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Polygamy is a practice that dates back to biblical times. Many of the ancient Israelites were polygamous. Some were known to have hundreds of wives at a time. It was written that King Solomon had seven hundred wives and at least three hundred concubines. Also King David had ninety-nine and Jacob had four. Advice given by some Jewish wise men state that no man should marry more than four wives but the restriction of just one wife was never made. In this time period society never put a strict number of wives allowed for each man or even how they were to be treated. And Jesus was never known to have spoken against polygamy. As recently as the seventeenth century, polygamy was practiced and accepted by the Christian Church.

Polygamy among the Mormons

Polygamy was never practiced publicly by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) prior to 1852, when Brigham Young, the second Prophet and President of the Mormon Church, directed Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt to publicly state the practice and the reasons for it (Ricks, pp.78-110). When Joseph Smith, who received the revelation concerning polygamy and first began the practice, first learned that God would command him to practice polygamy is unsure. Rumors about polygamy circulated in the late 1830s and 1840s, during Joseph Smith's lifetime. However, the revelation about polygamy, recorded today in the Doctrine and Covenants as Section 132, was not written down until July 12, 1843, at the request of his brother Hyrum.

According to the revelation, Joseph Smith had asked God why ancient patriarchs and prophets like Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jacob, David were permitted to have more than one wife (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:1) and why the Mosaic Law, which both Jews and Christians believe to have been inspired by God, makes provisions for polygamy (see Exodus 21:10 and Deuteronomy 21:15). At what date this prayer and revelation first took place is unknown, though circumstantial evidence suggests that it was as early as 1831. The Book of Mormon, translated in 1829, makes mention of polygamy and, while it forbids polygamy for the population extant during the stewardship of the prophet Jacob, it recognizes that sometimes God commands men to practice polygamy (Hartley, 224-39).

Polygamy is thus to be practiced as a religious principle and only when commanded by God. It should never be employed to gratify lusts and can only be practiced properly under God's direction and for his purposes.

Joseph Smith was reluctant to teach this new doctrine and, for many years, he did not share the revelation with anyone, not even his closest and most trusted associates. According to later statements made by Lorenzo Snow and Brigham Young, Joseph Smith was originally repelled by the doctrine of polygamy and only began preaching it after an angel of God appeared to him with a drawn sword and commanded him to teach it or face destruction. After that, Joseph Smith began teaching polygamy to members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other ...
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