Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s 40 wives


A statue of Joseph Smith and his first wife, Emma, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Photo credit Jim McAuley for The New York Times

From the New York Times in the USA:

It’s Official: Mormon Founder Had Up to 40 Wives

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

NOV. 10, 2014

Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old.

The church’s disclosures, in a series of essays online, are part of an effort to be transparent about its history at a time when church members are increasingly encountering disturbing claims about the faith on the Internet. Many Mormons, especially those with polygamous ancestors, say they were well aware that Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, practiced polygamy when he led the flock in Salt Lake City. But they did not know the full truth about Smith.

“Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people,” said Emily Jensen, a blogger and editor in Farmington, Utah, who often writes about Mormon issues.

She said the reaction of some Mormons to the church’s disclosures resembled the five stages of grief in which the first stage is denial, and the second is anger. Members are saying on blogs and social media, “This is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love,” Ms. Jensen said.

Smith probably did not have sexual relations with all of his wives, because some were “sealed” to him only for the next life, according to the essays posted by the church. But for his first wife, Emma, polygamy was “an excruciating ordeal.”

The four treatises on polygamy reflect a new resolve by a church long accused of secrecy to respond with openness to the kind of thorny historical and theological issues that are causing some to become disillusioned or even to abandon the faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is formally known, has quietly posted 12 essays on its website over the last year on contentious topics such as the ban on blacks in the priesthood, which was lifted in 1978, and accounts of how Smith translated the Book of Mormon, the church’s sacred scripture.

Elder Steven E. Snow, the church historian and a member of its senior leadership, said in an interview, “There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history.

“We need to be truthful, and we need to understand our history,” Elder Snow said. “I believe our history is full of stories of faith and devotion and sacrifice, but these people weren’t perfect.”

The essay on “plural marriage” in the early days of the Mormon movement in Ohio and Illinois says polygamy was commanded by God, revealed to Smith and accepted by him and his followers only very reluctantly. Abraham and other Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives, and Smith preached that his church was the “restoration” of the early, true Christian church.

Most of Smith’s wives were between the ages of 20 and 40, the essay says, but he married Helen Mar Kimball, a daughter of two close friends, “several months before her 15th birthday.” A footnote says that according to “careful estimates,” Smith had 30 to 40 wives.

The biggest bombshell for some in the essays is that Smith married women who were already married, some to men who were Smith’s friends and followers.

The essays held nothing back, said Richard L. Bushman, emeritus professor of history at Columbia University and author of the book “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.”

Dr. Bushman said of church leaders: “Somewhere along the line they decided they were just going to tell the whole story, not to be defensive, not to try to hide anything. And there’s no single fact that’s more unsettling than Joseph Smith’s marriage to other men’s wives.

“It’s a recognition of maturity,” said Dr. Bushman, who is a Mormon. “There are lots of church leaders who say: ‘We can take anything, just let us know how it really happened. We’re a church that is secure.’ ”

The younger generation of Mormons will benefit from this step, said Samantha Shelley, co-founder of the website MillennialMormons.com in Provo, Utah.

She said she knew of Smith’s polygamous past, but “it’s so easy for people these days to stumble upon something on the Internet, and it rocks their world and they don’t know where to turn.”

In 1890, under pressure by the American government, the church issued a manifesto formally ending polygamy. The church’s essay on this phase admits that some members and even leaders did not abandon the practice for years.

But the church did renounce polygamy, and Mormons who refused to do the same eventually broke away and formed splinter churches, some that still exist. Warren Jeffs, the leader of one such group, was convicted in Texas in 2011 of child sexual assault.

There remains one way in which polygamy is still a part of Mormon belief: The church teaches that a man who was “sealed” in marriage to his wife in a temple ritual, then loses his wife to death or divorce, can be sealed to a second wife and would be married to both wives in the afterlife. However, women who have been divorced or widowed cannot be sealed to more than one man.

Kristine Haglund, the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, said that while she found the church’s new transparency “really hopeful,” she and other women she had talked with were disturbed that the essays do not address the painful teaching about polygamy in eternity.

“These are real issues for Mormon women,” Ms. Haglund said. “And because the church has never said definitively that polygamy won’t be practiced in heaven, even very devout and quite conservative women are really troubled by it.”

The church historian, Elder Snow, said that the process of writing the essays began in May 2012. Each one was drafted by a scholar, often outside the church history department, then edited by church historians and leaders, and vetted by the church’s top authorities. They may issue one more essay, on women and the priesthood, an issue that has grown increasingly controversial as some Mormon women have mobilized to challenge the male-only priesthood.

The church has not publicly announced the posting of the essays, and many Mormons said in interviews that they were not even aware of them. They are not visible on the church’s home page; finding them requires a search or a link. Elder Snow said he anticipated that the contents would eventually be “woven into future curriculum” for adults and youths.

The church recently released an informational video about the distinctive Mormon underwear called “temple garments” — and it received far more attention among Mormons and in the news media than the essays on polygamy.

Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of constitutional law and history at the University of Pennsylvania, and a non-Mormon who has studied the Mormon Church, said it had dealt with transparency about its past before this, addressing Mormon leaders’ complicity in an attack on a wagon train crossing southern Utah in 1857, known as the Mountain Meadows massacre. But she said this recent emphasis on transparency by the church was both unprecedented and smart.

“What you want to do is get out ahead of the problem, and not have someone say, ‘Look at this damaging thing I found that you were trying to keep secret,’ ” she said.

See also here.

Syrian rebels destroy Armenian genocide monument


This video says about itself:

Jabhat al-Nusra attacks Syria’s ancient Aramaic village

5 September 2013

The Syrian village of Ma’loula in the mountains north of Damascus is a UNESCO world heritage site, it is one of the only villages in the world where ancient Aramaic is still spoken – that’s the language believed to have been spoken by Jesus Christ.

It has been overrun in an assault by al-Qaeda linked group Jabhat al-Nusra, who were fighting alongside opposition brigades from Baba Amr in Homs. A nun from a convent in Ma’loula has accused Jabhat al-Nusra of shelling the village and its inhabitants indiscriminately.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Jabhat al-Nusra blows up Armenian church in Deir el-Zour: A savage blow that echoes through Armenian history

Islamists’ destruction of a shrine to the victims of genocide marks the latest chapter in a tragic national history. Robert Fisk reports from Qamishli, north-eastern Syria

Monday 10 November 2014

In the most savage act of vandalism against Syria’s Christians, Islamists have blown up the great Armenian church in Deir el-Zour, built in dedication to the one and a half million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks during the 1915 genocide. All of the church archives, dating back to 1841 and containing thousands of documents on the Armenian holocaust, were burned to ashes, while the bones of hundreds of genocide victims, packed into the church’s crypt in memory of the mass killings 99 years ago, were thrown into the street beside the ruins.

This act of sacrilege will cause huge pain among the Armenians scattered across the world – as well as in the rump state of Armenia which emerged after the 1914-1918 war, not least because many hundreds of thousands of victims died in death camps around the very same city of Deir el-Zour. Jabhat al-Nusra rebels appear to have been the culprits this time, but since many Syrians believe that the group has received arms from Turkey, the destruction will be regarded by many Armenians as a further stage in their historical annihilation by the descendants of those who perpetrated the genocide 99 years ago.

Turkey, of course, miserably claims there was no genocide – the equivalent of modern day Germany denying the Jewish Holocaust – but hundreds of historians, including one prominent Turkish academic, have proved beyond any doubt that the Armenians were deliberately massacred on the orders of the Ottoman Turkish government across all of modern-day Turkey and inside the desert of what is now northern Syria – the very region where Isis and its kindred ideological armed groups now hold. Even Israelis refer to the Armenian genocide with the same Hebrew word they use for their own destruction by Nazi Germany: “Shoah”, which means “holocaust”.

The Armenian priest responsible for the Deir el-Zour district, Monsignor Antranik Ayvazian, revealed to me that before the explosions tore the church apart towards the end of September, he received a message from the Islamists promising to spare the church archives if he acknowledged them as the legislative authority in that part of Syria. “I refused,” he said. “And after I refused, they destroyed all our papers and endowments. The only genocide victims’ bones left were further north in the Murgada sanctuary and I buried them before I left. They destroyed the church there, but now if I could go back, I don’t even know if I could find where I put the bones.”

Msr Ayvazian later received a photograph taken in secret and smuggled to him from the Isis-controlled area, showing clearly that only part of the central tower of the Deir el-Zour church, built in 1846 and renovated 43 years later, remains. Every Armenian who has returned to the killing fields of the genocide has prayed at the church. Across these same lands, broken skulls and bones from 1915 still lie in the sand. When I investigated the death marches in this same region 22 years ago with a French photographer, we uncovered dozens of skeletons in the crevasse of a hill at a point where so many Armenian dead were thrown into the waters of the Khabur that the river changed its course forever. I gave some of the skulls and bones we found to an Armenian friend who placed them in the crypt of the Deir el-Zour church – the very same building which now lies in ruins.

“During the Armenian genocide, the Turks entered the church and killed its priest, Father Petrus Terzibashian, in front of the congregation,” Msr Ayvazian said. “Then they threw his body into the Euphrates. This time when the Islamists came, our priest there fled for his life.” Msr Ayvazian suffered his own personal loss in the Syrian war when Islamist fighters broke into the Mediterranean town of Qassab on 22 April this year. “They burned all my books and documents, many of them very old, and left my library with nothing but 60cm of ash on the floor.” Msr Ayvazian showed me a photograph of the Qassab church altar, upon which one of the Islamists had written in Arabic: “Thanks be to God for al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front and Bilal al-Sham” (another Islamist group). The town was retaken by Syrian government troops on 22 June.

Msr Ayvazian recounted his own extraordinary story of how he tried to prevent foreign Islamist fighters from taking over or destroying an Armenian-built hospital – how he drove to meet the Islamist gunmen and agreed to recover the corpses of some of their comrades killed in battle in return for a promise not to damage the hospital. “As I approached the hospital, a Syrian jet flew over me and dropped a bomb 40 metres from the building. I know the officer who sent the aircraft. He said it was his way of trying to warn the rebels not to harm me. They came out of the hospital like rats – but they did not harm me.”

I spoke later to the local Syrian military air force dispatcher and he confirmed that he had indeed sent a MiG fighter-bomber to attack waste ground near the building. Msr Ayvazian subsequently went to the old battlefield with Syrian government permission and recovered several bodies, all in a state of advanced decay and one with a leg eaten off by dogs. But he bravely set off with trucks carrying the dead and handed the remains to the Islamists. “They kept their word and later withdrew all their foreign fighters from the province of Hassake. I later received a letter from one of their emirs, very polite, telling me – and here the priest produced a copy of the note – that: “We vow to keep your property and your cherished possessions, which we also hold dear to us.” Msr Ayvazian looked scornfully at the letter. “Look, here at the start,” he said, “they have even made a mistake in their first quotation from the Koran! And then look what happened at Deir el-Zour. It was all for nothing.”

Each year, thousands of Armenians have gathered at their church in Deir el-Zour on 25 April – the date they commemorate the start of the genocide, when Armenian lawyers, teachers and doctors were arrested and later executed by the Turks outside Istanbul – to remember their million and a half dead. The 100th anniversary of the mass slaughter would have been a major event in Deir ez-Zour’s history. And although Syrian soldiers are still holding out in part of the town today, and Syrian authorities have promised to rebuild Armenian churches when their lands are retaken from the Islamists, there is little hope that any Armenians will be able to visit the ruins of their church in five months’ time.

Isis in Syria: In the shadow of death, a few thousand Christians remain to defy the militants: here.

There has been a “total collapse of international solidarity” when it comes to helping the ever-growing number of refugees from Syria’s civil war, humanitarian agencies said today: here.

Blue rock thrush and crag martins in Aragon, Spain


This video is called red kites in slow motion. See especially after 1 minute 30 seconds into the video.

31 October 2014. After the Llobregat delta of 30 October, and the morning in Bierge, more lower Pyrenees in the afternoon. It is 17 degrees Celsius, warm for the time of the year.

12:40: a red kite, sitting on a pole.

We go to Alquézar. Most geographical names in Spain beginning with Al are originally Arabic, dating from the early Middle Ages when in most of the Iberian peninsula there was Muslim rule. Alquézar village (Alquezra in Aragonese) has it name from the Arabic word for fortress. Jalaf ibn Rasid had a fortress built there. In the eleventh century, Christians conquered it.

Alquézar, 31 October 2014

There are swallow nests in the old village Alquézar. One might expect: house martins. However, here the nests belong to Eurasian crag martins.

Rock pigeon, 31 October 2014

There are rock pigeons in Alquézar too. A bit difficult to say in this rocky environment whether they are wild rock pigeons or domestic pigeons.

Blue rock thrush, 31 October 2014

There are many canyons in the mountains near Alquézar. At one of them, we saw this blue rock thrush.

Australian, Japanese militarists celebrate World War I


This video says about itself:

Australian comfort woman Jan Ruff-O’Herne

Jan Ruff-O’Herne told her shocking story on Australian Story in 2001 – a secret that took her 50 years to come to terms with before finally, she revealed it in a letter to her two daughters.

An idyllic childhood in Java was brought to an abrupt end by the Japanese occupation during Word War Two. Aged 21, she was taken from her family and repeatedly abused, beaten and raped – forced to be a sex slave for the Japanese military.

The term coined for this brutal sex slavery was ‘comfort woman‘.

But since revealing her ‘uncomfortable truth’ Jan Ruff-O’Herne’s suffering has been transformed into something affirmative.

In February this year, this 84-year-old Adelaide grandmother made the long journey to testify before Congress in Washington DC. The Congressional hearing was the pinnacle in her 15-year global campaign to seek justice for ‘comfort women’.

Now six years since Australian Story first aired her story, Jan Ruff-O’Herne feels she is one step closer to finally achieving her ultimate goal.

By Richard Phillips in Australia:

Australia’s WWI Albany commemoration: All about the future, not the past

7 November 2014

The former whaling port of Albany in Western Australia was the setting last weekend for the “Albany Convoy Commemoration.” It was part of the Australian government’s World War I centenary program—a multi-million dollar four-year campaign aimed at preparing the population for new wars.

In October 1914, King George’s Sound, just off Albany, was the assembly point for merchant ships carrying Australian and New Zealand troops, later known as Anzacs, before they set sail for the slaughter houses of WWI.

The first armada of 32 ships, carrying 30,000 troops and 8,000 horses, departed from Albany on November 1 under escort from three Australian navy vessels and HIJMS Ibuki, a navy cruiser from Japan, a British wartime ally. It was the first of two convoys that conveyed 41,000 troops from Albany that year. A third of these soldiers were killed in the attempted allied invasion of Turkey in 1915 or on the European battlefields.

Last weekend’s commemoration was attended by an estimated 40,000 people and senior government representatives from Japan, France and New Zealand. It was an occasion for government and military heads to wave the flag and issue proclamations about the birth of the “Anzac spirit,” while engaging in high-level discussions with military allies for new wars.

The three-day extravaganza, initiated by the former Rudd Labor government in 2008, featured a re-enactment of the convoy’s departure, involving four Australian warships and a submarine, a New Zealand navy vessel and a Japanese destroyer. A military march through the town was accompanied by low-flying Australian air force planes roaring overhead. Then came a commemorative service and the opening of the National Anzac Centre, a so-called interpretative museum.

More than 800 Australian Defence Force personnel were involved in the proceedings, along with soldiers from New Zealand and the French Pacific colony of New Caledonia. On Saturday night, WWI memorabilia were projected onto local buildings, alongside an outdoor “community concert.” Nearby Middleton Beach was covered with 30,000 hand-sewn red poppies.

No doubt many of those in attendance came to honour relatives who served in the war and were genuinely interested in trying to understand what produced the 1914–18 slaughter. That, however, was the last thing on the minds of the official speakers. Those in charge were preoccupied with obscuring the real reasons for WWI as they discussed, in private, preparations for new wars.

Australian Veteran Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson chaired the commemoration ceremony. Japanese officials in attendance included Kazuyuki Nakane, the vice-minister for foreign affairs and Hideshi Tokuchi, the vice-minister of defence. Tokuchi oversees all Japanese negotiations with US and international defence officials.

Disingenuous speeches were delivered by Australian and New Zealand prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Keys, pledging to “never forget” the “selfless sacrifices” of the war dead and the “spirit of Anzac.”

The so-called Anzac spirit—of mateship and unwavering devotion to the nation—is an entirely invented reality and one that denies the imperialist character of the war. The Australian and New Zealand troops on board the ships were mobilised in 1914 as part of the British Empire’s war efforts to retain its global dominance. The soldiers had never even heard the term Anzac.

Abbott called on those present to remember “the soldiers and sailors of the countries of the British Empire, of gallant France and of Japan—first an ally, then a foe, now the very best of friends.”

In 1914, the ruling elites in Australia, New Zealand and Japan were driven by long-held imperial ambitions in the region. The sacrifice of thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops was the human down-payment for the emergence of Australia and New Zealand as imperialist powers. As soon as the war began, all three countries seized German territories in the Asia-Pacific.

Japan had told the British government that it would only enter the war if it could take Germany’s Pacific territories. On 7 August 1914, Britain officially requested Japanese assistance to destroy German navy ships in and around Chinese waters. Japan declared war against Germany on 23 August and attacked the German settlement at China’s Tsingtao a week later.

Australian and New Zealand forces took over Germany’s South Pacific colonies, including German New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Nauru and Samoa, while the Japanese military seized the Mariana, Caroline and Marshall islands, north of the equator.

Japan, which expanded its influence in China at the expense of Germany and other European powers during the war, not only escorted Anzac troop convoys to Egypt and Europe in 1914. It was also involved in the bloody suppression of the Singapore Mutiny, an anti-colonial uprising against the British in Singapore six months after the outbreak of WWI. In February 1915, Japanese marines were mobilised to assist British forces crush the week-long rebellion by 850 Indian members of the British army stationed there.

While speakers last weekend shed crocodile tears over the death of Allied soldiers in WWI at the official ceremonies, Australian Defence Minister David Johnston met with his New Zealand, Japanese and French counterparts to discuss the current war in the Middle East and preparations for future conflicts.

Johnston and New Zealand Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee held the annual Australia-New Zealand defence ministers’ meeting, which covered “recent developments in Iraq, and shared perspectives on security issues in the South Pacific.” Johnston then met with the French minister for defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to further Australia’s “close cooperation with France in the South Pacific” and “shared interests” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Johnston also held extensive talks with Japanese officials Nakane and Tokuchi on Australian-Japanese involvement in the US-led “pivot to Asia,”—Washington’s diplomatic offensive and military build-up against China.

Over the past 18 months, the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has rapidly increased military spending, “reinterpreted” the Japanese constitution to end legal restraints on participation in US-led wars and increased Tokyo’s diplomatic and military pressure on Beijing.

As well as collaborating closely in Washington’s war preparations against China, the two countries are strengthening their own military ties. In July this year Abe, while visiting Australia, announced new defence agreements between Canberra and Tokyo which could pave the way for the Australian purchase of Japanese submarines.

This is another clear indication of increasing geo-political tensions, particularly between China and the US and its allies, and the danger of wider conflict in the region.

The author also recommends:

New warnings of war in Asia
[5 November 2014]