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Assessing Joseph Smith (Part 5 of 6)

Joseph Smith said his name would be known for good and evil.  Boy was he right. Dr. Larry Foster thinks the truth is somewhere in the middle and dismisses both strong critics and strong apologists who don’t recognize the complexities of Joseph.

Larry:  It seems clear to me after more than 40 years of studying Joseph Smith, among a number of other things, that one has to separate behavior of a prophet from the teachings of the Prophet. Brigham Young himself said, he didn’t care if Joseph Smith did all sorts of terrible things, but he was still a prophet of God. That’s what was important to him. That was in the Journal of Discourses, by the way, I’m not quoting him [directly], but I’m just giving the general gist of it.

Prophets often are a little bit excessive in various ways, including sexually. But I’d say it should not necessarily be viewed as discrediting their larger teachings.  Let’s take a case that is not religious. Isaac Newton was a really weird character, really, really weird character. He was also absolutely brilliant. He developed all sorts of ideas about celestial mechanics and how the world works. He was a man who is unparalleled genius. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the validity or lack of validity of his [ideas about] celestial mechanics. I think that we would be well not to assume that one possible defect of a prophetic leader, if that’s what it was, a defect, necessarily discounts the positive accomplishments that they’ve made. Right now, we’ve just had a devastating blockbuster set of revelations on Martin Luther King Jr.’s, much wider than we had expected sexual life, and it’s really painful for many of us, who highly regarded him, but he still was a great man. He did some very important things, even if he had feet of clay in one area.  I think [that if] Latter-day Saints are serious about understanding Joseph Smith, [they] need to be aware that there is this problem with his behavior toward the end of his life.  Some of it is organized, and some of it can be explained. But it’s very hard, ultimately. In Section 132, he reports something to the effect that God forgives him for any sins he might have committed or might commit in the future. That’s a pretty broad thing.

Joseph Smith said his name would be known for good and evil. Boy was he right!

What do you think about Joseph Smith?  Check out our conversation….

Don’t miss our other episodes with Dr. Larry Foster.

338: Interesting Defenses of Polygamy

337:  Comparing Mormons, Shakers, & Oneida

336:  Explaining Polygamy from non-Mormon Viewpoint

335:  Celibacy, Polygamy, & Free Love in 19th Century

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Interesting Defenses of Polygamy (Part 4 of 6)

A non-Mormon man wondered if he might be able to participate in polygamy.  Helen Mar Kimball wrote a scathing response to this man while offering a strong defense of polygamy.   Dr. Larry Foster discusses this interesting defense of polygamy.

Larry:  There was a very interesting defense of polygamy by one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives, Helen Marr Kimball, who then became married to Whitney– Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, later, but I forget which Whitney she was married to, but she was briefly a plural wife of Joseph Smith. She wrote a defense of why we practice plural marriage. She starts with a very interesting story about a man who had written her. He described a very complicated situation in which he was unable to have sex with his wife.  He loved her. He was taking care of her, but it was impossible to have sex with his wife, and he wondered if he were to become a Mormon, if it’d be acceptable for him to have another wife. She wrote back to him, chastising him and saying, “This is terrible. You’re awful.” I guess he was living in this type of relationship and he wanted to see if it could be regularized as a Mormon. And she said, “This is terrible, your great sin,” and so forth. But if it had been under the authority of the Mormon Church, it would have been okay. This is very interesting to me. She was a very thoughtful writer. She appreciated the problem that he was in, but she really gave him an earful about how he really needed to repent.

GT:  It wasn’t under proper authority.

Larry:  It wasn’t under proper authority, and I don’t think she ever got to the question of what would happen if he joined and tried to do it?

We will also discuss Brian Hales‘ three-volume work on polygamy (Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3).

Larry:  Brian Hales, he’s done great work by giving us a 3-volume, 1600-page collection with accurate transcripts of virtually all the stuff that relates to polygamy, pro, anti, but he interprets it wrong, ahistorically.  I think his major goal is to actually argue that none of these women that were sealed to Joseph Smith, who were married to other men actually had sex with him in this life, that they were only sealed for eternity and did not have sex with him in this life.  I think this has been almost definitively disproven by Michael Quinn.  Michael Quinn is one of the most knowledgeable and most reliable, I think, historians of all aspects of Mormonism, especially 19th century Mormonism.  He’s done a lot on the 20th century as well.

GT:  Let me jump in there, because, and I’ll be a Brian Hales defender for just a moment, because I do know that he’s done at least two DNA studies with Dr. Ugo Perego.

Larry:  Right, but this is about possible children by some of these women.

GT:  But I know that Sylvia Sessions Lyon was one case, and he’s since changed his opinion since he wrote those books, but he was arguing with Sylvia Sessions that she was married to Brother Lyon, I can’t remember his first name–it was consecutive marriages.

Larry:  It doesn’t hold up.  If you look at the detail, and that’s what Michael Quinn has done, but here’s the thing about that particular case. In that particular case, she’s told her daughter.

GT:  Josephine Lyon.

Larry:  Josephine Lyon, just before she died, she said, “I wanted you to know this, I have kept this from you all these years, but you’re really Joseph Smith’s progeny.”

GT:  Yeah.

Larry:  Well, then we did the DNA testing and it showed that she wasn’t.

GT:  Right, she was a daughter of Brother Lyon.

Larry:  Listen to this. What does the fact that she told her daughter that she was Joseph Smith’s progeny mean? She then knew that she had had sex with Joseph Smith, even if that particular example of the sex didn’t produce progeny from him. It was exceedingly controversial to have children in Nauvoo from 1841 to 1844 as a polygamist.  It was illegal. It would have been totally disapproved up by most Mormons who were taught to have to be strictly monogamous and thought that was heinously sinful to have more than one marital partner, or relationship of any sort, outside of marriage. So, any children that would have been born, would have been covered up. I know we have some examples of how that happened.

Check out our conversation….

Helen Mar Kimball wrote a very interesting defense of Mormon polygamy.

 

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Did Hales Write the Gospel Topics Essays?

Yes & No.  There are the three Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org that deal with the topic of polygamy.  It probably won’t surprise you that Brian Hales played a significant role in this.  However, there are two other authors who played a very significant role in the other two essays!  Who are these women?

That was the first thing that was asked of me on the topic of polyandry.  Then I just sent them some general stuff, and I don’t know how many iterations it went through there.  Again I was excited to contribute to that.  I only looked at the Nauvoo material.  I know they had Kathryn Daines help out, and Kathleen Flake I think also are the other two that did the input on plural marriage.  I hope they don’t mind me saying that but they wanted outsiders to critique it.  If there were problems, they wanted to know about them before they published it.

Are you surprised who wrote these other essays?

I also asked Brian if he ward members know about his expertise on polygamy?

You know most of them don’t know.  We were at a ward party one time and we were sitting by some younger couples that I didn’t know because they had just split our ward, or rearranged the ward boundaries and there was a young gal sitting right across from me and she was, “Wait, you’re Brian Hales!”

Does he talk to people about polygamy?

Some of them come with faith and we can give answers, and then they go away happier.  I mean it isn’t an easy click your fingers, I’m doing better thing.  But we always tell people, just keep learning.  Be transparent.  Learn everything.  Don’t give up until you’ve learned.  You don’t have to give up faith today.  Find out what’s going on.  You can read the anti’s but read the answers.  Read the responses.

Other times when Laura and I meet with people, it’s just I think a box that they have to check as they’re on their way out of the church.  “Oh yeah I met with the Hales.  They didn’t help.”  So they’ve kind of already given up their faith.

The only thing I would say is if you’ve got questions, dive in.  I believe there’s somebody in the church who knows more about it than the person who wrote whatever you’re reading on the internet and they still believe.  With respect to plural marriage, we certainly have read a lot.  It strengthened my belief in Joseph.  It didn’t make me like polygamy.  I don’t.  I never want to do it, but my belief in him as a true prophet has just been strengthened.

Is he working on any other projects?

The thing that I would add as a response to your question, Rick, is that I’ve never been really been comfortable with the naturalist’s explanation of the text of the Book of Mormon.  If you can see up here, maybe you can’t but there’s all these versions of the Book of Mormon up here, the different printings year by year and if you look at the naturalist view, it’s just that Joseph got up one day and started to dictate this text, the 116 pages.  Then there’s a pause and we go to Oliver Cowdery shows up and then over a period of just a few weeks, he dictates 273,725 words by my count of the Book of Mormon text; that’s the 1830 version.

I’ve just never been comfortable that Joseph could have dictated that and so I’ve been investigating the different theories about that.  I’ve written an article I hope to have published.  In this article, what I did is I compared Joseph to other 24 year old or younger authors who wrote big books and I compared their education.  I compared their word counts and the complexity of their books.  When you line them all up, 24 years and older—Joseph was 23 when he dictated it but it was published a year later when he was 24.  I have to use the publishing dates of these other books because they are obviously written before.  The biggest book written by anybody 24 or younger is about 180,000.  Joseph’s book is almost 50% longer.

Look for Brian’s future essays on the topic of the Book of Mormon!  (Don’t forget to listen to our other conversations, from Canadian polygamy, to polyandry, to teen brides, to monogamy, to Fanny Alger, to justifications for polygamy!)

Check out our conversation!  There’s a video below and a transcript!

Brian Hales Role in Gospel Topics Essays

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