Mormonism and polygamy/Was it adultery prior to 1843

Did Lorenzo Snow's statements about polygamy during the Temple Lot case

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Question: What is Lorenzo Snow claimed to have said about plural marriages being adultery prior to 1843?

One critic of the Church attributes the following quote to Lorenzo Snow during the Temple Lot Case:

A man that violated this law in the Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, until the acceptance of that revelation by the church, violated the law of the church if he practiced plural marriage. Yes sir, he would have been cut off from the church, I think I should have been if I had. Before the giving of that revelation in 1843 if a man married more wives than one who were living at the same time, he would have been cut off from the church. It would have been adultery under the laws of the church and under the laws of the state, too. – Temple Lot Case, p.320-322 [Bold and italics by the author.]

The critic concludes:

According to Lorenzo Snow, Joseph had zero business marrying his plural wives before 1843 and he should have been cut off from the Church as it was adultery under the laws of the Church and under the laws of the State. Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger in 1833 was illegal under both the laws of the land and under any theory of divine authority; it was adultery.” [1]


Question: Did Lorenzo Snow state that polygamy was actually adultery prior to 1843?

Lorenzo Snow did not state that polygamy was adultery prior to 1843

Brian Hales responds to this assertion:

One example of the weaknesses that are repeated over and over in his essay is illustrated when Runnells allegedly quotes Lorenzo Snow’s 1892 Temple Lot deposition. According to Runnells, Snow gave this testimony:

A man that violated this law in the Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, until the acceptance of that revelation by the church, violated the law of the church if he practiced plural marriage. Yes sir, he would have been cut off from the church, I think I should have been if I had. Before the giving of that revelation in 1843 if a man married more wives than one who were living at the same time, he would have been cut off from the church. It would have been adultery under the laws of the church and under the laws of the state, too. – Temple Lot Case, p.320–322 [Bold and italics by Runnells.]

Then Runnells concludes:

According to Lorenzo Snow, Joseph had zero business marrying his plural wives before 1843 and he should have been cut off from the Church as it was adultery under the laws of the Church and under the laws of the State. Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger in 1833 was illegal under both the laws of the land and under any theory of divine authority; it was adultery.”

It is obvious Runnells never viewed the actual 1892 Temple Lot deposition transcripts. Curiously, the last sentence in the paragraph above, the one that he emphasized with bold and italics, is incorrectly cited. Importantly, the words “and under the laws of the state too” are fabrication.[2] They are not in the original transcript; that is, Lorenzo Snow did not say them so far as any record is concerned. Notwithstanding, Runnells confidently asserts: “According to Lorenzo Snow, Joseph had zero business marrying his plural wives before 1843.” If Runnells had actually consulted the depositions, which are available at the Church History Library, he would have learned that later in that same deposition, RLDS attorney Kelley questioned Snow who directly disagreed with Runnells’ conclusion:

Q. Could he [Joseph Smith] receive a revelation and act upon it, that was contrary in its teachings and provisions to the laws of the church to govern the church, without a violation of those laws?

A. Yes sir, I see that distinctly and understand it and I want you to understand it too. [3]

This sort of problematic research and writing is common throughout the remainder of Runnells’ treatment of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages raising important questions regarding the accuracy and credibility of his conclusions.

Rather than provide a point-by-point rebuttal to Runnells’ claims, it might be most beneficial to refer him and other readers to JosephSmithsPolygamy.org where he can find the latest research dealing with all controversial topics regarding Joseph Smith’s Polygamy including supposed polyandry, young wives, Fanny Alger, sexuality, polygamy denials, Joseph’s interactions with Emma Smith, and other historical and theological considerations. [4]


Question: Are the original Temple Lot Case transcripts available online?

The original 1650-page transcripts were not available online until recently. Only a 507-page abstract was available online prior to this

The original 1650-page Temple Lot Case transcripts were not available anywhere online until recently. They are now available online at the Church History Library at the following link: MS 1160: United States testimony 1892, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

All that was previously available online, which was commonly cited, were abstract summary transcripts (507 pages) which have been heavily edited by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now the Community of Christ). The edited transcripts that were available online were published by the RLDS Church and contain information that is not present in the original transcript. (see The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Complainant, Vs. the Church of Christ at Independence, Missouri [5])

A quote from the 507 page abstract is used by critics of the Church to prove that Lorenzo Snow claimed adultery

Here is the quote used by one critic of the Church, which is taken from the 507-page Abstract of Evidence Temple Lot Case:

[Question] A man that violated this law in the Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, until the acceptance of that revelation by the church, violated the law of the church if he practiced plural marriage.
[Answer by Lorenzo Snow] Yes sir, he would have been cut off from the church, I think I should have been if I had. Before the giving of that revelation in 1843 if a man married more wives than one who were living at the same time, he would have been cut off from the church. It would have been adultery under the laws of the church and under the laws of the state, too. [6]

A scan of the relevant portion of page 320 of the Abstract of Evidence Temple Lot Case

The source of the edited quote in the original transcript is quite different from that in the abstract, and does not contain the statement about adultery

Here is the source of the heavily edited quote as it exists in the original 1650-page Temple Lot case transcript:

Page 128

321 Q. Could he [Joseph Smith] receive a revelation and act upon it, that was contrary in its teachings and provisions to the laws of the church to govern the church, without a violation of those laws?

A. Yes sir, I see that distinctly and understand it and I want you to understand it too.

323 Q. Could Joseph Smith receive a revelation and act upon it that was contrary in its teachings and provisions to the laws of the church as accepted by the church at that time, without being at the same time in violation of the laws of the church?

A. Why he might do so. Joseph Smith did, but I don’t consider he was a violator of any of the laws of the church, for he was the law of the church. I never knew of the church rejecting a revelation he gave to them. [7]

A scan of the relevant portion of page 128 of the original Temple Lot case transcript

A more complete explanation, with full page scans, may be viewed on Brian Hales' website Joseph Smith's Polygamy.


Question: I've seen Temple Lot court transcripts online. Are these not accurate?

The 507-page Temple Lot court transcript available online are heavily edited abstracts of the original. The original 1650-page transcript is not available online

There is at least one Temple Lot court summary transcript available online which contain the disputed phrase "and under the laws of the state too". This transcript can be viewed here: Abstract of Evidence Temple Lot Case U.S.C.C.. This is a 507 page abstract, but it is not the original transcript. The original transcript is 1650 pages long and was not available online until recently.

Brian Hales clarifies:

The Temple Lot legal case transcript covers more than 1,650 pages and is NOT available online....

The originals are housed at the Eighth District Court in Kansas City, Missouri, with a carbon copy at the Community of Christ Archives. The LDS Church History Library offers both microfilm and digital photographs of the microfilm (unrestricted). A 507-page version has been published and distributed by several booksellers including Herald House and Price Publishing Company; however, heavy editing makes this version of little or no use to polygamy researchers. Apparently parts of the original transcript have been digitally transcribed by Richard D. Ouellette.

The statement quoted by [Jeremy] Runnells is from one of the edited versions and I’m not surprised that the RLDS editor added some commentary that has been mistaken as in the original.

Here’s the transcript:

189 Q. And the man that violated this law in this book [Doctrine and Covenants 1835 edition] until the acceptance of that revelation by the church violated the law of the church if he practiced plural marriage? A. Yes Sir. He was cut off from the church. I think I should have been if I had.

190 Q. What would be the condition of the man that would marry more than one person prior to the giving of that revelation in 1843? A. What would be the condition of a man that would do that?

191 Q. Yes sir? A. Why he would be cut off from the Church.

192 Q. Would not it have been adultery under those revelations I have just read? A. Yes sir. I expect it would be.

193 Q. You are one of the apostles in the church at the present time are you not . . . [8]

A scan of this page of the transcript may be viewed on Hales' website Joseph Smith's Polygamy here: Lorenzo Snow’s Temple Lot Testimony.


Notes

  1. Jeremy Runnells, "Debunking FairMormon - Letter to a CES Director" (2014)
  2. Footnote 4 in Hales' response: Questions and answers to lines 189–193, Lorenzo Snow, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), page 121, read:
    189 Q. And the man that violated this law in this book [Doctrine and Covenants 1835 edition] until the acceptance of that revelation by the church violated the law of the church if he practiced plural marriage?
    A. Yes Sir. He was cut off from the church. I think I should have been if I had.
    190 Q. What would be the condition of the man that would marry more than one person prior to the giving of that revelation in 1843? A. What would be the condition of a man that would do that?
    191 Q. Yes sir? A. Why he would be cut off from the Church.
    192 Q. Would not it have been adultery under those revelations I have just read? A. Yes sir. I expect it would be.
    193 Q. You are one of the apostles in the church at the present time are you not . . .
  3. Footnote 5 in Hales' response: Lorenzo Snow, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), page 128, question 323.
  4. Brian Hales, "Jeremy Runnells—the New Expert on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy?", Rational Faiths (blog), posted 15 July 2014 off-site
  5. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Complainant, Vs. the Church of Christ at Independence, Missouri: Richard Hill, Trustee; Richard Hill, Mrs. E. Hill, C.A. Hall [and Others] ... as Members of and Doing Business Under the Name of the Church of Christ, at Independence, Missouri, Respondents. In Equity. Complainant's Abstract of Pleading and Evidence off-site
  6. A digital abstract of the Temple Lot court proceedings containing this quote may be viewed here: Abstract of Evidence Temple Lot Case U.S.C.C.
  7. Brian Hales, "Lorenzo Snow’s Temple Lot Testimony," Joseph Smith's Polygamy (website) off-site
  8. Brian Hales, "Lorenzo Snow’s Temple Lot Testimony," Joseph Smith's Polygamy (website) off-site