Joseph Smith's Experience of a Methodist "Camp-meeting" in 1820
Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought
Since 1967, disbelieving critics of Joseph Smith Jr.'s accounts of his "First Vision" of deity have repeated the arguments and evidence given by minister-researcher Wesley P. Walters against the existence of an 1820 "religious excitement" (revival) in or near Palmyra, New York, as affirmed by the Mormon prophet's most detailed narrative. Since 1969, Smith's believing apologists have repeated the rebuttal arguments and evidence given by BYU religion professor Milton V. Backman Jr. in support of such a revival which, Smith declared, led to his vision in 1820. For four decades, both sides have continued to approach this debated topic as if there were no alternative ways to examine the materials Walters and Backman cited, and as if there were no additional sources of significance to consider. The skeptics have been uniformly intransigent, while some apologists have made significant concessions.
This essay maintains that both sides have examined their evidences with tunnel vision, while both have likewise ignored issues and documents crucial to the topic. As an alternative to myopic polarization, this article 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. This is conservative revisionism.