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Customer Review

on September 16, 2013
For those who have already read Volumes 1 & 2, this 3rd volume will seem more like a recap of information they have already read. However, this third volume, focusing on the motives behind Joseph Smith's polygamy rather than the mere facts gives Hales the chance to make sure we understand the weakness of facile explanations for Joseph's teachings and actions. Here is my comment on the individual chapters in this volume.

1 - Investigating the Origins - Hales lays out the spectrum of possible motivations for Joseph's marital and presumed sexual behavior, reminding us that most past examinations have failed to provide a theological context. One problem is the paucity of documentary sources giving theological context. Joseph's sons and their version of Mormonism (now the Community of Christ) maintained until recently that Joseph never did practice plural marriage, though now they acknowledge Joseph's actions and claim it was ecclesiastical abuse.

2 - Theological and Humanistic Interpretation - Despite the continual LDS position that Joseph Smith's teachings and behavior were inspired, scholars have ignored religious motivations. Hales provides an overview of scholarly theories including communal experimentation, psychological derangement (now largely debunked), and sexual appetite as motivation for Joseph's polygamy. Then there are the lurid fictional accounts, which have often been mistaken for actual history.

3 - A Restoration of Old Testament Practices - Polygamy in the Old Testament was clearly allowed, but Hales doesn't find that there would have been a theological basis for demanding universal polygamy or the large numbers of wives Joseph attained. There is even less theological grounding for polygamy in either the New Testament or the first two millenia of Christianity, in Hale's view (though I find his underestanding of Christian marriage practices prior to 1100 AD inadequate).

4 - Other Explanations - Hales lays out other justifications adherents or observers gave for polygamy, such as a supposed overabundance of women, the need to purify the people through trials, publicity, solving moral problems like female poverty and prostitution, producing physically and morally healthier offspring, or providing pre-mortal spirits many such opportunities to be born in "righteous" homes. I often found Hales' treatment to be male-centric, such as assuming that polygamy reduced prostitution merely because polygamous men were getting enough satisfaction at home while ignoring that fewer women would need to turn to prostitution when honorable alternatives are available.

5 - Joseph Smith's Pre-Nauvoo Theology - A concise overview of Joseph's public teachings regarding marriage and sexual purity, damning sexual licentiousness and requiring repentence for sexual intercourse outside marriage. This is a distillation of Chapter 2-8 of the earlier volumes covering the history of Joseph's polygamy.

6 - Authoritative Sources for Joseph Smith's Theology - Hales gives those unfamiliar with the people and documentation an overview of who the chroniclers were and when they wrote.

7 - Child-to-Parent Sealings - Discussion of the rationale for eternally binding or sealing parents to children in Joseph's theology. When done using proxies, this was seen as the key for binding all mankind together throughout time that they might be brought into God's kingdom. As this ordinance was viewed as too sacred to perform outside a temple, none of these sealings were performed during Joseph's life. Hales neglects the history of Emma's offer to Jane Manning, requesting this valiant black woman be sealed to Joseph and Emma as a daughter. However as Jane refused to be sealed to Joseph in lieu of her own father, it remains true that none of these sealings occurred during Joseph's lifetime.

8 - Husband-to-Wife Sealings - Joseph's teachings regarding the potential eternal nature of marriage can be traced to as early as 1835, though the associated deification of righteous men and women LDS commonly associate with eternal marriage is documented in a 1832 vision (D&C 76). Hales doesn't mention the precursors to D&C 76, namely Joseph's "translation" of the Abraham account in Genesis that likely prompted the initial revelation about plural marriage in Feb 1831 and the subsequent revelation about the purpose of the last days found in D&C 45 (Mar 1831). Hales spends a lot of time exploring the idea that eternal marriages were for the purpose of raising up "seed."

9 - The Premortal Existence - Extending the discussion regarding the nature of these "seed," Hales discusses the idea of spiritual birth (and a Mother in Heaven) in contrast to Joseph's teachings that we are eternal beings without beginning or end. Hales did not express that eternal existence and the possibility of spirit birth can be consistent, which I found frustrating.

10 - A Plural Marriage Theology - Hales explores the reason plural marriage needed to be established given Joseph's theology of eternal unions between parents and children (vertical) and eternal unions between husbands and wives (horizontal), dismissing the simple explanations of restoring Biblical polygamy and creating more devout opportunities for spirits to come to earth. It was fascinating to see the range of assertions regarding need for marriage in eternity and the supposed gross surplus of women in heaven. I personally prefer the idea that women only slightly outnumber men in heaven.

11 - The Law of Adoption - This gem of a chapter would justify a 5-star rating for the book even if I didn't like any of the rest of it. Hales explores the way early saints adopted themselves into the "family" of church leaders, and the belief in some circles that the "father" of such a family would be supported by his "sons" and "daughters." I loved the discussion of the vision-dream Brigham Young had of seeing Joseph and being told to be humble and faithful and keep the spirit of the Lord. This dream effectively ended the pyramid scheme idea of adopting individuals outside the bounds of natural family lines. In subsequent decades, the Church leadership overturned the idea of sealings for self-aggrandizement and emphasized sealings between those who had lived together as spouses and parents/children in life. Wilford Woodruff's April 1894 authoritative clarification of familial sealing precepts returned to Joseph Smith's original discussion of familial sealings, "seal on earth your sons & daughters unto yourself, & yourself unto your fathers." In November 1894 the LDS Church organized the "Genealogical Society of Utah" to aid genealogical research in accordance with this interpretation of binding mankind together in eternity.

12 - Plural Marriage in Joseph Smith's Theology - Hales examines the beliefs of modern Mormon fundamentalists who persist in practicing plural marriage even though Wilford Woodruff and Joseph F. Smith ended the practice by manifestos in 1890 and 1904. These beliefs are a) that plural marriage is required for exaltation, b) that the practice of plural marriage provides unconditional salvation, and c) that plural marriage itself is so important that it must be practiced illicitly. I think Hales does a pretty good job of skewering the arguments used by modern polygamists. As a descendent of John W. Taylor, the LDS apostle excommunicated for acting as though the 1890 and 1904 manifestos could be ignored but who spent the rest of his life sustaining the position of the LDS church, I am personally offended that Lorin Woolley and his ilk took it upon themselves to "steady the ark" and continue the practice of marrying multiple women simultaneously in mortality.

13 - Joseph Smith's Personal Polygamy - In contrast to the typical image that Joseph married women for sex and used his power to force women into compliance, Hales documents a reluctant Joseph, who let many opportunities pass him by and did not punish women who refused his doctrines (and the ceremony that often attended those doctrines). While Joseph did respond vigorously when attacked in the press, neither Sarah Pratt nor Nancy Rigdon were ostracized by Joseph. Joseph was willing to let wives leave him and marry others. None of his wives ever accused him of neglect, abuse, or deception. Even those wives who left Joseph or the Church refused to speak ill of him afterwards.

14 - Possible Motives for Thirty-Five Wives - Here Hales mainly criticizes some common assumptions about Joseph's motivations (libido, eternal 'advantages,' creating a dynasty, producing children when a legal husband is absent). Likewise, the idea that all these women were predestined to be his is only possibly substantiated in one case by a late recollection. While I liked Hales' critiques of banal motives, I do not feel he laid out the persuasive motive for why Joseph entered into dozens of marriages, even if (or especially when) the vast majority were not consummated. (I think Joseph's motive is entirely understandable, just that Hales didn't explain it well.)

15 - Accepting Polygamy - Why did others accept Joseph's teachings and persist in practicing polygamy for over 50 years (1842-1890/1904)? Why do Mormons arguably still countenance eternal plural marriage today through their marriage policies for widows and widowers? Hales maintains that it was not Joseph's powers of persuasion or the presumed gullible nature of Mormons. Rather it was the individual charismatic or spiritual experiences of others, once confronted with the doctrine of celestial marriage and the possibility of plural marriage, that persuaded individuals other than Joseph Smith to accept polygamy.

Malachi wrote the whole world would be wasted at the final coming of God if the hearts of the children did not turn to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to their children (Mal. 4:5-6). This warning is referred to in the New Testament (Luke 1:16-17) and repeated or alluded to in all additional canonized volumes of scripture embraced by the LDS faith (3 Ne 25; D&C 2, 27, 110, 128; JS-H). This warning culminates the first scripture Joseph Smith recounted the Angel Moroni quoting to his teenaged self (JS-H 1:36-39). Joseph's theology clearly taught that this "turning" was to be accomplished through child-parent and husband-wife sealing covenants (for which baptism is prerequisite for all accountable individuals). Polygamy becomes a necessary allowance if all mankind is to be sealed together as husbands and wives, parents and children. The family of mankind is a complex thing, including a variety of eras where polygamy has been practiced and a vast multitude of serially monogamous marriages that would become polygamous marriages when projected into eternity. Old Testament folkways, if not mores, allowed for polygyny and levirate marriage. But Old Testament policy does not justify a need for polyandry - when a woman married multiple times, the children are attributed to only one husband (e.g., Tamar, Ruth). New Testament teachings clarified but did not modify the Old Testament practices, and Christian marriage practice did not become exclusively monogamous by policy until after the 11th century (related to the marriage reforms for which Saint Margaret of Scotland was canonized).

The practice of plural marriage was something Christianity had lost for a mere few hundred years prior to Joseph's time. Yet without the possibility of plural marriage, it would be impossible to weld the family of mankind together via celestial marriage in the sealing linkages Joseph believed were required to fulfill God's mandate recorded by Malachi. And as baptism would be performed on behalf of all these individuals as a prerequisite, this is the mechanism by which the salvation of all mankind would be effected, a salvation to include those now deceased as discussed in Isaiah 61:1, John 5:25, 29; and 1 Peter 4:6 (see D&C 138).

I loved the remembered recollection of Joseph's quandry with which Hales ends this Volume:

"[God] said to me that unless I accepted [celestial and plural marriage] and introduced it, and practiced it, I, together with my people would be damned and cut off from this time henceforth...

"If I do not practice [celestial and plural marriage], I shall be damned with my people. If I do teach it, and practice it, and urge it, they say they will kill me, and I know they will. But... we have got to observe it. It is an eternal principle and was given by way of commandment..."
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