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History’s Newsroom: The Sensational Coverage of October Conference, 1854

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 17, 2012

We’ve just completed another October Conference; what notice the news media took of it was generally limited to the change in missionary age. After October Conference, 1854, the limited media notice centered on the talk of Orson Hyde and his defense of polygamy. You can see the full text of his address here, if you have the patience or want to read exactly what he did say about Mary and Martha. What the American public read was a considerably abbreviated version:

DAILY MORNING NEWS (Savannah, Georgia)
25 December 1854

Elder Hyde’s Blasphemous Defence of Polygamy

There is scarcely a gathering of the Saints at which their patriarchs and elders do not descant warmly in support of their characteristic doctrine of polygamy. It appears to be a sore subject with them, and they pervert the Scriptures in the most outrageous manner to sustain their position. At the grand conference in the tabernacle, on the 6th of October, when thousands from all parts of the Territory were assembled, Elder Orson Hyde, who is one of “the big guns” in the church, delivered a long address in support of his right to maintain a harem. He charges at the outset that a large majority of the so-called Christians adopt the practice of polygamy covertly – that they have not only one wife and family, according to the laws, but maintain one or more mistresses in secret.

From them, he argues, denunciations of the system of a plurality of wives come with an ill grace.

He next quotes Abraham, Isaac, David, and Solomon, as having practised polygamy, and argues that the Mormons but follow their example. He then advances the startling death at Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, was not only married when on earth, but had more than one wife. In support of this, he alleges that, in his travels through the cities of Judea, Christ was accompanied by three or four women – one combing head, another washing his feet, another shedding tears upon them, and a fourth wiping them with the hair of her head–and in his fear that they must have been his wives: “for,” says he, “if I (Elder Orson Hyde) were to go round thus, it would appear monstrous in the eyes of the world, and I should receive a coat of tar and feathers, and be ridden on a rail; and it is my opinion the world would treat the Saviour in the same way, did he go about now as he did 1800 years ago.

He then quotes from the 53d chapter of Isaiah, which, he alleges, speaks of Christ all the way through. It is there said,”When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed.”

Now, says Elder Hyde, if he has no seed, how could he see them?”By and by Isaiah goes on to say, “And who shall declare his generation?” Elder Hyde asks, “If he had no generation, who could declare it?”

The Elder then descends to particulars, and actually asserts that Mary and Martha were the wives of Christ.



4 Comments »

  1. Hmm. I haven’t heard claims of a polygamous Jesus before.

    I think “you’re sleeping around anyway, so why can’t I have multiple wives?” is an excellent argument. :)

    Comment by HokieKate — October 17, 2012 @ 8:28 am

  2. I skimmed through part of Elder Hyde’s sermon. I think I’ll take the abbreviated version, thank you!

    Comment by Mark B. — October 17, 2012 @ 9:19 am

  3. HokieKate, I think Elder Hyde was speculating on the fly — whatever people think of Correlation, it reduces this kind of thing. Also, some of the Mormons-are-cultists rhetoric I’ve read over the last year can be traced back to this specific talk: “Mormons believe you have to have three wives to be saved.” The fact that you haven’t heard this speaks well for how far behind the speculations have been put, and how hard people have to scrape for non-doctrinal “doctrines” to mock.

    You’re welcome, Mark!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 17, 2012 @ 10:05 am

  4. The author’s “scarcely a gathering” comment is ironic, since the public announcement of the practice was made barely two years earlier.

    Also, the time lag (October conference reported in a late December paper) seems so quaint. Five minutes after the debate last night, the media was already filing stories about who won.

    Comment by The Other Clark — October 17, 2012 @ 10:08 am

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