This is the second of two articles about my faith transition. You can find part I here.
I’ve been more or less out of the Mormon Church for about seven years. So why do I continue to write about it?
First of all, my former faith is still very much a part of who I am.
I spent 35 years as a Mormon. During the adult portion of those years, I believed deeply that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that the Mormon Church is the “only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth”1. I viewed every experience in my life from the perspective of the teachings of my faith. I don’t think it’s possible to erase or reprogram that very quickly (nor do I want to).
I also continue to write about it because I have an agenda, but it’s not the one you might have been warned about:
Not my Agenda: To destroy your faith and get you to resign your membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
My Agenda: To engender sympathy and understanding for those who have left the Mormon Church and to bridge the gap between Mormons and former-Mormons.
My friends and family have very strong feelings about my decision to leave Mormonism. But each of them has formed opinions without understanding why I left. I don’t blame them for that at all, but it has strained my relationships with them (to say the least).
So, I’d like to tell my story, in the hope that believing Mormons might understand a little better.
I realize that the information in this article might shake your faith as it did mine, but I hope it doesn’t2.
My mission would be accomplished if you retained your faith but gained a deeper respect for people like me. I would be ecstatic if we could be friends (real friends) without the underlying suspicion of the other’s intentions.
I have no delusions about changing things for an entire culture, but maybe I will help move things a little bit in the right direction.
About seven years ago, I discovered some upsetting things about the early history of my religion. Naturally, I was skeptical of anything that differed from my Sunday School education, so I looked for explanations from believing Mormons.
- Almost all the upsetting stuff I learned is true
- My religion never told me about any of it
- Apologetic4 explanations only make it worse
The LDS Church and other apologists have quietly released5 explanations for things like the Kinderhook Plates, the GAEL6, some details about polygamy, problems with the Book of Abraham, etc.. What I read of these explanations shocked me and made me think, “that’s the best explanation you got?”
Mormon apologetics made it more difficult for me to have faith in my religion. It ended up being the last straw for me.
Below are just a few examples of those explanations that made it more difficult for me to believe in my religion7.
Many of the topics that I bring up here, are not well known to the Mormon community, so I use “asides”, like the one below, to give a brief introduction:
Joseph Smith had between thirty and forty wives8. At least eleven of his wives were also married to other men at the same time9. He married at least seven teenaged girls, one of whom was fourteen years old10. Joseph sometimes sent men on far-away missions and then pursued relationships with the missionary’s wife or daughter (without the husband’s/father’s consent or knowledge)11. Journals and even court records indicate that Joseph’s relationships with a least some of these women was sexual in nature12. Joseph was deceptive about these relationships13. He lied about it to the public14, to the law15, to his first wife16, and to the general membership of his Church17. The stories that his wives recorded about their experiences are the most unpleasant part about it all18. Their accounts make it clear that they were not eager participants19, but that they were badgered20, coerced21, controlled22, and sometimes threatened23 until they finally relented to do what they believed was a sacrifice for eternal blessings. These stories made it next-to-impossible for me to believe that Joseph Smith was commanded by God to do it, or that he had good intentions at all.
I grew up Mormon so I was told about polygamy from an early age, but all of this information was new to me.
I was absolutely shocked to learn that this stuff isn’t anti-Mormon lies — just history that is now quietly confirmed by the LDS Church.
The reason that this was so shocking is that I had searched LDS history, but this kind of information was not available. I once considered myself to be a bit of a student of Mormon History (Deseret Book store was one of my favorite places to visit). I had carefully studied and annotated many “Church-approved” books on Mormon history. I had even listened to hours of LDS Historians lecture about every year of Joseph Smith’s life24. And yet, the specifics that would have mattered simply weren’t there.
I was told a different story — one where this less-than-flattering information was removed25.
When I was growing up, my ward leaders repeated the party line that they were told — that polygamy was a complicated concept that Joseph didn’t want, but it was definitely all legitimate and God sometimes asks us to do things that we don’t understand. Of course, they told me stories about Brigham Young’s many wives and so I knew that Joseph must also have been involved, but the details of Joseph’s marriages were always a mystery.
I don’t blame my ward and stake leaders. I’m sure they didn’t know about any of this either.
As a missionary, I confidently repeated the reluctant polygamist and it’s complicated narratives. In retrospect, I do remember feeling a little uneasy about it and wishing I knew more, but I assumed that there wasn’t anything else to learn and that besides, that’s where faith comes in and fills in the gaps… right?
In reality, I didn’t even have enough knowledge about Mormon polygamy to be able to apply agency in regard to it26. I certainly wasn’t qualified to teach anything about it as a missionary or instructor.
The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command [polygamy]: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to ‘raise up seed unto [the Lord]’
…[plural wives] are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth…
As a Mormon, this explanation made perfect sense, because to me “spreading the gospel” was one of the purposes for the restored gospel27. So when children are born in the covenant (into a Mormon family), they don’t have to go searching for the one true gospel — they inherit it.
This is also the reason why Mormon families end up having so many kids28.
But there are at least two problems with this explanation:
- Mormon polygamy produced fewer children, not more29
- As far as we can tell, no children came from Joseph’s plural relationships30
So, if the one reason for God to institute polygamy is to make more Mormon babies, but Mormon polygamy actually makes fewer Mormon babies, and the founder of Mormon polygamy didn’t make any babies with his plural wives…
Why the need for polygamy again?
Maybe God’s purpose wasn’t to bring more souls into the Mormon Church but to ensure that more souls were brought up in the right Mormon families — the ones that practiced polygamy early on. So, while polygamy didn’t produce more Mormons than monogamy would have, it almost definitely produced more of the right kind of Mormon31.
That’s a possibility I guess, but it’s no less weird. It’s also not the explanation the LDS Church is giving (i.e. the “to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant” explanation).
Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone. Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings.
I’m guessing that the Mormon Church says “probably” because, while there are a lot of first-hand and second-hand accounts of Joseph’s sexuality with his plural wives, DNA tests can’t find any children that would have come from these relationships.
But if none of Joseph’s “poly” relationships were sexual in nature, then a lot of people who were friendly to Joseph are lying. Here are just a few of their many statements:
- Many years after Joseph’s death, there was a legal dispute between the two most prominent Mormon religions over some property in Nauvoo. As part of the court case, Brigham Young’s church32 argued that the Mormon religion run by Joseph Smith’s son33 couldn’t be the same as the original because their doctrine was different (namely, they didn’t believe in or practice polygamy, but Brigham’s church did). Several of Joseph’s wives were called to testify and asked very explicit questions about their relationship with Joseph. Some of them refused to answer. Others confirmed that sex was indeed a part of their relationship34.
- There are journal entries recording Joseph’s Wedding night with Louisa Beaman where she was dressed like a man to avoid suspicion. Joseph Bates Noble recorded that their wedding night was spent, “Right straight across the river at my house”. Noble said he encouraged them to, “Blow out the lights and get into bed35, and you will be safer there”36.
- We have five statements from Benjamin F. Johnson recording the intimate nature of Joseph Smith’s relationship with his sister, Almera. Here’s one such event, “He [Joseph Smith] remained two days, lodging at my house with my sister as man and wife (and to my certain knowledge he occupied the same bed with her).”37
- Sylvia Sessions Lyon, believed that her daughter, Josephine, was the daughter of the prophet, but as it turns out, she was not38. Unless Sylvia was lying, this means that she was sexually active with both her first husband, Windsor Lyon, and Joseph Smith at about the same time.
There are other accounts like that, but that’ll do for my purposes39.
Officially, the Mormon Church acknowledges that at least some of Joseph Smith’s marriages were consummated40. Mormon apologists also usually concede that sex was a part of Joseph’s polygamy. But every once in a while, I find a Mormon who sticks to his guns that Joseph didn’t have sex with his plural wives41. They are either unaware of the evidence or they are willing to discard it simply because they can’t conceive of a situation where a man could be sexually active with so many women and yet produce no children42.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Joseph never had sex with anyone except for Emma. Even then you’d have to explain Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, etc. who certainly did have lots of sex, with lots of different women (because there are children to prove it).
Those who claim that sex had nothing to do with polygamy in the early Mormon Church are not well informed.
It’s a big deal to me that Joseph Smith was secretly sleeping with lots of women43, and I know that it’s a big deal to a lot of other people. I have a hard time imagining that a man of God would do that. It’s simply not the image of Joseph that I was given my entire life.
Sixteen-year-old Fanny Alger lived with the Smiths in Kirtland, Ohio. She is referred to as an adopted daughter in some accounts44. Fanny was admired by many boys her age, and there were rumors that even the Prophet Joseph had eyes for her45. There is some evidence that a “marriage” ceremony was performed46, but even if there was, it was kept a secret from all but a few people until Emma, Joseph’s first wife, discovered the two of them alone in a barn. It isn’t clear what Emma saw, but according to accounts, Emma witnessed “the transaction” through a crack47. Whatever “the transaction” was, it was enough to compel Emma to throw Fanny out of the house48.
This news spread and caused many in Kirtland, even Oliver, to turn away from Mormonism.
The Mormon Church considers Fanny to be Smith’s first plural wife.
Emily was just 16 when her father died. Joseph invited her and her sister, Eliza, to live and work in his home soon afterward. Emily recalls that the Smiths were very good to her, “almost like a father and mother, and I loved Emma and the children.” Two years later, Joseph approached Emily about marriage. She was far from receptive. She recorded: “…in the spring of 1842…Joseph said to me one day, ‘Emily, if you will not betray me, I will tell you something for your benefit.’ Of course I would keep his secret…he asked me if I would burn it if he would write me a letter. I began to think that was not the proper thing for me to do and I was about as miserable as I ever would wish to be…I went to my room and knelt down and asked my father in heaven to direct me…[At Joseph’s insistence] I could not speak to any one on earth…I received no comfort till I went back…to say I could not take a private letter from him. He asked me if I wished the matter ended. I said I did. …he said no more to me [for many months].”.
Soon afterward, one of Joseph’s wives, Elizabeth Durfee51, invited both Emily and Eliza to dinner (presumably at Joseph’s direction) pretending to know nothing about plural marriage. Emily later supposed that she was being tested — to see if Emily would keep Joseph’s secret. She later recalled: “[Elizabeth Durfee] introduced the subject of spiritual wives as they called it in that day. She wondered if there was any truth in the report she heard. I thought I could tell her something that would make her open her eyes if I chose, but I did not choose to. I kept my own council and said nothing.”
Joseph approached Emily on the subject once again less than a year later:“He taught me this principle of plural marriage…but we called it celestial marriage, and he told me that this principle had been revealed to him but it was not generally known.” She said that soon afterward, “Mrs. Durf[ee] came to me…and said Joseph would like an opportunity to talk with me…I was to meet him in the evening at Mr. [Heber C.] Kimballs”. Emily showed up at the appointed time, but decided not to change her clothes — knowing that this type of meeting might appear improper. “When I got there nobody was at home but [the Kimball children] William and Hellen Kimball52…I did not wait long before Br. Kimball and Joseph came in.” When Joseph and Heber arrived, they sent the children away and pretended to send Emily away as well. “I started for home as fast as I could so as to get beyond being called back, for I still dreaded the interview. Soon I heard Br. Kimball call, ‘Emily, Emily’ rather low but loud enough for me to hear. I thought at first I would not go back and took no notice of his calling. But he kept calling and was about to overtake me so I stopped and went back with him… I cannot tell all Joseph said, but he said the Lord had commanded [him] to enter into plural marriage and had given me to him and although I had got badly frightened he knew I would yet have him…Well I was married there and then. Joseph went home his way and I going my way alone. A strange way of getting married wasn’t it?”
Much later in her life, Emily testified, as part of a court case, that she had “carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith”53.
Joseph was later married to Emily’s sister, Eliza, as well. These relationships were hidden from Emma even though they all lived under the same roof. Later, Joseph told Emma that she would be the first woman to receive the endowment — a stipulation of which was that she cease to resist God’s commandment of polygamy. Emma agreed but insisted upon choosing Joseph’s wives for him. (This likely indicates that Emma wasn’t fully aware of any of his current polygamous relationships at the time.) Emma chose Emily and Eliza to be Joseph’s plural wives. Rather than confess that the marriages had already taken place, Emily said that “To save the family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed…[Emma] had her feelings, and so we thought there was no use in saying anything about it so long as she had chosen us herself…Accordingly…we were sealed to JS a second time, in Emma’s presence.”
Emily said that her relationship was prickly with Emma ever since (understandably so). In fact, after an incident where Emma found Joseph and Eliza alone together in a locked room, Emma kicked both girls out of the house for good.
(Sources: Mormon Polygamy: A History, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith)
[Joseph] hesitated to move forward [with polygamy until an] angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.
Did God really condone Joseph tricking his young and beautiful housemaid to meet with him secretly and convince her to marry him on the spot, even though she had asked him to drop the subject?
Did God really command Joseph to lie to Emma and hide his plural relationships from her?
Did an angel really appear to Joseph and threaten him with destruction unless he started messing around with the cute sixteen-year-old living with him? In a barn? In the middle of the night? Behind his wife’s back?
Would God really sustain a man who would use his position to corner young and impressionable women, and then coerce them into marrying him?
I guess that’s possible. But is it likely?
Mormon apologists say that Joseph was a “reluctant polygamist”. That’s possible, too, I guess, but I think that the evidence points clearly in another direction.
If Joseph’s purposes were eternal in nature, and were devoid of sexual attraction, why did he pursue the young and attractive, girls? If his purposes were simply to fulfill the commands of God, why didn’t he marry only those women who had little prospects (widows and spinsters)54?
If polygamy was a revelation from God and such a super-important part of the restored gospel, wouldn’t it also be important to inform Oliver about it? He was an integral part of every other “revelation” from God. He supposedly helped translate the Golden Plates. He was reportedly present when John the Baptist restored the priesthood55. He was involved in pretty much every other detail in founding the Mormon Church. Why was he not informed about an angel of God standing before Joseph with a drawn sword, threatening to kill him unless he did it? Seems like a pretty important detail to confide in your #2.
I encourage you to get to know each of the stories of these faithful, but forgotten women56. Then decide for yourself if you think Joseph was a “reluctant polygamist”.
I can understand why a believing Mormon would choose to put this one on their shelf and say I don’t understand but I choose to have faith anyway. My concern is that most Mormons aren’t even given the opportunity to do that because this information isn’t available to them through Church-approved sources. How can new converts or even long-time members truly exercise “agency” if they aren’t given all of the information?
I don’t think that’s fair.
Fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball was introduced to the concept of polygamy by her father, who was a Mormon apostle. She later wrote about that moment, “The first impulse was anger… my sensibilities were painfully touched. I felt such a sense of personal injury and displeasure; for to mention such a thing to me I thought altogether unworthy of my father.”
The next day Joseph Smith visited the Kimball home and he told Helen, “If you will take this step [of plural marriage], it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred.” Helen said that “This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward.” She was married to Joseph Smith in May of that year.
At first, she did not enjoy being a polygamist wife. She later wrote, “I had, in hours of temptation… felt to rebel. I hated polygamy in my heart.” But then she got very sick. She attributed her months-long illness to God punishing her for her unwillingness to embrace polygamy. She wrote, “For three months I lay a portion of the time like one dead… I tasted of the punishment which is prepared for those who reject any of the principles of this Gospel… I fasted for one week, and every day I gained until I had won the victory… I learned that plural marriage is a celestial principle, and saw… the necessity of obedience to those who hold the priesthood, and the danger of rebelling against or speaking lightly of the Lord’s anointed.”
When Helen was married to Joseph, she was the same age that Elizabeth Smart was when she was abducted57. While Helen became a life-long advocate of Mormon polygamy, she also lamented the loss of youthful cares and friendships as well as the absence of young love. (wivesofjosephsmith.org — cited on 4/23/2018.)
Many people are bothered by the idea of Joseph promising salvation to an entire family if this fourteen-year-old would marry him58. This is how apologists frequently reconcile it:
[citing Joseph’s promise to Helen…]
This quotation is sometimes cited by critics as solid evidence that the Prophet promised exaltation to at least one of his plural wives and her family if they would agree to the marriage. Typically omitted from such accounts is the fact that one year later Helen clarified that she may not have understood everything correctly: ‘I confess that I was too young or too ‘foolish’ to comprehend and appreciate all’ that Joseph Smith then taught.
The implication that Helen Mar Kimball questioned Joseph’s promise of salvation is simply not true. Helen was talking about a completely different topic, when she said that she might not have comprehended everything she heard from Joseph. It is either dishonest or lazy to apply one quote to the context of the other, in this case.
Here’s the more complete quote: (Context is everything.)
The Prophet’s son can never make many proselytes [converts] among the Nauvoo ‘Mormons,’ for they have too much knowledge, and are so familiar with his parents’ history that they cannot be duped. I was not so young nor so small as Joseph Smith the younger, but I confess that I was too young or too ‘foolish’ to comprehend and appreciate all that I heard his father teach, and if my parents at that early day had disagreed and my father been taken away by death, I am not able to decide what the consequences would have been to me; but my mother, though quick and plain to speak her mind, learned to respect the authority of the Priesthood, and she understood it too well to stand in opposition to it. She never deceived nor taught her children an untruth59.
First of all, it’s important to note two things: 1) this was written 39 years after-the-fact, and 2) it has nothing to do with Joseph’s promise of salvation to her family.
Helen was addressing an ownership dispute over some land in Nauvoo between the RLDS Church61 and the LDS church. Each laid claim to being the “true” church that Joseph founded. Joseph Smith III, son of the Mormon Founder and leader of the RLDS Church, argued that polygamy was not practiced or taught by his father, so the LDS church (which did practice polygamy) must be a different religion altogether. Joseph Smith III was wrong; Helen had first-hand knowledge of that fact. She knew that Joseph practiced polygamy and she knew that many people in Nauvoo were aware of it too. She excuses JS III a bit by essentially saying, he can be forgiven for not noticing what was going on — he was young when all that went down — I was too — but the people who were close to the prophet won’t be convinced — they know his dad was practicing polygamy.
Helen was not talking about Joseph’s promise of salvation to her and her family. In fact, the evidence indicates that Helen believed Joseph’s promise her entire life.
Read Helen’s quote once again: “This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward.” She wrote that in 1881. This means that 39 years after the fact, she still deeply believed Joseph’s promise! She wrote the “too young or too ‘foolish’” quote a year later (1882).
So, Mr. Hales wants us to believe that for 39 years Helen believed Joseph’s promise, but then changed her mind only a year later? And because she wrote I might not have comprehended everything about a topic that was completely unrelated to Joseph’s promise?
Either Mr. Hales doesn’t know the source and context of the 2nd quote, or he isn’t being very honest in this situation.
Also, apologists have to get around the fact that Catherine Lewis, a girl who lived with the Kimball family, later confirmed Joseph’s promise to Helen. She wrote that Helen once said, “I would never have been sealed (married) to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it”62.
Apologists discredit Catherine’s quote, simply by saying that she left the Mormon Church63. She was an apostate, so she can’t be trusted. This is another tactic that implies that only faithful Mormon sources are free from bias and can be trustworthy64. But if this woman made up the story, it’s a pretty interesting coincidence that it matches what Helen herself wrote about the situation.
I’m not buying the apologetic explanation at all. Joseph’s treatment of this little girl is abominable — even in the very unlikely chance that she did misunderstand.
Lucy Walker was fifteen years old when her mother died of malaria. Her father was distraught but Joseph called him away on a mission shortly afterward. Lucy was virtually orphaned so Joseph offered to take Lucy and her three older siblings into his own home. Lucy said that “the Prophet and his wife introduced us as their daughters”.
That same year (1842) she was approached by Joseph who asked her to become one of his “plural wives”. She said that this “announcement was indeed a thunderbolt to me. He asked me if I believed him to be a prophet of God. ‘Most assuredly I do’”, she replied. Joseph told her to pray about it. She did pray, but received only agony.
She later wrote about her struggle to make a decision, saying, “I was tempted and tortured beyond endurance until life was not desirable. Oh that the grave would kindly receive me, that I might find rest on the bosom of my dear mother… I am only a child in years and experience, no mother to counsel… no father near to tell me what to do in this trying hour. Oh, let this bitter cup pass. And thus I prayed in the agony of my soul.”
She was tortured by this and so avoided giving Joseph an answer for many months. Yet, he persisted, telling her, “Although I cannot, under existing circumstances, acknowledge you as my wife, the time is near when we will go beyond the Rocky Mountains and then you will be acknowledged and honored as my wife… I have no flattering words to offer. It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.”
After further agonizing prayer, from which she “received no comfort, no light” she finally got her answer: “My soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that ‘I never knew.’ Supreme happiness took possession of me, and I received a powerful and irresistible testimony of the truth of plural marriage.”
Lucy was seventeen when she was finally married to Joseph. (josephsmithspolygamy.org — cited on 4/23/2018.)
Here’s an explanation from FAIR Mormon:
One woman [Lucy] was told that the opportunity for plural marriage would expire in twenty-four hours. She was not threatened with damnation or physical consequences… This is the only case of any kind of deadline being given, and it only came because Joseph saw how unhappy Lucy was as she hesitated with a decision over a period of months.
Yikes! I’m surprised this made it past their review.
First of all, calling Lucy “one woman” doesn’t give proper respect to her or to the situation that she was placed in. Lucy was only fifteen when Joseph first approached her about marriage (hardly what most people would refer to as a “woman”). And she was left completely alone — no parent figure to give her counsel, or discerning advice, or to protect her from a potentially predatory situation65.
Secondly, do they really believe that Joseph wasn’t being coercive when the man she revered as a prophet told her that God was commanding her to marry him? What choice did she really have? Helen lived on the Western Frontier in the 1840s. Where could she go if she wanted to escape this situation?
Would there have to be evidence that Joseph chained her up, or beat her, or threaten damnation before apologists admitted that he abused his influence?
And do they really believe that Lucy couldn’t possibly interpret this statement as a threat of damnation: “If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you”?
Do they really believe that Joseph was just saying all of this out of his kindness and concern for Lucy? Is this the proper way to show concern for a parentless child: “…you will be acknowledged and honored as my wife… I have no flattering words to offer. [Marrying me] is a command of God to you”?
What kind of person would I become if I excused this kind of behavior in the slightest degree? What other disgusting things could I justify, or turn a blind eye to, with my “faith” if I were to let something this despicable slide?
Mormons condemn Warren Jeffs. Why don’t they also condemn Joseph Smith for the same type of behavior? I think it’s partly because they’ve never heard it before.
After Joseph’s death, most of the women sealed to him moved to Utah with the Saints, remained faithful Church members, and defended both plural marriage and Joseph.
Helen… had written two books defending plural marriage.
Apologists frequently imply that Joseph’s wives couldn’t have been manipulated since so many of them staunchly defended Joseph and the practice of polygamy. In other words: the abused don’t defend their abusers. This is simply not true66. Polygamy’s most ardent supporters today are the women who are currently practicing it (like this teenager). Even though many of today’s polygamist relationships are clearly demeaning and abusive, most of the women defend it.
Just because many of Joseph’s wives ended up defending polygamy doesn’t mean that he didn’t abuse his influence in convincing them.
Zina Huntington was courted by a young musician named Henry Jacobs when Joseph asked her to become one of his wives. She was tormented by this. She loved Henry, but the person she revered as a prophet told her that God wanted her to be one of his plural wives. She resisted the Prophet and married Henry instead.
Only months into her marriage she wrote, “[Joseph] sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life’” With this she relented and married Joseph only eight months after her wedding to Henry.
She remained married to Henry. He was aware of their relationship, believing “whatever the Prophet did was right”.
Henry adored Zina but was sent on so many missions abroad that he rarely lived under the same roof as the woman he courted, married and “almost worshiped”. After Joseph’s death, Zina was married to Brigham Young and she lived openly as his wife. Of course, this was beyond difficult for Henry to bear. (wivesofjosephsmith.org — cited on 8/24/2018)
…Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married. Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone67. Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.
There are several possible explanations for this practice. These sealings may have provided a way to create an eternal bond or link between Joseph’s family and other families within the Church. These ties extended both vertically, from parent to child, and horizontally, from one family to another. Today such eternal bonds are achieved through the temple marriages of individuals who are also sealed to their own birth families, in this way linking families together. Joseph Smith’s sealings to women already married may have been an early version of linking one family to another. In Nauvoo, most if not all of the first husbands seem to have continued living in the same household with their wives during Joseph’s lifetime, and complaints about these sealings with Joseph Smith are virtually absent from the documentary record.
…Another possibility is that, in an era when life spans were shorter than they are today, faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed by priesthood authority. Several of these women were married either to non-Mormons or former Mormons, and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages. Living in a time when divorce was difficult to obtain, these women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not otherwise receive in the next life.
I don’t know how anyone could write that and feel good about it.
I feel dirty reading it.
First of all, I find it incredible that the Mormon Church itself doesn’t know why Joseph had relationships with married women. If he were inspired to do it how could the Church possibly not know the reason for it68?
Also, the Mormon scripture that details polygamy, does not allow for the practice of marrying women that are already married.69
As to the theory that Joseph was marrying married women so that lots of families could be sealed together: remember that the LDS Church says that there is only one purpose for polygamy70 — sealing multiple families together is not it.
Also, remember that Zina Huntington was one of Joseph’s polyandrous relationships71. After Joseph died, you would think that she would go back to being married to Henry and only to Henry. (Hadn’t he suffered enough?!) That didn’t happen. Instead, Brigham Young took Zina as his wife72. (Brigham also took all of the children.) She lived in Brigham’s home and raised his children while Henry served missions for the Church far away.
This makes no sense. It’s maddening.
Polygamy’s “one purpose” is to raise up seed. But Brigham wasn’t needed for that since Henry fathered children with Zina. And Zina couldn’t have been sealed to Brigham since she was already sealed to Joseph73. This means that Brigham’s marriage to Zina didn’t even follow the Holy Order of Marriage. There was no doctrinal basis for it.
The comment about complaints from husbands being virtually absent makes me ill. The word virtually acknowledges but minimizes experiences like Henry’s who wrote to Zina in anguish, “…the same affection is there…But I feel alone…I do not Blame Eny (sic) person…may the Lord our Father bless Brother Brigham…all is right according to the Law of the Celestial Kingdom of our God Joseph.”74
Technically, that’s not a complaint, but does that matter? Does it lessen his pain? Does it legitimize his suffering somehow?
I don’t have words for how awful the Zina + Henry + Joseph + Brigham saga is.
The second theory is no less disgusting to me. So, it’s okay to get an extra husband if the wife isn’t happy with the first? Or if the first husband isn’t a Mormon?
And is the LDS Church’s actually suggesting that any of these married women wanted a plural relationship with Joseph? I have found no evidence of that in all of my research. The accounts I’ve read are of women who were anguished by his proposals and his pressure.
And then there’s the idea that his marriages to married women weren’t sexual in any way — they were “eternity only” marriages. I see three major problems with this argument:
- At least some of his polyandrous relationships almost certainly did include sexual relations75.
- The LDS Church says that the only purpose for polygamy is to make lots of Mormon babies76. If so, then why marry women who already had an active, Mormon husband to make babies with?
- The very concept of eternity-only marriages is disgusting. (If it’s not okay to take a man’s wife and children from him in this life, why would that be okay in the next life?)
More about that last part: The meaning of eternity-only sealings is that after this life, a man’s wife would no longer be married to him, but to Joseph. The first couple would get to spend this life together… but as soon as one of them died, the marriage would be dissolved for the rest of eternity and the wife would become Joseph’s.
Worse yet: the children born by that couple would be Joseph’s in the next life too!77
I thought the “one and only true” gospel was about bringing families together. This is kind of the opposite. Tough luck for the first guy, I guess.
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but I don’t believe that the doctrine of eternity-only sealings comes from God.
Modern Mormon scripture specifies a few ground rules for anyone participating in polygamy:
…if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified… for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth… (D&C 132:61, 63)
So, to summarize:
- the first wife must give her consent
- the new wife must be a virgin
- the new wife cannot already be married
- the purpose is for making babies
And yet, Joseph “married” many women without Emma’s knowledge or permission, and at least eleven of these women were already married (and certainly not virgins)78.
Also, apologists sometimes bring up the fact that no definite descendants from those plural marriages can be found. If that’s so, then the purpose was clearly not for making little ones.
The revelation on marriage required that a wife give her consent before her husband could enter into plural marriage. Nevertheless, toward the end of the revelation, the Lord said that if the first wife ‘receive not this law’—the command to practice plural marriage—the husband would be ‘exempt from the law of Sarah,’ presumably the requirement that the husband gain the consent of the first wife before marrying additional women.
In other words:
If a Mormon man wants another wife, he needs permission from the first wife. But if the first wife says “no” then the husband’s in luck! He doesn’t need her permission anymore… he’s free to “marry” whoever he wants to behind her back. It’s right there in the D&C, so it was fine for Joseph to hide it from Emma.
Even without that horrible explanation, you’d have to be okay with a God who would write disgusting “scripture” like D&C 132:61, 63.79
The Official LDS essay also completely ignores issues with the other three supposed requirements for polygamy. This is very common with Mormon apologetics — they give one terrible explanation for a tiny piece of a problem (while ignoring 3 others) and then act like the problem is solved. It’s misdirection. Sleight of hand. Nothing to see here.
I’ve heard a few people say, “well, Joseph wasn’t perfect” or “King David messed up too”. Some people might feel comfortable going there80. I don’t. It’s so much easier for me to accept that Joseph wasn’t a prophet than to believe that God would choose someone who makes this type of “mistake” to be the most important prophet in history (except for Jesus81, of course).
Joseph Smith was never open about his polygamous and polyandrous relationships. He told people inside and outside the Mormon faith that no one in his church was practicing polygamy. He vehemently denied it to the public, to the general membership of his own religion, and even to his first wife, Emma.
One example is his “marriage” to sisters Emily and Eliza Partridge. He asked them to keep it a secret, even from Emma, asking them to burn correspondence from him. They felt very uneasy about what they were doing but agreed to do it anyway.82
Later, when Joseph was accused of polygamy before a court of law, he said, under oath, “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.”83.
Mormon apologists acknowledge that Joseph deceived people about his plural marriages, but they say that it didn’t amount to lying. They also imply that he had no other choice.
Many have criticized or been concerned by the secrecy with which Joseph instituted plural marriage without appreciating the realities of the dangers involved. Illinois law only criminalized adultery or fornication if it was ‘open’. Since Joseph was sealed to his plural wives for either eternity or for time and eternity, he did not view these relationships as constituting adultery or fornication. Therefore, under Illinois law, as long as Joseph and his plural wives did not live in an ‘open,’ or ‘public,’ manner, they were not guilty of breaking any civil law then in force in Illinois.
Let’s follow FAIR Mormon’s line of thinking to explain why it was okay for him to
lie be “secretive”:
- Joseph couldn’t be up-front about it because that would have put him in danger.
- Joseph wasn’t breaking any laws anyway because the law prohibited “open” polygamy. And since Joseph denied his polygamy, it definitely wasn’t open, and so also wasn’t technically illegal.
Frankly, I think that this is silly enough without my help — so I’ll leave it alone.
But there’s something else that FAIR Mormon is referring to that’s very interesting — how Joseph played with the definition of the word polygamy to justify his denials. He told followers that polygamy was a doctrine of the devil but that what they were doing wasn’t polygamy86. He gave it other names: “celestial marriage” or “the new and everlasting covenant” or “the holy order of marriage”. When it was ordained of God, it wasn’t polygamy. That way, they could confidently deny it — because, once again, what Mormons were doing wasn’t actually polygamy.
This quote from the Deseret News in 1886 describes this game of semantics, and explains how early Mormons convinced themselves that Joseph never really lied about polygamy.
But examination of the history and the facts will disclose that there is no real contradiction between the alleged conflicting statements, nor between the action of Joseph and Hyrum in regard to polygamy… Polygamy, in the ordinary and Asiatic sense of the term, never was and is not now a tenet of the Latter-Day Saints… was altogether different to the order of celestial marriage…
In other words, early Mormons told themselves that they never practiced polygamy. In their minds, polygamy is vile and carnal; but the order of celestial marriage is a sacred calling. What’s the difference in practice? Nothing. Celestial marriage is ordained of God. That’s the difference88.
To simply say that Joseph lied about his intimate relationships is a huge understatement. He verbally attacked and vilified anyone who brought out the truth about polygamy, even though they were the truth tellers and he was not.
He was militant about defending his lies. In fact, his attempts to silence the truth in this regard are what ultimately led to his murder. (See story about the Nauvoo Expositor below.)
Ok. Let’s get off of the polygamy topic. Finally.
One year before Joseph’s death, a man brought some rusty metal plates with some etched characters on them to Joseph Smith. This caused some excitement in the City of Nauvoo. So much so, that the plates were exhibited in the city. William Clayton, Joseph Smith’s personal secretary, recorded:
I have seen 6 brass plates which were found in Adams County by some persons who were digging in a mound They found a skeleton about 6 feet from the surface of the earth which was 9 foot high [tracing of plate] The plates were on the breast of the skeleton. This diagram shows the size of the plates being drawn on the edge of one of them. They are covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found & he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven & earth.
The trouble is that those plates were later discovered to be a fabrication by three men who wanted to play a trick on the Mormons89.
Here’s part of an explanation from an essay taken from the BYU Religious Studies website. The official explanation from the Mormon Church makes the same argument but this one is more concise.
It must be noted… that in his diary Clayton did not quote Joseph directly—he only reported what he thought was happening. Whether Joseph actually told Clayton that he had translated the plates, or whether Clayton was simply reporting what he heard from a variety of sources, is not clear.
(See also the LDS Official response in 1981.)
What they’re saying is that William Clayton wrote this — not Joseph. Brother Clayton could have been wrong or even made it up.
The first part is definitely true. Joseph didn’t write this. And yes, it’s possible that William made it up or got it wrong, but that’s really unlikely.
First of all, there were other eyewitnesses90 who said they saw Joseph “translate” the writings on the Kinderhook plates.
Also, William got pretty specific: “…they contain the history of the person with whom they were found & he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven & earth…” That doesn’t sound to me like something that you would just misunderstand91.
Another thing going against this theory is that Brother Clayton was “called of God” to be the prophet’s personal secretary. It was his sacred duty to record what Joseph said and did. It doesn’t seem likely to me that he would just make it up.
Finally, Joseph had ample opportunity to correct this statement if he didn’t agree with it. But Joseph didn’t correct it. Quite the contrary, this entry was important enough to be included in the Mormon Church’s own official publication The Times And Seasons. It was even modified and written as a first-person statement from the prophet’s perspective: “I [Joseph] have translated a portion [of the plates]…”. If that wasn’t enough, it was even later added to the Official History of the Church (see page 372) and touted for more than a century as authentic proof that ancient Native Americans wrote stuff on metal plates.
Mormon apologists use the “Joseph didn’t actually write that.” tactic a lot. The problem with that argument is that he did very little writing himself — scribes did almost all of it for him92. Apologists conveniently use this fact selectively. They call into question anything that bothers them (because Joseph didn’t write it). But they don’t apply the same skepticism to the stuff that happens to confirm their beliefs, even though it’s written by the same scribes.
Was Joseph caught red-handed? Was his claimed ability to translate ancient languages exposed as a fraud?
Or did both William Clayton and the author of the New York Herald article make this story up? And then, did Joseph somehow miss the excitement that the Kinderhook plates caused in Nauvoo and not get to examine them and denounce them as a hoax, and then somehow miss the article published in his own magazine, and so wasn’t able to correct it?
That seems highly unlikely to me.
Mormons believe that the source for an important book of scripture, the Book of Abraham, came from ancient Egyptian scrolls. Joseph Smith purchased these scrolls from a man who was passing through the contemporary Mormon HQ in Kirtland, Ohio.
The heading of the Book of Abraham says, “A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”
The trouble is that scientists can now date the scrolls to “between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived” so they couldn’t possibly have been written by Abraham93.
Modern Egyptologists can interpret the writings and pictographs on the scrolls. The content has nothing to do with anything found in the Book of Abraham. Instead, it has been identified as something called the “Breathing Permit of Hôr”. It’s a funerary text — quite similar to many others found in other Egyptian tombs94.
This BYU professor, and Mormon apologist, argues that the Mormon Church never said that the papyri Joseph purchased were actually written by Abraham’s actual hand.
Both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those of other faiths have often assumed that the statement, ‘The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus,’ (Book of Abraham, Heading) means that Abraham himself copied the writings onto the papyrus acquired by the Prophet Joseph… In regard to this assumption, I ask, who said this particular papyrus was written by Abraham himself? The heading does not indicate that Abraham had written that particular copy but rather that he was the author of the original.
Who said that the papyrus was written by Abraham? Well, Joseph Smith did: “some of the Saints at Kirtland purchased the mummies and papyrus… I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt”95.
Also the heading of the Book of Abraham says “A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”
But, I guess Mr. Muhlestein is saying that maybe Abraham did write this but just did it on other, earlier papyrus and then it was copied down on other papyrus and passed down through time until it was written again on the papyrus that ended up on Joseph Smith’s hands. Okay, I guess that’s possible but that’s a really big stretch96.
More importantly, notice that Mr. Muhlestein concedes that the papyrus contains the writings of Abraham (even if he won’t say that it was literally written by Abraham). Remember this. It’s an important contradiction to apologists’ catalyst theory97.
Now a little bit about Kerry Muhlestein, since apologists so frequently represent him as an expert on Egyptian stuff:
He’s an Egyptologist and a Mormon, employed by the Mormon Church as a professor at BYU. Also, I think it’s important to understand a little bit about his approach when it comes to the Book of Abraham (and to finding truth in general):
In other words, Mr. Muhlestein is not impartial and not a seeker of truth. He has already found the truth he’s looking for and will not be moved from it. He acts as the defense attorney, not the jury. He is an apologist98, not a scholar.
How far can we trust the “expert” opinion of someone who admits he makes conclusions before any evidence is provided? Personally, I think experts are more trustworthy when they can commit to being free from bias99.
Egyptologists have examined the facsimiles and the papyri and say that they have nothing to do with Abraham or anything written in the Book of Abraham. Mr. Muhlestein’s explanation is that they could be wrong:
…we know that modern Egyptologists could be wrong concerning how Egyptians would have interpreted these drawings… we Egyptologists often use poor methodology when interpreting Egyptian symbols from the time period of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Most of our knowledge about what symbols meant in ancient Egypt comes from the Eighteenth Dynasty, around 1500 BC. We then often apply these meanings to similar pictures from any time period. However, the Joseph Smith Papyri date from over one thousand volatile years later, and almost certainly the interpretations of many images changed during that period of time. Thus one problem with criticizing Joseph’s interpretations of the facsimiles is that our only means of interpreting them is based on a faulty comparison.
I’m bothered by the phrase that Egyptologists are using “faulty comparisons”. Of course language changes over time100, but what is the likelihood that the meaning of the same Egyptian characters changed from a common funerary text into a story about Abraham and a vision of the pre-existence, a star called Kolob, Jesus becoming the Chosen One, the creation of Earth, etc?
That stretches far past the limits of my imagination.
What are the odds that the characters would change so little over time and yet their meaning would change completely?
This is what I mean:
Also, check this out and compare Joseph’s interpretation to that of modern Egyptologists:
The Mormon Church itself concedes that Joseph’s “translation” might not have been “a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be” (Official LDS Essay — cited 3/17/2018) but that the scrolls might have served as a catalyst for revelation.
But this contradicts Joseph’s own accounts of the “translation” process. He said “I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics”101. The scrolls weren’t inspiring him to write something totally different than their true translation — he was translating characters.
Joseph then records in the History of the Church “much to our joy [we] found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham.”102 The scrolls didn’t inspire him to understand the story of Abraham. Joseph wrote that the scrolls “contained” it.
Also, if the scrolls were nothing more than a catalyst, then this catalyst is disturbing to me:
This just scratches the surface. Do your own research on both sides. Which side is more convincing? What are the odds that the apologists got it right?
Mr. Muhlestein is a Mormon “Egyptologist”104 who admits he is not unbiased. He is the only “expert” I can find who believes that there is any possibility that Joseph’s translation is anything close to the true meaning found in the scrolls. Also, the Mormon Church’s “catalyst” claims are silly and don’t match with Joseph’s own statements about the “translation”.
Joseph Smith kept notes on his work “translating” the scrolls, providing what has been called the “Grammar & Alphabet of the Egyptian Language” or GAEL for short. This “bound grammar” is actually a dictionary because it provides character-for-character interpretations along with a pronunciation guide.
I think the GAEL is fascinating. Take a look at it.
[transcription of Egyptian character] — Kiah brah oam. Coming down from the beginning— right by birth— and also by blessing, and by promise— promises made…
Of course, Egyptologists today affirm that Joseph’s GAEL is nothing like an actual translation of Egyptian characters.
The GAEL was written mostly by Joseph’s scribes which has led some apologists to posit that the GAEL was an incorrect attempt by Joseph’s scribes to reverse engineer Egyptian translations by comparing the Book of Abraham with the papyri. However, this is not correct since 1) some of the GAEL is written in Joseph’s handwriting, 2) there are accounts where Joseph used the GAEL as a reference to translate other documents indicating that he approved of the translation105, and 3) the GAEL was written before the Book of Abraham, not the other way around106.
Apologists argue that it’s too early for any conclusions on the GAEL, so rather than explain any of it, they simply say, let’s wait and see:
… none of us really know what’s going on with these documents [the GAEL]. None of the theories I’ve seen are compelling and account for all of the evidence.
Before we pass judgment on the [GAEL], including it’s relationship to the Book of Abraham text, we should be patient and see what Professor Hauglid and other scholars will release in the future, per Brother Turley’s advice. This remains a relatively under-studied area of the Book of Abraham debate, and it would be foolish to jump to conclusions before all the relevant data is presented for scholarly scrutiny.
In Mr. Muhlestein’s video (referenced above) he says that Joseph might have received the Book of Abraham directly from God (rather than from the scrolls) before ever attempting to translate the hieroglyphs found on the scrolls107. (Sounds like the “catalyst” theory.) Then, he supposes that the Egyptian Grammar book might have been Joseph’s attempt to reverse engineer an alphabet from the translation that already existed.
But that doesn’t make sense. Joseph not only tells us what Egyptian hieroglyphics mean (incorrectly), he also provides a pronunciation of the words. As I said before, why would he provide a pronunciation guide adjacent to actual Egyptian characters if he’s just reverse engineering the Book of Abraham? Why would he attempt to teach us how to pronounce Egyptian characters if he wasn’t making an attempt to actually translate those characters? It makes no sense.
That’s why Mormon apologists are left without any explanation on this one — because there isn’t anything other than what’s staring us in the face — Joseph made it all up. He was simply trying to fake his way through things and continue his ruse of being a translator. That might contradict your faith, but it’s the only thing that fits all of the evidence. (And it fits perfectly.)
FAIR Mormon tells us that there’s some research currently being done on the GAEL so we should withhold our verdict. Sure, there’s a chance that BYU scholars could find something that brings it all together to make rational sense. But what could that possibly be? Short of the GAEL being another of Mark Hoffman’s forgeries108, I can’t think of anything reasonable.
There’s real research being done on Bigfoot too. Should I withhold my verdict on that one as well?
Update (12/19/2018): We no longer need to wait for the results of Professor Hauglid’s research. About five weeks ago we got more than a hint as to where he currently stands on this topic:
For the record, I no longer hold the views that have been quoted from my 2010 book in these videos109. I have moved from my days as an “outrageous” apologist. In fact, I’m no longer interested or involved in apologetics in any way. I wholeheartedly agree with Dan’s excellent assessment of the Abraham/Egyptian documents in these videos. I now reject a missing Abraham manuscript. I agree that the two of the Abraham manuscripts were simulateously (sic) dictated. I agree that the Egyptian papers were used to produce the BoA. I agree that only Abr. 1:1-2:18 were produced in 1935 and that Abr. 2:19-5:21 were produced in Nauvoo. And on and on. I no longer agree with Gee and Mulhestein. I find their apologetic “scholarship” on the BoA abhorrent. One can find that I’ve changed my mind in my recent and forthcoming publications. The most recent JSP Revelations and Translation vol. 4, The Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts (now on shelves) is much more open to Dan’s thinking on the origin of the Book of Abraham. My friend Brent Metcalfe can attest to my transformative journey.
Wow. That takes some courage111. Brian Hauglid is a professor at the center of Mormon apologetics, the Maxwell Institute. This comment publicly acknowledges that he was wrong in his previous apologetic books and that his critics were right. He has thrown his colleagues under the bus by placing quotes around “scholarship” and calling their ideas “abhorrent”.
This is a very big deal. There aren’t too many Mormons with credentials who dare to support the faith perspective of the Book of Abraham. Losing Hauglid is devastating.
I’ve also heard apologists say that the Grammar book couldn’t have possibly been Joseph’s attempt to translate Egyptian because his “translations” of a single character are sometimes many sentences long.
Sure. Here’s an example:
[transcription of Egyptian character] Iota toues Zip Zis: The land of Egypt which was first discovered by a woman wh[i]le underwater, and afterwards settled by her Sons she being a daughter of Ham— any land over flown with water— a land seen when overflown by water:— land overflown by the seasons, land by enriched by being overflown low marshy ground.
But I’m not sure I follow their line of thinking. How else could Joseph get the entire Book of Abraham out of the tiny scrolls?
Which is more likely, the apologetic shrugs and their pleas to wait to draw final conclusions, or quite simply, that the GAEL is evidence that Joseph Smith pretended to know how to translate stuff… but couldn’t?
In my opinion, this one looks really bad for Mormonism because if Joseph ever faked translations, then he probably faked the other thing he claimed to “translate” — the keystone of the Mormon religion — the Book of Mormon. Personally, I think that the GAEL is one of the more damning things against Mormonism’s Truth claims.
…Joseph’s translation [might not have been] a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts [might have] provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They [might have] catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.
The veracity and value of the Book of Abraham cannot be settled by scholarly debate concerning the book’s translation and historicity.…
A careful study of the book of Abraham provides a better measure of the book’s merits than any hypothesis that treats the text as a conventional translation
The truth of the book of Abraham is ultimately found through careful study of its teachings, sincere prayer, and the confirmation of the Spirit.
I think these quotes are incredible.
The Mormon Church is actually conceding that the text found in the Book of Abraham might not have actually been found anywhere on the scrolls that Joseph purchased. My guess is that few Mormons have any idea that their own Church has now taken this position.
At the same time, the LDS Church affirms that the text in the Book of Abraham is still sacred and inspired. They then encourage readers to seek to determine if the text is true by following their emotions, not by examining the facts about the book’s origins at all.
In other words:
- Joseph might not have technically translated anything from the scrolls, but the Book of Abraham is still revelation from God. It just is. We don’t know how it got there, or where it came from… but it’s definitely the word of God.
- Don’t look at the origin of the Book of Abraham to tell if it’s true.
- Read it. Does it make you feel good? Then it’s true!
The Book of Abraham is so far beyond the limits of reason for me. It’s actually difficult for me to imagine anything that would be more damning against it than what we already know. So, it would be next-to-impossible for me to believe that the scrolls had anything to do with Abraham. Or to believe that when Joseph said I translated he actually meant it was revealed to me completely separate from the scrolls, and that the scrolls were just a catalyst (whatever that means).
The Mormon Church was content to teach that everything about the Book of Abraham was literal for more than 160 years. But now that the evidence is available to non-experts, the Mormon Church has attempted to change their version so that it fits the evidence. But it still doesn’t fit. Not even close.
They realize this, which is why the official LDS essay applies a different strategy to essentially ask, How do you find truth anyway? Do you use your eyes and mind, or do you use your heart?
They are firmly favoring heart over mind on this one. I think that is a dangerous place to be. Where else might your faith take you if it obliterates reason? What else might you justify to continue your belief? What other logical reasoning would you override to preserve your faith?
I think the Book of Abraham is completely absurd. Even so, there’s always a chance I’ve completely missed the boat. I don’t know… maybe I’m crazy.
The Book of Mormon purports to be the literal history of an ancient civilization that lived in the Americas between 600 BCE and 400 CE. If so, why does the Book of Mormon mention things like horses, elephants, wheels, chariots, steel, iron, etc. when there is no archaeological evidence to indicate that these things existed in the Americas anytime close to the Book of Mormon years (Wikipedia)? And why don’t Native American languages show any influence from Hebrew, or Egyptian, culture or Reformed-Egyptian style language?
Is “horse” in the Book of Mormon merely a matter of labeling by analogy some other quadruped… could deer, tapir, or another quadruped have been termed “horse” by Joseph Smith in his translating?
It certainly is possible that when the Book of Mormon says “horses”, or “oxen”, or “donkeys”, or “goats”, or “sheep”, or “swine”, that it’s really referring to other animals that Joseph Smith didn’t have words for in the 1830s. Maybe the Nephites figured out a way to domesticate tapirs (horses), and javelina (pigs), and bighorn sheep (sheep), red brocket deer (goats) and bison (cattle).
That’s called loan shifting.
Maybe the word “horse” was used for some other critter that we don’t yet have archeological evidence of. That’s possible too.
But then, if loan shifting was the standard translation technique for animals unknown to Joseph Smith, why does Ether 9:19 depart from this method and give unknown animals strange names like “cureloms and cumoms”? If that’s how translation worked in the Book of Mormon, wouldn’t it say something like, …they should prepare his derbops and thudlors… instead of “prepare his horses and chariots”?
Also, if the people of the ancient Americas were domesticating tapirs, and llamas, and javelina, etc. we would expect to see evidence of that today in at least three places:
- The Ground: Raising animals leaves traces in the ground (pens, tools, droppings, bones) and in the artifacts (like their art). There is no such evidence.
- Behavior of Native Americans: Advances in society (like domestication) tend to get passed from generation to generation. Yet while native American cultures certainly domesticated dogs, turkeys, ducks, and maybe even tapirs (as pets) there is no evidence that anything like what is described in the Book of Mormon ever happened.
- The Animals Themselves: Domestication changes animals genetically (because humans breed only the docile animals). You would expect to see evidence of that in the animals today. Apologists can point to no such evidence.
Finally, read this reference to horses in the Book of Mormon:
…Now the king had commanded his servants… that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi…
That sure sounds to me like the “horses” are pulling chariots that carry people. How likely is it that those chariots were actually pulled by tapirs, or llamas (live in the Andes, not Central America), or deer (which are tiny animals in Central America)? And that the chariots were dragging on the ground rather than rolling on wheels (see next section)?
If the wheels in general use at that time were wooden, which is most likely, we would not expect to find evidence of them today because of the poor preservation factor caused by the high humidity of Mesoamerican lowlands.
Maybe all of these technologies did exist, just as the Book of Mormon describes them, but they all just disappeared without a trace.
That is definitely possible.
But it’s highly unlikely.
How could a civilization of millions have such advancements like steel, and horses, and the wheel… the wheel… and yet keep them from the Aztecs, and the Incas, and Mayas. (Even more improbable if you believe that the Nephites were one of those cultures.) How could these things have existed and yet disappeared without a trace — no trace in the ground, no trace in the artifacts, and no trace in the surviving cultures?
The absence of evidence is not proof. Here’s one small example… In 1884, one critic wrote, ‘Laban’s sword was steel, when it is a notorious fact that the Israelites knew nothing of steel for hundreds of years afterwards’…
We had no answer to these critics at the time, but, as often happens in these matters, new discoveries in later years shed new light. Roper reports, ‘it is increasingly apparent that the practice of hardening iron through deliberate carburization, quenching and tempering was well known to the ancient world from which Nephi came’…
That first part is right. The lack of evidence of the Lamanites, and Jaredites, and Anti-Nephi-Lehites, and Gadianton Robbers doesn’t equal proof that they never existed.
Yes. Of course.
But no reasonable person is saying they have proof that those people never existed. What they’re saying is that it’s very unlikely they ever existed.
If an exterminator searches your attic for rodents but finds no droppings, no nests, no pathways, no crumbs, no rodent hairs, etc. he will tell you that there are also no rodents. He doesn’t have proof, but he has good reason to feel confident. (Afterall, they’d have to be some pretty funny rodents to live in your attic and leave no signs of ever having been there.)
Also, I can’t let Elder Christopherson’s example pass without comment. He’s talking about steel in ancient Israel. Israel. Not the Americas. And his comparison is from 1884. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve gathered a lot of archaeological knowledge in the 134 years since. We’ve combed the attic pretty thoroughly. No rodents yet.
That reminds me of these charts produced by FAIR Mormon:
In other words, look how much the Book of Mormon got right — and how much we thought didn’t exist but then discovered that it did! Only a few more to go! It’s not such a leap to think that we’ll find those things too.
These charts are irresponsible at best, intentionally deceptive and dishonest at worst.
So many items on that list would be found in just about any ancient culture (e.g. stone monuments, thrones, palaces, wild beasts, large cities, javelins, bows and arrows, highland lake, N-S large river, southern highlands). Really? It’s almost as bad as putting wars with other cultures, or written language on the list.
Also, the second chart adds a new “Indeterminate” category. This is a common charting trick called biased labeling. Adding a new label distorts the results. And the word indeterminate itself introduces bias. What does indeterminate even mean in this context? Kind of confirmed? Almost confirmed? About to be confirmed? Maybe confirmed? Aren’t all of those the same as unconfirmed? The word indeterminate gives the impression that there’s some intermediate state between confirmed and unconfirmed. There isn’t. It’s a way of giving partial credit when there’s no such thing as partial credit here.
And look at the list of yellow items. Horses. Really? Saying they’re anything but “unconfirmed” is not accurate112. And Reformed Egyptian is “indeterminate” too? What does that mean? They’ve kind of, almost, maybe found evidence of Reformed Egyptian?
Also, I’m seriously bothered that some items they marked green have certainly not been confirmed. It’s difficult for me to believe that marking “Steel sword” and “Hebrew language” green is anything but dishonest.
These charts are terrible. They are an attempt to make it look like finding solid evidence of a Book of Mormon culture isn’t that far-fetched. But in my opinion, that is very far-fetched.
Try and think of a scenario where the Nephites and Lamanites existed. There would have been millions of them, and yet the defining parts of the culture: their language, their tools, their methods of travel, the animals they interacted with, were completely lost — not passed along to surviving cultures and not frozen in time in any way.
Mormon apologists tell us that sure there’s not a lot of evidence for a lot of stuff in the Book of Mormon but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. Just hang on. We’ve found a lot, they’re still finding more today and will yet find more stuff in the future. If we were still in the 1840s — when little was known about ancient American cultures — this wouldn’t be such an enormous leap.
But it’s 2018. It is an enormous leap. Our proverbial exterminator has searched the attic pretty thoroughly.
The claims that the Book of Mormon is an actual history of an actual civilization are extremely difficult for me to believe.
The Church is making great efforts to be transparent with the records we have…
In recent years, aspects of Church history have been studied, shared, and analyzed more than ever before. It has been remarkable to see the interest in the early days of the Church
It is true that some of our Church history has been misunderstood. Much has been forgotten or overlooked, obscured and crowded out by the larger concerns of the world. Some people have even purposely misrepresented stories of the past to sow doubt.
The Mormon Church is doubling down in this regard. Rather than coming clean, they claim that they are being honest and transparent and that people like me aren’t (or that we’ve been deceived somehow).
But, how transparent is the Mormon Church really, when even highly-educated Mormons are uninformed; when they are shocked that you would mention such “lies”? Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:
First experience: A few months ago I had a discussion with a Mormon friend who has a master’s degree from a prestigious university. He asked why I decided to leave Mormonism (one of only a few who has dared). When he persisted, I mentioned a few of the issues that I’ve addressed in this article. His response was, “I seriously doubt your sources”.
Second experience: Another friend of mine, who was a Mormon Bishop at the time (and has two master’s degrees from one of the best schools in the world), decided to write and send me a 20-page apologetic thesis on Joseph Smith’s polygamy after discovering that it was a major point of departure for me and Mormonism. His article was very high-level and missing most of the gruesome details. Yet, I don’t think he purposely omitted unflattering information because he’s such a sincere and honest person. I think he got his information only from apologetic/whitewashed sources and believes that he is informed.
Third experience: A few years ago I had a discussion with a family member who is a successful business owner and member of a Mormon bishopric. I told him (unwisely) that I decided to leave Mormonism when I discovered a few things that led me to believe that Joseph Smith was a sexual predator. He was shocked and exclaimed, “I don’t know what you think you know but…”
Fourth experience: Another friend holds a Ph.D., and is a very successful business leader. He has been a Mormon bishop and is highly regarded in his community. I recently shared some of my issues over Mormon history with him. He confessed that he had never heard of the Kinderhook Plates or the GAEL. He didn’t know that many of Joseph Smith’s wives testified before a court that they had sexual relations with him. He had never heard of Lucy Walker, or Helen Mar Kimball, or most of Joseph Smith’s other wives. He didn’t know that Joseph Smith never actually even looked at the golden plates when he “translated” them but that they were often covered by a cloth or in another room and that he looked at a chocolate-colored rock in his hat on which would appear English translations.
Even highly educated Mormons don’t know the history of their own religion. They consider verified historical facts to be dirty lies.
I don’t blame these friends and family at all. They trust their religion (as they’ve been taught to do) and so they don’t see any possibility that their religion would hide such information from them.
Is the LDS Church really being transparent when so many of its followers are in the dark? Sure, the Mormon Church brings up some of it in their official essays, but Mormons don’t read those essays. Few Mormons even know they exist114 and most importantly, they are far from honest or transparent115.
Elder Cook mentions critics who misrepresent Mormon history, but is the LDS Church really on the moral high-ground with regard to “representing the stories of the past” when…
- They are content to allow people to continue to believe that the Book of Abraham came from the Egyptian scrolls that actually contain the Breathing Permit of Hôr116?
- Or when they fail to mention that Joseph Smith used a “chocolate-colored” rock in a hat to “translate” the Book of Mormon — the very same method he used to con people out of their money by telling them that he could find burried treasure in their fields117?
- Or when they teach eighteen-year-old missionaries to tell prospective Mormons that three “witnesses” of the Book of Mormon saw an angel and the golden plates when two of those witnesses later said that it was more like a spiritual impression118 119?
- Are they representing history accurately when they say that Joseph Smith was sent to Carthage Jail on “trumped-up” charges even though it was really because of his involvement in the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor’s printing press120?
- How transparent are they when it is not well-known among Mormons that Joseph Smith copied much of his JST directly from another source121?
I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting; it destroys… Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting.
Who is misrepresenting Mormon history? I’ll let you be the judge.
I could go on and on. The deeper I dug into Mormon apologetics, the worse the explanations got and the more difficult it was to believe.
No matter how strange or disturbing Mormon history, or how unlikely Mormonism’s truth claims, the LDS Church will find ways to explain it all.
Here’s a great example.
Listen to a current Mormon Apostle, Dallin H. Oaks, offer an explanation for why Joseph Smith might have talked to and received revelation from a white salamander122.
…readers and viewers clearly need to be more sophisticated in evaluating what is communicated to them…
…We have a vivid illustration of this in the recent media excitement about the word salamander in a letter Martin Harris is supposed to have sent to W. W. Phelps over 150 years ago. All of the scores of media stories on that subject apparently assume that the author of that letter used the word salamander in the modern sense of a “tailed amphibian.”
One wonders why so many writers neglected to reveal to their readers that there is another meaning of salamander, which may even have been the primary meaning in this context in the 1820s. That meaning, which is listed second in a current edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary, is “a spirit supposed to live in fire” (2d College ed. 1982, s.v. “salamander”). Modern and ancient literature contain many examples of this usage.
A spirit that is able to live in fire is a good approximation of the description Joseph Smith gave of the angel Moroni: a personage in the midst of a light, whose countenance was “truly like lightning” and whose overall appearance “was glorious beyond description” (Joseph Smith-History 1:32). As Joseph Smith wrote later, “The first sight [of this personage] was as though the house was filled with consuming fire” (History of the Church, 4:536). Since the letter purports only to be Martin Harris’s interpretation of what he had heard about Joseph’s experience, the use of the words white salamander and old spirit seem understandable.
In view of all this, and as a matter of intellectual evaluation, why all the excitement in the media, and why the apparent hand-wringing among those who profess friendship with or membership in the Church? The media should make more complete disclosures, but Latter-day Saint readers should also be more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read.
Mormon apologists have followed Elder Oaks’s advice well — they have been very “sophisticated” with their evaluation of Mormon history.
But I have a problem with apologetics in general because it always begins with immutable assumptions. Apologists then seek evidence to support those assumptions and refute anything that challenges them. It’s a medieval and faulty way of finding the truth because you can find any truth that you want.
If you’re Mormon and you got this far, you’re probably thinking that I’ve gotten my facts seriously wrong. If that’s the case, please let me know! I’ve tried to be very thorough in my research, but I’m no historian, and it’s definitely possible that I missed something.
Also, I don’t hate the Mormon Church124. There’s definitely good and bad that came from my faith in Mormonism, but the overwhelming majority is good. I love almost all of what Mormonism teaches and what it stands for and want to carry that on to my children and grandchildren.
I definitely don’t hate Mormons either. Almost all of my friends and family are still believing, and practicing Mormons. I think that most of them could be more open-minded, and kinder to people like me, but I don’t blame them for that. I love Mormons because I understand them. They are my people.
That’s why I decided to write this article. I hope that if you understand why I left, that you might be more sympathetic and then the divide between us might not be so great.
Some of you will feel like this article makes the divide greater. I do feel sorry about that.
But at least it will be because you learned the truth about me from the source, not because of what you heard someone say about me.
- Mormon scripture says that their church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” (D&C 1:30)
- Leaving the Mormon Church was the right decision for me but it isn’t always easy. In Utah, your social standing declines. You might risk your marriage, your family, and your friends. In many cases, your worldview is shattered and can leave you feeling lost until you can get back on your feet. If you are attending an LDS School, you might risk your degree, your employment, and even your home (The Washington Post).
- e.g. lds.org, FairMormon.org, josephsmithspolygamy.org, and BYU Religion Studies.
- “Apologetics is the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse” (Wikipedia — cited 8/23/2018)
- I say “quietly” because their explanations are still relatively unknown to most Mormons. They’re not likely to be found in the Ensign, or in study guides, or taught from the pulpit or in Mormon classrooms. It’s clear to me that the Mormon Church would rather not publicize this information.
- You might never have heard of these things. Don’t worry, I’ll discuss them below.
- Of course, I give only short excerpts here, but I try to provide links to more complete sources (most of which are LDS or apologetic sources). If any of this is new to you, I encourage you to research both sides thoroughly.
- One of the two official LDS Church essays on the topic of polygamy says, “careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40” (see footnote #24 lds.org). This website has compiled many of the stories of these largely forgotten women.
- The LDS Church confirms that, “Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married” (lds.org).
- “The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday”. (lds.org)
- Here’s one example: Lucy Walker was fifteen when her mother died and her father was called on a mission. Joseph Smith pursued marriage with her during this time for many months. She wrote that she was so disturbed by this experience that she was “tortured beyond endurance until life was not desirable”. There are many stories like that one. (Wives of Joseph Smith)
- Here’s the sworn testimony of Emily Dow Partridge: “Q. Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith?” “A. Yes sir.” “Q. How many nights?” “A. I could not tell you.” (josephsmithpolygamy.org). The LDS Church confirms sexual relations between Joseph and his plural wives by saying, “Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone. Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings.” (LDS.org). However, they suggest that his polyandrous marriages didn’t include sex, but were for some other, unknown purpose. In my opinion, this assertion disregards strong evidence, as I will show later.
- He destroyed reputations and even property of those to tried to expose the truth. In fact, today Mormon apostles frequently say that Joseph was sent to Carthage jail on “trumped up” charges. This is not true. Joseph was arrested for his role in destroying a printing press that printed only one edition, which published details about Mormon polygamy. Joseph was militant about defending these lies.
- Joseph published this in 1842 in order to quell rumors of his polygamy: “We are charged with advocating a plurality of wives…now this is as false as the many other ridiculous charges which are brought against us. No sect has a great reverence for the laws of matrimony…we practice what we preach.” (Times and Seasons vol. 4, p. 143) This post lists a few more of those denials.
- A lawsuit of “adultery” was brought against Joseph to which he replied in a sermon, “Another indictment has been got up against me…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” (see History of the Church Vol. 6 Chap. 19)
- Emma was aware of what was going on to some degree, but Joseph did his best to keep it a secret from her. For example, some of his young wives recall Joseph asking them to burn his letters in order to keep them from Emma (and others) (see Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, University of Illinois Press, 1994, p. 138.).
While he was in jail, he also wrote to his wife, Sarah Ann Whitney, asking her to visit him but that “…the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty…” He also asked her to “…burn this letter as soon as you read it…”. (See Letter to Newel K., Elizabeth Ann Smith, and Sarah Ann Whitney) There are many other examples like these two.
- When the Mormons traveled West, there was no longer the need to keep their doctrine of plural marriage a secret. This was disturbing to many members at first because they had been told many times by their leaders that the rumors of polygamy were dirty lies. (There are too many sources to list here. I recommend Mormon Polygamy: A History by Van Wagoner as a good starting point.)
- This website compiles journal entries from faithful Mormons and is a good place to start.
- For example, Emily Partridge resisted Joseph’s overtures for more than a year until Joseph tricked her into meeting with him secretly. Perceiving the impropriety, she tried to slip away before Josfqeph could say anything but was stopped by Heber C. Kimball. Emily was married to Joseph on the spot. Many years later, Emily said that she had a sexual relationship with the Mormon prophet. You can find her account here.
- For example, fifteen-year-old Lucy Walker, whose mother had recently died and whose father had been called on a mission to England, turned away Joseph’s advances for more than a year. She said that she was “tempted and tortured beyond endureance [sic] until life was not desirable. Oh that the grave would kindly receive me that I might find rest on the bosom of my dear mother…” You can read a bit more of her story here.
- Fourteen-year old, Helen Mar Kimball was told by Joseph that if she married him, she would secure salvation for herself and her entire family. I talk about that in detail below, but you can read an excerpt from her story here.
- Martha Brotherton recorded in an affidavit her experience with Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, “I went, and we found Young and the Prophet alone. I was introduced to the Prophet by Young. Joseph offered me his seat, and, to my astonishment, the moment I was seated Joseph and Kimball walked out of the room, and left me with Young, who arose, locked the door, closed the window, and drew the curtain.” Martha was then shocked to be introduced to the idea of polygamy and to then receive a proposition from Brigham. She recorded that, “Joseph will marry us here to-day, and you can go home this evening, and your parents will not know any thing about it.” When Martha resisted, Brigham said he would find Joseph who would support his proposal: “He then unlocked the door, and took the key and locked me up alone.” When Joseph arrived, he did his best to convince Martha, but while she “never would” say yes, she was afraid to say no because “If I say no, they may do as they think proper…” Joseph pressured her to marry Brigham then and there, saying, “what are you afraid of, sis? – come, let me do the business for you.” Martha asked for time to think and pray on it. “‘Well,’ said Young, ‘I shall leave it with brother Joseph, whether it would be best for you to have time or not.’ ‘Well,’ said Joseph, ‘I see no harm in her having time to think, if she will not fall into temptation.’ ‘O, sir,’ said I, ‘there is no fear of my falling into temptation.’ ‘Well, but,’ said Brigham, ‘you must promise me you will never mention it to any one.’ ‘I do promise it,’ said I. ‘Well,’ said Joseph, ‘you must promise me the same.’” Martha promised and then stood up to leave. Joseph tried a final time to convince her to get hitched on the spot “Joseph commenced to beg of me again – he said it was the best opportunity they might have for months, for the room was often engaged. I, however, had determined what to do.” (Martha’s affidavit is recorded in John C. Bennett’s History of the Saints, page 238). Apologists cast doubt on Martha’s story by pointing out that both Martha and Mr. Bennett were antagonists. (Here’s a good example of how many apologists explain this episode.)
- As mentioned before, Lucy Walker anguished over Joseph’s overtures for more than a year until Joseph finally approached her with this message: “It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.” Here’s a bit of Lucy’s story.
- These were a set of CDs that I borrowed from my Dad. I think they were a product of the Joseph Smith Papers effort.
- This left large gaps in the story that I always wondered about but assumed that the history was lost. This is not the case. The history exists (and from reliable sources) — it’s just not very faith-affirming, so it wasn’t included (or was altered) by the Mormon Church over time.
- Mormons use the term agency to refer to free will. They believe that agency is a key part of God’s Plan for His children — that we were sent to earth to learn enough to be able to choose right from wrong. I argue that agency only applies when we have sufficient information. In other words, I can’t very well choose right from wrong if key information is obscured or unavailable.
- For many years, the LDS Church had a threefold mission: Proclaim the Gospel, Perfect the Saints, & and Redeem the Dead. They have since added a fourth. (Mormon Wiki — cited 8/23/2018)
- See a Deseret News article on this topic.
- Michael Wade, a biologist at Indiana University Bloomington, studied early Mormon polygamy and explains that “The more wives a woman’s husband has, the fewer children she is going to have personally” (LiveScience). That article observes: “Unsurprisingly, the men who acquired lots of wives also produced more children. For each additional spouse, a man could expect about six more kids. Each wife in the relationship could expect to produce an average of one fewer child for every additional wife”.
- DNA has been taken from many people who could possibly have come from Joseph Smith’s plural relationships. All of those results have come up negative so far (Deseret News — cited on 8/23/2018)
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Joseph’s poly relationships were void of sex. In fact, for the Victorian era, there is a surprising amount of evidence for sexuality (discussed below).
- For example, the Mormon prophet, Brigham Young, had 56 children.
- I.e. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
- I.e. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (today known as the Community of Christ). Joseph Smith’s oldest son, Joseph Smith III, was the leader of this church.
- Here’s an excerpt from the line of questioning of Emily Dow Partridge, along with her sworn testimony: “Q. Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith?” “A. Yes sir.” “Q. How many nights?” “A. I could not tell you.” (josephsmithpolygamy.org).
- I guess you could argue that we don’t really know that they were having sex in that room. All alone. After they’d just gotten married. But then why the need for secrecy? Why be alone at all? Why did so many of the women say that their relationship was sexual?
- Read more about Luisa Beaman’s story on wivesofjosephsmith.org
- The apologetic website, josephsmithspolygamy.org is a good resource for Benjamin’s statements.
- Josephine, who was probably named after Joseph Smith, wrote “Just prior to my mothers death in 1882 she called me to her bedside and told me that her days were numbered and before she passed away from mortality she desired to tell me something which she had kept as an entire secret from me and from all others but which she now desired to communicate to me. She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith”. (wivesofjosephsmith.org) While photos of Josephine look stunningly like Joseph Smith, recent DNA testing indicates that she was not his daughter (Deseret News).
- A good place to start would be Dan Vogel’s series on Joseph Smith’s polygamy
- This interview with Elder Snow is just one reference of many.
- The people I’ve met who take this stance don’t represent any apologetic organization. They’re just good, believing Mormons. Some of them have told me that they take this stance simply because the sexual behavior that is implied would not be compatible with a prophet of God. In other words, they know that Joseph was a prophet because of certain feelings they’ve had. A prophet wouldn’t do the things they’ve heard, so there’s no way Joseph did them.
- Why would there be no children when the wives themselves said they had a sexual relationship with Joseph? Well, remember that they did everything to keep polygamy a secret — the practice was vehemently denied to everyone except a few of Joseph’s inner circle (including the general membership of his church). This means that early Mormon polygamists must have been instructed to avoid any outward indication of a relationship (especially pregnancy). This story about William Clayton, Joseph’s scribe, found in the Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints sheds some light on this topic: “That next month, Margaret became pregnant and Clayton sought Joseph Smith’s advice. After discussing the problem with Emma, the Prophet advised Clayton to ‘just keep her at home and brook it and if they raise trouble about it and bring you before me I will give you an awful scourging and probably cut you off from the church and then I will baptize you and set you ahead as good as ever’” (Seems that The Journal History isn’t easy to get at, so I reference an excerpt from Sunstone Magazine that includes the quote.) Notice that Joseph isn’t disturbed that William was having sex with his plural wife. He was concerned that others might find out about it.
So, how did Joseph avoid pregnancy with his wives? We can only guess. It’s clear that methods of contraception existed even in the 1840s. There also were whispers of abortions being practiced by a John C. Bennett for Joseph’s wives but they aren’t substantiated.
- I don’t mean to be snarky here. Joseph was quite literally, secretly sleeping around with quite a few women. The apologetic website FAIR Mormon is a good resource for a faith-based argument as to why Joseph would have done this: FAIR Mormon — cited on 8/23/2018.
- Ann Eliza Webbs recalled, “…By degrees it became whispered about that Joseph’s love for his adopted daughter was by no means a paternal affection…” (wivesofjosephsmith.org)
- Benjamin F. Johnson, a close friend of Joseph Smith recalled, “…there lived then with his family (the Prophet’s) a neighbor’s daughter, Fannie Alger, a very nice and comely young woman about my own age, toward whom not only myself, but every one, seemed partial, for the amiability of her character; and it was whispered even then that Joseph loved her” (josephsmithspolygamy.org)
- josephsmithspolygamy.org — cited on 10/19/2018
- William McLellin recalled a conversation he had with Emma Smith writing, “She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!!! She told me this story too was verily true.” (josephsmithspolygamy.org)
- Chauncey Webb said, “Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house”. Ann Eliza Webb recalls: “…it was felt that [Emma] certainly must have had some very good reason for her action. By degrees it became whispered about that Joseph’s love for his adopted daughter was by no means a paternal affection, and his wife, discovering the fact, at once took measures to place the girl beyond his reach…Since Emma refused decidedly to allow her to remain in her house…my mother offered to take her until she could be sent to her relatives…” (wivesofjosephsmith.org — cited on 10/1/2018)
- Oliver was a distant cousin to Joseph Smith and co-founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Here’s a bit of background on Oliver’s quote: josephsmithspolygamy.org (cited on 8/24/2018)
- Elizabeth Durfee was one of Joseph Smith’s older wives. It seems that one of her roles was to help introduce the principle of polygamy to younger prospects (like Emily Partridge).
- Helen Mar Kimball, though only a child, was also soon to be married to Joseph the following spring at the age of 14. She was Joseph’s youngest bride. You can read a bit of her story below.
- Her testimony was part of a land dispute between the RLDS Church and the LDS Church. The matter of polygamy an important part of the dispute in deciding which religion was the same that Joseph Smith practiced. This article by apologist, Brian Hales details this a little more.
- Joseph did marry some women who were past-their prime. Elizabeth Durfee is a good example. Firsthand accounts indicate that Ms. Durfee functioned not as a sexual interest herself, but a kind of recruiter for other, younger wives. (See “Brief History: Emily Partridge” above.)
- Here’s a little background on what Mormons believe about the restoration of the priesthood: Wikipedia (cited on 8/24/2018)
- wivesofjosephsmith.org is a good place to start. It summarizes stories taken from journals as found in these three books: Mormon Polygamy: A History, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith.
- I know that Elizabeth Smart’s situation was very different. Elizabeth was taken from her home at knifepoint and raped daily for six months. I can find no evidence that Joseph ever forced himself upon girls in any remotely similar way. However, I think it is useful to compare the tender ages of these two girls. Does a little girl at this age even have the ability to make an informed decision? What option did Helen have? She could either marry Joseph at fourteen or choose not to marry him and go against her beliefs, disappointing her parents, her prophet and lose standing before God. Not much of a choice.
- The Mormon doctrine that I was taught didn’t allow for the concept of one person “purchasing” salvation for anyone else — I was taught that salvation was earned by each individual.
- This is probably a dig thrown at Emma Smith for teaching JS III that polygamy isn’t from God. At this time, it was common to deride her.
- I found a transcribed copy here.
- The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, today known as the Community of Christ wikipedia
- See footnote #36 in this article from BYU Religious Studies (cited on 8/24/2018).
- See what FAIR Mormon says about Catherine Lewis here. I find it interesting that they really don’t say anything besides calling her “anti-Mormon” and “hostile”. They don’t offer any reasons for these characterizations. They don’t need to. If anything is labeled “anti-Mormon”, Mormons turn off critical thought and steer clear of it.
- Sidney Rigdon’s 1838 Salt Sermon is a good example of the origins of the hostility that Mormons have for those who leave the faith. In his harsh public condemnation of those that no longer believed he quoted the Gospel of Matthew: If the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. (Matt. 5:13). It is thought that this sermon sparked the formation of the militant Mormon group called the Danites.
More recently Elder Neil L. Anderson said, “Studying the Church … through the eyes of its defectors [is] like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus. Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed.” (lds.org — cited on 10/1/2018)
- Apologists sometimes mention that Joseph Smith approached Lucy’s older brother, William, for permission to marry his sister, but it’s clear from her journals that Lucy needed another kind of support: “I am only a child in years and experience, no mother to counsel… no father near to tell me what to do in this trying hour.” (josephsmithpolygamy.org — cited 5/1/2018)
- People do interesting things in order to cope with or even survive abusive situations. Unfortunately, it’s very common for those who are abused to end up accepting the abuse and even defending it. (Google search)
- marriages for eternity alone are understood not to have included sexual relations (see this same article for more about this)
- I’ve read some apologists say something to the effect of God gave him the commandment, but God didn’t tell him how to accomplish it. So Joseph may have made some mistakes along the way. I find this explanation absurd. So, since God never told Joseph not to marry other men’s wives, Joseph assumed that it would be okay? And God just let him make that kind of “mistake”? I don’t buy this at all.
- “…if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified… But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed.” (D&C 132:61,63)
- “The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command [polygamy]: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to ‘raise up seed unto [the Lord]’” (LDS Official Essay cited on 8/29/2018)
- You should definitely do some research on Zina and Henry. Their story is heartbreaking.
- Brigham is recorded as having said, “Brother Jacobs, the woman you claim for a wife does not belong to you. She is the spiritual wife of brother Joseph, sealed up to him. I am his proxy, and she, in this behalf, with her children, are my property. You can go where you please, and get another, but be sure to get one of your own kindred spirit.” Of course, apologists quickly throw doubt on that quote. They have to. But it accurately reflects what happened to Zina and Jacob. I’m always surprised at how apologists never seem to tire of deflecting so much damning evidence. So many things would have to be wrong in order for them to be right. The odds are astronomically low.
- According to Mormon doctrine, men can be “sealed” to multiple women but women can’t be “sealed” to multiple men.
- Compton, Todd (1997). In Sacred Loneliness. pp. 77–91,108,466–467.
- Sylvia Sessions Lyon is one example mentioned above.
- “The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command [polygamy]: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to ‘raise up seed unto [the Lord]’” (LDS Official Essay #1 on Polygamy — cited 3/12/2018)
- Lucy Walker, one of Joseph’s teenaged wives, married Heber C. Kimball after Joseph’s death. Since Mormon women can only have an eternal marriage with one man, her marriage to Heber was for this life only. (It wasn’t a “sealing”) She wrote, “The contract when I married Mr. Kimball was that I should be his wife for time, and time only, …and in the resurrection [he] would surrender me, with my children, to Joseph Smith.” (wivesofjosephsmith.org — cited on 10/19/2018)
- “…fully one-third of his plural wives, eleven of them, were married civilly to other men when he married them.” (Compton, Todd. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature, 1997. 15-16)
- My wife was in tears this week as she described how these verses made her feel like property.
- I am shocked when I hear people say this. So, because you had a feeling (that you believe came from God) you are willing to look past all sorts of evil behavior like sleeping with married women, coercing and manipulating young girls into secret relationships, doing it all behind his wife’s back, destroying reputations and property of those who would expose the truth, etc. etc. etc. Where would you draw the line? Is there a limit to the evil you will justify? Is there a point where you might wonder if that feeling really was from God? How can you differentiate your faith from so many other religions and cults that have justified horrible things because they believed God was telling them to justify it? How is your faith any different than theirs? Are you sure you’re in the right?
- Mormons believe that “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (D&C 135:3)
- Read more about Emily and Eliza Partridge on wivesofjosephsmith.org (cited on 8/24/2018)
- History of the Church Vol. 6 Chap. 19
- Here’s a good compilation of Joseph Smith’s denials: mormonbandwagon.com (cited on 8/24/2018)
- Joseph Smith was arrested and sent to Carthage Jail (the location of his murder) because he was instrumental in the destruction of a printing press that publicized Mormon polygamy and polyandry (Wikipedia – cited on 8/24/2018).
- For example, lds.org says, “The rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated ‘celestial’ plural marriage” (lds.org — cited on 8/10/2018)
- You can find a copy of this article on page 74 of this document. Read it all. It’s all very interesting. #25 on this page also talks a bit about this practice.
- This reminds me of a story from the Book of Mormon where Nephi, a prophet, murders a man in cold blood (see 1 Nephi 4:10-18). The implication is that murder is bad… unless God tells you to do it.
- All the way until the early 1980s, the Mormon Church claimed that the Kinderhook Plates were authentic and used them as evidence to support Joseph’s translation claims (See Improvement Era, Sept, 1962). But in 1981 they were forced to change that story: “A recent electronic and chemical analysis of a metal plate… brought in 1843 to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, appears to solve a previously unanswered question in Church history, helping to further evidence that the plate is what its producers later said it was—a nineteenth-century attempt to lure Joseph Smith into making a translation of ancient-looking characters that had been etched into the plates.” (lds.org)
- One person was not a Mormon. He wrote what he saw in an article found in the New York Herald, May 30, 1843: “…the plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hieroglyphics. They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared, in my presence, with his Egyptian Alphabet…” (fairmormon.org — cited on 10/29/2018) Parley P. Pratt also wrote: “Six plates having the appearance of Brass have lately been dug out of a mound by a gentleman in Pike Co. Illinois. They are small and filled with engravings in Egyptian language and contain the genealogy of one of the ancient Jaredites back to Ham the son of Noah. His bones were found in the same vase (made of Cement). Part of the bones were 15 ft. underground” lds.org
- William: Oh! You said, “those plates are a hoax”? I must have misunderstood. I thought I heard you say that they were the history of a guy who was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt…
- “…capable men served as [Joseph’s] personal scribes, assistants and secretaries until at the time of his death, he had amassed an entire office staff. In his collection of 10 journals alone, which consist of 1,500 pages, a mere 35 — or 2 percent — are in the Prophet’s own handwriting.” (deseretnews.com — cited on 8/29/2018)
- An article on LDS.org says, “These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived”. (lds.org cited on 8/10/2018) If you read further, you will find their apologetic explanation for this (i.e. it could have been a copy of the document that Abraham wrote).
- This apologetic article, found on BYU.edu is about that very topic and definitely worth reading: THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM: ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS AND KEEP ON LOOKING — Larry E. Morris. Mr. Morris doesn’t really dispute Ritner’s translation, but resorts to ad hominem attacks (calling Ritner, an anti-Mormon) and questions whether or not Joseph used the scrolls to produce the Book of Abraham at all!
- See History of the Church Volume 2, Chapter 16, Page 236
- Did you notice that Professor Muhlestein omitted the first sentence? His argument makes a lot more sense without the sentence that seems to connect the records in our hands with written by his own hand.
- Egyptologists agree that the writings on Joseph’s papyrus have nothing to do with Abraham, but is an ordinary funerary text. Mormon apologists counter by suggesting that Okay, so there’s nothing about Abraham… so what? Maybe the papyrus acted as a catalyst to the revelation that Joseph Smith received. But that contradicts what Joseph Smith said the scrolls were. Apologists have painted themselves into a corner on this one.
- “one who speaks or writes in defense of someone or something” (Webster’s Dictionary — cited on 8/26/2018)
- I also think it’s relevant to understand what at least one of his peers thinks of his ideas and his work.
- I’m not sure that I would understand one word of Middle English from the 1200s.
- History of the Church Volume 2, Chapter 16, Page 236
- History of the Church Volume 2, Chapter 16, Page 236
- FAIR Mormon writes “Hugh Nibley treated Min in his magnum opus One Eternal Round, pp. 304-322. Although it is true that one of Min’s attributes was that of a fertility god, or a god of procreation, he had other traits that are analogous to the attributes of both the Northwest Semitic deities of El and Baal”. (fairmormon.org — cited on 8/10/2018) That link is a good representation of the apologetics of this topic.
- It might seem like I don’t have a lot of respect for Kerry Muhlestein. Well, you caught me! I don’t think much of someone who is willing to trade his integrity and objectivity as a scholar for anything, let alone his feelings that God is telling him to do it. That’s the same kind of thinking that Pope Paul V used when he commanded Galileo, “…to abandon completely… the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world…”. Of course, Galileo refused, so he was imprisoned until his death. I prefer scientists like Galileo.
- One example is when a non-Mormon observed Joseph Smith with the Kinderhook plates: This person wrote what he saw in an article found in the New York Herald, May 30, 1843: “…the plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hieroglyphics. They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared, in my presence, with his Egyptian Alphabet…” (fairmormon.org — cited on 10/29/2018)
- Dan Vogel’s first video on this topic is a good resource.
- Remember Mr. Muhlestein’s previous admission that the scrolls definitely contain the writings of Abraham? He conveniently contradicts himself here, because if he acknowledges that the scrolls contain the writings of Abraham in this context, and Joseph simply translated them, then the GAEL should show some understanding of the real meaning on the scrolls. He’s going back and forth between conflicting theories in order to accommodate his pre-determined conclusion. Not an uncommon approach for apologists of all stripes.
- Find out about Mark Hoffman here.
- Brian Hauglid was commenting on this video by Dan Vogel.
- screenshot of facebook feed:
- As it turns out, Brian isn’t as courageous as I had hoped. He has since deleted his comment. My guess is that he did this in response to some pressure recently applied from the top-down: Shortly after Hauglid’s comment on Facebook, Mormon apostle, Jeffrey Holland, spoke at the Maxwell Institute. He said that neutrality at the MI would be “troubling” for their trustees (the Q15), hinted that the trustees had the power to “come down on you” and ultimately implied that “scholars” at the MI must trade their integrity as scholars for their discipleship as Mormons or face consequences. “Friends, what we are asking you to do is difficult, demanding, among the stiffest challenges we could give you. We know you can’t be credible in every circle if you are seen as lacking scholarly substance and categorically defensive all the time. But neither can you afford ever to be perceived as failing to serve the larger, faith-oriented purposes of the Church. All we can ask is that you pray and fast and strive and sweat to find your way through. Then, if there be error, let it be on the side of your covenants and faith convictions. I promise the board won’t return in five years—or ever—and come down on you, saying you made a mistake in doing so.” YouTube · text I wrote an article about Elder Holland’s speech here.
- Horses have a fascinating history. They originated in North America about 3 Millions Years ago, migrated across a land bridge to Asia and then went extinct in the Americas about 11,000 years ago. They were reintroduced to the Americas by the Spanish during their conquest (livescience.com).
- This quote is taken from a post on Elder Cook’s Facebook page. Here’s a screenshot of the post. A similar quote is found in this speech
- These essays are innocuously titled Gospel Topics essays. They aren’t that easy to locate and the most damning essay on polygamy isn’t found on the list. You have to find it in other ways.
- Here’s an excellent example of how poorly one of these essays represents the facts.
- Read Robert K. Ritner’s analysis of the papyrus that Joseph Smith claimed he translated into the Book of Abraham.
- The LDS Church has, to their credit, recently attempted to educate people about Joseph’s chocolate-colored seer stone (Ensign October, 2015). As you might guess, they leave out the part about how he found seer stones like this one, and how he used them in a treasure-finding business before translating the Book of Mormon (lostmormonism.com). Of course he never found any treasure. He had his father would say that the treasure was slippery
- “In 1880, David Whitmer was asked for a description of the angel who showed him the plates. Whitmer responded that the angel ‘had no appearance or shape.’ When asked by the interviewer how he then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, ‘Have you never had impressions?’ To which the interviewer responded, ‘Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?’ ‘Just so,’ replied Whitmer. – Interview with John Murphy, June 1880, EMD 5:63” (See Wikipedia article for sources)
- John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the Book of Mormon, said that he had asked Harris, “Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?” According to Gilbert, Harris “looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.” (John H. Gilbert, “Memorandum,” 8 September 1892, in EMD, 2: 548.) This enduced three Mormon apostles to leave the Mormon Church (Stephen Burnett to Luke S. Johnson, 15 April 1838, in Joseph Smith’s Letterbook, Vogel 1996–2003, 2: 290-92) (read more here)
- Thomas A Wayment, a professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, wrote: “Our research has revealed that the number of direct parallels between Smith’s translation and Adam Clarke’s biblical commentary are simply too numerous and explicit to posit happenstance or coincidental overlap. The parallels between the two texts number into the hundreds, a number that is well beyond the limits of this paper to discuss. A few of them, however, demonstrate Smith’s open reliance upon Clarke and establish that he was inclined to lean on Clarke’s commentary for matters of history, textual questions, clarification of wording, and theological nuance.” (Wilson, Haley, and Thomas Wayment. “A Recently Recovered Source: Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation.” Journal of Undergraduate Research, 16 Mar. 2017, doi:10.1075/ps.5.3.02chi.audio.2f.)
- Even though the Salamander Letter turned out to be a forgery — and utterly ridiculous — Elder Oaks found a way to explain how it could have happened and why wasn’t so weird. In fact, we’re the weird ones for even thinking that it’s weird.
- Oaks 1985 CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium
- There are a few things about the Mormon Church that I don’t like: BYU’s treatment of those who leave the religion (The Washington Post), conditioning and manipulation on missions, treatment of gays (a friend of mine committed suicide because of it), whitewashing of their history, etc.