Theophanies similar in some regards to the one Joseph would record in his journal in 1832, conveyed to Robert Matthews (aka “Matthias”) in 1835, and elaborate on in 1838 were somewhat common in the religious literature preceding Joseph’s first written account.
The following examples, text, and presentation were either copied from or inspired by Letter for my Wife. I tracked down links to the original sources or academic transcripts and pulled text from Solomon Chamberlin’s original pamphlet instead of a much later summary by John Taylor.
The following accounts are listed by publication year:
1815 Norris Stearns published his own vision in Greenfield, Massachusetts, not far from where the Joseph Smith Senior family lived in Vermont.
At length, as I lay apparently upon the brink of eternal woe, seeing nothing but death before me, suddenly there came a sweet flow of the love of God to my soul, which gradually increased. At the same time, there appeared a small gleam of light in the room, above the brightness of the sun, then at his meridian, which grew brighter and brighter… At length, being in an ecstasy of joy, I turned to the other side of the bed, (whether in the body or out I cannot tell, God knoweth) there I saw two spirits, which I knew at the first sight. But if I had the tongue of an Angel I could not describe their glory, for they brought the joys of heaven with them. One was God, my Maker, almost in bodily shape like a man. His face was, as it were a flame of Fire, and his body, as it had been a Pillar and a Cloud. In looking steadfastly to discern features, could see none, but a small glimpse would appear in some other place. Below him stood Jesus Christ my Redeemer, in perfect shape like a man—His face was not ablaze, but had the countenance of fire, being bright and shining. His Father’s will appeared to be his! All was condescension, peace, and love!
The Religious Experience of Norris Stearns Written by Divine Command, pg 12
1816 Minister Elias Smith published a book containing his conversion account.
I went into the woods … a light appeared from heaven … My mind seemed to rise in that light to the throne of God and the Lamb … The Lamb once slain appeared to my understanding, and while viewing him, I felt such love to him as I never felt to anything earthly … It is not possible for me to tell how long I remained in that situation.
The Life, conversion, preaching, travels and sufferings of Elias Smith, pgs 58–59
1823 Asa Wild claimed to have a revelation that was published on October 22, 1823.
It seemed as if my mind … was struck motionless, as well as into nothing, before the awful and glorious majesty of the Great Jehovah. He then spake … He also told me, that every denomination of professing Christians had become extremely corrupt;
As quoted in The “Prognostication” of Asa Wild, BYU Studies Quarterly: 37:3
1825 Billy Hibbard, a New York preacher, included an experience with meeting Jesus and God the Father when was a young boy.
…when I came to the place of prayer, had kneeled down and closed my eyes, with my hands uplifted toward the heavens, I saw Jesus Christ at the right hand of God looking down upon me, and God the Father looking upon him. The look of Jesus on me removed the burden of my sins, while he spoke these words, “Be faithful unto death and this shall be thy place of rest.
Memoirs of the Life and Travels of B. Hibbard: Minister of the Gospel, 1825, pg 24
1826 John S Thompson, a New York minister described his commission.
I dreamed Christ descended from the firmament, in a glare of brightness, exceeding tenfold the brilliancy of the meridian Sun, and he came to me saying, ‘I commission you to go and tell mankind that I am come; and bid every man to shout victory.
The Christian Guide to a Right Understanding of the Sacred Scriptures, 1826, pg 71
1829 Solomon Chamberlin, an early member of the Church, published a pamphlet of his experiences before he met Joseph Smith.
After a departed spirit entered his room and delivered a message, Solomon recounts:
The state of the society was now opened to my view, and I had a spirit of discernment, and could discern the sandy foundation that many of them [the various religious sects] were building on. I now fell on my knees and gave thanks to God for his condescention to unworthy me, and while lifting up my soul to God it appeared to me that I saw my Saviour stand before me with the bible in his hand, and said to me this is the book — live in the spirit that this was wrote and you shall shine in the enternal world on high. I now felt joy and peace that is “unspeakable and full of glory.” I opened my bible that lay on my bench, and it was opened to my understanding with such glory as I never saw before, and my exercise increased, for I now felt my message to be from the eternal world.
From a transcript by Larry C. Porter in Solomon Chamberlin’s Missing Pamphlet: Dreams, Visions, and Angelic Ministrants, BYU studies 37, no. 2 (1997–98)