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Where Are Joseph’s Children?

If Joseph Smith had dozens of acknowledged wives and yet no children except with his first wife, it’s natural to ask why.

One possible explanation is that Joseph Smith didn’t have sex with his plural wives. According to sworn testimony of some of his wives, this is not the case.

Another explanation is that Smith did in fact have such children that aren’t publicly acknowledged because the children go by other names (e.g. by the name of the mother’s other polyandrous husband). This seems to be the case. (ibid)

Yet another explanation for the relative scarcity of children is that abortion was practiced in Nauvoo (though the impartiality of the witnesses for this is doubtful).

I honestly don’t have any firm conclusions about what went on between Smith and his women. It’s nigh on impossible to know. Of one thing I am confident: the history of Joseph Smith is not as clear and pure as LDS sunday school lessons would have us believe. While it is possible that Joseph Smith was above reproach, the evidence seems to me to weigh more heavily in the other direction. I tend to believe that Smith simply fits the oft repeated archetype of cult leader taking sexual liberties with his followers.[1] [2] [3] It is certainly the simpler explanation when compared with angelic visitors and divine commandments to wed other men’s wives.

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The Wives of Joseph Smith

TAG recently sent me a link to The Wives of Joseph Smith which contains a short biography on most if not all of Joseph Smith’s wives. (Thanks, TAG.) It seems well researched and reputable. The most interesting to me are the stories about his wives who were still married to living men at the time of their marriage, like the story of Zina Huntington Jacobs who was the polyandrous wife of three men: Henry Jacobs, Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young.

In 1839, the Huntington family arrived in Nauvoo, along with daughter, Zina. Within months, Zina’s Mother died from the malaria epidemic which claimed the lives of many of the early Nauvoo settlers. About this same time, Zina met and was courted by Henry B. Jacobs, a handsome and talented musician. Sometime during Henry’s courtship of Zina, Joseph Smith explained to Zina the “principle of plural marriage” and asked her to become one of his wives. Zina remembers the conflict she felt about Joseph’s proposal, and her budding relationship with Henry: “O dear Heaven, grant me wisdom! Help me to know the way. O Lord, my god, let thy will be done and with thine arm around about to guide, shield and direct …” Zina declined Joseph’s proposal and chose to marry Henry. They were married on March 7, 1841.

Zina later wrote, that within months of her marriage to Henry, “[Joseph] sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life’”. Joseph further explained that, “the Lord had made it known to him she was to be his celestial wife.”

Zina chose to obey this commandment and married Joseph on October 27. She later recalled, “When I heard that God had revealed the law of celestial marriag … I obtained a testimony for myself that God had required that order to be established in this church … I made a greater sacrifise than to give my life for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honerable woman by those I dearly loved …”. Zina continued, “It was something too sacred to be talked about; it was more to me than life or death. I never breathed it for years”.

Zina’s first husband, Henry, was aware of this wedding and they continued to live in the same home. He believed that “whatever the Prophet did was right, without making the wisdom of God’s authorities bend to the reasoning of any man.” Over the next few years, Henry was sent on several missions to Chicago, Western New York and Tennessee. Henry missed his family and wrote home often. One of Henry’s missionary companions, John D. Lee, said, “Jacobs was bragging about his wife and two children, what a true, virtuous, lovely woman she was. He almost worshiped her …”.

Shortly after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, Zina married Brigham Young. In May of 1846, Henry was sent on a mission to England. In Henry’s absence, Zina began to live openly as Brigham’s wife and remained so throughout her life in Utah. Henry seemed to struggle with this arrangement and later wrote to Zina, “… the same affection is there … But I feel alone … I do not Blame Eny person … may the Lord our Father bless Brother Brigham … all is right according to the Law of the Celestial Kingdom of our God Joseph.”

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Change Blindness

The Situationist excerpted an article about change blindness and included this related video.

Were you taken in, even though you knew it was about change blindness? I don’t think this shows that we are deficient because we failed to notice what should have been obvious. As the article suggests, it would be dysfunctional to be aware of everything around us at that level of detail. Conscious thought is a limited resource because our brains are limited in size thanks in part to the limited size of women’s hips (I am sure mothers thank the stars that babies’ heads aren’t any larger). We just don’t have enough brain to take in more information.

Predictably, I thought about this in relation to Mormonism. The doctrines of Mormonism have changed radically over the course of its short history, yet people still insist that the Gospel according to Mormonism is eternal. Even in my own lifetime, doctrines have changed enough that I have noticed some changes.

Some may dismiss these as changes in Mormon folk doctrine, but that’s really all Mormon doctrine is. It lacks a defining written or oral creed, so everything is folk doctrine. That’s beside the point.

I’m talking about how unaware I was of these changes. I thought the changes in doctrine were minor and inconsequential. I absorbed this attitude from the people around me who all seemed to believe that the Gospel was unchanging. Why this belief despite ample evidence to the contrary?

The answer is complex, to be sure. Perhaps human change blindness can help explain some of it. If changes in doctrine are made quietly and slowly enough, it is quite easy to forget that we used to believe differently just a few years ago.

For example, I’ve recently learned that the LDS church has begun sealing women to more than one husband though not at the same time. Let me explain for anyone unfamiliar with the niceties of Mormon practice. A sealing is a marriage for “time and all eternity”, an eternal marriage. If a person’s eternal spouse dies, Mormonism considers them to still be married. So you can’t get sealed to another spouse after your first spouse dies because you’re still married to someone else.

Except that this is Mormonism and polygyny is okay. Men have long been allowed to be sealed to another woman as long as all previously sealed wives have died. Polyandry, on the other hand, isn’t kosher in the LDS church (even though Joseph Smith apparently practiced it), so women have only been allowed to be sealed to one husband ever. Make sense?

Anyway, that’s recently changed. As I mentioned, women are now allowed to be sealed to another man after their spouse dies. This may seem to some to be a small policy change, but this policy was based on the doctrine that polygyny was ordained of God while polyandry was not. I’m sure the rationale is that God will sort out in the world to come which (one) man the women will be sealed to forever.

I can’t help but speculate, however, that this represents another example of how Mormon doctrine changes over time without anyone suspecting it. Maybe a few years down the road Mormons will believe that God will also sort out which one woman a man will be sealed to, that polygamy was just a practical expedient here on earth to raise up Mormon seed to God, and that all polygamous sealings will be dissolved in eternity. That’s a long way from teaching that polygamy would be required of everyone who wanted to inherit the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

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[I have the distinct feeling that I've said this all before. If that's true, just chalk it up to early onset senility and take it as a reminder.]

Some may question why I criticize the heartfelt beliefs of others, even those who are closer to me than anyone else in the world. I do it because I am mindful of my legacy.

I often hear stories about people whose parents or grandparents were Mormon but who left activity in the church. These people learn about Mormonism, join the LDS church, and are left wondering why their parents or grandparents left such a wonderful institution. I hear other stories about children who grow up without religion but find it later in life.

In short, my reason for criticizing religion is that I don’t want that to happen to my descendants. If they choose to follow religion, I want them to know exactly why I chose not to do likewise. I want them to hear my reasons and thoughts on the subject. I don’t want them to stumble blindly into faith. If they believe in God, I want them to understand exactly what my thoughts were on the subject. If they come to a belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, then I want them to also know that he married dozens of women, some polyandrously while their husbands were away on missions that he had called them to, some as young as fourteen, for example. I want their faith to be tempered by all of the evidence available and by asking tough, critical questions. I don’t want them to come to their beliefs through indoctrination, and I don’t want my lack of faith to be an enigma.

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