On the Burden of Dealing with Polygamous Founders

It is tough to deal with being a member of a church which had polygamous founders. It’s not easy to look back through your religious history to the key figures, some of the ones on which the entire system rests, and note their ugly warts. Why did they choose to take more than one wife? Why did they even embrace polyandry, the taking of other men’s wives? Were these men sex addicts, deviants, or worse? How can a modern member deal with such a blatantly misogynistic practice? Not to mention the lying about wives. Is there any place in today’s society for a church based on such a barbaric law? It’s a tough question.

Yes, I just don’t know how the members of the Jewish faith — and its little offshoot, Christianity — can go to sleep at night, knowing what they do about Abraham’s polygamy.

The facts are ugly. First, there is Abraham’s polygamy — no doubt about that one, is there? Then, there is his (probably related) cruel treatment of at least one wife. And there are related questions that immediately spring to mind. How old was Hagar when he married her, anyway? Was Abraham’s polygamy related to his openly granting permission for his own wife to flirt with another man? The ugly specter of polyandry raises its head. And lying about his own marital status, as well! (Perhaps to better flirt with the cute Egyptian servant girls?) This is just so much to have to deal with.

I guess there are many ways that we can try to deal with Abraham’s polygamy.

Perhaps we can blame it on the culture of the time. Things were different then, we can say. (But if things were so different then, is it really right to believe on this fellow as a prophet? Good question).

Second, we can question the validity of the history. Did anyone actually _see_ Abraham marry more than one woman? Where’s the marriage certificate, anyway? I’m not believing a thing until you show me a piece of paper, buddy.

Similarly, maybe we can say “This is all probably just a misunderstanding. It’s been sensationalized by anti-Abrahamites. You know, I’ll bet if you actually asked Abraham how it went down, he would have a lot of corrections to make to the historical record.”

Third, perhaps we can say “Well, Abraham was surely inspired, even if his practice of polygamy wasn’t.” (Of course, that approach does raise its own questions — just how much can we really believe in a prophet who adopts such an uninspired practice?)

Fourth, we can quibble about details. What does “marry” mean, anyway? Did Abraham actually have sex with anyone except Sarah? Can you prove it? Maybe these were all _symbolic_ marriages.

Fifth, we can “put it on the shelf.” “I don’t know why Abraham was polygamous, but I’m at peace with it.”

Last, and most fun, we can give in to the criticism. Why deny the reality of the historical record? It’s clear as day — Abraham was a sex addict who used his wealth and position of religious influence to sleep with as many cute 14-year-old Egyptian and Chaldean girls as he could, all the while so disrespecting his own wife that he didn’t bat an eyelash when Pharaoh was making a pass at her.

And since Abraham was clearly a sex addict and deviant, there is only one logical conclusion. Abraham _cannot_ have been a valid prophet, and the religion he founded _cannot_ be true. His “scriptures”? Fabrications, likely. Take a look at those self-aggrandizing “sands of the sea” statements in them, anyway. The guy’s a fraud, and the solution is to drop his little “church” like a bad habit. (And of course take note as well that Abraham’s religion also cannot be a religion of which any woman should ever want to be a member, since it was founded on an anti-feminist polygamous base).

I mean, come on. Yes, it’s a little drastic, but so is polygamy, buddy. And be honest — is there any other way to deal with this?

So here’s your assignment for today. Talk to someone from either a Jewish or Christian background. Tell them about the shocking, hidden details of their founder’s polygamy. Demand an explanation. Don’t take no for an answer. Ask how they can _possibly_ believe their church to be inspired when its early prophet was clearly nothing more than a sex addict. And with any luck (and persistence), you just may be able to convince someone. The facts are clear: Abraham’s failings are so great that the only option is to renounce any reliance on such an obvious con man, his “scriptures,” the church he founded, or any of its offshoots (including the “Christianity” variant).

After all, who would want to have anything to do with a church founded by polygamists?

69 comments for “On the Burden of Dealing with Polygamous Founders

  1. March 28, 2005 at 11:29 am

    POACHER! Holy cow!

  2. danithew
    March 28, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Kaimi, what happened? Did someone at work or elsewhere pointedly confront you on this issue? This sounds like a response to something or someone.

    In the interest of fairness, besides Judaism and Christianity (which you point out), Islam also has a polygamous founder who had as many as nine wives at one time. Reportedly (I believe based on ahadith) Aishah was nine years old when Muhammad married her.

    Acceptable to us or not, polygamy has a very strong basis in history. Our assumption that polygamy is uncivilized or evil might be more of a historical anomaly than the norm or the rule. And yes, whenever Mormons are confronted on the polygamy issue, its always fun to start talking about Abraham and Moses.

  3. March 28, 2005 at 11:38 am

    Can you poach like this more often? This made me laugh out loud.

  4. Kaimi
    March 28, 2005 at 11:39 am


    Mostly, it’s a reaction to some musings by John Hatch about dealing with some other fellow’s polygamy.

    Alas, the problem may be bigger than I had originally realized . . .

  5. Nate Oman
    March 28, 2005 at 11:40 am

    Interestingly, Muhammad’s first wife — like Joseph’s first wife — was older than he was…

  6. danithew
    March 28, 2005 at 11:46 am

    By the way, it is fun to talk about Moses for a number of reasons. Not only did Moses marry more than one wife, but there’s the (gasp!) spector of interracial marriage to raise as well. Aaron and Miriam seemed quited peeved that Moses would marry an Ethiopian (Cushite) — to such a degree that the Lord had to step in and strike Miriam with a timeout by leprosy.

    Despite all the hullaballoo, I’m sure Moses and her had very cute kids.

    Some of the Jewish commentators try to deal with this by translating the Hebrew word (translated as Ethiopian in KJV) as “beautiful.” I’m not quite sure though why Moses’s immediate family would object so strongly to him marrying a fetching bride. The context and explosive reaction (in my opinion) point towards him marrying an African woman.

  7. March 28, 2005 at 11:51 am


    Are you engaging in the intellectual equivalent of name dropping or do you have a point?

  8. Elisabeth
    March 28, 2005 at 11:53 am

    I liked the question about whether or not Mormons would practice polygamy if polygamy were legalized. My guess would obviously be “no”, but we still have Section 132 and the Official Declaration #1 out there.

    So what is the real answer to this question? From the scriptures, it looks like the only reason why Mormons don’t practice polygamy is because it is against the law. What would the Church say if polygamy became legal?

  9. Kaimi
    March 28, 2005 at 11:54 am


    I’m glad I made you laugh. And as for frequency, I can try, although I don’t know if more often is possible — according to Steve, I poach more or less constantly.


    Name dropping is an end all in itself. Didn’t law school teach you _anything_?

  10. Ben S.
    March 28, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Thanks :)

  11. Sheri Lynn
    March 28, 2005 at 12:14 pm

    What, are we bringing this back? Is there someone, anyone out there who really loves doing dishes and laundry…



    /we need a wife…

  12. Adam L
    March 28, 2005 at 12:19 pm


    Since you asked, I’m a Jew and I’ll try to respond to your post (though I certainly don’t pretend to speak for other Jews on this subject). Further, before I answer, I want everyone who reads this to know that I’m not a critic of the LDS Church, nor do I have any problems with the Church’s explanation for its change in doctrine. In addition, please forgive (and correct) any theological mistakes I may make; my knowledge of Mormon theology is limited. That said, while I understand the point you’re making, I don’t think your analogy holds up well for three reasons.

    First, while Jews in biblical times may have practiced polygamy, polygamy has never been a tenet of Judaism, nor bound up as part of our religious doctrine.

    Second, neither Abraham nor ANY human being is central or necessary to the Jewish religion in the same way that the Pope is to Catholicism or Joseph Smith is to LDS. Abraham may be an inspiration to us, but he is not vital or necessary to Judaism. Prophets or not, Abraham, Moses, or any figure in Judaism can be discarded by us without affecting the basis of our beliefs: the Torah- God’s law. The human players in the evolution of Judaism mean nothing to Jews from a religious standpoint; all that matters is the law.

    Third, I think that the biggest theological difference regarding Jewish and Mormon polygamy is that Jews don’t have the concept of eternal marriage that Mormons do. As such, we don’t face the quandary of what happens to these eternal relationships when religious doctrine changes.

    Again, my intention isn’t to be critical or confrontational, but your attempt to paint the issue of biblical polygamy as exactly the same as LDS polygamy is a straw man argument that, to me, just doesn’t hold up.

  13. Nate Oman
    March 28, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    Mat: I just find the coincidence interesting. Also, my sister recently married a younger man, so the topic is on my brain. I am very glad that I have you here to peck at me though. It keeps me honest.

  14. March 28, 2005 at 12:28 pm


    Cool down buddy. I’m only pecking at you because I find your posts interesting;) My father’s wife is an older woman as well.


    Great post–we need a little perspective.

  15. Kaimi
    March 28, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    Adam L,

    Thanks for that explanation, it makes a lot of sense.

    Actually, I’ve never heard a bad thing about Mormons from a Jewish person, and I don’t mean to criticize Jews. I needed to include Jews as a conceptual link to Christianity because it’s a little strained to say that Christianity was founded by Abraham (as you point out, even saying that Judaism was founded by Abraham isn’t perfect). The main target of this post is the anti-Mormon arguments that I do hear often from various Evangelical Christians — “your founder was a polygamist! How can you accept that? Don’t you know that his church _must_ be false??”

    On a broader level, your reply is a great example of why broad anti-polygamy arguments are a bad idea. There are often good theological reasons why we _can_ go on just fine, despite polygamy (or any other issues) in our respective religious pasts. You’ve explained some perfectly good reasons from the Jewish perspective. And there are perfectly good reasons as well from the Mormon perspective.

    Thus, the critic who assumes that polygamy is an irrefutable trump card is misguided.

  16. danithew
    March 28, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    Adam L., I can see the point you are trying to make but I’m struggling a little bit with it. The lives and experiences of Abraham and Moses (particularly Moses) are woven into the Torah to such a degree that I have a hard time imagining how the Torah would exist without them. After all, the Torah is often referred to as “the five books of Moses.” How does one surgically separate the law from the prophets without killing them both? The possibility that the Jewish people could exist without Abraham or Moses — let’s just say (again) I’m struggling to accept that. What kind of Judaism would it be? From my perspective, that is essentially saying Judaism could nonchalantly lay aside the Akedah, the storty of the exodus from Egypt, etc. and etc. Again, how is that possible?

    I’m not Jewish — just a major fan of the Hebrew Bible who occasionally dabbles in reading Jewish commentaries. So I’m willing to be corrected as I could be very wrong. Maybe you’re simply saying that Judaism could be strictly interpreted as a numbered list of laws, rules and guidelines? Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding you.

  17. March 28, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    Having a slow work day…this is my second post on polygamy today, the other being on bcc, but I promise not to be redundant.

    Kaimi, I dont consider the facts to be ugly at all. I think in the light of modern day sensibilities polygamy doesnt have the practical utility it used to, so we look at it askance. Today in modern society the infant and maternal mortality rates are miraculously low. In underdeveloped societies maternal mortality rates are much higher (http://www.childinfo.org/maternal_mortality_in_2000.pdf). In an environment where childbirth has very real risks associated with it, the benefits of polygyny become instantly recognizeable. If you die in childbirth, who will nurse your child and keep them alive? Today in a modern society, there are plenty of alternatives, we have extraordinary health care, formula at the grocery store, day care, nannies, etc. Among rural nomads you had yourselves to rely on. If you died in child birth and your baby didnt, it fell to the rest of your family to keep that child alive. If there were other child bearing women in the family, then the father would be certain that baby got the care it needed. The practical utility of polygyny is lost on us today because the idea of a woman dieing in childbirth is alien to us. It just doesnt happen anymore, so we look at 2+ wives with a prurient eye. Not so long ago, with multiple wives in the family, your perception of them would be a lot different if you were having a difficult pregnancy and you barely survived the last one. Would your prayer to God be “Dear God, please strike down Leah because she has stolen my husband” or would it be “Dear God, if I die in childbirth, please soften Leah’s heart so she will help my baby live”.

    danthiew, in addition to the readings you offered, there are Rabbinical sources who forward the position that Miriam may have in fact been calling Zipporah a “cushite” as a slur, since she was not an Israelite, and that Moses had not literally married an Ethiopian. And, even if it was a literal black woman, Zipporah may have been dead at the time, so it was not necessarily polygamous. Maybe was, maybe wasnt.

    Adam L, with respect to your comments about polygamy not being a part of Judaism, that would be the case for Modern Judaism. It is plain from history that polygyny was practiced among Jews, albeit apparently not all that commonly, well into NT times and had fallen out of practice shortly thereafter. It is plain from the Torah that polygyny was permitted anciently as there are explicit rules governing its use and application.

  18. Frank McIntyre
    March 28, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    Adam L,

    I thought your comment was interesting that Judaism is not tied to any person in the way Christianity is tied to Christ. This is obviously true. But isn’t there some importance to historical figures? Is being a covenant people an important part of Judaism? Didn’t that covenant come through specific men? And if those men were lying about receiving that covenant, would not that be a problem?

    Why would it not be a problem if the Torah were actually not from God through Moses but made up wholesale by some nameless Egyptian who knew nothing of God? It seems to me that tying yourself to a text automatically raises the issue of where did the text come from and is that a divine mechanism. Obviously one can just take the Torah as being the revealed word no matter its origins, but at that point one is avoiding the problem by appeals to faith that could just as effectively be applied to people. Thus the real issue is the appeal to faith, not whether the religion is tied to individuals.

  19. Adam L
    March 28, 2005 at 12:56 pm


    Yes, I’m essentially saying that Judaism can be reduced to a set of laws- divine laws- and that the story and personages of how that law was delivered to us is secondary to the law itself. Jews don’t worship or revere Moses as a holy figure (in the way, say, the saints are). He was simply chosen as the conduit through which God would give the Jewish people His law. We celebrate Passover and Purim and various other holidays in order to recount and celebrate and give thanks for our history, but the central practice of Judaism is simply the following of God’s law: specifically 613 unchangeable commandments given to us in the Torah. All else are ceremonial trappings used to build community.

  20. Seth Rogers
    March 28, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    I’m not sure that the Church would embrace polygamy today even if it were legalized. At least not modern-day polygamous practice.

    When polygamy was practiced by church leaders, it operated within a strict societal and religious paradigm (with abuses to be sure). The whole practice was highly regulated and enforced by community leaders and when a polygamous marriage occurred, it was publicly ratified.

    Once the practice became illegal however, and the church stopped supporting it, these societal and legal restraints were removed and polygamy moved underground. While underground, polygamy morphed into something entirely different. A culture of secrecy grew up around it.

    Whenever, a practice goes underground and developes a culture of secrecy, you are going to have some serious problems spring up around that practice. This is why polygamy today is more associated with rape, incest, and child/spousal abuse.

    As for my own response to polygamy, I think I’ll go with Kaimi’s option #5.

    However, I’ll offer another possible explanation for polygamy in the early Mormon church:

    It might have been God’s way of testing the saints, so to speak. Kinda like Abraham being required to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. Knowing the cultural and religious upbringing of most early church leaders, you surely can’t believe this was an easy doctrine to swallow?

  21. March 28, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    Elisebeth: What would the Church say if polygamy became legal?

    I can’t say for certain, but I would guess that the church would not go back to it. The transformation of temple praxis would seem to preclude its adoption. That siad, praxis can change.

  22. danithew
    March 28, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    Adam L., thanks for your answer. I’m sorry if my question seemed too forthright. I can see the point you are making and I can respect that.

    Kurt, my basis for thinking Moses was polygamous is in Doctrine and Covenants 132:1,38:

    1 VERILY, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—
    38 David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me.

    Obviously Joseph Smith’s question about polygamy regarded many prophets and Moses’s name was included among them. The answer Joseph Smith gets confirms the idea that Moses was polygamous.

    Let me just add that it seems odd that Moses’s name is mentioned in conjunction with David and Solomon. My understanding is that David and Solomon had many many many wives. Moses, maybe not so many. Am I missing something here?

  23. Adam L
    March 28, 2005 at 1:07 pm


    Sure, whether the text came from God or not matters entirely; however, that (like all religion) is a matter of belief. What I’m saying is that, for Jews, it ultimately doesn’t matter that Moses was the figure God chose. We don’t find Moses any more divine than anyone else and don’t worship him in any way. Had God given the law to us through someone else that would have been fine. It’s the belief that the law is divine and living by God’s law that matters, not how it came to us.

  24. March 28, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    danithew, whoa, I totally missed Moses in that list. Thanks for pointing that out. That one never registered before.

  25. Nate Oman
    March 28, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    Adam L.: I think that this is essentially the same position that Mormons take with regard to Joseph. There is nothing particularlly divine about Joseph himself. Indeed, in the 19th century there was some speculation with regard to whether or not Joseph might have had some sort of quasi-divine status (ie was he the incarnation of the Holy Ghost), which was quashed by the authorities as false doctrine. Theologically, Jospeh Smith is a charged figure not because of his personal theological status, but rather because of the historical question of whether or not his revelations can be treated as reliable given what we know about his personal activities. It seems to me that this is precisely analogous to the theological problem presented to Judiaism by attacks on the historical integrity of the Torah. If the Law was cobbled together by a bunch of priests pursuing petty political agendas, rather than delivered by God in its entirety to Moses then one has a problem, not because the presence or absence of Moses in the story is theologically significant per se, but because the reliability of the text itself is undermined.

  26. danithew
    March 28, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    Adam, maybe we need to make it clear that we do not worship Joseph Smith. He is, to us, a prophet. Joseph Smith to us is a pivotal figure to Mormonism. Maybe though that is why I was having a hard time with what you were saying. Even though I don’t pray to Joseph Smith, it is still quite hard for me to imagine that the historical-religious narratives associated with Joseph Smith could be detached from Mormonism. For that reason it is difficult for me to imagine a Judaism completely detached from Moses.

    I guess in my perspective of religion and things, the divine and that which is worshipped is not all that is essential.

  27. ed
    March 28, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    Seth said: “When polygamy was practiced by church leaders, it operated within a strict societal and religious paradigm (with abuses to be sure). The whole practice was highly regulated and enforced by community leaders and when a polygamous marriage occurred, it was publicly ratified.”

    I’ve heard this a lot, but I’m skeptical. The part about “publicly ratified” certainly wasn’t true of Nauvoo-era polygamy, nor was it true of post-manifesto polygamy.

    Just how “regulated” was the practice? Who was a candidate, and who had to approve? Anybody know?

  28. Adam L
    March 28, 2005 at 1:19 pm


    Well stated.

  29. Adam L
    March 28, 2005 at 1:27 pm


    It wasn’t my understanding that Mormons worship Joseph Smith; however, unlike Smith, Moses was neither the leader nor founder of Judaism.

  30. Kevin Barney
    March 28, 2005 at 1:52 pm

    I’m surprised that some are expressing doubts as to whether the Church would go back to polygamy were such legalized. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever. If the Supreme Court today were to authorize it, we would still never go back to it as a church. Polyamy in mortality is finis, kaput, over with, outta there. It’s done, toast, and you can take that to the bank. It is absolutely inconceivable that GBH or a successor would stand up in GC and say “Well, the Supreme Court has answered our prayers, and so we’re going to start practicing polygamy again.” It will never happen. You have my word.

  31. Shawn Bailey
    March 28, 2005 at 2:01 pm

    We had a great moment over the weekend that inolved the burden of polygamous founders. We were talking to a neighbor couple and the topic of taxes came up. My wife said rather nonchalantly “if Shawn ever decides to take a second wife, I sure hope she is a tax accountant.” I busted up laughing on the inside. People from other faiths don’t joke about taking second wives, do they? Our friends didn’t seem phased at all, so I decided not to call attention to it. After gently teasing my wife about it later, she felt compelled to explain to our neighbors that I would never actually take a second wife. But that if I did, that woman would definitely be a tax accountant.

  32. Kaimi
    March 28, 2005 at 2:01 pm


    Without meaning to disagree with you on Jewish belief, let me follow up on your assertion that Abraham is not the founder of Judaism. I’m sure that I have heard him refered to by Jewish sources as the founder of Judaism. I don’t know enough about Judaism to know if I’m misinterpreting statements.

    Just to make sure I wasn’t misrecollecting, I google-searched and hit a few reputable-seeming web references to Abraham as founder of Judaism. For example, about.com :

    Abraham (Avraham) was the first Jew, the founder of Judaism, the physical and spiritual ancestor of the Jewish people, and one of the three Patriarchs (Avot) of Judaism.

    (See http://judaism.about.com/library/2_history/leaders/bldef-p_abraham.htm ).

    Also, jewfaq.com, which labels itself as a “Judaism 101” site, mentions this a few times:

    Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, known as the Patriarchs, are both the physical and spiritual ancestors of Judaism. They founded the religion now known as Judaism, and their descendants are the Jewish people.

    (See http://www.jewfaq.org/origins.htm )


    Abraham (Abram)
    The first Jew, the founder of Judaism, the physical and spiritual ancestor of the Jewish people. One of the three Patriarchs of Judaism.

    (See http://www.jewfaq.org/defs/abraham.htm )

    So let me ask, since these sources seem to suggest that Abraham is the founder of Judaism — is this perhaps an intra-religious point of debate (some Jews think Abraham was the founder, some think Judaism has no founder)? Is there a nuance that I’m missing because of my own lack of knowledge in this area? (That is quite possible). My own knowledge of Judaism is limited, but I had honestly thought that I had the one point right (Abraham as founder) and now I’m wondering if there’s more to it than I had originally understood.

  33. Elisabeth
    March 28, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    “Well, the Supreme Court has answered our prayers, and so we’re going to start practicing polygamy again.” It will never happen. You have my word.”

    Hi, Kevin –

    Thanks for your assurances. I feel the same way you do. That said, where is the scriptural basis for this? Section 132 hasn’t been repealed. The Official Declaration #1 states that the Church is no longer encouraging polygamy only because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled polygamy was against the law.

    The Declaration does not state that polygamy will never be reinstated, or that God didn’t or doesn’t want the Saints to practice polygamy. The Official Declaration reflects the fact that the Church was being destroyed because of the consequences of violating the laws against polygamy.

    Therefore, is there any scriptural basis or unequivocal statement from a prophet that polygamy never will be reinstated? I’m confused by Pres. Hinckley’s statement that polygamy is “not doctrinal”. Was this just a non sequitur?

    My point is that polygamy probably never will be reinstated, but I’d like more than Kevin Barney’s word to go on (with all due respect, Kevin).

    “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.”
    Official Declaration #1

  34. Adam L
    March 28, 2005 at 2:17 pm


    I suppose it’s an issue of nuance. Abraham was the first person to accept the monotheistic God of the Jewish people. He, Isaac and Jacob are recognized as the patriarchs of Judaism in that they were the first people to accept this God. However, the laws which define the Jewish religion were not given until the Exodus, much later. Abraham didn’t found the Jewish religion (nor did Moses – no man did), and Abraham didn’t practice what we know today as Judaism (living according to the Torah). Even Moses, to whom the laws were given, didn’t serve as the Jews’ spiritual leader; that was Aaron’s role.

  35. danithew
    March 28, 2005 at 2:19 pm

    Kaimi, I can’t remember if Adam said that Abraham wasn’t the founder of Judaism. I went looking and after one scan didn’t come across it. Maybe I missed it. I do know Adam said Moses is not the founder of Judaism.

  36. March 28, 2005 at 2:42 pm


    I’m shocked at your statement. I seem to recall Brigham Young making a very similar proclaimation concerning the ordination of non-caucasian males to the priesthood. Now we have OD2. I wouldn’t be too confident as stranger things have happened.

    Plus, under the hypothetical change, while the church may choose not to solemnify the marriages in the temple there would be no violation of prior covenants as because participants would be “legally and lawfully married.” This is a problem similar in effect by state recognition of homosexual marriage.

  37. danithew
    March 28, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    Here’s a verse that intrigues me quite a bit, regarding the roles of Moses and Aaron:

    Exodus 7:1
    1 And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.

    I certainly don’t think this actually means that Moses was a divine figure to be worshipped. But reading this, right away I think one has to ask why God would choose to refer to Moses and Aaron with words like “god” and “prophet.” Couldn’t God have simply said that Moses would be the prophet and Aaron would be the spokesman? Why use such strong language? I haven’t read any commentaries on this yet but I’m sure when I get around to it they will have some fascinating things to say about this.

    The thing that strikes me about the Torah is that it is not merely a list of commandments and rules. Yes the rules are there … they are listed. But they are provided in the context of a human narrative that is taking place. That, to me, is very very significant. We don’t just read instructions about materials and instructions how to put a tabernacle together. We also have information about Bezalel and Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons following (and sometimes not following) those instructions.

    Another telling point. Feasts that commemorate specific events in the narrative are also themselves a part of the Torah. Without the narrative, the feasts would lose their meaning.

    Attempting to surgically remove the rules and laws of the Torah from the narrative would probably be instructive and interesting as an exercise — but any attempt to permanently divorce the two off them and merely rely on a list of rules would be destructive.

    Here’s a commentary that seems to address the topic in its own (perhaps better) way:


    What does this all have to do with polygamy? Well, we know that Abraham and Moses practiced polygamy. That doesn’t mean it should be a rule for us — but perhaps knowing this should cause us to hesitate before utterly condemning polygamy, even if we may dislike or despise the practice for our own reasons. From what I read in D&C 132, it was this odd mix of consternation for the practice and consideration of the prophets that led Joseph Smith to pray and ask about the practice in the first place.

  38. March 28, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    Regarding whether the Church would reinstate polygamy if it were to be made legal:

    I may be wrong, but I believe that in countries where polygamy is currently legal, Church policy is that polygamists who wish to join the church must become monogamists via divorce before being approved for baptism.

    I think that if polygamy were to be legalized in the United States, it is likely that the Church would continue with this same policy and that members who entered into polygamous mariages would continue to be excommunicated.

  39. Frank McIntyre
    March 28, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    The Church would do on polygamy whatever God told them to do. Since GBH holds the sealing keys, no polygamous unions would be admissiable without his approval and it seems unlikely he is going to do that until (and if) he is so instructed by the Lord. This seems obvious to me.

    Adam L., my take is substantially the same as Nate’s. I could substitute the word Mormon and Joseph Smith into your comment #23 and be completely fine with it.

  40. March 28, 2005 at 3:04 pm


    I have a very hard time believing that the the church would require the severing of familial relationships in order to enter into baptism. That would seem to contradict the principles contained in the proclamation on the family. While it makes sense that the church would discourage current members of the church from engaging in future polygamous relationships, requiring prospective members to sever familial ties (especially when considering the social repercussions of such actions in the societies where polygamy is socially acceptable) just would not make sense. I have a member friend who immigrated from sub-Saharan Africa where polygamy is common practice and I’ll see if he can shed any light on this issue.

  41. March 28, 2005 at 3:07 pm


    I have a very hard time believing that the the church would require the severing of familial relationships in order to enter into baptism. That would seem to contradict the principles contained in the proclamation on the family. While it makes sense that the church would discourage current members of the church from engaging in future polygamous relationships, requiring prospective members to sever familial ties (especially when considering the social repercussions of such actions in the societies where polygamy is socially acceptable) just would not make sense. I have a member friend who immigrated from sub-Saharan Africa where polygamy is common practice and I’ll see if he can shed any light on this issue.

  42. Adam L
    March 28, 2005 at 3:19 pm


    I’m hardly a biblical scholar, so I’ll pass on trying to interpret scripture. Also, you’re correct that separating the law from the narrative diminishes the “fullness” of the religion and I’m not suggesting that it should be (or is commonly) done. Instead, I’m trying to point out that the heart of the religion is its law and not the history, personages, or ceremonial practice (not dictated by the law). These things flesh out the cultural and community aspects of Judaism, but they are not necessary to living life as a Jew.

  43. Geoff B
    March 28, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    Adam L,

    There are more similarities between Judaism and “Mormonism” than you may think, and your statement that “Abraham didn’t found the Jewish religion (nor did Moses – no man did)” is pretty much what Mormons believe about Joseph Smith. The “Mormon” religion was not founded by man — it is the religion of Jehovah, whom we believe to be Jesus Christ. Thus the name: “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or on second reference, “Church of Jesus Christ.” Joseph Smith’s role was exactly the same as Abraham’s and Moses’ — he ushered in a new dispensation of time and was a spiritual leader for that time. The Mormon relationship to Joseph Smith is very, very similar to the Jewish relationship to Moses and Abraham.

  44. seven bohanan
    March 28, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    While in a political science class in undergrad, my South-Korean professor offered what I believe is an interesting opinion on polygamy and polyandry. We were discussing the Clinton/Lewinsky morass, and the professor stated that all seminal leaders in history (whether for good or evil) have been polyandrous or polygamous. He cited Old Testament prophets, world leaders, U.S. presidents, and, interestingly, Brigham Young.

    The professor’s reasoning was neither judgmental nor apologetic. Just factual. And though I give it no spiritual weight, it seems plausible to me. Of course there are many holes in the theory, but I somehow find it oddly comforting.

  45. seven bohanan
    March 28, 2005 at 4:41 pm

    I should also say that I did not attend BYU, thankfully, though no offense to those who did. I was the only Mormon in the class (unknown to everyone including the professor).

  46. Anita
    March 28, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    Re #22 with D&C 132, do we know any more about Isaac’s polygamy? I recall hearing once about a Jewish law/custom that if a couple didn’t have children after ten years (?) the husband would take a second wife (does anyone have details here?), such as with Elkenah/Hannah/Paninah, so Rebekah’s infertility could have been a factor. (Possibly Zacharias and Elisabeth would have had another woman in the equation too?)

  47. Janey
    March 28, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    Geoff B – I think your assertion that Joseph Smith isn’t the founder of the Mormon Church is disingenuous. Candidates for baptism are supposed to have received confirmation from God that Joseph Smith was a prophet. They are also supposed to have received the same type of confirmation that the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph, the prophet of God. If you don’t have a testimony of the prophetic calling of Joseph, you aren’t a good Mormon. I don’t know about your ward, but my ward spends more time teaching Joseph Smith than it spends teaching Jesus Christ.

    If you excised Joseph from Mormonism, you’d have to excise the Book of Mormon as well. Then you’d have to get rid of the Doctrine & Covenants, or at least all the sections Joseph wrote down. Joseph received and in turn conferred the priesthood keys, so you’d have to get rid of those as well.

    Joseph Smith is much more to the Mormons than Moses is to the Jews (based on the interesting discussion involving Adam L).

  48. Janey
    March 28, 2005 at 6:44 pm

    Anita – according to the Old Testament, Rebekah was Isaac’s only wife. If he had had children by another wife, surely that would have been important enough to mention. Same thing with Elisabeth and Zacharias – surely they would have mentioned the existence of a child by another wife.

    Personally, I don’t think biblical polygamy was as common as the early Mormon polygamist apologetics claimed it was.

    Out of curiosity, how would we go about de-canonizing D&C 132? The Lectures on Faith got de-canonized, I wonder what the procedure was . . .

  49. annegb
    March 28, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    I believe that the polyandry, specifically, happened primarily because women–and their husbands, erroneously believed that greater blessings and exaltation would result from a sealing to the prophet. I do not believe that these women actually lived in any kind of marital relationship with the prophet. As knowledge evolved, the practice was abandoned. In my opinion.

  50. annegb
    March 28, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    I believe that the polyandry, specifically, happened primarily because women–and their husbands, erroneously believed that greater blessings and exaltation would result from a sealing to the prophet. I do not believe that these women actually lived in any kind of marital relationship with the prophet. As knowledge evolved, the practice was abandoned. In my opinion.

  51. annegb
    March 28, 2005 at 7:16 pm

    As to the ancient Jews practicing polygamy, I suppose many ancient peoples practiced polygamy. Could we assume it was just accepted in those days, even normal?

    If I were to be ask my Jewish friends about polygamy, I would ask it in a very careful respectful manner, as I would appreciate being asked, not in the way you posted your original question. I think it’s insulting and insensitive to the faith of my friends.

  52. Will
    March 28, 2005 at 8:32 pm

    I don’t think I’ve seen anyone bring up Jacob 2:27-30 so far. I thought this was a pretty straightforward explanation of why polygamy was acceptable at the foundation of the Church but no longer is necessary or even acceptable:

    “These things” referencing the earlier scripture:

    So one might imagine that because the church was in its infancy and needed to grow quickly, polygamy was a instituted to increase membership. Now that there are plenty of members, there is no need for polygamy.

  53. Will
    March 28, 2005 at 8:37 pm

    (Sorry about that last post – still learning how to use blockquote, let me try again)

    I don’t think I’ve seen anyone bring up Jacob 2:27-30 so far. I thought this was a pretty straightforward explanation of why polygamy was acceptable at the foundation of the Church but no longer is necessary or even acceptable:

    30 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.

    “These things� referencing the commandments in verse 27:

    27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;

    So one might imagine that because the church was in its infancy and needed to grow quickly, polygamy was a instituted to increase membership. Now that there are plenty of members, there is no need for polygamy. So even if polygamy became legal, Jacob 2:27 would still apply.

  54. mike
    March 28, 2005 at 8:38 pm

    Reply to Paul Mortensen:

    I have a very hard time believing that the the church would require the severing of familial relationships in order to enter into baptism. That would seem to contradict the principles contained in the proclamation on the family. While it makes sense that the church would discourage current members of the church from engaging in future polygamous relationships, requiring prospective members to sever familial ties (especially when considering the social repercussions of such actions in the societies where polygamy is socially acceptable) just would not make sense.

    i am pretty sure that the church will not allow polygamists of any stripe to be baptized. not just FLDS types, but west african or middle east types as well. justin posted a while back in mormon wasp excerpts from the new missionary guide preach my gospel, which states “Those who are married to more than one person at a time may not be baptized.”

    sorry, but i don’t have a link to the actual text, the link justin provided doesn’t work.

  55. Anita
    March 28, 2005 at 9:56 pm

    Janey–the Bible doesn’t mention many things and has many errors, including internal discrepancies, so I don’t think the non-mention is any kind of evidence. D&C 132:37 seems pretty clear in including Isaac: “Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also and Jacob…” Surely if Jesus had been married it would have said so?–and there’s considerable debate there.

  56. Ryan
    March 28, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    I thought the part about Abraham lying about being married to Sarah was only in the Peal of Great Price. Is it also in the Bible, I am too lazy to look it up right now. If it is only in the Book of Abraham, that kind of takes away from your point about Abraham’s shady polygamy ethics. No?

  57. Kevin Barney
    March 28, 2005 at 11:08 pm

    It is in the Bible (more than once, in fact). The PoGP tries to soften the lie by saying that God commanded Abraham to do it, a solution also reflected in the Genesis Apocryphon.

    If you’re interested in this subject, go to the Harold B. Lee library website, to online resources, and to BYU Studies, and find Thomas Mackay’s article, “The Case of the Missing Wife.”

  58. David Salmanson
    March 29, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    A different take from a different kind of Jew from Adam L. Reform (no -ed, that implies the process if finished and not ongoing) Jews organize around the central tenant of monotheism (translated as: “Hear o Israel, the Lord is our God, the lord is one.”) Everything else is up for grabs to be interpreted and reinterpreted. Reform Jews tend to reject the phrase “The Five Books of Moses” seeing as Moses is dead before the end of them and thus couldn’t have written them. Our relationship to scripture is that it is insight into the mind of God but not infallible since even with divine inspiration, humans are fallible and cannot understand God perfectly. Thus we are constantly engaging in interpretation and reinterpretation (giving rise to the Mishna (commentaries) and a whole variety of traditions from legalistic to mystical to combinations thereof such as the Hasidic). The current major crises in Reform Judaism is whether or not to continue circumcision in light of new medical evidence regarding the pain involved etc.. However, even Reform Jews who don’t keep kosher, or wear headcoverings, or speak Hebrew, are hesitant to give up the practice not just because it is a sign of the covenant but because of the way circumcision was used for years to identify Jews particularly by their oppressors. In this case, tradition and history carry as much weight as the biblical and canonical and commentary texts.

    Which brings us to the old joke about two Jews and three opinions.
    Which brings us to another question I have been dying to ask. Are there Mormon jokes that you all tell on yourselves?

  59. A. Greenwood
    March 29, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    Here’s a collection of jokes. You may not get them all.


    The Star has started another joke thread.

  60. March 29, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    “Our relationship to scripture is that it is insight into the mind of God but not infallible since even with divine inspiration, humans are fallible and cannot understand God perfectly. Thus we are constantly engaging in interpretation and reinterpretation (giving rise to the Mishna (commentaries) and a whole variety of traditions from legalistic to mystical to combinations thereof such as the Hasidic).”

    The way your phrase this, David, makes it sound as though the Mishna, and the contemporary variety of Judaic movements, are understood to be representative expressions of that tendency that is currently called Reform Judaism, which obviously isn’t the case. Am I misunderstanding you? Perhaps when you say “our relationship to scripture” you are speaking of Jews in general. But then, certain conservative Orthodox sects would dispute that relationship, wouldn’t they? My understanding is that, while no conservative (using the term broadly) Jews read the Tanach literally (as many conservative evangelical Christians–and more than a few Mormons–do), quite a few do in fact consider the interpretation provided by the Talmud to be infallible.

    “Are there Mormon jokes that you all tell on yourselves?”

    Tragically, David, not nearly enough. I think we got over our oppression way too quickly to develop a really fine, sharp sense of humor. Maybe someday. In the short term, our best hope is probably just to convert a bunch of Jews, or maybe some Irish, and hope their jokes pollinate and spread.

  61. A. Greenwood
    March 29, 2005 at 2:06 pm

    I think genial anecdotes are more typically a Mormon form than jokes per se. See here:

  62. Mindi
    March 29, 2005 at 2:39 pm

    This is one of the things that I’m going to put on the shelf and not worry about. To me it goes right up there with things that you’re just not going to get an answer to in this life. Things like, my grandfather was married twice-who will he be sealed to in heaven if I have him sealed to his first wife, (my grandmother) AND his second wife? I personally think he’s spinning in his grave at the thought of being sealed to my grandmother, but I’m going to let God sort that one out. I just do what I’m supposed to do and not worry about it.

    Basically, my feeling is that I wasn’t there. I don’t KNOW what was going on at the time. I’ve had enough other prayers answered and blessings in my life for doing what I’ve learned are true and correct principles that came through Joseph. I’m going to let God worry about Joseph Smith and I’ll worry about me.

  63. Seth Rogers
    March 29, 2005 at 9:06 pm

    I suppose it should be noted that every time polygamy was instituted in the scriptures, it was at the express commandment of God. It wasn’t just a practice the believers were allowed to take up whenever they felt like it (as Jacob’s condemnation of the Nephites illustrates).

  64. Brian Jeffries
    March 30, 2005 at 9:23 am


    Regarding your comment to Geoff B: It is a matter of perspective. If one believes that Mormonism is a recycling of the system of revelations and commandments, or really, a continuation of covenants made with the children of men, beginning with Adam, interspersed with cycles of apostasy and restoration, then Joseph Smith is not the founder of our religion, but the restorer of truths which had been revealed previously. As such he plays a role, in our view, similar to Adam, Noah, Enoch, Abraham and Moses as prophets of their dispensations. Joseph didn’t “found” our religion any more than Abraham “founded” Judaism. All revealed the plan of salvation and the necessity of covenants with God to their generations. The word “founded” implies that an institution was created by the founder, something we tend not to believe about Joseph, but only about Jesus Christ, and even then, we believe Him to be the intermediary between us and the Father. If one believes that “Mormonism” is indeed a new religion, with few or tenuous roots to historical Christianity and/or Judaism, then of course, Geoff B’s statements would be read as disingenuous.

  65. sFW
    March 30, 2005 at 11:19 am

    Concerning the no baptism for those with more than one wife: We had a gentlemen in Paris, from Africa (Ghana I think), who could not be baptized because he had two wives. He seemed to live the commandments, but could not enter the baptismal covenant without reducing the number of spouses.

  66. Kingsley
    March 30, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    I enjoyed your polygamy post, Kaimi, all poaching aside. Lately the Book of Mormon, the incredible fact of it, the enormous complexity of it, has overwhelmed me more than the incredible, factual, enormous complexities of Joseph Smith & polygamy ever have; the late Hugh Nibley makes the point that in one area at least, that of the scriptures, Joseph always kept his promises–if he said he found a book, he gave you the book, & in record time, too. I think of Proust & Joyce laboring for decades over their autobiographical fairy tales, & then I think of Joseph, unlettered as hell, spinning out silver sentences (that have more than stood the test of time) amid mob attacks, extreme poverty, the founding of a church & city, the apostasy of trusted friends, jail time, court appearances, more court appearances, more jail time, & so on & so forth, & I throw up my hands & cry Abba, Father, I believe I believe I believe.

  67. Mark Pickering
    March 30, 2005 at 9:16 pm

    I haven’t had time to read all of these comments, but I feel like posting an e-mail I just sent to my sister-in-law on the subject.

    I think it is to be expected that learning the real history
    behind a common understanding will always deflate one’s
    opinion of the
    propaganda’s subject. Just think of any famous figure you
    like: Socrates (bisexual who didn’t provide for his family),
    Frederick the Great (pedophile),
    Thomas Jefferson (spendthrift, slave owner, probable
    fornicator), George Washington (vain, mediocre), etc. People
    in general just don’t like the whole picture of just about
    anything–they would rather keep things easy and believe only
    the good or bad things about someone or something. It makes
    life so much easier.

    The Church knows this, and therefore tells people only what it
    wants them to know about its history. I consider it to be
    similar to a woman with a sexually promiscuous past who hides
    it from the man she plans to marry. Since the Church thinks
    that the most important thing in the universe is saving souls,
    it is willing to do what it thinks saving the most souls
    requires–even if it means lying or misleading.

    If the Church is right about this, then it is certainly not to
    blame. Certainly, I think the Church’s approach is bad. The
    perspective that interests me most
    about the JS and polygamy question is that if he was wrong, on
    grounds can he be criticized? Mormon grounds or non-Mormon
    grounds? What he did was certainly against the law, against
    Protestantism, against Catholicism, against conventional
    morality, etc. Was it against Mormonism? That’s difficult
    for me to say.

    Additionally, there is the consideration of the veracity of
    books people write about the past. The relevant people are
    dead and left only so many records. The record requires
    interpretation. Are we certain about anything that happened?
    If ‘certainty’ is understood in the professional historians
    of our day tend to think of things, then there is certainty
    about certain things in the book but not others. However, it
    is always difficult to judge the book unless one is familiar
    with the same sources the author used, as well as any he
    neglected to use. See, for example, the FARMS review that I
    attached (an Amazon.com review says that this is the only
    negative review).

    But let us say that the book is right about JS and polygamy.
    What disturbs us about the story? (1) He lied, (2) he married
    women secretly, (3) he married the wives of other men, (4) he
    married extremely young women, (5) he had sex with at least
    some of these women. What is wrong with this if God commanded
    it? If God did not command it, but if the rest of Mormonism
    is right, then it was wrong according to Mormonism. However,
    it is impossible to conceive of God not punishing JS for
    having done those things if they were wrong. So, it seems,
    one is left with only one of two judgments: either JS was OK
    and Mormonism is OK, or JS wasn’t and Mormonism isn’t.

    If Mormonism is false, then the easiest explanation is that JS
    was trying to have sex with as many women as possible, and
    they consented either out of faith, lust, curiosity, etc. I
    think to call JS a sexual predator is misleading. The women
    all consented (as far as we know). Marrying girls as young as
    14 was no big deal then, and it is still legal in quite a few
    states. Marrying more than one woman is something that nearly
    every culture in the world approves of.

    Of course, if what he did was wrong and he abused the faith of
    his followers, I am still unsympathetic to the women involved.
    Mormonism tells you to get confirmation from the Spirit. If
    they did, they weren’t harmed, on their own account. If they
    didn’t, they were bad Mormons who deserved whatever they got
    (how much harm can a little liason with a powerful man really
    do to a woman or her husband?).

    The odd thing about polyandry is that no one has spoken up to
    say, “Finally, some sex equality in Mormon polygamy!” For
    there are some that would approve of two-way polygamy, but not
    one-way polygamy.

    The fact that these women apparently ended up unhappy cannot
    be blamed on JS. I dare say that most Mormons of the time
    died unhappy. Genesis attests that Jacob/Israel died unhappy
    (46:7-10), and Jacob attests that Jacob (half-brother of
    Nephi) died unhappy (7:26). It can hardly be said that Jesus
    died happy, or any of the early Christians, for that matter.
    Why should things be different for the first Mormons?

    The secrecy thing likewise doesn’t seem to really be against
    JS. We all lie to all kinds of people, and we believe it to
    be justifiable when it’s for the good of the person we are
    lying to. God has told his people to lie before, so I don’t
    see what the big deal is. Now, if JS was just an adulterer,
    then we can understand Emma getting mad. But she knew what
    was going on, and could have divorced JS. If she didn’t, she
    though it worthwhile to stick around.

    So, I view the question as significant, but I don’t at present
    see why it should create serious doubts about Mormonism.
    There are, of course, all kinds of bizarre things in early
    Church history that make JS and others look petty and
    ignorant. But, I really think that if the Holy Ghost gives you a testimony, then all the other kooky stuff can just come rolling on in, and I’ll get just a good belly laugh. I really can’t muster the energy to care about a whole lot right now, so I’m willing to put up with a lot of crap. If what God does or commands seems wrong to us, I don’t see that as a problem. What’s a little horseplay in Nauvoo either way?

  68. Mark Pickering
    March 30, 2005 at 9:18 pm

    Whoops! I forgot to say that this is about Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness.

  69. David Salmanson
    April 4, 2005 at 6:18 am

    Thanks for your responses re: Mormon jokes. Silly me, starting a question with a new baby in the house and thinking I would have time to read blogs just because it was spring break.

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