Recently I read the book Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Toward a Better Understanding. This was a difficult book to do a review on and I battled back and forth whether or not to discuss it because Joseph Smith’s polygamy is a subject many if not most Mormons can’t handle. If you’ve taken the red pill Joseph Smith’s Polygamy will be very interesting to you. The author is a member of the LDS Church and writes on Joseph Smith’s marriages.
Joseph Smith’s polygamy starts by giving a doctrinal explanation of polygamy. It is mostly basic stuff you hear all the time in seminary class and Institute class. After the author gets through going over the doctrine of polygamy the book gets into dealing with the history of Joseph Smith’s polygamy.
The first interesting story is the story of the Angel with a Sword. Joseph Smith said that he was commanded by an angel on multiple occasions to enter into plural marriages. Joseph said that first he didn’t want to but eventually the angel returned and in the vision he was holding a sword, implying that Joseph would die if he didn’t take on more wives.
In his life Joseph Smith engaged in 3 kinds of plural marriages. The first kind was marriage for Time Only. These were marriages to women that would only last for this life but not be valid in the life to come. The second type of plural marriages Joseph Smith entered was marriages for All Eternity Only. These were marriages only in the life to come and not valid in this life. The third kind of plural marriages he engaged in are marriages for Time and All Eternity These were marriages for this life and the life to come.
One of the questions and accusations about Joseph Smith is that he engaged in polyandry. Polyandry is a woman having more than 1 husband. This accusation comes from the fact that Joseph Smith engaged in marriages with married women who were legally married to non-Mormon men. In these marriages they were only for Eternity and not for this life. He never sexually consummated these marriages. So did he engage in polyandry? Not really but, it looks weird to outsiders for sure.
After the Mormon Church moved from New York to Kirtland, Ohio one of the big accusations non members made against the church was that Mormons were engaging in polygamy. Joseph Smith and other church leaders denied these accusations. Anti-Mormons even claimed that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon being tarred and feathered in 1832 were over polygamy. It seems that the United Order was a part of the accusations of polygamy against the church. The early Saint’s were commanded to “have all things in common” and it appears that some of them took it to mean that they were even to share each other’s sex partners.
However it seems that this accusation against the United Order wasn’t a unique criticism against the church. The author talks about how there many groups were experimenting with “having all things in common” and that included partner swapping for them. The “interesting” things going on during the Second Great Awakening sounds like an interesting thing for me to read about for future study.
Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Toward a Better Understanding then gets into the interesting part of the book: Joseph’s wives. The first of his wives who get talked about is a girl named Fanny Alger. Joseph married her in 1835 or 1836 when she was 18 or 19 years old. Fanny and her family were faithful members of the church and she was a housekeeper in the Smith home. Oh and by the way, she was really cute. Joseph asked for her parents’ permission to marry her and they agreed to it.
Where the Fanny Alger story gets really interesting is the barn incident. One night Emma Smith heard some sounds in the barn and went out to investigate. She looked through a hole in the wall and saw Joseph and Fanny together. The author says that Emma didn’t say what she saw and that it could have been the ceremony, but then he goes on to admit that most likely Emma saw Joseph nailing Fanny. After the barn incident Emma went into a rage and kicked Fanny out of the house. Joseph and Fanny never had a child together, her family stayed faithful to the church and she eventually married a guy who wasn’t a member and had a big family.
The barn incident was a big story in Kirtland. Oliver Cowdery thought that it was adultery and lots of people talked about it. All throughout the 1830’s there were stories and rumors of Joseph Smith’s polygamy and sexual practices. They overwhelmingly come from anti-Mormon sources but there seems to be enough smoke to conclude that there was something to them. After the church moved to Nauvoo, Joseph Smith taught the Quorum of the 12 about polygamy. Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball were the first to get polygamous wives.
One of the interesting things in Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Toward a Better Understanding was how Joseph Smith learned how to run game on women he married. He developed a set routine where first he would go over to a woman’s house and while there he would teach the doctrine of Eternal Marriage. After teaching Eternal Marriage he would teach about Plural Marriage. Then he would ask the girl to marry him due to Heavenly Father’s commandment. I think of Joseph’s actions as Religious Leader Game.
One of the things about Joseph Smith’s polygamy was that it was responsible for driving away many of his closest allies. Oliver Cowdery did not follow the rest of the church to Missouri and Nauvoo after the Fanny Alger incident. Joseph Smith tried to marry Sidney Rigdon’s 19 year old daughter Nancy and soon after that incident Sidney Rigdon moved away from Nauvoo.
Emma Smith was not a fan of Joseph’s polygamy. She was livid over the Fanny Alger incident and drove her away. Over the years she came to some sort of an understanding about polygamy but she still didn’t like it. Emma Smith participated in several polygamous sealings. However a nasty pattern emerged where she would accept a plural wife, have her move in, abuse her, drive her away and repeat the pattern. It seems like it was some sort of nasty game Joseph and Emma played together. It goes a long way toward explaining why after Joseph’s death nobody cared for Emma and just abandoned her in Nauvoo.
So how do we reconcile Joseph Smith’s questionable sexual actions with the fact that he was a prophet of God called to restore the true and living church? The first thing to understand is Joseph Smith was an apex alpha male. In terms of personality and mental strength he was like this guy:
It takes a man with incredibly high amounts of testosterone and self confidence to say that he was called by God, release a new book of scripture, create a whole new religion and be willing to die over what he knows to be true. A man like that will have incredibly high personal confidence and will be nearly irresistible to women. It’s no surprise that many of the women he married were considered highly attractive. An apex alpha male like Joseph Smith will have an incredibly high sex drive AND the ability to fulfill his sexual needs. When you think about Joseph Smith and the kind of man he had to be in order to restore the Gospel it makes sense that Heavenly Father would allow polygamy because it was the only way to thread the eye of the needle on an apex alpha male and his sexual desires.
Who would I recommend Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Toward a Better Understanding to? If you have a strong testimony of the Gospel and a red pill mindset it is a great book. It allows you to gain a nuanced view of Joseph Smith and a greater understanding of our history, even the not pleasant parts. It gives us a good understanding that Joseph Smith brought some of the early persecutions of the church on himself and our church. I wouldn’t recommend Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Toward a Better Understanding to Mormons who got on the internet and found out that Joseph Smith had many wives and are now questioning their testimony. It will only makes their questions worse and damage their faith. Overall Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Toward a Better Understanding is a good book and adds to our knowledge of Mormon history.
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