Literary Craftsmanship of the Joseph Smith Story

Steven L. Olsen

Steven L. Olsen is senior curator of the Historic Sites Division in the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

By now, the existence of several first- and secondhand versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision is well known. Over the years, historians and theologians have offered a variety of explanations for the numerous similarities and differences among these accounts.[1] While this scholarship contributes much, it does not fully explain their most essential “social fact.”[2] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accords the status of scripture to only one account—that which Joseph Smith dictated in 1838, commonly known as the Joseph Smith story, as the beginning of an authoritative history of the Church.[3]

From an official Church perspective, this difference in status is categorical. While these and other authentic accounts of Latter-day Saint origins have considerable documentary, pedagogical, emotional, and other value, because the 1838 account is considered scripture, it is set apart from the others in absolute terms. This study develops a literary perspective on this exclusive status.

In a recent study, Kathleen Flake advanced the following wager: “The narrative structure of this [the 1838] account is a source for understanding Smith’s intentions and meaning.”[4] To illustrate this hypothesis, Flake compared the 1832 account with that of 1838, which she recognizes as “the most intentional of the four [firsthand] accounts,”[5] and discovered an essential difference. While both are concerned primarily with an essential question—“which of all the competing churches offered salvation?”—the 1838 account “marks an institutional shift in narrative focus, from personal sin to institutional authority.”[6] While Joseph “used the 1832 account as a base” for the 1838 account, the latter expands significantly the perspective of these sacred events to provide an authoritative prehistory of the Church as the vehicle of salvation in the latter days.[7]

The present study further develops this thesis by examining the literary craftsmanship of the scriptural account. The method of analysis used here is called “structuralism” in academic literature.[8] This approach is based on the premise that the formal organization, or “complicated architecture,”[9] of a text can be discerned by elucidating its intricate patterns of language use, including diction, rhetoric, figures of speech, images, and other literary conventions. The point of structural analysis is to identify the interpretive principles that integrate a text’s disparate parts into a coherent and meaningful whole. It assumes that the literary craftsmanship of a text reveals a great deal of the author’s intended meaning.

The structural study of texts does not presume that authors are always or fully conscious of their use of literary conventions. In his distinguished valedictory lecture, the preeminent linguist Michael Silverstein adroitly illustrated the degree to which the use of language generally communicates much more than the speaker or author consciously intends.[10] To this point, the scriptures acknowledge that, on the one hand, inspired servants of God speak “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost” and, on the other, a “generation of vipers” speak “out of the abundance of the heart” (Matthew 12:34; Doctrine and Covenants 68:4). Each utterance reveals its true source, even while possibly transcending the consciousness of the speakers. Along this line, the eminent American historian Alan Heimert observes, “To discover the meaning of any utterance demands what is in substance a continuing act of literary interpretation, for the language with which an idea is presented, and the imaginative universe by which it is surrounded, often tell us more of an author’s meaning and intention than his [or her] declarative propositions.”[11]

In an iconic exposition of this perspective, Erich Auerbach contrasts the literary style of the book of Genesis with that of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. While the details of Auerbach’s contrast are not crucial to the present study, the ultimate outcome is. According to Auerbach, the literary conventions that characterize The Odyssey lead readers to appreciate the empirical reality, or history, of the epic. By contrast, the literary craftsmanship of the book of Genesis presents a very different kind of narrative. Rather than develop an account with a high degree of descriptive content, “the Biblical writer was obliged to write exactly what his belief in the truth of the tradition . . . demanded of him. . . . [That is,] his freedom in creative or representative imagination was severely limited; his activity was perforce reduced to composing an effective version of the pious tradition. What he produced, then, was not primarily oriented toward ‘realism’ (if he succeeded in being realistic, it was merely a means, not an end); it was oriented toward truth.”[12] While this analytical distinction between realism and truth, or between history and scripture, may need to be nuanced in the accounts of Joseph’s visions, it is useful in appreciating the unique and special status of the scriptural account. The 1838 account qualifies as scripture not in comparative terms—that is, as being more complete, more detailed, more accurate, more inspiring than the other accounts. Rather, it is scriptural because of a superlative quality: features of the text set it apart categorically from the other accounts. This essay seeks to reveal a distinctive feature of the scriptural account that qualitatively sets it apart from the other accounts by the Prophet himself.

The present analysis examines three literary conventions that define the structure and express the meaning of the Joseph Smith story. As crafted, the text serves as a microcosm of the restoration of the kingdom of God in the last days. It offers this perspective by symbolically integrating heaven and earth, neutralizing worldly institutions, and re-creating Joseph Smith in the ideal image of the kingdom. Before examining the structure of the 1838 text, we shall briefly summarize the history of its inclusion in the standard works or canon of the Church.

Distinguished Origin

The 1838 account grew out of the divine imperative to keep a history of the Church that came as revelation to Joseph Smith on the day the Church was organized. It begins, “Behold, . . . a record [shall be] kept among you; and in it thou [meaning Joseph Smith] shall be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, an elder of the church” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1). While Joseph’s 1832 account of his paradigmatic visions initiated an early effort to compose the official history of the Church, that effort was soon aborted. Six years later, Joseph began again with a more focused and mature perspective.[13] Beginning in 1842, this history was serialized in the Church’s official periodical, the Times and Seasons. Nearly a decade after that, Franklin D. Richards, the Apostle who oversaw Church operations in Europe, reprinted for Latter-day Saints living in the British Isles a collection of Joseph Smith’s sacred writings, including the beginning of the 1838 history. The published volume, titled The Pearl of Great Price, enjoyed multiple printings until 1880, when John Taylor, third President of the Church, proposed that this volume be added to the standard works, or the Church’s canon.[14] Thus the Joseph Smith story became the official account of the Church’s founding and the only contemporary historical narrative accorded the status of scripture by the Church.

Pattern of Vignettes

Structurally speaking, the Joseph Smith story is divided into three vignettes, each characterized by a spiritual crisis of Joseph Smith and its miraculous resolution by divine intervention, a classic deus ex machina (appearance of God to solve a problem).[15] While quite distinct from one another, the three vignettes are interpretively connected: the heavenly resolution of the previous crisis fuels the next crisis, which motivates the subsequent resolution, and so on. The three vignettes are summarized as follows.

First Vision (Joseph Smith—History 1:1–26)

In early spring 1820, Joseph Smith seeks God’s true church but finds only confusion and contention among the Christian denominations of his day. Led by the Bible to seek divine direction, Joseph prays in a woodlot on the family farm and receives a vision of “two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description” (1:17). In multiple ways, they categorically direct him not to affiliate with any religion of the day.

Angel Moroni (Joseph Smith—History 1:27–65)

Three and a half years later, Joseph seeks forgiveness of sins, certain of gaining assurance of God’s acceptance. While praying on the night of 21–22 September 1823, he receives three similar visitations from an angel named Moroni and one more visitation from him the following day. Moroni instructs Joseph that several key biblical prophecies are soon to be fulfilled and informs him of a sacred record buried in a nearby hill.

John the Baptist (Joseph Smith—History 1:66–75)

Four years of tutoring by Moroni prepare Joseph to be entrusted with the ancient record and the means of its translation. During the translation, Joseph and his scribe recognize that the authority to baptize for the remission of sins is not found on earth. Seeking direction on this essential step of salvation, the two men are visited by an angel, who identifies himself as John the Baptist. John confers upon them the “Priesthood of Aaron” (1:69) and instructs them to baptize each other in the nearby river. An outpouring of spiritual power then enables them to understand the things of God as never before.

Restoration of the Kingdom of God

The literary qualities of the scriptural account symbolize what Latter-day Saints call the Restoration, meaning the reestablishment of the kingdom of God on earth.[16] The Joseph Smith story symbolizes the Restoration by weaving together three analytically distinct but complementary processes: (1) the kingdom of God is symbolically restored to earth; (2) worldly institutions are symbolically neutralized despite their escalating opposition to the kingdom; and (3) Joseph Smith is symbolically remade in the ideal image of the kingdom. Each of these processes is summarized in turn.

Restoring the Kingdom of God

Traditional Christian iconography of the Western tradition consistently represents heaven with two dominant visual motifs: light and height. Heaven is glorious beyond human comprehension, and it is high in the sky, way above the earth. Both motifs appear in each of the three vignettes of the Joseph Smith story, and the progressive resolution of their contrasts throughout the narrative symbolizes the Restoration.

In the first vignette, Joseph sees “two Personages,” whose “brightness and glory” are “above the brightness of the sun” and “defy all description.” Their sudden appearance immediately dispels overwhelming darkness that represents “some actual being from the unseen world.” This evil “power” “entirely overcame” Joseph, rendering him immobile and preparing him to “sink into despair and abandon [himself] to destruction.” In short, the contrast of illumination in the First Vision could not be greater. The contrast of elevation is likewise considerable. In Joseph’s words, the “two Personages” appear “exactly over my head,” “standing above me in the air.” After the vision, Joseph finds himself “lying on [his] back, looking up into heaven” (Joseph Smith—History 1:15–20).

In the second vignette, the contrasting motifs are somewhat muted. The glory of the angel’s nighttime appearance contrasts with the surrounding darkness and increases until Joseph’s bedroom is “lighter than at noonday.” The angel is “glorious beyond description” and “exceedingly white and brilliant.” The darkness, however, is simply the absence of light, not the presence of evil (as in the First Vision), and is gradually, not suddenly, dispelled by the heavenly glory. The contrast of elevation is similarly reduced. In Joseph’s words, the “personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.” Joseph remains in or beside his bed during the encounters (Joseph Smith—History 1:30–32).

In the third vignette, the respective contrasts of light and height virtually disappear. The “messenger from heaven” appears to Joseph and his scribe “in a cloud of light,” contrasting minimally with the surrounding light of day. John then confers on them the priesthood, presumably by laying his hands on their bowed heads (Joseph Smith—History 1:68).

The progressive resolution of the contrasts of light and height symbolizes the reconciliation by degrees between God and humankind and between heaven and earth, which the restoration of the kingdom of God is intended to achieve. Thus the Joseph Smith story serves not only as the historical narrative of miraculous events but also as a microcosm of a much larger spiritual transformation that prefigures “a new heaven and a new earth” when “the Son of Man shall come down in heaven, clothed in the brightness of his glory, to meet the kingdom of God which is set up on the earth” (Revelation 21:1; Doctrine and Covenants 65:5).

Neutralizing Worldly Institutions

As the scriptural narrative symbolically restores the kingdom of God to earth, worldly institutions are symbolically neutralized in their influence on the kingdom. At the same time, the world reacts with increased opposition to the Restoration, and Joseph’s resolve to do God’s will is progressively strengthened.

Worldly religion is the institutional focus of the first vignette. Before his First Vision, Joseph is attracted by an array of Christian religions. However, the “confusion and strife among the different denominations,” their “cry and tumult,” and their “war of words” turn Joseph’s genuine desire into an existential crisis (Joseph Smith—History 1:8–10). In several authoritative ways, the “two Personages” prohibit him from affiliating with any existing sect (1:18–20). Following the vision, a Methodist minister, followed by “professors of religion,” as a social class, and eventually “all classes of men, both religious and irreligious,” reject Joseph’s claims of a personal visitation from God and subject him to “severe persecution” (1:21–22, 27). Joseph, in turn, forcefully defends the truth of his vision, as the Apostle Paul had anciently done before the Roman king Agrippa (1:23–26). Following this crisis of religion, the narrative has Joseph interacting with no other representative of worldly religion.

The second vignette, involving the angel Moroni, neutralizes two worldly institutions: society and economy. Regarding worldly society, Joseph confesses, “I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which . . . led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God” (Joseph Smith—History 1:28). Joseph’s desire to seek from God “forgiveness of all my sins and follies” motivates the visits from the angel Moroni (1:29), launching a second phase of his divine ministry: translating an ancient scriptural record. To prepare himself to do so, he meets annually with Moroni, who tutors him about the kingdom of God.

At this same time, Joseph reflects on his family’s “indigent circumstances,” causing the angel to warn him of being tempted to seek worldly wealth (Joseph Smith—History 1:46). As a case in point, during his four-year tutorial with Moroni, Joseph hires himself out temporarily to participate with a group of men to search for buried treasure. This misguided and unsuccessful economic endeavor subjects him to public ridicule for being a “money-digger” (1:55–56).

Once Moroni entrusts him with the sacred record, Joseph abandons the society and economy of the world. Thereafter, his only human interactions are with trusted associates: his father, who believes him; his wife, who supports him; a “farmer of respectability,” who sustains him financially; and an itinerant teacher, who serves as his scribe for the translation (Joseph Smith—History 1:50–59, 61, 66–67, 75). In response, “persecution became more bitter and severe than before, and multitudes were on the alert continually” to acquire the gold plates and frustrate Joseph’s efforts to do God’s will. Despite “intolerable” persecutions, Joseph is enabled, “by the wisdom of God” and by “all [his] endeavors,” to protect the sacred record and preserve Moroni’s trust (1:59–61).

Worldly power is at issue in the third vignette, which features the visitation of John the Baptist. In translating the sacred record, Joseph and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, recognize that the authority to baptize for the remission of sins is currently absent from the earth. Seeking a remedy, the two men receive the “Priesthood of Aaron,” the authority to baptize, and the Holy Ghost—a key spiritual blessing of baptism—from the angel John the Baptist. Thereafter, Joseph and his associates are “forced to keep secret” the work of the kingdom because of a general “spirit of persecution . . . in the neighborhood.” However, their minds are spiritually enlightened as never before, and Emma’s family protects Joseph for a time from “mobs” and “unlawful proceedings” (Joseph Smith—History 1:74–75).

In sum, the narrative arc of the scriptural account supplements the symbolic reconciliation of heaven and earth with a symbolic conflict between heavenly and worldly kingdoms. As the Restoration neutralizes worldly religion, society, wealth, and power, the world marshals its forces increasingly against God’s kingdom. Despite increasing opposition from the world, the kingdom of God ultimately prevails in the scriptural narrative.

Remaking the Ideal Individual in the Image of the Kingdom

Adding to the poignancy of this cosmic conflict, the literary craftsmanship of the three vignettes also symbolically remakes Joseph in the ideal image of the kingdom of God. At issue in the first vignette is divine knowledge. Joseph initially presents himself as being “so unacquainted with men,” the things of God, and a reliable way to obtain divine knowledge that he was unable “to come to any certain conclusion [about] who was right and who was wrong” regarding religion (Joseph Smith—History 1:8). After being informed by the Bible how to obtain wisdom from God and after his First Vision that gives him firsthand knowledge of God, he never again lacks for divine knowledge or the means of acquiring it. He uses this knowledge to defend himself against the opposition of sectarian ministers and to motivate his second theophany.

The second vignette concerns personal purity. Being negatively affected by poor choices and “all kinds of” friends, Joseph seeks God’s forgiveness. Moroni’s teachings and extended tutoring provide Joseph with “instruction and intelligence . . . respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days” (Joseph Smith—History 1:28, 54). Once Moroni entrusts him with the sacred record, Joseph never lacks for moral purity or integrity throughout the rest of the account. These spiritual gifts also extend his natural abilities to preserve the sacred record from harm.

The third vignette concerns Joseph’s agency, that is, his capacity to act in the name of God. In the course of the translation, John the Baptist confers on Joseph and Oliver the “Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.” By this ordination, Joseph and Oliver become earthly agents of God, baptizing each other and then ordaining each other to the Aaronic Priesthood, in order to establish God’s kingdom (Joseph Smith—History 1:69, 71). As a result Joseph reflects, “We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation. Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of” (1:73–74).

In support of the Restoration, Joseph arrays his own spiritual strength in defense of the kingdom by beginning with his inner defense of the truth, continuing with the full measure of his physical and intellectual capacities, and finally, acting as God’s earthly agent by means of God’s power with which he has been endowed.

Table 1. The Joseph Smith Story

 First VisionAngel MoroniJohn the Baptist
Restoring the kingdom of God (“light and height”)maximum contrastmoderate contrastminimum contrast
Neutralizing worldly institutionsworldly religionworldly society/economyworldly power
Remaking the ideal individualknowledgepurityagency


What are we to make of the literary craftsmanship of the Joseph Smith story? What insights does it yield into the intended meaning of the scriptural text? While all accounts of the First Vision detail the historical origins and religious beliefs of the Church of Christ, the Joseph Smith story also reveals Joseph’s maturing consciousness as a prophet of God and symbolically expresses his core mission to restore the kingdom of God to the earth. The scriptural account does so largely by means of its literary craftsmanship.

The literary craftsmanship of the Joseph Smith story reveals more about the evolution of Joseph’s spiritual understanding of these paradigmatic experiences than his factual recall of the events themselves. This is not to say that the “two Personages” of the First Vision were not glorious beyond description or that Moroni did not first appear the night of 21–22 September 1823. Rather, it implies that as Joseph became more spiritually mature, he could understand and express the transcendent meaning of these theophanies in ordinary language and common literary conventions.[17] He was able to do so largely because of his numerous subsequent revelations and spiritual experiences that expanded his understanding of the Restoration.

A half century ago, Neal Lambert and Richard Cracroft, two BYU English professors, examined the literary craftsmanship of the earliest surviving account of the First Vision, the only one written in Joseph’s own hand.[18] They found many rhetorical and stylistic similarities between this account and New England conversion narratives of the early national period. Thus Lambert and Cracroft concluded that in 1832, Joseph associated the vision primarily with Christian conversion. Six years later, Joseph’s prophetic consciousness had sufficiently matured to emphasize instead the “pious tradition” of the Church of Christ—namely, the restoration of the kingdom of God to the earth.

Joseph seems to have used these foundational theophanies as a bellwether, returning to them at crucial times of his life until he could interpret them in the context not only of historical fact and religious belief but, most importantly, of spiritual truth. Joseph was less capable of communicating the truth of the First Vision as a fourteen-year-old farm boy or as a twenty-seven-year-old “First Elder” of the Church of Christ than as a mature prophet of God. Such dramatic perspectival shifts over a relatively brief period seem natural for someone such as Joseph, who continually receives numerous revelations that substantially enlarge his comprehension of the mind and will of God and of the eternal mission of the Church of Christ.

Professor Flake acknowledges that the scriptural account of these events is more institutional prehistory than autobiography, more paradigm than narrative.[19] The present study claims that the text is also a microcosm of the kingdom of God in the latter days. It witnesses to its existence on earth, identifies its distinctive features, and summarizes its essential mission. What then are the distinguishing characteristics of the kingdom according to the recurring themes of the Joseph Smith story? The following list may not be exhaustive, but it is illustrative of the expressive quality of the scriptural text:

  1. Church. Flake correctly identifies a principal focus of the Joseph Smith story as an ecclesiology: a prehistory and institutional focus of the Church of Christ. Joseph begins his spiritual quest with a crucial question: “Which of all the sects was right” (Joseph Smith—History 1:18). The whereabouts of the true church and its central mission pervade the rest of the narrative, being the central message of the First Vision, the essence of Moroni’s yearly tutorials, and the consequence of the restoration of the “Priesthood of Aaron” (1:69).
  2. Salvation. Flake also correctly notes that the object of Joseph’s quest was salvific and not doctrinal in nature. His central quest was “Which church could administer the blessings of salvation?” While the text indicates that forgiveness of sins is a necessary quality of the salvation that Joseph seeks, it is not sufficient for salvation. By the end of the narrative, Joseph discovers that salvation also requires the possession of God’s power, as bestowed by the priesthood and its associated keys, as well as holiness, as nurtured by the reception of the Holy Ghost.
  3. Covenant Community. To be sure, the true church in the Joseph Smith story was to consist of a body of believers, but their essence was as a covenant community—disciples who accept the ordinance of baptism, commit to live in accordance with the gift of the Holy Ghost, and perform various constructive roles in the kingdom. The text has Joseph begin his quest as the sole seeker, but it ends with a group of trusted associates assisting his God-ordained ministry.
  4. Revelation. The most distinctive and ubiquitous events in Joseph’s spiritual journey are the revelations he receives along the way. They vary in source and significance from inspiration, as received from reading from the epistle of James, to the visitation of the Father and the Son. These varieties of revelation make crucial differences in Joseph’s life. To this end, the official “record” that the Church of Christ is commanded to keep (see Doctrine and Covenants 21:1) is a canonized but “open” collection of revelations received by the President of the Church and formally accepted as scripture by the membership.
  5. Power. Based on the scriptural text, Flake observes that “the church is for Smith primarily a locus of power, not merely a deposit of right doctrine.”[20] Heavenly power manifests itself informally through reading scripture (Joseph Smith—History 1:12), experientially through the visitations of godly and satanic beings (1:15–17), pedagogically through angelic instructions (1:46, 54), and formally through ordinations to the priesthood of God (1:68–74). Power is one of the most frequently used nouns in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Church’s official record of the Restoration. The term appears more than two hundred twenty times, most of which reference God’s power or priesthood. Its usage in the Doctrine and Covenants is also widespread, appearing in more than half the 138 revelations in the current edition. The revelations that use this term with the greatest frequency are the revelations that deal most explicitly with the Latter-day Saint concept of salvation (Doctrine and Covenants 76 and 132, each with thirteen uses).[21]
  6. Scripture. The theme of scripture pervades the Joseph Smith story, from Joseph’s encounter with James 1:5 that motivates his first uttered prayer in the woods (Joseph Smith—History 1:11–12), to an ancient record whose translation is key to the Restoration (1:34–35), to biblical prophecies that Moroni indicates are “about to be fulfilled” (1:36–41), to the miraculous “work of translation” of the ancient record, and to an understanding of the “true meaning and intention” of scripture’s “more mysterious passages,” after having received the gift of the Holy Ghost (1:74).

Given its paradigmatic and microcosmic significance, in addition to its historical and doctrinal value, the Joseph Smith story distinguishes itself as the foundation of the official “record” of the kingdom of God in the latter days, the witness of its authoritative beginnings on earth, a summary of its distinctive characteristics, and the prospect of its glorious mission. The literary craftsmanship of the text is as crucial to this spiritual role as are its descriptive contents. To be sure, the specific conditions of its creation inevitably influence its contents, but as with most other poetic and prophetic utterances, the Joseph Smith story far transcends its immediate circumstances to become a document for the ages. Thus it enjoys a unique and distinctive status as scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


[1] Leading studies of the various accounts of the First Vision include Paul R. Cheesman, “An Analysis of the Accounts Relating Joseph Smith’s Early Visions” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1965); James B. Allen, “The Significance of Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’ in Mormon Thought,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 (August 1966): 29–45; James B. Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision: What Do We Learn from Them?,” Improvement Era, April 1970, 4–13; James B. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 7, no. 1 (1980): 43–61; Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper, eds., Exploring the First Vision (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2012); Steven C. Harper, The First Vision: A Guide to the Historical Accounts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012); and Steven C. Harper, First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

[2] The French sociologist Émile Durkheim, The Rules of the Sociological Method, ed. Steven Lukes, trans. W. D. Halls (New York: The Free Press, 1982), 50–59, coined the phrase “social fact,” to support his claim that social phenomena must be studied on their own terms and not as writ large extensions of individual or psychological phenomena or writ small reductions of physical or natural phenomena. Thus “social facts” are foundational understandings of a social group, essential to interpreting their collective behavior. The academic disciplines of sociology and anthropology are grounded in this premise.

[3] “Joseph Smith—History,” in The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 47–59. Repeated references to the scriptural text throughout this study are from the 1981 edition with verse references indicated in parentheses.

[4] Kathleen Flake, “The First Vision as Prehistory of the Church,” BYU Studies Quarterly 59, no. 2 (2020): 63.

[5] Flake, “First Vision as Prehistory,” 59.

[6] Flake, “First Vision as Prehistory,” 61, 63.

[7] Flake, “First Vision as Prehistory,” 68.

[8] The acknowledged godfather of the structural study of texts is the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Wade Baskin (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966). Leading structuralist studies from diverse academic disciplines include Alfred North Whitehead, Structuralism: Its Meaning and Effect, Barbour-Page Lectures, University of Virginia, 1927 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1955); Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963); V. Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, trans. Lawrence Scott (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968); Edmund Leach, Genesis as Myth and Other Essays (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969); Jean Piaget, Structuralism, trans. Chaninah Maschler (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1970); Michael Lane, ed., An Introduction to Structuralism (New York: Basic Books, 1970).

[9] Richard Lyman Bushman, “The Gold Plates as Foundational Text,” in Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources, ed. Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin Scott Jensen, and Sharalyn D. Howcroft (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 30.

[10] Michael Silverstein, “Getting and Getting Across the Message,” Ryerson Lecture, 24 October 2019, University of Chicago,

[11] Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 15–16; Alan Heimert, Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 11.

[12] Auerbach, Mimesis, 15–16.

[13] Flake, “First Vision as Prehistory,” 61–62.

[14] “Introductory Note,” in the Pearl of Great Price.

[15] C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon, A Handbook to Literature, 6th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), s.v. “deus ex machina.”

[16] Cory H. Maxwell, “Restoration of All Things,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 3:1218–19.

[17] The literary scholar Arthur Henry King acknowledges the matter-of-fact language of the scriptural account as instrumental to his own conversion to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. See Arthur Henry King, The Abundance of the Heart (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), 25–26.

[18] Neal E. Lambert and Richard H. Cracroft, “Literary Form and Historical Understanding: Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Journal of Mormon History 7, no. 1 (1980): 31–42.

[19] Flake, “First Vision as Prehistory,” 63.

[20] Flake, “First Vision as Prehistory,” 68.

[21] R. Gary Shapiro, comp., An Exhaustive Concordance of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: Hawkes Publishing, 1977), s.v. “power.”