This is a review of volume 3 only.

To read my view of volume 1, click here.  To read my review of volume 2, click here.

Let me say something upfront.  Of the three-volume series by Hales, this one I looked the least forward to reading.  My assumption was that it would be Hales’ attempt to systematize and offer an apologetic response for Joseph Smith’s polygamy.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Hales opens with what he sees as missing from the scholarship regarding early Mormon polygamy and, as I see it, the purpose of volume 3:

“…although a half dozen or more books have attempted to examine the polygamy’s unfolding in a scholarly fashion, virtually all of them ignore the ideological processes that Joseph introduced, fail to take his teachings seriously, and /or reduce them to libido” (Hales, pg ix).

The difficulty with getting to the heart of the purpose of Joseph’s polygamy is that we are simply lacking primary documents from Joseph himself.  Hales quickly points this out in chapter one.  So far, we only have one document by Joseph Smith that discusses plural marriage (Doctrine and Covenants 132).   We do have two documents that do not discuss the topic directly, but were written in the context of polygamy:   the words used to solemnize the plural marriage between Sarah Ann Whitney and Joseph Smith and the letter from Joseph Smith to Nancy Rigdon.

Hales then details the contemporary documents regarding polygamy that were not written by Joseph Smith.  They were written by:

  1. John C Bennett (a critique)
  2. Oliver Olney (a critique)
  3. William Law (who Hales labels as the only “insider” to polygamy)
  4. Joseph Jackson (critique)

As can be seen, the difficulty with the above four sources is that all were critiques of early Mormon polygamy. So, although valuable – since what they wrote were contemporary with Joseph’s practice of polygamy, their reliability is brought into question.  This is where some might critique Hales’ work as he gives almost zero credibility to John C. Bennett and does not see him as an insider of Nauvoo polygamy.

With so little contemporary writings on early Mormon polygamy, Hales has a tough task of reconstructing its theology.


The first public reference by a faithful Mormon regarding polygamy came from Apostle Parley P. Pratt on July 13, 1852.  It was in a broadside published in San Francisco entitled, “Mormonism!” “Plurality of Wives!” An Especial Chapter for the Especial Edification of Certain Inquisitive New Editors, Etc.   Hales points out, “It provided a curious defense of polygamy without admitting to its practice”(Hales, pg. 6). It was the next month that Brigham Young publicly announced to the world that plural marriage was an official tenet of the Latter-day Saints.

The first direct apology of plural marriage came by Orson Pratt in 1853 in a series of articles entitled, Celestial Marriage:  A Revelation on the Patriarchal Order of Matrimony, or Plurality of Wives.  It was published in the Washington, D.C., periodical, The Seer.  Orson Pratt’s defense met with public disapproval.  Amongst its critiques were Brigham Young himself.   After the Church’s periodical, The Millenial Star, reprinted several articles from The Seer, Brigham Young said the following:

“…but  not withstanding the general beauty of the style, and the apparent candor minuteness of the reasoning, the “Seer” has many items of erroneous doctrine…”

In Hales’ review of Orson Pratt’s essays, he includes a copy of The Seer’s front page of its first edition, which was a fun treat to see.

After discussing Orson Pratt’s 1853 essays on polygamy, Hales then briefly discusses  the First and Second Manifestos and then moves on to the RLDS Church’s (now the Community of Christ) final admission that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy.


Hales’ next chapter deals with the different interpretations of Joseph Smith’s polygamy and points out again how all the scholarship up until now has overlooked the religious dimensions of early Mormon polygamy.  He does a great summation of its humanistic interpretations and breaks them into the following groupings:

  1. Polygamy as a Communal Experiment
  2. Psychological Derangement
  3. Joseph as a Philanderer

Regarding the third interpretation, Hales quotes Wilhem Wyl’s 1886 assertion:

“It is now a well established historical fact that the origin of Mormon polygamy or ‘celestial marriage,’ was nothing but the unbounded and ungoverned passion of the prophet for the other sex.”

Regarding scholars who hold to Wyl’s views, Hales  offers the following critique, with which I agree:

“Without presenting any credible historical evidence, writers over the past 160 years have been willing to make sensationalized claims regarding Joseph’s polygamy, reducing is motivations to one factor: his libido”(Hales, pg. 22).

From there, Hales moves on to discuss one of the most popular biographies on Joseph Smith from the 20th century – Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History.   As can be correctly assumed, Hales is not a fan of Brodie’s humanistic interpretation of Joseph’s polygamy and Hales is not alone.  Her biographer, Newell Bringhurst, wrote the following, “[Brodie] speculated on Joseph Smith’s motives for entering and endorsing polygamy.  She believed that he came to view monogamy as an intolerably circumscribed way of life”(Bringhurst,Fawn McKay Brodie:  A Biographer’s Life, 88). Her later biography of Thomas Jefferson brings into question her scholarship on Joseph Smith.  As David Herbert Donald stated:

[Brodie was not] bothered by the fact that she can adduce only slim factual support for her tales of what she primly calls Jefferson’s ‘intimate life’…such absence of evidence would stop most historians but it does not faze Mrs. Brodie where there are documents she knows how to read them in a special way…Where documents have been lost, Mrs. Brodi can make much of the gap…Mrs. Brodie is masterful in using negative evidence too…But Mrs. Brodie is at her best when there is not evidence whatever to cloud her vision; then she is free to speculate”(Hales, pg. 26 footnote 66). 

Despite its flaws, Brodie’s work continues to be an influential biography with regards to how the public views Joseph Smith’s polygamy.  One of the problems Brodie’s work poses for some historians today, as pointed out by Hales is, “that it is much easier to reconstruct a history from previously published accounts than to research unpublished first-hand recollections that often provide a very different narrative”(Hales, 29). That is, Brodie’s work was/is so influential that people will continue to cite her work in their own research and so some of her mistakes continue to be passed on from researcher to researcher.  As Hales succinctly put it, “[the American public] accepts docilely the pornographic bilge of professional Mormon-haters” (Hales, 29).


In chapter 3, Hales moves on to the idea that Mormon polygamy was a restoration of Old Testament Practices.  I was expecting this chapter to sound very similar to my 20-year-old missionary apologetic answers I used to give in defense of Mormon polygamy.  I was pleased to see it was anything but that.  It was quite interesting.

As Hales points out (something I’d never thought about), Joseph Smith could have merrily told his followers that ancient prophets and patriarchs practiced it and that it therefore needed to be restored and practiced in his day.  Hales states, “Since the Old Testament contains no specific explanations justifying it, the Prophet could have been just as vague”(Hales, 38).

From chapter 3 Hales then moves on to other explanations that were given for why polygamy needed to be practiced.   Many of these are familiar. I am embarrassed to say, some of these were the answers I used to employ in my defense of and explanation of Mormon polygamy.  At some point, I came to the realization, that the answers I used to offer were not explanations of why polygamy was practiced among early Mormons, but rather a defense of it; two different things.  How excited I was when Hales’ more or less provided the same conclusion. That is, the popular answers that one will hear from a faithful practicing Mormon as to why polygamy was practiced, are not the reasons why it was practiced, but rather apologetic defenses of the practice.

Hales then goes into some wonderful historical detail as to when these different defenses of polygamy came to be used.  Among the explanations, Hales gives the following:

  1. Mormon women would not be living in “uncertain jeopardy  that thousands of the women in the world are in” 
  2. More women than men due to war (refuted by Apostle John Widstoe and researcher Donna Hill).
  3. To bring needed challenges (Joseph Smith never said this).
  4. Publicity (this one was unique to BH Roberts).
  5. Rid the world of social ills i.e. prostitution (Orson Pratt stated this in 1852 and perhaps Joseph Smith taught this).
  6. Producing healthier parents and offspring.  Now this one needs a quote to go along with it.  Don’t you agree? “[sex during pregnancy robs] the future mother of that vigor which should nourish her embryonic offspring and gives intensified sensual desires to the offspring”(Hales, 51, footnote 3, quoting Plurality of Wives – Physiologically and Socially, the author is anonymous).
  7. Raise righteous children.  This one does appear to have been taught by Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants 132:63).


Hales then moves on to discuss pre-Nauvoo accusations of sexual improprieties on the part of Joseph Smith.   This chapter was a bit difficult for me and here is why.  Hales attempts to build a case that Joseph Smith did not do anything that was sexually improper based on the idea that it would have contradicted LDS scripture or what Joseph taught privately.  People do things against their own conscience all the time.   This argument lacks any traction for me.

The other argument that Hales presents as to why Joseph would not have acted with any sexual impropriety is that hypocrisy would not have been tolerated by those closest to him.  Could the reason that those closest to Joseph Smith stayed loyal to him be the very fact that they did tolerate hypocrisy?  From there, Hales explains that Joseph would not have had sex outside of marriage because this would have gone against his teachings that sexual relations outside of lawful heterosexual marriage would be against the law of chastity as taught in the Nauvoo Endowment.  The problem here is that polygamy was illegal.  For this defense to work, Hales must redefine what “lawful” means and he does so.  In footnote 40 on page 65 he cites Doctrine and Covenants 98:5-7 and 21st century LDS apostle, James Talmage and states, “Lawful is according to God’s laws, not necessarily man’s”.  Not only is Hales equivocating on the word lawful (do I here Bill Clinton’s voice?),  he is assuming we know the language of the original Nauvoo Endowment. Citing  a 20th century apostle, such as Elder James Talmage,  to defend his definition of lawful, is anachronistic.  It is also anachronistic to quote the Nauvoo Endowment in defense of Joseph Smith’s pre-Nauvoo sexual practices.

As Hales moves through some of the pre-Nauvoo allegations of Joseph Smith’s sexual improprieties, Hales does point out that only one allegation was published close to the time of the event.  It was Levi Lewis’ accusation and it was a second-hand account. The question of course would be, “If Joseph Smith was a sexual deviant, why weren’t these accusations brought up closer to the time of their occurences?”



This part of the book was pure gold.

Chapter 6 attempts to reconstruct Joseph Smith’s theology on plural marriage based upon what Hales calls “authoritative sources.”  Hales immediatly points out the difficulty with this task:

“Establishing the Prophet’s precise instructions is difficult due to a lack of contemporary accounts recording Joseph Smith’s specific teachings on these lofty topics.  Furthermore, a challenge arises regarding what sources shuold be considered authoritative for defining his theology, ideology, and cosmology.” (Hales, pg. 68)

Hales then breaks down the sources into these categories:

  1. Joseph Smith’s Own Words (this would include William Clayton’s journal as well as Doctrine and Covenants 132)
  2. Privelaged Accounts of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy (this included  statements by people such as Joseph Smith’s plural wives, Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young, etc)

Now, there are some problems with Hales’ list of “Privelaged Accounts.”   For example, why is Joseph F. Smith and George Q. Cannon included in this list? Everything they were taught about polygamy, would have been taught second hand.  Hales again brings up Brigham Young’s denounciation of Orson Pratt’s The Seer. I would have liked to have known what parts Brigham Young actually denounced.

Despite the two problems mentioned above,  the honesty that Hales has in this section is something I appreciated. He points out, without hesitation, the strengths and weaknesses of the different sources’ accounts.


I never gave much thought to the idea of children being sealed to parents; I guess it was just a blind spot for me.   Hales once again meticulously goes through the data to present some very interesing theological constructions regarding parent to child sealings.

He presents two terms to help bring clarity as he constructs a history of this type of sealing: horizonal sealings and vertical sealings. The former referring to a man and a women being united in a temple sealing; the latter referring to the sealing of a child to the parents.

Regarding vertical sealings, there appears to have been only one that occured and the validity of its story is questionable.   Hales quotes Andrew Ehat in a footnote :

“To the best of my knowldege, there exists only one reference – a secondhand reminsiscence attributed to Bathsheba W. Smith and not published until after her death – that she  in the Prophet’s Red Brick Store was sealed to her parents.  There is strong evidence that this secondhand account is in error” (Hales, pg 95, footnote 30).

 The historical data instead points to the first vertical sealing occuring in the Nauvoo temple on January 11, 1846, eighteen months after Joseph Smith’s death.  As Hales points out, “The fact that he [Joseph] did not personally administer any vertical child-to-parent sealing ordinances likely contributed to questions on the subject that arose later”(Hales, pag 97).

When the vertical sealings began, it went only one generation.  In total, only eighty of these types of sealings occurred in Nauvoo during a span of eight weeks.  With the move west, these types of sealings do not begin again until the St. Geoge Temple was built in 1877.  Brigham Young taught that such sealings could only occur in a temple, thus none occured in the Salt Lake City Endowment House.


The first contemporary account that there would be any marriage sealing theology comes to us quite early.  In May of 1835, W.W. Phelps wrote to his wife:

“A new idea, Sally, if you and I continue faithful to the end, we are certain of being one in the Lord throughout eternity…”(Hales, pg. 104).

This of course refers only to a man being sealed to one wife; not to polygamy.  The next recorded account of eternal marriage, comes from Parley P. Pratt in late 1839, in the Church’s periodical, The Latter Day Saint Messenger and Advocate:

“…I received from him [Joseph Smith] the first idea of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes…”(Hales, pg. 104)

Joseph Smith’s first public reference to the ‘new and everlasing covenant’ as it applied to marriage came in 1843:

“We have no claim in our eternal comfort in relation to eternal things unless our actions and contracts and all things tend to this end” (Hales, pg 105).

Willam Clayton recored two months later, on July 16, that Joseph Smith taught,  “that a man must enter into an everlasting covenant with his wife in this world or he will have no claim on her in the next”(Hales, pg. 105).

Regarding proxy sealings, Hales points out that the historical evidence seems to indicate that these types of sealings could only occur in a functioning temple, where other marital selaings for the living could be contracted outside a functioning temple.

Hales then quotes a very insightful discourse by Joseph Smith’s older brother, Hyrum.  The nature of the discourse was that of proxy horizontal sealings.  Hyrum’s first wife had died before he was sealed to her.  He was later sealed to his second wife.  So, naturally the question arose, “Can I be sealed to my first wife?”  By including this discourse in his book, Hales shows how the death of a spouse and later remarriage would naturally lead to the idea of some eternal marriages becoming eternal polygamous marriages.  As Hales states, “…doctrines of eternal marriage and plural marriage are inseparable” (Hales, pg. 108).  The problem, of course, is that it is a very patriarchal view.  What if a wife’s husband dies?  Can she be sealed polygamously to more than one husband?  The answer, working under this patriarchal construct, would be no.

Hales then moves on to a discussion of Melchezidek Pristhood.  His treatment of this subject was  a little problematic for me, as he seems to skip over the period in which Joseph Smith taught that there were three priesthoods: Aaronic, Melchezidek, and Patriarchal.  Instead, he sticks to the familiar scipt that Joseph Smith taught about only two priesthoods:  Aaronic (which includes Levitical), and Melchezidek.

Next, Hales outlines the benefits of eternal sealings:

  1. Marriage continues in the afterlife
  2. The husband and wife can become a “King and Queen”
  3. Deification
  4. Continuation of seed

Regarding the latter, Hales points out that Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 never explains what “continuation of seed” actually means.  From there, he takes a deep dive  into some popular interpretations of this term.   The information he presents here was quite fascinating as I never had given it any thought.   Two of the popular interpretations are:

  1. Spirit Children
  2. Non-familial mentoring

Naturally this discourse would lead to providing a place for these spirit children to reside.  In light of the LDS Church’s recent statement on deification, Hales’ meticulous research becomes more interesting (click here to read the statement). With primary citations, Hales clearly shows that the idea of becoming a God and creating planets (the latter, the Church denies in the statement) was indeed taught.  For example, Brigham Young stated in October 8, 1876:

“When they receive their crowns, their dominions, they then will be prepared to frame earths like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our parents, by our Father and God”(Hales, pg. 124).

Naturally, the next thing to investigate, is the Mormon concept of a pre-mortal existence

With his historical overview of this unique Mormon doctrine, Hales quickly showed how unfamiliar I actually am with this teaching.  I think Hales puts in concisely when he writes, “It is if ambiguity was better than clarity on that position”(Hales, pg. 132).  As Hales weaves an engaging history he touches on some important subjects:

  1. Created or uncreated spirits?
  2. Joseph Smith’s actual teachings on pre-mortal existence
  3. Mother in Heaven
  4. How spirits are “begotten”
  5. The concept of being “co-eternal with God”
  6. The Adam God Doctrine
  7. The King Follett Discourse

Regarding number two, it appears Joseph Smith did teach the concept of a pre-mortal existence, at least privately, as pointed out by Hales in an 1842 letter from Lorenzo Snow to an Elder Wallace.  Did he teach it publicly?  The historical record appears to be silent on that subject.

Regarding number three, Hales points out that there is no contemporaneous evidence that shows that Joseph taught of a Mother in Heaven.  The closest we can get is a statement by Brigham Young when he was dedicationg the Seventies Hall on December 31, 1844 and Eliza R. Snow-Smith’s poem “O My Father,” written in 1845.

One might ask, “What does the Mormon concept of a pre-existence have to do with Mormon polygamy?”  As Hales states,

The endless generations of exalted beings create a pedigree of gods whose seeds, ‘continue innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them’ (D&C 132:30) to inhabit ‘worlds without end’ (D&C 76:112).  These observations provide the context that is needed to understand the position of plural marriage within Joseph Smith’s global theology” (hales, pg 147).


Here is where the meat of Hales’ book lies.  Hales provides three reasons why plural marriage was estabished:

  1. The need to restore Old Testament polygamy
  2. Through plural marriage, additional devout families could be created to receive noble premortal spirits (thus Hales’ deep dive into the Mormon doctrine of a pre-mortal existence).
  3. No exaltation if one is single

The third of these reasons is where Hales spends most of his time as he had already spilt much ink in regards to the first two. The latter of the three explanations, spring boarded into a concept that  I grew up hearing –  the idea that there would be more worthy women than men  in the afterlife. As Hales’ rightly points out, Doctrine and Covenants 132 seems to anticiapte more women than men in the the LDS concept of a heaven, but there are problems with this line of thinking.  Hales quotes Eugene England:

“…Even if women were naturally more righteious, it would take a huge disproportion in that righteousness to merely equalize those numbers [of more male births than female], to say nothing of creating a situation that required plural wives”(Hales, pg 157 quoting Eugene England).

 Perhaps a stronger argument against this idea is what demographic observations have to tell.  With that in mind, Hales concludes (I believe correctly), “Unfortunately, neither observation allows for sweeping conclusions regarding the preceding millennia.  In short, it does not appear that demographic observations can accurately predict whether more men or women will be available for exhaltation”(Hales, pg. 160).

So, in Hales’ mind, where does polygamy sit in Joseph Smith’s grand theology?  The answer: “Implementing plural marriage requried a shift in matrimonial practices, not a change in core doctrines”(Hales, pg. 162). By having such a statemnt, Hales is able to disarm prior scholars, like Fawn Brodie, who argued that Joseph Smith created complex doctrinal teachings merely to justify an expansion of his sexual license.  As scholar, Larry Foster sysinctly put it: “Had Smith simply wanted sexual outlets, he could have found them through easier and more conventional means” (Hales, pg 163, quoting Larry Foster).


One of the very helpful tables that Hales provides.

There is a thought that one’s eternal status is dependent upon how many biological or “[adult] adopted” offspring one has sealed to themsleves.  Regarding the former, Hales states: “Joseph Smith, Brigham Young,  nor John Taylor ever taught that one’s eternal status improved with each biological child born (or sealed)” (Hales, pg. 167).  Regading the latter, there are no available documents that show Joseph Smith addressed the doctrine of adult-adoptive sealings. I found this portion of Hale’s book quite intersting as my knowledge of adoptive sealings was very limited.

The idea of being sealed adoptively to someone whom you are not related seems to have come out of a concern that one’s progenitors might not accept Mormonism in the afterlife.  According to the thinking of the time, this would leave one with a sealing chain of only a few generations due to the disbelief of a dead forbearer.  Due to this concern, some Latter-day Saints considered sealings to priesthood leaders more reliable in providing them a position in the eternal chain (Hales, pg. 17, 171).

The first vertical adoptions occured in the Nauvoo Temple (as well as the first child-to-parent ordinances) in January of 1846.   In total, 2111 males and females were adopted to seventeen couples to whom they were not closely related, during the five weeks at the beginning of 1846. Hales points out that the only deceased couple to be seled to either their own children or non-offspring were Hyrum and Jerusha Barden Smith.  No deceased children were sealed to their parents in the Nauvoo Temple (Hales 173).

In this portion of Hales’ book, he supplies a wonderful table that is a quick reference to some of the early Mormon adoptive sealings.

From here, Hales takes us on an interesting ride down post-Nauvoo adoptions.  This is where things get a little uncomfortable for me as there seemes to be almost a contest between leaders to get larger and larger adoptive families. Hales provides a quote from Hosea Stout recording a sermon by Apostle Orson Hyde:

“…He [Hyde] desired all who felt willing to do so to give him a pledge to come into his kingdom when the ordinance could be attended to but wished all to select the man whom they chose &c” (Hales, pg. 178).

Apostle George A. Smith said in February 1847, ” [he had] lextioneered…with all [his] might,” to have people adopted by him (Hales, 178).

Hales also quotes Brigham Young:

“Those that are adopted into my family & take me for their councilor if I continue faithful I will preside over them throughout all eterity…say that I would cut off my family.  Then what glory would I have with nobody to rule over but my own dear little self?” (Hales 179)

Ya, I’m not a big fan of that. It objectifies people.  Besides one sermon by Young after the arrival to Utah and another in 1848, there is silence on this subject of adoptive sealings.  The rhetoric slowly diminished.  An interesting practice eventually emereged of behaving as if these adoptive rituals had been performed even though they had not, but these ties were not supervised by LDS leaders (Hales, 183).

Questions continued regarding adoptive sealings. Wilford Woodruf recorded a conversation between he and Heber C. Kimball on Jauary 3, 1857, in which Kimball said, “Now unless a man is a poor cuss he should keep his priesthood & unite it with his fathers & not give it to another” (Hales, 184).  Due to this idea of adoptive sealings, you get some really interesting ideas.  For example, President John Taylor was not sealed to his parents though they died in the church because he [Pres. John Taylor] felt that it was rather lowering himelf to be sealed  to his father who was only a high priest (Hales, pg 186 – quoting Abraham H. Cannon Diary, December 18, 1890).  Wait, it gets more interesting yet. Apparently, since it was easier to be sealed to a dead LDS leader (because it could be done by proxy) many Mormons preferred this, as it was easier to schedule (Hales, pg 186). On April 8, 1894, President Wilford Woodruff officially ended the practice of adoptive sealings (Hales, pg 186).  Within the context of ending adoptive sealings, we get one of the earliest statements regarding us chosing the family into which we would be born (Hales, pg 188 – quoting Abraham Cnnon). This idea (choosing one’s family) is something that seemed to have persisted into the 1980s as it was taught to me by my father and there were LDS plays such as Saturday’ s Warriors and Star Child, that took that idea and ran with it.

Hales then asks the question, did Joseph Smith teach that a man’s salvation depended on the number of offspring and wives that were sealed to him?  The most quoted supportive citation that Joseph Smith did actually teach this comes from Benjamin F. Johnson, but it  comes to us when Johnson was seventy-five years old and the language is imprecise.  To this, I would have liked to see Hales provide us with the quote from Johnson.

It appears that many may have thought that the more people one was sealed to, the greater one’s salvation. But, it was never taught, not even by Joseph Smith’s successors.

Some have used the adoption theory (a bigger sealed family brings one more glory in the afterlife) to explain why men should also be sealed to more wives.   If the adoptive theory is wrong, what does it say about polygamy?  Do more wives bring a man more glory?


Up to this point, Hales has been going through the ground work of the theology of early Mormon polygamy.   Now we get what we have all been waiting for.  Why did Joseph Smith institute polygamy?

One of the arguments for instituting polygamy is that within the LDS concept of eternal life, polygamy was necessary to achieve this goal; this is the view held by most Mormon Fundamentalists. Some have gone so far as to argue that polygamy promised unconditional salvation. That is, if you entered into polygamy, you were going straight to heaven.  One of the arguments for the latter is a revelation given to Sarah Ann Whitney’s father, Bishop Newel K. Whitney.  The revelation, dated July 27, 1842, reads in part:

“…the thing that my servant Joseph Smith has made known unto you and your family and which you have agreed upon is right in mine eyes and shall be crowned upon your heads with honor and immortality and eternal life to all your house both old and young because of the lineage of my priesthood…”(Hales, pg. 196).

The thing that was “agreed upon” is where the weight of this argument lies.   It is genrally intepreted that the thing agreed upon was Joseph Smith’s plural marriage to Sarah Ann Whitney.  Hales’ counter argument to this interpretation is that, “a single plural sealing was incapable of providing all of the blessings mentioned [in the revelation], namely a crown upon their heads ‘with honor and immortality and eternal life to all [his] house both old and young'” (Hales 196).  To be blunt, Hales’ interpretation doesn’t hold traction for me.  Just because Hales says such an ordinance couldn’t bring all the blessings mentioned in the revelation, doesn’t make it so.  And just because the Whinteys might not have seen themselves as undconditionally saved, doesn’t mean that wasn’t Joseph’s intention with the revelation.  The argument Hales presents, for the idea that the Whitneys didn’t see themselves as unconditionally saved is based upon the March 23, 1843 blessing to Sarah Ann, which reads in part:

“…if she remain in the everlasting covenant to the end as also all her father’s house shall be saved in the same eternal glory” (Hales, pg. 187).

While Hales’ argument is plausible, it is dependent upon the idea that Joseph always held the same view on a subject;  which he didn’t always do.

From Sarah Ann Whitney, Hales moves on to some interpretations of Helen Mar Kimball.  In 1881, Helen recalled that in May 1843 Joseph Smith had told her: “If you will take this step [marrying Joseph Smith polygamously], it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred” (Hales, pg. 198).  This statement by Helen is one of the strongest evidences that Joseph Smith taught that polygamy ensured one’s exaltation.  It is from a friendly source.  However, Hales’ problematizes Helen’s statement by saying, “…it assumes that Helen Mar remembered this statement verbatim after almost forty years” (Hales, pg. 199).  Why would one not trust this one statement, but trust her others?  It feels like a forced interpretation on Hales’ part.  Hales further argues that none of Helen’s family would have interpreted the polygamous marriage as such.  Citing a letter from Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, to the idea that one’s eternal station is dependent upon “what we do here” and “how we do it”, Hales argues that Helen would have seen exaltation as conditional upon how she acted througout life, and not just on her one occasion of marrying polygamously.  Hales has devalued a primary source (that is not contemporary to Helen’s sealing to Joseph Smith) and elevated an interpretation of a secondary (although contemporary) source.  As a side note, D. Michael Quinn wrote, “fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball…later testified that he [Joseph Smith] had sexual relations with [her]” (Hales, pg. 201).  To Hales’ credit, he states that, “no such testimony has been located in the historical record [to the fact that Helen and Joseph had conubial relations]”.  Quinn seems to have played a little loose with the historical record. This speaks to Hales’ strength.  Hales’ documents his sources and they are sources available to the public.

 Hales states that between 1852 and 1890, “obedience required polygamous matrimony.  Those who did not comply were viewed as less righteous.  During the thirty-eight year period, plural marriage and celestial marriage were, from a practical standpoint, synonymous. Celestial monigamy was unavailable in most instances” (Hales, pg. 206).   There is some more nuance to Hales’ statement as he shows in two different quotes – one by Almera Johnson (she makes a distinction between celestial marriage and polygamy) and Emily Partridge (who used the terms plural marriage and celestial marriage interchangably) (Hales, pg. 228). On the whole though, I agree with Hales.  This seems to be something forgotten by the 21st century Church.  During the four-year Sunday School rotation, Doctrine and Covenants section 132 will be taught. But it is taught in such a way as to avoid the stickiness of polygamy.  It is used to proof-text the necessity of celestial marriage, which now only means, monogamous eternal sealings.

Regarding whether or not polygamy is/was necessary to enter into the Celestial Kingdom, Joseph Smith was silent and Brigham Young was all over the map.  Hales provides two quotes from Young stating that there would be monogamous men in the Celestial Kingom and also provides a quote by Young to the opposite view.  As Hales weaves through the idea of whether or not polygamy was viewed as being necessary to enter into the LDS concept of a Celestial Kingdom, he does a wonderful job of disarming the fundamentalist view that it is indeed necessary.

The historical record is silent as to why Joseph Smith taught that God commanded the practice of polygamy (beyond the arguments previously dicussed).   But, why would God have commanded it, if it was not necessary for exaltation?  Could it not just have been permitted?  To this question, Hales states:

“Commanding it then allowed for a more rapid numerical expansion of the body of the Saints than simply permitting it would ever have done.  It is probable that, if Church members had not felt divinely compelled, male resistance, accompanied by a near-universal distaste by sister Saints, would have severly limited participation” (Hales, pg 218).

This is a provocative idea, but still doesn’t answer the question of, why was it commanded if not necessary for exaltation?

Hales again talks about Emma Smith’s rejection of polygamy and her demand that Joseph discontinue his entering into more polygamous marriages.  This is another part that was sour for me.  When Hales talks about Emma Smith’s reaction to polygamy, I would have liked him to use softer terms than Emma’s “rebellion and bitterness”.

From here, Hales dives into the different rejections to Joseph Smith’s polygamous proposals.  In doing so, Hales makes some interesting comparisons between the women that privately declined his proposals and those that  publicly did so (Nancy Rigdon and Sarah Pratt).


“Men did not take polygamous wives because they loved them or fancied them or because they were voluptuous, but becasue it was a command of God” (Lucy Walker, quoted by Hales, pg. 244).

The question that looms large in the minds of those that have studied early Mormon polygamy is, if two wives was good enough, why the heck would you need thirty-four?  Here Hales breaks down the different explanations into seven possibilities and then takes a deep scholarly dive into each.

  1. Libido, physical attraction, or romantic love
  2. Eternal advantages
  3. Dynastic connections
  4. Serving as a proxy husband
  5. Fulfillment of premortal promises
  6. Fulfilling the wish of women who sought to be sealed to the Prophet
  7. Personal choice

On page 245, Hales states, “…several authors have reported that Joseph Smith taught that having more offspring sealed to a couple through priesthood adoptions brings eternal benefits. By extension, marrying multiple wives could also be thought to produce advantages in the afterlife.”  This thought has also been promoted by Mormon fundamentalists.  As Hales points out, early fundamentalist leader, Lorin Wooley taught in 1932, “To be the head of a Dispensation, 7 wives [are] necessary.  [The head] of the Patriarchal Order must have 5 wives.  [To be] President of the Church – 3 wives [are necessary]” (Hales, pg 246). However, as Hales points out, “a computer search of available writings, discoursed, and sermons fails to identify supportive quotations directly from Joseph Smith or subsequent leaders, Brigham Young and John Taylor [to the idea that multiple wives could bring you advantages in the afterlife].  There is simply no known dictated counsel showing that early polygamist leaders taught that a man with more plural wives receives a greater exaltation or eternal glory than a man with few plural wives” (Hales, pg 250).

Regarding the third interpretation, Dynastic connections, Hales provides a quick and easy-to-read table that shows how Joseph became related to some of the different men in Nauvoo via polygamous marriages. On the same page (pg. 254) as the table, Hales makes an argument against dynastic connections as the reason for these polygamous unions, that just doesn’t sit well with me.  His argument is that women would have been treated as pawns in a “religious chess game”  and that would have gone against his teachings of plural marriage, “which taught that exercising ‘control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men,’….would constitute ‘unrighteous dominion'” (see Doctrine and Covenants Section 121:37, 39).  I don’t think one’s scripture suddenly causes one to behave in the manner prescribed by said scripture.

Moving on, Hales presents a unique idea, and that is Joseph Smith might have been acting as a “proxy husband” for missionaries.  He quotes extensively from Larry Foster’s work, Sex and Prophetic Power.  Hales quickly points out that there is no evidence to support this idea.

So what is Hales’ conclusion?  Why did Joseph Smith have more than thirty women sealed to him?

“…he may have sought numerous plural wives simply to expand his circle of eternal friends and companions.  The fact that at least a third of these marriages (and possibly up to two-thirds) were without earthly conjugality, supports a more expansive explanation – one that extends beyond this world…Possibly the primary drive behind the number of Joseph Smith’s sealed wives was simply his personal choice to exercise the ‘privelage’ he believed the Lord had extended to him and others around him” (Hales, pg 262).

The next big question Hales tackles is, how the heck did Joseph Smith convince others to enter into polygamy?


Regarding the convincing others of the principle of polygamy, Hales breaks it down into four categories:

  1. The Deceiver-Deceived Dynamic
  2. Well Intentioned Pious Deceiver
  3. Co-Conspirators
  4. Charismatic or Spiritual Experiences

Hales then gives each of these hypotheses their proper attention.  I found his argument against the first hypotheses, The Deceiver-Deceived Dynamic, to be quite compelling:

“Modern critics who attribute this level of deception to Joseph Smith genrerally do so by assuming an ability to discern in Joseph – from a century and a half distance and without any additional evidence – what the Prophet’s own contemoraries could not discern in his presence.   In other words, they assume an ability to understand Joseph better than those individuals who lived physically near him…”(Hales, pg 272).


At least 114 men and women had accepted polygamy at the time of Joseph Smith’s death (Hales, pg 263).

Nearly two hundred men and over five hundred women were involved in plural marriages once the westward migration from Nauvoo was under way.

Parley P. Pratt was the man Brigham Young chose to be the spokesman to announce “to the world in a specially convened conference that the Mormons believed in and were practicing polygamy” (Hales pg. 76).

 In 1844, Bishop Newell K Whitney and Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney’s daugher wast the first child to be born “under the covenant” (Hales, pg 80).

The first child born to a sealed polygamous marriage was Adelbert Kimball, son of Heber C. Kimball and Sarah Peak Kimball.  Born in late 1842 or early 1843.  The child lived less than a year (Hales, pg. 126).

Brigham Young had a total of sixty-five men and women sealed to him by adoption (Hales, pg 175).

Flora Ann Woodworth may have divorced from Joseph Smith after being married to him polygamously.


Throughout volume three, I kept on waiting to see what Hales’ strong-handed conclusion would be.  Guess what?  He never gives one.  He provides a detailed history of what others close to Joseph Smith taught and what scholars have hypothesised regarding Joseph Smith’s motives for polygamy, but Hales never in fact gives his opinion.  I found this interesting, and frankly, a relief.  The book was not what I thought it was going to be.

For whom is this three-volume series written?  It is not for those just entering the realm of Mormon history.  It’s a book one has to read up to.  It is helpful if one knows the main characters that come into play in early Mormon polygamy.

Although many might disagree with Hales’ historical conculsions, this series is by far the most comprehensive collection of primary documentation regarding early Mormon polygamy.  Hales has produced a work that is contained in many libraries scattered throughout the U.S., and placed them all at our finger tips.

Miguel is a Guatemalan-American Mormon living in the Northwest with his family. He is one of the proprietors of the Rational Faiths blog.

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