Strange Doctrine

This entry is part 1 of 62 in the series 2010

Posted June 16, 2010
Duke asks:
And what do you make of the alleged revelation that initiated all of this? It’s an interesting document. For a while I thought Brigham had manufactured it because the tone is so different, but far as I can tell the historical evidence doesn’t support that hypothesis.

The story is that Emma was so enraged with the revelation of plural marriage that she burned the written revelation. Interestingly there are conflicting accounts on this. One says that Joseph asked her to burn it. Another says they burned it together and still another says that Joseph burned it himself because he thought the principle would be misused and destroy the church.

It is said the Joseph’s scribe William Clayton preserved a copy of the revelation, but others say there was no copy and it was reconstructed from memory.

It didn’t surface again until Brigham Young published it in Salt Lake City in 1852, 8 years after Joseph’s death.

Unfortunately we do not have access to the original copy of the revelation. The chances are very high that it was worded somewhat different than the published text we have today.

There is a lot of evidence that Joseph was conflicted over the principle. Here is what I think happened.

Shortly after he started the church with a goal to “restore all things” he read about the numerous polygamists in the Old Testament – those men considered great prophets such as Abraham, Isaac Jacob, Moses, David Solomon and others.

He wondered if there was some type of principle around this that needed to be restored. He sought a revelation and seemed to get a few things around it but wasn’t satisfied with what he received. Something seemed to be missing.

Then within a short time he found that there were many attractive females who adored him and as he became friends and eventually close to a number of them the idea of plural marriage became much more attractive and he began to ask himself where the boundaries were. Did the old prophets get the wife’s permission? Could they take any woman they considered attractive? Was anything permissible if all were in agreement and there was no betrayal?

I’m sure Joseph considered this statement by Jesus:
“And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 8:11

If polygamists such as Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, were in the kingdom of heaven then why couldn’t he, a prophet in his own age, also take extra wives and yet also enter the kingdom?

This thought lowered his normally high defenses and the more he became attracted to certain females the more he felt obligated to create a doctrine in his mind to make plural relationships acceptable to his conscience.

He finally concluded that he would be innocent of sin if he merely followed in the footsteps of the ancient prophets. He then had several women sealed to him and had sex with them.

This caused a euphoria on one hand and a consternation on the other that he had betrayed his wife. He felt at first that he would not need his wife’s permission but then concluded it was wrong to do it without it. This realization causes him later on to attempt to get Emma’s cooperation. He had sex wit some females but nothing like is imagined by his enemies for he was very conflicted about where the line of right and wrong was in the matter. This is why DNA tests have not found a child fathered by him outside of Emma.

This whole thing opened a Pandora’s box that he did not anticipate. Word of his activities leaked out to church leaders and they wanted an explanation.

He couldn’t just tell then that he was experimenting, trying to find the principle behind the whole thing so he had to formulate a doctrine around it and explain it as part of a “new and everlasting covenant”.

Immediate almost everyone wanted in on the deal.

Now Joseph was planning on keeping the whole idea private until he had clearly formulated what was right and wrong but now he was forced to present it to his inner circle as one of those mysteries for which the world was not ready.

As time passed and he saw how his brethren were misusing the principle – using it for gratification and unjust authority – he tried to refine the principle. Any revisions did not seem to have a positive effect. In addition he and his brethren were forced to lie to save the church from possible destruction. This gnawed at his soul. Finally, shortly before his death he concluded that there was something inspired about multiple relationships but multiple sex partners overall was destructive to the spirit of the church and needed to be stopped.

He then made the statement that after the Nauvoo temple was completed that he was going to set the church in order.

Unfortunately, he was killed before the temple was finished.

It is thought in some circles that some church leaders who wanted polygamy to continue without restrictions were in on a plot to kill Joseph because they knew he planned to virtually eliminate or drastically curtail the practice.

It is interesting as to how much mystery there is behind the life of Joseph Smith when compared to other famous men in his time.
Copyright 2010 by J J Dewey