A Brief Pause for Questions

[This post is an intermission related to a series on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]

Alex Beam's New Book regarding Joseph Smith's death

Alex Beam’s New Book regarding Joseph Smith’s death

I’ve had so much fun reading and commenting on Alex Beam’s recent book that I didn’t have time to produce the full article about the next step in Joseph’s efforts to establish plural marriage among the Mormons.

So let’s take a pause for questions. What burning questions regarding Joseph and polygamy have plagued you? Which questions do you still have that I haven’t yet answered?

Feel free to read the excerpt regarding polygamy from American Crucifixion posted on Salon. Which parts do you find most troublesome, and why? Given that American Crucifixion will be making the rounds, it’s sure to be a topic of discussion. I figure it would be good/fun/useful to discuss this here, in a friendly, knowledgeable forum.

In the mean time I’ll keep working on the next posts in the series….

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

38 thoughts on “A Brief Pause for Questions

  1. I hope you had a good time at Greg Prince’s place with Mr. Beam.

    Is Mr. Beam a Mormon? I think his reading of the history is about all you could expect of any decent historian confronting such sordid facts. To me it seems God made it impossible to view Joseph Smith in a positive light unless through the medium of the Holy Ghost. You are trying to offer a way of viewing Joseph Smith in a positive light with your theory, apart from a testimony of Holy Ghost, but I think you recognize that it would be a stretch for most people to buy your theory even if it is true. Most people will say “if it walks like a duck…”

    Why did God make Joseph Smith so hard to believe in? Why did he allow Joseph Smith to walk like a duck, quack like a duck, look like a duck, but yet not be a duck at all? And how do you feel, when you are praising the beauty of the Emporor’s clothes, within the small community of the Emporor’s admirers, but those clothes are completely invisible to the rest of the world?

    For me, I have to acknowledge the nakedness of the Emporor, but say that he was clothed “in Spirit.” But you think he is actually clothed, and in a way that could potentially be seen in a purely secular light, once the story of Bennett and Joseph’s plan to protect the virtue of women is uncovered. Is that a fair charactaristic of your view?

  2. Hi Nate,

    Yes, I think it will be possible to demonstrate to an objective disinterested audience that Joseph was honorable. Mr. Beam is not Mormon. When he was approached to do this book, he didn’t really know anything about Mormons. He speculates that he got the job because he was the only person the agent/editor knew who actually believed in God, and therefore was presumed to have a leg up in understanding the dynamics of Joseph’s claims regarding a restored Christianity.

    I’ve actually thought that it is the current historians who are going to be found “naked” when the full history comes to light. Certainly I see myself, an engineer far from Salt Lake City, as being like the child who points and says “that’s not clothing.” The prior historians have erroneously convolved Bennett and his Strikers (using the Expositor’s word for the seducers) with Joseph. And these historians are coming forth after those, who could have defended Joseph, have died. I think when people examine the actual full record, this belief that Bennett’s activities were sanctioned by Joseph will be seen to be completely ridiculous.

    There are clues. I think I will succeed in demonstrating an honorable Joseph. But even if I get hit by a truck before I can finish this work, I certainly hope that the rest of my millions of co-religionists would be able to uncover the clues based on what I’ve posted to date. Up until now the vast majority of my co-religionists have been sitting in the dark with their fingers in their metaphorical ears shouting “I don’t want to know. Please don’t make me think about it. I like being a Mormon. La la la la la la la I’m not listening to you.”

    I’d like them to have the faith to “be calm and examine the data.” I think they will find a Joseph who is full of honor and forgiveness, willing to die rather than harm his people. A Joseph who is rather like Abraham – a great man, despite certain flaws.

  3. I can believe the protection bit – these women were abused, they pretty much became concubines, so Joseph offered some of them a form the of redemption in marriage. Feely betrayed and dirty would turn around if you were married to the prophet, I suppose, but only if the plural marriage was going on or supposed to take place anyway.

    But why do you believe the detective bit? What do you see Emma as a willing recruiter when she was so opposed later in life? Why couldn’t Bennett be someone in Josephs inner circle who was aware of “the principle” in principle and just went rogue, especially considering how secret Joseph was about it.

    And what do you think of this theory. Joseph received blesses and promises that he would complete his work, many times he escaped mobs and violent situations by the grace of God. After practice polygamy haphazardly and perhaps even on/off again as a result of confrontations with Emma, Joseph was permitted to be slain by the Mob, whereas Brigham who leads the church loved to a ripe old age and inspite of potential mobs, Indians, and even a government invasion.

    Could an alternate theory be that Josephs heart wasn’t in it because he cared too much for Emma, but still tried to “sorta obey” occasionally. If God wanted to build a nation (seed) on the foundation of great patriarchs and Joseph was going along with his heart pulled in two directions I could see how the Lord would indeed say, “well done but your work is finished” while Brigham once he knew the Lord’s will he did it and carried it off brilliantly.

    I’m not saying that Joseph was a fallen prophet for not going full tilt on plural marriage as its more nuanced than that. But that his role was starting the restoration and he everything he tried to carry out the next phase he perhaps gave too much heed to Emma (while upsetting her at the same time whenever he was chastised by the Lord and tried to follow that commandment). I see Emma and Josephs love to Emma as the potential obstacle and part of the reason why he kept it secret and vascillated. I see Josephs split love of God and Emma and the frequent reminders from God why he carried on sporadically and then secretively (ineffectively). Maybe it became clear he loved Emma as much as God since he heeded them about the same on this issue. If plural marriage was where the church needed to go, and Joseph wasn’t fully got there maybe he was allowed to be removed as a “well done, someone else can take the reigns now, you’ve suffered and been asked to endure enough, I won’t have you further endure the broken heart of the one you love so deeply.”

    I’m not committed in this theory really, but it perhaps sheds some light on perhaps even thee occasional borderline idolatrous ways we sometimes view marriage and put our spouse before the Lord in our hearts.

  4. Just read the salon article. Fascinating how accurate and unbiased it must feel to nonfaithful or even wavering lds readers.

    Presenting someone your theory and Alex’s theory I can’t imagine anyone would believe yours if they were inclined to the latter initially even though they both use the same facts to extrapolate on.

    What really bothers me though is the salon excerpt does not say “maybe” or “it appears” but it just pretends its interpretation is correct. This style of history really bothers me as it lacks all balance, lacks humility (which I value in weighing an argument) and has an agenda of pushing a viewpoint or theory rather than saying “here is one possibility”.

    Alex wishes to become his own prophet but instead of securing false notions of heaven he seeks for the esteem of the world. A short sighted, unimaginative loser indeed.

  5. I don’t have expertise in this area and therefore it is difficult for me to address any of this from that perspective. I find this thread of discussion confusing. It is not straightforward, involves supposition in support of hope and supposition born of hope.

    It seems to be the case that: Joseph Smith did things that look very bad. It is an easy an straightforward case to argue that he did what it looks like he did.

    Why would Joseph Smith do these things? It is easy to make the case that he was not acting out of righteousness in the matter of polygamy: the events concerning the matter, the secrecy, the circumstances of Joseph Smith’s polygamy that differ from the Brigham Young era; not to mention that human experience is replete with powerful men abusing their power, from King David on down.

    Why can’t it simply be the case that Joseph Smith overstepped his bounds as have other prophets before him?

    One of the main problems for me with the argument in question is one I have with some other Mormon apologetics I have encountered: the argument is long and confusing to the point that I often do not know what particular point is being made; it is more concerned with defending a position by spinning a tale of all that is possible; whereas the opposing veiwpoint is simple, reasonable, easy to see, and more clearly presents the facts.

    To go further, if this weren’t the story of Joseph Smith, if you were to replace the actions of Bennet with the actions of Joseph Smith, how would you paint the actions in that case? If it the actions were attributed to someone else entirely, the leader of a different organization today, one that you were not devoted to, would the explanation change then?

    In another thread, a commenter downplayed “scholarly consensus” but for me, what else do I have to go on? The scholarly consensus on this matter is much more straightforward and easy to grasp. It could be incorrect, but I have a choice between something that looks simple and straightforward, the scholars mostly agree on versus something that, to me, borders on the outlandish.

    It simply jives with my experience of humanity and religion to see Joseph Smith as a flawed prophet rather than the protagonist of a Dan Brown novel, caught up in strange plot twists and outlandish sidetrips as the town detective (he speaks with angels, receives direction from God, and yet he as to rely on intrigue and spy work to uncover Bennet’s secret designs?)

    In order to accept what has been presented as reasonable, I need some scholarly consensus (at least, scholars to weigh in positively) and I need something more straightforward and easier to follow, something that doesn’t require me to maintain a cadre of “what ifs” ordered and at my command.

  6. I’m not as eager to cast Joseph in a bad light as is hpic. I’m not sure prophets before Joseph so much did “bad” things as things for which we lack sufficient information to understand them. The scriptures are a very thin narrative of people’s lives. I consider the journal from my mission, my wife’s journal during the same time period, and our letters. Two years takes up about 500 pages of single spaced text, and we didn’t even provide that much detail of our lives. I can just imagine the volumes that would be written to address the lives of prophets or the Savior. Anyway, I’ve wondered whether Meg has stumbled upon “revelation” called as such after D&C 132 was issued. It seems like the last verse promised more guidance on celestial marriage and/or plural marriage, but I don’t know that any more was given unless we consider conference talks and/or principles and doctrines we discuss today.

  7. “and I need something more straightforward and easier to follow, something that doesn’t require me to maintain a cadre of “what ifs” ordered and at my command.”

    How about getting a personal revelation from God that you can trust Joseph? That’s pretty straightforward, at least it has been for me.

  8. Hi hplc,

    I’m reading your comments as saying my writings have laid out a tortured story, one that is not nearly as simple as the story of a Joseph Smith who simply took what he wanted from whomever he wished.

    By the way, have you considered some of the women he is alleged to have bedded? I’m just not sure a sexual opportunist would have gone for Patti Sessions, Sarah Cleveland, Elizabeth Durfee, and Fanny Young. And if we are to believe he was a sexual gourmand, then why stop at a mere 30-40 women? Why not in fact take advantage of the hundreds the Expositor reported Joseph had taken?

    Anyway, I am working on developing the logical thread stated clearly, without the midrashic interludes. I will still include use of the subjunctive – good historians do use that conditional form of verbs unless their history is completely without alternatives. Indicative is more fun to read, and this is why Alex Beam uses indicative in his book, as though there is no question about the interpretation he puts forth.

    I would love it if you knew enough to actually contradict me, rather than merely assert that you remain unpersuaded that Joseph might have been honorable. However I do appreciate your feedback.

  9. For us as members, it absolutely comes down to trusting God’s selection of Joseph as the head of this dispensation and all his successors as God’s spokesmen. But for non-members (whether scholars or no) neither trust nor faith are hardly the issue. That said, I would rather follow the scholarship of one such as Meg who has implicit faith in Joseph and holds his name in esteem, giving him the benefit of the doubt, rather than “for evil” as Moroni prophesied would come to pass. Reading negative and, well, near-sighted scholarship is very difficult to get through.

  10. Aaron’s comment above raised a question that I’ve wondered about over the years in relation to Joseph’s polygamy. He contrasts Joseph’s death to Brigham’s and asks why Brigham seems to have gotten the better end of the deal. Aaron then suggests that Joseph’s heart wasn’t in it with respect to the practice of polygamy. That led me to think about Jacob 2:30, which says:

    30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

    Clearly Brigham had a lot of seed (I am one of thousands who can claim his as a progenitor). Joseph, not so much. This is helpful in some respects today because it makes it easier to point out that polygamy wasn’t just about sex, but it seems odd to me that the scriptural hook that allows for the occasional command to practice polygamy seems tied to increasing the seed springing from righteous families, and there is an absence of that in the case of Joseph.

    I don’t mean to cast a stone at Joseph over this, or suggest that he was not obedient. We are all looking at this subject through the fog of time, and through records that can be best described as incomplete. I just wonder if this contrast has ever been explored.

    As touching Emma being involved in the detective work, and helping to arrange the marriages, I don’t think it odd. These marriages appear to have been sexless, and from Emma’s point of view I could see her saying (in the modern vernacular) “no-harm, no-foul.” This could explain, to a point, why Emma would have different reactions to the polygamy practiced by Joseph and the polygamy practiced by Brigham. I would personally expect that the differences were the result of continuing revelation on the subject which brought procreation into polygamy.

    If that’s true, and it’s frankly all speculation on my part, then Emma would not have been inconsistent in complaining that Brigham wasn’t following the path Joseph laid out.

  11. M. Towns, I trust that Joseph Smith restored the Gospel. It also looks like he did some things that were a mistake. If I trust Joseph Smith, why do I need to spin tales of wonder in order to hide his misdeeds? Could it be that spinning tales or eagerly believing fictions that hide ugly truths is done to hide a fear that he can’t be trusted?

    M. Stout, I’m not sure what you mean by “tortured story.” I find it hard to accept your story because it appears to have too many unsupported twists and turns; a story not motivated by coming to terms with the facts (as best we have them) but in spinning the facts in order to exonerate Joseph Smith. It is as if the need to exonerate Joseph Smith betrays an acknowledgement that, not only did Joseph Smith misbehave, but his misbehavior has implications on the truth claims of Mormonism today.

    I can accept that Joseph Smith was called of God; I can also accept that, as a man, he caused some problems that momentarily led the church over a bumpy road. I fear the road will be bumpy as long as we continue to pretend it isn’t.

    See, proclaiming that Joseph Smith wasn’t a sexual opportunist because you just can’t see how he would be into a few of the women, that looks like grasping at straws. You can’t imagine why he would do it in a few cases therefore it didn’t happen at all? That isn’t convincing and it makes it more difficult to accept other aspects of your story that I lack the expertise to judge outright.

    I only responded because you requested criticism and none was forthcoming. In my area of expertise, I sometimes encounter bad arguments by non-experts that reach incorrect conclusions. Although it is a very different subject than what is presented here, the way the arguments are put together (suppositions and “have you considered” in a long, roundabout fashion that is difficult to unravel) — what you have presented *feels* like a bad argument to me; it looks like other bad arguments I have seen. You could be 100% correct, but the presentation does not give me confidence. My gut says something is amiss.

  12. Looking at Alex Beam’s polygamy excerpt, I see:

    1) A retelling of Mary Rollin’s story. It sounds ooky to modern audiences because she was so young when Joseph first met her. The descriptions of the vision of Jesus and the angelic visitations also scream “crazy!” to the modern ear. Alex implies the angel and sword line was common, but I am aware that the angel “line” was very localized in time, to the period when Bennett was seducing his dozens, unbeknownst to Joseph. It would make no sense to a modern reader why Joseph would approach a married and pregnant woman to be his wife. However Joseph talked with Mary, Mary refused, Joseph promised her she’d have a vision confirming his request was valid, and Mary reports she and others saw the angelic vision.

    2) Beam talks about the various revelations regarding polygamy. We’re actually in significant agreement here, though the sense the reader would get is that the scriptures were grossly in conflict.

    3) Beam recounts Benjamin Winchester’s assertions about Joseph’s alleged scandalous involvement with two or three families in the 1830s. Benjamin had been a teenager, so could have been telling the truth. However Benjamin had left the Mormon community some 45 years earlier. There was scandal related to Fanny Alger and scandal related to Carter building a second home for his hoped for wife. But the quote implies more. It is interesting that Benjamin doesn’t say anything about Joseph marrying Benjamin’s young sister, who would have been at most fifteen when she became Joseph’s wife.

    4) The business regarding Joseph’s introduction of the doctrine of polygamy and Bennett’s activities is compressed significantly. Too bad, really.

    5) Beam’s account focuses on Emma’s frequent opposition to spiritual wifery, making the common mistake, in my opinion, of conflating spiritual wifery with plural marriage. Emma’s silence is mistaken for ignorance, and her unwillingness to put up with silly girls who were putting her husband’s life at risk is characterized as merely hating polygamy. I was interested to know where the “Straight from hell, madam” quote comes from. The footnote in the book says it comes from Mormon Enigma, but doesn’t indicate the year or context. A google search on the verbatim portions only provides me links to articles about Beam’s book.

    6) Many different (and sensational) stories regarding polygamy are telescoped together without context or sense of causality. The reader unacquainted with the facts would be excused for thinking Joseph was approaching every family, marrying up daughters and mothers and sets of sisters all over the place. Fully sexual interactions are implied.

    7) The excerpt ends with the assertion about Joseph approaching Jane Law about entering into polygamy. Having read the book, Beam then casts William Law as the disillusioned insider who turns against Joseph and causes Joseph’s death, the Judas character if you will.

    So again, I don’t have a problem with any of the facts portrayed in the excerpt, but the tone and implication lacks nuance or even admission that the tale isn’t as simplistic as portrayed.

    That said, it does make for entertaining reading. And it isn’t as though the tale of Joseph as opportunistic sexual predator is new to the American public. It may be new and disturbing to all-too many Mormons, and that is truly a pity. We as a people should have been taught the goodness of Joseph, and how these stories can be seen in an honorable light. But better late than never.

  13. Hi hplc,

    Of course it *feels* like a bad argument. I’m an engineer. And I’m a woman. And when I started blogging about this, I jumped in with both feet, never expecting this series of blogs to be more than the historical outline I’d been promising myself for the last few years I would do in preparation for a planned fictional treatment.

    But around the post regarding Sangamo and Pratt, I started finding details, fully consistent with my prior thoughts, that were compelling. Brian C. Hales was kind enough to share copies of the High Council notes, which no one has ever examined with a view that Bennett’s illicit intercourse was wholly different from Joseph’s polygamy (apologies to Brian Hales, but the only scholarly article specifically examining the High Council notes was written by Gary Bergera, who I love. But Gary Bergera in that article specifically states his belief that Bennett was fully privy to Joseph’s early polygamous ceremonies and thinking). Then when I wrote Eliza and the Stairs, I ran into her poetry of November 1842, which has never been seriously analyzed. The love poem Eliza wrote to Jonathan Holmes (& Elvira) doesn’t make any sense, given the clear indication that Jonathan was a pretend husband for Elvira, attested to by both Elvira’s reproductive history and the account from Elvira’s neighbor, Brother Wright.

    You object, I think, to my habit of telling the story the way I think it happened, by snippets of midrash. How much of that objection is that my stories don’t jibe with the view you have come to accept, of a sexually active Joseph who abused his authority? At least I infer that is what you mean by leading the Church over a bumpy road.

    I don’t mind if someone else takes these facts and casts them in proper scholarly robes. Please. I would be thrilled!

    Meanwhile here are a couple of items where I don’t think the current “scholarly” interpretation makes sense:

    Mary Heron Snider. Her son-in-law, Joseph Ellis Johnson, was on trial before Brigham Young and a plurality of the apostles for sleeping with a wife of Lorenzo Snow. The apostles asked Joseph Ellis Johnson if he was teaching that it was right to sleep with a woman as long as no one found out. Joseph Ellis denied teaching any such thing. Michael Quinn claims that Joseph Ellis next went into a segue, explaining how Joseph Smith “frigged” his mother-in-law, Mary Heron Snider.

    Does that make any sense? Do you stand before a disciplinary council and say, “By the way, while you’re deciding if I can be forgiven of my sins, did I tell you that Joseph banged my mother-in-law in my house? She was the first.” Or does it make more sense that Joseph Ellis said, “Not only do I not teach that it’s right to engage in illicit intercourse as long as it isn’t discovered, my mother was one of those who was seduced, back in Nauvoo. She was the first one frigged. Who told me? I was told by Joseph.”

    Here’s another one. Joseph had been taken captive by Missouri sheriffs in June 1843. Eliza Snow, Elvira Cowles Holmes, Elizabeth Durfee, and Elizabeth Whitney went to visit Cornelius Lott, head of Joseph’s protective detail, if you will. Every historian to date supposes that these four ladies went to Cornelius to obtain another nubile bride for Joseph. But perhaps, just maybe, they went there to persuade Cornelius to doubt his doubts, to embrace the idea that Joseph was good and worth saving, and to get up off his duff and get about the work of saving Joseph from extradition to Missouri and almost certain death.
    ___________

    I’ve been around men my entire life who didn’t think my explanations sounded right. Not sure if you are male of female, but in my past, the fact that I had breasts and long hair was sometimes grounds for excluding me from conversations. That and the fact that I didn’t kowtow deferentially to certain individuals in power. If I thought I was right, I would say so. They would tell me I was wrong, that the phenomena I was predicting had never been observed, could not be possible. However time and again physics has proven me right. And when it comes to Elvira and Jonathan and Joseph and Eliza, my fictional suppositions have turned out to be consistent with facts, time and time again. Like my “supposing” that Jonathan and Elvira could have consummated their marriage around the time Joseph’s body was reburied. Given the date of their daughter’s birth, that put conception in February 1845. Imagine my astounded delight when it turned out one of the Huntingtons who participated in the reburial did record the date, and it was February 1845, instead of the “fall of 1844″ estimate I’d found elsewhere.

    I accept that you are not convinced. But my history tells me that I shouldn’t back down merely because a member of the status quo tells me they are unconvinced. Particularly when you actually aren’t an expert in the subject area. It would be intriguing to know what your area of expertise is.

    I look forward to expanding my explanation to support the twists, though I might not do that until I finish this series. Just as in any work, this is a first draft, getting the words on paper, laying out the broad strokes. I don’t want to change process mid-stream, since I want to complete this series as a factually and stylistically consistent whole. Since you haven’t been willing to share a name, your expertise, or any criticism beyond, “your arguments feel wrong,” I’m going to fall back on the delightful criticism I did get via e-mail from people who were much more specific for when I reformulate this for a scholarly audience.

  14. “Not only do I not teach that it’s right to engage in illicit intercourse as long as it isn’t discovered, my mother was one of those who was seduced, back in Nauvoo. She was the first one frigged. Who told me? I was told by Joseph.”

    Actually, this is an interpretation I don’t agree with. Guilty people have the exact tendency to deny something and seek for a comparative excuse at the same time. “I didn’t do it and besides Joseph did the same thing too, I have first hand account from a trustworthy source.”

    It’s not a good defense but don’t you agree people on trial, especially those who make poor decisions, usually offer up irrational defenses. One reason why lawyers are important!

  15. meg for the record I am not wishing you to stop writing but just pointing out where I disagree with some analysis of the facts. It doesnt mean I agree with the common narrative either but am perfectly content to reserve judgement based on the multitude of good fruit from Joseph’s other actions. Perhaps from an outsiders perspective its inconsistent and hypocritical that I wouldn’t judge Ron Hubbard the same way(just grabbing a name). But I dont feel I have to confront every would be prophet when Im content with what I found.

    ps – windows 8 keyboard touch sucks…

  16. Hi Aaron,

    Oh, I have no plans to stop writing. It’s just that I have to sleep a few hours from time to time…

    Regarding my interpretation of Joseph Ellis Johnson’s testimony, are you reacting just to my synopsis, or have you read the record? It’s available at Brian C. Hale’s webpage discussing Mary Heron.

    If others had hauled Joseph Ellis Johnson in, unrepentant, I would see your point more easily. But Joseph Ellis Johnson appears to have approached the authorities to get things smoothed, because he wanted to be married to the woman in question so he could be the legitimate father. Lorenzo Snow eventually agreed with releasing his wife so she could be sealed to Joseph Ellis Johnson (the marriage between the woman and Lorenzo appears never to have been consummated).

    Also, if Joseph Ellis Johnson had been being self-justifying and confrontational, we would have expected a response from the others involved in the trial. But they said nothing.

  17. Meg,
    I just recently found and read all of your blog entries, “A Faithful Joseph”. It has been very interesting to read and to be introduced to some new facts that I had previously been unaware, as my research on this topic has been relatively small. I am what many in the bloggernacle call a “TBM” and have a firm testimony of the restored gospel. However, in my studies of church history, there have been a number of things that just don’t make sense with only the information I have seen so far. In my somewhat limited experience, I have found that some things that don’t make sense are that way because 1)we don’t have complete information, and/or 2)we make assumptions of truth, when in fact, what we are assuming is not true, or is not true because of the way it limits other possibility of truth. (I must apologize. I haven’t been active in the academic community for some time, so I am still working on portraying my ideas in a more coherent way. I hope that my point is understood in spite of my clumsy presentation.)
    So, when something doesn’t make sense or ring completely true to me, I end up putting it on the back burner and looking for further information to clarify.
    Polygamy has been one of those issues that just hasn’t made sense to me. Particularly after reading “Rough Stone Rolling” and another book on Mormon Polygamy. It hasn’t lessened my testimony, but has definitely brought more questions. While I don’t take all of what you have written as fact (you say some of it is conjecture and I respect you for doing so), it has given me some further information and a possible framework where facts and testimony can indeed reside in truth. I thank you for your insights and am looking forward to your further entries. I know someone asked you about your writing about Brigham Young in the same fashion and you said you weren’t as drawn to that story. I would be interested in that as well. Keep writing!

  18. Hi Amy,

    Good to hear the posts I’ve put up have been useful for you.

    I don’t take everything I’ve written as fact… LOL! And there are some elements that have shifted in my thinking just in the few months I’ve been posting here. For example, I originally thought Eliza had been pregnant until mid-March 1843, and I had a tentative reason for why Joseph might not have nailed Bennett to the wall in April 1841 but then later did go off the handle when Hyrum’s letter arrived. Now I’ve realized there was other history going on, so I didn’t need a reason for Joseph to disbelieve Miller’s report and Eliza could plausibly have lost any baby she was carrying in November 1842.

  19. Meg,

    I just had to take this moment out of my busy schedule (aside from reading your posts that is) to state that I absolutely love your series. And I certainly hope that you don’t get “hit by a truck” before you finish. Keep up the great work. Thanks.

  20. Amy, you write: “So, when something doesn’t make sense or ring completely true to me, I end up putting it on the back burner and looking for further information to clarify.”

    Exactly! I think one of the worst tricks of our time is that we need to have 100 percent proof of everything in our mind or else we play mind tricks with ourselves and start doubting our faith. The fact is that there will ALWAYS be issues where we do not have all of the information. This is why you cannot get a testimony by logic. The Holy Ghost testifies to your Spirit, which is capable of have 100 percent certainty, but your brain will lag behind. So the goal should be, just as you say, to put new information you don’t understand on the back burner until you can understand it better.

    A great example of this is the Old Testament. There is simply so much weird stuff going on in the Old Testament (Joshua ordered to kill everything in Canaan, for example) that we simply cannot wrap our minds around it. But as I study the Old Testament I find that every time I read a few chapters and really study it I find out something new and am able to make sense of it.

  21. hplc,

    Honestly, I can respect your point of view. You don’t really have time to do your own thorough research — you are plenty busy just working to feed yourself and maybe a family after all — so what choice do you have but to go with the scholarly consensus for now?

    I confess, though it’s clearly an appeal to authority instead of a logical argument, I think arguments like this are really much much better than we give them credit for.

    At a high level and without needing to know every fact, you’ve read a few things and it looks like maybe the simplest reading is that Joseph made some mistakes. So you are currently okay with that reading and can accept that Joseph made mistakes in polygamy. And why not? He’s just a human being, right? And he’s being asked to do the impossible, right? So it makes sense that he’s going to make some bad mistakes, right?

    Again, at a high level, I see nothing wrong with this point of view at all and frankly, if its working for you and your faith isn’t being undermined by it, my frank advice is to stick with it and don’t get overly worried beyond that.

    However, let me now criticize your point of view a bit. First, this is a point of view that tends to work for people at a high level. But it is not uncommon for people to have ‘the specific issue’ (or possibly specific issues) that they worry about. Frankly, a great many of the ‘issues’ people had with polygamy I had no issues at all with. But others really bothered me. Why one issue happens to bother one person and not another is dependent on so many other factors in that person’s current worldview that it is really difficult to find two people that are prepared to address the same issue in the same way.

    What I feel you are not understanding about Meg’s work is that throughout her attempt to bring a coherent picture together — some of which is so new she’s making it up as she writes the post based on what she found the night before — there are definitive points where she expresses new ideas I have not though of that address specific stories of episodes. I can tell you — as someone that has researched this a bit (though its been a while since I did) that some of what Meg comes up with is solid stuff in terms of an alternative explanation.

    She just gave the example of Joseph Ellis Johnson’s trial. Aaron points out that the Michael Quinn (which is the current scholarly consensus undoubtedly) version isn’t unthinkable. But when you read the story first hand in the text, Meg’s (I’m not sure it’s really *hers* per se as didn’t Brian Hale also support it?) really is the better reading. Of course both readings are at least ‘plausible’ so if you really want the bad reading, it’s still available. But now that people are starting to recognize that the scholarly consensus on this reading is worse than the alternative reading — frankly the scholar consensus may be forced to change at some point. And if it doesn’t, I honestly doubt it will because the scholar consensus has something more to go on than the alternative reading other than the obvious: that the world generally is more comfortable with a prophet fraud than a prophet and bad sex tends to support the preferred theory.

    But as insiders, frankly, there is just no longer a rational reason at all for us to believe in the bad reading over the good one. The moment the alternative reading was sufficiently plausible by a serious look at the evidence, I feel abandoning the bad reading should be a given for us. We should at least be willing to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt in all things. And in a case like this – where the scholarly consensus is actually weaker than the alternative – dang right I’m abandoning the scholarly consensus!

    My point here is that it’s not all or nothing. Meg’s stuff includes the highly speculative for sure at this point – but she has offered quite a number of highly plausible alternative readings in several places that I happen to know, due to my own studies, used to be considered quite difficult problems but frankly now won’t be. Will this turn Joseph into a fully honorable man and remove the need for you to still view him as a person that made some bad mistakes? No, but it will significantly reduce how often that is necessary. Still a major victory.

    There is another criticism I feel I should make of your position to be fair. My big hang up came from Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness. But now that I’m quite a bit better educated on the subject due to finally starting to go to some original sources and reading what the women actually themselves said, I have to tell you that Compton – the scholarly consensus considers him the best scholar on the subject – is completely biased. He constantly rips the narrative away from the women to make sure his views are what predominate instead of theirs. By the time you finish reading the book, you know next to nothing about how these women really interpreted their own lives, but you are an expert on what Todd Compton believes. He’s the main character of their biographies he’s written. The big difference between himself and Meg is honestly that Meg tells you her biases and her speculations upfront. Yet until I had done my homework and read some first hand sources, what Todd was doing was invisible to me. I thought he was just unbiasedly present the facts. But once I was educated on a few of the stories from the women’s viewpoint it was like a new dimension of Todd’s stories opened up to me. I started to be able to see just how often he controls the narrative to read different from what the women said. And generally, it’s just a slight change of emphasis or an additional word or phrase here or there that is all that is required to make the whole of it seem drastically different than how the women saw it.

    Will the truth turn out to be somewhere in the middle? Might it be that Meg (and others like Brian Hale) will force a shift in thinking so that Joseph starts to come across as a flawed character that made some bad mistakes – but far less of them than we once thought? I would bet money on it that this is where the scholarly consensus is now headed now that we actually have some believers starting to look at the history and the story is no longer being told only be non-believers. (Todd Compton, for example, is LDS, but he’s practice-but-not-believing except in the John Dehlin sense of the term ‘believing’. Though he’s also often not practicing.) That’s the big problem I have with your position personally. The believers have only just barely entered the fray. Brian Hale is the big hitter right now. (I have yet to read his three volumes of work – though I hear they are excellent.) As a believer he had incentive to look past the scholarly consensus – which was purely unbelieving prior to him – and to look for the evidence people like Todd Compton had no interest or desire to look for. That’s the way scholarly consensus usually works, of course. Someone comes along with a different view point that has the incentive to buck the consensus and forces the consensus to move through careful scholarship.

    To my advice would be that – as a believer – you probably shouldn’t yet be willing to go with the scholarly consensus in its current form. Wait 10 years first, so that it has to take the believing scholar’s point of view into consideration. It will seem quite different by then. Though I suspect it will still present a flawed Joseph.

  22. Bruce likes a flawed Joseph, if much more honorable than some scholars currently think.

    Sure Joseph was flawed. But so are we all.

    My husband is flawed, for example. When I was younger, I thought he needed me to point those flaws out to him on a continual basis.

    Then at some point I realized that my husband’s flaws are not as amazing as are his strengths. He is, for example, a very good man. He is an intelligent man. He is a nurturing man. When squirrels get into our attic, he deftly traps them, drowns them, and removes them from our home. Whenever I really need some article of clothing, I am almost certainly likely to find them, folded, in my drawers, without my having taken any thought to wash or dry or fold or put away these same clothes. He dances well (he toured with the BYU ballroom team in the day), and he sings well. He leads music with energy and skill.

    Now I could enumerate my husband’s flaws. Some of them are highly entertaining. But II think I’ll forego talking about my husband’s flaws for the moment.

    Back to Joseph. It’s easy for us in our armchairs to cast leisurely aspersions on Joseph. We perhaps forget that the total history worked together to create our today. How many of Joseph’s “errors” could we remove and still enjoy the benefits we have in our day?

    Thinking of my husband, some of his “flaws” give rise to benefits I’ve experienced in my life. And ultimately, if he wasn’t the sweet, slightly clueless, laid-back individual I discovered twenty years ago, he wouldn’t have been an never-married man at the age of 37. So those characteristics that underpin the flaws I’ve so long criticized are the same characteristics that allowed me, as a divorced and damaged single mother of 30, to find a good man who loved and cherished me, who I have come to love and cherish.

    There is something that happens with children as they grow up. For most, who had the benefit of a nominally adequate father, they adore their father in their youth. He is the giant who can do no wrong. Then as the child grows, they discover that their father has flaws. There is a deep sense of betrayal, as the giant is found to be less than god-like. But there is a point in maturity when the grown child realizes that their father was good, that if they are lucky, they might some day be as good an individual as their father was.

    I submit that Mormon scholarship is still working through its adolescent angst.

    I look forward to the day when we grow up and are able to both embrace the greatness of the man who restored the gospel and be willing to follow God’s command to forgive.

  23. Scholarly consensus, in most cases, began with just one or two scholars. To dismiss new readings of available documents out of hand is akin to proclaiming that the science is settled. Our understanding of science is constantly changing. That is why there are so few laws in science, many theories, and uncountable postulates. Our view of history often changes as new things (or evidences) are uncovered, or as accepted versions are reexamined under new cultural understandings or new views into motivations.

  24. Bruce: What little I have encountered from Brian Hale I also found to be unclear and difficult to follow, regarding his explanation of events and what he holds as important for his premise (indeed, I am often unclear as to his actual premise). I feel like I have to juggle 4 or 5 “What Ifs” at all times and as I don’t have a command of the actual historical record, juggling all the facts and all the what ifs is too much.

    It may be that he is on the right path and everyone else needs to get in line. If so, that’s fine and we’ll get there. As of now, I have a hard time buying it. It seems too much to me like the historical record can be put together in a simple straightforward way and the approach of Brian Hale, much as here, is built out of hope and suppose.

    The Joseph Ellis Johnson story is meaningless to me. I had never heard of it until now. The “good” reading presented here seems to be reading way too much into it. It may be correct but there isn’t enough to say so. And I don’t agree that it definitively says that Joseph Smith did anything with Mary Heron. I don’t find it useful at all for judging Joseph Smith.

    (At the most, this says to me that even back then it was not outlandish for people to have a certain opinion about Joseph Smith’s dealings with women. He did things that, at the least, did not look good even then. I agree more with Aaron’s statement that Johnson was likely denying something and using a comparative to say, “look, I did something wrong but I’m not like that guy, I’m not trying to use a loophole to justify what I did.” Only, I would not be surprised if Johnson didn’t see a thing and was merely repeating rumors he had heard.)

    So, I look at this case, I find the “good” reading unconvincing and more so, I wonder, why is this data point so important? It doesn’t look important to me. Is it important because it can so easily be interpreted in a way that exonerates Joseph Smith? I simply don’t see this incident as a reasonable fulcrum for cracking things a different way.

    Ultimately, this exercise looks to me like too much explaining and too little data. I think I’d be more convinced with a more clear presentation of the data and much less effort telling me that I should only consider the data a certain way and that the alternate consideration is unimaginable.

  25. Hi Mike,

    I like your thought there.

    One interesting tidbit I had cause to cite this week. We all know that Joseph didn’t produce many children by plural wives, and now that we can examine those children’s descendants using DNA analysis, we can see there are no provable children engendered by Joseph other than with Emma.

    When Joseph’s sons questioned the rationale for the lack of children, women who were alleging they’d lived with Joseph as a wife (e.g., Malissa Lott) claimed that they were very nervous, so the conditions for conception were not optimal.

    For a moment, switch gears and recall what Mr. Akin said about legitimate rape. The female body, he maintained, had ways of shutting down conception. Most people, particularly feminists, derided Mr. Akin out of hand for this statement. Being a scientist, I went searched for papers discussing this phenomenon. Here was my blog post at the time.

    It turns out that even when women are being violently raped, they do not have ways of “shutting down conception.” Proven in studies that evoke unpleasant theories regarding why so many women in our day have a physiological response that would prevent them from being badly damaged from the mere act of forcible rape.

    Yet here we have women who were claiming to have been sexually intimate with Joseph Smith asserting that they had been unable to conceive because of nerves.

    While it’s true that women don’t conceive every single time they have unprotected intercourse, the contemporary explanations provided for the lack of children produced by Joseph Smith’s plural wives during his lifetime fail to match what one would expect based on modern science. So unless a woman is alleged to have actually been physically intimate with Joseph Smith (e.g., Emily Partridge’s agreement when asked if she had engaged in carnal intercourse with Joseph), you will find me questioning the interpretation that mere proximity or acknowledgement as a wife by Emma necessarily means there was physical intercourse occurring.

  26. Hi hplc,

    The reason Mary Heron is important is because Bennett’s possible victims and those Bennett corrupted appear to clump together in like groups.

    Also, frig as a verb tends to mean sex that isn’t intended to result in conception. Mary was the first frigging. We know Bennett and his folks were running around town telling women it was right to engage in illicit intercourse as long as it wasn’t discovered. Surgery to eliminate problem pregnancies would have been dangerous. Herbs and medicines would not have been “certain.” Onanism and frottage would allow Bennett and his men to enjoy most of the sensations of sex without risking “mixing the seed,” to use Carrington’s criterion for sex.

    While it would be possible that Joseph was similarly engaging in non-procreative sex (just as it would be possible that he was having sex with non-humans, non-females, and females not on anyone’s list of his plural wives), there is nothing to suggest that he was theologically in favor of engaging in sex while attempting to avoid offspring. Most of the beliefs modern Mormons have about Joseph’s sexuality in his plural marriages are based on the presumption that Joseph was red-blooded and not holding back.

    So coming back to Mary Heron, why would Joseph Ellis Johnson have used the term frigging? And why wouldn’t there have been a negative reaction recorded from men who had risked their lives to continue Joseph’s theological legacy?

  27. My understanding of the word “frig” was that it was a euphemism for another four letter word, not restricted to a particular mode of sexual concourse. You’re saying that in the 1840s the meaning was more restrictive than general fragging?

  28. Maybe he used that term because that is what he saw or heard. Maybe he meant something else. Why wouldn’t he use that term? Why wouldn’t Joseph Smith hold back? As near as I can tell, if he was stepping out of bounds, he didn’t want to be caught. Maybe the few Modern Mormons who are aware of this side of Joseph Smith see him as red blooded and not holding back (again, I think you are making an assumption without good support) but I don’t see him that
    way. Either way, I don’t think this is a good case for proving he wasn’t that way.

    Why wouldn’t there have been a negative reaction? Maybe there was and it wasn’t recorded. Why would it have to be recorded? Maybe there wasn’t a negative reaction because everyone in the room had heard it all before. This tale is full of maybies.

    This sentence is helpful: “The reason Mary Heron is important is because Bennett’s possible victims and those Bennett corrupted appear to clump together in like groups.” The rest of it, it isn’t that it is merely unconvincing, it is that it is presented as something of great importance when I don’t see it as very important.

  29. Here’s a couple of the many etymology sites I looked at: frig and wiki for frig.

    When you combine the masturbation sense of frig with Dr. Bennett’s profession as a doctor for females, and the practice in that day of relieving “hysteria” by relaxing the hysteria or uterus by means of manual stimulation of the female genetalia, it all fits together and makes sense.

    It doesn’t make any sense to me that Joseph Ellis Joseph would have told Brigham Young and a room full of men who honored Joseph Smith that Joseph had f***ed Mary Heron. [edited to add–my family gets upset if I so much as use the short single syllable term for feces. Frig is not a nice term. Certainly not a term you use casually when talking to folks you want to have look favorably on your petition to marry the apostle’s wife with whom you committed adultery.]

    For what it’s worth, all the men who’ve looked at Joseph Ellis Johnson’s comments about Mary Heron have presumed the “by Joseph” meant that Joseph had been the one who performed the descrived frigging:

    “I never heard any conversation to say it was right to go to bed to a woman if not found out – I was aware the thing was wrong. – had been with – he sd. He was familiar with the first frigging [slang for sexual relations] – that was done in his house with his mother in law—by Joseph.”

    Kelly, the fellow taking the minutes, was clearly leaving scads of information out. For example, what did “– had been with – he sd.” even mean? In fact, it appears to me that each em-dash is replacing a question from those receiving Joseph Ellis’ testimony:

    JEJ – I never heard any conversation to say it was right to go to bed to a woman if not found out.

    Council – Yet you did go to bed with Miss Goddard.

    JEJ – I was aware the thing was wrong.

    Council – [Something that elicits: “had been with”]

    JEJ (Kelly switches to third person now) he sd. He was familiar with the first frigging

    Council – When was this first frigging?

    JEJ – (Kelly still in third person) that was done in his house with his mother in law

    Council – Who told you about this?

    JEJ – (Kelly still in third person) by Joseph.

    Now one could say, “see Meg, this is why there is no record of outrage from the disciplinary council, they weren’t writing down their own words.”

    The thing is Mary Heron doesn’t read like any of Joseph’s other wives. She doesn’t get sealed to him after his death in the temple. She isn’t part of the inner circle of those close to Joseph. Her behavior in later life isn’t consistent with any of the patterns we see for others, including the patterns for those who leave the body of the Saints.

    But she does read a lot like Catherine Fuller, Matilda Nyman, and the other women who testified they’d been seduced by Bennett or Bennett’s men.

  30. Hi hplc,

    We must have an organizational principle as we look at this data. And whether we state it or not, we must have an overarching paradigm for understanding this data.

    Many have indicated that they felt prompted that Joseph truly restored God’s Church, and for them they took that as their overarching paradigm. So when the data doesn’t seem to fit, they put it on the back burner.

    Bergera has explained the data from the paradigm that Bennett was aware of Joseph’s marriage to Louisa Beaman and had been taught about plural marriage. So for Bergera, the illicit intercourse instances were manifestations of Joseph’s teachings, though possibly corrupted as Bennett ran ahead without authorization.

    The jacket to George D. Smith’s book :Nauvoo Polygamy” asserts “It can no longer be said… that questions remain about the general contours of what happened.” Yet Smith goes on to postulate “Conceivably, a power struggle erupted [between Joseph Smith and John C. Bennett] over who had the authority to authorize plural marriages… [After Bennett’s] disagreement with Smith, the record of his celestial marriages was apparently expunged.”

    Here we have George D. Smith presuming that the difference between Joseph Smith and John C. Bennett was merely a power struggle, and that John C. Bennett had records of celestial marriages akin to the marriages Joseph was entering int which record was then expunged. Smith makes this assertion yet fails to mention any of the women who had testified before the High Council: Mary Clift, Sarah Miller, Catherine Fuller, Margaret Nyman, Matilda Nyman. Smith doesn’t mention that five men bedded Catherine Fuller. Joseph Smith did enter into technically polyandrous marriages, but we now have DNA proof that none of these marriages produced a child that can be shown to have been engendered by Joseph. I assert that Bennett’s behavior in sharing women with multiple men was very different from Joseph’s behavior.

    So what I hear you saying is that your paradigm and organizing principle on these matters leads you to consider that Joseph bedded women willy nilly, that any attempt to explain a different possibility is unconvincing, and the importance we attribute to the patterns supporting an alternate paradigm are simply, well, not important.

    Restated, it appears that any data or emphases not consistent with your paradigm will be dismissed.

    By the way, I bought George D. Smith’s book back when it was first published in 2008. Even back then, some of the patterns I’ve seen were apparent to me then. I had gone through the list of hundreds of women who married polygamists, particularly noting those who married polygamists before Joseph’s death (marked “A”) and those who married polygamists before the temple opened (marked “B”). In only one case did I make an additional notation – Mary Clift’s marriage date (<Mar 6 1844) suggested to me that Turley was a public husband. An understanding of the full record absolutely supports that reading.

    I just enjoyed seeing that I had twigged to Mary Clift's odd status six years before I would ever read the High Council minutes describing Mary Clift's testimony regarding illicit intercourse with Gustavus Hills.

  31. My personal conviction that Joseph Smith was a better man than most is primarily based in the witness of the spirit, however I am fortunate to have access to the relatively obscure records and stories of a number of men and women who knew Joseph really well. In trials lawyers often call on character witnesses when facts are sparse or confusing. A character witness must be of good character themseles in order to be convincing. Not so obscure is my great grandfather, John Taylor who nearly shared the martyrdom with Joseph and Hyrum. Since he was himself a prophet and suffered greatly for his support of polygamy once he had accepted as legitimate revelation, I will set his rather famous example aside and consider others with less fame. My maternal great, great grandfater, Jonathan Harriman Holmes lived in the Smith household in Nauvoo and eventually married Elvira Annie Cowles. He was front and center to the events under discussion. He was a humble man and when it comes to writing, he was taciturn. However there are few who were as close to Joseph while remaining out of leadership in the Church. As I have studied his life I have come to love him and admire his character. As a member of the Mormon Battalion, he was present for the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, but like most of the other Mormons, he left California with a large group who established a new wagon route across the Sierra mountains via Carson’s Pass and Nevada. When the leaders of the expedition dissappeared while scouting ahead, Holmes was elected to be president of the group and promptly assigned another man to be the captain. He called on the group to pause for several days and erect a substantial cairn to protect the mutilated bodies of the lost scouting party when they were discovered stripped and hastily buried in shallow graves at a place now known as Tragedy Springs. His actions may have been related to his experience with being called upon byEmma Smith to rebury and conceal the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum.

  32. Holmes stayed faithful in relative obscurity and we wouldn’t know he had been elected president of the group of returning Battalion members from his own sparse account. However, others made a record in their journals. Another ancestor, Joseph Leland Heywood, came from a substantial Yankee heritage, sharing a grandfather with John Adams. Educated at a college in Cambridge, Massacusetts, likely Harvard, he was a successful storekeeper in Quincy, Illinois when a conversation with Joseph Smith Jr. led him to requst baptism that same day. Joseph cut a hole in the ice of the Mississippi River to accommodate his request. Although not nearly as close to events in Nauvoo as Holmes, Heywood continued as a faithful member and witnessed the transformation of Brigham Young when he appeared to look and sound like the martyred Prophet. Well educated, of good family, materially
    successful, Heywood stands as contast to many of the early saints, yet he remained convinced that Joseph was a prophet. His own participation in polygamy provides a contrast to the popular version of the practice. His wife requeted him to take her older, indigent friend as his second wife. Wife number three came by assignment from leadership, an aging spinster several years his senior who left her memories of the ill suited union in a book named ‘Not by Bread Alone’. His fourth and final wife was obtained for him by his first two wives who were so fond of a young woman living with the family that they requested Heywood to marry her and secure her ongoing presence in the family. Like Jacob in Genesis, he came by many women through no particular desire of his own. It is easier for me to compehend a Joseph Smith who only did what was expected/commanded of him while having serious reservations based on his upbringing. All of my ancestors were pioneers and most of them lived in Nauvoo and had some aquaintance with Joseph Smith. As I learn more of them and what they thought of him, and what they sacrificed to stay faithful, I build a persuasive body of character witnesses.

  33. Joseph Leland Heywood is interesting because he appears to have come to Nauvoo to confront Joseph (Heywood’s sister had become a member of the Mormon Church). As a successful merchant in Quincy, IL, Heywood would have been fully aware of all the accusations being made against Joseph Smith and the Mormons. So it’s pretty amazing that he got baptized the same day as his intended confrontation with Joseph, particularly given that in order for Heywood to be baptized they had to hack a hole in the ice covering the river. After Joseph’s death, Heywood was sufficiently inner circle that Emma asked him to take over the Red Brick Store (Heywood declined) and Heywood was one of the three assigned to stay behind in Nauvoo after the Battle of Nauvoo and attempt to sell the property.

  34. hplc,

    My use of the Johnson story was just to use it as an example of how more careful scholarship changes a statement that previously was thought of as definitively about JS into one where JS was the one that talked to him about it. It’s a huge change. And the wording easily allows or either reading (depending on how you perceive the nature of the notes obviously) — so we’re 50/50 on the outset depending on starting assumptions, though no one knew that until it was pointed out that the document allowed for both readings. Add in full context (as Meg explains) and honestly it seems to me that it shifts the burdern in JSs favor (on that one single incident). It illustrates the dangers buying into too much with the easy reading or even the scholarly consensus and shows the need for some reserving judgment. But that’s fine that you disagree with me on this. In any case, I didn’t intend this as a fulcrum (though perhaps Meg did) but only a single example.

    At some level, I get it that you want a simple answer. Life isn’t simple, however, so this is not an area where Ockham’s razor can be properly applied.

    However, as I read you, I think on this one particularly issue you are showing some reserve of judgment and caution. So I’m not saying you aren’t. I was just using it as a reminder.

    I have no desire to try to dissuade you from your overall position and frankly, you seem pretty entrenched in your opinion at this point. Nothing wrong with that.

  35. hplc,

    A good Brian Hale example. He is the one that discovered that Sylvia Sessions Lyons didn’t sign the affidavit Compton used to prove she was married to Joseph before she left her husband. Then he also discovered a second affidavit — also unsigned — but with a different date.

    Now as it turns out, that was Compton’s sole piece of documented evidence for full polyandry.

    Does this disprove full polyandry? No. But what seemed like a lock hard case no longer did. And it left room for an alternative reading. This also meant that the scholarly consensus has been undermined on what otherwise would have been considered a given. That’s why I caution against going with the scholarly consensus just yet.

    Since I have yet to read Brian’s books, there is a good chance that I’ll agree with you that he’s laboring too hard on many points. But the above just isn’t one of those.

    As I said, you seem pretty happy with your point of view and it doesn’t seem to be particularly bothering you. But with alll due respect, that just makes you not the right audience. Discussing other possibilities is healthy. And religion is ultimately religion — it’s about faith and belief.

    Personally, I don’t care if Meg is right or not. That was never the point for me when I invited her here. It was about opening up to other possibilities and taking a look at the evidence and seeing if it can read in other ways and then making it available for people to choose for themselves. You’ve chosen against and you’ve made it clear and you’ve explained why. Nothing wrong with that. Your arguments seem resonable enough to me. As you were.

  36. Bruce, thank you for bringing Meg Stout to this blog. Meg, thank you for sharing your discoveries with us. I eagerly look forward to each new post. Count me among those who find the arguments for a Faithful Joseph quite compelling. I decided, back when I first heard the bawdy tales of Joseph Smith that are oft repeated, that there is just not sufficient facts to fully agree with the conclusions that the various authors put forth. I remained firm in the faith that Joseph Smith was a prophet and loyal to the spiritual confirmations that I knew came from God. I resigned myself to the fact that we might never know the truth behind the tales or the reasons for the actions, but I believed that Joseph Smith at least deserved the benefit of a doubt regarding these stories. My faith may have been tested, but it was not shaken.

    I am excited to read each of these posts and find my faith affirmed. I was almost giddy when I first read these because I felt like I had survived a stormy night unscathed. My faith may have been bloody, but it was unbowed.

    I understand that the actual tale remains unknown, but when the truth is finally manifest, it will be interesting to see how close Meg has come to filtering the true facts (I liked the term “factoid” for what it is worth) from the paltry evidence that has lead so many others to the opposite conclusions.

    Thank you, Meg. And keep up the good work.

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