Great Price and canonized as Church scripture in 1880.20

Joseph Smith spoke little of the Vision in his own lifetime, and usually among friends, though in the last few years of his life he would include it in at least one sermon given in the home of a convert to the Church.21 The reasons of his relative silence on the matter can only be speculated on; Joseph may not have seen his vision as being substantially different from those reported in some of the wilder revivalist prayer meetings of the era before he came to terms with the scope and nature of his ministry, or that he believed personal conversions were of a more private nature than were prophetic revelation.22 Moreover, the account’s assertion of a nontrinitarian, corporeal God was a foreseeable cause for contention with potential converts. Though trinitarian belief was not universal in the nineteenth-century United States, it was (and continues to be) a majority belief among Protestant groups.23 But the Church shifted its narrative in the twentieth century to emphasize the First Vision and respond to the criticisms against it.

The First Vision depicted in stained class in the Salt Lake Temple, circa 1890

The First Vision in Twentieth-Century Missionary Work

Missionaries in the early Church preached without any standardized lessons or guidelines from the Church, teaching instead from the scriptures, their own knowledge and intuition, and the spirit of their testimony. In the first half of the twentieth century, some Church missions printed guidelines and pamphlets on their own initiative, and pamphlets by other writers were sometimes available for purchase by missionaries—but were not yet published or formalized by the Church.24

Before the Church published standardized lessons for use in the work of its full-time missionaries, it undertook an initiative to publish a series of filmstrips and scripts for accompanying narration for missionary use. For this purpose, the new Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee was formed in 1935 with future President of the Church Gordon B. Hinckley, then an aspiring journalist, as its first employee and Executive Secretary.25 Hinckley was noted among Church leaders for his keen sense for public relations and approaches to responding to criticism.

It would be seventeen years from the committee’s formation to the publication of a book of lesson manuals. In the meantime, Hinckley commissioned and wrote the accompanying texts for a series of filmstrips, reels of approximately fifty still images recorded on 35mm film to be projected while the missionary read a brief accompanying narration. While some of the later, more elaborate filmstrips included costumed actors or color illustrations, the earliest simply showed the locations corresponding to the events of Church history.

Landmarks of Church History, distributed beginning in 1936, includes an image of the Sacred Grove, though the images and text accompanying the angel Moroni narrative outnumber those concerning the Vision. In the accompanying script, however, Hinckley says that the “on the experience of that morning in the grove pivoted the eventful life of Joseph Smith and the lives of a million Latter-Day Saints.”26 This is language not far removed from his description of the importance of the event sixty-six years later as President of the Church.

But missionary practices at the time could vary, sometimes wildly, from mission to mission and even among missionaries in the same area. It is therefore useful to compare Hinckley’s understanding of the place of the First Vision to what was taught in other missions.

In the late 1940s, Richard L. Anderson, a missionary serving in the Northwestern States Mission, wrote A Plan for Effective Missionary Work for use in his mission. It would be adopted in other missions and at its peak around 1951 would be used by about sixty percent of missionaries in the Church.27 The lessons in the book take the form of hypothetical dialogues with interested potential converts, setting the precedent for the mission plans subsequently published by the Church. Anderson’s dialogues include the story leading up to the First Vision while omitting the vision itself, shifting the focus back to the angel Moroni story:

Elder Smith: “(In) 1820 Joseph Smith was a boy of fourteen years of age and in New York at the time ministers of many different churches held revival meetings and solicited membership in their churches. He desired to join one of the churches, but you can imagine how perplexed he was, trying to decide which one was the true church. In reading the Bible he found a promise that if he would ask of God in faith he would gain the answer. You believe in prayer, don’t you, Mrs. Jones?”
Mrs. Jones: “Yes I do.”
Elder Smith: “You can imagine the faith of that fourteen-year-old boy, in going into the woods and asking the Lord for the information he desired. In answer to those prayers, he received many direct visions—in our own generation! An angel actually stood beside his bedside September 21st, 1823, and said, ‘My name is Moroni…’”28

For the first half of the twentieth century, the story of the First Vision was being used in the Church’s missionary efforts, but not to establish the foundation of the Restoration. It was not yet used as the starting point or hook for potential converts, but rather as evidence to support the Church’s nontrinitarian theology. In A Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel (1952), the first formal missionary lesson book published by the Church, the First Vision does not appear in the lesson on “The Restoration,” but the account of the visitation of the angel Moroni does.29 The First Vision does appear in this book in the lesson on “The Godhead” to provide three points of evidence:

A. This vision proves that God the Father and the Son have bodies similar in form to man and that they are separate and distinct.
B. It completely contradicts the sectarian concept of God.
C. The vision is conclusive evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet.30

Unlike the discussions of the 1960s–1990s, these lessons were not formatted as dialogues nor were they intended to be memorized and recited by the missionary.31 This changed less than 10 years later with A Uniform System for Teaching Investigators in 1961, implementing a requirement of memorization of the account of the First Vision that would persist to the present day, even after Preach my Gospel in 2004 eliminated the practice of memorizing and reciting the lessons.32

Criticism and Response in Film

Twentieth-century scholarly critics of the Church such as Fawn M. Brodie, author of the influential 1945 critical biography of Joseph Smith No Man Knows my History, dismissed the First Vision briefly, saying it “may have been sheer invention, created sometime after 1830 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging.”33 Criticism of the era focused primarily on The Book of Mormon or on allegations regarding Joseph Smith’s personal character. But in 1967, Reverend Wesley P. Walters leveled a novel attack on the historicity of the First Vision account which quickly gained attention among Church scholars and leaders. Compared to Brodie’s use of retroactive accounts accusing Smith of “lying habits,” Walter’s criticism was more in line with historical methods:

“A vision, by its inward, personal nature, does not lend itself to historical investigation. A revival is a different matter—especially one such as Joseph Smith describes—in which “great multitudes” were said to have joined the various churches involved. Such a revival does not pass from the scene without leaving some traces in the records and publications of the period. In this study we show by the contemporary records that the revival which Smith claimed occurred in 1820 did not really take place until the fall of 1824. We also show that in 1820 there was no revival in any of the churches in Palmyra and its vicinity. In short, our investigation shows that the statement of Joseph Smith, Jr., cannot be true when he claims that he was stirred by an 1820 revival to make his inquiry in the grove near his home.”34

Rather than retreat from this criticism, the Church shifted its efforts and emphases to respond head-on. Walters’s historical attack was the catalyst of a First Presidency-supported effort to “collect basic documentary material” to refute Walters’s case. This effort employed three BYU historians, including Richard L. Anderson, and “some forty scholars.”35 It was a new surge in historical attention on the First Vision—particularly on the revivalist preachers referred to in the account—from BYU scholars as well as Church leaders. Milton V. Backman, Jr. found that the years from 1800–1860 were in fact a period of constant religious revival in the northeast United States, and his and other scholars’ findings were published in the Spring 1969 issue of BYU Studies, which was entirely dedicated to the First Vision.36

It was sometime soon after (1970 or 1971) that Doug Stewart—future writer of Saturday’s Warrior—began work on the script for a screen adaption of the First Vision. The Church had been making films through the BYU Motion Picture Studio since 1953 under the supervision of former Walt Disney animator Wetzel “Judge” Whitaker, including stories from the Church’s history.37 The Lost Manuscript (1974), Whitaker’s final production before his retirement, would once again feature the appearances of the angel Moroni and the translation of the gold plates.38

A script was written for a potential First Vision film for the Church pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, but this was passed over in favor of Man’s Search for Happiness, which would become an effective missionary tool and the Church’s most elaborate production to date. Before the production of The First Vision, Church films were sponsored by the various committees and auxiliaries of the Church and funded from their respective budgets, but The First Vision would be the first BYU Motion Picture Studio film sponsored directly by the First Presidency of the Church rather than an auxiliary.39

The writer, director, and producers of The First Vision kept several lists of preachers of the place and era that may have been included in the religious revivals mentioned in Joseph Smith’s account.40 These preachers would become characters in the film, and snippets from their teachings would be condensed and compiled in the film itself. In one scene of many that depict religious meetings of the period a preacher pounds on his pulpit shouting, “Saved or damned? Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him!” A woman in the congregation descents, “We’re saved by grace, not by works!”41

An evangelical revival meeting as depicted in The First Vision: The Visitation of the Father and the Son (1976)

This is part of the pattern of criticism and response between the Church and its critics. Wesley Walters’s attack on the historicity of the religious revivals at the time of the First Vision is responded to with the depiction of revivals taking a center stage in the film several years later. The most recent film of the First Vision demonstrates this same criticism and response relationship. The First Vision is criticized today, less by historians and more by online critics, on the basis of the existence of multiple accounts from multiple sources, some of which omit certain portions or are even contradictory.42 The 2017 film produced for the Church History Museum is considering these criticisms and concerns when it includes an intro title saying:

Between 1832 and 1844, Joseph Smith and some of his closest friends recorded at least nine accounts of Joseph’s First Vision experience, given on different occasions to different audiences.

The most detailed of these accounts, written in 1838, has been published in a volume of scripture called the Pearl of Great Price.

What you are about to see draws upon all of the written First Vision accounts to provide additional perspective and insights into this remarkable event.43

This new film does not show the revival meetings at all, confining itself to the events in the grove. As critics move to new ground, the Church responds not with retreats or changes in doctrine, but in shifting its emphasis and affirming those truths under attack.


Grace Johnson, author of The Mormon Miracle and the 1967–2019 pageant of the same name, described the Church and its members as “…a people looking backward upon a mighty epic. All because, a boy of fourteen… went into the woods… to pray.”44 The Church has not always seen itself as the consequence of that prayer in the woods, but after almost two centuries the Church’s cultural and historical narrative regarding the First Vision and the foundation of the restoration has evolved, as all good historical narratives should. As critics have attacked the story, the Church and its members have found the First Vision to be a sturdier foundation than anyone expected.

The First Vision as depicted in The Mormon Miracle Pageant, 2015

Note: This paper was written for BYU’s The Historian’s Craft course (HIST 200) in June of 2019, though I’ve made minor revisions since then. If you want to see the videos referenced in the paper, most of them are available at the YouTube channel Hard-to-Find Mormon Videos (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAnRNCf5m5I0pEdqYMfGOgA). They have a lot of old stuff ranging from the profound to the unpleasant.


1. The Church had, in fact, outlawed the solemnization of polygamous marriages under pressure from the United States government over 20 years previously. See Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 1 (1981 Edition).

2. Randy Astle, Mormon Cinema: Origins to 1952 (New York: Mormon Arts Center, 2018), 163.

3. Astle, Mormon Cinema, 195.

4. “Amusements,” Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 4, 1913, 9.

5. Astle, Mormon Cinema, 197.

6. Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith” (sermon, 172nd Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT, October 2002).

7. A Uniform System for Teaching Investigators (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 1967), 30.

8. James B. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought,” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 7 (1980): 44.

9. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental,” 55.

10. John H. Manwaring and George Ernest Manwaring, “George Manwaring” (unpublished biography, Rootsweb, June 27, 1902), 1; Richard L. Jensen and Richard G. Oman, C.C.A. Christensen: 1831-1912: Mormon Immigrant Artist (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1984), 91.

11. The First Vision: The Visitation of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith, dir. David K. Jacobs (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Motion Picture Studio, 1976), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqq9lDUpduU; The Restoration, dir. T.C. Christensen (Provo, UT: LDS Motion Picture Studio, 2004), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/video/2010-07-004-the-restoration?lang=eng; Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration, dir. T.C. Christensen (Provo, UT: LDS Motion Picture Studio, 2005), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/video/2006-05-01-joseph-smith-prophet-of-the-restoration-2002-version?lang=eng; Ask of God: Joseph Smith’s First Vision (Provo, UT: LDS Motion Picture Studio, 2017), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/video/2017-01-0100-ask-of-god-joseph-smiths-first-vision?lang=eng.

12. James B. Allen, “The Significance of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Thought,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1, no. 3 (Fall 1966): 33.

13. See The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith (1981 Edition).

14. Rev. 14:6 (King James Version); Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental,” 52.

15. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Mormon 8:1–5 (1981 Edition).

16. Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History (1981 Edition) 1:5–10.

17. James 1:5 (KJV)

18. Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History (1981 Edition) 1:15–19. This account includes an attempt to interfere with the prayer by “the power of some actual being from the unseen world,” interpreted to be the devil. The inclusion or exclusion of this aspect of the event in accounts and Church depictions of the events is a narrative of its own, which I’ve omitted as it falls outside the scope and constraints of this paper.

19. James B. Allen and Leonard J. Arrington, “Mormon Origins in New York: An Introductory Analysis,” BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (Spring 1969): 255–256.

20. Matthew B. Christensen, The First Vision: A Harmonization of 10 Accounts from the Sacred Grove (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2014), 5–6.

21. Christensen, The First Vision: A Harmonization, 9.

22. Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 39–41.

23. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental,” 47.

24. Benjamin Hyrum White, “A Historical Analysis of How Preach my Gospel Came to Be” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2010), 1–2.

25.Matthew Porter Wilcox, “The Resources and Results of the Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee: 1935–1942” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2013), 32.

26. Gordon B. Hinckley, Landmarks of Church History (Salt Lake City, Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee, 1936), 9.

27. White, “How Preach my Gospel Came to Be,” 3.

28. Richard L. Anderson, A Plan for Effective Missionary Work (Kaysville, UT: Inland Printing Co., 1954), 8.

29. A Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1955), 78–95.

30. A Systematic Program, 44–61.

31. A Uniform System, 11–13, 30–31; White, “How Preach my Gospel Came to Be,” 4.

32. Preach My Gospel (Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2004), 19, 36–38; White, “How Preach my Gospel Came to Be,” 2–8

33. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows my History: The Life of Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 25.

34. Wesley P. Walters, B.D., “New Light on Mormon Origins from the Palmyra Revival,” Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 10, no. 4 (Fall 1967): 228.

35. Samuel Alonzo Dodge, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision: Insights and Interpretations in Mormon Historiography,” in Exploring the First Vision, eds. Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2012), xii.

36. Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Awakenings in the Burned-over District: New Light on the Historical Setting of the First Vision,” BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (Spring 1969): 301.

37. Randy Astle and Gideon O. Burton, “A History of Mormon Cinema: The Third Wave,” BYU Studies 46, no. 2 (2007): 85.

38. The Lost Manuscript, dir. Wetzel O. Whitaker (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Motion Picture Studio, 1974), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq6rY44WWCg.

39. Randy Astle and Gideon O. Burton, “A History of Mormon Cinema: The Fourth Wave,” BYU Studies 46, no. 2 (2007): 98.

40. These Papers are scattered throughout the director’s papers collected within David Kent Jacobs Collection on Mormon Films, 1955–1988, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University Library, Provo, UT.

41. The First Vision: The Visitation of the Father and the Son.

42. For a comparison of these various accounts and their respective historical contexts, see Matthew B. Christensen, The First Vision: A Harmonization of 10 Accounts from the Sacred Grove (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2014).

43. Ask of God: Joseph Smith’s First Vision.

44. Grace Johnson, The Mormon Miracle (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1952), 30.

Top Image: “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Stained glass, 1913. Currently in the Church History Museum, Salt Lake City.