Recently a small controversy ignited on Wikipedia over an article presumtively entitled “1831 polygamy revelation.” The original article doesn’t exist anymore (it’s since been merged into “Origin of Latter Day Saint polygamy“), but it raises an interesting and important question: When, exactly, did Joseph Smith start teaching plural marriage?
The trouble is that there are no contemporary first- or second-hand accounts of Joseph advocating polygamy [edit: in the early 1830s]. By that I mean there are no documents written by Joseph Smith himself (first hand), or by someone who personally heard Joseph say something (second hand) and wrote it down at the time (contemporary), that advocate the restoration of polygamy.
When it comes to verifying historical events, these criteria are important. Late reminiscences (things written from memory years later) and third-hand reports (“I heard Sidney Gilbert say that Joseph told him…”) are and should be treated with extreme suspicion. Memory is pliant and frequently influenced by later impressions and feelings, and stories passed from one person to another all too often take on a character remarkably unlike the original. One clear example of this is a late remembrance of W. W. Phelps of a supposed polygamy revelation received by Joseph Smith in 1831.
William Wines Phelps was converted to the restored gospel in 1830. He arrived in Kirtland from New York on 15 June 1831 and requested a revelation from Joseph. Joseph revealed that the Lord wanted Phelps to be baptized and ordained, and to accompany Joseph to Missouri to serve as a printer for the Church. (This revelation was canonized as D&C 55.) Phelps was baptized the next day, and on 18 June he left with Joseph, Sidney Rigdon, Martin Harris, Edward Partridge, Joseph Coe, and Sidney Gilbert for Missouri. The party arrived in Independence on 14 July 1831.
Joseph received several revelations while he was in Missouri, four of which are part of our Doctrine and Covenants (sections 57, 58, 59, and 60). In 1861 — thirty years later — Phelps wrote a letter to Brigham Young in which he revealed, word-for-word, a previously unknown revelation to Joseph, purportedly given 17 July 1831, proclaiming that the men in the group should eventually take Native American wives. The key portion of the document states:
Verily I say unto you that the wisdom of man in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my holy priesthood. but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness by reason of the anointing: For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.
In a note appended below the revelation, Phelps explained:
About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph privately, how “we,” that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives from the “natives” — as we were all married men? He replied instantly “In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Katurah; and Jacob took Rachel Bilhah and Zilpah: by revelation — the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.”
Phelps’ letter is in the Church archives, and was eventually published in H. Michael Marquardt’s book, The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, never ones to pass up an opportunity to beat the Church with any stick available, accuse the Church of “suppressing” the revelation, and triumphantly present the document as evidence of the inherent racism of Mormon beliefs.
The problem is that Phelps wrote this revelation, quoting Joseph Smith word-for-word, thirty years after the words were allegedly spoken. The Tanners try to dodge this by claiming, without any evidence, that there is an earlier transcript of the revelation, and Phelps was only quoting from it. But Phelps’ 1861 letter remains the only evidence of a July 1831 polygamy revelation.
I ask the reader, can you remember — word-for-word — any conversation you had thirty years ago? It quite obvious that this document is not a reliable record.
In fairness to Phelps, he had good intentions. In 1861 the Church was under pressure from Mormon splinter groups — including the Reorganized Church, formed just the previous year — to prove that polygamy was taught by Joseph Smith, and not an invention of Brigham Young. For various reasons, Joseph was very secretive about plural marriage, and the practice only became public when the Church announced it in August 1852. The Church responded to the charge that polygamy was a Utah creation by gathering affidavits from early converts who heard Joseph Smith teach it.
And that’s where we need to be cautious: It’s clear from eyewitness testimony that Joseph Smith was teaching the impending restoration of plural marriage in the early 1830s. But it’s irresponsible to go so far as to say that the Phelps document — written thirty years after the supposed events and colored by the necessity of defending polygamy in 1861 — represents the actual words of Joseph Smith on 17 July 1831.
Mike Parker says
I might add that the treatment of the Phelps document is one example where the Tanners manifest themselves as polemicists, and not historians.
J. Stapley says
It should be noted that Phelps’s claimed that his letter represented “the substance” of the revelation and that as Joseph’s ghost-writer he was used to writing in the voice of the prophet. As to whether this revelation was hidden…well Bachman discussed and quoted extensively from it in his 1975 thesis.
You wrote: “The trouble is that there are no contemporary first- or second-hand accounts of Joseph advocating polygamy.”
This seems to me rather mistaken. What about William Clayton’s diaries?
Bryce Haymond says
“The trouble is that there are no contemporary first- or second-hand accounts of Joseph advocating polygamy.”
I’m not sure I agree with this. What about D&C 132? The section heading in our current edition reads:
B.H. Roberts wrote a lengthy study of the origin of this revelation in the introduction of Volume 5 of the History of the Church. In it he writes that this revelation was probably received in response to prayerful inquiry by Joseph about plural marriage:
William Clayton wrote down the revelation on July 12th, 1843, as it was dictated to him directly by the Prophet Joseph, in response to Hyrum’s pressuring to appease Emma about plural marriage. That it was not committed to paper at the time the revelation was received is irrelevant, I believe, because by that time the Prophet said he “knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end” (HC xxxii). That the Prophet knew the revelation perfectly by 1843 is also evidenced by Clayton’s account of Emma’s reaction to it:
There seems to be many accounts, according to B.H. Roberts, that Joseph received the revelation sometime in 1831, may have been practicing plural marriage by 1835, dictated it in writing in 1843, but that only a few knew of it until 1846. Roberts goes to great lengths to show that the revelation was, indeed, authored by the Prophet (HC xxxiv-xlvi).
Mike Parker says
I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear in my original post. What I meant is there are no first or contemporary second-hand accounts of Joseph teaching plural marriage in the early 1830s. (I’ve edited the post to reflect this.)
The assertion that he was teaching plural marriage in the early 1830s is based on after-the-fact testimony.
Umm. So how to take Fanny Algers?
Admittedly the claim Joseph knew about polygamy in the 1830’s can be taken as apologetic for the Algers relationship. (I assume this is what Roberts is referring to)
Bryce Haymond says
By “teaching” I suppose you mean preaching openly to the Church, for he probably taught it to Fanny Alger who he married, according to Bushman, sometime before 1836 (RSR, 437). He might have also taught it at the same time to her parents and uncle, if Mosiah Hancock’s story is accurate, and if Joseph’s method for asking remained constant from the beginning (RSR, 325). Bushman notes, “As in many subsequent plural marriages, Joseph did not steal away the prospective bride. He approached the parents first to ask for their daughter’s hand” (ibid.).
Mike Parker says
Keep in mind that Mosiah Hancock was born in 1834, and was less than two years old when the Joseph Smith/Fanny Alger relationship took place. Mosiah learned what he knew from his father, Levi, which makes Mosiah’s account third-hand and late.
The earliest contemporary reference to Joseph/Fanny is in Oliver Cowdery’s letterbook entry for 21 January 1838, where he referred to it as “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair”. Oliver’s fallout with Joseph and eventual excommunication was, in part, over his charges that Joseph had been sexually immoral.
Ebenezer Robinson’s minutes in the Far West Record for 12 April 1838 has several brethren referring to Joseph’s relationship with Fanny as “adultery.”
There were rumors circulating as early as 1835 that the Mormons were advocating polygamy, which prompted Oliver to write up an Article on Marriage and submit it for a sustaining vote by the general assembly of the church in Kirtland on 17 August 1835. Joseph was preaching in Michigan at the time. The article became Section 101 of the 1835 (first) edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. It affirms in verse 4: “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” The article remained in the D&C until the 1876 edition, when it was removed and superseded by Section 132.
In summary, if Joseph Smith was teaching polygamy in the early 1830s, many of his closest associates didn’t know about it — including Oliver Cowdery, the one-time Second Elder of the Church and Joseph’s companion in receiving the priesthood keys by angelic visitation in 1836. This conflicts with the later testimony of people who were not in Joseph’s intimate circle but claimed that he taught them polygamy. I don’t know how to resolve that.
Bryce Haymond says
I think the only reason that others, not in Joseph’s close circle, might have been taught it before 1839 is because they were directly involved in the marriages.
I agree with Mike that we must take such accounts at face value. Many of these accounts were hearsay if not double/triple hearsay. That doesn’t mean that they’re not true or accurate, but there is a reason that courts don’t allow in hearsay except in rare situations.
Bushman made a great point in RSR that Joseph really only kept a very detailed personal journal for one winter in the mid-1830’s. Almost everything written after that was by a scribe on his behalf. Therefore, it is tough for us to get in his head to see what he was thinking because from that point on, he was defined by others, even if they were his friends. To have everything you said in life scrutinized, every argument with your wife, would be difficult.
Between Oliver’s statements in Far West and Levi Hancock, we are left to guess what was known on his part that early and how much he was advocating it during the Fanny period. I agree with Bruce that this may not have really been known outside the circle of people that were being included. Joseph had a propensity to trust newly found friends so it is fascinating how Oliver was kept out of the loop after Section 110. I suppose that is the same thing for Sidney in the 1840’s as well.
As I haven’t read the Tanner’s material on this letter, please elaborate on how they are polemicists as I am curious.
I would not include Oliver in the “closest associate” group who did not know about polygamy. See my post on Annie Lyman.
But then my reasoning is based on a late recollection, third hand at best source. I think I did a fair job in my footnotes noting those who agree/disagree with my position.
Hyrum Smith was one of the last to know about the authorized practice of plural marriage. So I think it is plausible that Joseph’s carefully selective 1840’s pattern fit the 1830’s as well.
It is my understanding that the Phelps letter will be included as an appendix to the JS Papers Project, and will basically say the same thing you say here: that it is problematic and should be understood within the larger context of the early 1860’s.
As Keller rightly points out, OC is accused of “running before he is sent” in regards to polygamy, though (as Keller mentions), it is a second-hand account and given much later. Quinn often alternates in defining it as a polygamous marriage or an affair, depending on what agenda that specific paper/book is pursuing.
The biggest problem with trying to situate polygamy in the early 1830s is that the theological framework just isnt there yet. The concept of eternal sealings and the such don’t develop until Nauvoo, and the sealing power itself isn’t even restored till April 1836 (and we can suppose it took a while after that for JS to fully understand it). The only concept to attach it to in early Kirtland was the Bible Translation, where it would be possible for JS to learn about polygamy, but he still wouldnt have the ideological structure to place it in.
Hence the problems that stand in our way (notice I say our, because I do think it did happen in Ohio).
“I ask the reader, can you remember — word-for-word — any conversation you had thirty years ago?”
Not very well, as I was in diapers at the time. I seem to recall something about Smurfs.
Bryce Haymond says
If Joseph really did receive the revelation of D&C 132 in 1831 during the Bible translation, which many early saints say he did, could that not be sufficient theological framework for Joseph to practice plural marriage? Section 132 is very detailed and explicit in its command for Joseph to go ahead and “do the works of Abraham” and “enter ye into my law,” having been given the keys of the priesthood, even sealing keys (v. 32, 45-46). Perhaps Joseph was given more of the sealing power prior to 1836 than we typically think (cf. D&C 1:8-9, D&C 68:12, D&C 77:8). Perhaps Elijah’s appearance in the Kirtland temple was more of a formality and a teaching moment rather than an actual dispensation of keys.
Mike Parker says
I think that’s a huge stretch, Bryce. D&C 132 represents the end of a long process of doctrinal development; the keys restored in Kirtland were a part of that process. The references you cite are also only a portion of a much fuller understanding that came later.
Any claim that Joseph was teaching Nauvoo-level plural marriage doctrine in the early 1830s would need some evidence, and there just isn’t any.
Bryce Haymond says
So I guess the question becomes, was the D&C 132 revelation given to Joseph in 1831 or not? Seems like there is evidence both ways. The section heading says “Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.”
Bryce Haymond says
As for teaching it openly, I agree with you, there isn’t much evidence, if any, in the 1830s.
I agree that many of the principles in Section 132 were revealed as early as 1831 but the full context developed with Elijah’s visitation and the subsequent Nauvoo years. The reference in Section 132 to Joseph’s being sealed up unto eternal life just seems to early in 1831, especially in light of Elijah’s visitation and the early Kirtland temple ordinances.
When Joseph explained that he already knew Section 132 by heart after it being burned, I think that he meant the core doctrines there and the overall intent. This is fascinating though because we just don’t have much from him but rely on ex post facto accounts.
Bryce Haymond says
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Hiram, Ohio, November 1831 –
Mike Parker says
No one is disputing that there is language about sealing coming in the early revelations in Kirtland. The issue is how much to read into that language.
It is improper to assume that Joseph understood the phrase “seal them up unto eternal life” in 1831 the same way he understood it in 1843.
Bryce Haymond says
I don’t assume that Mike. I was responding to Hans statement that “The reference in Section 132 to Joseph’s being sealed up unto eternal life just seems to (sic) early in 1831….” Since Joseph gave several other revelations in 1831 referring to being “sealed up unto eternal life,” then I see no difficulty in its 1831 appearance in section 132, if truly received that same year.
Surely Joseph’s understanding of sealing was progressing throughout these early years, as was his understanding of all things priesthood. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have the power or authority to do certain things before he understood them fully. In reading Bushman’s RSR you get the impression that Joseph was quite a step behind understanding, even remotely, the implications of the revelations and authorities that God gave him at the time, and did not fill them out until quite some time later – i.e. he didn’t fully understand he was a prophet until some time after the First Vision.
One phrase in the revelation that jumps out at me is “by reason of the anointing”. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall Joseph using the concept of anointing until much later, although it definitely fits with the Nauvoo period.
It doesn’t sound like early 1830’s Joseph to me. Mike, what is your thoughts?
Mike Parker says
Interesting catch, larryco_. “But ye shall know when ye receive a fulness by reason of the anointing” certainly sounds Nauvoo-ish.
The phrase “receive* a/the fulness” appears in 13 verses in the D&C, including twice before the July 1831 Missouri visit (35:12, Dec 1830; 39:18, Jan 1831), so that could fit in an 1831 revelation without any problems.
“Anoint*” appears only once in a priesthood office context (68:20-21) before it begins to be used in the sense of a temple annointing in 1836 (109:35, 80) and 1841 (124:39). I think it’s too early for it to be legitimate in July 1831, and possible evidence of Phelps’ later understanding.
Touché Bryce. It appears from the verse that this is still intended as a future event by the use of the word “shall”. Whether this refers to Section 110 or something that already took place, I don’t know. It seems like there is a lot of grey area. My original thought was, however, that it feels that 1831 is so early for him to have his calling and election made sure with so many priesthood roles and restoration of principles ahead of him. I say that as a gut feeling and not by any references. From RSR I also got the impression that when Joseph received some new blessing, he was obsessed with sharing it with his associates and he doesn’t really hammer on Calling and Election/exaltation until the end of his ministry. Perhaps his understanding didn’t develop of this until a later day.
I think that you bring up a good point that Joseph was always a step behind of what was coming to him. At many points he believed that his work was complete and then something new would take off. Section 132 may have just been a request to understand OT polygamy while translating the Bible and he got more than he bargained for. Perhaps he didn’t fully understand those implications until a later time (angle with flaming sword) which Phelps seems to contradict or knew it right off. Fascinating topic, however, and one which we will suffer with second and third hand accounts by biased parties.
J. Stapley says
The atemporality of some of this discussion is borderline painful. High priests were sealing people up into eternal life between 1831 and 1836 (before Elijah). If you are trying to equate this with Nauvoo era conceptions of sealing, though, you are simply wishfully thinking.
Mike Parker says
J. Stapley has, in a word, nailed it.
The Wikipedia article on “presentism” is required reading on this subject.
No doubt that there are a lot of anachronisms in the late recollections about the origins of plural marriage. The best treatment I have seen in regards to the development and usage of the term sealing is in Greg Prince’s “Power from on High” book. He showed, that based on contemporary documentation using the term “seal” as interchangeable with temple style marriage ceremony isn’t attested to until Jan. 1844.
But I think there are problems with dismissing all the accounts that call some pre-1844 marriages as “sealings.” For example, we see a late 2nd/3rd hand hostile source call the Alger marriage a “sealing” (Ann Eliza).
I think it is OK that Elijah came after plural marriage was first practiced. Moses delivered the keys to the gathering of Israel in 1836 and yet missionaries had been anxiously engaged in that purpose since 1830 and as a theme it is much more prominent in early secions of the Doctrine and Covenants than later sections.
I think the presentism card can be over played. It is important to remember two things 1) absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and 2) some weight should be replaced on the mature understanding of individuals as they reflect back upon their experiences. The trick is applying these principles in conjunction with others that are usually given a higher priority level. I think there are gaps in the polygamy narrative that deserve our best reconstruction (for which things like Phelps’s recollections comes in handy). If we don’t fill them in we concede uncontested ground to our critics, who already have their narrative in place.
There is so much more that can be said about this topic. I hope I don’t bore anyone by discussing the topic from a few more angles.
I think the correct approach to dating D&C 132 is to do what Bachman did in his 1978 JMH article. D&C 132 can be parsed into subsections which can individually be conjecturally dated. Where Bachman’s model might be improved is to separate out concepts even further and look for evidence that they were taught earlier. For example, 132 talks about human deification and apostolic keys so some comparison to Ohio teachings on those subjects deserve further study.
The subsections, Bachman identifies are response to 2 explicit questions (and a 3rd he identifies from an outside source.) 1) V. 1 dealing with OT polygamy, most plausibly asked during JST in Feb. or Mar 1831 (before SR took over as scribe for OC?). 2) v. 41 dealing with adultery, most probably arising from conflict between Joseph and Emma in 1843, 3) asking about the “neither given in marriage” passage in JST Matthew circa Sept 1831.
Greg Smith says
It is worth considering too that one might well distinguish between plural marriage and (plural or monogamous) ETERNAL marriage.
Thus, it is entirely conceivable that Joseph had a conception of plural marriage very early. This need not have required an understanding of sealing, or eternal marriage, or temples at all.
Thus, arguably, the 1836 Elijah restoration of keys was not really relevant to the 1830s practice of plural marriage, since they were not sealed marriages in the modern (or 1840s Nauvoo temple) sense. (Or, if one can have such a thing, they were ‘civil’ plural marriages.) 🙂
I am glad you brought up the angel with the flaming sword because I have been researching that topic for an upcoming blog post, but I might as share some initial observations here.
I haven’t been found any historical sources where Joseph’s visitor’s sword was described as “flaming,” but the sword is described as “drawn.” If you are aware any sources that sat “flaming” I would love to find out. Such a description might elevate the relevancy of understanding the symbolism associated with the Eden gaurdian as a possible interpretive key to Joseph’s experience. David Littlefield has a post that has some ideas ripe with possibilities if they were applied to polygamy origins.
A second observation is that the sources that associate Joseph with the sword bearing angel are all late. We have Eliza Snow (1884 apparently from brother Lorenzo), Lorenzo Snow (1869 describing conversation with JS in April 1843), Mary Lightner (1905 describing ~1842 conversation with JS), Benjamin Johnson(1885-1893 and 1903 describing May? 1843 conversation with Hyrum), and Zina Huntington (1894 describing ~Oct. 1841 conversation with brother Dimick), Joseph F. Smith (1878 no provenance mentioned), Joseph Lee Robinson (1892?? no provenance mentioned), Joseph Noble (1869 I assume from Joseph), and Helen Mar Kimball (1882-I don’t know provenance).
Some other notes on the sword bearing angel:
It is interesting that there is no debate that Joseph claimed to these individuals that he had such a revelation. Modern critics love it because it furthers their agenda that Joseph pressured potential wives.
Mormon Enigma butchers the Benjamin Johnson letter to Gibbs. They misidentify Hyrum’s statement as Benjamin’s and treat it as his motive for granting Joseph’s request to help propose to Almera. When Hyrum approached Benjamin, Benjamin had already complied with all Joseph’s wishes and was already converted to polygamy. Hyrum’s concern was un-necessary.
Images of the Restoration art blog also mishandles the Johnson sources. They treat Hyrum’s angel narrative as directed at an unwilling Almera. However Benjamin indicates that Almera was already converted to the principle of polygamy at that point, but was not sure about practicing it with Joseph Smith and wanted to meet with him first. While Almira may have overheard the Hyrum’s remarks, they weren’t directed at her. Hyrum was trying to exercise sympathy by explaining his and his brother’s conversion process after initial misgivings.
There is a chronological problem with the Johnson account. Hyrum was not converted to polygamy until May 22 but the encounter reportedly happened a few weeks prior to May 15.
If plural marriage was a restoration does that require that keys must have been restored? If so who restored the keys and when to enable JS to practice the principal? It couldn’t have been at the Kirtland dedication as he was married to Fanny Alger prior to that date.
I looked through my sources and failed to find that the sword was “flaming”. I suppose I didn’t get that part right. All of the accounts I am familiar with were already listed under your second observation so I do not know where else to look. It is too bad as that would have been a great link to the cherubim and a flaming sword from the garden. I’ll keep looking at keep you posted if I find something.
It is clear from the Johnson letter that he and his sister had already accepted the principle. I’ll need to review Mormon Enigma when I get home from work. How do you reconcile the dates from Hyrum’s acceptance the Johnson letter?
I don’t think that is necessary for there to be a new angelic bestowal of keys for every ordinance or practice that was restored. For example we have no record of an angel coming to authorize the payment of tithes or anointing with oil for healing.
That is to say that I think that for some restorations, less demonstrative forms of revelation will suffice to indicate divine authorization. I also think that after-the-fact revelatory confirmation that the leaders have taken the right steps is sometimes sufficient. The Saints did not wait around for Moses to begin missionary work.
Thanks for keeping your eye out for addition sources.
I don’t think it is a show stopper that none of the accounts describe the sword as flaming. There are at least 3 other Biblical accounts that could be analyzed. I might have to leave that exercise to others as I lack knowledge of literary criticism and methods. So what follows could be refered to as paralellomania.
The Bible accounts are 1) Balaam and his Ass, 2) Joshua 5:13 meeting the Captain of the Lord’s Host, and 3)A destroying angel cutting loose in retaliation for David taking a census.
In story 1 Joseph is mostly identifiable with the ass, Balaam is a composite of various members of the Church Joseph tried to introduce plural marriage to. On three occasions Joseph (the Ass) is roughed up by those (unrepentant Baalam) that do not open their eyes to receive their own vision/revelation that plural marriage is divine (see the angel). In between beatings, the Ass conforms to Balaam’s wishes and continues on a path of destruction (Joseph’s balking at establishing plural marriage in the Church was something that would lead to destruction/damnation for both him and the Church.) The third time Balaam threatens to kill the Ass if the Ass doesn’t travel into the path of menacing angel. (Illustrating the dilemma Joseph was faced with: If he taught polygamy, unenlightened dissidents would kill him, if he didn’t teach polygamy the angel threatened both him and the Church.) Finally Balaam sees the angel and turns away from the wicked path he was pursuing (representing those who became converted through personal revelation and who repented and ceased to be a threat to Joseph.)
In story 2 the angel is less hostile, but it is initially ambiguous as to whether he was of the enemy (the devil), or part of Joshua’s (Joseph’s) own forces (representing a latent desire for conquest and control independent of divine impulses), or of God. The issue in Joshua 5 is resolved by further interaction with the angel. The issue in Joseph’s life (and those presented with the claim of the angelic revelation) was how to discern whether the angel/revelation was of God, man, or the devil. What is closer to the truth? Brodie’s sex-only hypothesis, the revelation-from-devil hypothesis championed by the countercult and fallen prophet dissenters, or revelation from God hypothesis that some of the faithful came to accept?
In story 3, Joseph is identifiable with David and the angel is both the destroying angel and the mediating prophet. The Church is represented by Israel, but Joseph’s family can be separated out like the house of David. Like the first story there are elements of disobedience to divine commands by succombing to worldly pressures. David tries to prevent further damage from the sword-bearing angel through negotiation. He has to choose whether God or man will inflict the punishment and chooses the more dignified option. (The more dignified option for Joseph was accepting suffering at the hands of men, which is opposite of David’s choice.) David offers his household to accept the brunt of the inevitable suffering (although it wasn’t accepted), likewise Joseph’s family (Emma, himself, Hyrum, other intimate associates) bore the brunt of strife involved introducing polygamy. David obediently performs a sacrifice to placate the angel from completely destroying Israel. Similarly Joseph’s (D&C 132:60)and other’s sacrifice spared the Church from undergoing a progression stoppage. See for instance some of the restoration branches that are dwindling in . . .
I am kidding of course when I say that the only reason I bring it up is to obfuscate the truth and to give critics a hard time by making them justify their use of problematic use of proof-texts.
One approach to resolving inconsistencies in the two B. Johnson accounts and the A. Johnson affidavit is to see what elements are in conflict and which ones are in agreement or can be corroborated by independent sources. I figure the less attestable elements are fair game to offer up a plausible correction to make it still work.
In this case the elements that remain in conflict after cross checking with more reliable sources is who performed the ceremony. IIRC one account tabs William Clayton and the other two point to Hyrum Smith. Hyrum did a 180 on plural marriage in a very short time frame and the timeline for it is very well attested to in Clayton’s journal (and well reconstructed in the Ehat thesis). Benjamin Johnson synchs up his narrative with independently dateable events while Almira was less precise.
The first solution might be that Benjamin got the sequence backwards as to which marriage came first. It seems strange that Benjamin would have a hang-up about being married via the Holy Spirit of Promise if he had paid attention to his sister’s ceremony first. But not strange enough for me to propose. . .
A second solution is that both Clayton and Hyrum married Almira and Joseph on separate dates and the Johnsons’ accounts conflate the two. Under this construction, Joseph would conjecturely want to give his newly converted brother (who held superior sealing keys to Clayton) some supervised practice performing eternal marriages. Ordinance repetition was common and maybe even the norm in the early Church, as they kept trying until they got it right. In this scenario, Hyrum really would be preaching to choir, since unknown to him both Johnsons were not only already converted but already commited.
On an unrelated note, even though I expressed reservations about making arguments from silence earlier, I think they can sometimes be persuasive if there is there is reasonable expectation of observable evidence. For example, Almira’s affidavit fails to mention Hyrum’s statement. There is a reasonable expectation that if she had heard such a statement she would have brought it up in the affidavit. The entire purpose of the affidavit was to establish to the skeptical RLDS that Joseph had taught, recieved a revelation about, and practiced plural marriage.