New Joseph Smith Papers podcast invites listeners to consider ‘little-known details’ of First Vision

As Latter-day Saints will be studying the First Vision this year, the Joseph Smith Papers Project released “The First Vision: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast,” on Jan. 7 in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the event.

The podcast examines “the accounts of God’s first interaction with Joseph Smith, an event that had far-reaching implications — implications that were primarily spiritual for Joseph and every sincere seeker since,” said host Spencer McBride. “We enlist historians who have spent years studying the event to help us see the context and understand Joseph in his time and place. That context helps us consider those implications individually and for the world.” 

McBride, who also works as a historian and documentary editor for the Joseph Smith Papers, has been working on the podcast for nearly a year. He began interviewing scholars in spring 2019 and developing a podcast that would shed new light on a familiar subject.

"The First Vision" by Del Parson
“The First Vision” by Del Parson Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“In essence, we are inviting listeners to consider little-known details about this familiar story and consider what it means for their understanding of Church history and to ponder what it might mean for their own religious devotion.”

McBride emphasized historians have the ability to help listeners position themselves in the past to better understand the life of the prophet.

“It’s about reconstructing the world Joseph Smith knew in 1820. When historians examine the First Vision, we look at the full context of the event to understand it better,” said McBride. “The historians interviewed for this podcast are not turning the story on its head, but rather asking listeners to consider additional perspectives on the history of Smith and his 1820 vision.”

Among the topics the podcast examines are the different accounts Joseph Smith gave of the First Vision.

“It does a lot more than explain why Joseph Smith gave different accounts of the First Vision at different times of his life,” said McBride. “The podcast explores what was going on in Smith’s life at the time he gave each account — the audience to whom he was speaking and the circumstances for the retelling.

"Joseph Smith, Jr.," by Danquart Anthon Weggeland
“Joseph Smith, Jr.,” by Danquart Anthon Weggeland Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“I think it will equip Latter-day Saints with the understanding they need to study the different accounts of the First Vision and to discover insights that are only found when the accounts are studied together,” McBride said.

The podcast’s guest list includes some of today’s most notable Joseph Smith scholars. McBride gathered insights from experts such as Steven Harper, Rachel Cope, Christopher Jones, Matthew Godfrey, Brent Rogers, Robin Jensen, Jenny Lund, and Mark Staker

Even a General Authority makes an appearance.

Elder Legrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy and Church historian and recorder, offers some thoughtful commentary on the resonance of the First Vision in its bicentennial year,” McBride said.

McBride offers valuable commentary of his own. In his role with the Joseph Smith Papers, McBride has had daily access to documents from the life of the prophet — and the experience has left a mark.

“I have come to better understand him as a person. I am more familiar with his personality, his strength and weaknesses, his shining moments and mistakes,” said McBride. “All this gives me a more well-rounded portrait of Joseph Smith, and has, in many ways, made him more relatable to me.”

The podcast gives listeners a chance to better relate to Joseph Smith as well. “In many ways Joseph Smith and his accounts of his 1820 vision are tied to a time and place,” said McBride. “But 200 years later, this story resonates with men, women and children throughout the world.”

The First Vision: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast” is now available on Latter-day Saint Channel, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and RSS Feed.