Mormon founder Joseph Smith wed 40 wives

I recall blogging about the new articles on regarding plural marriage nearly a month ago (Mormon Polygamy, the Short Version). CNN (Daniel Burke) has finally twigged to these updates.

Of course, CNN uses a pithy title that lacks all nuance but is sure to catch the attention of random readers, Church: Mormon founder Joseph Smith wed 40 wives. Interestingly enough, the factual content of the articles does deflate the sensationalism one might have expected from an article with such a title.

Alas, there is no mention of the DNA analysis that debunks most the rumors of living children supposedly born to Joseph by other wives (and I submit strongly argues against Joseph’s alleged paternity of Josephine Lyons). There is no commentary on the lack of contraceptive methods we take for granted today, and how a man with forty plural wives in the fullest sense might have been expected to engender children by them over the course of three years (almost a decade, if we count Fanny).

One the bright side, CNN includes enough information that the careful reader will not presume that Joseph was running around tupping every 14-year-old he could corner. I’m frustrated, though, by the pithy summaries at the side of the article:

Mormon founder wed as many as 40 wives, church says

Not quite. The Church article indicates that careful estimates put the number of wives between 30 and 40. Intriguingly, I think that slyly indicates who the Church does not consider to have made a careful estimate.

The church had previously painted its prophet as married to one woman

The Church doesn’t paint. It is true that the Church in the latter part of the 1900s and the early 2000s didn’t post a banner on the front of the website proclaiming “Yes, Joseph was a Polygamist!!!!” However that might have been in part because the Church had made quite the fuss about Joseph’s actual practice of polygamy back in the 1840s through the 1900s. Very few individuals with any knowledge about Mormonism had missed the fact that Joseph had more than one wife.

Are there some who didn’t know Joseph was a polygamist? I guess so. Are there some who didn’t understand that the focus on Joseph loving Emma was an apology for the century of vilifying the wife Joseph adored? I suppose so. But it isn’t that the Church painted Joseph as not being a polygamist. They simply didn’t put it on the cover page.

Revelation comes as painful shock to some Mormons

Any Mormon who is shocked by the “revelation” that Joseph married plural wives has a serious case of ADD. That and/or they don’t use the internet. Or they never read the comments below any article discussing matters related to Mormonism.

Might it have come as a shock to individuals when they did tumble across the fact of Joseph’s marriages to women other than Emma? Sure. But it isn’t as though the articles at caused the shock.

I myself am still somewhat dissatisfied by the portrayal in the articles. But then again, my viewpoint regarding a faithful Joseph isn’t yet mainstream. Rather than view Emma as a duped and tormented spouse, I see her as a woman who was working with her husband side by side, though at times feisty enough about her view of how events should proceed that she cowed Joseph into remaining celibate in the vast majority (or even entirety) of his plural marriages and was willing to threaten him with divorce to get her way.

By now unknown millions have seen the title of that article and likely a few million have also read it. It should make for an interesting day or week for our thousands of teenaged missionaries.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for 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. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

36 thoughts on “Mormon founder Joseph Smith wed 40 wives

  1. “First get their attention”. Disingenuous comments about how this information is alienating to members who had learned in their youth to view Joseph Smith as perfect were the part of the article that annoyed me slightly. However years ago a talk by someone in the missionary department revealed that baptism rates increased with every article, good or ill, that drew attention to the Church.

  2. Drudge is currently linking to a New York Times treatment of the new articles, which also quotes from Richard Bushman and Kristine Haglund (Bushman’s quotes are insightful as always; whereas Haglund’s quotes basically comes off as kvetching because the Church won’t repudiate the possibility of post-resurrection polygamy).

  3. Meg, you write:

    “Any Mormon who is shocked by the “revelation” that Joseph married plural wives has a serious case of ADD. That and/or they don’t use the internet. Or they never read the comments below any article discussing matters related to Mormonism.”

    I think you might be surprised by how many non-ADD internet users actually believe that Joseph Smith did not engage in plural marriage. I know several myself.

  4. So it’s my fault that when I asked a trusted adult friend about at age 16 and said friend assured me that those were all anti lies (I had taken a pamphlet from a dude at the Cumorah pageant)? And when I asked my mom about it, it was my own fault that she either had no clue (so her fault too) or was trying to protect me from what she knew? Or when I got to BYU and someone asked about it in one of Bott’s famous secret ballot Q&A sessions and he said it wasn’t important for our missions, that too was clearly on me? In actuality, Meg, my ignorance of things into my 20s was due to being obedient and trusting of those in positions above me. When every living source of authority in your young life is telling you one thing, and when the Church as an institution, at least as you experience it, is mum about Joseph’s polygamy, how is a young person supposed to act and think? Sure, like many of my generation, I went rogue in the late 90s and early 2000s and took to the internet, but what I found back then disturbed me enough to retreat back into the safety of what I had always heard.

    Now many years on and with far greater life experience and training, I trust myself to do my own research and reach my own conclusions. But please, your dismissal of my youthful obedient ignorance is too much. My experience is only anecdotal, but I would guess that many, many members have had experiences similar to mine. I was one of those that Geoff B. asserts to exist.

    Joseph is still the prophet of the restoration to me, though not the same Joseph on whom I was raised well into adulthood (and in the internet years too). Thank goodness for progress and openness on this front, but please show some understanding towards those of us have experienced significant rupture over this issue.

  5. Great post, Meg. the term marriage has become so convoluted here in the 21st century. For most of us, marriage means the following:

    1. White dress/ Tuxedo
    2. Flowers
    3. Guests
    4. Ceremony by some officiant
    5. Kiss the bride
    6. Reception
    7. Honeymoon
    8. Marital relations on the wedding night
    9. at some point, more sex and children come.

    This is the paradigm that most people judge this issue of Joseph and his plural marriages. but in trying to figure out exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, he seem to enter into these “marriages” at a number of different levels. Whether they involve a “consummation” (most people cannot believe it did not), is less important to what the practice was supposed to achieve in the eternal sense.

    Most folks cannot get beyond their own view of what a marriage means to even begin to consider it..

  6. Maybe it’s because I read Donna Hill’s biography of Joseph Smith when I was eleven or twelve; but the notion of Joseph Smith’s polygamy blindsiding any lifelong Mormon frankly baffles me. Is D&C 132 not sitting in our scriptural canon for everyone to see?

  7. The NYTimes piece on polygamy and the Gospel Topic essays (a very fair example of reporting) currently sits at number one most viewed and emailed article today.

    Rough week for the missionaries, most of whom will not have read the essays or even know where to look for them. I’m not sure how 19 year old sister missionaries are going to process things like Joseph marrying a girl 5 years their junior or how 18 year old elders, just barely keeping biological urges in check, are going to feel finding out that Joseph had many sexual partners while he went about the work. I agonize for these kids.

  8. I would hope that most missionaries are prepared. Right before we sent our son out on his mission, we had a frank talk about polygamy and that Joseph Smith participated. Likewise, I recall my mission president 20+ years ago telling us that when polygamy came up with investigators, not to go to the “well there were a lot of widows” explanation. Even though there were likely some occurrences that were based on the caring of widows, that was likely not the basis for the principle and should not be taught as such.

    BTW, as Meg has pointed out so well in her series, multiple marriages by J.S. do not necessarily equal an equivalent number of sexual partners.

  9. JimD,

    Congrats on being so spiritually and intellectually mature, especially at such a young age. Do you know if a single BYU religious education class or institute ever sent students to Ms. Hill’s treatment of Joseph Smith? I think we know the answer to that. It took years to get something as historically anodyne as “Rough Stone Rolling” in Deseret Book and BYU bookstore. Unfortunately, the “Professor” Botts in the Church have drowned out the truth on this sensitive topic. And you still want to blame the victims here?

  10. Congrats on being so spiritually and intellectually mature

    I make no such pretensions. The bloggernacle tends to forget this, but nerddom ≠ maturity.

    Do you know if a single BYU religious education class or institute ever sent students to Ms. Hill’s treatment of Joseph Smith?

    I wouldn’t know (I rather doubt you do, either); but that’s rather beside the point. Joseph Smith’s polygamy is in our scriptures. In spite of the CES D&C manual’s numerous flaws, that manual’s treatment of D&C 132 does refer to Smith as a polygamist. So does the Church’s Gospel Doctrine manual. I took Bott’s mission prep class myself and can tell you that in spite of Bott’s other flaws (and he is in fact a very gifted and knowledgable teacher, though certainly his expertise is devotional rather than historical), he never painted Joseph Smith as a monogamist.

    I can understand being thrown for a loop by some of the details of Smith’s practices (polyandry, young wives, etc); but I’m sincerely flummoxed as to why someone who has taken the time to read the Mormon canon of scripture would get so hot and bothered about the general proposition that the man who received the revelation about polygamy also practiced the revelation about polygamy.

  11. Another life-long member here blind-sighted by Joseph’s polygamy. The only reason I found out about it was because I took to the internet in my middle twenties. I can’t think of a single church published book or manual that ever brings it up. I attended seminary and institute and only heard about polygamy in reference to Brigham Young. I was taught that one of the reasons polygamy was instituted was to help the widows. Now I have seen census records and know there were more men than women at the time! Makes one’s head spin! I’m very grateful for these new essays and hope they are integrated into our curriculum so that we can discuss them openly.

  12. Queue one-sided discussion of eternal polyandry if all sealed parties agree to it in the hereafter in 5…4…3…

  13. Who are these people who expect the church to actually put any degree of focus whatsoever on plural marriage/blacks priesthood/mountain meadows in the curriculum?

    Has any of those people ever attempted to run a large organization? Attempted to set goals, define a mission, have a focused message that needs to be carried out by thousands of people? How does an organization change behavior of its members?

    You have 3 out of 112 waking hours a week in church (3% of your time). You’re likely paying attention and deeply engaged for 20 minutes out of that 3 hours (11% of that 3%).

    You expect the church to waste it’s precious time distracting you with every blemish, perceived or otherwise in its own history, when it has a very clearly defined message and mission it’s trying to accomplish?

    I’ll make a prophecy of a sorts here and now, which should be plainly obvious to everyone. If the church chooses to talk more about polygamy, it will **only** end up spending even more time talking about polygamy than it planned. It’s an issue that will come up again and again.

    Back to running an organization, sometimes you just have to move on and focus on the things that really matter. In a world of scarcity and opportunity costs (recent article on M*) we can’t possibly expect to spend church time on 1 topic without sacrificing more meaningful time on others. And I’m absolutely certain that any time you spend on polygamy will either not be enough (1 day a year in a 4 year cycle will still miss a lot of converts) and will certainly cause the subject to be brought forth time and time again in other discussions.

    So…. it seems more likely the church, which is literally run by experts in organizational behavior, will choose to continue with its greater mission, rather than being distracted by so many clamoring what “ought” to be done to make it’s classes on Sunday more “scholarly” robust.

    “The spit of the toad doesn’t reach the white dove”

  14. I wrote about this not knowing Joseph Smith was a polygamist before:

    The Deseret Books and Church material that mention polygamy of Joseph Smith, and in general, include and are not limited to:

    Doctrine and Covenants 132.
    A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by B.H. Roberts.
    Joseph Smith: An American Prophet by John Henry Evans.
    Truth Restored by Gordon B. Hinkley.
    Essentials in Church History by Joseph Fielding Smith.
    Church History in the Fullness of Times in chapters 21 and 33 predominantly.
    The Seminary manual for Doctrine and Covenants and Church History.
    Encyclopedia of Mormonism written almost entirely of BYU faculty.

    “. . . to repeat and sum up, the only way not to be introduced to polygamy as a member is to not pay any attention. It is also to say that there is a time and place to teach and learn about polygamy, but when and how is not simply to state that it must.”

    When I was a child, I too thought the stories were false about Joseph Smith and polygamy. My early teen years disabused me of that fact because I came from a book reading family where church positive books were readily available that talked about the subject. Not to more than a passing reference, to be honest, but there just the same. That a Mormon cannot know this by adult years unless a convert really confuses me.

  15. Hi Geoff B. and oudenos,

    I’m in Japan, so just woke up. I haven’t had a chance to read the NYT article on this yet.

    When I was roughly 12 I recall giving a presentation on Mormonism in school and talking about polygamy. I have no recollection of when I learned Joseph had practiced plural marriage, though I do recall that Nightfall at Nauvoo disturbed me greatly. That had more to do with Samuel Taylor discussing the rumors that there were orgies in the temple. As I had never been to the temple at that point, I didn’t know those rumors were false. (And for any who still aren’t sure such rumors are false, they are.)

    As for our sweet missionaries, I used to talk about my research into polygamy with them all the time when I went on splits with them. They didn’t seem rocked at all, for the most part. Of course, this was back in the day when sisters started serving at 21. The one aspect of my stories that bothered one missionary was the fact that one of my ancestors married three biological sisters. Then again, isn’t this what Jacob did (marry biological sisters, that is)?

    I intellectually understand people not knowing or not believing about polygamy. In the same way I can imagine people not knowing or believing in Ebola or Nazi concentration camps or the terrible ecological toll caused by commercial consumption (such as using arable land to grow coffee rather than food crops).

    The tragic thing for me is that people have been so busy avoiding the “issue” of Joseph Smith and polygamy that they have failed to realize the underlying drama and greatness of Joseph. So many facts point to the likelihood that Joseph’s “marriages” with women other than Emma were mere ceremonies. However when Brigham became the leader of the Church, he proceeded to include sexual relations in many of the levirate marriages he entered into due to Joseph’s death, and encouraged others to do likewise.

    Getting back to the matter of the new courses for Institute and Church-affiliated universities, it is critical that there be a full course on Marriage and Family. Because only in such a course can the history behind the Mormon concept of eternal family and temple ordinances be fully explored. If you stick solely with what is in canonized scripture, you can’t fill a thimble with information that explores the breadth of the glorious doctrine that is eternal marriage.

    Again, I have spoken about Joseph Smith and polygamy from the pulpit in my ward and have taught about polygamy when I taught Gospel Doctrine. I have talked about my research with any and all Church leaders, as I’m an extrovert and love sharing whatever thing I happen to be passionate about at the moment. Then again, I recall talking about the My Lai massacre in Primary and urging them to never be so “obedient” that they follow an evil command. That was in response to the not-quite 12-year-old boys baiting me. I thought it not wrong to remind them of the mature choices those only a few years their seniors had been required to make.

    The challenge in our day is to rediscover Joseph and look beyond the peurile slander about what he was doing with his “wives” to the actual sacrifices required to bring forth the sweet gospel we enjoy today.

  16. I would like to point out something as a Gospel Doctrine teacher for three years and as a convert to the Church: you can’t teach everything. You can’t teach every controversy, every treatment of polygamy or the Danites or the Mountain Meadows and on and on. Church would have to be six hours every Sunday with several hours alone on all of the history. Personally, I would love all of those hours of study, but I have a feeling a lot of people (the majority?) just come to church to get spiritually uplifted, and all of the details would become a bit much for them.

    Gospel Doctrine class is really only 40 minutes for 46 or so Sundays a year. You have a prayer, introduce the visitors, introduce the lesson and you have 30 minutes. So, it is simply unrealistic for anybody to expect that in this 30 minutes we are going to cover all of the controversies and still spend any time discussing the scriptures. This applies even more so to YM and YW and seminary.

    And as I have pointed out before, the same people who are calling for “full disclosure” are also complaining about correlation, so you definitely can’t teach everything without a complete program of correlation worldwide.

    So, the “why didn’t the Church teach me this?” crowd needs to realize that the Church has concentrated on the things it has because there is so much to teach. Think about it: has your Old Testament course been exhaustive this year or has it just kind of glossed over some pretty big things in the Bible? Personally, I would like four years to study the OT, not one year. Isaiah alone could take an entire year.

    The Church is writing these essays so that when controversial topics are brought up teachers can refer them to the on-line essays. People are going to need to be responsible for their own study and stop asking “why didn’t the Church teach me these things?”

  17. Looked at the NY Times article, and had a comment about the supposedly troubling idea that plural marriage might exist in eternity.

    Let’s take Jacob. If eternal marriage is necessarily monogamous, which of his four wives will he be with, Bilhah? As for my good friend whose wife died in a car accident in the summer of 2013 – will the woman he is now engaged to have to settle for some other man in eternity to allow my friend to be in a monogamous eternal marriage with the bride of his youth?

    The idea that polygamy will be mandatory in eternity is not doctrine. But the idea that monogamy would be mandated is horrific for those many who have married a man who has been married to another.

  18. I know there are those who come across the fact of Joseph’s marriages and freak out. However I trust that God loves them as much as He does me. In my case, after freaking out about the wackiness I read about in Nightfall at Nauvoo, He spoke to me and told me to remain on the wagon.

    I know of others who have admitted that He spoke comfort to them, or at least told them that Joseph was in His hands. If people go to God, He will speak to them in their distress. If they go to Facebook, they might not get the same answers.

  19. I understand that my experience is hard to believe for some commenting here. But it is what it is. It’s not like I was not curious as a child. I was extremely bookish, read widely, and was something of a skeptic from early on. But the saintliness of all things Joseph went unquestioned in my life, for whatever reason, though I knew plenty about Brigham’s polygamy. At any rate, here I am, many years later, with a couple of masters degrees, and a PhD in a field of humanities that crosses heavily into religious studies, and I am still working through the issues of Joseph’s polygamy. You who have several legs up on this, be patient with those of us who are still processing this (and no, I don’t mean that I JUST found about these issues from the essays, I have been thinking through the issues for the last decade). Your subjective experience is real to you, mine is real to me.

  20. Hi oudenos,

    Have you read my series about a Faithful Joseph? If not, I recommend that you give it a whirl. You may find you don’t agree with me, but I think you will find that the journey of seeing the events through my eyes will help you “process” Joseph’s practice of polygamy and how that shaped the polygamy practiced by his followers who went to Utah.

    By way of disclaimer, I went into the series with maybe 90% of the understanding I had gained by the end of the series. So early in the series you’ll see me spinning hypotheses that would not be cast in those terms if I was writing the series from scratch now.

  21. Great discussion here, I’d just like to point out what I think have been some outstanding insights from a few of the posters.

    First of all Meg deserves more praise than could ever be given for her faithful Joseph series. I have never doubted Joseph’s prophetic calling and I have always had a deep love for his life, character and mission. That said there had always been a few things about his polygamy that just confused me and didn’t seem to fit with the rest of what I knew about who Joseph was and the life he lived. Though I loved Rough Stone Rolling, and overall it only served to reinforce my deep respect for Joseph and the majesty of what he restored, it actually left me even more confused on the polygamy issue.

    But then Meg came along with her incredible series and at least from my perspective made sense of every aspect of this complex part of Joseph’s life. Her narrative simply seems to fit not only the evidence directly related to plural marriage better than any other source, but it creates a cohesive and logical narrative that fits with everything else we know about Joseph. Her inclusion of John C. Bennett’s participation in the history of Nauvoo was one of the most original yet seemingly obvious and logical aspects of her series that ended up making sense of so much of the apparent mystery surrounding that period. How other scholars glossed over this despite the overwhelming evidence presented by Meg, is likely one of the tragedies of how the traditional narratives have been developed.

    While I’m praising Meg, I also wish to emphatically endorse a comment she made right here on this thread. That the church needs to create a comprehensive course on the doctrine of marriage and family that will help to connect all of the marvelous aspects of the gospel to the ultimate goal of celestial marriage and eternal families. When we truly understand the doctrine of the family, everything else in the gospel, the church, mortality and the afterlife suddenly makes sense in profound and life changing ways. This includes polygamy, Temple and genealogy work, and every single priesthood ordinance and covenant. And yet as she pointed out, even if we taught every chapter of the entire standard works, we’d end up with only a few lessons on eternal marriage and family.

    But I also want to point out the very insightful comments of DQ that were also echoed to some extent by Geoff. The church leaders are running a massive worldwide institution, with a very basic but all important mission to bring souls to Christ. Discussing the details of plural marriage and other interesting historical anomalies do not further the mission of the church. Certainly not on a global scale, but not even among curious millennials who may be experiencing a “faith crisis” due to the concerning historical information that seems to them incompatible with the “faith they grew up with.”

    All of us, whether we have historical concerns or not, are far better off focusing on the basic doctrines of trusting in our loving heavenly father and his plan for us. Striving to develop a relationship with him through prayer. Learning about the infinite atonement of our savior and how our covenants bind us to him and to each other. Understanding how living in such a way that the holy ghost can be with us serves to purify and sanctify our hearts, allowing us to more fully love and serve both our families and our neighbors.

    This is the gospel that changes lives! This is the gospel that literally saved my marriage allowing me to enjoy the marvelous fruits of a full house that is attempting to create our own little Zion. This is the gospel of the book of Mormon, modern prophets and even the profound Temple ceremony for those who have eyes to see. Some claim not to feel spiritually fed at church, but this is also the gospel of the ever enlightening ordinance of the sacrament. This is the gospel of calling lay members to prepare talks to be delivered in front of an entire congregation. This is the gospel of our standard works based Sunday school curriculum as well as our priesthood and relief society meetings where we are to learn and discuss how to fulfill our obligations to those in our stewardship by following the teachings and examples of presidents of the church.

    In this sense the basic foundation of the church is solid, and does not need to nor will it change, because we are doing as well as a global institution of this size could possibly do regarding the primary mission of bringing souls to Christ. Of course some minor improvements can and will be made as we all strive to be in tune with our heavenly fathers will, such as Megs suggestion regarding a comprehensive course on the doctrine of the family.

    But for those who want or expect our Sunday meetings to become historically or academically oriented, it just won’t happen, nor should it. That is not the church’s divinely appointed purpose. And to be quite frank, the focus on Christ and covenants with the mighty change that comes from combining those two powerful doctrines, along with the focus on service and families is evidence of the divinity of this work. A divinely run church with an eternal plan could ONLY focus on individual and family redemption that creates a genuine change of heart and attitude with an emphasis on personal service and family relationships!

    History is fascinating and relevant only to the extent that it helps us put our own lives, families and covenants onto perspective, along with a perspective of how the Lord has unfolded his plan gradually and according to the preparedness of the people. But if history becomes our primary focus, we have as Jacob says, missed the mark, which is Christ and his atonement, with his redemption of families. And those who truly embrace this book of Mormon, Christ centered, family centered gospel, will never regret it and will become those who are blessed to become part of the marvelous building up of Zion.

  22. Hi Jess W.,


    Thank you for your kind comments. It’s a nice anodyne to the brusque rebuff I’ve gotten from some (mainly because of what I theorize about Eliza Snow and Vinson Knight).

    I went and re-read my series today. It’s better than I remembered, since I’d been mainly remembering how much I had learned each week, and how my earlier posts hadn’t reflected the new knowledge I tumbled upon later. So when I get old and start forgetting, it will be nice to be able to re-read this stuff in case I end up only remembering my younger memories, from when I didn’t understand what I’ve written here about Joseph.

    For what it’s worth, the “It’s official: Mormon founder had many wives” article was on the top half of the front page of the International New York Times. Right up there with “Xi makes mission to empower China.” The soundbite they called out was “This is not the church I grew up with; this is not the Joseph Smith I love.”

    No. Indeed, this new Joseph, properly understood, is even more worthy of honor than the whited saint we were taught as children. And this “new” church is much more vibrant, powerful, and egalitarian that the church I grew up with.

  23. By the way, I noticed a comment at the end of the article at Patheos on this “new” revelation that Joseph had multiple wives.

    Um. Hasn’t any of them noticed that the additional wives thing is in our canonized scriptures?

    Anyway, the Patheos article concluded with a snarky comment that the Church doesn’t say polygamy is right, just that it happened. The final swipe is that maybe in a few decades the Church will admit that it is also wrong on the gay issue.

    I do think we’ll see the Church and its members become more accepting of individuals who are gay. However I don’t expect to see the Church begin teaching that marriages between individuals of the same gender will necessarily be recognized in the highest heaven, no matter how they might choose to proceed with respect to allowing individuals to be posthumously sealed to individuals to whom they were married in life (or how they update the family search GUI).

    Eliza Snow wrote: “In the heavens, are parents single? No. The thought makes reason stare.”

    In a similar fashion, one might opine: “In the heavens, can ‘married’ individuals of the same gender become parents of spirit children? Not any more than those individuals isolated on a desert island could engender physical children.”

    We now live in a time when there are many parents who are single. And there are many married who are of the same gender as their spouse. The question is whether such situations will exist in the highest heaven, where family relationships continue. Until such time as the leaders of the Church become assured that such marital and parental arrangements are part of that highest heaven, we can expect that they will resist teaching that such alternate arrangements can be lightly entered into on earth.

  24. “If monogamy were allowed to remain as the only valid form of marriage, huge tracts of the human family would remain stranded, forever cut off.”

    I thought Meg had made the argument that polyandry was necessary to allow all of God’s willing children to be connected to each other in the new and everlasting covenant. I see that Meg was saying that about polygyny.

    It seems to me that polyandry might have a similar role.

    All this said, I am only speculating about how marriage will be in the eternities.

  25. I’m cool with whatever God does in the eternities.

    However in the mortal effort to tie the family of man together and perform ordinances for everyone, there is a purpose in sealing together by proxy all spouses of each individual. Whatever might happen in eternity, this mortal work means that on paper at least we will see women with multiple husbands and men with multiple wives.

  26. I came across this from Aaron:

    “Aaron on April 16, 2014 at 11:09 am said:


    “Orson goes on to say in the next paragraph,

    “‘Says one—“Turn it about the other way, then we shall have plurality of husbands.” Let me say to the congregation that the object of marriage is to fulfill the commandment which God gave to immortal beings. Could a woman multiply faster by having two husbands? Everybody knows that in this respect there is a difference between the male and the female.’

    “Yes, it comes back to eternal increase — as it should considering God’s work and glory.”

    Presuming that eternal birth of spirits (arguably the whole purpose for perpetuating marriage into eternity) resembles the internal nurture of the immature entity by the female and the ability of the male to technically engender the initiation of spiritual life with other females while the “pregnant” wife is gestating, then Orson’s argument makes a lot of sense.

    That said, we do not know the mechanics of spiritual birth. However it would be silly to invent mechanics that are grossly different from mortal mechanics without some kind of Godly vision to the effect.

  27. I have really been enlightened by your polygamy series. Thank you for your hard work. I had to wonder early on about your theory that Joseph Smith did not consummate his plural marriages because of the testimony of my ancestor Benjamin F. Johnson. He relates an incident of Joseph visiting Delcena’s while he was there and sharing a bed with Almera to whom he had recently been sealed. Joseph also asked for Benjamin’s younger sister, but finding her already engaged left it at that. It was At the same time (April of 1843) Joseph sealed Benjamin to his first wife and gave him his second wife. (Though they were not actually sealed until November of 1844. Benjamin also gives testimony of the prophet’s revealing plural marriage to him personally as well as parts of the endowment and symbolism of garments. I just wondered if you knew about this account, or if you have an explanation for him sharing a bed with Almera if it wasn’t an intimate physical relationship. I’m mostly curious, not trying to prove anything. You’ve obviously done your homework. Reading the comments helps me realize that growing up with polygamous ancestors takes much of the “shock” out of it. I do appreciate an explanation for the large number of wives and the marrying of women (like Delcena) who could have been sealed to their former husbands. I have heard of Dr. Bennett, but never thought of how it could have impeded the revelation of the new and everlasting covenant. I’m not really interested in having my comments published (not against it either), I just didn’t know a better way to correspond with you about my question.

  28. Hi Sarah,

    There is no doubt that Joseph taught plural marriage as part of the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    As for sharing a bed, I suggest it is unlikely that Benjamin actually witnessed them in bed having sex. At the most he witnessed them tucking into the same bed. More likely, he witnessed them entering the same room for the night in which there was only one bed.

    I don’t know about other people, but many nights I spend in the same bed with my husband don’t involve sex. What does occur is pillow talk. Joseph had a huge amount to convey to these women that was best conveyed in a private setting. Ironically, holding these conversations in a bedroom at night was likely one of the least disruptive ways to convey the doctrine, as conversations during the day would be much more likely to be noted. Of course, if Benjamin Johnson had then told us “Joseph spend an afternoon closeted in a room with Delcena and/or Almera” many would come to the same conclusion. And it would have been observed by many more people at that time.

    With Delcena, the accounts I recall indicated that Benjamin Johnson came back to Nauvoo and found that the marriage between Delcena and Joseph (Delcena at the time living with Louisa Beaman, as I recall) was an tacitly admitted arrangement. And while he does indicate that Almera spent the night with Joseph, again I don’t recall the account indicating that he witnessed sexual activity, merely conditions that persuaded him that sexual activity would be appropriate.

    And again, that would have been Joseph’s intent, if I am right, to convey to those who would be entering into plural marriage that the wives were to be more than nuns. And yet, there are none of the “artifacts” that should exist (e.g., children) to indicate that Joseph’s plural wives were actually conjugal spouses.

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