Thanks for the questions. I’ll put my responses interlineally. Some of the responses are long so hang in there.
Over on /r/latterdaysaints this Wednesday at 4pm MT, Brian and Laura Hales’s are doing an Ask-Me-Anything (AMA). These are my questions for them:
- I have two friends who do not believe Joseph Smith actually practiced polygamy (and both have done a fair bit of research on the topic). The argument for this position is somewhat compelling (example1, example2; discussion, rebuttal). In your opinion, what are the best pieces of contemporary evidence that demonstrate Joseph Smith was practicing polygamy?
Plural marriage in Nauvoo was a clandestine practice. Zina Huntington recalled: “We hardly dared speak of it. The very walls had ears. We spoke of it only in whispers.” While all early polygamists may not have obeyed this strict code of silence, this sentiment suggests few polygamy insiders would have created discoverable documentation of the practice.
Several sources from the early 1840s, a private journal and declarations from former Latter-day Saints, provide manuscript evidence that Joseph was a polygamist. The earliest is from excommunicated John C. Bennett who in October 1842 identified several women who he claimed were sealed to Joseph Smith, including Agnes Smith, Louisa Beaman, Presendia Buell, Elizabeth Davis Durfee, and Patty Sessions. Whether Bennett learned this from Joseph Smith directly, from Nancy Rigdon, from rumors, or some other source is controversial. The identities published by Bennett are further corroborated by numerous later recollections from credible testimonies, which gives credence to both declarations.
As quoted below, William Clayton recorded in his journal on July 12, 1843 that he “wrote a revelation” dictated by the Prophet “showing the designs in Moses, Abraham, David and Solomon having many wives and concubines &c.” Dissidents William and Jane Law both signed affidavits on May 4, 1844 stating that they had read that document. On that same day, Austin Cowles signed his own affidavit:
In the latter part of the summer, 1843, the Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, did in the High Council, of which I was a member, introduce what he said was a revelation given through the Prophet; that the said Hyrum Smith did essay to read the said revelation in the said Council, that according to his reading there was contained the following doctrines . . . the doctrine of a plurality of wives, or marrying virgins; that “David and Solomon had many wives, yet in this they sinned not save in the matter of Uriah. This revelation with other evidence, that the aforesaid heresies were taught and practiced in the Church.
While these few references are not numerous, most are from credible contemporaneous sources and demonstrate that Hyrum and Joseph were both involved with plural marriage during their lifetimes.
I have an article coming out in the next few months showing how the arguments of advocates of the idea that Joseph Smith was a monogamist, are in error. It is quite detailed and compete.
- I tracked down Oliver Cowdery’s 1838 letter to Warren Cowdery (through your resources primarily, thank you), but even that is a copy by Warren so isn’t the original letter (if I understand the artifact correctly).
Oliver wrote the original letter to his brother, Warren A. Cowdery. That letter was apparently copied by Oliver’s nephew, Warren F. Cowdery (son of Warren A. Cowdery), into Oliver’s letterbook, prior to it being sent. Oliver’s level of participation with the transcription process is unknown. He may have been absent and uninvolved or he could have been closely monitoring the process when the copy was made. That is all we have.
- Dan Vogel recently released a series of videos (pt1, pt2, and pt3) examining the evidence which strongly suggests Joseph Smith was sexually involved with at least one of his polyandrous wives while she was still married and living with her first husband. What is your response to this research/perspective? Have Vogel’s arguments influenced your thinking on this matter? If not, why not?
Dan Vogel’s videos are remarkable in several ways.
- There is nothing new in any of them. He simply rehashes materials from my 2013 books while adding a discussion of Josephine’s DNA.
- Dan’s videos would have been more useful if he has simply responded to my 2016 MHA presentation.
- As he made the videos, he apparently couldn’t resist the temptation to “make me eat my words” so-to-speak as he repeats over and over and over that my interpretation of the Joseph-Sylvia sealing has changed.
- His videos are probably going to be confusing to many viewers because he jumps back and forth attempting to refute my 2013 books and then my 2016 MHA presentation.
- The DNA evidence regarding Josephine’s paternity is not what I expected, but it was what I had hoped. Joseph’s sealings to legally married women are easier to understand if Windsor Lyon is Josephine biological father.
- In early 2014, Dan and I exchanged a series of emails (see https://mormonpolygamydocuments.org/hales-vogel/) In those I asked him to agree or disagree with various statements. To the sentence: “There is no solid evidence of polyandrous sexuality in any of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages,” he wrote: “[Vogel] Agree.” Dan was well aware of the Josephine Fisher affidavit at that time. Apparently in the past two years he has changed his mind.
- Dan Vogel’s methodology is “bread-crumb scholarship.” Follow the breadcrumbs (evidences and interpretations) just as he presents, do not look to the right or the left, and eventually you can arrive at his conclusion.
- Polyandry would have been an explosive practice—far more controversial than polygyny. There is no context for the alleged behavior. Dan reacts aggressively to the idea today but we are to believe the Nauvoo polygamists reacted very differently, very passively. Seems a bit unreal.
- Polyandry advocates suffer from two primary weaknesses. First, there is no context for a behavior that would have been highly controversial. Second, there is no unambiguous evidence. That is, there is no documentation that a woman in Nauvoo ever believed that she did have or could have two husbands at the same time.
- What is the best evidence that the law of adoption may have been practiced during Joseph Smith’s lifetime? And, if the law of adoption was considered by God (at any time) to be a viable form of sealing people together, any thoughts on why God (or the angel) did not prefer that method of sealing Joseph to the Kimball family rather than encouraging sealing to a 14 year old girl who “hated polygamy”?
By adoption I think you mean child-to-parent sealings? None were performed during Joseph’s lifetime because they can only be performed in a temple. One quotation has been touted as evidence of adoption sealings. John Bernhisel recorded this in his diary: “The following named deceased persons were sealed to me (John M. Bernhisel) on Oct 26th 1843, by President Joseph Smith: Maria Bernhisel, sister; Brother Samuel’s wife, Catherine Kremer; Mary Shatter, (Aunt); Madalena Lupferd, (distant relative); Catherine Bernhisel, Aunt; Hannah Bower, Aunt; Elizabeth Sheively, Aunt; Hannah Bower, cousin; Maria Lawrence, (intimate friend); Sarah Crosby, intimate friend, /died May 11 1839/; Mary Ann Bloom, cousin.” Some have claimed this was an adoption sealing, but the language is ambiguous. Keep in mind Joseph died without being sealed to his children or parents.
- The best case apologetic version of Joseph Smith’s polygamy still has Joseph:
- Prevaricating repeatedly about his and the Church’s practice of polygamy.
This is the low hanging fruit for critics. Please share with me documentary references to these “repeated” prevarications.
It is true that the Saints tried not to lie and employed creative language in attempts to not disclose plural marriage. Danel Bachman observed: ‘Most of these denials stressed semantical and theological technicalities. That is, the language of the defense was carefully chosen to disavow practices that did not accurately represent Church doctrines.” Todd Compton concurred: “Faced with the necessity of keeping polygamy secret, the Mormon authorities generally chose to disavow the practice, sometimes using language with coded double meanings.” Lawrence Foster wrote: “Smith himself most characteristically made indirect denials of polygamy in which he said simply that such statements were too ridiculous to be believed. But he always carefully refrained from saying that such statements weren’t true.” Fawn Brodie agreed: “The denials of polygamy uttered by the Mormon leaders between 1835 and 1852, when it was finally admitted, are a remarkable series of evasions and circumlocutions involving all sorts of verbal gymnastics.”
I have submitted a long article for publication in a peer review journal where I searched for every statement that could possibly be considered a denial. Three of the 22 statements (two from Hyrum Smith and one from Emma) are hard to explain. But I would argue that this criticism grossly overreaches and reflects little attempt to understand historically what early polygamists experienced.
- Deliberately deceiving Emma (e.g., sealed twice to the Partridge sisters to hide the first from Emma)
We have no evidence Joseph lied to Emma, but it is true he engaged in plural unions without telling her. For some observers, he is condemned for this behavior no matter the circumstances.
It is true Joseph was NOT perfect and he may have stumbled in his treatment of Emma. D&C 132:56 states: And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses, wherein she has trespassed against me; and I, the Lord thy God, will bless her, and multiply her, and make her heart to rejoice.” According to this verse, Joseph had “trespassed” against Emma and Emma DID forgive him. Critics today seem less forgiving; they readily condemn with so few facts at their disposal.
- Coercing a 7 month–happily married–pregnant woman to marry him (Zina Huntington)
“Coercing” is a loaded word and I’m quite certain Zina Huntington would be offended by it. This was a non-sexual sealing for eternity-only for reasons we do not fully understand. How readily people criticize it today even though Henry Jacobs, Zina’s legal husband, left no criticisms. BTW, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner was also pregnant when sealed to Joseph. 🙂
- Coercing a 14 year old girl–who hated polygamy–with the promise of salvation for her entire family if she would marry him (Helen Mar Kimball).
Please check your facts. There is no record Joseph sought this union. Heber set it up. There is very good evidence the plural sealing was not consummated. In Utah, pluralists were told to wait until a woman was 18 before consummation. I believe this policy was started in Nauvoo by Joseph Smith. Helen wrote more to support polygamy and Joseph Smith than any other woman in the 19th century.
Why trust Joseph about the angel story when 1) the angel was commanding ethically dubious actions [see 4C] 2) Joseph was clearly willing to deceive the general public [see 4A] and his own wife [see 4B], and 3) Joseph was willing to subvert the entire plan of salvation as we know it in order to wed Helen [see 4D]?
I detect some circular reasoning. I have compiled 22 accounts from 9 Nauvoans who recalled Joseph taught about an angel appearing, the last time with a sword. See “Encouraging Joseph Smith to Practice Plural Marriage:The Accounts of the Angel with a Drawn Sword,” Mormon Historical Studies vol. 11, no. 2, Fall 2010, 23-39.
Helen Mar Kimball (Whitney) recalled in 1881 that in May, 1843, Joseph Smith, “said to me: ‘If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred.’” This quote is frequently cited as solid evidence that the Prophet promised exaltation to at least one of his plural wives and her family if they would submit to the marriage. Typically omitted from such accounts is the fact that one year later Helen clarified that she may not have understood everything correctly: “I confess that I was too young or too ‘foolish’ to comprehend and appreciate all” that Joseph Smith then taught. And contemporaneous evidence from more mature family members who were better positioned to “comprehend and appreciate” the Prophet’s promises to Helen demonstrates that she did, in fact, misunderstand the blessings predicated on this sealing.
- Latter-day Saints pay lip service to the idea that their leaders are fallible and make mistakes, but when pressed seem to never concede that a leader (besides BY) actually made a genuine mistake or did something wrong (a genuine mistake is not “he lost his temper that one time”). In your opinion, what did Joseph Smith do that was wrong? Was it wrong to hide polygamous marriages from Emma? Was he wrong for coercing Zina Huntington into marrying him? Was he wrong for coercing Helen Mar Kimball into marrying him with the promise of salvation for her entire family? Was he wrong for repeatedly prevaricating about his practice of polygamy and enlisting others to repeatedly prevaricate in his behalf?
In the first part of the paragraph above you bring up a very good point. Church members of my generation were brought up with an almost perfect Joseph. Joseph wasn’t perfect. Just weeks before his martyrdom, the Prophet exclaimed: “I never told you I was perfect.” “Altho’ I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am charg’d with doing—the wrong that I do is thro’ the frailty of human nature like other men. No man lives without fault.” The revelation on celestial marriage promises Joseph that God “will forgive all your sins” (D&C 132:50). “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” (D&C 132:60).
I think Joseph had a temper and we have 3-4 accounts where it became an issue for him. It also seems in Nauvoo he might have been overly authoritarian. Lorenzo Snow in a January 29, 1891 meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “I saw Joseph the Prophet do, and heard him say, things which I never expected to see and hear in a Prophet of God, yet I was always able to throw the mantle of charity over improper things.” He also commented: “When I saw the weaknesses and imperfections in him [Joseph Smith] I thanked God that He would put upon a man who had these imperfections the power and authority which he placed upon him . . . for I knew I myself had weakness and I thought there was a chance for me.”
Regarding your allegations, I don’t think he coerced either Helen or Zina and I expect they be upset to hear your accusation. We’ve discussed Joseph and Emma already.
- Church History
- The Church suppressed the 1832 account of the First Vision for at least 11 years. What other documents do you suspect (or know of) that the Church holds but has not released yet?
Please explain why you think this was “suppressed.” The Church Historians Office was remarkably disorganized. When the document was discovered, a big article was published in 1970 in The Improvement Era about it: http://debunking-cesletter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/IE-1970-April-FV-6-15.pdf
It appears we differ regarding the importance of the 1832 history (that includes a description of First Vision). I’ve studied all of the nine main accounts and am nonplussed by critics who say Joseph changed the story. You are entitled to your opinion, but I respectfully disagree.
- Any insight into why LeGrand Richards denied the existence of the seerstone when asked about it in an interview?
I’m unfamiliar with it, but I understand the seer stones were in the First Presidency’s vault, which Q12 wouldn’t have access to and Joseph Fielding Smith seemed to keep a pretty tight hold on things as Church Historian.
- In many Church manuals in use today, the Church teaches that Adam lived approximately 6000 years ago. How do you reconcile this with the evidence that humans descended from a group of individuals and we have good evidence of the continual habitation of Jericho stretching back to around 9000 BCE? [Please note that virtually all BYU scientists accept the general validity of carbon dating. Here’s one example.]
The Church publishes the Biblical chronology, but I think the real question is what about humanoids living here before 6000 BC. Consider the 1909 First Presidency Statement:
These are the authentic statements of the scriptures, ancient and modern, and it is best to rest with these, until the Lord shall see fit to give more light on the subject. Whether the mortal bodies of man  evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God;  whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; [ whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God. For helpful discussion of the subject, see Improvement Era, Vol. XI, August 1908, No. 10, page 778, article, “Creation and Growth of Adam”; also article by the First Presidency, “Origin of Man,” Vol. XIII, No. 1, page 75, 1909.
Geneticist Ugo Perego recently taught: “And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly to bring forth the moving creatures that have life. . . it was from morning until evening that they called day; and it was the fifth time” (Abr. 4:20, 23). What the “preparations” constituted or how long it took for the “preparations” to bring forth life is not specified but is called a “time.”
We learn that after the earth was prepared with plants and animals, then “Is man found on the earth?” is asked. It appears God intervened at that point with the introduction of Adam and Eve and mortals who were undergoing a probationary period. Any previous biology (humanoids, dinosaurs, etc.) on this earth is not discussed or referenced.
- The Church uses a variety of hermetically sealed systems of thought to prevent members from ever arriving at conclusions outside of the orthodox LDS tradition. What are your thoughts on these systems of thinking? Is it ethical to teach them to our children? (see grooming minds for additional discussion on the ethics of teaching children in this manner).
Joseph Smith gave this instruction: “if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14; see also D&C 50:19-22). I suspect what you label “hermetically sealed systems of thought” are what believers would call inspired teachings or things learned by the Holy Spirit. This explanation probably won’t be satisfying to you, but it is very real to those of us who have experienced it and continue to experience it. In fact, we would invite all to come to this “hermetically sealed systems of thought” because it is truth when validated by the Holy Spirit. Joseph taught: “But a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall declare whatsoever thing ye declare in my name, in solemnity of heart, in the spirit of meekness, in all things. And I give unto you this promise, that inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say.” (D&C 100:7-8.)
- Those who leave the LDS Church are viewed with great disfavor by those who remain. Do you believe the characterization of those who leave in Church manuals and by Church leaders is accurate? If not, what are you doing to change the rhetoric about former members?
I have embers of my own family who have left the Church. I always try to treat them the same way I treat believers. If some Church members don’t do this, that is unfortunate and wrong. I meet in Ward Council ever month and I don’t see any validation to the statement that we view “with great disfavor” those who have left the Church. Great efforts are made by Ward leaders and members to reach out to those who have left us to invite them back to renew their covenants.
- In the introduction to the document Five Key Facts, I made the claim “to the best of my knowledge, every point made in this document is accepted as factual by both LDS and non-LDS scholars”. Do you agree that every point I made is factual? Please correct me where I am mistaken.
- The 3rd facsimile is incorrectly translated.
Critics assume modern Egyptologists know everything about hieroglyphics, but it just isn’t true. There are several LDS Egyptologists who apparently do not detect the problems you imply (John Gee, Kerry Muhlstein etc.).
It seems that the critics make assumptions to fill in the gaps of what we do not currently understand and then they judge Joseph based upon those assumptions. There is still much we don’t know about the Book of Abraham.
Importantly, none of the critics seem to want to talk about the things on the facsimiles and in the text of the Book of Abraham that Joseph got RIGHT, but couldn’t not possibly have known on his own.
- The Book of Mormon is packed with 19th century ideas.
The “19th century ideas” are just problems that are common in almost any society in any age.
I’m preparing an in-depth analysis of the critics’ theories to explain how Joseph Smith was able to dictate the 267,000+ words of the Book of Mormon to Oliver in under two months. If someone wants to attack the Book of Mormon, maybe trying to figure out how a 23 year old farm boy spoke the text in real time without notes or books would be a starting point.
The Book of Mormon is a miracle and a sign to everyone that Joseph was a seer. The popular theory that Joseph was just really smart is inadequate when we start to understand the remarkable complexity of the Book of Mormon. The other theories are entertaining, but wildly implausible.
- Spiritual confirmations are common to members of many religions
The LDS Church does not have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit, truth, or goodness, but its leaders do possess the only authority that can perform valid priesthood ordinances. Joseph taught that as people respond to the Holy Spirit, it will lead them to these ordinances. (See D&C 84:46–48.)
- LDS leaders taught that the Priesthood/Temple ban was divine.
Brigham may have believed it, but other leaders did not. Currently, we believe that the reasons given for the ban (and there were several) were in error. I’ll refer you to the Gospel topics essay.
I can understand why someone would say, “Brigham was wrong about the priesthood ban so how do we know prophets are wrong about other things.” The answer is simply to follow the priesthood and the Spirit. We need the priesthood to perform valid covenant-making. The Spirit can guide us to know other details. If something seems amiss, God will correct it in His own time.
- Joseph Smith’s polygamy violates ethical principles.
Ethics are defined by society. In Abraham’s day, polygamy wouldn’t have been a problem and Abraham was a “friend of God” (James 2:23). Joseph’s saw himself in a bigger world than Midwest America in the 1840s. This won’t satisfy unbelievers, but I think it is an accurate description.
Thanks for letting me participate here.