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Emma’s Up and Down Relationship with Polygamy

Emma Smith often vacillated between accepting and rejecting polygamy.  In our next conversation with Dr. Bill Smith we will talk about how she vacillated between these two extremes.

Bill:  Like I said, she was up and down about it.  At some point apparently in May 1843 she had accepted the idea at least in a limited way.  Then later she becomes very negative about it.  During this period when the revelation is given in July 12, 1843, she has become very, very negative about the idea.

We don’t know everything that happened with her, what she heard.  She was in Relief Society, and you know how in small towns, Nauvoo was a relatively small town we would think of it so today.  In that day it was a fairly large place, so you knew practically everybody and people talked about what they saw, who was doing what.  So, the kind of knowledgebase that Emma had, we don’t know for sure but she probably had her finger on what was going on in the female population and the male population of Nauvoo.

Don’t forget to check out our previous conversations with Bill on the origins of polygamy and LDS literacy of biblical polygamy.  Check out our conversation…..

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Dr. Bill Smith on the Origins of Polygamy

Section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants was given to Joseph Smith when he inquired about questions about polygamy in the Bible.  Dr. Bill Smith has recently written a book that’s been out for a few weeks now on Section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants.  I’m excited to be one of the first to receive a copy and also one of the first to interview Dr. Bill Smith about his book.  It’s a great book, Textual Studies of the Doctrine & Covenants:  The Plural Marriage Revelation.  I encourage you to go out and buy it.  In the next few series of interviews, I’ll give you a little taste of the book.  I asked him if the origins of polygamy were as early as 1831?

Bill: It may indeed have pieces or parts that come earlier than 1843, but as far as I argue in the book, it’s really a structure that is an 1843 structure.  It’s an 1843 document, certainly by scribal accounts, it’s 1843.  As far as theologically, culturally, it seems like it is an 1843 document.  I don’t see too much in there beyond what has typically been said about the opening preamble of the revelation being an answer to a question about Abraham’s polygamy.  I think that could be a connection to Joseph Smith’s translation to the Bible, but I don’t see that as necessary.

Bill:  Going back to what I said about it being an 1843 revelation, it is clearly in its genesis a letter to Emma Smith.  The entirety is a justification to Emma about to why Joseph is, and ought to be allowed to practice plural marriage and recruit other people to do so.  She was up and down in terms of whether she approved of the practice, or whether she didn’t.  She had a terrible mental trial as most women probably did at least to one degree or another, at least when they were introduced to the idea.

I think the whole thing is really structured as a letter to Emma Smith.  Its component parts, I think you can deal with that like Denver did, a theological document, saying this is legitimate.  This isn’t.  But I think it is a unified whole in terms of its purpose.  My opinion, and I think this is justified.  I try to argue this in the book.  I don’t think it was ever intended to be public.

It’s going to be a fun conversation…..  Don’t forget to check out our conversations with other polygamy experts like Mark Staker, Brian Hales, & Anne Wilde.


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Critiquing the Gospel Topics Essays

Between 2013-2015, the LDS Church published a series of essays dealing with sensitive topics in the LDS Church.  They are known as the Gospel Topics Essays.  Dr. Newell Bringhurst and Dr. Matt Harris have produced an anthology that will be released later this summer critiquing these Gospel Topics Essays.  In our final conversation, Dr. Newell Bringhurst will tell us more about the work that he’s been putting together on these essays.

Newell:  We go through all 13 Gospel Topics Essays.  It’s composed of 13 chapters.  I probably should pull out my notes so I can remember the name of all the contributors.  We start with the Book of Mormon and look at the historicity of the Book of Mormon, critiquing that essay, critiquing the essay on DNA and the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and of course the different accounts.  We critique the essay that was written on the various accounts of the First Vision, the historicity and authenticity of the Book of Abraham which is another very controversial topic.

We look at peace and violence along the Mormon frontier.  John Turner who did the biography on Brigham Young did the essay on that for us.  He is kind of a marquis figure.  He really did an outstanding job in looking at the whole issue of violence and how it involved the saints.  Although I think one of the strongest essays in there is Gary Bergera who presented at [Sunstone.]  He presented on Joseph Smith and his involvement with polygamy.  Of course, he has a much different spin on whether Joseph had sex with those other women.  {chuckles}

We’ll talk about the other authors as well!  Check out our conversation, and don’t forget to hear our other episodes on polygamy, blacks, and women in religion!  (A transcript of the entire interview will be available soon!)