“Heavenly Manifestations”: Provenance and Modern Devotion

This semester I have been teaching an “Adult Religion Class” as part of the BYU Continuing Education program. Doctrine and Covenants. It has been great fun. This week the lesson was on Section 138—Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the Descensus Christi ad Inferos. We have a great classroom dynamic and the students have proven themselves eager and capable to tackle scholarly approaches to our history.

Before class, one of the students handed me a document and asked if I knew of it. I had. But I couldn’t remember the exact details in the moment (my cognition has taken a dramatic hit with the recent baby—at least that is the excuse I tell myself). Not too long ago a teacher distributed a similar item in a member of my family’s ward and my sibling sent it to me, wondering my opinion. When I got home, I looked up my emails and then the light bulb went off. Oh yeah.

An analysis of the document might have broader interest, so I figured I would share some thoughts. The document opens:

A heavenly manifestation given to Heber Q. Hale, President of the Boise Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as related by him, with the approval of the first Presidency of the Church, at the Genealogical conference held in the auditorum of the bishop’s Building, in Salt Lake City, Utah, October, 1920.

There are many copies of the document online and apparently one professor at BYU-Idaho is distributing it as part of a course (why does this not surprise me?). The account is in the voice of Hale and indicates that “between the hours of 12 and 7:30 in the night of January 20, 1920, while alone in a room at the home of W.F. Rawson in Carey, Idaho, the glorious manifestation was vouch-safed to me.”

The narrator then proceeded to describe a dream/vision in which he observes the spirit world in vivid detail: they types of plants, trees and flowers; the types of people-spirits, their general labors and locations. He described the dead of the Great War rallying behind General Richard W. Young, Armistice only two years previous to the purported vision. He met with deceased Church leaders of the Restoration and viewed a temple of the spirit world and the Savior who ministered there. He also met spirits who were preparing to receive the spirit of a friend appointed to die in the next few days. The account is lengthy and full of personal observations.

Now it is entirely possible that the text really was written by Heber Hale, and that it is an accurate account of his experiences. However I have been unable to find any reliable provenance at all (I have not, however, spent any time at the CHL on this matter). I have confirmed that Hale was actually the Boise Stake President. I have not been able to locate any documentation that the genealogical conference was held, nor that President Hale spoke anywhere at the bidding of the first presidency. Duane S. Crowther, wrote in Life Everlasting: A Definitive Study of Life and Death [1] that he received a copy of the document from Leland Rawson, an apparent relative of William Rawson at whose house the vision was to have been received. Rawson also indicated that “Lucy Gates,” of the General RS Presidency published the document. Unfortunately, no such person was on the General RS Presidency or Board during this time. There are copies of the text located in various collections around, including the Rudger Clawson’s papers (that isn’t to say the Clawson approved of the text, just that he had a copy in his possession).

From my perspective, it would be somewhat surprising if Grant actually did ask him to speak publicly, as Grant was not a big fan of democratic revelation. In fact in 1923, the FP sent a letter to Hale telling him to have the sisters stop speaking in tongues and delivering revelations to the Church. On the other hand, President Grant did have a close relationship with the General Young mentioned in the vision account.

And now the take home message: It sounds just like a dream. You can find all sorts of weird visionary/dreamy stuff, especially in the nineteenth century. Wilford Woodruff was always writing his dreams down. While I appreciate the sincerity with which these folks found religious meaning in these experiences, there is a reason that the Church limits what is considered revelation. And in the possibility it was more than a dream, as a believer it wouldn’t surprise me if the Lord spoke to an individual in a way that would be grossly unrepresentative of “the truth” when transmitted to the whole Church. In my view, at best, this document is a fun reflection of a pious man’s religious dream – one which is not particularly consistent with currently authorized Church doctrine/revelation/teachings. At worst it is a hoax, transmitted in a way not dissimilar from things like the “White Horse Prophecy.” [2]

As an historian I would not use the document in historical work without better provenance (unless it was a study of modern folklore). Even with provenance, though, as a believer I would definitely not turn to it for devotional purposes.
______________________________

  1. p. 25 n 3; as a side note, the author should consider joining the McConkie family and form a club for over-confident book titlers.
  2. See Don L. Penrod, “Edwin Rushton as the Source of the White Horse Prophecy,” BYU Studies 49, no. 3.

Comments

  1. This is a great write-up, J; fully agreed on both counts.

  2. Ugh. Thanks, J.

    Frankly, the fact that this circulates freely and that people want to talk about it raises my suspicions. People never, ever want to discuss genuine (i.e., canonized, or at least with provenance) revelation as avidly as they want to discuss private “revelations.” That rule of thumb isn’t evidence, of course, but it’s been a reliable tip-off to other nonsense.

  3. Papers in UofU special collections reference a contemporary encounter with Hale and some other people while riding in a car, with Hale talking about the dream/vision and SAs. The account suggested that Hale had perhaps drifted in his faith a bit, if I recall correctly but maybe not. Sorry, can’t recall the individual’s name now. (You have nothing on my cognitive degeneracy.)

    UofU also has a copy of the vision with this bio note:

    The Heavenly Manifestation Given to Heber Q. Hale, President of the Boise Stake” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, occurred during the night of 20 January 1920, and related to the church principle of vicarious work for the dead. In the five-page typescript, Hale describes passing from his body into the spirit world, the temporary abode of all spirits pending the resurrection and final judgment. He describes meeting various people who had passed on, the beauty of the landscape and surroundings, and witnessing the multitudes of people carrying out the genealogical work. Hale concludes with the testimony that the mission of the Latter-day Saints is to all mankind, both the living and the dead, and that the destiny of men is eternal progress. Heber Quincy Hale (1880-1969) was born at Thatcher, Bannock County, Idaho, to Solomon H. Hale and Anna Clark. The family moved to Preston, Idaho. Heber graduated from the Oneida Stake Academy in 1899. He served his church and his state. He served also as a correspondent to the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

    I’ve got a copy of this which is at least 50 years old somewhere in paper files.

  4. Make sure the missionaries get a 10th gen. blurry photocopy. That’s the best way to stamp this stuff out…

  5. I think the car encounter may have been in the Lambert papers.

  6. Ben, yeah, I think I should be a recognized online source for this now. Probably put it in BCC papers (blurry pdf?).

  7. J, this reminds me of the “Wagon Box Prophecy” attributed to Wilford Woodruf that was recently written up in the JMH (Vol 36:3, Summer 2010). Lots of people talking or passing something along does not equate to provenance, even with a little circumstantial evidence. I think as a believing people, we want to see evidences of revelation, and are too quick to lend credence to something that sounds hopeful, satisfies a curiosity, or seems to explain something that otherwise is not clear to us. I’m a firm believer in personal revelation, but I recognize the implied limits of that. Given the viral nature of the internet, I suspect that there is no limit to the number of little gems like this circulating around out there.

  8. Thanks all. WVS, I saw that at the UoU, but from the description it appears that someone simply donated the account to the Library and it is consequently not of much use outside of folklore studies. Interesting pointer to the potential alternate account, though. Thanks.

    Ardis and kevinf, I tend to agree. This isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be great if there were a documented provenance for the item out there somewhere. I’d give a limb for a glossolaliac revelation text from the sisters in his stake, for example. How we use such stuff matters, though.

  9. Footnote #1 is brilliant. I read the post and apprecaited it greatly, but the footnote . . .

    Can’t stop laughing.

  10. The description reads like something from a family member or friend, but who knows. Stan might have info here I’m guessing.

  11. Mark B. says:

    On the other hand, I remember taking a New Testament class from Richard L. Anderson back in 1973, in which he passed out a tenth generation mimeographed copy of a vision that Joseph F. Smith had received on the redemption of the dead. And, whattya know? In a few years it had found its way into the Pearl of Great Price and a few years after that landed in the Doctrine and Covenants.

    So, maybe Heber Q’s partisans are themselves dreaming of hitting the big time.

  12. Hey, at least the Church published JFS’s vision in the Deseret News and Improvement Era in 1918 (November and December respectively)!

  13. … and in the Young Woman’s Journal and Utah Genealogical Magazine and Juvenile Instructor (and I think the Relief Society Magazine) and …

  14. Nice post, J.

    This isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be great if there were a documented provenance for the item out there somewhere. I’d give a limb for a glossolaliac revelation text from the sisters in his stake, for example. How we use such stuff matters, though.

    Amen and amen.

  15. Ilyan Kei Lavanway says:

    Ever wonder what the second coming might really be like? I mean, aside from the usual things we hear in church. One bold and peculiar author takes a stab at describing intricate details of what the world may experience at the coming of the Lord. [spam], a new LDS fiction book of significant spiritual weight, offers insights found in few other works of fiction. Search [spam] on Google. It’s worth checking out. Contains a dream the author had about scripture that does not exist yet.

  16. Julie M. Smith says:

    “People never, ever want to discuss genuine (i.e., canonized, or at least with provenance) revelation as avidly as they want to discuss private “revelations.””

    LOL!

    Funny how that bit about the prophet being the only one entitled to receive revelation for the entire church goes out the window as soon as something interesting comes along. And we are always more interested in descriptions of heaven and its generals than we are in what the prophets say we should be doing to get there.

  17. 15: No, Ilyan, I’ve never wondered that, not here and not on any of the other 873,241 Mormon blogs you’ve spammed this afternoon with the identical advertisement. It does seem strangely appropriate, though, for you to announce your nonexistent dream-scripture on this particular thread.

  18. “It does seem strangely appropriate, though, for you to announce your nonexistent dream-scripture on this particular thread.”

    p0Wn/ge.

  19. Jacob M says:

    Ardis, you just made my day! I have a feeling the admin left the original comment in just because your response was so hilariously perfect.

  20. Stapley, thanks for the post. Seems like there’s a lot of stuff like that floating around.

  21. @ J. Stapley,
    I wish I had answers for you on this_but I don’t.
    I just spoke with my wife who grew up spending her summers in Peston and Boise, ID. Her mother was the niece to Heber Q.Hale.
    Uncle ‘Q’ was a devoted Mormon and never came across to my wife as a “nut”. This story was never part of Hale family lore. I have two books written by him on Hale family history and they seem honest writings, and say nothing about this story. I don’t think the story came from him.

  22. Jonathan Green says:

    J., I think you’re making a mistake about the historical value of a text like this. If you were working on a project on a related topic (“early 20th century Mormon visionary literature,” for example, or “popular Mormon views of the afterlife,”), you’d absolutely have to deal with a widely-circulating text. You can’t just decide to ignore everything with crummy provenance, because basically every document starts out with crummy provenance. Even if it’s impossible to confirm or refute HQ Hale’s authorship, there might still be evidence for an origin around 1920, or evidence for people reading the text in 1920 or later – in other words, there might be reasons to treat the text as historical evidence for projects not including modern folklore.

    I appreciate that tying one’s faith to weird visions is not a good idea, but I don’t see anything in your post that changes the most likely explanation for this text’s existence, namely, that HQ Hale wrote it around 1920. Without a good reason to doubt that, or a good reason to suspect someone else, it’s premature to call it a possible hoax.

  23. Bob, thanks. I don’t think there is anything “nutty” going on, but it does seem surprising that a family history written by him wouldn’t include an account or mention of an account.

    Jonathan, I think that I may not have been clear. By modern I meant 20th century, and it seems to me that right now, all we have is folkloric data. A history of “popular Mormon views” of anything would necessarily require an analysis of folklore. Matt Bowman’s work on Cain/bigfoot seems like useful example here.

    …but I don’t see anything in your post that changes the most likely explanation for this text’s existence, namely, that HQ Hale wrote it around 1920. Without a good reason to doubt that, or a good reason to suspect someone else, it’s premature to call it a possible hoax.

    I think we’ll have to disagree on what constitutes a most likely explanation for the existence of such things. And while I agree that it is quite possible that it is really a text created by Hale, I in no way think that calling it a possible hoax is premature. As I said, though, I’d be happy to see it validated as authentic.

  24. John Mansfield says:

    Oh, you historians. You think you’re the priests of the past and the dead can only speak through you. Jealous or scared of ties to the past that you can’t control is what you are. Only by the authority of verified provenance do you think the power of historicity may be properly manifest.

  25. @:J. Stapley, Let me take back the word ‘Nut’ in #21. I do not believe everyone who has spirital visions or dreams is a nut. I blame my wife, who got be her RN degree at Boise State and trained at the Blackfoot, ID Mental Hospital where many LDS had crossed a line in their ‘visions’. She did not feel this way about Heber Q Hale, nor had she hear of the vision story.
    (He always brought her Sees candy at his visits).
    Heber was the last of 3 very devoted Mormon men: Johnathan Hale (his GF) one of 4 Bishops of Nauvoo. served 4 missions with Wilford Woodruff, died with his wife in 1847 on the East Back of the Mississippi giving unstopping aid to the sick waiting to leave for Utah. Solomon Hale (his farther), who had been messenger boy at 6 to Joseph Smith, and lived a long serving Church life in ID.

  26. Mansfield, heh. Of course you could make a similar comment about several groups…including church leaders. But if you want to believe in Yoda, don’t let me stop you.

    I can only imagine, Bob. The Hales are a fine family.

  27. Those who acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost should also have manifestations of the Spirit. I think the danger to the gifts of the Spirit in our day is most likely to come from believing too little as compared to believing too much.

    For example, I doubt 1 in a 10,000 (obviously a guess) in the church have diligently fasted and prayed for a gift(s) of the Spirit. Moroni seeing our day cautioned us not to lose the gifts because of unbelief.

    8 And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.
    19 And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.
    24 And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief.
    Moroni 10: 8,19,24.

    Dare I ask the question: does the bloggernacle as a whole add to, detract, or have no impact on receiving the gifts of the Spirit?

  28. Jared, is it just me or was that a wild non sequitur? But it seems to me that you have an answer already for the question you pose. No?

  29. One of the gifts of the Spirit is discernment, Jared; gullibility is no gift.

  30. Great post.

    Bob,
    As a descendant of Hale myself, I don’t think J. Stapley is calling anyone crazy for having dreams. Supposing this document was authenticated, which it hasn’t been, then it still wouldn’t mean that is what heaven is like. It is just a dream.

  31. Jonathan Green says:

    So, J., let me try this again.

    My problem with this post is that you’re talking about a document that claims to be written in 1920, and you conclude by questioning its authenticity. Your observation that the provenance is sketchy is important – but you never get beyond that, so the conclusion seems like a restatement of the initial observation.

    You don’t provide any internal or external evidence that the vision can’t be authentic (with respect to time or authorship), and you don’t have an alternative explanation for how this text came into existence. You don’t tell us what the oldest version of the text is, or if other versions have different wording. You’re correct that the claims of RS presidency or apostolic support are dodgy, but that’s the kind of thing that could easily be a later accretion and isn’t enough in itself to dismiss the whole document. Debunking an urban legend has to require more than just noting issues with provenance.

    Even if the provenance were rock solid, what would that get us? In terms of devotion, I don’t see much added value; it’s still just one guy’s vision from 1920. A serious question: What kinds of history do you see becoming possible if one could confirm origin in 1920, or Hale’s authorship?

  32. Great write-up, J.

    Isn’t BYU-I a correlated institution? Seriously, if Sunday School teachers are strongly advised to avoid relying on supplementary material for class presentation, there must be some similar guidance to CES personnel. And the recent directives by senior leaders to the general membership *discouraging* the circulation of rumors and folklore must apply with greater force to CES personnel.

  33. Jonathan, you’ll note that I’m not claiming to be debunking this as an urban legend. You are quite right that to conclude definitively one way or another would require a lot more work.

    I also agree with you in the original post that if it were authenticated, I don’t think it would be a prudent document for devotional use. I do recognize that Mormons are generally more open to such things, so I can only hope that they limit their use to authenticated items at least.

    As to how an authenticated document might be used, I can think of skads of uses, though I imagine that they are biased toward my own interests. E.g., I would love to see a study of dreams and their interpretations/receptions over mormon history. It would change the document’s use in a study of beliefs in the spirit world.

  34. Thanks, Dave. Rumors and folklore…sounds not unlike the staples of certain popular CES professionals.

  35. The CES website has (or had, a few years ago) a small section about “avoid teaching spurious materials.” In some directions, it goes too far. In others, not far enough.

  36. #29 Ardis, I agree.

    The scripture I cited above warns of disbelief.

    “I never heard of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief.”
    Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith P. 374

    #28 J. Stapley–and many others who write for BCC are talented writers. I hope to see their investigative talents applied to writing about spiritual manifestation that have credibility.

    For example, Elder Haight in Oct 1989 Conference talk related a vision of the life of the Savior, he referred it as a “panoramic view of His earthly ministry”.

    I’d like to know more about this experience, and others that GA have shared in conference.

    Thanks for the post.

  37. Jacob M says:

    Jared – then write one yourself. It’s just plain rude to say what a person should write on his own post. Use your own investigative talents on what the GAs have shared in conference on your own blog.

  38. Jared, I’ll look forward to your post contextualizing Haight’s experience. With respect, however, I don’t think that JS excerpt means what you think it means.

  39. Jacob M says:

    38 – Inconceivable! (I always have to point out Princess Bride references)

  40. #30: It was me who misused “nut”__not J. I hope I repented in #25.
    The non-LDS Hales have a wonderful Family History site I visit.
    ” Saints without Haloes” has the life story of Jonathan Hales. I think Sig. Books has a free download.
    BYU did a play of Jonathan’s death on the Mississippi.

  41. It's Not Me says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I took a bit more charitable view of Jared’s comments. I thought he was saying he would ALSO like to see some good writing about spiritual manifestations that are believed to be credible–not that there shouldn’t be any writing about dubious experiences.

    On the other hand, I guess you could ban all those who express thoughts that don’t agree with [ours? yours? theirs? somebody's?]

    I,myself, am nearly always skeptical when someone tries to claim they had one of these experiences, but I’m open to the possibility. I normally don’t want to hear about it from anybody outside of a very close circle of family/friends, or a well-respected GA (who usually, I think, exercise discretion and keep those things private).

    I love this blog, and feel like I have learned an awful lot from many folks who comment here, but sometimes some of you can become quite tart.

    Hang in there, Jared.

  42. It Is Me says:

    #41 – There’s a history. The reaction wasn’t to one comment.

  43. #41: I will say *IF* Heber Q. Hale said he had this spirital experience___he had it.

  44. I’m embarrassed by some of our fellow saints who want to step out and do the speaking circuit with something they consider very important to say to all of us.

    And I’m embarrassed by those who promote them or their writings.

    I believe in our stakes, with a discriminating use of outside material, we have everything we need to obtain and share great knowledge and revelation. So, I wonder why some seem to always be looking outside to some other guy or speaker or notable that they want to bring in to thrill the adult members or youth.

    The problem isn’t that we don’t believe in gifts and revelations so much as we don’t believe they are or can be in our stake.

  45. “Of all the doctrines and practices of the Church, the principle of vicarious work for the dead has been the most difficult for me to comprehend and wholeheartedly accept.”

    You know what’s interesting. I’ve always had some personal questions regarding temple work, and the nature of the eternities. And out of those questions, some personal difficulties, but I’ve always liked and appreciated the idea. I was just confused and I suppose needing further light and knowledge on the subject.

    So one day while at the temple (for a week), I woke early and prayed and received what was clearly a revelation for me. The answer I receive is one I think everyone should receive, but the question I asked is also one I think everyone should ask (if it’s something that pertains to them that is). So both the question and the answer are of a sacred private nature to me…

    Anyway, the point I wanted to write was that the one thing which feels absolutely genuine to me is the above quote I gave. It perfectly reflected my feelings, and what’s interesting to me is Pres. Hale’s intensely personal revelation came as a result of pondering on a similar subject (temples & the eternities).

    My answer was certainly not his answer, but I’d just say perhaps sincere questions, combined with doing things the Lord’s way regarding temples can bring very impressive personal answers. I know the revelatory experience was the greatest moment of my own life. I’d imagine Pres. Hale (if his experience was real, whether or not this story accurately describes it) would say the same.

  46. I’m going to soon be posting a review of the Church’s recently made public catalog the CHL. In looking for this particular item, They have two items of interest, one of which appears to indicate that Hale did indeed have a vision:

    MS 3227: A collection of various versions of the vision.

    AV 354 SEGMENT 3: An audio recording created in 1967, two years before Hale’s death, in which he apparently discusses the dream/vision.

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