Monday, August 4, 2008

"Compare Jesus" Part III- Jesus Outshines Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism spoke against polygamy but in his private life he pursued and authorized the practice of marrying multiple wives. None were quite as displeased as his own wife, Emma.

Faithful Mormons argue that Smith was trying to protect widows or elderly women, so he married them to legitimately help them. But in 1843 alone, Smith betrayed his wife by secretly marrying twelve women, two already married to other men. If Smith's motives were entirely honorable then why would he have hidden his honorable behavior from Emma? If Smith longed to provide for elderly widows, then why did he pursue a woman like Lucy Walker Kimball?

Lucy’s mother had died so Joseph and Emma offered to care for Lucy and her brothers while their father went on mission. Lucy served as Emma’s maid while she attended school. When Lucy was fifteen Joseph invited her to live in his home, explaining “I have a message for you. I have been commanded of God to take another wife, and you are the woman.” Smith’s pressure (he renewed the request regularly declaring it was "the command of God") ultimatums (requiring that she decide or he would remove the "favor of God's prophet" from her and never renew the request again) and finally a heavenly vision (Smith promises her a vision to assuage her conscience) convinces Lucy to secretly wed Joseph.

Lucy’s brother performed the ceremony.

Lucy’s testimony is not a strangely mislead teenager writing to malign the character of a man she hated. Historian Richard Lyman Bushman calls Lucy’s example “the standard autobiography for the celestial marriage narratives in Utah.”* From Bushman’s research, he found that wives were forced leave their current husbands, cut themselves off from friends and possibly suffer the humiliation of pregnancy if they conceived.

Ten of Smith’s wives were under twenty. In reading their personal narratives it becomes clear that it is not their conviction of celestial marriage (read polygamy) as proper or good, nor their romantic aspirations toward Smith that convince them to enter into marriage with him. It is Smith’s spiritual pressure that finally breaks their resolve and prompts them into obedience.

Emma Smith had to live with the unpleasant dilemma of faith in her husband’s teachings and disgust in his plural marriages. I can only imagine how his secrecy incited her disappointment and distrust. Smith offered Emma more financial security and even some freshly received revelation from God that proved that plural marriages were God’s idea not Smith's. Nevertheless, Emma was unwilling to accept Smith’s wives.

Interestingly enough, it is not until Emma was included in the typically all male rituals (called endowments) did their marriage improve. It seems that even Emma had her price.

Smith engaged in secrecy, spiritual abuse and polygamy. Some Mormons have shared with me that even the Bible shows the patriarchs engaging in polygamy. And they are correct, we do find several instances of polygamy, but it fascinates me that God never condoning or encourages multiple wives. Quite the opposite, God warns the kings of Israel against many wives (see Deut 17:17). And when Jesus appears, he taught faithfulness to one spouse as God’ original intentions for men and women.

Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"

Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matt 19:4-9).

*Kimball, Lucy Walker. Autobiographical Sketch. Church Archives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah as quoted in Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 490-491.


Seth R. said...

Three possibilities:

1. Joseph made it up

2. Joseph did exactly what God told him to do

3. Joseph received a general principle from God, but was left to his own devices in how to carry it out

I personally don't think it was 1 and 2. I lean toward 3 (though I leave 1 and 2 as possibilities). My own view is that Joseph was given a general principle of the "Celestial order of marriage" but God left it up to him how to manage it and implement it. I also think Joseph often made a hash of it.

I think it best to let the wives speak for themselves and not read our own "coercion narratives" onto them - narratives based on our modern 21st century sensibilities.

I've read some of the account from Helen Mar Kimball (married to Joseph at the age of 14 - legal marriageable age in those days). She says that the idea of her marriage did not come from Joseph at all, but was suggested instead by her father Heber C. Kimball. She refuses to state whether the marriage was ever "consumated." In fact, much of the evidence suggests that it was more of a "dynastic marriage." A marriage that had nothing to do with sex, but everything to do with binding two "faithful and righteous" families together in eternal bonds. A constant preoccupation of Joseph's was the binding together of the human race in righteous covenant bonds (not just marriage either).

In Helen's mind, it was certainly a very hard thing. Distasteful to her and contrary to her beliefs. Yet she felt it was God's will and continued to feel that way until the day she died. She felt that she had been called upon to make an "Abrahamic sacrifice" (referring to the Bible account of the near sacrifice of Abraham's son) and that she and her family had been deeply blessed for it. She did not, at the end, look upon her marriage to Joseph with regrets.


I don't know... Do you believe it or not? She did. Her father did. I also think Joseph himself did (maybe you don't).

Maybe the people involved did feel forced to some degree. But that doesn't mean they ultimately regretted it. Nor does it mean the whole affair was necessarily wrong.

For me, the message of polygamy is that, as far as God is concerned, the form of marriage is not set in stone, and it can be altered at His discretion. A more modern message I take from D&C 132 (the main body of scripture on this matter) is that there is room for more than one person in the human heart.

I do not practice polygamy, nor do I desire to in this life (and I'm ambiguous about the next life). But I look at my fellow Mormons who have lost spouses in life and remarried. If family bonds are eternal - as Mormons believe - then are these people expected to choose between spouses in the hereafter? Why shouldn't they remain sealed to both?

Polygamy in mortality is quite messy and very problematic under the best of circumstances. But what about in heaven? Would the same problems apply?

I would submit that the same problems would not apply. Marriage in heaven will be a much different affair.

Just my own thoughts.

Seth R. said...

By the way...

I apologize if I am intruding uninvited on a private family blog.

If you're interested in hearing Mormon women debate over the nature of polygamy, "Feminist Mormon Housewives" and "Zelophehad's Daughters" are two group blogs run by Mormon women which have struggled with the idea of polygamy on several occasions over the past couple years. You might be interested in seeing the range of opinion this issue evokes among faithful Mormons.


Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Seth- You are welcome to comment. My blog isn't a personal family blog, all friends and strangers can give their 2 cents. And I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you for sharing so openly. I'd like to challenge a few of your points.

1- The story I shared about Lucy Walker Kimball is all taken from her own words, penned in the 19th century. So I believe I have allowed one wife to "speak for herself." She found Smith's pressure too much to stand against, these are her words, not mine.

2- I do believe your list of 3 possibilities is a good starting point, but you have not taken into account the possibility of deception in the spiritual world. I believe that Scripture teaches that God appears to people, but also that Satan appears to people, disguising himself as an angel of light (see II Cor 11:13-15). There seems to be a 4th possibility, Smith believed he heard from God but since God the Father and Jesus his Son both come down against polygamy, and both teach that marriage is between one man and one woman I believe Smith could have been terribly deceived. Where do you see God approving the idea that the form of marriage is not set in stone? Is this idea found in the Bible?

3- If any of Smith's wives did not feel coerced that could serve to indicate the depth of their deception. For in my mind, you are the most deeply controlled and manipulated when you fail to see the manipulation. Regardless, however, my concern is not merely how his wives felt toward him, but how Smith measures up next to Jesus. Jesus never required a woman to marry him to protect, provide, equip her. He did not try to bind women to him in eternal bonds through marriage, friendship was beautifully sufficient and binding enough. "If anyone would follow me, let them take up their cross and follow." Jesus didn't require women to shoulder the added burden and sacrifice of secret marriage or living as one of many wives. Jesus had the power to take care of women's eternal futures without any marriage vows. That makes Jesus greater, in my mind. Jesus always dignified women without asking them to do anything that was distasteful (please keep reading these next days as I'll be doing a summary of how Jesus specifically valued women).

4- In the end it doesn't matter to me that Smith wanted to join women to men in "righteous covenant bonds." It doesn't matter that some women did not feel coerced nor that they have "no regrets." What matters is whether you and I believe Smith's behavior toward women is honorable. His wives' spiritual biographies (which do include his spiritual pressure) do not remove the fact that he married and made love to many young brides while his own wife, Emma, was kept deceived. Smith did not respect his own wife, nor did he believe (as Paul teaches in I Corinthians 7:4) that his body belonged to his wife, Emma. He was not free to do what he wished without her knowledge or consent. And yet he did. He deceive his wife. That is a monstrous offense in my eyes. It is his behavior towards his first wife that makes his example pale next to Jesus.
5- As far as marriage in heaven, I believe Jesus answered this question in Mark 12:24-25
"Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. " In other words, marriage is only for this earthly life, when we go to heaven and then later when we are resurrected with new bodies we will neither be married nor relate to our spouses with the exclusive intimacy or sexual interaction that we do on earth. At least 1/2 of the purpose of sex is for procreation and in the new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:1) people will no longer procreate. Marriage's intimacy will no longer remain, though we will know our spouse, we will not exclusively relate to them in this way. I believe all people will relate and know one another with greater intimacy. Exclusive twosomes will be no more, instead a united body of those who want to be near each other and their God will flourish. This is the marriage supper of the Lamb.
6- One final question, if you believe polygamy is both messy and problematic, why did God tell Joseph Smith to practice it? I know you've quoted from Doctrine and Covenants' where it says that there is room for more than one in the human heart, but can you justify this belief with the Bible? My thoughts on this passage from D and C: First, I agree that love always includes. But why does this love have to include sexual or marital bonding? I can love many friends, guys and girls, but I would never invite them into my exclusive, marital, romantic love with my husband. There is room in my heart for more love, but not room for more romantic (eros) love. This is because marriage, by definition, means exclusive love of the opposite sex. And I believe if we could interview Abraham, Jacob, David or Solomon, they would each agree that multiple wives clouded their love, and that none of them truly had "room in their hearts" to make polygamy work. My question for you is how do you justify polygamy as a good thing for either men or women?

Seth R. said...

Thank you for being nice about this. I've met plenty of Christians who are a bit more harsh about Mormonism. I hope I can give a good answer, but I do worry about presenting what is merely my own opinion as "LDS doctrine." I'll try to be careful in preserving the distinction though.

You've also brought up a lot of separate issues here...

To get one out of the way. You'll brook no disagreement from me that Jesus is greater than Joseph Smith. No Mormon I know would question that statement. I doubt even Joseph himself would have questioned it.

"but you have not taken into account the possibility of deception in the spiritual world. I believe that Scripture teaches that God appears to people, but also that Satan appears to people, disguising himself as an angel of light (see II Cor 11:13-15)."

I'm aware of this scripture and you're not the first to have used it thus. However, I don't think this line of reasoning takes us very far.

Remember, it is this same line of reasoning that the hard-hearted Pharisees used against Jesus Christ himself. They said "he hath a devil" and sought to discredit him that way. What is to say that accusations of Mormons being led by evil spirits are not similarly mistaken?

In the end, the suggestion that we are being misled by evil spirits is a circular argument that usually degenerates into a "yes you are - no I'm not" kind of back and forth. There's no way to prove I'm being led by an evil spirit other than a couple ways:

1. Whether my religion and assertions square with what we already accept as God's word and

2. The results. What results does Mormonism produce. What is the fruit of this tree?

But neither of these methods depend on the evil spirit argument. They stand on their own merits. So I would suggest shelving the "evil spirit" argument. It just won't prove useful here.

Is Mormonism biblical?

Well, I'll be the first to admit that Mormonism is not contained within the Bible. A lot of our teachings are quite outside the Bible and not found within it. Polygamy is probably one of those things. While you can use stories of Abraham, Solomon, David, Moses, and Jacob to show that the practice was not unheard of in the Bible, you are correct that the Bible never condones polygamy explicitly.

However, it does not condemn the practice either.

This is where I get my own feeling that God is actually more flexible on what is an "acceptable" marriage arrangement than Christian America is (including most LDS). If polygamy really was so inherently repugnant, wouldn't we expect to see some condemnation from God?

Yet the Bible remains hands-off. The closest we get is Nathan's condemnation of David's murder of Uriah. But that seems to be more about greed and taking from those weaker than it is about any evil inherent in polygamy.

The Book of Mormon, ironically, is more hostile to polygamy than the Bible is. In the Book of Jacob, the prophet by the same name condemns the people for taking concubines. He even goes so far as to state that the many wives and concubines of David and Solomon were "abominable" before the Lord. But why they were is left ambiguous, and then Jacob immediately suggests that polygamy is acceptable when the Lord wishes to raise up righteous posterity to Himself.

I won't deny it, the Book of Mormon seems to make it pretty clear that at least some of the BEHAVIORS associated with polygamous practice are abhorrent to the Lord. I think you see some clear examples of this in the practices of our cousins, the FLDS - where wives (and children) are taken from unpopular men and given to other more powerful men. Women are forced into marriages against their will or consent. And young men are banished from the community and left to fend for themselves in an unfamiliar world simply because the powerful older men wanted a fresh supply of young brides without competition from other young men.

But is this an outright condemnation of polygamy per se. Somehow I doubt it. Polygamy is always presented in the Bible as being fraught with problems (Jacob's troubled triangle between Rachel and Leah is a case in point). Yet, so is monogamous marriage.

Indeed, I find few crimes in polygamy that are not equally to be found in monogamy.

Coerced brides? Check.
Abusive husbands? Check.
Indulging sexual lust? Check.
Chasing other women? Check.
Underage marriages? Check.

Is it the polygamy itself? Or the hearts of corrupt men and women?

Now, bringing up the Old Testament story of Jacob brings up another point. For me, the story of Jacob and his two wives has a central, but often overlooked, point:

You don't have to be a good husband, or a good father, to be a prophet. Or to be chosen by God.

The Old Testament is one long narrative of deeply flawed and imperfect men seeking God when no one else was, and, against all expectations, finding Him.

Joseph fits the Old Testament prophet model to a T. The man is highly controversial, and with good reason. He had his flaws, no question.

But I would hold he was still the "real deal," for all that. The doctrine he preached was powerful and compelling. The word of God is there in full majesty and power.

I do not rule out the possibility that Joseph may have messed up badly in some respects. Who is to say he was not, on occasion, a "fallen prophet" such as Balam, or Jonah? Even Moses was denied entry to the Promised Land because he arrogantly claimed that HE had given the people water when they thirsted. Many of our most beautiful canonized Psalms were written by a fallen and adulterous David.

This is not a common Mormon view, to be sure. But it does illustrate how a man can be, at once, deeply wrong, and yet still a prophet.

It will not do to simply point out deficiencies in Joseph's character as evidence for the general falsehood of the Church he began.

Some Christians I have encountered quickly bring up the point that fallen Biblical prophets, when speaking as prophets, did not contradict the rest of God's word. The implication is obviously that Joseph did contradict the Bible, and is therefore not a true prophet at all.

I have already mentioned why I do not think this is true. Mormonism may add to the Bible, but it does not clearly contradict it.

To take one example, Mormons do not read Mark 12:24-25 as being a comprehensive and exclusive statement by Jesus.

Here is the Doctrine and Covenants passage that takes a different path on Jesus words:

"Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me, nor by my word; and he covenant with her, so long as he is in the world, and she with him, their covenant and marriage is not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world; therefore, when they are out of the world, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those, who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory; for these angels did not abide my law, therefore they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately, and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity, and from henceforth are not Gods, but are angels of God forever and ever."

The "marriage ban" apparently only applies to mortal marriages performed without God's authority.

It is important to realize that Christ's words in Matt 22 are not meant to be a definitive statement on whether or not there are married people in heaven. His main thrust was to shoot down the Sadducee belief that there was no resurrection. Along the way, he pointed out that there is no marriage in heaven. But you have to take his words at face value and not add your own improvisations to what Christ said. He never said there would be no married people in heaven. Only that there would be no marriages performed. There's a difference.

It was this issue that drove Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord for additional clarification. In response, he received a revelation now contained in D&C 132:4-28 (the most pertinent verses are 7, and 15-17). I quoted part of it above.

This is a good example of how Mormonism, through continuing revelation, adds to the contents of the Bible, or clarifies the contents of the Bible. But we do not contradict the Bible.

Again, Joseph Smith is an important figure for Mormonism, but we do not worship him. We do not esteem him higher than Christ. Neither is our faith dependent on Joseph's perfection of character.

Sorry for the essay. As to your question of how to justify polygamy at the end of your last post, I haven't addressed it yet, but hope to later.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Hi Seth,
Don't worry about the "essay" I'm glad to hear from someone from the inside about this.

I suppose the most valuable thing you said, at least for me, is how you believe Jesus is superior to Joseph Smith. Sometimes its hard for me to see that in Mormons because they allow Joseph's commentary to supercede or better, explain, what Jesus said. I don't let any prophet do that, I let Jesus be the final word.

I agree that we must "test the fruit" and see if Mormonism squares with the Bible to test for God-inspired or Satan-inspired-ness. But I guess that's where I cannot follow you. Joseph Smith's own life doesn't show me the fruit I'd expect from a prophet of God.

You made a good point that God can use anyone, even someone with a morally inferior lifestyle, to speak his truth. I do not, however, think that any of his prophets were like that. You mention Jacob, and call him a prophet. I agree that he was not a good husband in some respects (though he was tricked and didn't originally choose to be polygamous), but why would you say that he is chosen to be a prophet? I would say he's a patriarch, but not a prophet. There does seem to be a substantial difference.

You are correct that God uses fallen, flawed humans, but this doesn't mean they are good prophets. For instance, I would not base my spirituality on the teachings of either Balaam or Jonah.

I do understand what you mean, however, that Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith. I didn't think that before either. thanks for clarifying, however, for my readers.

About how Joseph Smith clarifies Jesus' words on marriage, I would call that an improper addition to what Jesus is saying, particularly since Jesus says any man who marries another woman while his life is still alive commits adultery. Why do you think this passage (see Matt 19:4-9). I find it strange to let Joseph's words on marriage gloss Jesus' words, especially since Joseph Smith's own life doesn't give him credibility in my mind to speak on marriage.

You are correct that abuse in marriage is just as bad as abuse in polygamy. But here's the million dollar question: does polygamy value women as equally made in God's image to men? If so, I need an explanation. Also, I'm still eager to hear your explanation for how polygamy is good for men or women.

By the way, I agree with you that Nathan is not condemning David for polygamy per se, but focusing on David's adultery (taking someone's wife that was not his own). But then, didn't Joseph Smith do the same? What do you make of Richard Bushman's biography?

Seth R. said...

I'm only halfway through the biography. It's quite good. But "the other shoe" hasn't dropped yet.

i.e. we're going into the "Nauvoo period" from here on.

As for Matt. 19:4-9...

I don't think it says that any man who marries another woman while his wife is still alive commits adultery.

Here's the NIV:

8Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.
9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.


8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

CEV (blech):

8 Jesus replied, "You are so heartless! That's why Moses allowed you to divorce your wife. But from the beginning God did not intend it to be that way.

9 I say that if your wife has not committed some terrible sexual sin, you must not divorce her to marry someone else. If you do, you are unfaithful.

I just don't see anything about polygamy in there whatsoever. Am I wrong?

Seth R. said...

Does polygamy value women equally to men?

I suppose that depends on how you practice it.

I don't think the way Brigham Young envisioned it really paid the women themselves much mind one way or the other. His rhetoric (and his contemporaries) seemed to focus mostly on how a MAN would receive eternal increase by receiving more, and more wives and children. So yeah, that was fairly chauvinist (as was the time period generally).

Certainly, the way the FLDS practice it - were wives and children are held or withheld as coercive bargaining chips by the community elders to keep other men in line - is degrading for all concerned.

If you allow only men to have more than one spouse, but not women, that is certainly unequal as a threshold issue. This is the current status quo in LDS temple work. But the indications are that it is changing.

I think it just depends how it is practiced. I am not convinced that God is as beholden to the monogamous relationship model as many Mormons and other Christians think He is. Restrictions are placed upon marriage as a practical matter (there is so much potential to hurt people within it). But I think it is the concerns with hurting people that predominate.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Hi Seth,
Good to have you weighing in again. Thank you!

I think that verse in Matt is talking about anytime a man marries another woman when his current wife is still alive. In this case he means remarriage after divorce (except for unfaithfulness) is adultery. So I've gathered that if remarriage after a divorce (which seems to sever the marital bonds) is considered adultery then certainly multiple marriages is also marring the purpose of marriage as well. For polygamy joins you sexually to another woman beyond your wife, it cannot fit the one flesh metaphor from Genesis that Jesus is building upon here. Do you see my line of reasoning?

Glad you're enjoying Bushman.

I guess in sum I cannot see that any form of polygamy is good or healthy for either the man or the woman because it destroys the two becoming one purpose of marriage.

Seth R. said...

Well, it removes the idea of "two becoming one." But what of the many becoming one?

Personally, I think that traditional Christian legwork on the Holy Trinity is quite useful on this issue (though I'm sure they never intended it that way).

How do you have more than one person (in this case - Father, Son and Spirit), and yet one... Thing (in this case - God)?

If three individuals can become "God," why not three people "one flesh?" If they have been joined together by God, why not?

This may seem a bizarre comparison. But when you consider it in light of Mormon doctrines of deification, it seems relevant. Especially when you consider that Mormon godhood (or theosis, if you want to muddy the water further) is a husband-wife affair.

Paul F. said...

Seth & Jonalyn,

This has been interesting to read. I guess I'll jump in on the conversation too!

I'm still thinking about the issue of the Trinity so I'll have to get back to you (Seth) on that. Though at first I wonder if the two cases are dissimilar in that the Trinity was eternally 3 in 1 and that is not the case with husband & wives (I'm thinking there may be some personal identity problems).

Concerning what the Bible has to say on the matter, I find two things very problematic for polygamy. First, the NT never uses 'husband' singular and 'wives' plural. We never see "a husband should treat his wives..." When 'wives' is used it is because 'husbands' was also used. So yes there may not be an outright condemnation of it, but that could simply be because it was already understood by the audience. (Perhaps some writings from the Inter-testamental periods could shed some light on this.) So, some may find it odd that there is no condemnation of polygamy, but I find it odd that there is no instruction about practicing it.

The second difficulty I have with polygamy (and Smith in particular) is that 2 Timothy 3 does say an overseer must be "above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable..." Many Christians have taken that to mean that an overseer should not divorce and remarry. But, in light of this discussion I would like to suggest it may also be speaking to having more than one wife. If nothing else, if polygamy were not meant to be included in the passage (and was an actual viable option at the time) it seems there would be an exclusion for polygamous marriage here.

Regardless of which you think was intended, it is striking that the author lists having one wife right alongside being self-controlled, respectable, etc. It seems he is saying part of being above reproach is having one wife. I think this is directly relevant to Smith because I find it hard to believe that an overseer of a local body must be above reproach (in the ways mentioned) but a prophet like Smith would not need to be. What is it about being a prophet that exempts one from having to be above reproach? How would LDS churches (that still support polygamy) handle that passage when it comes to their own local bodies?

Perhaps this weekend I'll be able to think more about the Trinity stuff. But hopefully this will contribute to the conversation for now.


Seth R. said...

Thanks Paul. Good thoughts.

One thing I'm not sure of though...

Wasn't there an instruction in the Law of Moses for a man to marry his brother's widow and "raise up seed" in his dead brother's stead? Wasn't this instruction in force regardless of the current marital status of man in question?

Maybe I'll look it up sometime, because my memory is a bit sketchy on this.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

I think the verse you're thinking of is in Deut 25:5-10. I'll quote the relevant bit so we can discuss it:

5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

7 However, if a man does not want to marry his brother's wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, "My husband's brother refuses to carry on his brother's name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me." 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, "I do not want to marry her," 9 his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line." 10 That man's line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.

A few observations
1- there's no mention that the 2nd groom is also married, and that this widow should be added to his wife/wives/harem...though I suppose it's possible. One reason I find it unlikely is the example of Tamar and Judah in Genesis, where you see that Tamar's husband dies and Judah (her father in law) refuses to give her another husband until his other sons have grown up. This makes me think that the sons were not married and reserved for the widowed woman because of family duty. Not very romantic, but practical.

Second, it seems like the man has a choice, as does the woman, about raising up his brother's seed. I mean he'll get publicly shamed, but he can still say no... so that seems to me to be a little freedom about this command. There's not killing or stoning if they disobey.

Third interesting thing to note is that this is the passage that is used to ask Jesus about the resurrection when Jesus replies that there is not marriage in heaven, but we are like the angels, neither marrying nor being given in marriage. This, as you've mentioned, means at least that people are not getting married in heaven, nor are they getting divorced. It could also mean many other things.

Nice citation of I Tim, I hadn't thought of that example.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

p.s. Also in relating a polygamous marriage to the Trinity, I feel, along with Paul, that something is wrong in the comparison. Mainly, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in a way that husband and wife approach, perhaps, but NOT in a way 2 wives can ever approach. So what I'm saying is that the 2 wives never have intimacy (usually the reverse if we look at the Biblical and historical records) that husband and wife have.

Seth R. said...

Well, I did a quick Wikipedia search (so take it for what it's worth) and got the following under "Polygamy" under the subheading of "Judaism:"

Exodus 21:10:

"If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights."

This is talking in the context of servants/slaves and such, but it clearly seems to state that a multiple marriage was at least allowed by Mosaic Law.

Deut 21:15-17:

"15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father's strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him."

You might be able to argue a separation by divorce or death here between the two marriages. But really, if so, why does the law not say so explicitly? Certainly polygamy was locally very common among the people of that time, and there was a definite Hebrew history of it (Moses himself, as it so happens). Why not address it?

Deut 17:17:

"He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray."

This is talking about the restrictions on what a king may do. I think this one is hardly a slam dunk in favor of polygamy. But you will note that the prohibition is on "many wives." If they wanted to restrict him to just one, why not make it explicit?

Then there is Deut 25:5-10 which we have already discussed a bit. I would note that even if you try to make this about unmarried brothers (as you do in the example of Judah and Tamar), you just know that such ideal conditions as that couldn't have held all the time. Surely, in all of Israel, there had to be instances where two brothers are married to one wife. One brother dies, and now the widow must be dealt with. You just know it had to happen fairly regularly (I mean, it happens today all the time). And this is how the Mosaic Law says the situation is to be dealt with.

According to the Wiki article, Ashkenazi Jews have been banned from polygamy since the 11th century.

All the scriptures I cited above deal with rather unusual circumstances (dealing with kings, family deaths and widows, concubines, etc). None of them make an air-tight case for polygamy as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young practiced it. The faithful informed Mormon view would have to say that both Joseph and Brigham received a commandment of God, and then went looking for evidence in the Bible to provide explanation and support for what they had been told to do (not always particularly convincing support either).

But you just can't make the case that the Old Testament ever really condemns the practice. The Old Testament condemns many human failings, but polygamy is not really one of them.

As for the citation of 1 Timothy 3:2,

The problem with this scripture is that it deals with an equally narrow exception to those cited above in the Old Testament - that Overseers, Deacons, or Bishops (depending on which translation you are reading).

Furthermore, if you read verse 2 in context with verses 3-7, it becomes clear that Paul's overriding concern here is that such a man have his own house in order, that it will not prove a distraction to himself in his office, and stumbling block to those who look to him for guidance. A very practical worry. We all know of people who have rejected the Gospel because of the bad example of a member of our respective "clergy."

To such a man of authority in the Church, the injunction to have one wife is a very practical one. Having read about polygamy as it has been historically practiced, I can tell you it looks like an awful lot of work to make it run smoothly. Brigham Young, was one of the most formidable planners and organizers in American history. A very practical and extremely effective leader of men. Not to mention relatively very well-off financially in the community, and enjoying a lot of support. And even he grumbled about the headaches of his domestic situation.

No doubt about it, polygamy is a rough gig. Even in 1800s Utah, it was usually only allowed for the financially well-off men and only a small percentage of the Utah Mormon community ever practiced it - even at its height. My own great, great grandfather Aaron Johnson had over a dozen wives. But he was Brigham's right-hand man in many ways and founded the city of Springville (just 15 minutes south of Provo). He was a wealthy man and could meet the financial burden of such a family.

So Paul's caution is well taken here - though early Mormons didn't really (Bishops were the most common candidates for polygamous marriages). You really can read Paul's injunction as solely a practical one directed toward a group of men who, honestly, already have enough on their plate without adding the burden of an extra wife or two.

I just don't see that the New Testament really says much against polygamy either, except by implication perhaps.

That said, I think your concerns about whether multiple wives and one husband can ever approach the sort of intimacy enjoyed by one man and one woman are definitely worth giving serious consideration to. But such arguments rely more on our general sense of what is right based on general morals found in scripture rather than an appeal to any specific scriptural injunctions.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

I appreciate your perseverance and grace in this discussion Seth.

I have one more sort of summary remark as well. In the Mosaic Law we get to see what God sets up, not as his ideal rules for his people, but how to guide people with hard hearts. I say this because it seems to be what Jesus means when he's questioned about the divorce and remarriage principle in the gospels. He says that Moses made the law of divorce because 'of your hardness of heart.' Then he refreshes their perspective by going back to the beginning, the original intentional of male/female interaction. I use this as my biblical justification for studying the important two-ness and sexual exclusivity of marriage.

Thank you, again, for this great discussion!

Seth R. said...

You've been most gracious as well Jonalyn. I thank you. It's hard to find such pleasant interfaith conversation about Mormonism on the internet. I wish more people could understand that disagreement is no reason to be unfriendly.

I think I'll leave it at your final comment. I don't quite view things that way myself. But I think we've said what we wanted to, more or less.