Welcome back to our series, wherein we answer questions from our readers about plural marriage. Where possible, I’ve linked to all the available sources for readers, so that others can investigate each question more fully, if they wish.
Apologies for the delay in answering questions (finals, life, etc.), but if you have any more questions, feel free to post them in the comments.
For other posts in this series, see
Samuel Brown and Kate Holbrook (Embodiment and Sexuality)
WVS (D&C 132 Questions)
Was Joseph Smith’s marriage to Helen Mar Kimball sexual?
It’s impossible to say for sure. From my reading, it appears unlikely. I agree with Todd Compton, it was much more of a dynastic sealing (fostering relationships between Smith and other Mormon leaders).
- Todd Compton has written, “My view, based on Helen’s short 1881 reminiscence, is that she married Joseph thinking the marriage would be “for eternity alone,” linking the houses of Heber and Joseph. In my reconstruction, she may have understood that she would be free to date in her peer group and marry someone else for time.” He maintains that view in his excellent book, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (the first book that exhaustively researches Joseph Smith’s plural marriages).
- Brian Hales does an excellent job summarizing the historiographical arguments between himself, D. Michael Quinn, Michael Marquart, and others (with footnotes and citations) at his site, here.
- Spencer Fluhman’s article on Helen Mar Kimball is a must read on the topic.
- For more information on dynastic sealings, see here (citations in footnotes).[i]
Is there evidence that Joseph [Smith] had sexual relations with all those who were sealed to him? Is there any indication/possibility that he did not?
There is evidence that Smith had sexual relationships with several of those that were sealed to him, but no evidence that suggests he had sexual relationships with all (or many) of those sealed to him. Several women testified at the Temple Lot case that their relationship with Joseph Smith included sexual relations.
Brian Hales has compiled the information at his website. While I’m skeptical of his claim that there was no sexual dimension to polyandrous relationships, I sincerely appreciate his posting of the evidence he uses to find that conclusion. Here’s the evidence for Joseph Smith’s sexual relationships (from Hales’ site):
- Malissa Lott
- Louisa Beaman
- Fanny Alger
- Emily Dow Partridge
- Eliza Maria Partridge
- Almera Woodward Johnson
- Sylvia Sessions Lyon
- Maria Lawrence
- Sarah Lawrence
What is Brian Hales’s take on Joseph Smith’s polygamy? Why was he cited so much in the essays? Who pushes back against his interpretation and why?
Luckily, Brian was kind enough to answer these questions for JI’s readers. Here’s Dr. Hales, in his own words (I’ll mark where I pick up again):
What is Brian Hales’s take on Joseph Smith’s polygamy?
“There are actually two issues to respond to. (1) Why did God permit polygamy and (2) why did God command polygamy. To answer the first, God gave four reasons in D&C 132.
- As part of the “restitution of all things” prophesied in Acts 3:19-21 (D&C 132:40, 45).
- To provide a customized trial for the Saints of that time and place (see D&C 132:32, 51).
- To provide bodies for noble premortal spirits by “multiplying and replenishing the earth” (D&C 132:63).
- To allow all worthy women to be sealed to an eternal husband “for their exaltation in the eternal worlds” (D&C 132:63, 16-17).
The fourth reason is by far the most important.
Regarding why God commanded polygamy between 1852 and 1890, we don’t know why specifically. Jacob 2:30 tells us God may command it to “raise up seed” unto him. But He never specifically connected the modern commandment to that reason. I believe it was a way to give a special trial with special spiritual benefits to those who obeyed.
Why was he cited so much in the essays?
I expect I was quoted because I’m the only author to attempt to include every known document (from any source antagonistic to apologetic) dealing with Joseph Smith and plural marriage in my books (by reference or citation). Also, I might add that virtually every other book written specifically about Joseph Smith and plurality portrays him as a womanizer, hypocrite, and adulterer, to some degree or another. I could not follow as a true prophet the version of Joseph depicted by so many polygamy authors and I believe they have misrepresented him and the historical record. Hence, other authors would be quoted less often.
Who pushes back against his interpretation and why?
Gary Bergera wrote an interesting and decidedly negative review that was published in The Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association. I responded because I thought the review was weak in design and incomplete in content.
The most common reaction I get to my trilogy is something like: “I appreciate Brian Hales’ research but I disagree with him.” In those instances, I always wonder what interpretation they disagree with and what evidence they would cite to support the contradictory view. I don’t mind people disagreeing, but I generally feel they do so based upon secondary sources (believing a previous author’s written view) rather than actually going to the primary evidences and making a decision for themselves.
An interesting thing will occur as the next generation of polygamy researchers are forced to document and interpret Joseph Smith using all the available documents rather than just picking and choosing the ones they like. I have uploaded all my polygamy database to MormonPolygamyDocuments.org. No writer will have an excuse for not knowing the documents.
(J Stuart Writing Again) As you can tell, Hales, and his researcher, Don Bradley, have exhausted every archive imaginable to find every source that relates to Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage and each of his plural wives. Hales has made documents available online (in transcript) that are not available in other places, so that each person can weigh the evidence for Hales’ conclusions for themselves. Hales’ views are published in a three volume set, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volumes 1-3 ,available from Kofford Books.
Hales has also posted what he calls “dialogues” with those who disagree with them on his website. I have attached Gary Bergera’s review of Hales’ 3 volume series on Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage from the JWHA journal here. You can read Brian’s response in The Interpreter.
[i] Stapley, Jonathan A. “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 53-118; Stapley, “Early Mormon Adoption Theology and the Mechanics of Salvation,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 3-52. For more on dynastic relationships in Mormonism, see Bates, Irene, and E. Gary Smith, Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2002.