Limiting the time-frame of when Joseph Smith was visited by Peter, James, and John to a specific period has been problematic for Mormon historians. This mostly results from Joseph’s (almost) complete silence regarding the event. His statements on it are both very rare and quite ambiguous. Here, I will give a brief outline of the debate, a couple of the most relevant arguments, and then leave it open for discussion on some important questions. If you are very familiar with this topic’s historiography, you can go ahead and just skip to the questions.
Overview and Timeline Bookends
Just like many of Joseph’s other supernatural experiences, personal recollections are both rare and vague. But, they are still important in laying down key boundaries in this exploration. In his 1839 history, Joseph noted that John the Baptist “acted under the direction <of> Peter, James, and John, who held the keys of the priesthood of Melchisedek, whi[c]h priesthood he said should in due time be conferred on us.” He also recorded that he “should be called the first Elder of the Church and [Oliver] the second.” So, this tells us that the second priesthood restoration must have happened after May 15, 1829.
The next bookend for the possible time period comes the next year in September. During that month, Joseph received a revelation speaking of “Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them” (D&C 27:12). This means that the visitation must have occurred before September, 1830. This time frame allows a year and a half where this event could have taken place.
The only other concrete detail Joseph gives concerning the date was in a letter he wrote to the Saints in 1842. While rejoicing in the Angelic manifestations he had experienced, he recollected experiencing
The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna County, and Colesville, Broome County, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times. (D&C 128:20)
If Joseph’s recollection is correct, then, the event must have taken place along the Susquehanna River. The verbiage also appears to allude to the possibility of it happening during a trip between Harmony and Colesville. This narrows the possibilities down quite a bit, because there are only a handful of recorded trips Joseph and Oliver took between these two towns within the time framework we have.
Theory 1: April (or Early May), 1829
This is the traditional position of the Church. Argued most articulately by Larry Porter, this theory states that it happened shortly (within weeks) after John the Baptist appeared on May 15. This position usually assumes a trip to Colesville from Harmony during a break from translation where they could have been visited by the ancient apostles. Porter further argues that it must have happened before the move to Fayette because David Whitmer later claimed Joseph and Oliver had ordained each other elders before he met them. Also, this position is seen as almost necessary for those who hold that they had to be ordained before the organization of the Church since Joseph and Oliver are then called first and second elders, respectively. They also point to a May 1829 revelation that calls Oliver an “apostle.”
The main problem I have with this position is one piece of Joseph Smith’s writings seems to argue against a pre-May visitation. In 1839, he wrote the following concerning a mid-May 1829 experience in Fayette:
We now became anxious to have that promise realized to us, which the Angel that conferred upon us the Aaronick Priesthood had given us, viz: that provided we continued faithful; we should also have the melchesidec Priesthood, which holds the authority of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
To me, Joseph’s language seems very clear that they had not received the Melchizedek priesthood yet, and therefore had not yet been visited by Peter, James, and John. Porter argues that the ancient apostles had already restored the priesthood, and that they were just waiting to be told to ordain each other. However, I do not find any early documentation backing this up, and it seems like this logic is a result of trying to mesh a previous ordination with this later command. In this account, Joseph specifically says that it was John the Baptist who told him to wait, not Peter, James, and John. He also says that they were waiting to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, not waiting to confirm each other to a priesthood already restored. To summarize, this account makes no hint to a previous Melchizedek Priesthood restoration.
To continue Joseph’s account, he wrote that they “for some time made this matter a subject of humble prayer,” and eventually “got together in the Chamber of Mr Whitmer’s house in order more particularly to seek the Lord what we now so earnestly desired.” As an answer, the word of the Lord came to Joseph commanding him to “ordain Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ, and that he also should ordain [Joseph] to the same office, and then <to> ordain others as it should be made known unto us, from time to time.”
They then received what is now D&C 18, which Joseph wrote “will further illustrate the nature of our calling to this Priesthood as well as that of others who were yet to be sought after.” Besides giving an admonition to search out and call twelve apostles, an interesting statement is made comparing Oliver to “Paul mine apostle, for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called” (D&C 18:9). While this does specifically refer to Oliver as an apostle, the comparison to Paul rather than someone like Peter, James, or John is quite unique. In the Bible, from which Joseph and Oliver appeared to never diverge far from, Paul’s call to the ministry is not connected to ordination by the laying on of hands. Instead, he is assumed to be an apostle because of an oral admonition from the Savior–just like it appears Joseph and Oliver had just received.
Theory 2: Early July, 1830
Argued most notably by Quinn and Bushman, this position holds that the visitation did not occur until several months after the organization of the Church in 1830. They rely on this date primarily due to Addison Everett’s later account where he reminisced about a conversation he overheard between Joseph and Hyrum in Nauvoo. Everett remembered Joseph saying he and Oliver were visited while fleeing from a mob as a result of a trial in Colesville which involved a Mr. Reed. The historical sources say that a trial did occur, and Joseph was defended by a Mr. Reed, but it places the trial in late June, 1830. Therefore, some conclude, the restoration of the higher priesthood must have happened shortly after that.
However, I see some major flaws in relying on Everett’s account. For one, the trial was not the only event he associated with the angelic visitation; Everett’s second account also connected it to the translation of the Book of Mormon. Both are specific events, but they each took place over a year apart from each other. I do not think one event associated with the recollection should be privileged over another just because it fits in with the authors desired framework.
The second problem I find with the Everett account is that it states Joseph and Oliver immediately fled from a court mob back to Harmony, which contradicts Joseph’s own account of the experience where he said that after he was “enabled to escape,” he made his way in safety to his wife’s sister’s house, and then traveled home with Emma at his side. However, both Bushman and Quinn realize this, so they push back the possible restoration date to a few days later in July when Joseph makes another trip to and from Colesville. But, even though this date is more believable, it shows that they are being selective from drawing from Everett’s account, and therefore make their reliance on Everett’s memory less stable.
The third and final problem I find with relying on Addison Everett’s reminiscence is that nothing he presents is backed up by prior statements. While both Bushman and Quinn mention that Erastus Snow stated that Peter, James, and John appeared “at a period when [Joseph and Oliver] were being pursued by their enemies,” and Quinn references Franklin D. Richards explaining this theory to the Quorum of the Twelve, both of these accounts come after Everett’s letters are known and are therefore most likely influenced by them. I could not find any other sources associating the Melchizedek Priesthood restoration with fleeing from a mob before Everett’s accounts. However, I think there is still quite a bit of evidence allowing for a possible 1830 restoration date even when one discards the problematic Everett reminiscences.
Conclusion and Questions
I am at the point where I don’t think we can definitively conclude a specific time period where this event happened. If I were forced to decide, however, I would have to point to a date after mid-May 1829 for reasons explained above. I view the oral command given in the Whitmer home as the divine authorization needed to act with the “higher priesthood,” and then the visitation from the New Testament Apostles as “confirming” (Joseph’s word) that power upon him and Oliver. This allows the visitation to occur any time between then and their departure from the New York/Pennsylvania region, and allows Joseph to have the Apostolic authority when he organized the Church in April 1830.
Now here, after this overly-long post, are my important questions for JI readers: What theory (or related theories) do you subscribe to? What problems do you see in reconstructing this narrative? And, most importantly, beyond the mere polemics of “the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood didn’t occur because of these problematic sources…” and “the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood did occur because of these trustworthy sources…” what makes this issue important? What can we learn from the fact that Joseph was very reluctant of sharing this important experience? Why did missionaries not dwell on this point when trying to persuade potential converts? Simply: what important insights into early Mormonism can we gain from study of this issue?
 In 1839, Joseph wrote one possible reason why this was so: “In the meantime we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having been baptized, and having received this Priesthood; owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood.” Smith, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:291. ibid, 1:290-291. It should be noted that the original version of this revelation printed in The Evening and the Morning Star and the 1833 Book of Commandments is missing the reference to Peter, James, and John. Woodford’s “Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants” also notes that it is missing from the earliest manuscript (1:393-403). This is possibly in part due to the “spirit of persecution” already mentioned above. It is also possible that Joseph began opening up more about the “higher” priesthood in connection with the hierarchical developments taking place in 1835 in Kirtland. Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, 521.
 Please forgive my laziness for not quoting from a primary source in this instance (I don’t have the info with me on my laptop like I do the other sources I’m quoting from). It should be noted that some scholars, most notably Marvin Hill, argue that the visitation did not take place until 1831 in Kirtland, relying on a quote from Brigham Young.
 This David Whitmer recollection, like many of his others, must be understood in the context of his later agendas. He desired to be distanced from the Melchizedek Priesthood, so it makes sense that he wished to place that claim of authority to before his involvement.
 Larry Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchezidek Priesthoods,” 39.
 Smith, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:299.
 ibid, 300.
 1 Timothy 2:7 does quote Paul saying that he was ordained preacher and apostle, but this could be interpreted as happening later, after his initial call. Quinn, in Mormon Hierarchy, does argue that early ecclesiastical positions were seen as charismatic, rather than by ordination, callings.
 It should be noted that Everett wrote two letters detailing this event, and that only the secont mentions that the visitation took place during the translation of the Book of Mormon. However, I do not find evidence to support the notion that Everett was pressured into altering his account; rather, it seems he just wanted to make a fuller remembrance. When Bushman rightly points out that Everett “seems to mix up events in 1829 and 1830,” it seems rather selective to accept the evidence that points to the visitation occurring in 1830 and not the evidence that points to 1829. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 588, fn. 35.
 Smith, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:317.
 Journal of Discourses 23:183 (May 6, 1882).
 Anthon H. Lund Diary, 30 Mar. 1897, in Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, 1890-1920, 28. This entry is easily connected to the Everett letter, because Quinn mentions that Richards summarized the letter in his diary on 15 June 1883, proving that the apostle learned this visitation theory directly from Everett. Quinn, Mormon Hierarchy: Origin of Powers, 287, fn. 120.
 I think it is significant that in two of Joseph’s rare references to the NT Apostles visit, he used the term “confirm” rather than “ordain.” The first reference is the D&C 27 addition mentioned above. The second reference comes from JS’s 1832 attempt at writing his history: “a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God…” Smith, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:3.
 It seems the Pratt brothers would present all the facts and then just fail to connect the dots. For example, when Orson Pratt explained that the Mormons had power to give the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and then connected it to the same power the New Testament Apostles had, he failed to just take it one step further and say that JS received this power from Peter, James and John. Orson Pratt, “Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records,” 1840, in The Essential Orson Pratt, 17, 21-22. This could be a result of his not knowing how the power was restored, or because he was reluctant to talk about it. It is also important to remember that Hiram Page did know about this claim to priesthood restoration, and he left the Church in 1838, so he must have learned about it somewhere. Hiram Page to William Smith, March 4, 1848, in Welch, Opening the Heavens, 256.