An enduring folk apologetic for 19th century plural marriage has been to assert that it was justified because a shortage of men. Looking at raw Census data, John Widtsoe  debunked that notion, but did not end its popular appeal. Widtsoe’s conclusions have been embraced by critics  who wish to create cognitive dissonance for members who may have put too much weight on that folk rationale for plural marriage. On the other end of the spectrum, Brian C. Hales , a speaker at this year’s FAIR conference, also dismissed the folk apologetic and concentrated on rebutting critics’ plural marriage rationale (primarily as lust fulfillment) and supporting theological rationales (primarily as part of the restoration and preparation for conditions in the next life).
Some recent volleys have been fired in the on-going culture wars between the faithful Mormon community and their anti- and ex-Mormon counterparts. It is not quite fair to contrast a general authority’s polished speech and some off-hand message board remarks backed by shoddy research. Bruce C. Hafen’s remarks were summarized in this Mormon Times article, but I take responsibility for applying them to my recent experiences in researching marital ages of 19th century wives alongside those of Joseph Smith and the Deseret era saints. Some excerpts from MT:
“Readers have no way of knowing which critical claims have already been discredited, and the anti-Mormon sponsors are certainly not going to tell them right there on the site,” he said.
The democratization of ideas sometimes confuses the reader as to what is true and what is not, as all ideas are presented horizontally and as fact, thus positioning the blogger’s flippant opinion alongside the scholar’s well-researched dissertation.
Parallelomania was a term perhaps coined in 1830, coincidently (or is it?) the same year the Book of Mormon was published.
I put some notes together a few months ago on evaluating parallels. I would like to hear some of your methods for discerning the significance of a proposed parallel and some examples as well. [Read more…] about Parallelomania
Recently I have been gathering notes to do some rewrites on the FAIR wiki regarding Brigham Young’s views on race mixing. Then I ran across Connell O’Donovan’s 2009 Sunstone West article . O’Donovan has uncovered many Mormon specific sources on attitudes and reactions to interracial unions. When I read his earlier article on Walker Lewis, I wished for more of an attempt to contextualize Brigham Young’s thoughts with those of his contemporaries. In the Sunstone article, O’Donovan delivers. He gives an overview of anti-miscegenation laws and attempts to repeal them over a long stretch of times. He also places Brigham’s views that “mulattos are like mules” and hence could not (or should not ) reproduce very well was within the norm of the scientific thought of his day. Needless to say, none of these attitudes belong in today’s more enlightened society or the LDS Church. [Read more…] about Brigham Young on Interracial Marriage
At the annual John Whitmer Historical Association meeting in September, Craig Foster announced that he and Newell Bringhurst will be editing an anthology on polygamy. Two of the 15 or so essays will take opposing views on whether teen marriage was normal in the 19th century. Squaring off will be an extended version of Todd Compton’s Sunstone West presentation and a paper co-authored by Craig Foster, Greg Smith, and myself. My role is to be the stat man, while Greg is an expert on Nauvoo plural marriage, and Craig is a accomplished historian and has mastered the literature on marriage trends. Craig and Greg are more prolific authors than myself and I summarized some of their work at the height of the Romney campaign here on the FAIR blog. I think this gave an early picture of what might happen if the three of us combined skills.
[Read more…] about 19th century nuptiality and anti-Mormon propaganda
The following is my first contribution to FAIR’s Translation Witness Accounts (TWA) Project spearheaded by Blair Hodges. Blair has the initial installment at his blog by listing all known firsthand accounts from Joseph Smith. Here I compiled as many accounts as I could find, but I seem to recall running across another one I can’t currently locate in my notes. Readers are welcome to point out other accounts that explicitly affirm or deny the use of curtain separating Joseph Smith from his scribes. I also want to hear about you make of these accounts.
My excerpts are mostly from Opening the Heavens which contains a compilation of 203 translation accounts done by Jack Welch. My footnotes are keyed to the number that Welch assigned. I have supplemented Welch’s accounts with several found in the 4th volume of Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents series, in which case I use the page number the excerpt is found on.
FAIR announced its review of MormonThink.com during its annual conference held the first week of August. A response to that review was recently posted at that site. What follows are some of my observations, which are not necessarily shared by other FAIR volunteers, about the response
MormonThink does a good job at posing questions to their readers to get them to reconsider the plausibility of LDS truth claims. The authors, a coalition of Mormon and ex-Mormon skeptics  (some operating under a cloak of anonymity while accusing the Church of less than complete transparency), find previous faithful attempts by unofficial apologists to answer similar questions “unsatisfactory.” A FAIR review demonstrated that MormonThink’s own predominately negative answers were ill-informed, highly slanted (not objective as advertised), and fail to more than superficially engage faithful answers. MormonThink’s response to FAIR’s rebuttal is a mixed. On one hand, the response shows a commitment to accuracy and correcting some of its more egregious errors. On the other hand, the response justifies its failure to take FAIR more seriously by making an appeal to authority. MormonThink seeks the attention of General Authorities and they believe FAIR is usurping the Brethren’s role. This suggests to me that they are less concerned about answers and more concerned about getting attention for dissent. [Read more…] about Mormon Think
Recently I put together a reference guide for Mormons that are potentially in discussions with other Christians that have some interest in early Christian priesthood structure. In this post, I have confined myself to helpful LDS treatments that are available online. Perhaps in a separate post, I will consider compiling a list of articles and books written from a non-Mormon perspective, that are nevertheless worthy of attention. The most important LDS treatment, High Nibley’s Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity has not been put online yet. Please feel free to comment on any of this literature or point out additional resources that you find helpful.
[Read more…] about Literature on Early Christian Priesthood
This is my second installment where I tackle the accusation that Joseph Smith was a rake (Ken Jennings wouldn’t say so either.) before he ever received a revelation about plural marriage. I am partial to Dan Bachman’s theory that section 132 was received in stages as he lays out in “The Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage” in a JMH 1978 article. Critics have likewise turned to the Ohio period to frame Joseph Smith as a sexual predator before the revelation was made public. Clark Braden, in his 1884 debate with an RLDS apostle pursued this agenda. He claimed that the [March 24,1832] tar and feathering was brought about by Eli Johnson’s brotherly outrage of Joseph Smith’s impropriety against Eli’s sister, Marinda Nancy Johnson. I am going to present some new information about Eli Johnson, but if I don’t make much sense please see the following links for background information: 1 2 3 .
[Read more…] about “Brother” Eli Johnson