Ok, my family members keep telling me that it is completely natural for there to be different versions of the 1st vision because when you tell a story you tailor it to the audience you are talking to and emphasize those things that are most pertinent to the audience.
However, from what I can see there were never actually "different" versions of the 1st vision story.
There was simply no such story until at least 1838.
JS wrote his own version of what people assume was the 1st vision in I thing 1831 where he said he looked up and "saw the Lord" and was told his sins were forgiven. However, that could have been anything and had nothing to do with going into a grove to pray to find out what church was true and doesn't resemble the accepted version of the vision at all.
There are other 2nd hand accounts of the 1st vision but nothing resembling todays version at all until I think 1838.
So, it seems like people saying that there were multiple versions of the 1st vision is incorrect.
There were simply no versions of the 1st vision. It seems like he just made it up in 1838 (unless Orson Hyde or someone revised JS History after the fact and JS never told the story at all).
Is that correct or is there some overall timeline of the evolution of his story until it evolved into the final version TBM's accept today? I can't seem to find any evidence that shows he didn't simply pull the story out of his ass 18 years after he claimed it happened.
The problem with the first vision - it never happened. It was not even spoken of until years after the church was established. everything was retrofitted to more than a decade before the church was founded. Oh yes differnt versions - rather hard to retrofit something like this when there were no witnesses he did not even tell about it. It was another of his stories.
I was told by a Mutual leader that the reason why there were multiple versions was because over time, Smith became a better writer as he got older. That the other versions were written when he was younger, so they weren't written as well.
She had been told this by some sort of Stake or regional leader.
I didn't believe any of it for a second, of course.
People whose stories evolve are not necessarily telling deliberate lies. We tend to move ourselves into a more central position in the narrative, and reinterpret things based on later knowledge. Everybody does it.
The point with Joseph Smith is that the variations in his story are well beyond normal morphing of memories. He either has a brain injury, a reality disorder, or he is lying. The involvement of other people in the evolution of the stories (both Lucy Smith and Oliver Cowdery retrospectively added significant features to their own stories to support Joseph's changing narrative) has me suspecting deliberate, coordinated, lying by the primary scammers.
Obviously someone can tell an account differently by emphasizing/de-emphasizing certain parts or "tailoring" it to a different audience. That's different from accounts that CONTRADICT each other.
It's akin to an eyewitness at a murder trial.
A witness can tell a friend he saw a "big scary looking guy" with a gun shoot the victim and tell the court he saw a guy who looked "about 6' 5" tall with tattoos." Different descriptions but they can both be true and not be contradictory.
Its a whole other thing to tell your friend you saw a "white" guy pull the trigger and then tell the courtroom it was a "black" guy. They both can't be true.
This is the very first church publication, and it opens with Smith being chosen .... by Angel Moroni. This has me convinced that you are right, the "First Vision" was a story invented years later to counter the distrust caused by the Kirkland banking scandal, the Famny Alger incident, and the departure of early members like Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris - the original witnesses, and men who might have questioned the new story.
From the Evening and Morning Star article (which became Sec 20 of the D&C):
"For, after that it truly was manifested unto this first Elder, that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world, but after truly repenting God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness, and gave unto him commandments which inspired him from on high, and gave unto him power, by the means which were prepared, that he should translate a Book,"
The "First Vision" is contained in the phrase "after it truly was manifested unto this first Elder, that he had received a remission of his sins," This fits the 1832 version in JS's diary (and in his own handwriting) that:
"the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year of my age a pillar of light above the brightness of the Sun at noon day came down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the Spirit of God and the Lord opened the heaven upon me and I saw the Lord and he Spake unto me Saying Joseph my Son thy Sins are forgiven thee, go thy way walk in my Statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucified for the world"
Joseph Smith claimed to have seen "the Lord" in vision at an early stage. In this vision his sins are forgiven and there is only "the Lord," not the two Gods, and nothing about which church to join. The story grew with the telling and was retrofitted to match Joseph Smith's plurality of Gods doctrine which he developed later.
JS was KNOWN to drink; he certainly wasn't a perfect man.
I've studied a lot about JS and his father digging for treasure. They were arrested for digging in graveyards etc. There's a long rap sheet with the Smith family activities. (Not all of the newspaper stories from those years can be wrong, or the court documents.)
How on earth could anyone trust anything JS said after all of the salamander, court, alcohol, masonic involvement.
He was a trickster and a liar. Anyone sticking their head in a top hat to "translate something" is playing a game. Amazingly, he tricked millions of people, in essence.
I have often wanted to put together a timeline showing (if, of course) revelations and proclamations by JS were made just when he was in big trouble with his followers and needed to boost his bona fides with the Big Guy Upstairs.
A small fer instance might be the tobacco spitting that PO'ed Emma, and poof! there's a revelation about tobacco, as if God would be concerned about it...