In September of 2013 Brian Hales sent the following message to a Church member on his FaceBook page:
BRIAN HALES Hi Brother —, I’ve been out of town, but will figure out a way to send you the three volumes. I’ve tried to see every known document dealing with Joseph Smith and plural marriage and my convictions that he was a sincere prophet and not an adulterer or hypocrite has been strengthened. Thanks for the mailing address. God Bless, Brian
At this point my friend Dan Vogel entered the discussion and, somewhat out of the blue, alleged that Joseph Smith practiced “sexual polyandry.” Dan’s willingness to engage me on this topic was surprising because his expertise is in early Mormon documents, not plural marriage manuscripts dealing with Nauvoo. I still wonder why Dan would jump in to a thread on FaceBook to defend an historical interpretation when he was not fully apprised of the documentary evidences surrounding and contradicting his position.
It is included here with Dan’s permission.
DAN VOGEL —: Brian has done some good research and collecting of documents pertaining to JS’s polygamy, but when it comes to his denial that JS had sex with the twelve or so married women he polyandrous married he has nothing but his own wishful thinking to guide him. Ultimately, this is a distraction from JS’s sexual and emotional abuse of more than thirty of his female followers.
BRIAN HALES Thanks I think. You keep talking sexual polyandry, but eventually you will learn it never happened.
DAN VOGEL It probably did, but can you give us a compelling reason it didn’t?
BRIAN HALES Let’s back up. If Joseph Smith engaged in sexual polyandry, was it in accordance with his teachings or in contradiction to his teachings?
DAN VOGEL What were his teachings on polyandry, Brian? Specifically, did he consider polyandry adultery, that is, before he dictated D&C 132:61 on 12 July 1843? Now, here is a good example of how the Idealist Fallacy works. Apparently, you want to argue that JS would not violate his own teachings about adultery, but right here in this verse we have an example of where he apparently did by not informing and getting the consent of Emma.
BRIAN HALES I’m not sure you answered my question. The answer is important because you and I can’t know for sure what Joseph Smith taught and did, but we can look at the reactions of the people around him who did know. If sexual polyandry was adultery, your portrayal of one or two women acquiescing might happen, but to claim that dozen of people would have known and not complained about his hypocrisy has plausibility issues. Your assumption depict Nauvoo polygamists as caricatures, not real people. If you don’t want to answer my question regarding whether the alleged behavior was adultery or not, how about going back to my invitation from a few months back and share your most convincing evidence that Joseph SMith practiced sexual polyandry. Then we can discuss it.
DAN VOGEL There’s more to historiography than simply collecting document. You should know the difference between a strong and weak argument and what is more or less likely. What does it mean “in accordance with his teachings” when JS frequently changed his teachings? It’s like saying the BOM doesn’t teach a modalistic concept of the Godhead, or the Lectures on Faith don’t teach a binitarian view because that would contradict what he clearly taught in Nauvoo. Or, the BOM can’t be anti-Masonic because he became a Mason in Nauvoo. These are all examples of the Idealist Fallacy, because humans do contradict themselves and violate their own teachings. However, JS may have had a way of rationalizing his polyandrous marriages. He did say that whatever God commands is right no matter what it is—even if it seems abominable to us.
Next, your expectation that some of the dozen women would have complained about JS’s proposals is an attempt at an argument from silence. I say attempt because some women did complain. I can think of two: Sarah Pratt and Jane Law.
You might issue your challenge to prove JS had sex with his polyandrous wives, but do you conclude JS only had sex with his polygamous wives for whom there is evidence? No. Why? Because you assume marriage includes sexual access. You only engage in this sort of special pleading with polyandrous wives because you personally find the notion abhorrent. Nonetheless, you didn’t respond to my counter challenge to produce evidence that JS treated his polyandrous wives different than the other polygamous wives. You are the one with a theory that needs evidence. You are attempting to take advantage of a silence in the historical record where one is expected. Here is a test of your theory: Look at the historical record of other early 19th century childless marriages and see how often you can demonstrate they had sex.
BRIAN HALES Isn’t this fun! You ask me to show that Joseph Smith treated his polyandrous wives differently. I hear you asking me to prove he didn’t experience sexual polyandry with them. It is subtle, but remember we can’t prove a negative. I can’t produce that evidence because it doesn’t exist. On the other hand Dan, you can prove a positive if you have some evidence. That is what I’m asking you to produce. Let’s discuss the most convincing documentation you can produce showing Joseph Smith practiced polyandrous sexuality. . . [comments from other contributors].
DAN VOGEL I don’t believe all those people would lie and maintain a massive conspiracy. No one rushed forward with testimony of JS’s polygamy. It was forced out of them by circumstances. What would be the purpose of Clayton falsifying his Nauvoo journal, only to have it suppressed? It wasn’t even used by the Utah polygamists when compiling the History of the Church in the late 1850s, when it would have greatly helped their case. Nobody can know anything “for sure”, especially if you define that phase so that it’s impossible to fulfill. I operate on reasonable doubt, and in this case it is unreasonable to doubt JS had multiple wives, some of whom were simultaneously married to other men.
BRIAN HALES Also, Joseph Smith taught that sex out of legal marriage was adultery. Do you believe he taught that a woman having sexual relations with two men was adultery or permitted (even if one is a legal husband and the other is a sealed husband)? It is an important point because to posit that the men and women around Joseph would have tolerated blatant hypocrisy creates some plausibility issues that you and other proponents consistently ignore. The only way to show Joseph Smith didn’t practice sexual polyandry is to demonstrate that is plausibility is extremely low. You portray him as a deceiver that you could detect, but that Brigham Young, John Taylor, ELiza R. Snow, and Zina Huntington could not detect. Or do you suggest they were co-conspirators?
BRIAN HALES I appreciate your respect for the “Idealist Fallacy,” but it doesn’t quite help my focus on evidence as we try to reconstruct the world of Nauvoo polygamy.
DAN VOGEL Brian: I didn’t ask you to prove JS didn’t have sex with his polyandrous wives; I asked you to prove his pre-July 1843 teachings distinguished them from other polygamous wives. That is your thesis, isn’t it? Because your argument is one from silence, it is not my burden to prove that JS treated them differently. That’s your thesis to defend. In my view, you have created an artificial category that I don’t accept. So it is not my burden to prove anything. You only make appeals to sealing only marriages. This is not only an ad hoc escape from an undesirable situation, but it is another fallacy historians call the possible proof or disproof.
DAN VOGEL Brian: If JS taught that sex outside of legal marriage was adultery, then he committed adultery with all his plural wives because they were all illegal. Of course, you mean marriage under God’s law. So if JS was married to his polyandrous wives under God’s law, he didn’t commit adultery under that definition. However, everything wasn’t as compartmentalized in Nauvoo as it was in Utah, and who knew what it all meant and how it was to be conducted in the first years of its practice? Who could tell JS he was wrong or being a hypocrite? The people you name were already doing things they had a hard time accepting but went along with it anyway. Who could confidently say in such a situation that JS had crossed the line? God’s ways were not Brian Hales’ ways.
BRIAN HALES Okay, so you either don’t have any solid evidence of sexual polyandry or you have it but don’t feel compelled to share it. Wouldn’t this be easier if we were simply discussing documentation? I have kinda looked to you and the King of documentation for the circa 1830 span (think EMD). As you know, there are no “pre-July 1843 teachings” regarding plural marriage, unless we consult Clayton’s journal or use later recollections. Since it is a vacuum, you can fill it any way you want. Segregating the polyandrous wives from the non-polyandrous wives is easy so long as you treat the participants like comic book characters and ignore Joseph Smith’s theology. Section 132: 41-42, 61-63 describe three polyandrous situations labeling them all “adultery.” While you may be willing to believe that Joseph could have been such a hypocrite and no one said anything about it, I don’t think Brigham, John, Zina, Eliza etc. would have tolerated it. By ignoring the theology and the people, we create an unreal world – historical fiction.
I appreciate your not taking a straw man argument. I disagree that Joseph Smith could have been either a stark hypocrite or just wishy-washy on this topic. Sexual polyandry would have been explosive. It is strange even today. No anti-Mormons complained until 1850 (unless you have some other evidence). To believe it might have occurred without someone complaining or more likely defending it, is too implausible for me, but apparently not for you. I can live with that. But I’d still like to talk evidence. I’m even now going through Mike Quinn’s latest response. He’s an remarkable scholar and to have him focus here is great, but I still argue that the evidence is lacking and I will show that in my response (whenever I get it done – I’m getting remarried this week – monogamy .
DAN VOGEL Brian: You can’t shift the burden of proving your thesis to me. Your theory has to be established on its own merits and not rely on the inability of the opposition to disprove it—that would be an Argumentum ad Ignorantiam. The reason I ask for pre-July 1843 teachings is because as you know I see D&C 132 as JS’s possible repentance from his polyandrous marriages under pressure from Emma who was evidently threatening to practice polyandry herself. The revelation was dictated for her benefit and commands her “to cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed” (132:54). Quinn knows the documents better than I do, but I’m only focusing on the logic and arguments of your case and since you admit the documentation is scarce for either side, it becomes imperative to get the thinking right. Historians often argue from the known to the undocumented and build probabilistic cases, and I find your position not only improbable but a reflection of your own preference for how a prophet is supposed to behave.
BRIAN HALES Thanks Dan. Let me start by saying: “I find your position not only improbable but a reflection of your own preference for how” you believe Joseph Smith was a ‘pious deceiver.'” Every person to write about polyandry has ignored two things: (1) Joseph’s teachings on eternal marriage and (2) the reactions of the people purportedly involved. Both need to be accounted for. I think we have a treasure trove of information from the people who knew (BY, JT, ERS, ZH), but stayed with him. Their reactions suggest they were duped or coconspirators or ? I believe it highly improbable that you (or Brodie or whomever) can be so discerning that Joseph needed to repent, and yet Brigham or Zina etc. couldn’t figure it out. Or maybe you see them as just very tolerant (think improbable)? It is impossible to detect whether Joseph Smith’s teachings evolved from 1841 to 1843. But if they did, do we not think someone would have said something? He taught the apostles in 1841 and they stayed or apostatized without mentioning plural marriage. The only way for me to show that sexual polyandry did not occur is to pile up the improbabilities… and while you can’t see it, they are piling up. Ironically, one single corroborative evidence of this alleged explosive practice could be all that is needed to document it. The very absence of such is another improbability (if it actually happened).
You mentioned polyandry. I apologize to Brother _________ for posting such a long entry here, but this is what I have recently written concerning it. Perhaps nothing is more commonly misrepresented than this topic.
SEXUAL POLYANDRY: WAS IT PART OF JOSEPH SMITH PLURAL MARRIAGES?
Proponents of the position that Joseph Smith practiced sexual polyandry, the overriding question that helps delineate the problem with their interpretations is whether such relations were part of Joseph Smith’s marriage theology or were they in contradiction to that theology. In other words, do proponents of sexual polyandry believe that Joseph taught his followers that it was morally acceptable? Or did Joseph Smith teach that such behavior would have been grossly immoral?
If sexual polyandry was adultery, then where are the expressed concerns or criticisms from skeptical participants and others who may have been more cynical? Is it possible to believe that Joseph was so authoritative and charismatic and that participants were so gullible that no one complained of his blatant hypocrisy? (And no one did.) Also, why didn’t John C. Bennett or William Law capitalize on such alleged relations? The first charge of sexual polyandry I have found by any person was published in 1850.
If Joseph Smith taught that sexual polyandry was a correct principle, then where are the documents recording those teachings either written contemporaneously or in later recollections? Where are the defenses of the behavior from participants and from the other believers who knew of those plural sealings and would have felt compelled to defend the practice if it occurred? Where are the later apologetic explanations from LDS leaders like Orson Pratt or Joseph F. Smith? Why was sexual polyandry a non-issue throughout the nineteenth century? (A review of the historical record during the nineteenth century reads as if sexual polyandry didn’t exist.)
POLYANDRY WAS UNIVERSALLY CONDEMNED
Another important question is why the three references to sexual polyandry in section 132 (vv. 41-42, 61-63) label it “adultery,” in two cases stating that the woman involved “would be destroyed” (41, 63). Also, why have all other Church leaders and members continually condemned the practice? When asked in 1852, “What do you think of a woman having more husbands than one?” Brigham Young answered, “This is not known to the law.” Five years later Heber C. Kimball taught, “There has been a doctrine taught that a man can act as Proxy for another when absent – it has been practiced and it is known — & its damnable.” The following year Orson Pratt instructed: “God has strictly forbidden, in this Bible, plurality of husbands, and proclaimed against it in his law.” Pratt further explained: “Can a woman have more than one husband at the same time? No: Such a principle was never sanctioned by scripture. The object of marriage is to multiply the species, according to the command of God. A woman with one husband can fulfill this command, with greater facilities, than if she had a plurality; indeed, this would, in all probability, frustrate the great design of marriage, and prevent her from raising up a family. As a plurality of husbands, would not facilitate the increase of posterity, such a principle never was tolerated in scripture.” Belinda Marden Pratt wrote in 1854: “’Why not a plurality of husbands as well as a plurality of wives?’ To which I reply: 1st God has never commanded or sanctioned a plurality of husbands…” On October 8, 1869, Apostle George A. Smith taught that “a plurality of husbands is wrong.” His wife, Bathsheba Smith, was asked in 1892 if it would “be a violation of the laws of the church for one woman to have two husbands living at the same time…” She replied: “I think it would.” All of these individuals were involved with Nauvoo polygamy and several were undoubtedly aware of Joseph Smith’s sealings to legally married women. First Presidency Counselor Joseph F. Smith wrote in 1889: “Polyandry is wrong, physiologically, morally, and from a scriptural point of order. It is nowhere sanctioned in the Bible, nor by the law of God or nature and has not affinity with ‘Mormon’ plural marriage.” Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote in 1905: “Polygamy, in the sense of plurality of husbands and of wives never was practiced in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah or elsewhere.”
THE NEW AND EVERLASTING COVENANT OF MARRIAGE SUPERSEDES ALL OTHER MARRIAGE COVENANTS
An important revelation that all authors who declare Joseph Smith practiced sexual polyandry overlook is that D&C 22:1 states that the new and everlasting covenant causes all old covenants to be “done away.” Hence from a religious standpoint, the legal covenant of a civilly married woman is “done away” as soon as she enters into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (see D&C 132:4). She would not have two husbands with whom she could experience sexual relations, at least according to Joseph Smith’s revelations. Going back to her legal husband would be adultery because in the eyes of the Church, that marriage ended with the sealing.
“ETERNITY ONLY” SEALINGS DID OCCUR
Joseph was sealed to 14 women with legal husbands. Studying polyandry is complicated because the 14 sealings were not of the same type or duration. Contrary to the assertions of several authors, “eternity only” sealings were performed in Nauvoo. That is, a woman like Ruth Vose Sayers, whose husband was a non-member, was allowed to be sealed to another man for eternity only, with no marriage on earth. Sayers was sealed to Joseph Smith for “eternity only” as documented in Andrew Jenson’s handwriting in his notes found in the Church History Library.
Of the 14 civilly married women, I believe 11 of the unions were of this type: “eternity only” sealings. The 3 remaining women were sealed for “time and eternity,” which probably included sexual relations with Joseph. Two (Sarah Ann Whitney and Sylvia Sessions) were already physically separated from their legal husbands, so no change in marital dynamics between them and their civil husbands was required. Information regarding Joseph’s relationship with the third woman, Mary Heron, is so limited that anyone giving details is simply speculating.
WHY WERE WOMEN ETERNALLY SEALED TO JOSEPH INSTEAD OF THE LEGAL HUSBANDS?
The question arises as to why women would be sealed to Joseph Smith instead of their legal spouses? In several cases, the husbands were ineligible because they were not active Mormons. However, some of the women were married to devout Latter-day Saints. Evidence indicates that in each case, the woman made the decision. Lucy Walker remembered the Prophet’s counsel: “A woman would have her choice, this was a privilege that could not be denied her.” The lack of clarifying documents creates an incomplete picture that seems strange in several respects. However, nothing currently available supports that Joseph behaved hypocritically or committed transgression. None of the participants, the men or women who knew the details of what was going on, ever complained about Joseph Smith allowing these sealings.
NO EVIDENCE JOSEPH SMITH FORCED ANY WOMAN TO MARRY HIM
Stories that Joseph Smith forced women to marry him are sometimes repeated in antagonistic literature, but they are not supported by available historical evidences. One popular anti-Mormon narrative recounts how Joseph Smith met a woman and gave her 24 hours to comply or she would be cut off forever. The story is folklore, but it is based upon the introduction of the previously unmarried Lucy Walker to plural marriage.
Joseph first introduced the principle to Lucy in 1842. She did not accept, but she agonized for many months as he patiently waited. She related: “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… Oh, let this bitter cup pass. And thus I prayed in the agony of my soul. The Prophet discerned my sorrow. He saw how unhappy I was…” Finally, on April 30, 1843, Joseph saw her anguish and spoke to her, pushing her to resolution: “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.” How did Lucy respond to this challenge? Not as cynical writers have previously portrayed Nauvoo polygamists in their narratives, as gullible dupes who lacked the fortitude to reject the charismatic Joseph. Instead, she responded as skeptics would today:
This aroused every drop of Scotch in my veins. For a few moments I stood fearless before him, and looked him in the eye… I had been speechless, but at last found utterance and said: “Although you are a prophet of God you could not induce me to take a step of so great importance, unless I knew that God approved my course. I would rather die. I have tried to pray but received no comfort, no light,” and emphatically forbid him speaking again to me on this subject. Every feeling of my soul revolted against it.
Lucy called his bluff. She had the same questions that observers voice today. Then she demanded a divine manifestation from the same source Joseph said he had received the commandment to practice plural marriage:
Said I, “The same God who has sent this message is the Being I have worshipped from my early childhood and He must manifest His will to me.” He walked across the room, returned and stood before me with the most beautiful expression of countenance, and said: “God Almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that joy and peace that you never knew.”
She related how Joseph’s promise was fulfilled shortly thereafter:
One night after supper I went out into the orchard and I kneeled down and prayed to God for information. After praying I arose and walked around the orchard and kneeled again and repeated this during the night. Finally as I was praying the last time, an angel of the Lord appeared to me and told me that the principle was of God and for me to accept it.
Another common behavior attributed to Joseph Smith, but is not documentable involves John C. Bennett’s claim that Joseph would destroy the reputation of any woman who turned him down. We know of five women who refused the Prophet’s plural proposals. After each one he exerted no force and told no one. The only reason we know of those proposals is because each woman (or one of her relatives) related it later. Sarah Kimball was one of the five women – her husband being a nonmember. She later related:
I asked him to teach it to some one else. He looked at me reprovingly and said, “Will you tell me who to teach it to? God required me to teach it to you, and leave you with the responsibility of believing or disbelieving.” He said, “I will not cease to pray for you, and if you will seek unto God in prayer, you will not be led into temptation.”
It is true that Sarah Pratt and Nancy Rigdon accused Joseph Smith of impropriety and he aggressively defended himself against their allegations. However, his interactions with the five other women indicate that if Pratt and Rigdon had remained silent, he too would have quietly left them “with the responsibility of believing or disbelieving.”
Joseph Smith’s sealings to other men’s wives is confusing because two processes were involved. Most were “eternity only” sealings, but in some, the woman was already physically separated from her civil husband requiring no change in the woman’s marital dynamic. Sealings for “time and eternity” superseded legal marriages so that in Joseph’s teachings, no woman could have two husbands. The women chose Joseph as their eternal husband with no evidence that he ever coerced a woman to marry him. These sealings seem strange, but no one complained about it at the time, so are we justified in second guessing today?
DAN VOGEL Brian: We can talk about my pious-fraud thesis and the reasons you find it “improbable” at another time, although I think you are quite aware that JS’s claims about the BOM and BOA are presently historically speaking quite improbable. Nevertheless, your faith that a true prophet would not write fraudulent scripture is the same that prevents you from believing he couldn’t have sex with other men’s wives.
You don’t have any evidence that JS treated his polyandrous marriages different from his other polygamous marriages.
Your expectation that those close to JS would have objected if he had sex with his polyandrous wives is silly and another example of the Idealist Fallacy. You don’t know what they knew, let alone how they would react had they known what is reasonably suspected by us, or that they would react in a way that would have been recorded, which makes this argument also a fallacious one of silence.
The same is true for this argument: “why didn’t John C. Bennett or William Law capitalize on such alleged relations?” If this argument from silence is to have some force, you need to at least show that they knew about polyandrous marriages and had an opportunity to mention it but didn’t.
You asked why the more skeptical followers didn’t complain. I gave two names: Jane Law and Sarah Pratt.
You ask: “Where are the defenses of the behavior from participants and from the other believers who knew of those plural sealings and would have felt compelled to defend the practice if it occurred?” You need to show that accusations were made about sexual polyandry (you said the first was 1850)? Then, you need to explain why there weren’t any denials.
As far as your quotes of BY, HCK, OP, and other regarding polyandry, you need to show they knew about JS’s polyandrous marriages and how they regarded them. Strictly speaking, their statements apply whether JS had sex with his polyandrous wives or not. They are condemning polyandry without qualification. So it remains unclear how they regarded JS’s polyandry. Using your logic, these statements could be used to deny JS polyandrous marriages altogether. However, they are speaking from a post-July 1843 perspective and may have accepted JS’s repentance.
D&C 22 has nothing historically to do with polygamy; what you offer is a theological interpretation. Nevertheless, you are playing a definitional game that undoes your own denial that JS engaged in sex with his polyandrous wives. This argument is more suited for an argument that JS did have sex but it wasn’t adultery.
Your discussion of “eternity only” marriages is mere wishful thinking. You are attempting to take Jenson’s late note and apply it to all the others; in other words, going from a specific to the general. What might be true of one is not necessarily true of all others in this category. Indeed, you concede that three polyandrous marriages involved sex. You try to justify these as exceptions, but the Sayers marriage seems more likely to be the exception if Jenson’s note is correct. You assert: “I believe 11 of the unions were of this type: “eternity only” sealings.” Why? Wishful thinking. Why aren’t you surprised that BY, HCK, OP, and others didn’t object to JS’s marrying three married women? Being physically separated isn’t the same as divorced. John C. Bennett got into trouble for that.
JS didn’t force women to marry him, but he clearly coerced some of them.
“The only way for me to show that sexual polyandry did not occur is to pile up the improbabilities.” Well, I think it is rather ironic that you are trying show the improbability of something that seems highly probable given the context of JS’s secretly practicing polygamy.
You said: “Joseph Smith did not “take other men’s lawful wives” so far as we have any record. The women chose him.” This sounds like you are denying polyandrous marriages outright, but I’m sure you have another meaning. Please elaborate on this.
I don’t think it’s fair to represent Don Bradley’s return to the Church as an argument for the logic of your position. I doubt his period of atheism was more complex than issues over polyandry, and resolving that issue can’t explain his return.
BRIAN HALES Hi Dan,
Great post! You seem to have deftly rebutted every observation I made with just one or two sentences. Forgive me if I’m nonplussed by your reasoning and I’m still waiting for some historical evidence. It seems that a “plurality of husbands” would have been much more controversial than a “plurality of wives.” We have loads of evidence for a plurality of wives in Nauvoo and none for a plurality of husbands. Both would have been equally secret. It is puzzling.
You wrote: “You don’t have any evidence that JS treated his polyandrous marriages different from his other polygamous marriages.” The primary “difference” (as you know) is that he experienced sex with the “polygamous” wives and didn’t with the “polyandrous” wives. As I keep saying, you can’t prove something didn’t happen. Hence, you challenge me to do something that is impossible. Dan this is subtle and crafty. Hopefully the readers understand this.
I realize we are starting to repeat ourselves, but let me respond directly to a few things. You said, “you need to explain why there weren’t any denials [of sexual polyandry].” The reason is easy: sexual polyandry didn’t happen. It was so far beyond Biblical polygamy that it wasn’t naturally on anyone’s radar. The fact that it didn’t occur is why it never arrived there on their radar after plural marriages were performed in Nauvoo.
You wrote: “D&C 22 has nothing historically to do with polygamy; what you offer is a theological interpretation.” This is wishful thinking in my book. You may want to read D&C 22:1 and D&C 132:4 again. And I think this is the crux of our disagreement. You are willing to ignore Joseph Smith’s theology. You also want to ignore the reactions of the Nauvoo polygamy insiders to his teachings and practices. I don’t blame you. If I were in your position, I would do the same thing. By ignoring Joseph’s teachings and by treating his followers like unemotional robots, you can take your storyline any direction you want.
The problem of course, is that Nauvoo polygamists did not ignore his teachings. They lived by them and reacted to them. They sought to obey his revelations. For example, they built a temple in Kirtland and Nauvoo. Why? Because Joseph taught that it was necessary. But we are supposed to believe that they accepted sexual polyandry even though he taught it was adultery and the woman would be destroyed? They were just as skeptical as you and me, but you want to ignore their behaviors? It creates historical fiction.
You keep coming back to the “Idealist Fallacy” notion. Every time I see it I think you are throwing up a smoke screen. Besides, it probably applies to your position as much as it could to mine. Are you not an “idealist” as much as I am, but just in the opposite direction?
I’m surprised you would write: “Your discussion of “eternity only” marriages is mere wishful thinking.” Even Michael Quinn in his latest response to my MHA presentation acknowledges that Ruth Vose Sayers was sealed only for eternity. This shows it was a genuine ordinance that could have been performed many times. Why do you say it is “wishful thinking”?
I’m glad to see at least a reference to some historical evidence. You mentioned Jane Law and Sarah Pratt. Take your pick and then tell us how either of their histories supports the practice of sexual polyandry. But I would encourage you to take into account all of the available evidences. Please do not pull a Fawn Brodie and selectively quote the available documents. As scholars, we owe it to our audiences to provide the whole picture, not to just quote things that support our previous beliefs (true prophet verses pious deceiver). (By the way, you may want to consult Chapters 21 and 31 in my volumes.)
Ultimately, it really is up to any readers to judge regarding the strength of the reasoning and evidences we present. I hope you don’t mind if I quote from this exchange in the future. You are such a deep thinker and I appreciate the pushback, even if I’m unimpressed by your reasoning.
DAN VOGEL Brian: I don’t have any new sources for you. I said my discussion would focus on the logic of your position. Silence is silence. You don’t know the reason for the silence. You don’t even know who knew what. You still need to show that those with knowledge of polyandry in Nauvoo would have complained in a public way if it were sexual. You haven’t shown, for example, that Bennett knew about polyandry and chose not to mention it. You mentioned the anti-Mormon silence, but don’t you think they would have exploited it regardless? An argument from silence can cut both ways. Because sexual polyandry would have been so controversial, why didn’t someone rush forward to clarify what you assume many knew?
Normally one doesn’t have to discuss what happens in a marriage. It is the default position in this discussion. You are the one asserting a non-normal position, and therefore it is you who needs evidence.
You keep saying you can’t prove something didn’t happen. So why are you arguing something you can’t prove?
This is what you could potentially do: you can find someone explicitly stating that polyandrous marriages didn’t include sex. You can do this more easily than I could do the reverse. Why? Because what is assumed about marriage doesn’t need explaining. This is logical, not crafty.
Theological explanations are ahistorical by nature. D&C 22 was about re-baptism, not marriage. It was dictated long before temple ordinances and plural marriage. D&C 132:4 is more pertinent. JS’s teachings aren’t unitary, but are syncretic and evolve over time. Nevertheless, the issue isn’t my ignoring JS’s teachings—I know what they are—but the way you use them in an argument, which turns out to be the Idealist Fallacy. JS wouldn’t have sex with women married to other men because that would violate his teachings.
You say I ignore the reactions of Nauvoo polygamy insiders. What reactions? I’m only ignoring your argument from silence.
You turn ad hominal when you state: “By ignoring Joseph’s teachings and by treating his followers like unemotional robots, you can take your storyline any direction you want.” Where are JS’s teachings on polyandry that I’m ignoring? I think it’s unfair of you to accuse people of being robots if they don’t react the way you think they should. Still, who exactly do you think I’m making into a robot and why? The truth is: it is your arguments from silence that allow you to take the story in any direction.
You do not seem to understand what the Idealist Fallacy is, although I have explained it quite clearly. It is not about being an idealist, but rather it consists in your argument that JS couldn’t practice sexual polyandry because it violated his teachings. Since he engaged in polyandry before his teachings were given in D&C 132:61, that could be read as repentance. It happens that the verse right before the anti-polyandry passage warns Emma and other followers not to judge JS: “Let no one, therefore, set on my servant Joseph; for I will justify him; for he shall do the sacrifice which I require at his hands for his transgressions, saith the Lord your God” (v. 60). This just might be the reason no one “set on” JS as you insist should have happened.
Well, Quinn knows the sources better than I, but my objection to your use of Ruth Vose Sayers is a logical one. You can’t take what clearly is an exceptional case and apply it to the general. This would be a hasty generalization or the fallacy of the lonely fact. Still, the claim that Mr. Sayers, a non-believer in the next life, suggested that JS marry his wife for “eternity only” makes this an unusual case; it is therefore a mistake to apply it generally to the others.
You are missing the obvious with Sarah Pratt and Jane Law. Why would they reject JS’s proposals if they were for eternity only? Why would Orson Pratt and William Law react so negatively if JS’s proposals were for eternity only? You said sexual polyandry would have been highly controversial and asked for reactions from his followers. Well, here they are. Let’s see what you do with them?
BRIAN HALES Hi Again,
Thanks for the post. I appreciate the discussion.
First, D&C 22:1 was in response to an April 1830 question about baptism, but the answer was about the new and everlasting covenant, which includes baptism but is not limited to it. Are you saying that the new and everlasting covenant is just baptism and nothing else? Come on Dan. You know that isn’t true.
Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning. (D&C 22:1.)
For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant… (D&C 132:4.)
This is important because you wrote: “Normally one doesn’t have to discuss what happens in a marriage. It is the default position in this discussion. You are the one asserting a non-normal position, and therefore it is you who needs evidence.” In Joseph Smith’s theology, a woman could never have two husbands. A marriage sealing in the new and everlasting covenant would cause the civil marriage to be done away from a Church standpoint. But you are subtle. You ignore his theology and then say the woman had two marriages and so we must assume there was sexuality in both marriages because to assume otherwise would be “non-normal.” Great logic if we ignore the theology.
Second, in a perfectly documented world, the difference between sexual polygamy (polygyny) and sexual polyandry would be detectable both historically and theologically. However, we all agree (or should agree) that there is no credible historical evidence for the teaching and practice of sexual polyandry in Nauvoo or afterwards. (If you disagree, then please share the evidence.) In other words, the historical record is incomplete. There are no plain statements in the available manuscripts declaring whether Joseph Smith practiced sexual polyandry or not. Quinn has amassed a remarkable volume of alleged evidences, but none of them constitute a clear documentation of the behavior. Not even once. And, like you, he completely ignores the theology and the reactions of the alleged participants. I’ll send you my response when I’m done, but I assure you there is nothing new.
What we can document is that there is an important difference theologically: sexual polygamy was acceptable and sexual polyandry was adultery. I’m of the opinion that Nauvoo polygamists were just as skeptical and cynical as the rest of us. Therefore, men like Brigham Young and John Taylor and women like Eliza Snow and Zina Huntington and dozens of others would not have tolerated the level of sexual hypocrisy your reconstruction requires. Your position is unreal to my way of thinking, but it seems to work for you. It seems illogical and a fallacy, but chose what you will.
You also wrote: “You are missing the obvious with Sarah Pratt and Jane Law. Why would they reject JS’s proposals if they were for eternity only? Why would Orson Pratt and William Law react so negatively if JS’s proposals were for eternity only? You said sexual polyandry would have been highly controversial and asked for reactions from his followers. Well, here they are. Let’s see what you do with them?”
Okay Dan, but I get the impression you haven’t studied the available historical evidences, but I would encourage you to do so. Orson Pratt was told one story by his wife Sarah. (Sarah was having a sexual affair with John Bennett at the time.) Orson heard another story from Joseph Smith. Initially he sided with his wife and rebelled against Joseph, but what did he ultimately conclude? In an 1845 interview, Sidney Rigdon reminded Orson of his comments in 1842 where he insulted the Prophet: “Pratt resented the insult offered his wife, and on the public stand, called Smith a liar, and said he knew him to be a liar.” Rigdon questioned Orson further about the episode: “When Pratt was interrogated about this, he said that he had got a bad spirit when he said so, and that he had repented of it.” Rigdon concluded that Orson was “literally telling the people that all Smith said about his wife was true…” and added: “He has left on the character of his wife a stain, by this degraded condescension, that he can never wash out… Pratt is determined to make us believe it, by virtually declaring it was true; for if he was wrong when he called Smith a liar, then his wife was guilty of the charges preferred.” Notice that in 1845 Orson admitted “his wife was guilty…” In another interview years later Pratt recalled “his own trial in regard to this matter in Nauvoo, and said it was because he got his information from a wicked source, from those disaffected, but as soon as he learned the truth he was satisfied.” Again note, Orson said he “got his information from a wicked source” – Sarah.
Jane Law? What evidence are you going to believe? There is good documentation that William Law confessed to adultery and that Sarah approached Joseph to be sealed because William was unworthy. However, you really should read Chapter 31. I outline all the evidences there and while there are contradictory documents (all of which I include), believers like me have good reasons to conclude that Joseph Smith was sincere and was not an adulterer or womanizer as you imply.
Your turn my friend,
DAN VOGEL Brian: Your reading of D&C 22 is anachronistic. You are attempting to apply an 1840s definition to an 1830 term. At the time it was given, only the Catholics considered marriage a religious ceremony. Protestants rejected marriage as a sacrament of the church. Mormons were no different. While they insisted that converts be rebaptized, they didn’t require them to be remarried.
“In Joseph Smith’s theology, a woman could never have two husbands.” You are presumably basing this on the July 1843 revelation (D&C 132:61-62). Yet, you have admitted that JS married at least three women who had living husbands. So, to save your thesis, you propose the following ad hoc hypothesis: “A marriage sealing in the new and everlasting covenant would cause the civil marriage to be done away from a Church standpoint.” However, this interpretation is aided by your anachronistic borrowing from D&C 22, which you haven’t shown that JS applied to marriage in the 1840s. Yours is a private interpretation of scripture since the Church’s position has been that non-Mormon marriage, or Mormon marriage out side the temple for that matter, is valid and binding for this life only but is dissolved at death. This is apparently the view expressed in D&C 132:41-44, which mentions that it is considered adultery if either the husband or wife breaks the marriage “vow” even if their marriage was “not in the new and everlasting covenant”. Indeed, the Church has always treated non-temple marriage as legitimate.
Nevertheless, you have only shown that under a certain semantic construction JS didn’t commit adultery; there still remains the issue of sexual polyandry. In other words, you seem to be arguing two things simultaneously: JS didn’t have sex with married women, but if he did he didn’t consider it adultery. And you say I’m subtle. Polyandry is polyandry. The revelation’s use of the term “virgins” (132: 61-62) would tend to exclude your specialized definition, which would require you to go deeper into semantics and equivocation. I turns out that when you say everyone but you has ignored JS’s theology, you mean they don’t understand it in the unique (and unlikely) way that you do.
Given JS previous marriages to married women, D&C 132 is apparently JS’s repentance from polyandry. Under the definition in verses 61-62, JS had committed adultery, but his salvation was assured as long as he didn’t commit murder or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (D&C 132:19, 26-27). “I seal upon you your exaltation” (v. 49). The revelation warns not to judge JS, “for he shall do the sacrifice which I require at his hands for his transgressions” (v. 60). Makes you wonder what this revelation is really about, doesn’t it? Universal salvation was also part of JS’s secret theology (D&C 19).
You say, “there is no credible historical evidence for the teaching and practice of sexual polyandry in Nauvoo or afterwards.” I say, there is. What you mean to say is: there are no explicit teachings or discussions of polyandry. This should not be surprising, especially given the nature of our questions. We therefore must build circumstantial cases and decide which is the most reasonable, which deserves the most respect. Historians do that all the time. Even in the most perfectly documented world, an imaginative apologist can always find a way to escape evidence. Rarely is there a decisive piece of evidence that ends debate. The most that can be hoped for is that an interpretation becomes increasingly ad hoc as it tries to accommodate adverse evidence and eventually falls out of favor. I have a feeling that in responding to Quinn’s evidence, the ad hoc nature of your position will become more apparent.
“Quinn has amassed a remarkable volume of alleged evidences, but none of them constitute a clear documentation of the behavior. Not even once.” Quinn is doing what a historian does. “And, like you, he completely ignores the theology and the reactions of the alleged participants.” What theology? The theology that shows JS contradicted his own teachings or the one that shows that he couldn’t contradict them? You want Quinn to commit the Idealist Fallacy? We have discussed this. You don’t know how the participants reacted.
“What we can document is that there is an important difference theologically: sexual polygamy was acceptable and sexual polyandry was adultery.” Not according to your definition discussed above. Again, you don’t know that BY and John Taylor knew about polyandry, if they saw it as hypocritical, or how they would have reacted. At what point do you start to question someone you believe is a prophet speaking for God and telling you to reject the norms of society? Being under the influence of a charismatic leader of a religious cult who is sexually abusing some of his followers is probably the clearest example of why the Idealist Fallacy exists. Humans aren’t always rational and do not always behave in predictable ways. None of these follows possessed the qualities of Emma, who was alone in standing up to JS. I hope you see that you are on very shaky ground when you rely on this kind of argument from silence.
I understand that Orson Pratt struggled with the conflicting stories of JS and his wife, nearly lost his mind, but finally decided in JS favor. That was a mistake. JS’s denials about Jane Law and Sarah Pratt are not credible. We know that he was willing to lie to cover up polygamy. On 26 May 1844, JS said: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one” (DHC 6:411). Given the fact that Orson was so distraught over the incident with his wife, it is really no surprise that he would ultimately side with JS. Regardless, OP’s opinion says nothing about the veracity of Sarah’s claim. Neither does the attempt of JS and some of his followers to malign Sarah in 1842 by claiming she had an illicit sexual affair with John C. Bennett. Not only should those statements be read with skepticism, but they are irrelevant. What possible motivation could Sarah have for falsely accusing JS and drawing certain persecution on herself? Where did she get the idea in 1842 that JS was entering polyandrous marriages?
Given the context, Jane Law is more believable than JS. In fact, JS’s version doesn’t make sense. JS has a reputation for proposing marriage to multiple women, including married women. What in Jane Law’s history tells you she would propose to JS? Where did she get such an idea? JS was denying polygamy in public and trying to keep the church from disintegrating, so why is it so incredible that he would lie about Jane and her husband? It’s a complicated story, but still a clear example of JS’s unsuccessfully trying to enter a sexual polyandrous marriage.
BRIAN HALES: Good post Dan.
Thanks for responding to my discussion of Jane Law and Sarah Pratt. Your explanations don’t work for me, but you are entitled to believe as you choose. I would encourage you to read my chapters where I have outlined all the evidences supporting your views and my own. Perhaps you will disagree, but I believe that the historical picture contains a lot of ambiguities and deficiencies. Regardless, you might want to refrain from referring to Jane and Sarah if you think you have slam dunk evidence of impropriety against Joseph Smith.
I really appreciate your comment: “Makes you wonder what this revelation [D&C 132] is really about, doesn’t it?” You follow the path so common among Joseph Smith’s critics. They don’t have hard evidence, so they wonder or speculate and then condemn Joseph based upon their speculations. It isn’t a position of strength in polemics, but you need to go with whatever evidence you have (or don’t have).
You talk about my “private interpretation” regarding the ability of sealing authority to supersede civil marriage authority. Todd Compton gave this view:. “Thus all couples in Nauvoo who accepted Mormonism were suddenly unmarried, granted Joseph’s absolutist, exclusivist claims to divine authority.” John D. Lee recalled similarly: “About the same time the doctrine of ‘sealing’ for an eternal state was introduced [1842-43], and the Saints were given to understand that their marriage relations with each other were not valid. That those who had solemnized the rites of matrimony had no authority of God to do so. That the true priesthood was taken from the earth with the death of the Apostles and inspired men of God. That they were married to each other only by their own covenants…” While Lee’s declarations cannot always be taken at face value, for several reasons I’m not sure the idea that a priesthood sealing causes an old marriage to be done away is my private interpretation.
I think your concerns about the “theology” accompanying polyandry are well founded. Let me explain five theological principles that proponents (of the position that JS practiced sexual polyandry) would do well to discuss in conjunction with their allegations.
(1) The issue of the “new and everlasting covenant” is very important. D&C 22:1 was given in response to a specific question about baptism, which is a new and everlasting covenant between a person and God. The revelation states generally that the new and everlasting covenant causes all old covenants to be done away. Thirteen years later Joseph asked about polygamy. The response included a new and everlasting covenant between God and men/women of eternal marriage (D&C 132:4). The question is whether the earlier statement that “all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant” applies to everlasting marriage covenants, which would supersede any legal marriage covenants and prevent any form of authorized polyandry. I say, “Of course.” You seem to disagree.
Your position appears to be that it would be “anachronistic” to apply teachings in an 1830 revelation (D&C 22:1) to teachings in an 1843 revelation (D&C 132:4). One problem I see is that Isaiah instructed: “But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little…” (Isaiah 28:13; see also 2 Nephi 28:30, D&C 98:12, 128:21). Joseph Smith’s God teaches “line upon line.” The interpretation that God gives a “line” now, but giving a “line” thirteen years later on the same or similar topic is not permitted because it is “anachronistic” is singular. You are entitled to your opinion, but I don’t think this is a strong argument. Regardless, you are to be commended for at least trying to explain why a reference to the new and everlasting covenant of baptism does not apply to a later reference to the new and everlasting of marriage, especially since the first reference plainly states that “ALL old covenants” are “done away” by the new and everlasting covenant.
(2) The second theological principle deals with the three references to sexual polyandry in section 132 (verses 41, 42, and 61-63). In each case, the behavior is labeled “adultery.” To these verses, we might add statements from men who were personally taught by Joseph Smith. When asked in 1852, “What do you think of a woman having more husbands than one?” Brigham Young answered, “This is not known to the law.” Five years later Heber C. Kimball taught, “There has been a doctrine taught that a man can act as Proxy for another when absent – it has been practiced and it is known — & its damnable.” The following year Orson Pratt instructed: “God has strictly forbidden, in this Bible, plurality of husbands, and proclaimed against it in his law.” Pratt further explained: “Can a woman have more than one husband at the same time? No: Such a principle was never sanctioned by scripture.” Three of Joseph Smith’s polyandrous marriages (Sylvia Sessions, Mary Heron, and Sarah Ann Whitney) included sexual relations with Joseph Smith (or may have included it). Yet, documentation of sexual relations with the legal husband during the same period is absent.
Accordingly, if Joseph Smith engaged in sexual polyandry, he was either a hypocrite, contradicting his own teachings, or he had found a loophole. Advocates would probably be wise to tell their audiences whether they believe he was doing it hypocritically or was authorized due to some special exception. If the latter, providing evidence to show that an exception existed and was taught to participants would be helpful. I believe that ignoring these issues produces inadequate explanations that weaken the arguments presented by proponents. I have asked you to explain your position, but I don’t think you have responded.
(3) The third theological consideration pertinent to polyandry is the observation that Ruth Vose Sayers was sealed to Joseph Smith “for eternity” and was not his wife on earth. We’ve addressed this before. Mike Quinn recently wrote: “Despite my decades-long expectation for those specific words to be in the written records of sealing, Brian Hales has recently persuaded me that Joseph Smith was sealed during his lifetime to one already-married woman in a ceremony that she, her non-Mormon husband, and the Prophet all regarded as applying only to the eternities after mortal life. This was Ruth Vose Sayers…” Therefore, the new and everlasting covenant of marriage contains two distinct ordinances, sealings for “time and eternity” with sexual relations on earth and sealings for “eternity only” without sexual relations. In evaluating Joseph Smith’s sealed marriages, we have language in only one (a non-polyandrous sealing). While I have compiled evidence of sexual relations in twelve of his thirty-five sealings, for all remaining there is no way to know for sure whether they were for “time and eternity” or “eternity only.”
Of Joseph Smith’s thirty-five plural sealings, fourteen of the wives had legal husbands. As noted above, three experienced sexuality with Joseph, but concomitant conjugality with their civil spouses is not documented. Regarding the remaining eleven legally married women, the historical record is ambiguous regarding whether they were sexuality involved with the Prophet. This ambiguity could be explained by the view that they were “eternity only” sealings or an observer could alternately assume sexuality and sexual polyandry. In either case, the ambiguity is not solved; instead speculation is employed to try to fill in the missing pieces. Proponents sometimes claim that sealings where sexuality is unknown must have been for “time and eternity,” stating that it was the routine or using some other reasoning. I’m happy to hear your rhetorical justifications, but some solid evidence would be much better. Unfortunately, some writers like Fawn Brodie have created historical reconstructions that present their assumptions as if they were documented history. This is how people become deceived.
(4) The forth doctrinal issue discusses the purpose of plural marriage in Joseph Smith’s teachings. He gave three reasons for the restoration of plural marriage, with one of them being much more important than the other two. The first was as a part of a “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21; D&C 132: 40, 45). The second was to “multiply and replenish” the earth (D&C 132:63). The most important reason is found in D&C 132:16-17, which describe the eternal state of individuals who die without being sealed in a valid eternal marriage:
16 Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.
17 For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever. (D&C 132:16-17.)
This is important because these verses state that unsealed persons “remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity,” which is damnation. In Joseph Smith’s cosmology, there are no single men or single women in his highest heaven. Later in the revelation we find three condemnations of a “plurality of husbands” (vv 41,42, and 61-63) and plain authorization for “plurality of wives” (v. 63) which states that plurality of wives is “for their [the plural wives] exaltation in the eternal worlds.” Accordingly, plural marriage allows all worthy women to be sealed to an eternal husband making them candidates for exaltation.
Unfortunately, defenders of sexual polyandry have ignored D&C 132:16-17 and portrayed sexual reproduction – to “multiply and replenish the earth” – as the primary reason for plural marriage. One writer affirmed: “Celestial marriage was all about sex and children.” Another proclaimed: “The intent of Smith’s doctrine is clear: to reproduce and provide bodies for children.” These are correct reasons, but not the most important. Damnation is the penalty for unsealed women, but there is no similar condemnation for people who fail to “multiply and replenish” the earth. Consequently, sexuality is not needed to fulfill the primary reason for Joseph Smith’s polygamy. This is exemplified by observing the overall outline of section 132. It begins with a question about polygamy, but polygamy is not mentioned again until verse 34 and multiply and replenish until verse 63. The revelation immediately emphasizes the need for sealing authority (vv. 7, 18) and then discusses the need for every man and woman to use that authority to seal their marriages or they will not endure (vv. 15-17, 19-20) and they will be damned (vv. 4, 6). In other words, Joseph asked about a plurality of wives and the first twenty verses of the revelation detail how polygamy allows every worthy woman to be eternally sealed in marriage in order to avoid damnation.
(5) There is a fifth consideration that doesn’t deal directly with theology, but to the Nauvoo polygamists’ reactions to that theology. You seem to dismiss them by repeatedly referring to the “Idealist Fallacy.” It sounds like you want observers to ignore the participants and how their documented behaviors contradict their expected behaviors. Of course, “expected” is subjective, but good researchers acknowledge that generally people behave in plausible ways. When there are exceptions, those actions are explained in a reasonable framework. This you have not done. Personally, I’m not into labels or analyses (think “Idealist Fallacy”) that are simply substitutes for a scholar’s refusal or inability to explain improbabilities. As I’ve mentioned several times, Zina Huntington and Mary Elizabeth Rollins (for example) were skeptical followers. Non-Mormon Bernard DeVoto observed in 1930: [Joseph Smith] attracted to his support not only the ordinary fanatics who gave the American Pentecost its hundreds of sects and supported them all, but also such superior and more significant men as [Sidney] Rigdon, Orson and Parley Pratt, Orson Hyde, W.W. Phelps, and Brigham Young.” Fawn Brodie agreed: “The best evidence of the magnetism of the Mormon religion was that it could attract men with the quality of Brigham Young, whose tremendous energy and shrewd intelligence were not easily directed by any influence outside himself.” In my opinion, explaining how these types of individuals participated in sexual polyandry, a practice that was sexually and theologically as foreign to them as anything could have been, is important. Why did they tolerate Joseph Smith’s sexual hypocrisy or alternatively, what teachings did he impart to grant himself a privileged position regarding a practice that is otherwise condemned in every known reference to it?
It seems to me that these theological teachings from Joseph Smith and the alleged participants’ reactions to them should be included in any discussion of polyandry.
Sorry about the length of this post.
Brian: It makes no sense to me that Sarah and Jane would make up their accusations against JS, but it makes perfect sense that JS would lie about them to keep a lid on his extramarital-marital activities. We have evidence that he was willing to lie to cover up polygamy. I’m therefore skeptical of the changes he instigated against Sarah and the Laws, which even if true are beside the point. We don’t have to decide whether or not Sarah had an affair with Bennett to accept her allegations about JS. We probably know more about JS’s activities than any one living at the time and Sarah and Jane’s accusations a ring true. They fit with what we know.
I named Jane and Sarah as examples of followers who objected to JS’s sexual polyandrous proposals. This was in response to your argument from silence, which needs no response in the first place. They are also examples of what happened when one tried to expose JS’s polyandry. Sarah reported that JS threatened to ruin her reputation and run her out of town if she tried to expose him because, as he explained, his reputation must be maintained since the salvation of so many depends on him. We now have two possible reasons for silence among those who may have known about polyandry. I have also suggested the instruction in D&C 132:60 not to “set on” JS for his “transgressions” (more on this below).
I’m sorry to see that you want to take advantage of my comment about D&C 132 and turn it into an ad hominem. When I asked: “Makes you wonder what this revelation [D&C 132] is really about, doesn’t it?” It was rhetorical. The combination of certain salvation, repentance, sacrifice, definitions of adultery and polyandry fits the historical situation as I reconstruct it, not yours.
You say I follow a common path among JS’s “critics”. Yes, I’m considered a critic of JS, but I’m also a critic of bad scholarship. Indeed, my main concern is getting the history right. There are plenty of faithful scholars (like Quinn) who disagree with you. You complain that we don’t have “hard evidence” of JS’s sexual polyandry; yet you are relying on an argument from silence and have no evidence that JS regarded his polyandrous marriages different from his other polygamous marriages.
Finally, you resort to another ad hominem: “It isn’t a position of strength in polemics, but you need to go with whatever evidence you have (or don’t have).” I’m not engaging in “polemics”—even if you are. I’m a historian who deals with probabilistic arguments. I don’t treat evidence like a lawyer. The problem I see in your approach is that you demand explicit documentation from your opponents, while you allow yourself to use “rhetoric” and what you consider probabilistic arguments.
(1) Your use of D&C 22 to interpret D&C 132 is theological, not historical. If you want to argue line upon line, you should show that someone besides you interpreted D&C 22 in conjunction with D&C 132, preferably JS. You are trying to establish that non-temple marriages were considered void by JS and others in Nauvoo, which means JS didn’t commit adultery or live polyandry, right? This confuses me since you seemed to reject this in your discussion about Compton. If so, JS still had sex with women who were legally married to other men, which is considered polyandry by everyone but you. Thus you seem to equivocate on the definition of polyandry.
(2) The three references in D&C 132 to polyandry imply sex because there is no provision for non-sexual polyandry. Why not? Why no exception? Such a distinction would have been welcomed by Emma.
As I have said, the statements of BY, HCK, and OP are irrelevant. What I want to hear is their denials that JS lived it. As it turns out, they also had equivocal definitions of what constituted polyandry.
The same degree of probability that compels you to admit sexual polyandry in three cases also exists for all the other marriages in this category. You state: “Yet, documentation of sexual relations with the legal husband during the same period is absent.” Why should this matter if JS didn’t respect legal marriage, as you have argued?
“Accordingly, if Joseph Smith engaged in sexual polyandry, he was either a hypocrite, contradicting his own teachings, or he had found a loophole.” The majority of the polyandrous marriages occurred before the July 1843 revelation; so if he contradicted his teachings, it was retroactively. For those who think JS was a pious deceiver, as I do, the idea that he contradicted his teachings is no problem. Of course, you are aiming at Mormons who assume a prophet can’t make mistakes. Two months before dictating D&C 132, JS said: “I do not want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not” (DHC 5:401). One thing about JS is that he was constantly repenting. So what you see as contradiction, I see as repentance. That’s my position.
(3) Of the twenty-three marriages for which you can’t document sexual relations, you say that there is no way to know which marriages were for “time and eternity” or “eternity only”. I have already said that you are making a hasty generalization based on an exceptional case. The “eternity only” marriage was suggested to JS by the non-Mormon husband who didn’t believe in an afterlife. Obviously to him it wasn’t a serious proposal but a novelty and not necessarily a reflection of JS’s teachings.
You admit JS had sex with three of his polyandrous wives, but argue that the remaining eleven are matters of speculation. But you think you are justified in assuming that all eleven were “eternity only” marriages because the critics can’t prove JS had sex with them. As I have already pointed out, your position is an argumentum ad ignorantiam. Moreover, I don’t believe you have sufficient grounds to assume such a category existed let alone it’s near universal application in the polyandry category. Why is it that the critics are speculating when they assume sexual polyandry but you aren’t when you assert that there was a wide practice of “eternity only” marriages by JS and that all (except three) polyandrous marriages were of this type? Why aren’t you arguing the evidence in the Ruth Vose Sayers example is ambiguous or unclear? Indeed, upon what authority does Jenson’s note rest? It seems to me you are engaged in wishful thinking on an extraordinary level.
(4) Of course, everything JS did can be construed as part of the restoration of all things, although I’m unsure what was being restored since marriage was not part of the priest’s duties in the OT, nor was it mentioned in the NT (or BOM for that matter) as a church function. The fact is that JS invented things and simply claimed the record was incomplete.
Actually, JS gave more than two reasons for plural marriage. A third reason was mentioned in his 1842 letter to Nancy Rigdon: “pleasure … gifts and blessings … blessings and enjoyments … happiness” (DHC 5:135).
I find your attempt to disengage sex from plural marriage or at least relegate it to a minor feature weak and a misinterpretation of D&C 132, which makes clear that the purpose of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage is for procreation in this life and the next. It is not possible to separate them. You give undue emphasis on verses 16-17, but the context makes clear that eternal marriage is for the purpose of “a continuation of the seeds,” not a start. The revelation makes no accommodation for eternity only marriages, which as I said would have been good news to Emma. Yours is another private interpretation.
(5) You argue that because leading Mormons in Nauvoo didn’t object to sexual polyandry, it didn’t happen. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up, it’s still an argument from silence. You state: “Personally, I’m not into labels or analyses (think “Idealist Fallacy”) that are simply substitutes for a scholar’s refusal or inability to explain improbabilities.” You can ignore the conventions of good scholarship if you wish, but at least now you know why I regard your position as merely polemical and apologetic, not good historical analysis. You haven’t answered my questions, which if you could would strengthen your argument from silence. An argument from silence may be used if it can be shown that the person should have known about the information (polyandry) and that this person intended to give a complete account of the subject (of JS’s practice of plural marriage) but failed to mention it (sexual polyandry). Can you do that?
See here under argument from silence, for example: http://editthis.info/logic/Informal_Fallacies
The part that deals with the Idealist Fallacy is when you argue that people don’t behave in contradictory ways or when you expect behavior to match rhetoric. See pp. 195-200, especially pp. 199-200
I suggest you become acquainted with these fallacies.
BRIAN HALES Hi Dan,
Sorry about the slow reply. I’ve been out of town at a 3 day medical meeting.
I apologize about the “ad hominem” arguments. I think your positions are weak and unfortunate, but I don’t wish to attack you personally. That isn’t my style, nor is it yours, which is why this exchange can take place in the first place. On the other hand, I could be just as generous labeling some of your points as “argumentum ad ignorantiam,” but that is harsh and I don’t like labels.
Since we are on the subject, however, I am curious that you were willing to jump into a debate on the topic of Joseph Smith and plural marriage. You say you are a “critic of bad scholarship,” but it seems you have really not spent much time studying the primary documents dealing with this subject. I know I would be out of my league to argue 1830s documentation with you, but you fully engaged in a back-and-forth dealing with a topic that some might conclude you have little preparation to discuss. You haven’t even read my chapters. Had you done so, you might have been a little more careful before quoting “Workings of Mormonism” and referring to Jane Law and Sarah Pratt. Some observers might think that you simply like to argue or you are uncomfortable with historical data that is favorable to Joseph Smith.
In your response you wrote that “statements of BY, HCK, and OP are irrelevant.” That is surprising from someone willing to quote some of the most dubious of sources in order to portray Joseph Smith negatively. (You know I can give examples.) Maybe they are irrelevant because you don’t like what they say?
A troublesome statement is that I have been compelled “to admit sexual polyandry in three cases.” Dan, I’ve never admitted to “sexual polyandry” in any of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages. Two of those three women you reference were already physically separated from their legal husbands and the third case is too poorly documented to know what occurred. I don’t believe Joseph practiced sexual polyandry and I believe he would have considered it adultery for him or anyone else. You say I waffle on the definition of “polyandry.” I apologize if it has ever appeared that way. Perhaps you should read my books. I have always said that in order to avoid confusion we should focus on sexual polyandry.
You continue to promote the notion that D&C 132, “makes clear that the purpose of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage is for procreation in this life and the next. It is not possible to separate them.” It seems you want to tie polygamy to sex. But then Ruth Vose Sayers “eternity only” sealing kinda spoils that theory (along with a lot of other observations). You may want to also consult the account of Fanny Young’s sealing to Joseph. Please reread D&C 132. It mentioned “multiply and replenish the earth” only once in verse (63) with two other references (34 and 37). In contrast, verses 1-27 outline the importance of being sealed to a spouse describing the eternal state of those that are not sealed as follows:
Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.
For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever. (D&C 132:16-17.)
Being “separately and singly, without exaltation” is eternal damnation in the context of D&C 132 and is infinitely more important than “multiply and replenish” this earth.
The problems with your other arguments might be illustrated giving an example of the challenges facing anyone trying to demonstrate something did NOT happen. IMAGINE an allegation that Sidney Rigdon performed human sacrifices on the Nauvoo Temple site at midnight during every full moon in 1843. (This is pure fiction.) Also suppose that someone emerges to defend this pretended report by observing that Rigdon lived in Nauvoo in 1843 when the moon was full at midnight. In support, he might also observe that Joseph Smith taught of the eventual restoration of the law of sacrifice (D&C 13:1, 84:31, 128:24). In addition, the proponent could recruit tales from John C. Bennett about burnt offering in Nauvoo. He might also repeat folklore regarding humans being sacrifice in Illinois, without clearly noting in their narrative that their ideas are not documentable. Several scriptures might be referenced to support the need for such sacrifices (Jeremiah 19:5, Abraham 1:7-11, 15, Mormon 4:14, Moroni 9:10). Whether convincing or not or even if the supportive evidence is weak or nonexistent, it still remains impossible to prove that human sacrifices did not happen in Nauvoo in 1843.
It seems your rationalizations for the silence regarding polyandry in Nauvoo could be recruited to support the performance of human sacrifice in Nauvoo in 1843, which is also undocumented. Why? Because you can’t prove a negative. I introduce this to show that the lack of evidence is important, even if it is not definitive.
At this point, I think I am starting to repeat my previous observations and discussion points. It seems that neither of us has changed his opinion in anyway (although I was hopeful you would be persuaded, convert your wife, and be sealed in the temple for time and all eternity). <grin> Hence, I would propose that we stipulate a few things to which we agree and disagree. Feel free to edit this list – I’m not trying to put words in your mouth. It would be nice to make clear our respective positions in concise statements (rather than ad infinitum textual ramblings).
Areas of Agreement:
– It is impossible to prove something did not happen.
– There is solid evidence of NON-polyandrous sexuality in some of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages.
– There is no solid evidence of polyandrous sexuality in any of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages.
– Joseph Smith’s teachings on sexual polyandry (D&C 132:41-42, 63) label it adultery.
– The new and everlasting covenant of marriage includes two ordinances, one for “time and eternity” with sexuality on earth and a second for “eternity only” without sexuality.
Areas of Disagreement:
– The 1830 revelation on baptism (D&C 22:1), which says that “all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant,” applies to the 1843 “new and everlasting covenant” of marriage (D&C 132:4). Vogel disagrees.
– The most important reason for Joseph Smith’s polygamy was to allow all worthy women to be sealed to an eternal husband and therefore become candidates for exaltation (D&C 132:16-17). Vogel disagrees.
– The observation that no polyandrous wives reported, complained about, or defended sexual polyandry is implausible if it occurred. Vogel disagrees.
– The observation that no polyandrous husbands reported, complained about, or defended sexual polyandry is implausible if it occurred. Vogel disagrees.
– The observation that no officiator or other polygamy insider reported, complained about, or defended sexual polyandry is implausible if it occurred. Vogel disagrees.
– The observation that no anti-Mormon complained about sexual polyandry until 1850 is implausible if it occurred. Vogel disagrees.
– Statements of BY, HCK, and OP on the topic of sexual polyandry are very relevant. Vogel disagrees.
– That Joseph Smith would have dictated a revelation condemning sexual polyandry on July 12, 1843 is implausible if he had been practicing it since October 27, 1841. Vogel disagrees.
– The “Idealist Fallacy” explains why there is no documentation of sexual polyandry in Nauvoo. Hales disagrees.
– Joseph Smith practiced sexual polyandry. Hales disagrees.
Thanks for this exchange. If we can agree to disagree, we can then move on to other topics if you would like.
DAN VOGEL Brian: No rush. I’ve enjoyed the rest. I have a thick skin and don’t take the ad hominem personally. In fact, you make me smile when you apologize for ad hominem and then accuse me of being ill informed without addressing my arguments about Jane Law and Sarah Pratt. But hey, no big deal. When you say you could label some of my points “argumentum ad ignorantiam,” I get the impression that you don’t know the proper use of that fallacy. It’s not calling your opponent ignorant. If this is so, you are missing just how valid some of my criticisms of your methodology have been.
If you recall, I said at the outset that I would be critiquing your logic and methods. I’ve had these concerns for a long time as I’ve heard your presentations and read your published essays over the past years. I’ve enjoyed learning more about your interpretations.
I will read your chapters on Jane and Sarah, but you gave it a shot here and it wasn’t very impressive. Keep in mind, I referred to them as examples of women who rejected JS’s polyandrous marriage proposals, which you claimed didn’t exist. This was in response to your weak argument from silence, which you haven’t overcome.
Yes, you have criticize my use of a late source from the daughter of a woman near South Bainbridge who said JS tried to get her to be one of his spiritual wives; yet you use Jenson’s unattributed late note about Ruth Vose Sayers because it serves your purpose.
I’ve told you why the subsequent statements of BY, HCK, and OP on polyandry are not relevant, and it’s not because I don’t like what they say. It was a point of logic.
When I say you (as well as BY, HCK, and OP) have equivocal definitions of polyandry, I mean you use one that is not standard. The idea that one can change partners without a bill of divorcement and not be polyandry is arbitrary. You said JS probably had sex with three women who were legally married to other men—that’s polyandry. It doesn’t matter that the husbands were not present. Remember I said Bennett got in trouble for this very thing?
You say that I “want to tie polygamy to sex” as if that is strange. What is strange is that you want to separate sex from polygamy. You are putting undo emphasis on one aspect and not to the context. There is nothing in D&C 132 that talks about “eternity only” marriage, or even implies it. The revelation doesn’t contemplate such situations. Indeed, as you have discussed, it is anti-polyandry and makes no distinction between sexual and non-sexual situations. You are trying to make it say something that it’s not designed to do. Exaltation and sex are nearly synonyms. The whole point of verses 16-17 is that without exaltation one remains single and unable to “be enlarged”. It’s not just marriage; it’s a “continuation of the seeds” (verse 19). Damnation is the inability to procreate.
Ruth Vose Sayers doesn’t prove your interpretation of D&C 132 right. In fact, it doesn’t prove anything about the general practice of polygamy or JS’s views.
Your analogy doesn’t work, because there is not an assumption that Rigdon would perform human sacrifice. Whereas there is an assumption that marriage includes sex. Rigdon’s performance of human sacrifice would be an extraordinary claim that would naturally arouse skepticism and therefore the burden would be on the one asserting the affirmative. Your assertion for non-sexual polyandry is the one that naturally arouses skepticism because it isn’t what is expected from marriage. Sex in marriages is a warranted assumption. So the burden is on you. You can’t shift that burden and then claim that the proof of your theory is the inability of your opponent to disprove it. That’s argumentum ad ignorantiam, which “consists in arguing that a claim is true (or false) because there is no evidence or proof to the contrary.”
You say you can’t prove a negative, but it is far more likely that someone would mention that JS’s polyandrous marriages didn’t include sex than that they did. You could show that JS clearly taught non-sexual polyandry. I told you how an argument from silence can be strengthened.
Areas of Agreement:
– It is impossible to prove something did not happen.
[Vogel] Not completely true.
– There is solid evidence of NON-polyandrous sexuality in some of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages.
– There is no solid evidence of polyandrous sexuality in any of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages.
– Joseph Smith’s teachings on sexual polyandry (D&C 132:41-42, 63) label it adultery.
[Vogel] Somewhat agree, if definition remains standard.
– The new and everlasting covenant of marriage includes two ordinances, one for “time and eternity” with sexuality on earth and a second for “eternity only” without sexuality.
[Vogel] Not enough evidence to make this hasty generalization.
Areas of Disagreement:
– The 1830 revelation on baptism (D&C 22:1), which says that “all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant,” applies to the 1843 “new and everlasting covenant” of marriage (D&C 132:4).
[Vogel] Vogel disagrees. Hales’ private interpretation.
– The most important reason for Joseph Smith’s polygamy was to allow all worthy women to be sealed to an eternal husband and therefore become candidates for exaltation (D&C 132:16-17). [Vogel] Vogel disagrees. Hales’ misinterpretation and false emphasis.
– The observation that no polyandrous wives reported, complained about, or defended sexual polyandry is implausible if it occurred.
[Vogel] Vogel disagrees. Hales’ argument from silence. Why would they get married if they didn’t agree?
– The observation that no polyandrous husbands reported, complained about, or defended sexual polyandry is implausible if it occurred.
[Vogel] Vogel disagrees. Hales’ argument from silence and assumptions that husbands knew of marriage, that they would disagree if sex were involved, and if they did disagree there would be a record of it.
– The observation that no officiator or other polygamy insider reported, complained about, or defended sexual polyandry is implausible if it occurred.
[Vogel] Vogel disagrees. Hales’ argument from silence and assumptions that polyandry insiders (whoever they were) would disagree if sex were involved, and if they did disagree there would be a record of it.
– The observation that no anti-Mormon complained about sexual polyandry until 1850 is implausible if it occurred.
[Vogel] Vogel disagrees. Hales’ argument from silence and assumptions that anti-Mormons knew of polyandrous marriages.
– Statements of BY, HCK, and OP on the topic of sexual polyandry are very relevant.
[Vogel] Vogel disagrees. They deny polyandry, not just sexual, and JS’s practice is not mentioned.
– That Joseph Smith would have dictated a revelation condemning sexual polyandry on July 12, 1843 is implausible if he had been practicing it since October 27, 1841.
[Vogel] Vogel disagrees.Hales commits Idealist Fallacy. More likely JS repenting.
– The “Idealist Fallacy” explains why there is no documentation of sexual polyandry in Nauvoo. Hales disagrees.
[Vogel] No. It explains why the above argument is fallacious.
– Joseph Smith practiced sexual polyandry.
[Vogel] This is more probable than Hales’ unwarranted assertion that all of JS’s polyandrous wives were for eternity only.
BRIAN HALES:Hi Dan,
Thanks for the response.
I probably only have one more comment, unless you wish to revisit something.
You wrote: “I will read your chapters on Jane and Sarah, but you gave it a shot here and it wasn’t very impressive. Keep in mind, I referred to them as examples of women who rejected JS’s polyandrous marriage proposals, which you claimed didn’t exist. This was in response to your weak argument from silence, which you haven’t overcome.”
At the risk of an “ad hominem”, I mention accounts from several other witnesses that describe a sexual relationship between Sarah Pratt and John C. Bennett in 1840 and early 1841. Nauvoans Stephen and Zeruiah Goddard signed the affidavit quoted above stating that on October 6, 1840: “from the first night, until the last, with the exception of one night it being nearly a month, the Dr. was there as sure as the night came, and generally two or three times a day–for the first two or three nights he left about 9 o’clock–after that he remained later, sometimes till after midnight.” They also claimed that she later moved into a separate house and they were seen there “together, as it were, man and wife.” Zeruiah Goddard also swore out her own affidavit: “On one occasion I came suddenly into the room where Mrs. Pratt and the Dr. were; she was lying on the bed and the Dr. was taking his hands out of her bosom; he was in the habit of sitting on the bed where Mrs. Pratt was lying, and lying down over her.” In August of 1842, Hancock County Sherriff J. B. Backenstos, signed the following affidavit: “some time during last winter, he accused Doctor John C. Bennett, with having an illicit intercourse with Mrs. Orson Pratt, and some others, when said Bennett replied that she made a first rate go, and from personal observations I should have taken said Doctor Bennett and Mrs. Pratt as man and wife.” Ebenezer Robinson reported in 1890: “In the spring of 1841 Dr. Bennett had a small neat house built for Elder Orson Pratt’s family [Sarah and one male child] and commenced boarding with them. Elder Pratt was absent on a mission to England.” John D. Lee recalled: “He [John C. Bennett] became intimate with Orson Pratt’s wife, while Pratt was on a mission. That he built her a fine frame house, and lodged with her, and used her as his wife….” Mary Ettie V. Coray Smith, a sometimes confused informant, related: “Orson Pratt, then, as now , one of the “Twelve,’ was sent by Joseph Smith on a mission to England. During his absence, his first (i.e. his lawful) wife, Sarah, occupied a house owned by John C. Bennett, a man of some note, and at that time, quartermaster-general of the Nauvoo Legion. Sarah was an educated woman, of fine accomplishments, and attracted the attention of the Prophet Joseph, who called upon her one day, and alleged he found John C. Bennett in bed with her. As we lived but across the street from her house we heard the whole uproar. After reviewing available evidence, historian D. Michael Quinn concluded it to be a sexual union by referring to her as “Sarah M. Bates (Pratt, Bennett, Pratt).” Richard Van Wagoner discounts some of this testimony, but his efforts fail to address even half of the testimonies and are problematic from a scholarly perspective.
Is this important? Perhaps not, but Sarah and Bennett had their own agenda. The curious thing is to read the different references to a conversation(s) between Joseph and Sarah. In a meeting of the Twelve Apostles dated January 20, 1843, Joseph Smith told Orson that Sarah “lied about me.” The Prophet continued: “I never made the offer which she said I did.” According to this statement, Joseph admitted making “an offer.” What was it? We don’t know. Was it sexual tryst? sexual polyandry? an “eternity only” sealing? The various accounts from Sarah and her anti-Mormon scribes describe it as a “proposal” and a “dastardly attempt on her virtue.” Joseph said Sarah “lied.” The “Workings on Mormonism” that you quoted from earlier contain an interesting citation allegedly from Joseph: “there was no sin in it as long as she kept it to herself.” Joseph never said this, but it was John C. Bennett’s bread-and-butter seductive line.
I’ve never been impressed by accusations based upon pure assumption. If Joseph were as immoral as you depict, it seems you might have more credible witnesses providing less ambiguous allegations.
This has been an excellent exchange. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it. You comments have been hard-hitting and probably about as effective as any could be. Of course I’m nonplussed and your haven’t been converted yet J
I’ll see you later today at JWHA