Ep 148 – D&C 132 Pt. 1 the Text
On this episode, we dive into deep Mormon theology! While this podcast is all about Mormon history, sometimes we need to discuss doctrine, when it was given, and the historical context during which said doctrine was created. Doctrine & Covenants 132 is widely known as the ‘Polygamy Revelation’ along with plenty of other controversial theology. This is part 1 discussing the actual text as dictated in July 1843. Part 2 will discuss the historical context next week.
Mormon Polygamy Timeline
Polygamy and the Law of Sarah
D&C 101 “monogamy revelation”
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
This is a podcast about the history of a religion. We spend most of our time discussing the movements and wiles of Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders, but our focus rarely shifts to actual doctrine and theology of early Mormonism unless the specific doctrine is inextricably tied to a subject of history we’re discussing.
There are plenty of Mormon theology and doctrine podcasts out there, one of which I cohost, My Book of Mormon, but that’s not the purpose of this podcast. It’s surprising how much you can discuss early Mormonism without discussing the actual religious aspect when we simply focus on the history itself.
Well, today is one of those days where our historical timeline requires examination of Mormon doctrine and theology. We’re going to spend this episode discussing the text of Doctrine & Covenants section 132. What is it? How did it come to be? When was it canonized as part of Mormon doctrine? What is the content of 132 which makes it so incredibly controversial? Today’s show will preface next week’s, the historical context from whence section 132 was birthed. This will be a 2-part series because it’s just that interesting and dense.
If you aren’t familiar with the Doctrine & Covenants, section 132 is often seen as the absolute most controversial, and possibly the most ignored today for understandable reasons. There are a few sections in the D&C that most Mormons can rattle off the top of their heads. Section 76 establishes the Mormon deeper doctrine concerning the plan of salvation, the different tiers of heaven and whatnot. D&C 20 sets up the leadership structure of the church and provides the blessings used for sacrament meetings. D&C 89 is the Mormon health code, widely known as the Word of Wisdom which prohibits the use of hot drinks and tobacco. We’ve dealt with most of these on this show or mybookofmormon according to the context from which each of them came. Well, D&C 132 is regarded as the polygamy revelation. 132 is the section that says only men who marry more than one wife can achieve the highest glory in the kingdom of god. It lays out the doctrine of sealing and what it terms as “The New and Everlasting Covenant” which was a fluid term in early Mormonism. It also lays out the path Mormons take in order to literally become gods of their own planets after death.
The history of this section is so fascinating and ridiculously complex. To understand it, we’ll have to jump around the timeline a fair amount. So, I’m going to lay out a roadmap. If you want to hear the section completely, I’d recommend you check over on mybookofmormon podcast episodes 207-8, where Marie and I read through this with some awesome guests. We briefly discussed the historical context, but just enough to get by. Today we won’t be reading all the way through the revelation, but through select portions to understand why specific terminology was used. Then, next week, we’ll really dig into the deeper history of how it came about, and why it was recorded when and where it was in July of 1843. Hopefully that will create a functional understanding of what D&C 132 is, and why it’s important to Mormon theology. I want to arm you with enough knowledge of the doctrinal foundation of Mormon polygamy, familiarize you with some of the common apologetic takes on how it can be interpreted in a faithful light, and also a bit of the critical perspective on what it reveals of the nature and personality of the founding prophet, Joseph Smith. Should the topic of Mormon polygamy come up for you in conversation in the future, I want y’all to feel comfortable enough with the history of the subject to make your own thoughts and arguments about it.
Let’s get started. D&C 132 and the doctrine of polygamy was a concept that had lived in Joseph Smith’s mind for roughly a decade by the time it was actually committed to paper in July 1843. We need to understand that Jo’s favorite thing in the world was to say something, then tell people it came from god, and for them to believe it. He’d made his living before Mormonism by claiming unknowable things and once he published the Book of Mormon he ascended to the mantle of prophet, seer, and revelator of the church, that was his bread and butter. Jo went through fluctuations of how frequent he would deliver revelations. During the first 5 years of the church he produced over 100 revelations that were canonized as part of the Doctrine and Covenants. However, with the chaos brought on by the Kirtland Temple, the Missouri-Mormon war, and the Mormon exodus and resettlement in Illinois, his official revelations experienced a major dearth when compared to his first 5 years of ministry.
The most prominent revelation he’d given in the Nauvoo era was D&C 124, produced in January of 1841 as the foundation of Nauvoo, establishing Talos’ temple crown, the Nauvoo House association, some missionary efforts, and a few other things. As for official revelations, Jo hadn’t really given any through the rest of 41 and 42. He’d given a few sermons on Baptisms for the dead and the way to test whether or not spirits are actual white magic spirits sent by god, or familiar spirits from the devil, but those weren’t officially canonized as revelations until after his death. Essentially, there was more than 2 years from early 41 to mid-43 where Jo didn’t give the spiritually starved Mormons any official revelations.
Well, D&C 132 was delivered, but it wasn’t a public revelation. Only a few Mormon elites in Nauvoo were privy to the content of 132 when it was given and for the rest of Jo’s lifetime. The revelation wasn’t actually publicly printed until 8 years after Jo’s death in 1852 in Utah by Orson Pratt under Bloody Brigham Young’s direction. When Jo dictated D&C 132, the first copy was sent to his first wife, Emma Hale Smith, where it was destroyed, which we’ll discuss. After that another few copies were made that were understood to be nearly identical to the one she burned up, and those copies were made for a guy named Joseph C. Kingsbury, and Jo’s close friend from the early Kirtland years, Newell K. Whitney, which was written by White-out Willard Richards for Whitney. The Kingsbury and Whitney copies were likely used as the source for printing the revelation in the Deseret News in Utah in 1852. D&C 132 was finally voted to be canonized as official church scripture in the October 1880 general conference in Utah, 3 years after Bloody Brigham’s death when polygamy was under heavy fire from the United States Government.
As we progress through reading small portions of section 132, you’ll see what I mean by this, but it was aimed at Emma directly. This revelation was created ad hoc to deal with Emma’s opposition to Jo’s libertine nature. The language crafted near the end reveals that Jo had put a lot of thought into the exact wording of the revelation, making a no-loss proposition for him to be able to acquire as many wives as he wanted and only Emma’s salvation lay in jeopardy should she deny him permission to marry these other women. Because it was aimed at Emma, we’ll see that the exact text of 132 was never meant for public consumption. Jo never intended this revelation specifically to be printed or canonized or he probably wouldn’t have made the wording so specific. The rest of the text apart from the verses directed at Emma reveal that Jo had something like this in his mind for years, but the opportunity to present it, either publicly or privately, had likely never presented itself. Some of the terminology had made an appearance as early as 1831, as remembered by those close to Joseph Smith, but the full text of 132, and thereby, Jo’s entire treatise on sealing and polygamy, was first committed to paper in July of 1843.
Let’s start at the top:
The revelation begins in a common motif of Jo’s revelations, that of Jo asking god something, and god answering the questions directly.
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—
2 Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.
This sets the stage. Jo had frequently used the terminology of “the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses” in many of his sermons beginning around 1832-3. Most people hearing this phrase likely assumed it meant communion with the Lord as prophets of god. How could a prophet in the 1830s be a prophet without the blessing the prophets of old had enjoyed? But, to the initiated, this phrase had a completely different meaning. The first time this phrase was used within the context of polygamy was sometime in 1831, barely a year after the Book of Mormon was published and the church organized. This 1831 allusion to polygamy comes in the form of a letter from William Wines Double-dub Phelps to Bloody Brigham Young, sent in 1861, when polygamy was being openly practices and defended as religious liberty in Utah. According to Phelps, Jo had told the missionaries to convert the Lamanites during their mission in order to turn their skin lighter so they’d become white and delightsome. Here’s the relevant extract where it invokes biblical prophets who had multiple wives:
[I]t is [Jesus Christ‘s] will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites [i.e., Native Americans], that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles…About three years after this was given [i.e., about 1834], I asked brother Joseph, privately, how “we,” that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives of the “natives” as we were all married men? He replied instantly “In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah; by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.
Corroborating some form of revelation existing at this time that polygamy is god’s will, Ezra Booth published in the Ohio Star his expose letters. Ezra Booth was an early member of the church who was called on a mission. He examined the leadership of the church after his call and never went on the mission, instead defecting with another high-profile convert in 1831. He published his exposes of the inner-workings of early Mormonism just shy of 2 years after the church was established. One of his expose letters claimed there was a “revelation [that the Elders] form a matrimonial alliance with the Natives.” So we see that the opening line in D&C 132 hearkens to the early Kirtland-era Mormon justification of prophet’s of old claiming polygamy was the will of god.
The next few verses bind anybody who learns of this new form of marriage to secrecy, lest they be damned. This invokes terminology that we’ll discuss after reading it.
4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
5 For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.
New and Everlasting Covenant. That’s a powerful phrase that’s used to this day. New and Everlasting Covenant had a fluid definition in Jo’s day and it continues to be somewhat elusive in Mormon theology today. The Kirtland-era definition of New and Everlasting Covenant, that from 1831-7, simply meant the gospel of Mormonism. Letters to and from church leaders weren’t infrequently signed with “yours in the bonds of the new and everlasting covenant” and then person’s name. The Nauvoo era marked a shift of the definition of the New and Everlasting Covenant to mean polygamous marriage sealings. After polygamy was declared ended by the second manifesto in 1904 by then-prophet Joseph F. Smith, nephew of our Jo, son of Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith, New and Everlasting Covenant was adapted to mean any marriage sealed in the temple.
There’s a term worth defining as well, sealing. What does sealing mean in this context? Sealing is a redefinition of the term “binding” from the book of Matthew chapter 16. The relevant extract from the Bible details what binding and loosing means, which is how Mormons today define sealing:
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.”
Jo had redefined binding as sealing in a sermon he gave in September on baptisms for the dead, which was later canonized as section 128 of the D&C.
And as are the records on the earth in relation to your dead, which are truly made out, so also are the records in heaven. This, therefore, is the sealing and binding power, and, in one sense of the word, the keys of the kingdom, which consist in the key of knowledge.
This is an idea that pervaded Christian culture and theology in the 19th-century, that somebody could, with the blessing of God, bind something on earth and it would be bound in heaven. It also has an occult context in that people searching for lost goods or buried treasure would invoke the spirit of St. Peter to bind the given artifact, or its guardian spirits, to their location, and thereby the occult seeker could attain the treasure without endangering their own lives. The magic lamen which have been traced to the Smith family include a binding spell invoking the spirit of St. Peter. I quote from Quinn’s early Mormonism and the Magic World View page 111:
As part of a charm-curse against one’s enemies, the second-most complex Smith lamen has the introductory words: “Saint Peter bind them, Saint Peter bind them”… Binding evil spirits to prevent them from attacking a person was a major concern of ritual magic. However, the prayers to bind the spirits were directed to Deity, not to Saint Peter. I have located only one invocation directed to Saint Peter as part of ritual magic. This was a German text instructing readers that while hammering nails in constructing a magic circle, “at each stroke of the hammer the magician must say, ‘Peter, bind it’” The purpose is to bind a nail, not a spirit or person.
Only in German charms against thieves is there a parallel to the Smith lamen’s use of a Saint Peter formula. According to Germanic magic traditions, some evil men once attempted to steal the infant Jesus, and Mary called out: “St. Peter Bind!” By this command, the thieves were rooted to the spot.
This idea of using St. Peter binding spells on spirits or magic artifacts pervaded the 19th-century Christian-occult mindset, that a sufficiently adept magician could invoke a spell that would carry weight in the afterlife, and it’s all rooted in that passage we read from Matthew. This idea of sealing marriages in section 132 revolves around the idea that every woman who was sealed to a man in this Christian-occult context, would retain those marriages into eternity. The New and Everlasting Covenant today merely means the sealing of husband to wife and children to their parents, but Jo’s invoking it in section 132 here explicitly means polygynous marriages where one man can have multiple women sealed to him for eternity.
The other issue in that passage worth dealing with is damnation. Polygamy was a secretive practice. Apologists today would call it sacred, not secret, but it was a practice only relegated to the most trusted Mormon elites in Nauvoo. Once a person was made privy to this information, if they didn’t live Jo’s New and Everlasting Covenant of marriage, they would be damned. This provision for secrecy was likely created by Jo because he’d been burned before by people he’d revealed polygamy to, but who’d disaffected. The most notable of these defectors was John C. Wreck-it Bennett. Bennett had been practicing polygamy, but his expose had wreaked untold havoc on the Mormon leadership and the church had been in damage control mode since Bennett’s disaffection meltdown. I’ll send you to the backlog to the Bennett meltdown episodes for more context on this matter.
Needless to say, secrecy was of the utmost priority when it came to Jo’s Nauvoo New and Everlasting Covenant because adultery was illegal and Jo had preached from the pulpit and declared in public fora so many times that Mormonism was a monogamous Christian religion. Therefore, any person who learned of this New and Everlasting Covenant and didn’t live it or keep it secret, damnation awaited them, whether that was eternal damnation or immediate temporal damnation at the hands of the Destroying Angels, it mattered not.
The next passage worth discussing is verse 7 of 132.
7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.
This verse has been the source of a lot of controversy among different Mormon factions. This requires that only one person on earth at a time has the power to seal people. It created a quality-control mechanism because Jo had to approve of every polygamous marriage that happened, but it’s not very scalable. If you have a religion of a few thousand people, sure one guy can be responsible for all the marriage sealings, but once the religion gets to tens or hundreds of thousands, it quickly becomes his sole duty to approve of and perform sealings. It was Wilford Woodruff who removed this restriction and allowed patriarchs to perform sealings, but that was half a century after Jo’s death before the restriction was lifted. Today, most polygamous factions retain the original belief in the original text, that only the prophet has the ability to approve of and perform sealings, which basically ensures a nepotistic slant to sealings. This is how Jo intended it and how polygamy was being practiced, only Jo and his select best buddies were allowed to have multiple wives. Jo had about 22 wives when he gave this revelation and about half a dozen other Mormon elites had more than one wife, so Jo was controlling the entire system from the top-down. Any new requests for polygamous marriages had to go through Jo so he could make sure the people receiving the sealing New and Everlasting Covenant wouldn’t be the type of people who’d betray him.
The next point worthy of discussion comes from verses 15 and 16. In these verses it states that anybody married outside of the sealing ordinance are parted at death, and that only Jo-approved sealings will outlast death. This essentially nullified any marriages that were civil or done by any other religion other than by Jo himself. It also states that anybody who doesn’t receive a sealing on earth is bound to be a servant angel for eternity. Digging in his heels on the requirement that multiple wives were necessary for the celestial kingdom, Jo made the requirement that only people who are sealed will make it to heaven to become Mormon gods. Jo concludes this line with verse 17 stating:
17 For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.
132 even goes so far to say that if people covenant to each other for time and eternity in marriage, but are not approved of by Jo, then the covenants account for nothing because “it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord, neither by my word” while the next verse promises that people who do enter the New and Everlasting Covenant with Jo’s approval will be raised at the first resurrection, which pays homage to section 76 where it describes the seven different levels of resurrection in the last days.
Verse 19 establishes what heaven will look like to those who successfully enter the New and Everlasting Covenant.
they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
Basically, angels and gods will act as gatekeepers in the celestial kingdom, and only those who’ve been married to more than one wife in the New and Everlasting Covenant can pass through the gate. Playing off this idea, Bloody Brigham Young preached in 1853 in Utah, less than a year after this revelation was printed in the Deseret News, on the importance of fulfilling the covenants according to the proper sealings as dictated in this revelation.
Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angles who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.
These gatekeepers, or sentinels, as Bloody Brigham described, are the lesser people who didn’t enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant and became angels of the Lord for eternity. It bears drawing a line between typical Christian interpretations of salvation and Mormon interpretations of exaltation here. Most sects of Christianity agree that a believer can ascend to heaven, whether by faith or faith and works, in order to live with Yahweh for eternity. That is salvation, and the greatest glory Christians can attain in the afterlife. Eternal bliss singing hymns and praying in a city paved with gold or something. Mormonism believes in the next step above and beyond salvation, exaltation. A person who abides by all the necessary ordinances and covenants, including the New and Everlasting Covenant, can ascend to the same level as god, they become gods themselves, and spend eternity creating worlds without end. This doctrine, coupled with the Book of Abraham, published barely a year before Jo dictated 132, is how Mormonism concludes that God was once a mortal man who lived on the planet nearest the star Kolob. There he matured, acquired all his wives, he died and achieved exaltation and formed the earth out of disorganized matter, where he populated his new planet with spirit children through celestial sex with his wives. We can all attain this same system if we enter the New and Everlasting Covenant, we can do exactly as Elohim. Lucky for all you women out there, your eternity in Mormonism is literally spitting out spirit babies for you husband.
Orson Brain-Powered Pratt, one of the most intelligent and scientifically-minded early Mormons, was known for giving lectures on mathematics, geology, and even taught languages from time to time. In 1854 in Utah, Pratt attempted to wrap his mind around the logistics of heavenly spirit births. This was a speech he gave that was printed in a pamphlet titled “The Preexistence of Man”, and I’m reading it from William V. Smith’s new book Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation.
The spirits of all mankind, destined for this earth, were begotten by a father, and born of a mother in heaven…
If we suppose, as an average, that only one year intervened between each birth, then it would have required over one hundred thousand million of years for the same Mother to have given birth to this vast family… If the Father of these spirits, prior to his redemption, had secured to himself, through the everlasting covenant of marriage, many wives, as the prophet David did in our world, the period required to people a world would be shorter, within certain limits, in proportion to the number of wives.
Through the Mormon lens then, that old canard of can god make a rock that he can’t lift can then be repurposed through the Mormon lens. Can God make a woman who gestates a spirit child in less than 9 months? There’s a certain logic to Orson Pratt’s statement, and it reveals the larger logic behind Mormon eschatology. If human’s purpose is to multiply and replenish the earth, that purpose shouldn’t change when we die, but become an eternity of multiplying and replenishing our own worlds. If heavenly father and mother have to literally have spirit sex to give birth to literal spirit children in the preexistence, then one way to expedite the process is to have lots of heavenly mothers. Orson Pratt and Eliza Snow were both known for opining on heavenly mother, but such theology has fallen out of vogue since the polygamy ban of 1904 and the church today discourages anybody talking about heavenly mother because it raises some interesting thought exercises and propositions. Do I have a heavenly mother? Is she the same heavenly mother you have or are our heavenly mothers sister-wives of each other? Can people born into the same earth-family have different heavenly mothers who birthed our preexistent spirits? These are the logical trappings of the New and Everlasting Covenant Joseph Smith proposes in D&C 132.
The next few verses trot out the two unforgivable sins, shedding innocent blood and blaspheming against the Holy Ghost. When Jo used the term “unforgivable sin,” it meant either of these two things at different times. In 132, he applies the term to both the shedding of innocent blood and blasphemy. Lucky for us, Jo determines who is or isn’t innocent, as well as what constitutes blasphemy. He’s the gatekeeper. Anybody who commits either of these sins receives damnation. Verse 27 also reiterates the fact that if a person learns of this New and Everlasting Covenant and doesn’t abide in it “can in nowise enter into my glory, but shall be damned, saith the Lord.” Jo really wanted to make sure that whoever learned about the doctrine of polygamy couldn’t ever go back; it couldn’t be unlearned. Once you learn of Mormon polygamy, you HAVE to live it or you go to hell. This same reiteration repeats with different wording all the way through verse 33. After that it talks about Abraham and Sarah giving Hagar to Abraham, stating: “And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises. Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.”
Then it tackles Abraham attempting to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in verse 36.
Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.
This employs language similar to the letter Jo sent to 19-year-old Nancy Rigdon after he proposed to taking her as another of his wives. He said that which is a sin in one circumstance may be righteous under another. Moral relativism is replete throughout the Bible, and Jo, as prophet, embraced the concept wholeheartedly. Because Abraham ignored the letter of the law; thou shalt not kill, and simply obeyed the command of god, it was counted as a righteous action. This logic can and has been used to justify anything and everything immoral, as long as the person is following what they think god told them to do. People kill one another every day because they think it’s the will of their god. The same can be said of Jo acting contrary to the cultural mores of Victorian-era American Protestantism.
The next section tries to tackle the issue of adultery, which carries the death sentence according to the Bible, and was also against the law. We need to understand that Jo had nearly two-dozen wives at this time, by my count about half of them were civilly married to husbands when Jo and them were married. So, a quick treatise on how adultery works in polyandry was in order.
41 And as ye have asked concerning adultery, verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed.
42 If she be not in the new and everlasting covenant, and she be with another man, she has committed adultery.
43 And if her husband be with another woman, and he was under a vow, he hath broken his vow and hath committed adultery.
44 And if she hath not committed adultery, but is innocent and hath not broken her vow, and she knoweth it, and I reveal it unto you, my servant Joseph, then shall you have power, by the power of my Holy Priesthood, to take her and give her unto him that hath not committed adultery but hath been faithful; for he shall be made ruler over many.
Basically, if you participate in polygamy not under the approval of the one anointed, then it’s adultery. However, if you have Jo’s blessing, it’s not adultery. Notice this is aimed only at women, not at men who could be charged with adultery as well. The simple fact remains that this so-called revelation is a product of its time and women suffered from charges of adultery in the social sphere much more than men ever did, especially concerning the inevitably resulting pregnancies that would reveal adultery having occurred.
Verses 49 and 50 exonerate Jo from any wrongdoing, even if said it did run counter to the laws of the land.
49 For I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father, with Abraham your father.
50 Behold, I have seen your sacrifices, and will forgive all your sins; I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you. Go, therefore, and I make a way for your escape, as I accepted the offering of Abraham of his son Isaac.
This is a dangerous mentality to hold. If anything you do happens to be illegal, but you’re doing it with the blessing of your god, all sorts of horrible and immoral actions can be justified. Once again this is invoking the story of Isaac and Abraham’s attempted sacrifice. If god commands something, you better do it, regardless of the secular consequences. You’re following the will of god and therefore you have a throne prepared for you in the kingdom of Heavenly Father. This is further captured in the Book of Mormon story with Nephi and Laban. Basically, Laban has some plates and Nephi is commanded by god to get the plates. After multiple unsuccessful attempts, Nephi finds Laban passed-out drunk after a party and god commands Nephi to cut off Laban’s head. Nephi puts up a faux protest, but eventually agrees and does it, then puts on Laban’s clothes and steals the plates. God commanded it, so murder, theft, and fraud are totally cool. By most objective standards this mentality could be considered criminally insane, but Nephi is held up in Mormondom as a righteous and stalwart prophet, as is Abraham with the Isaac story. It’s unacceptable and antithetical to a pluralistic society. But, because god commands adultery, it’s not adultery and therefore any legal ramifications suffered by practicing polygamy are merely righteous persecutions and only further ensure your kingdom in the afterlife.
The next section is where we can see this so-called revelation being aimed specifically at Emma Hale, Jo’s first wife of over 15 years by this point. Nothing reveals this supposedly divine revelation to be more ad hoc than the next few verses. When we discuss more of the historical context of the revelation next week, we’ll better understand some of the terminology, but for now let’s read the first verse aimed at her and you’ll see what I’m talking about with Jo designing this revelation for a very specific circumstance.
51 Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.
Partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her. There’s some historical evidence that a deal may have been brokered between Emma and Jo around this time. He was sleeping around with a bunch of women and Emma couldn’t control him. She may have told him she’d be more willing to accept of his dozens of wives if she could have a fling as well, but this is the explicit instruction for her to not do so. Reneging on this deal may help explain a bit of Emma’s anger that lead her to burn up this revelation when it was given to her by Jo’s older brother, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith. Like I said, we’ll discuss a bit of the context next episode, but it seems as if the deal may have been explicitly for her to have William Law while Jo could take the Partridge sisters, Eliza and Emily, who were the teenage daughters of his late friend and early church leader, Bishop Edward Party-boy Partridge. The Partridge sisters and possible some of the other teenage women living in the Smith home help explain the next verse quite well:
52 And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.
About 10 verses after this it discusses the virtue of the women given in polygamy, that they were required to be virgins. In order to harmonize this with the evidence that Jo had married multiple women who were already married, redefining the term “virgin” to mean a woman of good and irreproachable character. This line of “[women] who are virtuous and pure before me” is the justification used to form the apologetic argument that the revelation commands only virgin polygamous wives with the abundance of historical evidence that Jo married many women who were good people, but far from being virgins by common terminology. The next two verses dig in Jo’s heels on the concepts and historical context of the previous verse:
53 For I am the Lord thy God, and ye shall obey my voice; and I give unto my servant Joseph that he shall be made ruler over many things; for he hath been faithful over a few things, and from henceforth I will strengthen him.
54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
Jo will be made ruler of many things, and she is commanded directly by god to cleave unto Jo and none else. Lucky Jo that god has his back in trying to break Emma’s will to resist. I’ll keep reading because it doesn’t get any better from here.
55 But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal livesin the eternal worlds.
56 And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses, wherein she has trespassed against me; and I, the Lord thy God, will bless her, and multiply her, and make her heart to rejoice.
Forgive Jo his trespasses of having multiple surreptitious wives, and God will forgive you for getting so angry at him for having all those teenage wives. God is good, isn’t he? Praise be.
The next verse has a few possible meanings.
57 And again, I say, let not my servant Joseph put his property out of his hands, lest an enemy come and destroy him; for Satan seeketh to destroy; for I am the Lord thy God, and he is my servant; and behold, and lo, I am with him, as I was with Abraham, thy father, even unto his exaltation and glory.
Property here could be referring to a few things which completely alter the context of this verse. It could be referring to Jo’s many wives as his property, telling Emma to not force Jo to put those women out of his possession. That’s a reasonable interpretation, but also a bit simplistic. A more reasonable interpretation of this verse would have to do with divorce.
Divorce laws in America were interesting at this time. Women couldn’t file for divorce unless they could prove abandonment or lack of support by their husbands. Men could file for divorce but the only way they could be granted a divorce was by proving adultery, which comes with a whole mixed bag of complications. A reasonable way to interpret this is that in many ways Jo was a wayward husband who’d done many things which would label him as a deserted husband or adulterous. He hadn’t physically deserted his family, but he spent a lot of nights in other people’s beds and his ability to financially support his family was strained with all of his complicated finances. In order for Emma to be able to successfully file for divorce, she would have to prove desertion or lack of support. In order to keep from being successfully labeled as a husband who’d deserted his family, Jo had transferred many possessions into Emma’s legal name. He was also transferring a bunch of property to successfully file for bankruptcy, but that fell through, but I digress. Well, because Jo had transferred property to Emma, she had a lot of wealth, even if most of those assets had liens. This line in the revelation telling Emma to “let not my servant Joseph put his property out of his hands” likely refers to a specific item or land deed she was trying to wrestle out of his hands. The most reasonable item would be the Nauvoo ferry in Jo’s name, the Maid of Iowa, which he’d been given in the first year of settlement in Nauvoo. Jo was owner of the ferry making a fair chunk of money off it, making it a very valuable asset. Emma may have wanted a portion or all of the Maid of Iowa but Jo didn’t want to give it up. However, if he didn’t give up a portion of it, Emma may have had an easier time proving he’d deserted the family and successfully file for divorce. So, in Joseph Smith fashion, he commanded her in the name of God to not force Jo to give up his property. Either interpretation of the passage reveals that Emma was getting the short end of the deal here. When we get to the law of Sarah passage you’ll really see just how much Jo was completely burying any chance she had to get out of simply allowing Jo to do whatever he wanted.
Verse 61 is where we get to the virgin passages and the requirements for multiple wives. The rest of the verses detail the Law of Sarah as well so I’ll just read the rest of it and we’ll discuss afterwards.
61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
63 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.
Law of Sarah
64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.
65 Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife.
Basically, the way the Law of Sarah is established is that if a man desires to enter into a polygamous marriage, the first wife has to agree to the marriage. If she doesn’t agree, then the marriage isn’t official and they are committing adultery. Therefore, every polygamous marriage is consensual and all is well. That’s how it’s interpreted in faithful circles, but that’s not what the actual text says. The way this actually works is that if a husband wants to take a polygamous wife, and she be virtuous and irreproachable, or a virgin by the definition of apologists defending this doctrine, then the first wife has to agree or she is one under condemnation. Not the husband for violating her consent, he’s fine, but she is the one running counter to the New and Everlasting Covenant and therefore damned. It says explicitly, “because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word;… he is exempt from the law of Sarah,”. She goes to hell if she doesn’t agree to her husband taking the second, third, or thirty-third wife.
I quoted from Orson Brain-Powered Pratt earlier on his logic of god peopling planets with all his wives, and of course he chimed in on logicking his way through the Law of Sarah in 1854. This was the law as decreed in Section 132, but applying it to real-world polygamy was a bit more complicated, so I’ll leave it to early Utah Mormonism’s foremost logician to articulate how to properly apply the Law of Sarah.
When a man who has a wife, teaches her the law of God, and she refuses to give her consent for him to marry another according to the law, then it becomes necessary for her to state before the President the reasons why she withholds her consent; if her reasons are sufficient and justifiable and the husband is found in fault, or in transgression, then, he is not permitted to take any step in regard to obtaining another. But if the wife can show no good reason why she refuses to comply with the law which was given to Sarah of old, then it is lawful for her husband, if permitted by revelation through the prophet, to be married to others without her consent, and he will be justified, and she will be condemned, because she did not give them unto him, as Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham, and as Rachel and Leah gave Bilhah and Zilpah to their husband Jacob.
That was from The Seer vol 1, edited by Orson Pratt and published from 1853-4. It was basically a periodical that defended polygamy and deep Mormon theology on a monthly basis, I’m sure we’ll eventually read through it as part of our NaMo book club on the patreon feed. Regardless of where morality rests on the Law of Sarah issue, you can’t fault Orson Pratt for his defense, because it stuck with the law as dictated by god’s one true servant and he simply mingled his philosophies of men with the scriptures he believed in while he and his closest Mormon elites were almost all living polygamy. He made a scriptural defense of polygamy and the Law of Sarah, but it’s obviously a repugnant idea to us today for understandable reasons.
So, there it is, D&C 132, revealed to Joseph Smith on July 12, 1843. Like I said, we rarely dive into Mormon theology here unless it’s pertinent to the timeline and that’s what happened here. It’s impossible to discuss Nauvoo Mormon theology without diving into polygamy as it was such a crucial piece to the Mormon puzzle. Next week we’ll be covering the history surrounding the birth of this so-called revelation.
A final point I’ll also briefly append to this discussion is the law of adoption. I need more time to unravel that mess and very little has been written about it in comparison to polygamy, but basically the law of adoption allowed men to be sealed to other men. So, the sealing described in section 132 here applied to men and women so every Mormon can be sealed together into the infinite eternal family of post-mortal gods populating their planets. This section really establishes this deeper Mormon theology that we all exist as an infinite family of unorganized intelligences, waiting to be spiritually birthed to god parents who’ve created a planet. Then those pre-mortal spirits are born into physical, mortal bodies where they become good fair and delightsome Mormons, paying tithing, going through the house of handshakes with the anointing and throat-slitting. Then finally the male spirits die and bring all the wives they were sealed to on earth to their new planet where they spit out spirit children who are born into physical bodies on that new planet. It’s an infinite regression of spirits becoming humans then ascending to become gods. That’s the plan of salvation. That’s the New and Everlasting Covenant. That’s how Mormons achieve exaltation, whereas other Christians are stuck with lame old salvation to pray or sing hymns for their eternities. Who or what created all of these rules, well we don’t know or we don’t talk about it, I’m not sure which.
But let’s not end there, because there’s another issue worth tackling when it comes to the theology of polygamy; that is, how does it mesh with other Mormon scripture and theology?
This has been the target of a lot of apologetic mental gymnastics since the revelation came out. Prominently, the Book of Mormon, at face, takes a hardline stance against polygamy. Here’s the relevant passage from Jacob 2:24-33, one of the rare occurrences in the BoM where women are even acknowledged to exist.
24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.
26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
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;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
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.
31 For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands.
32 And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.
33 For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.
Here’s where the gymnastics get interesting. It decries polygamy and says that men should have only one wife, for anything else is an abomination, but verse 30 provides the tiny window out of this contradiction. If believers in the Book of Mormon “raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken to these things.” This is the justification used, that when Section 132 was revealed it was for the purpose of raising up a righteous seed unto the Lord, and therefore they were commanded to have multiple wives. But then how do we square that with Joseph Smith who supposedly fathered no children by his polygamous marriages? If the sole purpose for polygamy was to raise up righteous seed, and the creator of that theology didn’t raise up any seed as a result of polygamy, how does that work?
The thing is, Jo always had a side hustle with women. Emma was never his only even when they were first married before the Book of Mormon was even a thing. Charges of adultery followed this guy around, and that can’t be explained by the blanket of religious persecution. In the Kirtland era of Mormonism, basically the first 7 years of the church, the charges of rampant adultery became so overwhelming that the Kirtland church leaders made a public declaration that monogamy was the official stance of the church, which was later canonized as D&C 101 in the 1835 edition.
Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.
For understandable reasons, that section was removed from the Brighamite D&C in 1880 when 132 and the Pearl of Great Price were canonized. Section 132 can’t be harmonized with other Mormon canon and it certainly can’t be harmonized with Jo’s sexual indiscretions because he didn’t even follow the dictates of it. Not only did he violate the Law of Sarah by hiding most of his wives from Emma, but he didn’t raise any seed from his polygamous marriages, and I would postulate that was because he coerced or forced any of his wives who became pregnant to have abortions in order to preserve his status and create plausible deniability. If one of his wives began showing with child, Emma and all the Mormons had proof of adultery and she could divorce him and who knows what would happen to the Mormon movement, I doubt much would be different honestly. What does it say about a self-proclaimed prophet if he doesn’t even follow the rules of his own revelations?
However, through all of this, there is an apologetic dodge sitting right in front of our faces that I’ve yet to see articulated by anybody defending the prophet. It’s right there, we just have to pick it out and call it for what it is. The thing is, this apologetic dodge may not have been articulated by any authors I’ve ever read, which isn’t saying much, but the idea behind it underpins basically every apologetic defense of Joseph Smith’s actions. What’s the dodge, you ask? Jo said it himself:
36 Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.
40 I am the Lord thy God, and I gave unto thee, my servant Joseph, an appointment, and restore all things. Ask what ye will, and it shall be given unto you according to my word.
47 And again, verily I say, whomsoever you bless I will bless, and whomsoever you curse I will curse, saith the Lord; for I, the Lord, am thy God.
50 Behold, I have seen your sacrifices, and will forgive all your sins; I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you. Go, therefore, and I make a way for your escape, as I accepted the offering of Abraham of his son Isaac.
If apologists defending Joseph Smith came out as honestly as he did, I’d have more respect for them. If they just said what Jo said without the coded language, they’d at least be honest. Joseph Smith was the prophet, therefore nothing he did was wrong. The guy spoke for god, and god told him to do everything that he did, therefore he was literally incapable of doing anything wrong. Could God make a woman who can birth a spirit baby once a week? Probably not. Could Jo do anything wrong? Probably not, as long as he prefaced the action with a thus saith the lord. In the absence of any real god on earth, Joseph Smith was god, and his word was gospel. Nothing else mattered.
That’s the solution to all these apologetic pretzels apologists construe Joseph Smith into. Why defend the guy, why put so much time and scholarship into establishing that he only possibly maybe thought about being intimate with a small percentage of his celestial wives? Why try to harmonize other Mormon scripture with section 132 when Nauvoo Mormonism is what the modern church is really based on, at least it’s the only Joseph Mormonism that left a lasting impact. Is it because a guy marrying 3 dozen women, nearly half of whom were half his age is something that makes YOU feel yucky? Well if he’s the prophet and what he did was the will of god, that says more about your superior sense of morality than it does Jo’s lack of morality. Gods ways are higher than ours. Jo’s actions are higher than ours.
Lucinda Lugeons had a really thought-provoking question on this week’s Scathing Atheist. She said all religions are sexist and all are dangerous, but I feel like a good metric when comparing the relative dangers between the religions is to ask yourself, what’s the dumbest thing that religion ever inspired somebody to kill over? The entire episode 319 is exceptional, but this statement hit like a freight train. What can we learn about the God of Mormonism when we weigh what he considers moral verses our own internal sense of morality, and what actions have been inspired by belief in that amoral being?
Let’s keep things in perspective here, Mormonism’s god commanded genocide repeatedly. He put rules on slavery without decrying it as immoral. He vaporized a woman for looking over her shoulder and a guy for touching a wooden box. He commands stoning for growing different crops in the same field or wearing polycotton blends. Your god literally killed EVERY LIVING THING ON THE PLANET except for a family and two of every animal, your god committed infanticide and plagued entire civilizations for years because of a disagreement between politicians, but Jo raping a 14-year-old makes you squeamish? Grow a quad already. Jo, like the prophets of old, like god himself, was incapable of doing anything wrong and his actions require no justification or apology. Sure, you’re not on the moral high-ground, but Jo was an immoral person and he didn’t ask you to defend him; but at least you’re walking a scriptural and theological straight and narrow path. That’s what really matters for your precious exaltation, isn’t it?
Meetup and sunstone
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