Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Polyandry/Why would Joseph Smith be sealed to other men's wives

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Joseph Smith was sealed to other men's wives

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Question: Was Joseph Smith married or sealed to women who were already married to other living men?

Joseph Smith was sealed to 11 women who were married to men who were still living. Some of these men were even active members of the Church

Among Joseph's plural marriages and/or sealings, between eight to eleven of them were to women who were already married. Of the eight well-documented cases, five of the husbands were Latter-day Saints, and the other three were either not active in or not associated with the Church. In all cases, these women continued to live with their husbands, most of them doing so until their husbands died. These eternal marriages appear to have had little effect upon the lives of the women involved, with the exception that they would be sealed to Joseph in the afterlife rather than to their earthly husbands. One of the most well-known of these "polyandrous" marriages was to Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs.[1]

Of all the aspects of Joseph Smith's marital theology, this is the most difficult area to understand, because very little primary evidence exists. As one scholar noted:

Perhaps nothing is less understood than Joseph Smith's sealings to women already married, because the evidence supports conflicting interpretations.[2]

Criticisms related to Joseph Smith's "polyandrous" marriages

These "polyandrous" marriages have given rise to a number of criticisms:

  • Why would Joseph be sealed to other men's wives?
  • What was the nature of these marriages? Were they consummated?
  • Why did these 11 women continue to live with and have children with their husbands even after being sealed to Joseph Smith?
  • One critic of the church notes, "Joseph Smith would frequently approach other men’s wives about being his own plural wives..." [3]

At the time that celestial marriage was introduced, it was possible to be married for time to one person and sealed for eternity to another. These marriages appear to have been performed for the purpose of forming dynastic bonds in the afterlife, as there is no evidence that Joseph ever cohabited or had intimate relations with any of these women. No children from these marriages have ever been identified. These were sealings which would only affect Joseph's association with these women in the afterlife.


The Joseph Smith Papers: "Several later documents suggest that several women who were already married to other men were, like Marinda Hyde, married or sealed to Joseph Smith"

"Nauvoo Journals, December 1841–April 1843," The Joseph Smith Papers:

Several later documents suggest that several women who were already married to other men were, like Marinda Hyde, married or sealed to Joseph Smith. Available evidence indicates that some of these apparent polygynous/polyandrous marriages took place during the years covered by this journal. At least three of the women reportedly involved in these marriages—Patty Bartlett Sessions, Ruth Vose Sayers, and Sylvia Porter Lyon—are mentioned in the journal, though in contexts very much removed from plural marriage. Even fewer sources are extant for these complex relationships than are available for Smith’s marriages to unmarried women, and Smith’s revelations are silent on them. Having surveyed the available sources, historian Richard L. Bushman concludes that these polyandrous marriages—and perhaps other plural marriages of Joseph Smith—were primarily a means of binding other families to his for the spiritual benefit and mutual salvation of all involved.[4]


Improvement Era (1946): "Did Joseph Smith Introduce Plural Marriage?...It is also possible, though the Church does not now permit it, to seal two living people for eternity only, with no association on earth"

"Did Joseph Smith Introduce Plural Marriage?," Improvement Era (November 1946):

Several approaches to eternal marriage may be made: Two living persons may be sealed to each other for time and eternity. A living man may be sealed for eternity to a dead woman; or a living woman to a dead man. Two dead persons may be sealed to each other. It is also possible, though the Church does not now permit it, to seal two living people for eternity only, with no association on earth.

Further, under a divine command to the Prophet Joseph Smith, it was possible for one man to be sealed to more than one woman for time and eternity. Thus came plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints. By another divine command, to Wilford Woodruff, a successor to Joseph Smith, this order of marriage was withdrawn in 1890. Since that time the Church has not sanctioned plural marriages. Anyone who enters into them now is married unlawfully, and is excommunicated from the Church.[5]

"Did Joseph Smith Introduce Plural Marriage?," Improvement Era (November 1946)


Question: What is "Polyandry?"

Polyandry is one woman married to more than one husband at the same time

The term "polyandry" is derived from the Greek roots "poly" ("many") and "andros" ("men") to describe marriages in which one woman is married to more than one man. The term does not account for the concept of marriage after this life. Therefore, describing some of Joseph Smith's marriages as "polyandrous" implies that he was married to these women in this life, with all that is involved in such a relationship. Evidence does not bear this out, however. In fact, the existing evidence indicates that these women continued to associate with their current husbands. Therefore, by stating that Joseph "married" other men's wives without making the distinction that these sealings applied only to the next life, critics can draw many lascivious conclusions from Joseph's actions. The faithful member may feel uneasy because he has no ready "alibi" for the polyandry material which the gleeful critic insists is a "smoking gun" for Joseph's base motives.


Question: What was the nature of Joseph Smith's "polyandrous" marriages?

Evidence indicates that Joseph was sealed for eternity to eight to eleven women who were married to other men

The fact that these women continue to live with their earthly husbands and even have children by them indicates that the sealings to Joseph Smith were not marriages in the normal sense.

Joseph's sealing to their wives doesn't appear to have changed anything in their daily lives or their relationship to their current husbands

The relationship between these women and their husbands appear to have not changed even after they were sealed to Joseph Smith. Of the eight well-documented cases, five of the husbands were Latter-day Saints, and the other three were either not active in or not associated with the Church. In all cases, these women continued to live with their husbands, most of them doing so until their husbands died. These eternal marriages appear to have had little effect upon the lives of the women involved, with the exception that they would be sealed to Joseph in the afterlife rather than to their earthly husbands.


Question: Did Joseph Smith consummate any of these marriages with married women?

There is no evidence to indicate that Joseph consumated any polyandrous marriages, with one possible exception for a woman who considered herself divorced

The available evidence also does not support the claim that Joseph had intimate relations with these married women. Fawn Brodie, who repeatedly stated her belief that Joseph had intimate relations with many of his plural wives, identified several individuals that she thought “might” be children of Joseph Smith, Jr. Yet, even Brodie noted that “it is astonishing that evidence of other children than these has never come to light.” Brodie postulated, in spite of a complete lack of evidence, that Joseph must have been able to successfully practice some sort of primitive birth control, or that abortions must have been routinely employed.To date, DNA analysis has ruled out Joseph Smith as the father of any of the children of the women to whom he was sealed who were married to other men.

In 1915, Sylvia Sessions Lyon's daughter, Josephine, signed a statement that in 1882 Sylvia "told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith"

In 1915, Sylvia Sessions Lyon's daughter, Josephine, signed a statement that in 1882 Sylvia "told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon was out of fellowship with the Church." It is not known whether Sylvia was referring to her daughter as being a literal descendant of Joseph Smith, or if she was referring to the fact that she had been sealed to the prophet. In an article published in Mormon Historical Studies, Brian C. Hales demonstrates that Sylvia considered herself divorced prior to marrying Joseph polygamously. [6]


Question: Did Joseph Smith have any children through any of his polyandrous marriages?

DNA research has, so far, ruled out most who were suspected of being Joseph's children through polyandrous marriages

Mother Brodie’s claim [7] Modern evidence

Buell

Brodie claims that “the physiognomy revealed in a rare photograph of Oliver Buell seems to weight the balance overwhelmingly on the side of Joseph’s paternity.” Oliver Buell is not the son of Joseph Smith, Jr.

DNA research in 2007 confirmed Presendia Huntington Buell’s son Oliver, born sometime in 1838-1839, was the son of Norman Buell.[8] "Only 9 of the 23 genetic markers match when comparing the inferred Oliver Buell haplotype to that of Joseph Smith. Such a low degree of correlation between the two haplotypes provides strong evidence that they belong to two unrelated paternal lineages, thus excluding with high likelihood Joseph Smith Jr. as the biological father of Oliver N. Buell. Further weight is given to this observation by the close match of the inferred haplotype of Owen F. Buell to the independent Buell record in the SMGF data base, which genetic relationship dates back prior to Joseph Smith's era. Additionally, the two genetic profiles were run through a haplogroup predictor algorithm that assigned the Smith haplotypes to a cluster known as R1b and the cluster for the Buell's haplotypes to I1b2a, two deeply divergent clades that separated anciently, thus providing further evidence that the Oliver Buell and Joseph Smith lineages are not closely related" [9]

Alger

Brodie states that “[t]here is some evidence that Fannie Alger bore Joseph a child in Kirtland.” DNA research in 2005 confirmed Fanny Alger’s son Orrison Smith is not the son of Joseph Smith, Jr.[10]

Hancock

”Legend among the descendants of Levi W. Hancock points to another son of the prophet. If the legend is true, the child was probably John Reed Hancock, born April 19, 1841.” Nothing is yet known regarding the patrilineage John Reed Hancock.

John Reed's brother Mosiah is not the son of Joseph Smith, Jr.

DNA research in 2007 confirmed Clarissa Hancock's son Mosiah, born 9 April 1834, was the son of Levi Hancock.[11] "A 12-marker haplotype was already available for a paternal descendant of Mosiah Hancock, generated by an independent commercial laboratory. A comparison of the 12 markers to the shortened Joseph Smith haplotype showed only 5 matches, indicating a low likelihood of a biological relationship between Mosiah and Joseph. Additionally, we queried the SMGF database with the 12 Ycs Hancock markers. Six independent records returned matching all 12 markers, all having the surname Hancock with documented connections to Mosiah's grandfather Thomas Hancock III." [12]

Lightner

The son of Mary Rollins Lightner “may as easily have been the prophet’s son as that of Adam Lightner.” George Algernon Lightner, born March 22, 1842, died as an infant and therefore had no descendants. DNA testing cannot help determine paternity.

Hyde

Mrs. Orson Hyde’s sons Orson and Frank “could have been Joseph’s sons.” Orson Washington Hyde, born November 9, 1843, died as an infant and therefore had no descendants. DNA testing cannot help determine paternity.

Pratt

Mrs. Parley P. Pratt’s son Moroni “might also be added to this list.” Moroni Llewellyn Pratt is not the son of Joseph Smith, Jr.

DNA research in 2005 confirmed Mary Ann Frost Pratt's son Moroni, born 7 December 1844, was the son of Parley P. Pratt.[13]

Snow

”According to tradition,” Emma beat Eliza Snow and caused her to abort Joseph’s child. Both LDS and non-LDS reviewers have found several flaws in the story about Eliza.[14] Emma's biographers note that "Eliza continued to teach school for a month after her abrupt departure from the Smith household. Her own class attendance record shows that she did not miss a day during the months she taught the Smith children, which would be unlikely had she suffered a miscarriage."[15]

Jacobs

Zina was “about seven months pregnant with Jacobs' child at the time of her marriage to the prophet.” [16] John D. Lee and William Hall stated that Zina had been “pregnant by Smith.” Zebulon Jacobs is not the son of Joseph Smith, Jr.

DNA research in 2005 confirmed Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs's son Zebulon was the son of Henry Bailey Jacobs.[17]


Question: What was the purpose of an eternity-only sealing, which was performed during Joseph Smith's lifetime?

When we talk about eternity-only sealings, it is a term that we have invented in just the past few years to help us describe what was going on in early Mormonism

When we talk about eternity-only sealings, it is a term that we have invented in just the past few years to help us describe what was going on in early Mormonism. They didn't discuss eternity only sealings, they only discussed sealings.

The purpose of sealings more generally was to create connections between people as a way of ordering or organizing the Celestial Kingdom

The purpose of sealings more generally was to create connections between people as a way of ordering or organizing the Celestial Kingdom. You could seal a husband and wife together to create an eternal bond. You could seal children to parents to create an eternal bond. You could seal complete strangers to each other to create an eternal bond. Those bonds might function in different ways, but, it was effectively the same ordinance.

We use the idea of eternity-only sealings to describe sealings between men and women who weren't married to each other during their lifetimes, but the anticipated relationship was to be married in the eternities. We use the term adoptive sealing to describe sealings between people where the relationship isn't one of marriage.

In order to be sealed to someone, the men involved in the sealing had to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood

In order to be sealed to someone, the men involved in the sealing had to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. If you were a woman, and you were married to a man who wasn't a member of the Church (and so didn't have the Melchizedek priesthood), then you could be sealed to another man who did. This helped (in theory) a woman secure her place in the Celestial Kingdom. The same idea was true for sealings of adoption. You needed to be sealed into the family (that was the Celestial Kingdom), but if your parents weren't members of the Church, or your father didn't have the Melchizedek Priesthood, then you would get sealed to someone else (usually a church leader). So, there were lots and lots of sealings that fit this description - both sealings of the eternity-only kind, and sealings of adoption.

Some proxy priesthood ordinations began in 1877, and became Church policy in 1894: Eventually, many people had their previous sealings (referred to as "adoptions") cancelled so that they could be sealed to their own spouses, or to their own parents

These kinds of "adoptions," or sealings, stopped because the Church leadership had received a better understanding and new instructions about how to do sealings and how the Celestial Kingdom should be ordered. Instead of being sealed to people unrelated to you, we started sealing people to their earthly families as the rule instead of the exception. And in fact, many people had their previous sealings "adoptions" cancelled so that they could be sealed to their own spouses, or to their own parents.

Proxy priesthood ordinations began in some measure in 1877. Not coincidentally, this is also the year we first did proxy endowments as males must hold the Melchizedek Priesthood to be endowed. However, for some time after this the church really didn't connect proxy endowments to proxy sealings like we do now. Temple policy in 1877 continued as before in that sealings between biological parents and children were generally not done unless the father had been a member of the church while living. This policy did not change with the introduction of proxy ordinations and endowments in 1877. At that time, if your parents hadn't been members, and had died, you couldn't be sealed to them. Further, if your husband wasn't a member and had died, you couldn't be sealed to him until 1894.

In 1894, Wilford Woodruff received a revelation pertaining to sealings. This revelation abolished the practice of sealings of adoption, and changed the policy regarding sealings to parents (using proxy ordinations to the priesthood as a way to understand this in a new context). It also set the stage for what we would consider the core of our current policy on the issue. In between 1877 and 1894, we also saw significant changes in our understanding of the Celestial Kingdom. And with the introduction of this policy, there was a shift in the policies of the Church related to sealings.


Wilford Woodruff announced the revelation in this manner:

I have not felt satisfied, neither did President Taylor, neither has any man since the Prophet Joseph who has attended to the ordinance of adoption in the temples of our God. We have felt that there was more to be revealed upon this subject than we had received. Revelations were given to us in the St. George Temple, which President Young presented to the Church of God. Changes were made there, and we still have more changes to make, in order to satisfy our Heavenly Father, satisfy our dead and ourselves. I will tell you what some of them are. I have prayed over this matter, and my brethren have. We have felt, as President Taylor said, that we have got to have more revelation concerning sealing under the law of adoption. Well, what are these changes? One of them is the principle of adoption. In the commencement of adopting men and women in the Temple at Nauvoo, a great many persons were adopted to different men who were not of the lineage of their fathers, and there was a spirit manifested by some in that work that was not of God.... President Young was not satisfied in his mind with regard to the extent of this matter; President Taylor was not.

When I went before the Lord to know who I should be adopted to (we were then being adopted to prophets and apostles), the Spirit of God said to me, "Have you not a father, who begot you?" "Yes, I have." "Then why not honor him? Why not be adopted to him?" "Yes," says I, "that is right." I was adopted to my father, and should have had my father sealed to his father, and so on back; and the duty that I want every man who presides over a temple to see performed from this day henceforth and forever, unless the Lord Almighty commands otherwise, is, let every man be adopted to his father. When a man receives the endowments, adopt him to his father; not to Wilford Woodruff, nor to any other man outside the lineage of his fathers. That is the will of God to this people.... Elijah the prophet appeared unto Joseph Smith and told him that the day had come when this principle must be carried out....

In my prayers the Lord revealed to me, that it was my duty to say to all Israel to carry this principle out, and in fulfillment of that revelation I lay it before this people. I say to all men who are laboring in these temples, carry out this principle, and then we will make one step in advance of what we have had before. Myself and counselors conversed upon this and were agreed upon it, and afterwards we laid it before all the Apostles who were here (two were absent--Brothers Thatcher and Lund, the latter being in England), and the Lord revealed to every one of these men--and they would bear testimony to it if they were to speak--that that was the word of the Lord to them. I never met with anything in my life in this Church that there was more unity upon than there was upon that principle. They all feel right about it, and that it is our duty. That is one principle that should be carried out from this time henceforth.

Sometimes, when couples who are sealed get divorced, the Church generally keeps that sealing intact, unless the woman decides to get sealed to someone else (and then the first sealing is cancelled)

Sealings are covenants that we make both with a spouse and with God. But it is also the connections that are mentioned above. The only part that we can guarantee as individuals is that we keep the covenants we make. Sometimes, couples who are sealed get divorced. The Church generally leaves that sealing intact, unless the woman decides to get sealed to someone else or has some very good reason to cancel the sealing. This is probably because although the covenant between the man and the woman may be broken, the covenants between both individuals and God can remain intact. And so we believe that for anyone who makes those covenants, if circumstances don't allow them to spend eternity with their first choice, that an appropriate option will be given to them in the wisdom and timing of the Lord.

At some future point in time, we may receive more revelation that will help us understand the issues of sealings more (just as we did in 1894).


Question: Since Joseph Smith "married" the wives of 11 other men, why were those women not "destroyed" as specified in the Doctrine and Covenants since they continued to live with their "previous" husbands?

What does the Doctrine and Covenants say on this subject?

Doctrine and Covenants 132:63 states,

But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.

Joseph was sealed to those women, but they continued to live with their current husbands during their earthly existence

Since Joseph Smith "married" the wives of 11 other men, why were those women not "destroyed" as specified in the Doctrine and Covenants since they continued to live with their "previous" husbands? The answer is that they were not previous husbands, but current husbands. Joseph's sealing to them made him a future husband in the next life.

Among Joseph's plural marriages and/or sealings, between eight to eleven of them were to women who were already married. Of the eight well-documented cases, five of the husbands were Latter-day Saints, and the other three were either not active in or not associated with the Church. In all cases, these women continued to live with their husbands, most of them doing so until their husbands died. These eternal marriages appear to have had little effect upon the lives of the women involved, with the exception that they would be sealed to Joseph in the afterlife rather than to their earthly husbands.

Joseph Smith's "polyandrous" marriages were for eternity, in the next life

Joseph Smith's "polyandrous" marriages were for eternity. He was sealed to those women, but they continued to live with their current husbands during their earthly existence. When they were sealed to Joseph, this did not invalidate their current marriage. These married women continued to live as husband and wife with their current (not "prior") husbands. Being sealed to Joseph for eternity did not invalidate their existing marriage for time. They would not have been "destroyed" for doing so since Joseph was never "with" these women in a situation which would have been classified as adultery according to D&C 132:63. In the case of these married women, the marriages (i.e., the sealing) to Joseph would only have effect after death.


Brian C. Hales, "Joseph Smith’s Sexual Polyandry and the Emperor’s New Clothes: On Closer Inspection, What Do We Find?"

Brian C. Hales,  Proceedings of the 2012 FAIR Conference, (August 2012)
My research supports that fourteen of Joseph Smith’s plural wives had legal husbands. It could be that in Joseph Smith’s history, polygamy is the most difficult thing to understand. Within polygamy, Joseph Smith’s sealings to legally married women, is the most difficult. So we’re talking about a pretty tough subject today. And I can tell you already, that if it were easy, someone would have already explained it decades ago. But I think we’ve got it figured out.


Now there are two questions: “Why did he do it”, and “Did the women really have two husbands?” Answering the question of why he did it requires us to introduce some new topics. Joseph taught that marriage can be eternal and that everyone must be sealed to be exalted. These are not new to us, we’ve all heard these. But outside of Mormondom, these are kind of new ideas. Emmanuel Swedenborg had talked about eternal marriage and he died in 1772. But really, nobody talked about eternal marriage. The idea that you had to be married to get the highest salvation, that’s still a really new and somewhat different teaching.

Click here to view the complete article

Joseph Smith's Polygamy: "Joseph Smith and Polyandry: FAQ", by Brian C. Hales

Summary: Few things are more confusing than Joseph Smith’s sealings to legally married women. Due to limitations in the number and types of documents available, understanding what transpired is difficult and complex.

(Click here for full article)

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Samuel Katich, "A Tale of Two Marriage Systems: Perspectives on Polyandry and Joseph Smith," Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 2003.
  2. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29. ISBN 0252026810.
  3. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014)
  4. "Nauvoo Journals, December 1841–April 1843," The Joseph Smith Papers
  5. "Did Joseph Smith Introduce Plural Marriage?," Improvement Era (November 1946)
  6. See: Hales, Brian C. "The Joseph Smith-Sylvia Sessions Plural Sealing: Polyandry or Polygyny?" Mormon Historical Studies 9/1 (Spring 2008): 41–57.] DNA research is ongoing but it is rendered more difficult since the Y chromosome evidence of paternal lineage is not present in females.
  7. No Man Knows My History, p. 301, 345, 465.
  8. DNA Tests rule out 2 as Smith descendants, Deseret News Nov. 10, 2007.
  9. Ugo A. Perego, Jayne E. Ekins, and Scott R. Woodward, "Resolving the Paternities of Oliver N. Buell and Mosiah L. Hancock through DNA," Ugo A. Perego, Jayne E. Ekins, and Scott R. Woodward, "Resolving the Paternities of Oliver N. Buell and Mosiah L. Hancock through DNA," John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, 2008, Vol. 28, p. 133. off-site
  10. Ugo A. Perego, Natalie M. Myers, and Scott R. Woodward, “Reconstructing the Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith Jr.: Genealogical Applications, Journal of Mormon History Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer 2005) 70-88.
  11. Deseret News, 2007.
  12. Ugo A. Perego, Jayne E. Ekins, and Scott R. Woodward, "Resolving the Paternities of Oliver N. Buell and Mosiah L. Hancock through DNA," John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, 2008, Vol. 28, p134-135. off-site
  13. Perego, Myers and Woodward, 2005.
  14. This bit of folklore is explored in Maureen Ursenbach Beecher et al., "Emma and Eliza and the Stairs," Brigham Young University Studies 22 no. 1 (Fall 1982), 86–96.. RLDS author Richard Price also argues that the physical layout of the Mansion House makes the story as reported by Charles C. Rich unlikely, see "Eliza Snow Was Not Pushed Down the Mansion House Stairs," in Richard Price. "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy: How Men Nearest the Prophet Attached Polygamy to His Name in Order to Justify Their Own Polygamous Crimes." (n.p.: Price Publishing Company, 2001), chapter 9. Price's dogmatic insistence that Joseph never taught plural marriage, however, cannot be sustained by the evidence.
  15. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 136. See also discussion in Danel Bachman, "Plural Marriage Before the Death of Joseph Smith (Master's Thesis, Purdue University, 1975), 140n173.
  16. Brodie, p. 465.
  17. Perego, Myers and Woodward, 2005.