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Reviewing Polygamy Criticisms (Part 1 of 6 Brian Hales)

I’m excited to have Dr. Brian Hales back on the show. It was 8 years ago that Brian Hales published his 3-volume set on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. How has that held up? How does Brian address critics of his work?

Brian: You know, there’s always critics. But, recently, my friend Larry Foster, and others
have said that the three volumes that Don Bradley and I put together in 2013–they’re eight
years old now.

GT: Wow.

Brian:  They do contain, really, transcripts or references to all of the pertinent documents
to the topic. I remember Don and I speaking that when we brought these out in 2013, that if in
10 years, we could look back and say we had found 90%, we’d feel pretty good about it. Well, I
honestly think we’ve got the DNA issue. Then, there’s this issue about Eliza R. Snow, perhaps
being raped in Missouri. There’s two or three kind of important things that would have been
included in the volumes, if we had had that data.

GT:  Well, let me ask you this, because I know this did come up on the Facebook group.
One of the criticisms is that you will dismiss certain arguments if they’re too late in the record.
But, if they support your arguments, then you’ll accept those arguments because they support
your interpretation. There seems to be an inconsistency on whether something is an early
record or a late record, as to how you would interpret it. Do you think that’s a fair criticism?

Brian:  I’m an amateur historian, trying to become a professional historian. There’s one thing that historians do, and it’s critical source analysis; [is it] late and early? Is it firsthand, secondhand, thirdhand? When was it recorded after it occurred? All of these are factors that historians have to look at to weigh the value. There’s contradictory evidence. Absolutely, there is. But, again, I assert that the interpretations I have taken is because you have to drive a pathway through the contradictory evidences, through the ambiguities that are there and come up with an interpretation, which you think is the most valid. It’s also the same interpretation that the Church has kind of solidified in the Saints, and in the Gospel Topic essay. You’ll find there’s no contradiction in my three volumes and the material that they’re presenting in those sources, but those are from believers. When you look at people who think Joseph was a fraud, and an adulterer, they’re going to interpret the data differently, not because they’re looking at different data, it’s just they’re going in with different biases. So, it’s not necessarily what the evidence says, as much as the person’s a priori beliefs before they see the data. I don’t know how you get past that. That’s just human nature.

Do you agree?  Check out our conversation….

Brian Hales looks back on the 8 years his polygamy books have been published.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Brian!

053: Did Hales Write the Gospel Topics Essays?

052: Emma Denied Joseph Practiced Polygamy?

051: Polygamy & the Temple Lot Case

049: Mormon Polyandry:  More Than One Husband?

050: Joseph’s Youngest Teen Brides

048: What are the Theological Justifications of Polygamy?

047: Fanny Alger Part 2:  Marriage or Adultery?

046: 1st Plural Wife Fanny Alger: Time or Eternity Polygamy?

045: Polygamy Rumors – Declaration on Marriage

044: Does D&C 132 Conflict with Genesis?

043: Canadian Polygamy – Should it be Legal?

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Mormon-Missouri War of 1838 (Part 4 of 8 )

The years 1836-1838 were some of the most tumultuous in Church history.  Events included the Kirtland Banking Crisis, the Fanny Alger affair, excommunication of high church leaders including Oliver Cowder, Thomas Marsh, and the Whitmer brothers.  There were lots of changing alliances and not only a civil war among the Mormons of Missouri, but Mormons had to contend with their Missouri neighbors who didn’t like their presence either.  Dr. Bruce Van Orden, author of We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout, describes how WW Phelps viewed these events.

Bruce:  There are two possibilities. Either he did this totally out of harmony with God, adultery, as some people have alleged, or he did it with God’s approval. I choose to believe, based on my belief system, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that this was done, with God’s approval. But I think it was a mistake. I think it was a wrong thing to do.

GT:  Oh, that’s interesting. I know there’s some question on the dating and I’ve just had a conversation on Facebook with somebody. He said the marriage to Fanny was definitely after the Elijah visit in April 1836. But I know Brian had thought it was earlier than that.

Bruce:  No, I’m absolutely certain it was 1835.

GT:  Okay, so you go earlier at 1835. So, Elijah hadn’t appeared yet.

Bruce:  Right.  Speaking of that, I mean, we make a huge deal today, in retrospect, talking about Elijah and the keys and the restoration and those four heavenly visitors in the Kirtland temple in April of 1836, after the temple is dedicated, all the restoration of the keys. They didn’t talk about it back then. They didn’t mention them. When the sealing went forward in Nauvoo, it wasn’t saying, “Oh, Elijah brought back the sealing. I’m doing what Elijah wanted.” He didn’t say that. We’ve kind of concluded that it has to do with Elijah, the keys, and that may be true. But this whole idea of keys and the restoration of priesthood authority and priesthood ways of doing things, they hadn’t got it all clarified. We now have it.  “It’s this, this and this,” but they didn’t have it clarified in their minds.

GT:  Well, and that’s been my big confusion because even if we’re willing to go with April 1836, which  I think is still in a dispute, but let’s assume that’s true. Oliver was there with Joseph.

Bruce:  Yes.

GT:  So, how is it that Oliver would have been confused about that vision?

Bruce:  I don’t think he was confused, and I think he was in harmony, and I think he was probably feeling okay about everything and Joseph was feeling okay about him, right then. Then, in retrospect, after he got annoyed in 1837 over economic and political affairs, then he remembered this ‘scrape’ between Emma and the idea of having this Fanny connected, cohabitating with Joseph Smith. I think he resurrected that idea and brought it up, then, again.  I don’t think it was a major factor for him back in 1835 and 1836.  It became a factor for him, again in 1837 when he thought about it, when he no longer felt he was in harmony with Joseph Smith.

GT:  Yeah. So, that just became another issue between Oliver and Joseph.

Bruce:  It’s become, in the eyes of many people, THE issue, but it’s not.

GT:  You don’t think it was the most important issue?

Bruce:  No, I don’t think it was.

GT:  What was the most important issue?

Bruce: I think it was how they disagreed about what was going on with the bank, and then the animosity settled in.  Then, Oliver said, “You’re trying to dictate to us how we’re supposed to live our lives with our property and how we spend our own money and how we buy and sell our property. I won’t stand for that. This is a republic.”

Of course, these divisions carried over to cause problems with the Missourians. Check out our conversation….

Lots of internal divisions led to conflict with Missouri neighbors.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Bruce.

563: Cleaning House in Kirtland: Phelps vs Marsh

562: Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-Inflicted?

561:  Jailed Before Joined

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Critiquing Polygamy Essays & Sources (Part 3 of 7)

One of the thorniest issues in the LDS Church is justifying the past practice of polygamy.  In fact, there are 3 Gospel Topics essays devoted to the topic.  Dr. Newell Bringhurst and Dr. Matt Harris will critique these essays and tell us the strengths and weaknesses of the essays.

Newell:  Gary Bergera wrote the first of the three [polygamy] essays, which deals with Joseph Smith and the origins of polygamy and critiques the way in which the Topics essay on Joseph Smith and polygamy dealt with that issue, and it’s a very balanced essay, I must say. I think all three of our essays, including George Smith’s, as well as my own and Gary’s, we’ve tried to carefully point out the strengths of the essays, the respective essays, as well as the shortcomings.

Gary gives credit to the essay for its frankness, and pointing out Joseph Smith’s controversial nature of marrying younger women, of the polyandry, that is, Joseph Smith marrying women who are already married to other men, as well as concealing the practice from Emma Smith, in the early stages.  So, he gives [credit]– but the thing that he really hits hardest on is the selective use of documents in writing the Gospel Topics essays, that the author or authors of the Gospel Topics essays, downplay sources, that are not only unfavorable, but more contemporary to the practice of polygamy during the lifetime of Joseph Smith. One of the real problems with documenting Joseph Smith in the practice of polygamy, is the lack of contemporary documentation for the time that Joseph Smith lived, when polygamy was being practiced. So, the great reliance is on secondary sources and the few primary sources that are available concurrent with the time of Joseph Smith, tend to be critical because throughout his ministry, Joseph Smith continually denied that polygamy was being practiced, saying “No, it’s not being practiced.”

So, that was the real trick is how to handle the documentation. He gets into the issue of memory and selective use of documentation and so on. The thing he really hits the hardest on is two issues: number one, Gary is very critical of the fact that the essay continually emphasized Joseph Smith as a reluctant polygamist, as this guy, that was– there was the angel, holding a sword over his head, commanding him to practice polygamy, and that this guy was really, he just really was repulsed by the idea that–  and he [Gary] says that just doesn’t ring quite true. He says there was a deliberately playing down of Joseph Smith, the sexuality, the idea that polygamy was a means of multiplying and replenishing the chosen seed and so on. The other thing he’s critical of, is the downplaying of the theological underpinnings, based on the use of D&C 132. He’s also critical of the fact that some of the most important books are not even cited in the Gospel Topics essay, particularly Lawrence Foster’s Religion and Sexuality, George Smith’s book, Nauvoo Polygamy: But We Called It Plural Marriage or polygamy.

Find out what else he said!  Check out our conversation….

Dr. Newell Bringhurst critiques the 3 polygamy essays at

Don’t miss our previous

conversation with Newell and Matt!

454: Are Gospel Essays Hidden or Public?

453: Swedish Rescue & Gospel Topics Essays