I add my praise for the church’s essays on gospel topics, including the essays on polygamy. However, I disagree with two points that the essay on Joseph Smith’s polygamy made: that polygamy was revealed to Joseph Smith during his translation of the Old Testament and that Smith engaged in eternity only sealings. Such points have been asserted by a number of scholars so my critique isn’t so much one of the essay but of these two commonly asserted claims.
The essay says, “The revelation on plural marriage was not written down until 1843, but its early verses suggest that part of it emerged from Joseph Smith’s study of the Old Testament in 1831.” The essay cites Andrew Jenson’s quote of Joseph Noble who said, “the doctrine of celestial marriage was revealed to [JS] while he was engaged in work of translation of the Scriptures,” and Orson Pratt’s statement to Joseph F. Smith that Lyman Johnson told Orson, that “Joseph had made known to him as early as 1831 that plural marriage was a correct principle.” Yet Pratt didn’t say that 1831 was when it was first revealed, and Noble didn’t say that either. Noble made the statement at an 1883 conference where he declared “that the Prophet told him that the doctrine of celestial marriage was revealed to him while he was engaged in work of translation of the Scriptures, but when the communication was first made the Lord stated that the time for the practice of that principal had not arrived. Subsequently, he stated, the angel of the Lord appeared to and informed him that the time had fully come.” So Noble said that Smith was told about plural marriage before he was told to practice it and since Pratt said that Johnson first heard about it in 1831, it would be a little strange for Smith to be telling people about plural marriage before Smith had been commanded to practice it. The statement suggests that Smith knew about plural marriage before 1831.
More than ten years before Noble’s statement, Brigham Young said that Smith did have plural marriage revealed to him before 1831. Charles Lowell Walker attended a meeting in 1872 where he heard Young say “that while Joseph and Oliver were translating the Book of Mormon, they had a revelation that the order of Patriarchal Marriag[e] and Sealing was right” but that while Oliver wanted to practice it, Joseph said “‘the time has not yet come.’” Such would fit with Noble’s claim if the translation he was talking about was the Book of Mormon and not the Old Testament. That is, Smith learned about plural marriage during the Book of Mormon translation, but was not told to practice it until 1831.
Scholars have assumed Noble was talking about the Old Testament because of the question about the polygyny of patriarchs that JS’s apparently asked in DC 132:1. But I argue in my dissertation that JS was more likely asking about the patriarchs’ polygyny in 1842-43 (because this was a change in policy) and that it was the Book of Mormon’s reference to “raise up seed” that was the original prompt for plural marriage. I do agree that some of section 132 may have been revealed in 1831: my guess would be verses 3-25 (though this was likely revised) but that most of the rest of revealed in 1842-43, including verse 1.
Second, the essay says, “During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only…. Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings.” I believe that both of these statements are incorrect; that is, there were no eternity sealings during JS’s lifetime and, therefore, JS did not engage in any. The essay cites volume 2 of Brian Hales’s Joseph Smith’s Polygamy for proof of these claims, but I would argue that Hales’s evidence is lacking. Hales first uses a story from Andrew Jenson’s notes about Ruth Sayers
Sister Ruth was married in her youth to Mr. Edward Sayer, a thoroughly practical horticulturalist and florist, and though he was not a member of the Church, he willingly joined his fortune with her and they reached Nauvoo together some time in the year 1841;
While there the strongest affection sprang up between the Prophet Joseph and Mr. Sayers. The latter not attaching much importance to the theory of a future life insisted that his wife Ruth should be sealed to this Prophet for eternity, as he himself should only claim her in this life. She was accordingly sealed to the Prophet in Emma’s presence and thus became numbered among the Prophets plural wives. Though she continued to live with Mr Sayers until death.
I see serious problems with this story: it’s late, unattributed, and, most significantly, unbelievable. I simply don’t believe that anything like that happened since if the husband didn’t care about the afterlife, he wouldn’t be concerned about his wife’s state in it, and if he believed that JS was so special that people ought to be sealed to him, the husband probably would have believed enough to be seeking his own blessings (sealing). Furthermore, Smith was really trying to keep plural marriage hush hush during the time, making the story even more unlikely. I find it much more likely that this story was a later rumor created to deal with the uncomfortable issue of JS marrying married women.
Hales then goes on to cite a number of examples where people referred to particular sealings as “for eternity” but even Hales admits that “such clear statements [on eternity only sealings], however, do not exist.” Hales tries to account for “why ‘eternity only’ wives maintained silence on their marriage type,” but I would argue that the answer is simply there were no eternity only sealings between live people in JS’s lifetime.
The essay asserts, “Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone.” But reading the quote in context, I’m not sure that’s what Helen meant. Here’s part of the poem where Helen describes her experience:
I thought through this life my time will be my own
The step I now am taking’s for eternity alone,
No one need be the wiser, through time I shall be free,
And as the past hath been the future still will be.
Another way to read this quote is in light of John C. Bennett’s claim that in 1842, JS told Nancy Rigdon that his proposed marriage “would not prevent her from marrying any other person.” Or, “in time I would be free.” I argue in my dissertation that JS marrying married women, coupled with DC 132:41, which I argue suggests a condition for a woman being sealed to more than one man, indicated that women had originally been able to do so. Yet 132 switched the policy to polygyny, I argue, and I see Helen’s laments in the rest of the poem as a response to this change in policy.
And like a fett’d bird with wild and longing heart,
Thou’lt daily pine for freedom and murmur at thy lot.
Helen thought she would be “free,” or allowed to be courted by other men, but soon found out that she was not (the new policy in section 132). One way or another, Helen’s statement about “in time I would be free” was an expectation that was not met. Anyway, I don’t think Helen’s, or any of Smith’s sealings, were eternity only sealings.
In fact, I would argue that eternity only sealings would have run counter to Smith’s purposes for instituting plural marriage. Smith wanted to bind his loved ones to him, loved ones to whom he felt connected in life. “If we learn how to live & how we die when we lie down we contemplate how we may rise up in the morning and it is pleasing for friends to lie down together locked in the arms of love, to sleep, & locked in each others embrace & renew their conversation.” The “conversation” was to be “renewed”; these were relationships that were developed while living. A quote John C. Bennett best describes Smith’s intent “It has been revealed to him that there will be no harmony in heaven unless the Saints select their companions and marry IN TIME, FOR ETERNITY!!! They must marry in time so as to begin to form the sincere attachment and unsophisticated affection which is so necessary to consummate in eternity in order to the peace of Heaven.” Mary Lighter’s recollection of Smith’s reaction to her moving 15 miles away supports the statement from Bennett. “The Prophet felt very sad when he knew we were going to leave,” said Lightner, “and with tears running down his cheeks he prophesied that if we left the Church we would have plenty of sorrow.” Smith wanted to have his loved ones near by to build the kind of relationships that Bennett described. It was these loving relationships that Smith wanted to preserve in the next life and “eternity only” marriages would have defeated that purpose.
 Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson, 1887), 232-33.
 Andrew Karl Larson and Katharine Miles Larson, eds., The Diary of Charles Lowell Walker (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1980), 1:349.
 Such would be similar to section 107, 59-100 of which were revealed in 1831. The rest of 107 came in 1835 which Smith added to the original revelation, which Smith also revised. I argue in my dissertation that JS was aware of many of the “Nauvoo doctrines” early on. Stephen J. Fleming, “The Fulenss of the Gospel: Christian Platonism and the Origins of Mormonism (Ph.D. diss. University of California, Santa Barbara, 2014), 386-87.
 Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Volume 1: History (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford, 2013), 1:422.
 Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:434.
 “The Mormons,” Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), July 15, 1842. While it’s true that Bennett is a problematic source, he did often convey correct information (Smith did propose to Nancy), and I argue that the statement fit the pattern of Smith marrying married women and the case of Hannah Dubois, who probably married Philo Dibble after she married Smith. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 631.
 Fleming, “The Fulenss of the Gospel,” 351-85.
 Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Autobiography, 1881, in A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 486.
 16 April 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 195-96.
 “Letter from Gen. Bennett,” in Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa: December 7, 1843) in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 636.
 Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Autobiography, typescript, 9, Perry Special Collections.