During the past week, several of JI’s permabloggers have begun writing short intros to the birth of Mormonism for theses, dissertations, or articles. All of us expressed a desire to start the narrative after 1820, the year generally attributed to Joseph Smith’s First Vision. I chose to begin my introduction with the publication of the Book of Mormon, since Smith’s new scripture was the first public document that expounded or represented any sort of definite set of beliefs or peculiar message to Mormonism. Others chose events at Kirtland, and others remain undecided on how to begin their chapters or articles. I was surprised with how difficult it was to begin my narrative without starting with the First Vision, and I wondered if any of JI’s readers felt the same way. I have not gone back and counted up the numbers of articles on Mormonism that mention the First Vision although it doesn’t directly reflect the topic at hand, but I feel like most books and articles have at least some sort of cursory reference to Joseph Smith’s theophany. This makes sense for several reasons, it is, after all, what Joseph Smith chose to include first and accentuate in his 1838 account of the First Vision, published in 1842. The 1838 account has been canonized and is often quoted in official and informal discourse as the authoritative source to examine Joseph Smith’s story. It is also written quite elegantly, and coincides with Smith’s religious seeking.
Where do you begin if you’re giving a brief history of Mormonism, but your topic doesn’t address Joseph Smith or early Mormonism? Is it necessary to start with the First Vision? What are advantages or disadvantages of referring to the First Vision over other key events in the birth of Mormonism? I’m curious to hear what everyone thinks.