General Question

elbanditoroso's avatar

Does it matter how many wives Joseph Smith had?

Asked by elbanditoroso (28879points) November 11th, 2014

Several articles appeared yesterday – some front-page – that reported the astounding news that the Mormon leader and originator Joseph Smith had, over the course of his life, 40 wives.

I’m wondering why this is news – front page news, at that.. It has been known for decades that early Mormonism was a polygamous religion only changed its ways 125 years ago. Does it make a difference if he had 3, 15, 30, or 40 wives?

More disturbing to me is that he had some wives that he married when they were 14 years old, and that he took as his own women that were already married to other men.

But with this distance, does it even matter?


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21 Answers

josie's avatar

It’s nothing to me.
It’s probably the opposition getting ready in case Romney makes another run for president.

zenvelo's avatar

What makes it an issue is that the Mormons have steadfastly insisted that he only had one wife, even though it seems to have been a not very well kept secret. As one person said yesterday: “Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people.”

To a devout person of any faith, when those in authority admit, not an evolution of dogma, but that a deception has taken place, all other aspects of faith from the same authority are called into question.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I don’t care about religious views as long as no one is throwing it in my face so I don’t spend any time on this. He could have married 40 wives and his goat for all I care. But it does give some insight into his thinking and his mindset. One guy cannot possibly satisfy 40 women, in any way.

seekingwolf's avatar

It doesn’t matter to me. Joseph Smith is still one of history’s biggest liars and con men. His beliefs and everything he stands for is laughable. Mormons can squabble all they want about whether he had sex with one wife, 40 wives, or what have you…anything to distract themselves from really thinking critically about him and his lies.

sahID's avatar

Perfect answer @seekingwolf. Now, somewhere around 160 – 170 years after his death at the hands of a lynch mob, it would seem that this information should be irrelevant. It certainly is to me.

Still, given his dubious relationship with truth, and given that the Church itself is quietly making this information available without making its existence known to all Church members, how do we know if this claim is accurate or not? It seems like, if this really is part of a new focus on transparency, that the Church would both welcome and encourage independent verification of this information by outside historians.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Smith’s bigamy is one of the lesser warts confronting those committed to the mind boggling over the top epic and resulting zany tents of a Church that is wise indeed to remain tactfully low key about its beliefs and practices.

LuckyGuy's avatar

This 6 minute video by the writers of South Park, The Foundation of Mormonism , is quite good. It concisely summarizes the foundation and beginning.
After you watch it, look up the foundation on another source – any other source. Ask a Mormon but do not mention the video. You will see the SP writers are quite close.

I do not want your 10% tithe. Send it to South Park instead. Or save your money and buy Carhartt, UnderArmor or Columbia thermal underwear. They insulate like magic.

josie's avatar

As an aside, it should or should not matter any more than the fact that Mohammed’s favorite wife Aisha was probably 6 when he married her and 9 when the marriage was consummated. Nobody seems to care too much about that these days. So why get in Smith’s shit?

Winter_Pariah's avatar

This just reminds me of modern gossip on celebs and what not, I don’t really care to hear it as all it does it increase my cynical views of modern media.

Then again, I also don’t get the issue with polygamy. Aside from the young, child wives, all I would say to Joseph Smith is, “bravo, well done” if he happened to believe alive today and was an acquaintance of some sort.

Coloma's avatar

Considering he was, most likely a delusional schizophrenic, most of his wives were probably in his mind. lol

SavoirFaire's avatar

I have nothing against polyamory as long as it is consensual. Were Smith’s marriages consensual? That is probably beyond our ability to discover at this point. Regardless, I have no objection to the mere fact that he may have had up to 40 wives. The number is unimportant to me.

A lot of people are strongly opposed to polyamory, however, and I imagine it’s much more important to them whether Smith had multiple wives—particularly with regard to their moral assessment of him. But like @seekingwolf said, there are other facts about Smith’s life that make this question more or less irrelevant to our assessment of the man.

jca's avatar

A 14 year old cannot consent to sex, legally.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@jca Depends where and when. Not in the present day United States, but it’s not the same everywhere in Europe. Also, most of the earliest age of consent laws in the US—including Utah’s—set the age at 10.

In any case, the question is about the number of wives, not their ages. I suspect most of us agree with what @elbanditoroso said in the details about the ages being more disturbing than the number.

snowberry's avatar

I have not read the above comments. I grew up in Salt Lake City. Most of my relatives are Mormon. I am not.

When I was about 30 I went through the little museum in Salt Lake dedicated to Joseph Smith. I knew he had many wives (40 sounds about right as I remember it). And back then, girls married early. It was normal, and by the time a girl was 18, in some cultures she was almost an old maid. In those days women were not allowed to work outside the home. Add to that the fact that there were far more women converts than men. The result was that unless she could marry she literally was in danger of starving. In our culture, marrying a 14 year old is abhorrent, pedophilia and all that. Back then it was to give her a future. I could go on and on about the living conditions in which he kept his various wives, but that’s off topic.

So if they’re “admitting” him having 40 wives now, when did they stop?

Edit: This sounds like media hype designed to “sell news” by creating a story where there is none.

rojo's avatar

Not to me.

Buttonstc's avatar

I suppose it matters to Mormons, but I can’t imagine why it matters one iota to anyone else, including me :)

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

No. The fact that one of them was 14, however, is hugely significant.

Coloma's avatar

14 is taboo in our modern culture but the life expectancy of someone born in 1800 was less than 20 years for many. Infant mortality and other diseases were rampant.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Coloma A 14 year old is too young to give birth to a baby of healthy birth weight without significant health risk. That is a biological fact that hasn’t changed with the shifting age of puberty. At 16 it can be argued that a girl is physically developed enough to be a mother, although emotional development depends on culture and context. But a 14 year old is not biologically ready. Maybe that was one of the reasons behind infant/maternal mortality rates (among many others).

jca's avatar

Relevant: Life expectancy throughout history: The time in question was roughly mid-1800’s.

Coloma's avatar


I agree with the emotional component but 14 vs.16, biologically speaking, really doesn’t matter. People did mature more quickly way back when, out of necessity.
Once a female is of puberty, having regular reproductive cycles, the hormones she produces contribute to her being able to successfully incubate a fetus and her body is well prepared to give birth. Certainly it is not optimum but infant mortality had more to do with lack of modern medical care, sanitation, no ability to perform C-sections during a difficult or breech birth, no prenatal care, no incubators and medications for preemies, no basic medications for infant illnesses and many women died of postpartum infection regardless of their age.

Birth weight was already compromised due to lack of adequate diet for most women, lack of prenatal care/supplements and the amount of daily work they had to perform to keep their home fires burning and bread on the table. It really isn’t any different than breeding an animal of any species, a 7 month old dog can give birth and while it is harder on an animal that is not mature itself it can happen without grave outcome. Not ideal but possible as well as probable. Once the hormones kick in the body is prepped for pregnancy and delivery even if not an optimal situation.

Bottom line, nature trumps, and if it wasn’t possible for a young animal to give birth biology would not play out as it does. Disclaimer: I am not advocating teen pregnancies or breeding adolescent animals of any kind, just sayin’ it is possible or nature would readjust it’s time table.

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