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Book Recommendations on Polygamy


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I would like to have a better understanding of the history of polygamy and how it was practiced in the Church. I was thinking about reading In Sacred Loneliness but doubt I'd get through eight hundred pages. Polygamy has been a sensitive subject, and one that frankly I've been inclined to avoid for fear of damage to my faith in the Restoration. What books or other sources do you recommend to better understand this part of our history?

Edited by Risingtide
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Sacred Loneliness is ok but for a better overview and an easier read I'd recommend "Mormon Polygamy" by Van Wagoner.

https://www.amazon.com/Mormon-Polygamy-Richard-Van-Wagoner/dp/0941214796/ref=mp_s_a_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=mormon+polygamy&qid=1613953230&sprefix=mormon+pol&sr=8-2

There are more detailed and nuanced books but it's the best intro.

 

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1 hour ago, Risingtide said:

I would like to have a better understanding of the history of polygamy and how it was practiced in the Church. I was thinking about reading In Sacred Loneliness but doubt I'd get through eight hundred pages. Polygamy has been a sensitive subject, and one that frankly I've been inclined to avoid for fear of damage to my faith in the Restoration. What books or other sources do you recommend to better understand this part of our history?

Brian Hales

https://josephsmithspolygamy.org/

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To add to what Smac just posted:  For the concise version of the research by Brain C. Hales and Laura H. Hales (they also published a 3 volume work on the topic), see:

https://gregkofford.com/products/jsp-understanding

Hales_Understanding_cover_front_1024x102

This work is the most current and sums up all of the historical sources on the topic, and this makes it better than Van Wagoner's book or any of those preceding this publication (in my opinion).

Edit:   I just fixed the book image, I selected the wrong one by mistake.  The covers all look similar.  The concise summary book is the one with the subtitle, "Toward a Better Understanding".

Edited by InCognitus
Linked the wrong book image!
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1 hour ago, Risingtide said:

Polygamy has been a sensitive subject, and one that frankly I've been inclined to avoid for fear of damage to my faith in the Restoration.

You'll be fine. The early Saints who were invited/encouraged/commanded to practise plural marriage certainly found the subject sensitive as well! It forced many of them to humbly seek sincere answers to very troubling questions, but the end result was new and/or greatly enlarged knowledge. All best!

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3 minutes ago, juliann said:

(As for Brian Hales, he has compiled the most up to date data but he takes a lot of liberties with it such as guessing who had sex with who based on very, very skimpy evidence.)

True, but ALL the books on polygamy do that to some degree (some way worse than others).  In certain areas there just isn't a lot of evidence.

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1 hour ago, juliann said:

It depends on what aspect of polygamy you want to know about. Most books are written about the men and if you read the older ones, you will get the male perspective, it's only been recently that we are getting more about the vast majority of polygamists, the women. There is Nauvoo polygamy and Utah polygamy.  It was a changing situation so we really should never speak of polygyny or polyandry as if it was always the same. 

So what are you interested in? To understand polygamy requires reading many books and articles. 

(As for Brian Hales, he has compiled the most up to date data but he takes a lot of liberties with it such as guessing who had sex with who based on very, very skimpy evidence.)

Thank you Juliann for your interest. Ultimately I'd like to believe the practice was ordained by God, but that may be asking too much of a book and would necessitate personal revelation.  I'd like to know in practice how polygamy was regulated, what permission was required and by whom. What obligations were expected in the financial  support of spouses. A friend of mine said these unions required the permission of the First Presidency. I'm not sure that is true.  I'm interested in the conflict between pronouncements of Church policy concerning the numbers of individuals acceptable within a marriage and what Joseph Smith was actually doing at the time. 

I know many who post here are familiar with this part of LDS history and have found peace with it. I do not want to need to neglect understanding this part of our history in order to maintain my faith. 

 

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1 hour ago, InCognitus said:

To add to what Smac just posted:  For the concise version of the research by Brain C. Hales and Laura H. Hales (they also published a 3 volume work on the topic), see:

Hales_Understanding_cover_front_1024x102

This work is the most current and sums up all of the historical sources on the topic, and this makes it better than Van Wagoner's book or any of those preceding this publication (in my opinion).

Edit:   I just fixed the book image, I selected the wrong one by mistake.  The covers all look similar.  The concise summary book is the one with the subtitle, "Toward a Better Understanding".

Thank you, and wish me good luck.

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18 minutes ago, Risingtide said:

Thank you Juliann for your interest. Ultimately I'd like to believe the practice was ordained by God, but that may be asking too much of a book and would necessitate personal revelation.  I'd like to know in practice how polygamy was regulated, what permission was required and by whom. What obligations were expected in the financial  support of spouses. A friend of mine said these unions required the permission of the First Presidency. I'm not sure that is true.  I'm interested in the conflict between pronouncements of Church policy concerning the numbers of individuals acceptable within a marriage and what Joseph Smith was actually doing at the time. 

I know many who post here are familiar with this part of LDS history and have found peace with it. I do not want to need to neglect understanding this part of our history in order to maintain my faith. 

 

I lost my faith over it, so I'm glad you're able to discuss on this board. The members on the board have helped me as I navigate my faith through the various issues. Many have those times of trial and sometimes it makes them stronger.

Edited by Tacenda
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10 minutes ago, Nevo said:

An important study of Utah polygamy is Kathryn M. Daynes's More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910, which focuses on Manti and features lots of charts and tables.

I found this one very enlightening. Thank you for thinking to recommend it.

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You also might want to look at the scriptures particularly the OT and ask, as Joseph did , WHY???

It will quickly be pointed out by some here that the OT etc. were written by men, but there are a few hints about what the women thought

hiding there as well. 

I remind myself that there have been millions of books written about the trials and joys of monogamous relationships. Hasn't seemed to stop folks from entering into those over the centuries .

Then again , according to evolution, we are just a tiny step away from chimps and bonobos so what can you expect.

 

Sorry, I forgot to take my anti-cynical pills today. 🤐

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4 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Jessie L. Embry, Mormon Polygamous Families: Life in the Principle (Kofford Books, 2008).

Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (Univ of Illinois, 2008).

Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding (Kofford Books, 2015).

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 (Vintage, 2018).

Dvora E. Weisberg, Levirate Marriage and the Family in Ancient Judaism (Brandeis Univ., 2009).

Donald A. Leggett, The Levirate and Goel Institutions in the Old Testament with Special Attention to the Book of Ruth (Mack, 1974).

Tryggve Kronholm, “Polygami och monogami i Gamla testamentet,” Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 47 (1982): 49–92, cited by R. A. G. du Preez, “Polygamy in the Bible with Implications for Seventh Day Adventist Missiology,” doctoral dissertation (Andrews Univ., 1993), online at http://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1163&context=dmin .

Brian J. Baird, “Understanding Jacob’s Teachings about Plural Marriage from a Law of Moses Context,”  Interpreter, 25 (2017): 227-237, online at  http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/understanding-jacobs-teachings-about-plural-marriage-from-a-law-of-moses-context/#comment-22895 .

Robert M. Bowman, Jr., “Joseph Smith's Polygamy in the Context of Changing American Religion and Culture,” online at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxwHMsVFjWLljGPKVsTqdjLJXNfq .

You can tell the scholars on the board.  A member wanting an intro to polygamy probably wants something a little less detailed.  That said I found Embry's book of stats absolutely fascinating.

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10 hours ago, JLHPROF said:

You can tell the scholars on the board.  A member wanting an intro to polygamy probably wants something a little less detailed.

The Church's essays are a good place to start:

Thanks,

-Smac

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22 hours ago, JLHPROF said:

You can tell the scholars on the board.  A member wanting an intro to polygamy probably wants something a little less detailed.  That said I found Embry's book of stats absolutely fascinating.

Yes.  Embry is the most knowledgeable on the subject.

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On 2/21/2021 at 8:32 PM, Nevo said:

The best brief overviews I know of are the Gospel Topics essays and Andrew Hedges, "Eternal Marriage and Plural Marriage," in Raising the Standard of Truth: Exploring the History and Teachings of the Early Restoration, ed. Scott C. Esplin (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020), 309–322.

 

I found this an apologetic treatment although I really appreciated this conclusion, [emphasis added]

Quote

Statements by Brigham Yound and other early Church leaders asserting the necessity of plural marriage must be understood in the context of the times in which they were made and are not considered Church doctrine today. p 318

This is how I judge writings on polygamy,

". . . twenty nine men in addition to himself [JS] had married plural wives in Nauvoo."   When polygamy is only counted through men when they were minor players, whatever else is written is going to be incomplete. He also puts polyandrous in scare quotes, although he does concede that although there is no evidence of conjugal relations there is no doctrinal reason why "any authorized plural marriage could not have included such relations." But he does not include 132:41 which allows for it.  I remain baffled why any thinking adult would demand evidence of conjugal relations in a marriage but it may take another generation of scholars to get past Hales' insistence that such things define JS's character. 

There were too many tropes in this article although it is a very good and sometimes more progressive rendition of the Church narrative. 

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On 2/21/2021 at 8:11 PM, Risingtide said:

Thank you Juliann for your interest. Ultimately I'd like to believe the practice was ordained by God, but that may be asking too much of a book and would necessitate personal revelation.  I'd like to know in practice how polygamy was regulated, what permission was required and by whom. What obligations were expected in the financial  support of spouses. A friend of mine said these unions required the permission of the First Presidency. I'm not sure that is true.  I'm interested in the conflict between pronouncements of Church policy concerning the numbers of individuals acceptable within a marriage and what Joseph Smith was actually doing at the time. 

I know many who post here are familiar with this part of LDS history and have found peace with it. I do not want to need to neglect understanding this part of our history in order to maintain my faith. 

 

I'm not sure what you mean by Church policy vs what JS was doing. They were one and the same. Don't confuse Utah polygamy, after it became an open practice. 

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8 hours ago, juliann said:

There were too many tropes in this article although it is a very good and sometimes more progressive rendition of the Church narrative. 

I agree that the article is androcentric and maybe a bit too apologetic in places, but overall I think it's a solid introduction to the topic.

And there are some interesting departures from the Church's essay on Joseph Smith's polygamy.

For example, while the Church's essay notes the "fragmentary" nature of the evidence for Joseph Smith's marriage to Fanny Alger, it nevertheless assumes that there was a marriage ("little is known about this marriage...", "after the marriage..."). Hedges will only call it a "possible marriage" and emphasizes that "the evidence is far from conclusive." A somewhat surprising take, given the alternative.

Where the Church's essay claims that "Emma likely did not know about all of Joseph’s sealings" (leaving open the possibility that she did know about all of them), Hedges is more definite: "It is clear that on at least some occasions" Joseph was "sealed to other women without her knowledge."

The Church's essay is infamous for downplaying the ages of Joseph Smith's wives: "Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball . . . who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday." Hedges is more forthright: "Several of Joseph Smith's plural wives were in their teens when they were sealed to him, with the youngest, Helen Mar Kimball, being fourteen years old at the time."

While Hedges repeats the essay's claim that "marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens," Hedges acknowledges that "marriage at such an age was not common in that period." Deflating a claim beloved by online apologists.

Hedges is appropriately tentative on the question of children: "To date, no solid evidence has been located indicating that Joseph Smith had any children with any of his plural wives" (emphasis mine).

The Church's essay refers obliquely to "carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy" that were issued by "members and leaders." Hedges, on the other hand, clearly states that "Joseph and others involved with plural marriage consistently denied the existence of the practice." An important piece of information.

For his careful, sensitive, and honest treatment of the historical evidence, Hedges's article gets high marks from me. I have no hesitation recommending it to members exploring this subject for the first time.

 

Edited by Nevo
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7 minutes ago, Maureen said:

IMO, Lindsay Hansen Park is an expert in the history of polygamy concerning the LDS Church. She has a podcast called Year of Polygamy.

https://www.yearofpolygamy.com/archive/listen-to-the-episodes-in-order/

M.

I would only recommend this for someone who is very well versed in the study of polygamy. It is certainly a masterful undertaking and one of the few that discusses women's stories. But the stories are selective with the intent of showing the worst. Not that that isn't needed after so many decades of only showing the best, but there needs to be balance...or disclosure. If you are not familiar with the sources she uses you will not know that you are only hearing parts of the story. The podcast does not educate the listener on the importance of understanding reliability problems with sources in that they might be hearsay, second or third hand, sometimes decades down the road.

That said, we do need to be aware of what women experienced before we can ever get close to making any judgments about polygamy. 

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