Question: Did Joseph hide his plural marriages from Emma, his first wife?

Table of Contents

Question: Did Joseph hide his plural marriages from Emma, his first wife?

Joseph did not always tell Emma immediately about some of his plural relationships

Joseph and Emma were in a complex and unique situation with regard to plural marriage—Emma had been warned by Joseph's revelation that if she refused to allow Joseph to obey the commandment he had received, he might proceed without her permission.

We also know relatively little about what Emma knew, and when she knew it. We should be cautious in assuming that the critical or anti-Mormon narrative of Joseph constantly sneaking around behind Emma's back is accurate.

Emma had periods where she accepted plural marriage, and then later rejected it

One critic of the Church claims, "Joseph Smith publicly lied about his practice of polygamy, and lied to his own wife (Emma) about the practice." [1] It is certainly true that Joseph did not disclose all of his plural marriages precisely when they happened. For example, he had been sealed to Emily and Eliza Partridge already, and Emma later had one of her periods of acceptance of plural marriage, on condition that she get to choose the wives. [2] She chose Emily and Eliza, and so they were resealed to Joseph without disclosing that they were already sealed. Emma's change of heart didn't last long, and she soon had Joseph break off contact with the girls, and expected them to renounce the covenants they had made. [3]

Ultimately, Joseph had to choose between obeying Emma and obeying God

There are also other examples. It's difficult to know exactly what Emma knew, and when she knew it, because she would later insist that Joseph never practiced plural marriage. So, we have to kind of piece together the evidence from fairly fragmentary sources.

Was Joseph justified in this? Well, that's a difficult question to answer. If one doesn't believe that Joseph was commanded to practice plural marriage, then the whole enterprise was probably a bad idea. If Joseph was commanded to practice plural marriage (as he repeatedly testified that he had been), then ultimately he had to choose between obeying Emma and obeying God. And, Joseph seems to have been determined to obey God.

Notes

  1. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  2. "I will give you two wives if you will let me choose them," – Emma to Joseph, as per "Incidents of the early life of Emily Dow Partridge," written beginning December 1876, finished 7 January 1877, BYU Special Collections; cited by Andrew F. Ehat, "Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question," (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Master's Thesis, 1981), 60.
  3. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 409. ( Index of claims )