In the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith recounts his first meeting with the angel Moroni on the night of September 21, 1823. As Joseph said his prayers and settled in for the night, an angel, "glorious beyond description," appeared at his bedside:
While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.
Joseph said that Moroni appeared three separate times, each time filling his bedroom with intense light that became as bright as the noonday sun and these three visits took the whole of the night,
Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person.
Devout Mormons believe that Moroni, an angel from ancient America, physically appeared to Joseph three times on the night of September 21, 1823. During these visitations, Moroni revealed the story of the Book of Mormon and shared with him the beginning of the knowledge Joseph would use to locate and translate the messages on the gold plates. LDS faithful believe that Joseph literally saw Moroni with his physical eyes, heard him with his ears, and processed his revelations with his alert, conscious brain.
Critics have raised concerns about the circumstances of Moroni's visitation. They pose questions with significant theological implications, which they maintain have not been adequately examined by LDS faithful. On the night of Moroni's three appearances, for example, Joseph lived with his siblings in his parents' small house. He and his five brothers slept together in a tiny room that is thought to have contained only two beds, meaning that Joseph shared a bed with at least one brother. If the visitation by the brightly shining Moroni was a literal, real event as the church teaches, why were Joseph's brothers not awakened?
In Joseph's own words:
On September 21, 1823 after retiring to bed, While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.
His whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do.
After this communication, I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so until the room was again left dark, except just around him; when, instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance.
I lay musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me by this extraordinary messenger; when, in the midst of my meditation, I suddenly discovered that my room was again beginning to get lighted, and in an instant, as it were, the same heavenly messenger was again by my bedside.
He commenced, and again related the very same things which he had done at his first visit. Having related these things, he again ascended as he had done before.
By this time, so deep were the impressions made on my mind, that sleep had fled from my eyes, and I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard. But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before.
After this third visit, he again ascended into heaven as before, and I was again left to ponder on the strangeness of what I had just experienced; when almost immediately after the heavenly messenger had ascended from me for the third time, the cock crowed, and I found that day was approaching, so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night.
This illustration from the Church's official website of the event appears in many Church publications and in paintings adorning Church buildings:
The Smith family was rather poor and therefore lived in a small house. Here's a replica of the small, humble Smith home that Joseph lived in when the Moroni visitation took place:
The following is from the Smith home that has been restored by the LDS Church where they provide tours. Here's a photo of Joseph's room where he lived with his five brothers:
One of these two beds was where Joseph Smith first saw the Angel Moroni. The room in the back was where Joseph's two sisters slept, his youngest sister had a room attached to his parent's room on the main floor. Joseph and his five brothers shared these two beds, which were upstairs on the second floor.
When Moroni came and spoke with Joseph on the night of September 21, 1823, why didn't this wake up Joseph's brothers who were sleeping in the same room with him? It seems that the appearance of an angelic being with a "countenance truly like lightning" would have awoken the entire Smith family: his five brothers in the same room, his two sisters in the adjoining room, and possibly even his parents and sister sleeping below.
There were only two beds in the small room that Joseph and his brothers occupied. With six brothers all sharing one room, Joseph would have had two brothers sleeping in the very same bed as he slept in. It is simply inconceivable that his brothers sleeping in the same room, let alone the same bed, would not have been woken up by the magnificent appearance of the Angel Moroni.
Joseph said that Moroni appeared three separate times, each time filling the room with intense light that became as bright as the noonday sun. He estimated that these three meetings took the whole of the night. Although we don't know what his voice was like, even a regular man speaking with a mortal voice in the room above Joseph's bed for the whole of the night, would have awoken everyone upstairs and in the small Smith house, possibly everyone.
It is also perhaps somewhat deceptive of the LDS Church to show the illustrations of Joseph with Moroni all by themselves. See update below. Before 2009, the Church never showed any illustrations with Joseph's five brothers in the room sleeping with him. Showing Joseph in bed by himself gazing at Moroni is not accurate as he would have had two brothers sleeping in the bed with him. In the August, 2009 Ensign, the church did show an image of Joseph with his brothers in bed with him. However, two years later, the October, 2011 Ensign resorted to the old image with Joseph by himself.
We regret that we could not find this issue mentioned in any church publication or web site. We have, however, discussed this issue with several devout members to get their input.
I have always simply presumed that one cannot, under normal circumstances, perceive spiritual matter or things with normal vision. (D&C 131:7-8) Joseph had to be blessed in some way to hear and see a divine messenger. Others were not so blessed, and so would hear and see nothing. If God can send an angel, surely he can keep the audience to that which he wishes?
Let's start with the basics. Genesis 2:21 tells us, "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;" What if we were to state, "Now the big question is that when the Lord God removed one of Adam's ribs, why didn't he wake up?" For anyone who believes that for God nothing is impossible, the question is simple to answer. Why, then, must we insist that Joseph's brother's should have been awakened? Why is it unreasonable to assume that God simply kept them asleep? (FAIR's website, March 26, 2014))
Most Latter-day Saints have not even thought about this problem and its significance. Unfortunately, Joseph Smith did not leave any explanation of how it was possible that his family was not awakened.
It is a natural presumption to think that spiritual things cannot be perceived by normal vision. Assuming this was the case, if nothing else, Joseph would most likely not have been able to be completely silent and hold stock still throughout the majority of a night. It stands to reason that sometime during the night at least one of his family members would have perceived something going on within Joseph's bedroom.
In direct response to the idea that God used his power to cause the family to sleep through the events, then one must wonder that if God can alter people's conscious state at any time, unknown to them, then how could anyone really trust their senses? Therefore, how would one know when they were under their own control?
In addition, God causing sleep to come upon a person would take away their free will. There are scriptural accounts of God intervening in people's lives without their permission, but this topic is too big for this section to discuss. Further inquiry may be in order.
Many people throughout history, and still today, claimed having divine communications from supreme beings and claim that God prevented others from witnessing them. (Famed psychic Uri Geller would use this same tactic by saying he could see UFOs in the sky when others could not. Uri's psychic abilities were debunked as a fraud by James Randi.)
Perhaps the Moroni visit happened in a vision meant for Joseph only and therefore his brothers or anyone else in the house could not see or even hear it.
Personally, I can consider the visitation of Moroni during the night to be more of a vision than a meeting as we might understand it, physically speaking. Thus, the vision can be open to Joseph Smith but not to others in the room. This would be similar to the reception of D&C 76, which Joseph saw along with Sidney Rigdon. Philo Dibble was present in the room, along with others, and knew a vision was taking place, but apparently only Joseph and Sidney actually saw it. See Dibble's account recorded in The Juvenile Instructor, 15 May, 1892.
First off, Philo Dibble may not be the best witness to use. First, the the event referenced occurred 60 years prior to Philo's retelling of it. Second, Dibble recounted the event ten years earlier differently. In 1892 he said he was there "during a part of the time— probably two-thirds of the time…which I think was over an hour, and to the end of the vision." Assuming Dibble was there an hour, and that was two-thirds of the entire vision, the whole thing would have been about 90 minutes long. In his 1882 account he said, "On a subsequent visit to Hiram, I arrived at Father Johnson's just as Joseph and Sidney were coming out of the vision alluded to in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, in which mention is made of the three glories."
"[J]ust coming out of the vision" and "over an hour" don't seem to match. In fact, that seems to be a pretty big discrepancy. Would the 1882 account (when Dibble was 76) or the 1892 account (when he was 86) be more accurate? The early account makes no mention of the method of the vision.
Additionally, the 1892 account says that besides Dibble, "there were other men in the room, perhaps twelve, among whom I was one." This vision took place at John Johnson's house where Joseph and Sidney "sat doing the work of translation" of the bible. They "came to the twenty ninth verse of in the fifth chapter of John…and while we meditated upon these thing the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened and the glory of the lord shone round about…" (josephsmithpapers.org) Why were a dozen men sitting around watching Joseph and Sidney translate the bible? Nowhere is there information that the bible translation process was ever accompanied with a crowd. In fact, if a dozen men had witnessed the translation of the bible, why have they left no record of it? There isn't even second-hand tellings from friends or relatives of those who witnessed the bible translation process.
More to the point, if there were approximately 15 eyewitnesses to one of the most glorious and important revelations given in modern days, why has only one of the 15 left documentary evidence?
If Philo Dibble did in fact witness any part of The Vision, it seems that his 1882 might be the more accurate. If that is the case, the example used by the FAIR apologist above is invalid.
Philo Dibble's 1892 account is found in the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 158-166 and in this scan of the original Juvenile Instructor, 15 May, 1892.
Dibble's 1882 account is found in a scan of the book in which it originally appeared.
Recently found in the Wilmington Journal newspaper is this account of Sidney Rigdon having a detailed vision of heavenly messengers on horseback that were praising his work. The newspaper account is from May 23, 1845. Rigdon was excommunicated from the LDS Church on September 8, 1844. It doesn't make sense that God would grant him a vision praising his work at that time when he had left the LDS Church and started his own apostate church but rather that Sidney Rigdon was prone to revelations and hence probably highly suggestible.
To the devout who say the Angel Moroni's visit was entirely in the spiritual realm, or in Joseph's mind, and that is the reason none of his family could see the angel that night, what kind of a "dream" was it? Was it a regular dream, a hallucination or a "vision" and how can we know? See the section below: "Could there be other possible explanations?"
If God requires His word to be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses (D&C 6:28; 2 Cor 13:1), why didn't God provide witnesses for the heavenly visions Joseph Smith had? God provided witnesses for metallic plates, that simply could have been left behind if there was a real need to verify their existence. Yet He chose not to provide witnesses for experiences which Joseph Smith had that must be taken on Joseph's words alone. If it's a matter of testing the faith of members, why was there a need to provide witnesses for the golden plates but not heavenly visitations?
Almost all artwork depicting the visit of Moroni to Joseph Smith in his bedroom shows only Joseph and Moroni. The lone exception was in the August 2009 Ensign given below. This has not been repeated as of the updating of this webpage in March 2014.
The simplest answer may be that artists simply don't always get such matters right. The critics' caricature to the contrary, not every aspect of such things is "correlated." FAIR (March 2014)
The Church is well aware that Joseph's brothers all slept in the same room as he did. The LDS tour guides at the restored Smith home confirm this. The Church for years omitted this part of the story in its publications, paintings and illustrations. It's more believable to show only Joseph in the room during Moroni's visit rather than multiple family members somehow sleeping during his appearance, even though that isn't what happened. To promote transparency in LDS history, the Church must improve their media choices when portraying that history in official publications. It seemed like they were starting this transparency with the August 2009 Ensign, but then they resorted to the old, familiar image in the October 2011 Ensign.
Whether accurate or not, when people get a picture of an event in their mind, that image will stick. Later, when they realize the image in their mind is wrong, it creates a disjunct that can be jarring. The easiest way to get an image in your mind is by seeing an image. The following are typical portrayals of the Angel Moroni's visit to Joseph Smith's bedroom.
The August 2009 Ensign, page 54 has the following picture:
The painting is entitled "He Called Me By Name" by Liz Lemon Swindle.
LDS.org has this painting of a brother in bed with Joseph:
If the church accepts these artists' renderings as accurate, then this seems to support the idea that the Moroni visitation was a real, physical event with Joseph awake and alert, and not a vision contained within Joseph's mind. If that's the case, there still needs to be an explanation as to why Joseph's brothers remained asleep for the entire night while Moroni, with the "countenance of lightning" and with a "room lighter than at noonday," conversed (at what volume we do not know) with Joseph for "the whole of that night."
MormonThink supports the Church in the more accurate depictions of historical events, whether of the Angel Moroni appearing to young Joseph, or Joseph translating the Book of Mormon by putting his face in a hat.
In the October 2011 Ensign, page 8, the Church did not use the more accurate image of Joseph with his brothers in the room when Moroni appeared. Instead the Church reverted to using the older painting of Joseph alone in the bed with Moroni appearing over him.
Editor note: To show that by far the most common image portrayed in LDS publications is of Moroni appearing to Joseph alone, here is a Google search of the LDS.org website for "angel moroni and joseph smith".
The most straightforward explanation critics have for Joseph's visitation by Moroni is that he made it up. Putting aside that theory, are there other explanations? It was initially reported that he thought it was a dream. Perhaps it was. How many of us have had an intense dream that seemed so real, at first we didn't know if it was a dream or not when we awoke?
There is a phenomenon that many people experience that scientists call sleep paralysis. This phenomenon allows people to see dreams in their rooms with their eyes open, but often remain paralyzed by the chemical that is naturally generated in our bodies when we sleep that prevent us from acting out our dreams and hurting ourselves. The nature of the experience seems to be determined by the environment and media influences in which the people live. In modern times, most people, who scientists believe are experiencing sleep paralysis, claim to see aliens from other planets in their rooms. Back in the Joseph Smith's day, people would claim to see demons, witches and angels.
Often the episodes of sleep paralysis could be very intense involving detailed conversations and experiments to flights aboard space ships. Thousands of people every year claim they are abducted by aliens in the middle of the night. Many of them are credible and earnestly believe the events took place. Despite the evidence against their experiences being anything but imaginary, most of those people still maintain that their experiences were absolutely real and their lives are forever altered by the events they allege took place in their rooms in the middle of the night.
Joseph Smith and his early followers all started out explaining Moroni as a dream, not a vision. Then after 1830 they started calling it a visitation. We can see how these things can evolve, especially if people take the earlier stories as true and want to believe it's more. Here's references that indicate it was perhaps just a dream (emphasis added):
Consequently long before the idea of a Golden Bible entered their minds, in their excursions for money-digging, which I believe usually occurred in the night, that they might conceal from others the knowledge of the place, where they struck their treasures, Jo used to be usually their guide, putting into a hat a peculiar stone he had through which he looked to decide where they should begin to dig.
It was after one of these night excursions, that Jo, while he lay upon his bed, had a remarkable dream. An angel of God seemed to approach him, clad in celestial splendor.
Reference: Testimonies of Book of Mormon Witnesses, John Clark, Gleanings (1842), p.226 "Martin Harris Interview"
This new gospel was found in Ontario Co., N.Y. and was discovered by an Angel of Light, appearing in a dream to a man by the name of Smith.
Reference: Letter from Amherst, Ohio, 26 Nov. 1830, "BEWARE OF IMPOSTERS," The Telegraph. Reprinted in The Reflector (Palmyra NY), 14 Feb. 1831. Also see Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History by Dale Morgan (Signature Books, 1986)
September 5, 1829, the Rochester Gem reported on the origins of Mormonism and quoted Book of Mormon Special Witness Martin Harris:
…he states that after a third visit from the same spirit in a dream he (Smith) proceeded to the spot.
Reference: A GOLDEN BIBLE, Gem, (Rochester, NY), 5 Sept. 1829. Source of reference: A New Witness for Christ in America, (Zion's printing and Publishing, 1951)
In the autumn of 1827, a person by the name of Joseph Smith, of Manchester, Ontario Co., reported that he had been visited in a dream by a spirit from the Almighty and. After having been thrice visited, as he states, he proceeded to the spot.
Reference: A New Witness for Christ in America, (Zion's printing and Publishing, 1951)
During his 1830 interview with Fayette Lapham, Joseph Smith Sr. referred to the Moroni visit as "a very singular dream" about "a valuable treasure, buried many years since."
Reference: Early Mormon Documents, Volume 1, Page 458, reprint from Fayette Lapham's original work from 1830, Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet.
A cousin of Emma, who stayed with Emma and Joseph Smith during the dictation of the Book of Mormon reported
…the statement that the prophet Joseph Smith made in our hearing, at the commencement of his translating his book, in Harmony (in 1828-1829), as to the manner of his finding the plates, was as follows… He said that by a dream he was informed by a ghost.
Reference: Photocopy of letter, Photocopy in fd 8, box 149, H. Michael Marquardt Papers, Manuscripts Division, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah. Also see Mormon History, A New Chapter, by Joseph Lewis and Hiel Lewis and Early Mormon Documents, Volume 2.
(They said) In the fall of 1827, a man named Joseph Smith of Manchester, Ontario Co., NY, reported that he had three times been visited in a dream, by the spirit of the Almighty…
Reference: THE GOLDEN BIBLE, Ohio Star, (Ravenna, OH), 9 Dec. 1830, Madeline R. McQuown Papers, Marriott Library UofU, in fd 4, box 46. Also see History of the Church, Volume 1, page 118-119.
Some researchers believe that Joseph had an 'out-of-body' experience which he interpreted as The First Vision. When we read the following essay on The First Vision, some of us wondered if the same theory could also apply to the Moroni Visitation. For more information on the theory of Joseph's visions as being 'out-of-body' experiences, please read this very interesting 2006 article by Robert Bushman, former supervising linguist in the Translation Department of the LDS Church:
Link is here. (~7mb mp3 file ~1 hour long)
If Joseph had lived on his own then this particular criticism would not be an issue. But since he lived with 10 other people, this is an opportunity to examine whether or not the possibly verifiable parts of his divine experiences can be confirmed by other people rather than just taking Joseph's word for it. Simply put, if you were one of six brothers all sleeping in the same room and your youngest brother sleeping in your very own bed, who believed in magic and finding treasure by looking into stones, told you that an angel appeared in your room last night not once, but three times and lit up the entire room as bright as the noonday sun with his countenance as bright as lightning and conversed with him for almost the entire night whilst you and your other five brothers snoozed away for this entire time - would you believe it?
Equally puzzling is that there is no record that Joseph told any of his brothers, or the rest of his family, about his experience upon waking up. You would think that he would immediately wake up his brothers and tell them what happened. Joseph apparently didn't mention it to anyone until later that day and then perhaps only to his father.
This sounds every much like the alien abduction stories where someone swears that they were abducted in the middle of the night by aliens and taken aboard a space ship but their spouse was never woken up by this. The alleged abductee of course says that the all-powerful aliens have the ability to keep people asleep or erase their memories so their spouses can never see the aliens and verify their stories. To the spouses sleeping next to the abductee, there is no doubt that their spouse was sleeping in the bed with them the whole time, but to the abductee they still think their bizarre experiences were real despite the lack of evidence and the complete absurdity of it all.
There is at least one instance where this subject has been the source of considerable scholarly investigation. Acclaimed Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn offered a rather illuminating hypothesis regarding the Moroni visitations of 1823 to 1827. In his 1998 revised edition of 'Early Mormonism and the Magic World View" he makes some fascinating and convincing parallels between the timing of the alleged visitations and folk occult practices associated with conjuring deceased spirit guardians for the purpose of locating hidden treasure.
Starting on page 141, Quinn writes: When comparing accounts of the 1820 [first] vision and the 1823 [Moroni] visions, both Mormons and non-Mormons have commented on the contrast in details. None of Smith's known narratives of his First Vision were precise about dates: "the 16th year of my age," "I was about 14 years old," and "my fifteenth year." The most detailed dating in the final version of official history is still less than wholly satisfying: "in the spring of Eighteen hundred and twenty.
By contrast, Smith was very specific about the date and time of his 1823 visions. His earliest autobiography gave the day, month, and year for these experiences. The first published history gave even the hours: "On the evening of the 21st of September, 1823. [Joseph Jr.] supposes it must have been eleven or twelve, and perhaps later," he began praying "to commune with some kind of messenger." A few years after this published account, Smith precisely described the final moments of what happened on 22 September: "When immediately after the heavenly messenger had ascended from me the third time, the cock crew, and I found that day was approaching so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night." On 22 September 1823 sunrise occurred at 5:59 a.m. in this part of New York. Smith's prayer-visitation therefore occurred between Sunday night at 11:00 and Monday morning's sunrise at 5:59 a.m.
Palmyra's Joseph Smith was not the only one who valued the date of 22 September to "commune with some kind of messenger." In his Complete System of Occult Philosophy, Robert C. Smith quoted from the recent experience of three of his occult protégés in London. "On the night of September 22, 1822, we resolved upon invocating the spirits of the moon, and accordingly, having prepared the circle, and used the necessary ceremonies and incantations. to urge the spirits more powerfully to visible appearance . (our ceremonies began at midnight)." Within traditional magic lore, details of Smith's 1823 visitation were consistent with ritual magic's requirements for successful encounters with otherworldly beings.
[Further on in page 142] In Joseph Smith's generation, those who subordinated magic to religion also regarded such invocation as a spiritual quest. In 1823, Peter Buchan's occult handbook stated: "Now, Magic, subordinately to Religion, teaches the social cultivation of those principles or beings, which are the medium of communication between God and man." Buchan regarded this as "spiritual magic."
By all Mormon accounts, Smith met with this personage who was once a human in possession of gold plates. Moroni buried his treasure long ago to conceal it from those who were about to kill him. This was consistent with [Reginald] Scot's Discourse on which one of the Smith family lamens [ceremonial magic parchments] was based (see ch. 4): "Astral spirits of men departed, which (if the party deceased was disturbed and troubled at his decease), do for many years, continue in the source of this world . When Treasure hath been hid, or any secret thing hath been committed by the party; there is a magical cause of something attracting the starry spirit back again, to the manifestation of that thing."
.Furthermore, Smith's experience with this spirit on 21-22 September 1823 fits the internal dating of his family's magic parchment. Designed to enable a pure youth to contact a good spirit, the "Holiness to the Lord" parchment's inscriptions indicate that 12-21 September was one of the periods it was constructed. Also, the inscriptions show that 1823 was one of the only 9 years the lamen could have been inscribed (see ch. 4). Finally, for those who shared a magic world view, the times and seasons of Smith's September 1823 visitation fulfilled instructions for spirit incantation by Scot, Agrippa, pseudo-Agrippa, Sibly, Erra Pater, Barrett and other occult works in frequent circulation in early America (see chs. 1-4.)
[On to page 143] Smith began praying late Sunday night on 21 September 1843 "to commune with some kind of messenger." Astrological guides specified that Sunday night was the only night of the week ruled by Jupiter. Jupiter, Smith's ruling planet, was the most prominent astrological symbol on his family's golden lamen ("Holiness to the Lord") for summoning a good spirit.
.Cowdery wrote that Smith began praying earnestly. that Sunday night about "eleven or twelve". Reginald Scot's instructions specified that spirit conjurations should begin "about eleven a clock at night." His writings were the basis for the Smith family's "Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah" parchment (see ch. 4).
In fact a treasure-quest was the context Martin Harris described for Smith's prayer that September night. Joseph Jr. had served as a treasure-seer earlier that evening, according to a non-Mormon's report of an interview with Harris in the "autumn of 1827". In fact, Smith's prayer "to commune with some kind of messenger" may have been in response to that evening's unsuccessful effort to locate treasure.
[On page 144] It was also significant that Smith's experience occurred at the autumnal equinox. [Ebenezer] Sibly's New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences specified that the equinox was the time when the planetary hours of invocation corresponded most closely with the common hours of the clock. In the magic world view, the equinox was a time when the earth could be expected to experience the introduction of "broad cultural movements and religious ideas."
Therefore, published guides specified that the hour and the day of Joseph Smith's 1823 prayer "to commune with some kind of messenger," was ideal for the invocation of spirits. The appearance of treasure-spirits at 11 p.m., the hour of midnight, also continued in popular folklore through the mid-nineteenth century.
According to Joseph Jr., the messenger Moroni departed early the next morning near sunrise (5:59 a.m., according to the almanac). The messenger had communicated with him in three separate appearances since 11 p.m. In magic, the moon ruled Monday morning from midnight to 1 a.m., Saturn from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m., Jupiter from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m., Mars from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m., the Sun from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m., and Venus from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. In ceremonial magic, the hour of the moon was "especially suited to the conjuration of spirits, works of necromancy," the hour of Saturn was "good for communication with spirits," the hour of Jupiter was especially "favorable both to ordinary and extraordinary experiments," the hour of Mars was "good for communication with spirits," the hour of the Sun was "favorable both to ordinary and extraordinary experiments not included in those already mentioned." The hour of Venus - the hour of the messenger's final visit to Smith before sunrise - was "good for communication with spirits" There is exact correspondence between instructions for the successful magic invocation of spirits as compared with the hours during which Cowdery and Smith say he communicated with the messenger on Sunday night and early Monday morning.
[On page 145] Requirements of magic invocation even correspond to the time Smith's visitation ended. He said that the messenger ascended just before sunrise. Pseudo-Agrippa's Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy specified that spirit conjuration must end "before the rising of the sun."
Nonetheless, Mormon apologists insist that all of the above correlations are irrelevant. Writing for the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), BYU's professors dismiss as mere coincidence the avalanche of linkages involving Joseph Smith's 1823 experiences, the magic implements of his family, the published works upon which those artifacts were based, and the details of books available in the Smith family's neighborhood. Readers must decide whether it is academically legitimate (or consistent with faith) to inflate standards of evidence to "prove" something "faith-promoting," while throwing out those standards in order to dismiss unwelcome evidence.
See: D. Michael Quinn; Early Mormonism and the Magic Word View (revised and enlarged), 1998, Signature Books (Pg. 141-145)
The following essay is reprinted in its entirety:
The more time we spend deceiving others,
the more we deceive ourselves.
- Jim Whitefield
Whilst Joseph Smith's angel may very well deserve to be called Nephi, we will here use the name of Moroni, to be consistent with the name used by the Mormon Church today.
The only time the Angel Moroni is recorded as having extensively quoted scripture to Joseph Smith, is in his 1838 version of events, published in Times and Seasons in 1842 and subsequently in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851. Thus it was some fifteen years after the event that the first record of this aspect was ever written down. We are expected to accept that Smith remembered every detail and word change when he then recorded it.
Smith says the Angel Moroni quoted all the following (plus a lot more not mentioned).
Moroni quoted some of Malachi 3 word for word, as it appears in the Authorised Version (called the "King James Version" in America) of the Bible. I will use "KJV" for reference. According to Joseph Smith, Moroni then quoted and altered, Malachi 4. Smith apparently remembered exactly what was said, fifteen years later, recording it word perfectly.
Changes in scripture "quoted" by Moroni: [DELETIONS] ADDITIONS
The first question to ask is; in 1823, did Smith have the family Bible open in his bed in order to be aware of the exact changes without his brothers ever noticing? As Smith and his five brothers shared a small upper room in the family shack, in addition to which there is no indication that the vision was expected; probably not. If not, how did he remember any of the material changes in all Moroni said?
Smith wrote down this supposed 1823 vision in 1838. However, he must have forgotten that he wrote his "Inspired" version of the Bible in between times and in it, he left Malachi 4 exactly as it appeared in the KJV, presumably believing himself inspired at the time to confirm that it was already correct:
In the 1830-1832 Inspired Revision of the Bible; Malachi 4:5-6 reads the same as the KJV:
It would have been more convincing (but not much) had Smith's inspired version read the same as his Moroni version. Smith claims Moroni quoted it this way in 1823. He wrote the "Inspired" version (without changing these verses) in 1830-32. He wrote down what Moroni had supposedly said, in 1838, only then changing it from the original KJV text. If Smith could remember in 1838, what Moroni supposedly said, word for word in 1823; how is it that in 1830-32, half way between those events, when he was "inspired" to correct the KJV, he forgot Moroni's corrected version and left the verses exactly as they appear in the KJV? The answer is all too obvious. If Moroni did quote it that way in 1823, Smith would have altered the KJV to match it in his 1830-32 "inspired" revision but he did not. If Smith made it up in 1838, he forgot that he had kept his inspired revision the same as the KJV and that it wouldn't match. Either that or he was too confident in himself to even care. Either way, Smith is once again evidenced here as a fraud and his work a hoax, through his bad memory and lies. It was not the only time he made this "Malachi" mistake.
Smith used the reference in other places. Malachi 4:5 & 6 as quoted by Smith; as if from Moroni, was added in as Section 2 of the D&C but not until 1876. Suspiciously, the verses are also quoted (almost exactly as the original from the KJV), in D&C 27:9 in relation to the Priesthood, in the 1835 edition. Section 110, also not included until 1876 but written in 1836, includes in verse 15, the same words as the KJV, in respect to "keys." Additionally, in D&C 128, (added to the 1844 edition, written 6 Sep 1842) after giving us the KJV in verse 17; in verse 18, Smith says he might have "rendered a plainer translation than this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purposes as it stands." What he probably meant was that he remembered he might have altered it in 1838 but couldn't remember what he changed it to, so he just used the KJV which he had available, in case he misquoted himself; and then he links the idea of fathers to children and children to fathers; to baptism for the dead. The dates tell it all in terms of what is true.
In his famous King Follett Sermon on 7th April 1844, Smith quoted the original KJV text:
I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Despite claiming Moroni changed Malachi, Smith did not alter it in his "inspired" revision nor did he use it in a direct quotation in a major sermon to a claimed 20,000 saints, years later. It would have been a glorious occasion for him to have reminded the saints about the corrected words of Moroni. Moroni's altered words changed the meaning entirely so if the original was so wrong, why did he quote it as if it was correct and not use Moroni's words?
Huge chunks of scripture were quoted from the King James Version of the Bible in each of three visits by the angel and Smith seems able to precisely relate some which he says were quoted differently. The new version, given by the angel, says that they that do wickedly will "burn" as stubble "for they that come shall burn them" rather than use the original, that they shall "be stubble" and "the day that cometh shall burn them up". This is a pointless and nonsensical change when you consider any number of wonderful things that an angel could reveal if he was going to go to the trouble of actually visiting someone. To simply alter a scripture from saying a day will come which will burn people as stubble to say that those who come will burn them, does nothing to educate or inform in a manner that will help anyone. It serves only to confuse even further, an already confused people.
The King James comparison is inherent within the above text. To get a better perspective concerning the possible reason why an angel might feel the need to alter it, a look at Young's Literal Translation will show us how it sits by comparison.
There is no correlation which substantiates any reason for such changes to be made.
There are two important questions. The first and most obvious is; how could Joseph Smith have possibly remembered all of that; overnight, let alone fifteen years later? The second is; why the changes, which make no sense and don't even sit well with a literal translation. We know the King James Bible to be just one of many translations from earlier works which do not all exactly conform to the originally intended ideas. It is hard to imagine that an angel would quote directly from the King James Bible, (itself the object of several earlier translations) just because that was the version Smith was familiar with; and alter the text. If there was any credence to Smith's story, the entire text would have been given as it was originally intended to have been spoken, using the original information, likely given to Smith in modern English of his own day, in order to relay the message in a currently clear and understandable manner. After all, that was the way angels had spoken in the past.
It is humans that seem to expect angelic messengers to speak in Early Modern English, presumably as that is the language of the King James Bible. However, it was not the language of the ancients or of Christ nor is it ours. It was used in a period of time which bears no relationship to the time of the events written about, let alone to our current day. Earlier generations used their then current language in all finished translations. Retaining the Early Modern English form of speech in modern times has simply occurred as the Bible was not updated into modern English for such a long time. It thus now sets it apart from us and artificially gives dignity and perhaps awe to the supposed words of the Lord and his servants. In reality, their original manner of speech was nothing like Early Modern English which is archaic enough to us mere mortals so goodness knows what angels would make of it. However, as we don't use it today, it provides an assumed "authentic" religious touch.
It is illogical to think that angels would do anything other than speak to people using their own current language, should they choose to speak with them at all. Early Modern English does not belong to angels or to us but to a time of the translation of a book at an intermediate point, in one language out of many, in just one small part of the world.
Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, except some of Daniel, Ezra and Jeremiah which were written in Aramaic. The New Testament was most probably written in Greek, although some of it possibly in Aramaic before that. Subsequently, prior to the King James Bible being written in Early Modern (Jacobean) English, a lot had happened.
The Jewish Tanakh, (later Septuagint or Old Testament) was translated into Koine Greek in stages from 3rd - 1st century BC in Alexandria and is still used in Eastern Orthodoxy. In the second century, Origen's Hexapla placed six versions of the Old Testament side by side, including two second century Greek; one a literal translation from Hebrew by Aquila of Sinope (a convert Jew) and one by Symmachus the Ebonite, also a Jew. Although previously accepted by the Church, the Christian Bible was formally established by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem in 350 AD, confirmed by the Council of Laodicia in 363 (no Book of Revelation included) and later in 367 by Athanasius of Alexandria (including Revelation). Revelation, often quoted by the LDS Church, first excluded, finally got included by the skin of its teeth as many theologians of the day considered it a work of someone who was mentally ill rather than scripture. The vote came very close to excluding it completely.
Although there are previous (Vetus Latina) Latin translations, Jerome's Vulgate (AD 382-420) went back to original Greek and Hebrew where possible. Pope Innocent III banned anything other than the official version in 1199. However, previously in 900, Alfred the Great had some passages in circulation. In 1408, Wyclif's Middle English Bible translation of 1380-90 was banned by the Oxford Synod. Shortly after the ban on Martin Luther in 1521, when he then translated the New Testament from Greek into German, William Tyndale translated the Bible into Early Modern English in 1526, based on the Vulgate. He was jailed for doing so in 1535, tried for heresy and treason and burned at the stake.
Many more translations began to appear during the Reformation. The English versions included the first "authorized" version, The Great Bible in 1539; Matthew's Bible 1537 and Taverner's Bible 1539, both based on Tyndale. The Geneva Bible (1560) during Protestant scholarship exile in Queen Mary's time was the first divided into verses, chapters already existing for three centuries. Elizabeth did not like the Geneva Bible or those associated with it, (Knox and Calvin). The Bishop's Bible in 1568 was the result; and although there were nineteen editions, it survived only forty years. The Douai-Rheims Version of the New Testament was published in 1582 and the Old Testament in 1609, (just before the King James Version); both from the Vulgate. This translation was updated (possibly also largely retranslated) by Bishop Challoner in 1750 and with later updates, was the standard Catholic English Language Bible until 1941. The notes were anti-Protestant, the preface including the idea that Protestants had been guilty of "casting the holy to dogs and pearls to hogs". King James commissioned his 1611 Bible for the Church of England, using a large team of translators and a wide range of source texts. However, although referring back to earlier translations, much of Tyndale's work got included. There are problems with some of the translations according to modern day scholars. Smith did not correct them.
There have been many translations into many languages. Given that each language has its own unique form of expression, why would an angel not speak in the current language applicable to the person with whom he is speaking? Considering all the people who have claimed to have had such communication over the centuries in many different languages, why does Smith have to be different. Did each claim their messenger spoke in the manner of their old scripture if an intermediate language pattern had been used? It is illogical that an angel would do anything other than speak to someone in their own current language if not using his own dialect. He would not use "Bible speak". What Smith claims the angel quoted in the revised Malachi 4 is not remotely like the text in Young's Literal Translation, even if rephrased into modern English. Perhaps this is because Smith let his imagination run away with him. There are example comparisons later in this chapter.
It is humans rather than angels who think Early Modern English is the language of angels.
In the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith - History. 1:40 - 41, Smith continues:
Isaiah 11 is fully quoted by the Angel, as it appears in the King James Bible and Smith is told that it is about to be fulfilled. Of all the scriptures to quote; why choose this one? Aside from verses concerning a prophet emanating from Jesse, a narrative about animals not being dangerous in the millennium and a gathering of Israel, it includes the Lord utterly destroying the tongue of the Egyptian sea so the seven streams could be walked over "dryshod". Over a hundred and seventy years later, the "about to be fulfilled" idea may be legitimately questioned. Apart from the effects of the Aswan High Dam, flood control measures, silting; and the changing relief reducing the delta to two main channels from the original seven that existed in the time of the ancients, it still remains one of the world's largest river deltas. I would not venture to walk across it, with or without shoes! You would most certainly not only get very wet but in all probability you would also drown. Whatever was "about" to happen to dry it up, is still awaited. What was the point of Moroni quoting it?
Next, Moroni quotes Acts 3: 22-23 word for word. Smith has Moroni saying that "that prophet was Christ - the day had not yet come when "they who would not hear his voice should be cut off from among the people," but soon would come."
Considering that Smith thought the second coming would occur well before the end of the nineteenth century(about 1891) this prophecy is also somewhat overdue in its fulfillment.
Next Joel 2:28-32 is quoted verbatim.
As an aside, it is interesting to note the changes made in words during translation relevant to what will suit the generation reading the work. For example the KJV reads in verse 31, "the great and terrible day" and yet the New American Standard Bible reads "the great and awesome day." In a modern day translation process, it is not a word the British would use. The point is that language is used which will best help a reader understand a description. Thus, surely angels would do the same and use terminology most familiar to the recipient.
This is stated as soon to be fulfilled. That includes the sun being turned to darkness and the moon to blood. One questions the meaning of soon and also, as this has still to occur even now, why the angel even bothered to mention it at all. Surely there were better things to talk about than this? It was; and is still, meaningless; it was of no help to Smith, his followers at that time, or the several generations that have followed.
Smith states that many other passages of scripture were quoted with many explanations that cannot be given. The final question therefore is; when will they be given? They have to date still not been given and the present prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, has stated that the Lord doesn't give revelations the way He used to. They now just get feelings about things instead and have to figure it all out for themselves. So we are left to conclude that we will never know what these additional unmentioned explanations of scripture actually were. Judging by the above, it would appear there would be little point in knowing anyway.
Just to get an idea of the plausibility of a claimed angelic statement being true, we will look at just a few translations a little more closely. The alterations Smith claims Moroni made to Malachi 4, when compared to other translations, do not agree with the original text in any of them at all.
For reference, Smith had said Moroni altered the following parts in verse 1 thus:
(KJV scripture AS "quoted" by Moroni: [DELETIONS] ADDITIONS
Smith has Moroni saying that rather than the day itself, people will actually be burned by those who come. Is there any correlation with other translations, historically speaking?
The above leans more to Middle English so is harder to understand but it would now read:
Miles Coverdale Bible 1535:
Matthew's Bible 1537:
Geneva Bible 1560:
Bishops Bible 1568:
We must conclude that either Malachi did not get his idea down the way the Lord intended, (as the original translations appear reasonably consistent) or that Smith was once again just making things up as he went along. He may have hoped to have looked more like a prophet and seer but he revealed nothing but nonsense in these altered verses. Whatever they do mean, any original translation clearly does not mean that people or angels will come and burn the wicked people, the condition of the day will do that. Ultimately, even if Smith's version is accurate, what is the difference that makes it worth an angel wasting time talking about it? It proves and means absolutely nothing worthwhile. If the righteous believe that the wicked will be burned, it will make no difference to the righteous how it happens; and those judged as wicked by the so called righteous, most of whom don't think they are actually wicked, don't believe they are going to burn anyway so they don't want to know about it. The whole supposed "corrected" quote is pointless and useless to anyone.
Likewise, the alteration to the latter part of Malachi 4 is even more bizarre. Smith changes it completely to incorporate the Priesthood thus:
Again, as this is a little harder to understand, this is how it would read now:
Miles Coverdale Bible 1535:
Matthew's Bible 1537: (no verses)
Behold, I will send you Elias the prophet: before the coming of the day of the great and fearful Lord. He shall turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, that I come not and smite the earth with cursing.
Geneva bible 1560:
Bishops Bible 1568:
There is no reference to Priesthood in any translation and the rest of the changes do not alter or clarify anything. Again it is nonsense, simply meant to impress Smith's followers.
One can only conclude that if indeed we were to accept that the Angel Moroni really did quote and somewhat "correct" all the above scripture; and if Smith really did remember it all so precisely fifteen years later; why did he not change it in his supposedly "Inspired Revision", and moreover, why continue to use the KJV in the D&C to reference Priesthood, keys and also baptism for the dead; and in addition, in his key "King Follett" sermon?
More importantly, why did Moroni bother? Why not say something actually useful?
Extract from "The Mormon Delusion"
Copyright © 2006 James I Whitefield.
All rights reserved. Used with permission by MormonThink.
This material is available for personal use only and may not be copied, reproduced, shared or disseminated in any manner, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of the author. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
In 1799, Timothy P. Walker published an account describing an angelic visitation he claims to have experienced on March 28, 1798. Walker wrote that in the early morning he was visited by an angel from heaven, bearing a flaming sword 30 feet long. At the time, he was staying at the house of Captain J. Bissell, in Chelsea, Vermont.
Walker wrote that a light in his room awakened him—he arose from his bed, but could see nothing. He couldn't go back to sleep. So, "After musing some time on the conversation of the evening and the events which caused it" he was distracted when
a bright light appeared in the room, as though the moon in the height, of its lustre had shone directly upon me, I raised myself in bed but immediately sunk back with terror and surprise, and lay some minutes motionless, at length methought I heard an audible voice which I conceived not human, call to me by name, and said arise and give ear to the messenger of Heaven.
His story continues:
As the clock struck three, I arose from my bed and prepared my team, paid my fare and set out on my journey, without making known to the family the singular occurrence of the preceding night, though my mind was so truly fixed on what had past, that it was with much irregularity that I proceeded on my journey. I had not got on my way more than one mile and a half, before my team, which consisted of four oxen and a horse, in full speed, were instantly stopped as though hushed by a mighty hand; I unthinkingly bid them go on, but without effect; for at the same instant, a bright light appeared to overspread the horizon, and an Angel, or some supernatural Being, as I conceived, descended and stood erect in the air but a little distance before me, dressed in a long unfoiled robe, with a Flaming Sword in his hand.
After receiving information from the messenger, he said
I fell with my face to the ground, where I lay in a profound reverie for some time, at length I thought I heard an audible voice articulate and say, all these are Signs by which you shall know what is to befall the nations now in the latter days.
The full account of "The Flaming Sword, or a sign from heaven; being a remarkable phenomenon, seen in the state of Vermont" by Timothy P. Walker can be read as a PDF file of the 1814 publication.
For those interested in exploring contemporary influences on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, this account raises several intriguing questions. Could Walker's story have been known to Joseph Smith or Joseph Smith's family? And if it was, could it have impacted the development of his own story?
Many researchers have posited connections between potentially influential events, stories, or books from Joseph Smith's day and the writing of the Book of Mormon. Some critics tend to get preoccupied with locating the contemporary book that could serve as the unqualified "source" for the Book of Mormon. Indeed, several texts published before the Book of Mormon have been found to possess striking linguistic and thematic consistencies with Joseph Smith's narrative (see our section on "Early American influences in the Book of Mormon"). This cluster of incredibly similar contemporaneous texts, at the very least, signals that Joseph Smith was a product of his time: that, like any writer, he consciously or unconsciously drew from the symbolic resources available in his environment to clarify his understanding of God.
The purpose of this section is to explore several possibilities: that Joseph Smith was merely a product of his time; that he was familiar with other reports of heavenly visitations prior to his own, which may have influenced him; or that it was an astonishing coincidence that deity intervened in history at the same time others were having similar experiences
Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack were married in Tunbridge, Vermont in 1796. For the next 20 years they moved about eight times within a 15 mile radius of Tunbridge. The following lists the year and location of those moves:
This area is relatively small in size, about 25 miles east to west and 13 miles north to south, straddling the Vermont and New Hampshire borders.
Returning to Timothy P. Walker's account, recall that his angelic visitation occurred in Chelsea, Vermont, only a few miles north of the boundary within which the Smiths lived, as shown in the map below. Note the yellow boundary approximates the area in which the Smiths lived. The green circle marks Chelsea. (Click for a full-size map.)
Given that the supposed event occurred within a few miles of the Smith's residence of 20 years, and that it occurred while the Smiths lived there, it is likely they were aware of it. Such news would surely have been a topic of conversation in a small community. Even if the experience was fabricated by Walker, and even though the first several editions were published some distance from Chelsea, news of such an event would have been shared among the people of Windsor and Orange counties. While primary sources cannot prove this claim now, based on what we know about the diffusion of information in early American communities, it is reasonable to suggest that such communication would have happened.
The following lists the publication years and places for "The Flaming Sword," indicating the story's diffusion:
The 1800 Census for Chelsea lists the population at approximately 900 people. Link is here.
The 1800 Census lists the population for Tunbridge at 1324.
The Smiths lived in Tunbridge for about 7 of the 20 years in the area. From Tunbridge to Chelsea is approximately six miles.
The 1790 and 1800 censuses do not show anyone by the name of "Bissell," or any name close to that, living in Chelsea, Vermont. However, the 1790 Census does show a Jeremiah Bissel living in Windsor County, 15 or so miles southeast of Chelsea. A Jeremiah Bissel is listed as a town clerk of Norwich, Windsor County, Vermont, in "The Vermont Register and Almanack, 1819." Norwich is a place in which the Smiths lived from 1813-1816. Whether this individual is Walker's host, "Capt. J Bissell," is not certain.
Regardless of whether Walker's angelic visitation actually took place, the four published accounts verify that the family would have had access to knowledge about it. Even if the Smiths did not have access to a printed copy of Walker's story, talk about the account would have spread throughout the region.
While there is no way to know for sure, it would seem quite possible that Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith were aware of the event, either through word of mouth, publication or a combination. Joseph Smith Jr. himself lived in the area for the first ten years of his life. It is not unlikely that Walker's could be passed down to the Smith's children as part of the comminity's lore or even within the Smith family when discussing places they had lived. In such a way, Joseph Smith, Jr. could have easily been aware of it long before 1820, the year in which he says he had his first heavenly visitation.
Would someone be bold enough to plagiarize Timothy P. Walker's fantastical story? Apparently so. And the purported angelic account was reported in the LDS publication Millennial Star, Vol. XXX, September 20, 1868. pp 396-98.
Apparently, in 1868, the Millennial Star received a copy of a vision had by one Thomas C. Prencis. The Millennial Star version matches the Walker version word for word, with the following exceptions: the names of people and places have changed, and so have the dates. Another peculiarity is that all of the pronouns for the angel were changed to feminine. The Millennial Star editors had this to say: "The writer, it will be perceived, evidently had an idea that angels are feminine, by the manner in which the one spoken of is referred to."
In an interesting spin, the story of this vision was submitted to the periodical by Emer Harris, Martin Harris' brother. Emer claims to have found the story in Prencis' library. The Millennial Star account is entitled, The Flaming Sword; or, a sign from heaven. (Being a remarkable phenomenon, seen in the state of New Hampshire, in May, 1820.) The end of the piece says that it is "by Thomas C. Prencis."
To make matters more complex, an auction manifest from 1917 lists a text published in New Hampshire in 1816, titled "Flaming Sword, Or a Sign from Heaven! Being a Remarkable Phenomenon seen in the State of New Hampshire in May last. Signed Thomas C. Prentis." This is the version reported in the Millennial Star, but dated four years earlier. Link is here.
Regardless of whether either account is accurate, or which came first, we can infer that an account of an angelic visitor with a flaming sword was circulated in the Smith's vicinity.
If a camera was in Joseph's room on the night of September 21, 1823, what would it have recorded? It seems unlikely that Joseph's brothers sleeping in the same room and bed would not have been awoken by the events as described by Joseph. If Joseph wasn't lying about this experience then we think the only real possibility is that it was not a visitation, but rather a vision that was contained within Joseph's mind. The question is who put it there - God or was it just a product of his own mind?
Some of us watched the movie 'A Beautiful Mind' in which a brilliant mathematician would see people and have detailed conversations with them but they were totally imaginary. This went on for years until someone discovered this and tried to convince him that the people that he was having interaction with were not real. It was very difficult for him to accept this. This movie is based on a true story. A friend of mine's father was delusional at times and would see people that were not real. He would actually call the police about them. Is it possible that a similar kind of experience happened to Joseph Smith?
Some people that believe that Joseph was essentially a good man but they do not believe in the divinity of the LDS church because they think that Joseph may have had some similar experiences as did the delusional mathematician in the movie 'A Beautiful Mind'. Perhaps whenever a strange thought entered Joseph's mind, he thought it came from God and acted upon it accordingly. He may have thought he was trying to do the right thing by getting people motivated by a new religion and whenever people needed more convincing he developed things on his own such as a prop covered in a cloth that he said contained gold plates - all to the end goal of following the guidance of the thoughts in his head.
If visions are not meant for others to see then this really adds to the difficulty of proving or disproving anyone's claims of having them. It would be worthwhile to further examine additional accounts of visions recorded by Joseph and others.
Joseph's written account of the Moroni visitation, and the paintings displayed by the Church, make it seem as if it was a tangible event that anyone in the room could see if they were there. This doesn't seem to be the case if it was a vision contained in Joseph's mind. We think this should be recognized when any meaningful discussion of this event is made. If the Church teaches that this is a tangible event, then we need to recognize the problems associated with it. Otherwise it makes it seem like we have something to hide. We believe that as honest Latter-day Saints, the truth should be told to avoid accusations of withholding information or deceiving anyone.
Another problem with the Moroni visit is that in several LDS publications Joseph refers to the angel as Nephi not Moroni. The following link explores several instances where Joseph and other early members of the Church referred to Moroni as Nephi.
Noted LDS historian Dan Vogel produced a video that touches on Moroni's visitation.
We almost never see this issue brought up in any other books, websites or publications so we have few other references, pro or con, to provide. We did find it briefly mentioned in the following Dialogue Magazine article (Dialogue is a fairly neutral publication). If any reader has any other references, please email them to the administrator of MormonThink.com.
Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol 36, Number 4, Winter 2003, Clay L Chandler
Supporting the Church
The pro-LDS apologetic organization FAIR has an article called "Church art and historical accuracy". Although they mostly are discussing the Ensign artists inaccurate portrayal of the Book of Mormon translation process, much of the same reasoning could be applied to the Moroni visit as well.
Painting entitled "He Called Me By Name" by Liz Lemon Swindle