Too Much Monkey Business: Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s Polygamy for the Unsettled Latter-day Saint

Title: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding
Authors: Brian C. Hales and Laura H. Hales
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Religion
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 978-1-58958-723-6
Price $19.95

Reviewed by: Cheryl L. Bruno

Too Much Monkey Business: Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

Quoting a familiar nonsense rhyme, Samuel W. Taylor described the condition of post-Manifesto Mormons with regard to the once-crucial principle of plural marriage:

Yesterday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish that man would go away.

Although Brian C. Hales and, more recently his wife Laura H. Hales cannot make the issue of Mormon polygamy disappear, they have done everything in their power to make it more palatable for faithful members of the Church.

An endorsement of the authors’ most recent book, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding, declares that “nothing has brought greater clarity, enlightenment, and, particularly for believing Saints, spiritual reassurance, than has the work of researcher Brian Hales.” If the aim is spiritual reassurance, this book is certainly a grand effort to fit the bill. In less than 200 pages of prose, the Haleses re-envision Joseph Smith’s grand design for celestial plural marriage to fit modern sensibilities and put to rest the general LDS reader’s apprehensions about Mormon polygamy.

Responding to some of the criticism Brian received from the more comprehensive first three volumes of the Joseph Smith’s Polygamy series, he and his wife draw together all of the frayed threads of history and theology into a cohesive form. The weaving in this volume is tighter than in the others; the standard objections and discomfort with polygamy are covered with a warm and comfortable blanket which will satisfy all but the rabid polygamist…or discriminating historian.

For the Benefit of Mr. Kite: The Haleses on the High-Wire

In this short, readable volume, the authors submit their best performance to date. The pertinent issues are fluently conveyed, using significant historical evidence. Each chapter is written in straightforward language with a high degree of explanatory power. The view of Mormon polygamy presented in this book is comprehensive: it provides an understanding of plural marriage which is consistent from its earliest beginnings in 1830 through the early Utah church unto the present day.  Finally, the standpoint put forward in this book is fresh and innovative. Ideas are presented here that readers will not have heard before. If correct, this interpretation makes sense of things that seem to be otherwise inexplicable.

However, the Haleses’ attempt to address what they call “the polygamy puzzle” remains flawed. The use of a puzzle metaphor for Mormon plural marriage provides a clue as to what the reader will find in the ensuing pages. Their book is less a historically sound assessment of “Joseph Smith’s polygamy,” than an attempt to bolster a rationale that “solves” the inconsistencies of early Mormon plural marriage in light of the official position of the modern LDS church. Their high-flying acrobatics will be well received by those whose cultural mindsets engender a distaste for the principle. They will provide relief to those who wish to maintain their association with the church led by Thomas S. Monson while remaining unwilling to practice what was introduced by their founder Joseph Smith and taught by early authorities to be essential to exaltation.

I am happy to recognize the pioneering effort of the authors to garner the historical documents and lay out a faithful theological explanation for a principle that has not been easily discussed or understood in the past.[1]  Because many people will discuss the strengths of this book, I will spend my time pointing out some of the more apparent weaknesses. This review will focus on the introduction and first two chapters of the book. These draft an interpretation of early Mormon polygamy which the authors will use to rehabilitate the reputation of Joseph Smith and revise the doctrines implicit in his early practices and teachings.

Nowhere Man: Is an Accurate Understanding of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Possible?

Several obstacles bar the way of a clear understanding of Joseph Smith’s teachings and practice of plural marriage. The authors begin by remarking upon the paucity of sources generated by Joseph Smith. In point of fact, there are no surviving records of polygamy generated by Smith himself. Even the provenance of D&C 132 is historically questionable. The Haleses, however, admit 132 into evidence as the “one known document by Joseph Smith specifically discussing the subject” (p. xiv). They are then able to largely limit their discussion to this document and their interpretation thereof, without taking into account other dictated records by Joseph (like the Nancy Rigdon letter) or contemporary reactions to his teachings (as in the William Clayton journal). In a technique that Brian frequently employs in the previous three volumes of this set, the authors discount such evidence in the following manner:

no contemporary records of his teachings have been found except for a few entries in the journal of his clerk William Clayton (p. xiv, emphasis added).

This language leaves an impression upon the mind of the reader that is incorrect. If there is one idiosyncrasy which bothers me about Brian Hales’s writing it is this. He often insists that there is no evidence for certain conclusions (except for the evidence he wishes to discount). This technique tends to plant in the mind the lack of support for certain ideas and encourage disregard for salient evidence that we do have.

The Haleses estimate that 98% of the available evidence dealing with Joseph Smith’s polygamy falls into the category of later recollections. Though sometimes contradictory, these records are highly believable. Many of the statements come from Joseph’s own wives and other people who were personally taught by the Prophet. Brian and Laura mention three sets of testimonies which were collected from Nauvoo polygamists: the Joseph F. Smith affidavits, including fifteen from Joseph Smith’s plural wives; the Andrew Jenson narratives; and testimonies in the Temple Lot case. In the latter, the LDS Church “provided support to the Church of Christ, saying that if they could prove that plural marriage was part of the church led by Joseph Smith, then the RLDS Church could not be the true successor,” and thus was not the rightful owner of the Temple Lot property in Independence, Missouri (p. xv).

Fixing a Hole: Supplying Rationalizations for Polygamy

Interestingly, since the modern Church does not currently perform polygamous marriages, they find themselves in a similar position to that held by the RLDS Church in 1891. In order to retain their claim as the “true successor” of the Church, a rationale must be found which both admits the polygamous history of the Church, and yet justifies the current abandonment of that same practice. As faithful Latter-day Saints, the Haleses seem anxious to present such a reconstruction. As an historian, I am less concerned with the consistency issue than I am with accurately depicting the past.

Don’t Ever Change: Arguments for an Amalgamated Polygamy Theology

The book undertakes to provide “Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding the theological basis for the practice” of plural marriage. Providing the Prophet’s rationale behind polygamy, the Haleses argue, will assist a reader to “contextualize its early practice.” This is the promise of the book, but the authors cannot possibly deliver, because they are hobbled by a modern Mormon theology fundamentally at odds with Smith’s own stated rationale. Nowhere is that “hobbling” more apparent than in the Hales’ premise that “plural marriage was a small component in the much grander theology of eternal marriage and exaltation that [Joseph Smith] taught” (p. 1, emphasis in original).

Unfortunately for the Haleses, the “grander theology” they describe largely represents later innovations in Mormon tradition, and not the theological view attributed to Joseph Smith by his contemporaries, both friendly and critical.

Chapters 1 and 2 of this volume revisit four “theological reasons for the establishment of plural marriage” which the authors have drawn from their reading of D&C 132. They are the following:

  • As part of the “restitution of all things”
  • To provide a customized trial for the Saints at that time and place
  • “Multiplying and replenishing the earth”
  • To allow all worthy women to be sealed to an eternal husband “for their exaltation in the eternal worlds” (p. 2)

It is not so much that I disagree that these principles were part of Joseph Smith’s theology in restoring plural marriage. But the way that the authors limit and interpret them is drastically different from how they were understood by those to whom Joseph taught the principle personally. The understanding of D&C 132 presented here is distorted by the apologetic reading given.

Strawberry Fields Forever: the Restoration of an Ancient Law

Joseph taught “the necessity to restore the ancient marital order of polygamy” (p. 2) by the early 1830’s. In the Kirtland temple, the necessary keys and powers of the priesthood to legitimize such unions were given. Thereafter, the authors state, “Joseph Smith taught…that some Church members would need to marry polygamously as a partial fulfillment of the New Testament prophecy.” (p. 3, emphasis added) The Haleses teach that at times plural marriage is not permitted, at times it is permitted, and at times it is commanded. They allow only two instances in religious history when plural marriage was commanded by the Lord: in the case of Abraham taking Hagar to wife, and “among [select] Latter-day Saints between the 1840s and 1890” (p. 17).[2]

Neither Joseph Smith nor any of the early Church leaders qualified the principle in this way. Not everyone would be called or able to live the principle, they allowed, but these would relinquish the opportunity to receive a fullness of exaltation. Benjamin F. Johnson’s recollection of a sermon given by Smith made it clear that the biblical “parable of the talents” was to be applied to plural marriage. Joseph “showed plainly that to him that hath shall be given more, and from him that had but one should be taken that he seemed to have, and given to him who had ten.”[3] Though the Prophet told Johnson “no one but you will understand” the sermon’s message, it was apparently a concept which was deciphered by others. On Wednesday, February 7, 1844, a Warsaw newspaper published a satirical poem about Joseph Smith titled “Buckeye’s Lamentation for Want of More Wives.” Historian Gary James Bergera established that the piece “demonstrated an insider’s awareness of Nauvoo’s most secret goings-on,” and that “the value of Buckeye’s poetry lies not in its creative expression but in its accurate, albeit sensationalized, parallels to historical facts.”[4]

In the 104-line poem, “Buckeye” laments that he will not be saved in heaven because he only has “one lone wife.” His leader, “Beardless Joe” Smith, teaches that salvation depends on the number of wives a man has. In heaven, husbands of plural wives will “reign like mighty Gods, / creating worlds so fair; / at least a world for every wife / that you take with you there.” Men who do not embrace a plurality of wives “will find a bitter fate:”

The one or two that he may have,
He’d be deprived of then;
And they’ll be given as talents were
To him who has got ten.[5]

In an 1873 discourse, Brigham Young referenced Joseph Smith’s plural marriage revelation, explaining the doctrine in similar terms. “The people of God,” he said, “have been commanded to take more wives.” If a man married only one wife, when he got to the celestial kingdom “he will not find himself in possession of any wife at all.”[6]

In a statement written shortly after the turn of the century, Benjamin Johnson repeated the teaching of Smith’s earlier sermon that because plural marriage was a commandment of God, and a requirement for a fullness of exaltation, those men who had “but one talent,” or wife, would lose it in favor of he who had ten, “which item of doctrine seems to be now differently construed.”[7] Johnson’s statement shows that by 1903, thirteen years after the Manifesto, the teachings of Joseph Smith on plural marriage had already begun to transmogrify. Only following the Manifesto did Church leaders begin to endorse a form of eternal marriage that included monogamy.

Joseph Smith seems to have taught that no man could ever receive a fullness of exaltation in the celestial kingdom unless they lived patriarchal marriage. This idea was unqualified, independent of whether men had been taught the law or not. This is why the principle had to be restored in the dispensation of the fullness of times. William Clayton wrote that Joseph authorized him to send for a sister from England to be his plural wife, informing him

that the doctrine of plural and celestial marriage is the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on the earth, and that without obedience to that principle no man can ever attain to the fullness of exaltation in celestial glory.[8]

This outlook does not seem to make sense in the modern Church. Latter-day Saints are no longer commanded or even permitted to live plural marriage. Do they then forfeit exaltation in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom? A church of continuing revelation may justifiably interpret the doctrine differently for today’s Mormons. However, one may not read this interpretation back on to the early teachings and practices of Joseph Smith with any kind of historical integrity. From what we can see from the historical record, he taught his followers that a restoration of plurality of wives was important precisely because a man could not be exalted in the highest degree without living that principle. It would be inconsistent to Joseph Smith’s theology and to his concept of a “dispensation of the fullness of times” that an eternal principle of the gospel would be “restored” for only a short time, and lost again after a mere 50 years.

The Long and Winding Road: A Trial of Faith for the Saints

A second reason provided by the authors’ reading of D&C 132 is that plural marriage “brought customized trials to practicing Latter-day Saints, providing opportunities for spiritual growth” (p. 3). Indeed, John Taylor averred “it was one of the greatest crosses that ever was taken up by any set of men since the world stood.”[9] Taylor insisted that the revelation was “binding upon his servants.” Nevertheless, as the authors state, “this trial was mercifully withdrawn with the issuance of the 1890 Manifesto by President Wilford Woodruff” (p. 4). It is important to reiterate that the withdrawal of plural marriage by President Woodruff reflects a change in doctrine, and should not be used, as the authors do, to suggest that plurality was intended to be temporary in Joseph Smith’s theology. Before issuing the Manifesto, Woodruff taught that plural marriage was

the only law ordained by the Gods of eternity that would exalt immortal beings to kingdoms, thrones, principalities, powers and dominions, and heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ to a fullness of celestial glory. I say, the God of Israel knowing these things, commanded Joseph Smith, the prophet, and the Latter-day Saints, to obey this law, “or you shall be damned.”[10]

John Taylor bore his witness that Joseph Smith told him and others that if the principle of plural marriage was not entered into, “this kingdom could not proceed…it would be taken from us and given to others.”[11]

Why Don’t we do it in the Road?: The Eternal Importance of Reproduction

According to the authors, reason number three for the practice of plural marriage was “to multiply and replenish the earth” (p. 4). D&C 132 specifically states that plural wives are given “to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment…that they may bear the souls of men” (D&C 132:63). The authors also note that this is the “only reason mentioned in the Book of Mormon wherein polygamy might be acceptable” (p. 5). In this book of scripture, the Lord reserves the right to command the practice of polygamy in order to “raise up seed” to him. (Jacob 2:30) Nonetheless, the authors do not find this to be a primary, compelling, or “eternally consequential” reason for the practice. In this, they miss the importance that Smith placed upon the “continuation of the seeds.” They lightly dismiss[12] Joseph Smith’s theology on this matter despite their inclusion of an important quotation by Helen Mar Kimball, one of Joseph’s plural wives:

It was revealed to him [Joseph Smith] that there were thousands of spirits, yet unborn, who were anxiously waiting for the privilege of coming down to take tabernacles of flesh, that their glory might be complete. (p. 5, emphasis added).

Brigham Young agreed that the revelation authorizing plural marriage “was for the express purpose of providing a channel for the organization of tabernacles, for those spirits to occupy who have been reserved to come forth in the kingdom of God” (p. 5).

D&C 132 does not limit reproduction to this life only. It expounds upon the Abrahamic covenant, promising a continuation of the seeds “both in the world and out of the world,” pointing out the eternal nature of the promises given in patriarchal marriage (D&C 132:12). Those who abide in the covenant of plural marriage become gods, whose glory consists of a fullness and continuation of the seeds and endless posterity forever.

If one is to come to a better understanding of “Joseph Smith’s theology” on patriarchal marriage, one must recognize the emphasis that is placed on its connection with plurality and the Abrahamic covenant promising endless posterity. The student of D&C 132 is told to “do the works of Abraham.”[13]

An understanding of this theology was perpetuated by early Nauvoo polygamists, who were taught privately and personally by the Prophet Joseph and became the leaders of the Church following his death. Orson Pratt, spokesman for Mormon polygamy after it was publicly authorized in Utah in 1852, included the entire text of the revelation which became D&C 132 in his periodical “The Seer.” He titled it: “Celestial Marriage: A Revelation on the Patriarchal Order of Matrimony, or Plurality of Wives.”[14]

He and early Saints equated the terms “celestial marriage,” and “patriarchal order of matrimony,” with plural marriage. While testifying in the Temple Lot case, Wilford Woodruff attributed this teaching to Joseph Smith:

I said in my direct examination that the patriarchal order of marriage was taught by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo…I know that Joseph Smith taught it to certain individuals, but he did not teach it openly to the church…Joseph Smith taught us privately.[15]

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Allowing Single Women to be Sealed for Eternity

In this book, Brian Hales reiterates his understanding of the most “significantly important” reason for establishing plural marriage. He believes that it allows a surfeit of worthy women who are unable to be sealed to an eternal husband the opportunity for exaltation. “It is not plurality itself that provides exaltation,” the book proclaims, “it is eternal marriage; plurality simply allows all worthy women to access it” (p. 7). Were this necessary, one wonders why we don’t simply seal all the extra women to Jesus!

Further, D&C 132 states that men are also beneficiaries of blessings by their participation in plural marriage, as it is the declared mechanism by which the promises made to Abraham concerning the perpetuation of the seeds is obtained.

Chapter 2 in the book devotes much ink to promoting the principle of what I have termed “celestial monogamy.” Reconciling the modern practice of eternal marriage sealings with no plurality necessary, the Haleses attempt to attribute such a theology to Joseph Smith.

The authors recognize that D&C 132 was given as a response to Joseph Smith’s specific question about polygamy. But they believe that the Lord’s answer came in a roundabout way. He began, they say, by revealing the “new and everlasting covenant” of celestial monogamy. “At this point,” they admit, “it is unclear how the ‘new and everlasting covenant’ and ‘law’ are related to the original question” (p. 8).


The authors continue to read several passages as if they referred to an eternal sealing only, without the element of plurality. These explications fall flat, because the writers ignore what Joseph and his contemporaries understood as “my law,” and “my covenant.” A close reading of the temple marriage covenant as it remains to the current day reveals a dependence upon plurality in marriage sealings. The couple covenants to keep all of the laws, rites, and ordinances pertaining to the “Holy Order of Matrimony in the New and Everlasting Covenant.” Within this promise lie vestiges of earlier practices that the church has abandoned. Hales insists that those who “did not abide my law” (D&C 132:17) and thus forfeit eternal glory are individuals who are not sealed by priesthood authority (p. 11). This is a redefinition that could not have occurred while Joseph Smith was alive, and did not form part of his marriage theology.

One can attempt to read the priesthood law mentioned in 132 as eternal monogamy, but it is inconsistent because in several places in the revelations the law is defined as plurality.

Orson Spencer, member of the Council of Fifty and Anointed Quorum, defended plural marriage in 1853. He wrote that the only marriages of perpetual duration were those of the patriarchal order, the “only order practiced in the celestial heavens.”[16]

Helter Skelter: The Conundrum of the Faithful Mormon

The title of the book, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, is a misnomer. In modern LDS thought, righteous monogamous couples can be exalted to the highest degree without the necessity of living plural marriage. However, this notion cannot easily be attributed to Joseph Smith’s theology. Contemporaneous writings which describe polygamy in Nauvoo consistently report that a man who refuses to take plural wives will lose the one that he has, and thus his place as a god in the hereafter. The extant historical evidence supports the idea that plural marriage as taught in D&C 132 is the “law” without which the Patriarchs could not have been justified, and the principle without which faithful Saints cannot be exalted.

This review has centered on the first 20 pages of the Haleses’ book, and there are many problems which remain. I intend to address these at a later time. I find unfounded speculation in the authors’ treatment of the Kirtland period, the Nauvoo period, and their characterization of John Bennett as well as that of Emma Smith. Perhaps the weakest portion of the book is the biographical sketches of Joseph’s plural wives, comprising over 1/3 of the total material. The authors construct these sketches in a way that conforms to their doctrinal misconceptions, filling in the evidentiary gaps with their own theological speculations.

Keep Your Hands off my Baby: Unfounded Conclusions

For example, in discussing Elvira Cowles’ marriage to Joseph Smith, the authors quote her daughter’s testimony that “I heard my mother testify that she was indeed the Prophet’s plural wife in life and lived with him as such during his lifetime.” They then note that Elvira was living with her legal husband, Jonathan, at the time, and speculate that sexual relations outside of this marriage would have been considered adultery. “Therefore,” the Haleses conclude, “it is likely her daughter’s reminiscence was in error” (p.121)

I am the Walrus

Laura and Brian Hales seek to contribute to a greater understanding of Mormon polygamy by tying loose threads into a neat package. Brian serves as a guide through treacherous terrain, while Laura deserves special commendation for putting so much material into a concise and readable form. Brian’s polygamy theology appeals to those who yearn to reconcile early Mormonism’s distinctive doctrine with the less radical Church of the twenty-first century. But perhaps this just isn’t possible. Given Smith’s aims, purposes and proclivities, his theology must be studied on its own merits, without forcing it into a modern paradigm. This would be as difficult and as unnecessary as finding a sensible, comprehensive, and unified message in the Beatles’ song “I am the Walrus.”


[1] To the credit of the authors, they have been very open with the historical records they have uncovered. On their website,, they have made available the pertinent sources that have been found to date, and one can often gain important context by returning to the original source in its complete form.

[2] In fact, Mormon polygamy was not sanctioned by the LDS church until 1852. At no time during Joseph Smith’s lifetime did the practice of plural marriage have official endorsement by the church.

[3] Benjamin Franklin Johnson, My Life’s Review: The Autobiography of Benjamin F. Johnson (Provo, UT: Grandin Book Co., 1990)

[4] Gary James Bergera, “Buckeye’s Laments: Two Early Insider Exposés of Mormon Polygamy,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-) 95:4 (Winter 2002-2003), 351.

[5] “Buckeye’s Lamentation for Want of More Wives,” Warsaw Messenger (Feb. 7, 1844), 3.

[6] Brigham Young, Discourse, August 31, 1873, in Journal of Discourses 16:166.

[7] Fred Collier, “An Interesting Letter from Patriarch Benjamin F. Johnson to Elder George F. Gibbs,” Doctrine of the Priesthood Vol 7 No. 5.

[8] Andrew Jenson, Historical Record, “William Clayton’s Testimony” (16 Feb 1874) 224-226.

[9] John Taylor, “Our Religion is From God,” Journal of Discourses, 11:221 (April 7, 1866).

[10] Wilford Woodruff, “Epistle of Elder Wilford Woodruff,” The Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star 41:16 (April 21, 1879), 242.

[11] John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 11:222.

[12] “Unfortunately, some authors have portrayed sexual reproduction—to “multiply and replenish the earth”—as the primary reason for plural marriage. While it was one of several reasons revealed for the restoration of polygamy, it is not the most important. The fourth reason, which is discussed in the next chapter, is eternally consequential and, therefore, vastly more significant.” (5)

[13] The Haleses teach that “we need not assume that doing the righteous ‘works of Abraham’ involves being obedient to the exact same commandments.” They note that “Abraham’s being a polygamist was hardly his defining characteristic,” and that he did other good works that we can emulate. However, the context of the passage speaks directly to how Abraham is justified in practicing polygamy. Verse 32 reads: “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.” The following verse reiterates that those who do not enter into “my law” cannot receive the promises made to Abraham. Verse 34 then clarifies that this law specifically refers to polygamy. Although the authors admit that when directed to Emma Smith, the term “my law” refers to plural marriage, they use the term inconsistently. It is important to emphasize that “my law” refers to the patriarchal law of plural marriage each of the 32 times it is repeated throughout the revelation: it is “the law which justified my servants” in marrying plural wives.

[14] Orson Pratt, The Seer, Vol 1 No. 1 (Jan 1853), 7.

[15] Wilford Woodruff, Temple Lot Case, 291-313, cited in The Most Holy Principle (Murray, UT: Gems Publishing Co., 1971), 261.

[16] Orson Spencer, Letters Exhibiting the Most Prominent Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons, Co., 1891), 193.


Too Much Monkey Business: Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s Polygamy for the Unsettled Latter-day Saint — 19 Comments

  1. Excellent and thought provoking, Cheryl. I may be a little more pessimistic about the factual reliability of the later reminiscences, but I agree with your overall reservations. Plural marriage seems to have been the apex of Joseph’s doctrine, and reproduction its most important raison d’etre.

  2. Fantastic. Thank you for this. I have many of the same reservations about the Hales’s project.

  3. Fixing a Hole: Supplying Rationalizations for Polygamy

    I’m always curious why beyond the revelation ending it’s practice for the church, people know these things I am listing but it doesn’t change anything they understand (maybe you did and my eyes missed that).

    1. If a male is sealed to an eternal families and has a first wife, he is monogamous.

    2. If first wife, dies. and Husband remarries and is sealed for time and eternity, he now has a second wife and when he and his wives resurrect he will have 2 living wives.

    Thus polygamy is still practiced, but in a manner that is really only relevant after this life. Also, it [has] to be an eternal principle because it logically follows from resurrection of our ancestors. Notably, it’s not entirely clear what that will mean, for we will not have carnal desires, so I begin to question if we will not be more like children who do not even think of things in that light.

    To find better understanding of the mind of heavenly father’s regarding it’s removal, one might see parallels in D&C section 124:49…
    “49 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.”

    Finally, we know that Abraham, his son Jacob was righteous and had more than one wife, David would have been righteous with more than one wife had he not conspired to murder Uriah by the sword (The lord even would have given him more wives had he not sinned), Moses had more than one wife and was righteous, Gideon was righteous and also had many wives. Maybe you can rationalize that these people were following the culture, but it’s noteworthy that only in cases that people married out side of the covenant, did people run afoul of god or his prophets. Not to mention that Levirate law specifically provides for polygamy for time and mentions it for what might be eternity esp. given what the LDS church does in it’s work for the dead (baptisms, endowments, and marriages).

  4. Obviously, there are minor errors in my comment (Jacob was Abraham’s grandson, temple sealings not mentioned, while I am obviously aware that people run afoul of god for unrighteousness from my comments about David, I don’t explicitly state that, I seemingly downplay the role of pro-creation in the afterlife while all I am really doing is acknowledging that there is a real void in my own understanding as touching on the afterlife and the ramifications of our sealing promise, etc.) but the thrust of my points are there. Focus on the message and not the minutiae.

  5. Amadeus:

    I believe John Taylor answers most of your questions in his letter to Malinda J. Merrill of Fremont, Utah on 19 January, 1883. Here, he presents the historical interpretation of D&C 132 prior to its theological revisioning in the post-Manifesto Church. Specifically, he discusses the notions of “Celestial Monogamy,” the nature of “my law,” what it means to “do the works of Abraham,” and whether serial polygamy meets the requirement of the law of God in regards to Patriarchal Marriage.

    I think you will see from his remarks that Cheryl’s treatment of 132 has significant historical precedent, at least in the Utah period. I’d point out that John Taylor knew Joseph Smith personally, and was instructed by the Prophet on the matter of Plural Marriage and its significance in a way that Brian Hales was not. Here it is:

    Dear Sister–

    In regard to the question which you have proposed pertaining to plurality of wives, you say, “According to my way of understanding the Revelation, I thought it was sealing, but some say it is plurality.” Permit me to say that it is both; you will find that the revelation is on the Eternity of the Marriage Covenant, including Plurality of Wives, and the first paragraph reads, “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand, to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines.” [D & C. 132:1] The question that was asked was evidently in relation to those people, and especially in relation to the Plurality of wives. In the 4th verse it is said, “For behold, I reveal unto you a New and an Everlasting Covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant, and be permitted to enter into my glory. For all who will have a blessing at my hands, shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world. And as pertaining to the New and Everlasting Covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof, must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.” [D & C 132:4-6]

    You ask, “If a man and woman go to the house of the Lord and get their endowments and are sealed for time and all eternity, and they two live together quietly and peaceably and teach their children the principles of life and salvation, and bring them up in the fear of the Lord, will they gain an exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom, with a continuation of their seed or not? I have been sealed to my husband, and my patriarchal blessing says, `I shall raise children in the Millennium,’ and I would like to live so as to gain that blessing. I hear men say that one cannot gain an exaltation and a continuation of their seed in the eternal world unless they take more wives than one, and I am anxious to understand it.”

    In fulfilling this, you have entered so far into the everlasting covenant, which is so far acceptable before the Lord, but in regard to the law, it is further said, (verse 32) “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law. . . .” The question is, WHAT IS THE LAW? The 34th verse says, “God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law, and from Hagar sprang many people. this, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.” In the 37th verse it is said, “Abraham receive concubines, and they bear him children, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law, as Isaac also, and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded. . . .”

    “David also received many wives and concubines, as also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me.” (38th verse)

    You seem desirous to take part of the law and reject the other part, but it is plainly stated as above quoted, that they were “to do the works of Abraham, and that if ye enter not into my law, ye cannot receive the promise of my Father which was made unto Abraham.” It is further said, “God commanded Abraham and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife, and that the reason why she did it was because it was the law.” It is evident, therefore, from the whole of the above that other wives are included in this law as well as the one.

    You further inquire: “What is the difference in a man having dead wives sealed to him, than living women, so that he has one living wife; will they gain as great an exaltation if they have dead women sealed to them as they would if they had living women sealed to them?” This law pertains more particularly to the living, and on this point I refer you to verse 52 wherein it is said: “And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.” And in the 64th verse: “And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my Priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe, and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God, for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.” This is the law of Sarah, “who administered unto Abraham according to the law, when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife.”

    You seem to be desirous of having dead women sealed to your husband instead of living ones, whereas the law pertaining to these matters does not put things in that shape. We read that the Lord commanded and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife, and it is for wives as well as husbands to perform their part in relation to these matters as explicitly stated in verse 64 wherein it is said: “If he teaches unto her the law of my Priesthood as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God.” Circumstances do not always place it in the power of man to enter into this Covenant and these matters are left with the Lord to adjust, but no man or woman has authority to point out any other way than that which the Lord has appointed.

    Respectfully, your Brother in the Gospel,

    [signed] John Taylor

  6. Gary Bergera: “Plural marriage seems to have been the apex of Joseph’s doctrine, and reproduction its most important raison d’etre.”

    It apparently continued to be so in the theological views of his successors in the Priesthood. In an 1882 revelation on Celestial Marriage, John Taylor taught:

    “This law is a Celestial Law and pertains to a Celestial Kingdom. It is a new and everlasting covenant, and appertains to thrones, principalities, powers, dominions, AND ETERNAL INCREASE IN THE CELESTIAL KINGDOM OF GOD.”

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  8. Why does the ‘lie’ that Abraham was commanded by God to take Hagar to be his wife still get promoted as the truth?

    Abraham was NOT commanded by the Lord: Genesis 16:1-2 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

    2 And _Sarai said unto Abram,_ Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. _And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai_. NOT GOD!

    Using a primitive, cultural way of using slave women to bear children for an infertile woman doesn’t sound like a very ‘stand up’ way to act. Why do Mormons insist on blaming God for this travesty?

    I have pointed out this error so many times to various bloggers. The Haleses use the same error as Brian did in his participation in the Church’s Essay on Nauvoo Polygamy. If an argument begins with a false premise, the information that follows it is invalid.

    Great blog Cheryl.

  9. Hello, Jean:

    According to Speiser in his Anchor Bible translation of Genesis with commentary, Abraham and Sarah are complying with Hurrian law on this point.

    God’s approval (not His command) is implicit in His angel sending Hagar back when she fled the situation, and in His material blessing of Ishmael — even though Isaac was the Child of Covenant.

  10. Perhaps we need to start referring to Abraham and Hagar as “approved” rather than “commanded” by God.

  11. Jean,
    Brian is actually very careful in his wording surrounding this point. He says: “While the Old Testament describes how Abraham took Hagar to wife at Sarah’s bidding, the Doctrine and Covenants adds the clarification of it being done by God’s command: ‘God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife.'” (132:34)

  12. Sometimes cherry picking works. Some times it does not. We cannot avoid the fact that Section 132 remains in the Doctrine and Covenants.
    I. 1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines–
    D&C 132:2
    2 Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.
    D&C 132:3
    3 Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.
    D&C 132:4
    4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permited to enter my glory.

    The reason the Lord revealed Sect 132 was to answer Joseph’s question about polygamy. POLYGAMY. The Lord will provide the answer if Joseph (or any of the rest of us) will enter an oath and a covenant, a New and Everlasting Covenant. If you don’t you will be damned. You cannot enter into the glory of the Lord, unless you agree to it. What does this NEC concern? Polygamy. Joseph asked the question about polygamy. The Lord answers about polygamy. This is not Three Card Monte. The question was asked, the Lord answers with Section 132. If you do not agree to it you will be damned. Agree to what? The Lord’s system of polygamy.

    If we throw out the offensive parts (those that pertain to polygamy) we abrogate the NEC. If the Lord, by revelation to his servants, does away with, or modifies it, in any way, we no longer have the NEC. The backstory is polygamy. It is not about beautiful Temples, beautiful long white dresses, and living arrangements that last until we tire of them. Mormon 8:33-41; 9:7-10, 20.

    Is there ANYTHING in the D&C that does away with the Lord’s system of compulsive polygamy? Well, if there is, it must be read with 84:33-42; 82:10. “I, the Lord am bound when you do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” Who has no promise? The Church.

    May we keep the promise. Good on you Cheryl.

  13. If we want pretty pictures, pretty dresses, and pretty ribbons, we can have them. If we want pretty Temples and the Praises of the world, we can have them, at a cost. Loss of the Holy Priesthood.

  14. If a person truly believes that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that his Word of the Lord revelations were from our true Creator– then the elephant in the living room is this: where is further revelation about the New and Everlasting covenant from the Lord as promised in D&C 132:66? Should we trust wise, learned, acclaimed writers “figuring out” more truth; or rather should we look for base, weak, ignored prophets with more Word of the Lord on the matter?

  15. Joseph attempted to show us the higher aspects of divine Union. The Adam Kadmon (the androgynous god) divided in half, one half Adam, the other eve. After the division, no reference is found of the Adam Kadmon. At the end of a grand cycle, the Adam Kadmon can be reunited again.

    The essence or origin of all creation is the unified field of divine oneness. First cause shattered shards of itself into creation, and we as people are the result. We are not whole or unified, but when we become aware of the light, we will begin the journey back into divine Union. This puts plural marriage into perspective. Joseph’s attempt was imperfect and messy, but he did well enough for us to be able to follow the path of breadcrumbs back into our celestial home.

  16. Every point Joseph made about plural marriage has its corresponding counterpart in the progressive evolution in the heavens. We should take care to not gloss over any word from Joseph’s pen or lips. There is a pattern and type for creation. Telestial worlds require biological sexual reproduction. In the higher worlds, things/laws are different.

  17. Hi,

    The Advanced Review Copy of my Reluctant Polygamist is available. I am giving folks a couple of months to review and comment before I finalize the text and formally publish it. It’s available on for cost ($8.25 for paperback, $0.99 for kindle).

    To comment on Phebe Holmes [Welling] and her recollection of the 1866 revelation that her mother had been married to Joseph Smith, you have to understand why Elvira and Jonathan were forced to tell their daughters and neighbors about what had happened in Nauvoo.

    Elvira’s eldest daughter, 16-year-old Marietta Holmes, agreed to marry handcart pioneer Job Welling shortly after the death of his English wife. Job Welling had two surviving children of the 7 his wife had birthed.

    In those days the only legitimate marriages were the ones performed by Church authorities in the Endowment House, or by special written permission to some high Church leader in the field (the only instance of which I am aware was written permission for Apostle Erastus Snow to marry a couple in St. George). So Job Welling and Marietta Holmes traveled from Farmington to the Endowment House to be married.

    In the ceremony, there were two names written that were deemed incorrect. First, Job Welling’s name was written as Job Wellings. As he had dropped the “s” when his family rejected him after baptism, the incorrect “s” at the end of his name has a strike through it in the record.

    The second correction is Marietta’s name, which was originally recorded as Marietta Smith. Marietta was born about 1850, long after there was any possibility that she could have been a biological child of Joseph Smith. There is a strike through “Smith” with “Holmes” written in a hand other than the hand of the recorder. I have not done enough handwriting analysis of the parties involved to be certain Marietta was the one who corrected the record, but it seems likely.

    It is after this that we hear of Phebe proclaiming that she will never marry a widower, an Englishman, or a polygamist. Basically, she has perceived an expectation that she marry the man her older sister has married.

    Elvira and Jonathan, either to inform Marietta why her name was written “Marietta Smith” in the Endowment House or in an attempt to curb Phebe’s open bigotry (nastiness to English people), explain that Elvira had been Joseph’s wife during Joseph’s life and that Jonathan Holmes only became her husband after Joseph’s death. While that may accurately portray the biological reality for Jonathan, in fact Jonathan and Elvira had been ceremonially wed before Elvira’s official sealing to Joseph.

    But they were trying to help their daughters understand, and they apparently deemed that explaining the technical details was more than was required. I don’t think they were wrong at that. By 1866 it was known the sons of Emma Hale [Smith Bidamon] and Joseph Smith were opposed to polygamy.

    In Elvira’s home, she was dealing with the impact of the confusion regarding polygamy on her own daughters. She apparently made the decision to tell them truths couched in a way to help them accept good men as husbands even if they happened to be married to other women. It was in this vein that Elvira would have testified to Phebe that she (Elvira) had been Joseph’s wife, sealed to him before his death, and that she lived with Joseph as a wife and Emma knew about it. Elvira might have been one of the women James Whitehead testified had been sealed to Joseph with the full participation of Emma Hale, thus she would not have been lying to say she was sealed to Joseph and Emma knew about it. Elvira lived next door to the Smith homestead and had lived in the homestead itself for years. We know that in 1844 Elvira was caring for the children in the Smith homestead because of descriptions of her telling stories to the children while Emma and Eliza are about town on Relief Society business and the kids are stealing cookies from the black cook (Jane Manning, who didn’t arrive in Nauvoo until the snow/frost season of 1843/1844).

    So there was no actual untruth in Elvira’s words, though the implications don’t seem to have been correct, given the biological data suggesting no one was having the implied sex with Joseph, other than Emma Hale.

    But Elvira’s description of her Nauvoo experience wrought the desired effect. In 1868 Phebe Louisa Holmes married. She became the wife of Job Welling, the widower Englishman, and her marriage to him made him a mortal polygamist.

    The assertion from Phebe about her mother’s relationship with Joseph Smith was recorded in the late 1930s, nearly a century after the events of which she spoke. It is hearsay evidence from an elderly woman, a woman who for some years by that point was dependent on pain-killing drugs. Both her sisters who had also married Job Welling were had been dead for decades (dying in 1901 and 1905).

    But the recollection regarding what Elvira and Jonathan said circa 1866 was not just from the lips of a potentially addled ancient daughter. Circa 1900 William Wright delivered a letter to LDS Church HQ, with a slightly garbled tale about Elvira and Joseph Smith and Jonathan not being Elvira’s husband until after Joseph’s death. William’s father, John Fish Wright had settled in Cache Valley and had apparently lived in a home where Elvira (Lavina in his letter) had lived. And so he had become aware of the lore regarding Elvira and her marriages to Joseph and Jonathan.

    By the way, I love John Taylor, but he clearly didn’t understand some things, or he would never have asked the question that elicited the 1886 revelation. Similarly I love John W. Taylor, but I agree with the LDS Church leaders of his day that he was wrong to continue to promote continued plural marriage as a requirement of the New and Everlasting Covenant. They’re my ancestors, so I think I might have a bit more concern about where they were and weren’t right than other polygamy hobbyists. Polygamy hobbyist that I am.

    At any rate, I am intrigued to see what review you would have of Reluctant Polygamist. I am sure I will learn things, and that will make the final book all the better.

  18. Cheryl notes: “Brian Hales reiterates his understanding of the most “significantly important” reason for establishing plural marriage. He believes that it allows a surfeit of worthy women who are unable to be sealed to an eternal husband the opportunity for exaltation. “It is not plurality itself that provides exaltation”

    Joe sez: Hmm. This is merely a spiritualization of a long-held (and mistaken) notion: polygamy existed because in pioneer days there were more women than men, and therefore men married those extra women “to take care of them.” And certainly procreation had little to do with it. I thought Brian had dismissed this myth, but he resurrects it and gives it a spiritual body here.

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