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

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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.

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)