Michael Quinn on the First Vision

I would like to let visitors to By Common Consent know that a major article by Michael Quinn has been posted on the E-Papers section of Dialogue Paperless. Quinn brings a fresh perspective to the discussion of the “First Vision,” providing evidence that there is good reason to believe that the vision occurred at the time and in the circumstances that Joseph Smith claimed. This article, writes Quinn, “provides new ways of understanding Joseph’s narrative, analyzes previously neglected issues/data, and establishes a basis for perceiving in detail what the teenage boy experienced in the religious revivalism that led to his first theophany.” (D. Michael Quinn, “Joseph Smith’s Experience of a Methodist ‘Camp-Meeting’ in 1820.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Dialogue Paperless. E-Paper # 3 (July 12, 2006) http://www.dialoguejournal.com/.) The article is accompanied by a blog where readers who wish to engage in a detailed or technical discussion of the article may enter comments.

I would also be interested in comments on By Common Consent. Some scholars feel that the First Vision is a worn-out topic, a debate brought to a condition of stalemate between unbelieving scholars on the one hand and by believing scholars on the other. After reading Quinn’s article, I can’t agree. It seems to me that at a minimum, Quinn has re-invigorated the topic. It also strikes me that the piece is very much a faith-promoting article.


  1. It also strikes me that the piece is very much a faith-promoting article.

    I agree and disagree. It didn’t necessarily strike me that Quinn’s writings were faith-promoting. During struggles of my own faith, Quinn’s writings have largely been what has kept me from totally leaving the church at times. What was striking to me was how faith-promoting the article was from a more ‘conservative’ perspective. Even the most ardent FARMS reviewer would have to appreciate Quinn’s work here.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I had already seen it and read it over. I thought it was a good piece.

  3. Hm. Faith-promoting. I think what I like most about this paper is that it is simply good. The research is splendid; he obviously went into a lot of work over it. All the information, though presented sympathetically, adds up to a picture that is consistent and inconsistent with a correlated history. It promotes my faith not because I was worried over the first vision, but because it paints an image of the prophet that is deep.

    I also appreciated the critical call to reevaluate some of the fundemental aspects of our narrative.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more about the potential for fresh insight into the First Vision. I look forward to reading Quinn’s article.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I like how he is willing to acknowledge conflation of details from 1824 in Joseph’s later accounting of the vision. I think we have a tendency to be overdefensive on that point, but there’s no shame or harm in that, in my view.

  6. If we want to follow the route of fundamentalist Protestantism and believe that all scripture is 100% historically literal, we’ll have problems with scholarship such as this. But for those of us who see inspiration as something combining the divine and the human, and who recognize that Joseph Smith was a human being like the rest of us, Quinn’s work is definitely faith-affirming.

  7. Steve EM says:

    So why are so many of us tolerating Quinn’s blacklisting by the apologist crowd? He really should be a prof somewhere. Of course, I’m probably still banned here, so no one will see this.

  8. Levi: Thanks for pointing out Mike’s excellent paper. The scholarship and argument are first rate. I believe that Mike’s work is “faith-promoting” in the sense that he gives Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt and credits his own story as one that reflects his actual experience. While I really don’t like the view that “history is theology,” if we were going to make our faith commitment history-dependent (which is a foolish thing to do since history is written by historians and not prophets), it would be this kind of meticulously researched, doggedly honest and charitable treatment of the sources that would be most faith-promoting. Mike is a superb scholar — man I’d like to see him do a biography of Joseph Smith. In fact, I’d like him to do a three volume history of Joseph Smith with each volume as long as Bushman’s. BTW this piece also reflects the goodness of Mike’s heart.

  9. Brandon Homer says:

    I really enjoyed the article. Quinn hit a home run with this article. I am really impressed with his research and conclusions from that research. In the article he mentions very many details that I wouldn’t have even thought about unless he had mentioned them. It is well worth your time to read the article, if you have not done so yet.

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