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Plural Marriage Restored
One of the more controversial doctrines taught by the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith was that, under the proper circumstances, the marriage of one man to more than one wife was sanctified and holy.1 For puritan mentalities of nineteenth-century America, the practice was virtually unheard of except as an exotic practice of the "heathen Turks," and resistance was high.2 Nevertheless, Joseph Smith felt compelled to teach a new form of marriage which he believed the Lord had restored to the earth through him. Called the "New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage," it described how husbands and wives may be joined together in a bond that transcended death. Included as a part of this new marriage covenant was plural marriage as had been practiced by Old Testament patriarchs.3 Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage
Precisely when Joseph Smith learned of the correctness of plural marriage is not known. He published the Book of Mormon in 1830, which states: "For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none. . . . For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people, otherwise they shall hearken unto these things" (Jacob 2:27, 30). While specifying monogamy, this statement leaves the door open for future polygamy should God command it.
It appears that Joseph Smith may have asked the Lord about plural marriage as early as 1831. In that year Joseph felt inspired to revise the Bible wherein he reviewed the accounts of the ancient patriarchs who practiced polygamy.4 Abraham was married to Sarai (Sarah) and had two additional wives: Hagar (Gen. 16: 1-3) and later Keturah (Gen. 25:1) and concubines (Gen. 25:6). Jacob, (renamed Israel by God), had twelve sons by four wives and concubines (Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah). Moses too was a polygamist (Exod. 2:21; Num. 12:1). Early Church member Lyman E. Johnson recalled that "Joseph ...