Faith and Reason 30: The Liahona

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Liahona

From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

During the Lehites sojourn through the Arabian wilderness, Lehi was given a device called the Liahona, which helped guide them on their journey. Nephi described the Liahona as round, made of brass, and containing two spindles or arrows. Nephi called the ball a “compass” and mentions that there were things written in the Liahona which gave them instructions.

While critics often claim that the compass was unknown in Lehi’s day, it’s important to note that the function of magnetic hematite –the principle core or iron– was well understood in both the Old and New Worlds before Lehi left Jerusalem. Magnetite, or Lodestone, is, of course, naturally magnetic iron, and the word magnetite comes from the name of a place in which it was mined in Asia Minor by at least the seventh century BC, namely Magnesia.

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of MormonFortress.com and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  is a broadcast journalist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Radio and Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.

Mormon Fair-cast 319: #8, Is the Bible an authentic source of truth?

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i-believe-podcast-karen-239x300D.M. Johnson and I are back in this second-to-last podcast on the authenticity of the Bible. Today, we discuss undersigned coincidences. Undersigned coincidences are events or things in the Bible that could be coincidental, but there are just so many that they add up to real, compelling evidence.

As D.M. explains, “It becomes a little bit ridiculous to insist that all of these things are just purely happening by luck or some kind of random circumstance.”

We’ve got plenty of examples of such undersigned coincidences, from both inside and outside the Bible, including:

  • Jesus healing the sick;

  • The apostles keeping silent after the events on the Mount of Transfiguration;

  • And Jesus feeding the 500.

Jesus heals a woman.

We invite you to join us on this podcast, and again, to read and study the Bible for yourself. It truly is God’s word.

You can find the complete transcript at ibelievepodcast.com.

Read more: http://ibelievepodcast.com/1825/8-points-authenticity-bible-undesigned-coincidences-8-9#ixzz3JdTQNCy4

This series of podcasts were produced by the “I Believe” podcast group. They are used by permission of Karen Trifiletti the author of this work.

As always the view and opinions expressed in this podcast may not represent those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint or that of FairMormon

RiseUp Podcast: President Eyring Defending Marriage at Vatican Colloquium

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EyringHB_1Apr10President Eyring of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was invited to speak at a gathering at the Vatican-The headquarters for the Catholic Church worldwide—Think of it as the Salt Lake City of the Catholic Church..sort of….

(Here is a link to the Church’s press release and world report video on the gathering)

This gathering featured religious leaders from all over the world and from a variety of denominations. In some cases this gathering was called Humanum, in others the gathering was simply referred to the Colloquium.

The website for the event states this as the purpose of the gathering:

The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium is a gathering of leaders and scholars from many religions across the globe, to examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.

Witnesses will draw from the wisdom of their religious tradition and cultural experience as they attest to the power and vitality of the complementary union of man and woman. It is hoped that the colloquium be a catalyst for creative language and projects, as well as for global solidarity, in the work
 of strengthening the nuptial relationship, both for the good of the spouses themselves and for the good of all who depend upon them.

The Colloquium is sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and
 the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

In short, the Catholic church put on a meeting of religious leaders from across the world to talk about and defend the family unit, but more specifically, marriage between a man and a woman. His presentation was about 13 minutes long. This was an important presentation for a few reasons that I can see, but there may be even more.

It was important because historically, such a connection between the LDS Church and the Catholic church was not such an open door. I personally consider this to be a tremendous act of kindness and christian fellowship on the part of the Catholic church to invite President Eyring, but also for President Eyring to attend.

This was also significant in light of the various perspectives and direction the laws of many nations throughout the world have taken with respect to legalizing same-sex marriage. Sometimes we might feel like a small minority of people who believe that marriage should be only between man and woman legally and lawfully married. This event stands to show that some of the largest and most well respected faith traditions in the world can be unified in our defense of God’s moral standard regardless of where some in the world advocate.

President Eyring stood as a prime example of what it means to defend our faith to all the world. He is an apostle and hopefully you will sense the nature of his calling coming through in the message he was sharing. He spoke with authority, and with purpose. While this particular environment was not considered hostile, other engagements between the communities of some of these faiths have not always been so kind to the LDS Church. President Eyring, without fear and without reservation bore his testimony of God our Father, Jesus his divine Son and our Savior, and of the central role of eternal marriage in the plan of Salvation. His example of both missionary work and being one to stand and defend the faith is a powerful example to the membership.

Additionally, this became a message to the larger audience of people that may have misconceptions about the LDS views on marriage in a polygamous sense. While not a direct part of his message, it should be clear that a top leader of the faith has 1 wife. The relationship of current church practice with regard to polygamy is still in question with many people in spite of a tremendous amount of transparency on the part of the church with regards to this issue.

His message is a call for a renascence or a rebirth of happy marriages. While many of you listening to this are young adults, and probably not married or even engaged, marriage is a topic that is something you should be educated on in order to either put your life in order, or know what it means to seek for and work towards having a happy marriage. When that time comes to get married, or what qualities you are to look for is a topic for another time. However, as you listen to President Eyring’s message, you may hear some important advice as you move on in life towards that goal.

So, I am going to play for you parts of the presentation, but I would encourage you to watch the presentation in its entirety.

Why Build Temples?

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The Boston Massachusetts Temple

The Boston Massachusetts Temple

A couple of years ago I encountered an online blogger who was complaining about how much money the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints wastes on temple building, especially in poor countries like Peru, where the money could be better spent on assisting the poor. Why indeed should so much funds be devoted to building temples rather than to poverty relief?

We all know that poverty relief consists of two types, handling out bread and fishes, that can sustain a man and his family for a few days, or handing out a fishing pole and seeds, together with instructions on how to catch fish and grow grain, that will sustain the man and his family for months and years to come.

The Church does both of the above kinds of relief, in the form of emergency assistance, or in such wonderful programs as the Perpetual Education Fund. But there is another form of assistance that vastly exceeds either of these types. In countries like Peru (or Ghana, or many other places), the Church has built temples, to which any member holding a recommend may attend, no matter what his or her social status may be.

Inside the temple, no one can tell who is the Peruvian peasant or who is the banker from Lima. All are alike (even in dress), and all are treated the same.

Can you imagine what this does to the self-esteem of that Peruvian peasant (or, indeed, to the viewpoint of the banker)? The temple is the Great Leveler, and unlike the Marxist ideal where everyone is supposed to be leveled down to the proletariat, it levels everyone up, to become kings and queens.

No amount of poverty relief, no matter how lavishly dispensed, could possibly achieve such a remarkable outcome. When viewed from this angle, the amount the Church spends on temple construction could be considered more effective than any other outlay.

All this, even before considering the religious aspects of this work (ie, that God commanded it, or that temples are an essential element in LDS theology in the work of salvation for all mankind).

But this is not just an LDS theme. In my opinion, religious edifices have always elicited such responses. The great cathedrals of Europe were built at great expense, by the elite of society, but also with the enthusiastic participation of the lower classes, who saw these structures as their own. (This adoration does not extend to secular buildings, btw. When I toured Versailles back in 1991, my first thought was “Now I know why they had the French Revolution.”) The theme also holds true in non-Christian societies. The Great Buddha of Nara, constructed in the 8th century when Nara was the capital of Japan, was a project that encompassed all layers of society (it included raising a wooden structure to house the statue that even today is the largest purely wooden building in the world), and it is an awe-inspiring sight even now, more than 1200 years later.

And, of course, in the LDS context (as in the above non-LDS examples), the temples must be built of the highest quality materials possible. This serves to cement the leveling-up effect. Even the Church’s outlays for the downtown shopping mall in Salt Lake City, which has elicited such scorn from critics, is a part of this same effort, by upgrading the environment around the Salt Lake Temple (and Conference Center), so that members visiting from faraway places can feel safe and secure.

Articles of Faith 20: Geoff Biddulph – Why Didn’t The Church Teach Me This Stuff?

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Geoff BiddulphGeoff Biddulph is a convert to the Church of just over 15 years. Before joining he read a lot of anti-Mormon literature. However, it was the Spirit that converted him and helped him be open to being baptized. Since then, Geoff has read the book of Mormon more than 10 times and have read the entire Bible at least five times. He has a large library of Church-related material from which he draws upon as he writes for the Millennial Star blog—where he has contributed for nearly a decade. He his wife Cindy were married in the Denver temple nearly 11 years ago and they now have five kids. He is joining us by phone today from Denver, CO. Geoff is here to talk about an article he wrote for the Millennial Star Blog entitled, “Why Didn’t the Church Teach Me This Stuff”

Questions:

During your time as an LDS blogger, how have you seen the “bloggernacle” as it is often referred to, the catalog of blogs who claim some voice in the Mormon Community, how have you seen it change during that time?

While we seek to focus on Articles that come from what would be considered more academic or scholarly, we do find articles from time to time that strike an apologetic tone and regardless of the level of scholarship, the argument presented can help those struggling to reframe their position in such a way that might help calm the stormy waters of a faith crisis. Your article entitled, Why Didn’t the Church Teach Me This Stuff, was released on November 12th, 2014. This was a response to a gospel topics essay that the Church released on Polygamy in the early church, specifically during the Kirtland and Nauvoo periods. If you could, for those that haven’t read the article, summarize what one might find in that piece, specifically the parts that have caused some stir in public discourse recently.

The Church released its gospel topics essay Around October 22nd. A google search just this morning showed a massive amount of news outlets posting articles just three days ago (from the date of this recording), so on November 11th there seemed to be this bump in interest, which makes me wonder what about this topic seems to be keeping this subject around so long?

Your article is in response to a strain of discourse that centers around some discontent or uneasiness with the Church’s release of this gospel topics article. What is that position and why did that strike as something that warranted a response?

You ask the question of the reader but I want to turn it back on you, Why didn’t the Church teach me this stuff?

It is a difficult position to respond to because you don’t want to demean what someone is feeling, that kind of hurt or shock is sometimes not so easily dismissed. So, how does your article serve to address that dissonance?

This may sound like a loaded question or one that is hard to answer in a short podcast, but if people are feeling that the church hid this from them, it begs the question, what is the role or responsibility the church has towards its members with respect to topics such as this? All the lurid details as you put it in your article?

The article concludes:

The Church did teach you stuff about even controversial topics. Perhaps you were distracted or didn’t pay attention or were not curious enough to explore on your own. You are ultimately responsible for your own learning, and you are responsible for how you respond to new information. That is what that whole “free agency” thing is all about.

Faith and Reason 29: Nephi and His Asherah

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Asherah

Asherah and the Tree of Life

From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

What young adult in Jacksonian America would make a connection between a sacred tree and the Virgin Mary? In Nephi and Lehi’s day, however, the connection would have been obvious (and obviously colored by their cultural background). Mary was a perfect mortal typification of Asherah –she was a virgin, fair, and the mother of the most joyous subject in the world. While Mary is not Asherah, to Nephi the symbolism would have made sense and would have taught him not only of the coming of the Christ, but also would have helped him understand the meaning of the sacred tree. It’s easy to see how Nephi’s culture would have prepared him to understand such an interpretation in his vision as recorded in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 11). But how did Joseph Smith know this in 1830?

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of MormonFortress.com and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  is a broadcast journalist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Radio and Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.

Mormon Fair-cast 314: #7, Is the Bible an authentic source of truth?

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i-believe-podcast-karen-239x300Critics and skeptics have long attacked Jesus’ Resurrection. Why so?? Well, in short, if the Resurrection can be disproved, all the other claims about Jesus Christ can also be dismissed. Christianity would crumble.

In this cast in the I Believe Podcast series on the Authenticity of the Bible (its reliability, not its perfection), guest D.M. Johnson and I will review much of the evidence which shows that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a validated, critical, wonderful historical event.

We’ll use the minimal facts approach, which means we’ll be looking at five key facts from the New Testament which can only be explained by the Resurrection.

Please join D.M. Johnson and I as we discuss this crucial area of Christianity. As always, we invite you to turn to the Bible yourself; it’s easy for some to hide behind the veneer of study and intellectual pursuit, to the exclusion of never coming to know whether or not something is true which comes by reading, study and sincere prayer which God alone can answer personally. This doesn’t exclude due diligence in any way, shape, or form, but means that once we have done that, we must come to a point of appealing to God for our ultimate witness and knowledge of truth. We are equipped to know it.  I witness that you can receive a witness that Jesus was indeed and is indeed Resurrected, if you will honestly ask from a desire to know. I assure you that God will speak to you in a language and way that you will understand.

You can read the complete transcript of this podcast here.

Read more: http://ibelievepodcast.com/1831/8-points-authenticity-bible-evidence-resurrection-7-9#ixzz3IunhhVcq

This series of podcasts were produced by the “I Believe” podcast group. They are used by permission of Karen Trifiletti the author of this work.

As always the view and opinions expressed in this podcast may not represent those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint or that of FairMormon

 

Articles of Faith Podcast: Dan Peterson – Reason, Experience, and the Existence of God

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DanPetersonBio: Daniel C. Peterson holds a Ph.D., University of California at Los Angeles, is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University, and is the founder of the University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, for which he served as editor-in-chief until mid-August 2013. He has published and spoken extensively on both Islamic and Mormon subjects. He is the author, among other things, of a biography entitled Muhammad: Prophet of God.

Formerly chairman of the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and an officer, editor, and author for its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, his professional work as an Arabist focuses on the Qur’an and on Islamic philosophical theology. Peterson is most recently, although it may not seem so recent anymore, Chairman and President of the Interpreter found at Mormon Interpreter dot com. He is here to today to talk about an article that he recently released for The Interpreter Journal entitled Reason, Experience, and the Existence of God.

Questions and topics addressed in the interview:

Dan Peterson, loved by some, agitating to others, and probably a variety of opinions in between. But how does Dan Peterson view Dan Peterson?

You have a blog on Patheos entitled Sic et Non. What does it really mean and how does that frame your writing on that blog?

When you are not blogging, you have other irons in many fires it seems. One of those efforts is the Interpreter. I don’t know that enough people are aware of what The Interpreter is or what it’s goals are as a foundation. Perhaps you could take a minute to offer a brief introduction.

Both your professional work at BYU and the subject of the articles we are going to be addressing today centers around Islam, which uses the Qur’an as its central scripture. When did you first say, “This Islam stuff, I think I ought to check this out. Qur’an, yeah that sounds like a light read.” What was the genesis of your interest in Islamic studies?

What value is there in the average Latter-day Saint in picking up the Qur’an and at least giving it a read let alone dedicate and study time to it? Is there tempering caution with such a thing?

Referring somewhat back to the title of your blog Sic et Non, your article in the interpreter essentially asks the main question Must human faith be completed by reason, or not? Is reason the genesis of faith or the other way around? Please set the stage for how this article came into being.

This article takes the reader on quite a journey so I want to try and help navigate that read. What I mean by that is the article starts out with what you’ve said, then it refers somewhat back to your work and studies with Islamic literature, and commentaries on it, then hits on alien radio transmissions, then back to Faith and Reason. So, let’s take the next step in the article

In Robert Reilly’s book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, the case is brought up that Reason is the pre-requisite for revelation which you feel is a problematic foundation for the development of faith. Why is that?

A quote was repeated by Riley in his book, but the original quote was from Qadi ‘Abd al-Jabbar, an Islamic theologian that lived about 1000 years ago who said, “Reason first needs to establish the existence of God before undertaking the question as to whether God has spoken to man. Natural theology must be antecedent to theology.” On the surface that sounds fairly convincing, but you find this also problematic, in what way? Can reason alone establish the existence of God?

Is the assumption here that if one can reason that there is a God, then from there the idea of revelation becomes more approachable, less of a deceptive thing where the individual is just fooling themselves into believing in God is talking with them?

What then is the role of reason in authenticating revelation? Is faith, as was taught in Alma 32, the seed, and reason is the fertilizer or perhaps the soil for what grows up into revelation and, symbolically, the Tree of Life? It seems to me that works because reason has produced a variety of symbolic plants, but the seed that reason must foster is one that leads to eternal life.

As your article is a journey that seems to end where it began, only coupled now with reason and experience, this interview is brought back around to the Interpreter and its core value. You end your article with the following:
“The Interpreter Foundation was established on the premise that both reason and revelation have their place in determining religious truth. We believe reasoned investigation to be essential, but we will not discount revelation.”

Moving forward, how will we see this evident in the works of The Interpreter? I believe you have some new titles coming out in joint effort with Eborn Books. What are those?

Daniel C. Peterson is the Chairman and President of The Interpreter found at Mormon Interpreter dot com. A link to this article Reason, Experience, and the Existence of God will be found at the posting for this episode at blog.fairmormon.org.

Click here to read Daniel C. Peterson’s article in the Interpreter – Reason, Experience, and the Existence of God.

LDS.ORG Essay on Nauvoo Polygamy: What did Readers Expect?

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[This post has been cross posted from Joseph Smith’s Polygamy.]

On October 22, 2014, LDS.ORG posted three essays dealing with the practice of plural marriage by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between the 1830s and 1904. Perhaps the most controversial essay is the one dealing with the earliest period, which discusses Joseph Smith’s practices and teachings as he introduced plurality to fellow Church members.

It appears that some readers’ expectations were not met by this essay. It is true readers did not receive:

A theological examination of plural marriage

An apology for polygamy.

An explanation for why polygamy was not discussed openly in the past.

A defense of polygamy.

A 1500-page or 350-page or 20-page treatise on plural marriage.

A declaration labelling plural marriage as adultery.

A portrayal of Joseph Smith as a hypocrite or libertine.

A statement that D&C 132 was not a true revelation.

A declaration that polygamy was an historical mistake.

A lengthy discussion of Emma’s trials because of the practice.

A list of injustices suffered by Joseph’s plural wives and an exhaustive detailing of their pain and suffering.

What did readers receive?

A concise and accurate history (according to available documents) of the introduction of plural marriage by Joseph Smith.

A brief discussion of all major controversies dealing with this subject.

Permission to discuss these topics in Church meetings without being viewed as an intellectual or apostate.

Another evidence of the transparency the Church is striving to achieve regarding its history.

The omissions in the essay have elicited scathing criticism. However, as authors who have researched this topic exhaustively, we might offer a few observations of our own for those who criticize:

(1) Many critics seemed to have little grasp of the historical record of the period. Therefore, it is not uncommon or surprising that glaring historical errors are promoted in their assessments. To some degree, this undermines the usefulness of the discussions.

(2) Many criticisms seem more focused upon the practice of polygamy than upon the essay itself. It might be said the essay has opened the pressure-release valve for venting about the practice.

(3) Observers who are complimentary to the essay are often labelled as “apologists,” perhaps implying their assessments could not be accurate. This argumentum ad hominem is one of the most overused logical fallacies and undermines the ability to carry on reasonable, articulate discussions.

(4) Joseph Smith’s theological teachings regarding plural marriage are universally ignored.

Several major controversies have been generated in conjunction with the introduction of plural marriage in Nauvoo in the early 1840s. All of these are briefly discussed in the introductory essay, which contains 35 paragraphs and 55 endnotes:

Polyandry (paragraphs 20–23, endnotes 29–30). The essay acknowledges that “Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married,” estimating the number of these sealings at 12–14 (endnote 29). Several possible explanations for this curious practice are provided including that the sealings were “for eternity alone” or that the “sealings may have provided a way to create an eternal bond or link between Joseph’s family and other families within the Church.” Another option was that the “women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not otherwise receive in the next life.” For those troubled about the possibility that Joseph practiced polyandry, it provides a plausible line of reasoning that he did not. The essay states, “Polyandry, the marriage of one woman to more than one man, typically involves shared financial, residential, and sexual resources, and children are often raised communally. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith’s sealings functioned in this way, and much evidence works against that view” (endnote 30).

Fanny Alger (paragraph 9). The discussion of Fanny Alger is limited to one paragraph, reflecting the thin historical record regarding the union. “Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents.10 Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger. After the marriage with Alger ended in separation, Joseph seems to have set the subject of plural marriage aside until after the Church moved to Nauvoo, Illinois.”

Sexuality (paragraphs 12, 17–18). Despite controversy surrounding religious discussions of sexuality, the essay recognizes: “Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone. Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings.” “The procreation of children and perpetuation of families,” the essay explains, “would continue into the eternities.”

Children with plural wives (endnote 25). Acknowledging the possibility of children, the essay states: “Despite claims that Joseph Smith fathered children within plural marriage, genetic testing has so far been negative, though it is possible he fathered two or three children with plural wives.” Those not satisfied with phrase “possibility of sexual relations” in the discussion of sexuality in time-and-eternity sealings can be placated by the admission of the possibility of children, which would require sexual relations.

Number of plural wives (paragraph 18, endnote 24). The number of women possibly sealed to Joseph is briefly mentioned: “The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary.” However, the estimate of the number of wives was relegated to an endnote: “Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40.”

Emma Smith’s involvement (paragraphs 25–28). The essay explains that plural marriage was “an excruciating ordeal” for Emma. It also taught: “Joseph and Emma loved and respected each other deeply … Emma approved, at least for a time, of four of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages in Nauvoo. … In the summer of 1843, Joseph Smith dictated the revelation on marriage, a lengthy and complex text containing both glorious promises and stern warnings, some directed at Emma.”

Young wives (paragraph 19). Exposing itself to criticism, the essay euphemistically refers to Helen Mar Kimball’s sealing as occurring “several months before her 15th birthday” rather than at age 14. But it frankly acknowledges: “Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens.”

Denials (paragraph 16, endnote 23). Public denials, reflecting special verbal gymnastics, is conceded: “The rumors [of seductions] prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated “celestial” plural marriage.22 The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God’s living prophet, might do so.” George A. Smith is also quoted: “Any one who will read carefully the denials, as they are termed, of plurality of wives in connection with the circumstances will see clearly that they denounce adultery, fornication, brutal lust and the teaching of plurality of wives by those who were not commanded to do so.”

In lauding the Church’s effort to explain this difficult topic, some may assume that in defending the essay we are in fact defending polygamy. We are not. On earth, polygamy expands a man’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a husband as it simultaneously fragments a woman’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a wife. The practice is difficult to defend as anything but unfair and at times emotionally cruel.

However, within the context of Joseph Smith’s teachings, a few eternal polygamists are needed. This reality is routinely ignored by almost all critics who often declare or imply that libido drove the process. That is, they allege the implementation of plural marriage occurred because Joseph wanted to expand his sexual opportunities. Those authors seem confident that any of the Prophet’s associated teachings were simply a cover up, so there was no need to take them seriously and it seems none of the critics of the essay do either.

Yet, this may be the greatest weakness of most of the critics’ arguments—they are simply incomplete. Joseph Smith taught that couples who are sealed in eternal marriage, not plural marriage, “shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths … and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods” (D&C 132:19–20). A plurality of wives allows all worthy women to be sealed to a husband on earth and become eligible for these blessings in heaven. Any woman who is not sealed will: “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” (v. 17).

It is easy to denounce polygamy on earth, but for believers, the discussions should also include the importance of plurality in eternity. As described in section 132, it allows all of God’s children to receive His promised blessings by making eternal marriage available to everyone who seeks it. As the essay explains: “Joseph Smith’s revelation on marriage declared the “continuation of the seeds forever and ever” helped to fulfill God’s purposes for His children. This promise was given to all couples who were married by priesthood authority and were faithful to their covenants” (paragraph 12).

It appears that readers of the essay may only be able to appreciate its value if they are able to appreciate Joseph Smith’s teachings about eternal marriage. Without that understanding, they will see only an unjust earthly practice that is easily condemned. The fact that the eternal contributions of plurality have not been addressed by virtually any critic suggests that additional study on the topic might result in different critiques of this watershed essay.

One of Joseph’s plural wives, Helen Mar Kimball, remembered: “The Prophet said that the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.” Ironically, simply trusting that God commanded them to do so in the past is a test of faith for some Saints today.

Faith and Reason 28: Tree of Life Part I

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TREE

From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

Not many years ago, while attending Duke University, Mormon scholar John Welch participated in a graduate seminar on early Christian writings, when the professor began to discuss a little-known writing entitled the Narrative of Zosimus. This narrative –written in Hebrew and dating to about the time of Christ or earlier –purports to tell a tale that could date to Lehi’s day, and shares many similarities with Lehi’s vision of the tree of life.

Outside of the possibility that both Lehi and Zosimus shared similar revelations, Mormon scholars are still attempting to determine just what relationship exists between the two narratives. Perhaps Lehi made contact with others in their Arabian Journey and shared tales of his vision, or some ancient source or tradition influenced both the Narrative of Zosimus and Lehi’s vision.

Within recent years other similar motifs have been discovered –dating from the fifth century BC to the AD third century — in Italy, Sicily, Crete, and Macedonia. These motifs depict the dead wandering through a world of darkness in search of a white cypress tree. Non-Mormon commentators agree that the cypress tree represents the tree of life and that this mythology most likely originated in Egypt.

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of MormonFortress.com and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  is a broadcast journalist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Radio and Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.