POLYGAMY IN TWO RESTORATION MOVEMENTS

by Abraham Van Luik, abevanluik@thoughtsandplaces.org

History has provided an analog to the Mormon experience with
polygamy, namely, the radical Anabaptist community in Muenster,
Germany, in 1534-1535. To appreciate the insights afforded by
the study of this analog, some background is necessary, so the
historical setting and aims and beliefs of Anabaptists in general will be
summarized and a sketch will be given of the roots of the militant
Anabaptists in Holland and Germany in particular. Then the
restoration of Old Testament themes and practices among the militant
Anabaptists, including the restoration of polygamy in Muenster in
1534 will be described, with emphasis on the theology underlying this
turn of events. Finally, the downfall of the militant Muensterite
Anabaptists in 1535 will be presented to round out the discussion of
this historical analog. In the discussions of Muensterite theological
assertions, parallels with Mormonism will be highlighted and
discussed.

The Lutheran Reformation in Germany and the Zwinglian
Reformation in Zwitzerland were accompanied by much religious,
civil, and social upheaval in the 1520's and 1530's. In addition, there
were violent revolts against civil and religious authority structures and
recurring outbreaks of the dreaded plague. It was a time of great
anxiety and uncertainty, a time that led to introspection and a
search for fundamental moorings. Among Zwingli's Swiss followers
were some who searched the scriptures diligently to find the pattern of
the primitive church and restore it: "Restitution" was their watchword.

Their enemies derisively called them Anabaptists, rebaptizers,
because of their denial of the efficacy of infant baptism and their
insistence on baptizing only those who were capable of belief:
adults. Even the accounts of their enemies note their strict morality,
abstinence from alcoholic beverages, and dedication to achieving
excellency in their imitation of Christ. But that was precisely why
Zwingli, among others, assented to their death sentence: their call to
holiness and their insistence that only the saintly can truly be the
church meant that the Reformed and the Catholic churches were
of the world, and were impotent in terms of administering salvation. It
is from the world that the saint must withdraw, according to the
Anabaptists, to the point of not having anything to do with the civil
government, carrying no weapons in its behalf and taking no oath at its
request. Medieval society was challenged at its core: the core of the
union of church and state.

The Catholics, Zwinglians, and Lutherans were aghast at the
success of the Anabaptist lay preachers coming into their communities
and converting their people. And all who were converted became
missionaries themselves, it was a spiritual epidemic. The Anabaptists
were savagely hunted and dispatched to their eternal rewards in
imaginative ways, drowning seemed a favorite since it closely
approximated the act for which these people were the most infamous.
Yet they became numerous in places such as Switzerland and the
Rhine valley. [1]

Some of the earliest writings of Anabaptists show the nature of the
movement. The first documents produced by congregations to state
their beliefs were the Schleitheim Confession of 1527 and an
anonymous statement of the discipline of the church issued by a
Tyrolean (Austria) congregation in 1528. [2] The Schleitheim
Confession includes the following:

1) Baptism shall be given to all who have learned repentence
and amendment of life, and who believe truly that their sins
are taken away in Christ, ... . This excludes all infant baptism,
the highest and chief abomination of the pope. ...

2) The ban shall be employed with all those who have given
themselves to the Lord, to walk in his commandments, and
with all those who have been baptized into the one body of
Christ and who are called brethren and sisters, and yet who slip
sometimes and fall into error and sin, being inadvertantly
overtaken. The same shall be admonished twice in secret and
the third time openly disciplined or banned according to the
command of Christ. But this shall be done according to the
regulation of the Spirit, Mt. 5, before the breaking of bread, so
that we may break and eat one bread, with one mind and one
love, and may drink of one cup.

3) All those who wish to break one bread in remembrance of
the broken body of Christ, and who wish to drink of one drink
as remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, shall be united
beforehand by baptism into one body of Christ which is the
Church of God and whose Head is Christ.

4) A separation shall be made from the evil and from the
wickedness the Devil planted in the world in this manner,
simply, that we do not have fellowship with them and not run
with them in the multitude of their abominations. ... To us the
command of the Lord is clear when he calls upon us to be
separate from the evil and thus He will be our God and we
shall be His sons and daughters. He further admonishes us to
withdraw from Babylon and the earthly Egypt that we may not
be partakers of the pain and suffering which the Lord will
bring upon them. ... Therefore there will also unquestionably
fall from us the unchristian devilish weapons of force - such as
sword, armor and the like, and all their use for friends or
against one's enemies - ... .

6) The sword is ordained of God outside the perfection of
Christ. It punishes and puts to death the wicked ... and ... is
ordained to be used by the worldly magistrates. In the
perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a
warning and for the excommunication of the one who has
sinned ... . [3]

Discussion around this last point includes the idea that the believer
can not resist evil with the sword even in defense of self, can not be a
magistrate, and can not swear oaths of any kind, since the Lord taught
"'Let your communication be Yea, yea Nay, nay, for whatsoever is
more than those cometh of evil.'"

The 1828 Discipline of Believers contains very similar sentiments,
but with a few points not contained in the Schleitheim Confession.
Points of interest are the emphasis on reliance on the Spirit and the
idea of having goods in common and providing for the common
welfare in the first and fourth articles, the rule of observation of new
members prior to baptism and confidentiality of membership
information in article nine, and the admonishment to be prepared for
the Lord's coming in article twelve. Large groups of scriptural
citations interspersed in the text were left out in the following
citations:

FIRST ARTICLE ... when the brethren are together they shall
sincerely ask God for grace that He might reveal His divine
will and help us to note it.

FOURTH ARTICLE ... every brother or sister shall yield
himself to God in the brotherhood completely with body and
life, and hold in common all gifts received of God and
contribute to the common need so that brethren and sisters will
be helped needy members shall receive from the brotherhood
as among the Christians at the time of the apostles.

NINTH ARTICLE ... what is officially done among the
brethren and sisters in the brotherhood shall not be made
public before the world. The good-hearted person, before he
comes to the brethren in the brotherhood shall be taught.
When he has learned and bears a sincere desire for it, and if he
agrees to the content of the Gospel, he shall be received by the
Christian brotherhood as a brother or a sister, that is, a fellow
member of Christ. But this shall not be made public before the
world to spare the conscience and for the sake of the spouse.

TWELFTH ARTICLE ... always watch and wait for the Lord
that we may be worthy to enter with Him when He comes, and
to escape or flee from the evil that will come to the world. [4]

Still other aspects of the general belief structure of the Anabaptists
are contained in the Confession of Faith writen by an individual, one
Pilgram Marpeck, who was baptized in 1528 in the Tyrol, and in 1532
wrote a confession mostly dealing with the issue of adult or believer's
baptism. He describes the true, baptized believer in the following
words:

24. This covenant of the good conscience towards God is not
accepted by all men. To those, however, who accept it, water
is an earthly witness ... .

25. Those then, who believe and are baptized in the promise
and forgiveness of sin, are ... children by faith and accepted in
the Kingdom of Christ.

26. Such true believers are preserved, ruled, and led by the
Spirit of God, without any human help and aid. These are
those whom the Spirit of God directs. They are children of
God, who are fellow companions in Christ's sufferings, that is,
also fellow heirs in the Kingdom of God.

27. Such children of God in the Kingdom of Christ have the
power. What they loose on earth that is loosed in heaven and,
what they bind on earth, is bound in heaven. This plan is
controlled by the Holy Spirit, according to the love of God,
outwardly by the Holy Supper of Christ ... . He who repents,
and obeys love in the Holy Spirit, eats and drinks worthily at
the table of the Lord ... .

28. There is no coercion, but a free spirit, in Christ Jesus our
Lord. He who does not want, may remain outside. He who is
willing, may come and drink freely.

29. All outward power may not rule in the Kingdom of Christ,
nor help, nor govern. [5]

From these citations one may begin to appreciate the radical
differences between these people and the churches already established
in the regions where they were flourishing. Every statement of
faith in the citations here given is in part directed at a contrary teaching
in the established churches.

Anabaptist leadership was especially hard hit by the persecutions,
and in reaction to the brutality of their persecutions some among them
began to feel the Spirit speak of God's wrath and vengeance. These
studied and found solace in the Old Testament, and began to dream
inspired dreams about the great and terrible day of the Lord, when the
saints would be established and their enemies would be vanquished.
Some began to feel the spirit inside them stir them to boldness, and
they prophesied of the last days, the Lord's return, and the New
Jerusalem where a people would be prepared to meet the Lord.
Outstanding among this group was Melchior Hoffman.

One of Luther's preachers, a successful one at that, Melchior
Hoffman developed mystical feelings that led him to radically
reexamine his Lutheran faith and reject it as not going far enough in
its adherence to scripture and rejection of tradition. He sought after
truth, taught his own brand of reform doctrine for a while, and finally
embraced the tenets of the Anabaptists, accepting baptism in 1530.
The Anabaptism he accepted and championed in Strassburg was a
radical variety, however, molded to fit his own vision. The year of his
baptism saw him publishing a number of tracts interpreting the Old
and New Testament apocalyptic and eschatological writings. One of
his booklets features visions of Ursula Jost, whom he regarded a
prophetess. Hoffman was looking forward to the imminent return of
Christ.

He became apostle to the northern Netherlands, and met with great
success, establishing branches in many cities. In 1531 he returned to
Strassburg, published more visions by Ursula and her husband, also a
prophet, and was brought in front of the city fathers a few times to
account for his crimes. He seems to have done more missionary work
in 1532 and then returned to Strassburg in 1533, when he was
imprisoned. According to his interviewers he stated that "he was the
true Elijah, who is to come before the judgment of Christ." Also, that
Strassburg was "the city that God had chosen above all other cities."
[6]

While Hoffman was on his missionary journeys and as he headed
for jail, a movement developed among his followers that was to have
dire consequences for large numbers of people. Hoffman disavowed
violence, telling the Strassburg city fathers that prior to Christ's
glorious return the city would be besieged, and the Anabaptists would
work to build fortifications and trenches, but would not carry swords.
Among his Dutch followers were some who, perhaps in reaction to
particularly cruel and bitter persecutions, began to question the
Anabaptist teachings regarding the sword, and began to take
inspiration from the militant symbolism and language of apocalyptic
scripture.

Among the leadership in Holland, for example, arose one John
Matthijsz. John Matthijsz asserted that he had experienced the new
outpouring of the Holy Ghost predicted by Hoffman, and that he had
received revelations from God designating himself Enoch, the second
witness mentioned in the Book of Revelation. He taught that God
desired to have his people be the elect, sealed with the sign of
baptism to preserve them from the evil that was to come. One who
listened and believed and was baptized by Matthijsz later became
known as Jan van Leiden. Jan van Leiden was sent out as an apostolic
messenger to the cities of Holland, where, with his companion, he
seems to have established many small branches of eight to ten people
each.

Matthijsz in the meantime married his love, the beautiful brewer's
daughter later known to us as Divara. This would not be noteworthy
except that Matthijsz already had a wife, who is characterized as a
"sulky" older woman. Hoffman was not pleased, but did not fail to be
supportive of Matthijsz continuing attempts to carry out his mission to
establish the New Jerusalem according to his visions. Although
Hoffman was supportive, his support was passive: he remained in jail
until he died.

Matthijsz ran into another who had been hailed as the new Enoch
by his followers in Amsterdam and cursed him into the devil's eternal
care by the power of the Holy Ghost, declaring his words with
sufficient authority that those addressed reportedly became sick to their
stomachs. Then he became as a little child and extended the hand of
fellowship and love to these who had followed the devil's promptings,
and he came out of this ordeal the unchallenged leader of the elect in
the Netherlands. His missionaries were meeting with great success,
and those who were designated apostolic messengers were convinced
they were filled with the same Spirit and had the same authority as the
New Testament apostles. One of them prophesied no more Christian
blood would be spilt, and the Lord would shortly wipe all tyranny from
the earth. Many were baptized at this good news, which is relatable to
a prediction by Hoffman that the twelve messengers sent in these last
days would be protected. But the prophecy turned out to be false.

In the spring of 1534, four apostolic missionaries entered Muenster
and found themselves welcomed by phenomenal successes, including
baptismal requests by leading citizens such as Bernard Rothmann and
a number of Reformed preachers. One of the apostle pairs, namely Jan
van Leiden and his companion, taught in the name of the new Enoch
that it was allowable for a Christian to use the sword against Godless
authorities. A two-edged sword of a world mission by the apostolic
messengers and an overthrow of Godless authority was now seen to be
unsheathed as the means for changing the world in preparation for
Christ's return in glory. Muenster was the New Jerusalem, in which all
would be restored as in ancient times. All, including polygamy. [7]

In his history of Dutch Anabaptism, Cornelius Krahn, professor of
church and Mennonite history at Bethel College, North Newton,
Kansas, observed:

In appraising the appearance of polygamy among the
Muensterite Anabaptists, one must not lose sight of the Old
Testament orientation of its leaders. The male member of the
community was not only expected to give protection to the
weaker sex, but through him the female member found access
to the spiritual blessings of the Lord.

The leaders of the New Israel found this confirmed by Paul
who said "the head of every man is Christ and the head of
every woman is the man." Developing this thought, the
Muensterites, and later the Latter Day Saints, came to the
conclusion that every woman must be attached to a man in
order to be saved, just as a man is subject to Christ. [8]

Professor Krahn sees the motivations behind the polygamies of these
two restorationist movements as being essentially the same: a literal
reading of the Old and New Testament and a desire to restore Old
and New Testament societal ideals and practices in a new society of
true believers: "the New Zion." [9]

There is more to the correspondence between the Latter-day Saint
and Muensterite restoration movements than meets the eye. The
Muensterite restorationist movement flourished and died a violent
death in 1534-1535, 300 years before the Latter-day Saint
restorationist movement, hence, although it provides a historical
analog to the Latter-day Saint experience, its short duration and
removal in time limits the potential analog value. Nevertheless, extant
documents by the Muensterites and their enemies have left a barrel full
of thoughts and facts that is grist for the mills of historians, and the
challenge to grind finely is theirs: only the surface will be scratched
here.

The prophet, Jan Matthijsz, was killed in a military sortie against
besieging forces of Catholics and Lutherans. Matthijsz had not openly
taught polygamy, as far as is known, but had practised it, as mentioned
previously, by taking a younger, and by all accounts beautiful woman
as a "spiritual sister-wife (geistlichen Eheschwester)," [10] in addition
to his aging wife. Jan van Leiden apparently left his wife in Leiden,
and when he came to the New Jerusalem married another woman
without benefit of divorce.

Several significant things happened after the prophet died. In an
assembly shortly after, a prophet in the city declared it God's will that
Jan van Leiden be the new prophet and "King of the New Zion" in
Muenster, Westphalia, Germany, the "New Jerusalem." [11] He was
the "second David," and "King over the whole world." [12]

It is an interesting aside at this point to note that the Mormon
prophet Joseph Smith also was made "King on earth," or "king to rule
over the house of Israel," according to eyewitnesses reporting the
ceremony. [13] This was foreshadowed by Joseph Smith when, in
attempting to prepare the saints for the eventuality, he said:

Have we not learned the Priesthood after the order of
Melchizedek, which includes both Prophets, Priests and Kings:
see Rev. 1 Chap., 6th v., and I will advance your Prophet to a
Priest, and then to a King - not to the Kingdoms of this earth,
but of the Most High God. [14]

John Taylor, a later prophet of the Kingdom, a close associate of
Joseph Smith who shared his final hours with him and witnessed his
martyrdom, confirms this when he records a revelation stating
concerning Joseph:

He was called by me, and empowered by me, and sustained by
me to introduce and establish my Church and Kingdom upon
the earth and to be a Prophet, Seer and Revelator to my
Church and Kingdom and to be a King and Ruler over Israel.
[15]

Returning to Muenster, it was when the prophet John Matthijsz died
and his beautiful wife became a widow that the new prophet declared it
God's will, by revelation, that polygamy be not only practised but that
it be mandatory, and that all women must marry. He married the
beautiful widow and others besides for a total of fifteen. [16] Though
there are fascinating tales to be told about this period in Muensterite
history, our aim is to examine the theology and social structure behind
this particular facet of the restorationist phenomenon.

The chief theologian and pamphleteer for this restoration movement
was Bernard Rothmann. He treated polygamy and man-woman
relations in a pamphlet entitled "Restitution of the True and
Whole Christian Doctrine (Restitution rechter und gesunder
christlicher Lehre)" published in October 1534. [17] The pamphlet
first treats the great apostasy theme: the Catholic church has destroyed
original Christianity, and God has used the learned Erasmus (who
contributed to the Counter-Reformation within Catholicism, inspired
the Reformers, but himself remained Catholic), Luther and Zwingli to
begin the restoration. But the restoration is being brought to its
wonderful conclusion, truth is being restored, by the unlearned
Melchior Hoffman, Jan Matthijsz, and "our brother Jan van Leiden."
[18]

Rothmann next treats the scriptures and how they should be truly
understood, and then launches into how the Old Testament underlies
the New, explaining that the world has misinterpreted scripture in its
belief that Christ has taken on the flesh through Mary. A literal yet
mystical belief in the scriptural words: "The word is become flesh" is
asserted, which is a teaching attributable to Melchior Hoffman. [19] It
is the theology of the Muensterites that marks them as Hoffman's
followers, notwithstanding their break with Hoffman's beliefs
regarding the use of the sword and the practice of polygamy. Among
other teachings of Rothmann that are attributable to Hoffman's vision
of the true Christianity are: 1) The universality of God's grace/mercy,
2) The freedom of the human will after its enlightenment, 3) Two
judgments, one where the mercy of God pardons, and the second, final
judgment in which persons are tried on their own merits, 4)
Conceiving life as a process that has three stages, and that the outcome
of a successful journey leads one to become a partaker of the Divine
Nature, and 5) The unforgivable sin being that which is committed in
the full awareness of the wrongfulness of the act. [20]

Returning to Rothmann's "Restitution" pamphlet, his next subject is
a powerfully compact description of the "true Gospel," which leads to
becoming the brother of and fellow-heir with Christ. The Gospel is to
repent and remorsefully ask Christ for forgiveness, to be baptized and
wash one's sins away in Christ. Then are you a member of the
community of Christ, and if you will endure to the end in full
obedience, seeking after justice and holiness, you shall be happy (eg.
saved in bliss). [21]

Believer's baptism for entry into the Kingdom and the need for both
true faith and works, that one walks in holiness in God's
commandments, is next explained. This is followed by a description of
the true community of Christians, emphasis being placed on the
motivation of the members of the community being Godly love for one
another and not the seeking after riches and worldly delights. The
Muensterites would rather die than have to return to the world and its
ways. [22] An apostolic type of communism was practised in this
community that brought it to the attention of socialist historians such
as Karl Kautsky, who wrote one of the few favorably disposed
scholarly works on the Muensterite phenomenon. [23]

Rothmann describes the Anabaptist common meal as a time at
which bread was broken and shared and Christ's last supper was
recounted as a devotional. Then the whole community prayed for
their needs and gave thanks. It was a feast of love in which each
waited upon the other. [24] After a discussion of true Christian
marriage, to which we will return shortly, the Kingdom of God
physically located on earth is announced, which restores the Kingdom
and Seat of David, and which will be fully established and will spread
after it is cleansed by the sword of truth and justice. [25]

True Christian marriage is described by Rothmann in three parts: a
definition of true Christian marriage, the magnificent place of the man
in a true Christian marriage, and the subordinate place of woman in
the true Christian marriage. [26] True Christian marriage consists of a
man and woman coming together for the purpose of having children
who will praise God in eternity. All uses of the marriage relation,
other than seeking to bring forth children, is unlawful. This sentiment
may be fruitfully compared with the Latter-day Saint revelation which
says regarding a man's (plural) wives, in part, that they are given to a
man so he may have children by them, and that by having children
women may be saved and God will be glorified:

... for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the
earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfill the
promise that was given by my Father before the foundation of
the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that
they may bear the souls of men for herein is the work of my
Father continued, that he may be glorified. (Doctrine &
Covenants [D& C] 132:63)

Both Joseph Smith and Bernard Rothmann are asserting that they
are speaking the doctrine of Christ, and both connect the God-given
command to multiply to the practice of polygamy. The place of man
in true Christian marriage, according to Rothmann, is magnificent
(herrlich):

Therefore when a man is so plentifully blessed of God to have
impregnated one wife, and he therefore, in consideration of
God's commandments, dares not misuse such a blessing, he is
thus free, yes even advised, to take more fruitful women in
marriage then outside marriage, which is called something
else than being within God's will and law, to know a woman, is
adultery and whoremongering ... . [27] (my translation)

Rothmann goes on to show from the Old Testament that this is a
scriptural practice, naming the patriarchs, and uses the New Testament
as well, asserting that the statement saying a bishop should be the
husband of one wife suggests a polygamous society. The argument
seems to be, else why specify "one?" Next, the subordinate
(untertanigkeit) place of woman in marriage is defined from
scriptural considerations:

Going on, the man is the head of the woman, so as the woman
is to honor the man, and so as now the man must in good order
be obedient and submissive to Christ, so the woman her man,
and that without grumbling and backtalking everything as if
they were the masters, but as the man must have his eyes
centered on Christ, so the women their masters. ... So has God
now restored the lofty freedom of marriage by us, ... so has he
now by us placed all women in obedience to the men, that all
of them, young or old, can let themselves be ruled by God's
word through men. Not that she can be used as married
without receiving the man's name in marriage and so that she
can call in an orderly way upon his leadership and protection,
so that all things spoken of by the prophets may be restored in
their true form... . [28] (my translation)

The parallels between these statements by Rothmann and Joseph
Smith, both of whom feel they are representing Christ's true doctrine,
may be cataloged as follows. Materials not previously cited but
necessary to the comparisons are reproduced:

1. Man marries woman so that man may replenish the world,
produce offspring.

2. God is praised/glorified by that offspring in eternity.

3. In order to increase a man's ability to produce offspring,
and thereby add to the praise/glory of God, he is admonished
to take additional wives, the Old Testament patriarchs set the
example, and the doctrine comes from Christ. The revelation
commanding the practice among the Mormons reads:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant
Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my
hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord,
justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as
also Moses, David, and Solomon, my servants, as
touching the principle and doctrine of their having
many wives and concubines - Behold, and lo, I am the
Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this
matter. Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and
obey the instructions which I am about to give unto
you for all those who have this law revealed unto
them must obey the same. For behold, I reveal unto
you a new and an everlasting covenant and if ye abide
notthat covenant, then are ye damned for no one can
reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my
glory. (D& C 132:1-4)

The Muensterite law, part of Twenty-Eight Articles
promulgated by Jan van Leiden, is worded so as to hide its true
meaning to some extent, since it seems to command women to
select men who will only be their guardians and providers:

26. Every ummarried woman, or those who have not
their regular husbands, shall be authorised to choose a
guardian or protector from the congregation of Christ.
(as cited and translated in Kautsky [29])

Kautsky went so far as to suggest that a conjugal relationship
is not the subject of this law, but it should be noted that it was
leadership and protection that were defined as essential marks
of the married state by Rothmann. Kautsky goes on to cite the
closing paragraph of the paragraph admonishing obedience to
this law:

The voice of the living God has instructed me that this
is a command of the All-Highest: The men shall
demand a confession of faith, as well from their legal
wives as from those whom they are charged to guard
and protect ... a confession of faith of the
marriage-union in the New Kingdom - why and to
what purpose they were baptised. They shall show and
disclose all this to their husbands. (as cited and
translated in Kautsky, [30])

That Joseph Smith also disregarded the fact that his wives may
have been previously married and not divorced is known. [31]

4. These revelations came from the Lord to the hearts and
minds of their recipients. The Lord gave to Joseph Smith a
description of the revelatory process:

Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your
heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you
and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this
is the spirit of revelation behold, this is the spirit by
which Moses brought the children of Israel through
the Red Sea on dry ground. (D& C 8:2-3)

The importance of the recipient's own thought process is
underscored by the following also revealed to Joseph Smith:

Behold, you have not understood you have supposed
that I would give it unto you, when you took no
thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto
you, that you must study it out in your mind then you
must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause
that your bosom shall burn within you therefore you
shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall
have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of
thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which
is wrong ... (D& C 9:7-9)

There are, of course, also visions and voices among Joseph
Smith's revelatory experiences:

Of whom we bear record and the record which we
bear is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is
the Son, whom we saw and with whom we conversed
in the heavenly vision. (D& C 76:14)

This description of the revelatory process seems compatible
with what little is described of the revelatory experience by Jan
van Leiden, as it has been recorded in his "confessions:"

(Jul. 25, 1535) Shortly thereafter he sat in Jan
Knipperdollingks writing chamber ... and received
there a vision for himself, and saw a lance thrust
through Jan Matthijsz, and as he was very frightened
because of this, he heard a voice saying: "Peace be
unto you. That which I would have brought to pass
through Jan Matthijzs, that shall you now accomplish
and Johan Thisen's (Matthijsz's) wife shall you take in
marriage." Then he was even more frightened and let
Knipperdollingk know about this, and then said: "Now
let us see, if this vision shall be true and if such shall
occur." And thereafter within eight days was Johan
thrust through... . And so as they would that one under
them would rise up who would provide for and rule
over the common man, came to Jan van Leiden with
great heaviness of heart the testimony that he was king
over this people, and consequently he should read
through the scriptures. And so he found that the Lord
said: "I will raise up my servant David in the last
days," etc., which burdened him more, and he begged
the Lord to let it be so that this would not come to pass
except it be prophesied through another, for he dared
not say this of himself or seem so boastful, and also
that he might know surely if this vision were true or
untrue. This he then kept to himself and told no one.
Shortly thereafter Johan Dusentschuir stood up before
the community and said how one, called Johan van
Leiden, shall be our king and ruler over us. (my
translation) [32]

(Jan. 20, 1536, a note adds that the following day the
same questions were put to Jan under the duress of
pain, but he gave the same answers) Asked, how he
obtained the prophecy and revelations that he
prophesied the liberation of the city, and in what form
he had obtained the revelations, says, he has not really
prophesied but only said that inasmuch as the
inhabitants of Muenster remained in the word of God,
they would not have need, and he is still of that
opinion. And that it has come to this unfortunate state
is due to their sins. Again, that he has heard the voice
of the Father or seen angelic visions, he won't say.
Asked, if he wasn't secretly made aware that he was to
become king, ... says no, it came to him first in his
spirit, and he had no conference with or secret
understanding with Dusentschuir. [33]

In his previous confession his explanation of the failed
prophecy concerning the pre-Easter deliverance of the city was
somewhat different:

But so Easter came and the deliverance did not, says
he, how he had not meant the liberation outwardly, but
inwardly in the spirit. [34]

5. Both the Muensterites and Mormons were taught that the
restoring of the practise of polygamy was part of the
"restoration of all things," witness these words to Joseph
Smith: "For I have conferred upon you the keys and power of
the priesthood, wherein I restore all things, and make known
unto you all things in due time." (D& C 132:45)

6. Both the Muensterites and Mormons taught this law with
strong language condemning man-woman sexual relations
outside of wedlock. Rothmann calls it adultery and
whoremongering. Joseph Smith's revelation labels it adultery
for both men and women:

And as ye have asked concerning adultery, verily,
verily, I say unto you, if a man receiveth a wife in the
new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with
another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the
holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall
be destroyed. If she be not in the new and everlasting
covenant, and she be with another man, she has
committed adultery. And if her husband be with
another woman, and he was under a vow, he hath
broken his vow and hath committed adultery. (D& C
132:41-43)

Note the astonishing loophole: a "holy anointing" may justify
some type of adultery on the part of a woman married under
the new covenant, it appears. Perhaps this strange phrase has
something to do with Joseph's alleged relationships with ladies
who were already married. [35] The Muensterite Anabaptists
enforced the death penalty for adultery, for men as well as
women, and excommunication and delivery to Satan for the
destruction of the flesh for those who lust and commit adultery
in their hearts. [36]

7. Rothmann says nothing in his "Restitution" tract to parallel
Joseph's threat of destruction for women who don't cooperate
with their husbands in obtaining more wives, but the extremely
prejudiced first-hand sources available do describe coercive
practices among the Muensterites.

Kautsky's discussion of the two eyewitness stories that are
extant contains the following information: The one source,
Kerssenbroick, writes to glorify the bishop who lays siege to
and conquers the Muensterites. He lived in the city as a
teenager during the 1534/1535 period and wrote at least
twenty years later, citing, however, important public
documents of the times.

The other witness, Gresbeck, lived in the town during much of
the time period of interest, but was instrumental in betraying
the town to the bishop's forces, and, as Kautsky theorizes,
seems partly motivated by a desire to paint the Muensterites as
black as possible to make his act of betrayal seem as noble as
possible. Gresbeck wrote eight or nine years after the fall of
Muenster, from memory, it appears. [37] The public
documents, however, in particular the invaluable "confessions"
of the prophet Jan van Leiden, already cited, made after his
capture and under the influence of past and the threat of
renewed torture, do shed some light on practices. [38]

Joseph Smith's revelation declares:

And again, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a
wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches
unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to
these things, then shall she believe and administer unto
him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your
God for I will destroy her for I will magnify my name
upon all those who receive and abide in my law. ...
Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not
thislaw, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the
Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not
believe and administer unto him according to my
word and she then becomes the transgressor and he is
exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto
Abraham according to the law when I commanded
Abraham to take Hagar to wife. (D& C 132:64-65)

Jan van Leiden's confession of 25 July 1535 mentions that
those who broke the laws and commandments were punished
with the sword, and this happened to some housewives. [39]
This is not specific to the question of polygamy, however, but
Gresbeck's account contains the following:

So have they forced their first wives that they must go
and get their man another wife. ... So the first wives
had to endure quietly and dared not say anything, or
the man took her and hewed her head off. [40]

As Kautsky notes, however, no such incident was documented
by either eyewitness, and Gresbeck bases the story on a woman
found dead face-down in a puddle of water and suggests she
was killed for being unwilling to go along with her husband's
wishes or she committed suicide at the prospect of having her
husband take a younger wife. [41] Kerssenbroick reports a
scene that hints at life or death pressure on women to obey the
law, however, when he reports:

Those women that did not obey their husband's hints,
were brought into the Rosental cloister as prisoners
and spurred on until they repented. Those, however,
that were hardened in their obstinacy against their
men, were beheaded, which happened to four wives at
one time. [42]

To the extent that these extremely prejudiced sources, with the
statement from Jan van Leiden, provide some corroboration of
the fact that women were among those killed for disobedience,
it seems likely that the death threat was indeed used to convert
women to polygamy in Muenster, just as a death threat is used,
albeit in a somewhat veiled or spiritual sense, in the verses
cited from D& C 132.

8. Finally, patriarchy and polygamy are mentioned by
Rothmann in the context of the restoration. Joseph Smith
likewise recognized that patriarchy is the government
instituted by Adam, who shall again reign at the last day.
Joseph Smith saw the restoration of Adam's patriarchal
government as taking place in the restoration of the patriarchal
priesthood:

I [Abraham] became a rightful heir, a High Priest,
holding the right belonging to the fathers. It was
conferred upon me from the fathers it came down from
the fathers, from the beginning of time, or before the
foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even
the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is
Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me. I
sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood
according to the appointment of God unto the fathers
concerning the seed. (Pearl of Great Price, Abraham
1:2-4)

Pharaoh, being a righteous man, ... seeking earnestly to
imitate that order established by the fathers in the first
generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign of
Adam, and also of Noah, his father, ... . (Abraham
1:26)

Thus in terms of theology and social underpinnings, there is little
difference between the polygamies taught by these two, widely
separated, prophets of the restoration. It will be left to the historians to
compare the personalities and fates of these two men: their mutual love
of parading and pomp, their personal polygamous practice seemingly
being out of harmony with the revealed principles that set the standard,
their mutual disregard for marriages contracted prior to entry into the
kingdom, and finally their both being tried on the charge of treason.
Beyond these correspondences between the persons Joseph Smith and
Jan van Leiden, there are also correspondences between Muenster
during its siege and Utah during their miltary confrontation with the
U.S. government and during the following judicial siege. These
matters are fitting grist for the mills of historians. For the
non-historian but curious, a highly readable account of the history of
the Muensterites has recently been published in French and German
[43], and for the English reader the previously cited work by Krahn is
recommended as among the fairest estimate of this singular
phenomenon within the Anabaptist movement.

For the reader with a broad interest in the roots of religious
movements, and for the Mormon reader, I recommend the article
comparing Mormon and Anabaptist radiacalism by D. Michael Quinn.
Quinn's paper was published the same year I sent my second version of
this paper to a periodical (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought),
only to have it rejected (again) because they had already accepted
Quinn's for publication at some future date. Quinn, a historian, briefly
discusses polygamy as one of a dozen radical traits that Anabaptism in
its formative years had in common with Mormonism in its formative
years. Quinn does not focus on polygamy as is done here. [44]

The differences between Joseph Smith and Jan van Leiden and their
respective followers are, perhaps, great, but it seems to me that much
difference represents the respective circumstance of the Mormons
versus the Muensterites. Their alleged revelations regarding
man-woman relationships are nearly identical in spirit. My personal
appraisal of both men is that both were spurred on by scripture study
and when their minds were opened to the subject of woman, they were
inspired from within, from deep in the heart of the male of the species,
from that source of inspiration where the ubiquitous patriarchal rules
concerning the ownership and control and use of woman have
originated since the days of Adam.

REFERENCES
1. For a short description of the Anabaptist movement and its times
see Roland H. Bainton. "The Reformation in the Sixteenth Century."
(Beacon Press, Boston, 1952), pp. 95-109.
2. Estep, William R. Jr. "Anabaptist Beginnings (1523-1533)." (B.
De Graaf, Nieuwkoop, 1976), parts 11 and 13.
3. Ibid., pp. 102-104.
4. Ibid., pp. 128-129.
5. Ibid., pp. 167-168.
6. The entire discussion of Melchior Hoffman is condensed from
Cornelius Krahn. "Dutch Anabaptism, Origin, Spread, Life, and
Thought." (Herald Press, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, 1981), pp. 80-111.
7. This condensed discussion of the rise of the militants among the
followers of Melchior Hoffman is based on the narrative in: Klaus
Depperman. "Melchior Hoffman, Soziale Unruhen und
apokalyptische Visionen im Zeitalter der Reformation."
(Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen, Germany, 1979), pp. 288-293.
8. Krahn, Op. Cit., p. 144.
9. Ibid., p. 145.
10. Depperman, Op. Cit., p. 290.
11. Krahn, Op. Cit., p. 145.
12. Depperman, Op. Cit., p. 301.
13. George Miller and Hyrum Marks accounts as cited in: Hyrum L.
Andrus, "Doctrines of the Kingdom." Foundations of the Millenial
Kingdom of Christ, Vol. III. (Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1973), p.
559.
14. Smith, Joseph, manuscript of discourse of July 23, 1843, as cited
in: Joseph Fielding Smith, "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith."
(Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1977), p. 318.
15. Taylor, John, revelation of June 27, 1882, as cited in: Andrus, Op.
Cit., p. 558.
16. Dulmen, Richard van. "Das Taufferreich zu Munster 1534-1535.
Berichte und Dokumente." (Deutcher Teschenbuch Verlag, Munchen,
Germany, 1974), a source book of first hand accounts, largely written
by enemies of the Muensterites, however.) pp. 140-141.
17. Ibid., citing the pamphlet by Rothmann, pp. 197-208.
18. Ibid., pp. 197-198.
19. Ibid., p.199.
20. Depperman, Op. Cit., p. 296-297.
21. Dulmen, Op. Cit., p. 199.
22. Ibid., pp. 200-202.
23. Kautsky, Karl. "Communism in Central Europe in the Time of
the Reformation." (Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, New York, 1966
reprint of 1897 edition), pp. 216-293.
24. Dulmen, Op. Cit., p. 200.
25. Ibid., pp. 203-204.
26. Ibid., pp. 202-203.
27. Ibid.
28. Ibid.
29. Kautsky, Op. Cit., p. 274.
30. Ibid.
31. Brodie, Fawn M. "No Man Knows My History, The Life of
Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet." 2nd ed. (Alfred A. Knopf, New
York, 1982), Appendix C, pp. 457-488 Donna Hill. "Joseph Smith
the First Mormon." (Signature, Midvale, Utah, 1977), p. 351.
32. Cornelius, Dr. C. A. "Berichte der Augenzeugen Uber das
Munsterische Wiedertauferreich." Volume Two (Zweiter Band) of:
"Die Geschichtsquellen des Bisthums Munster." (Theissing'schen
Buchhandlung, Munster, 1853), p. 371, 372.
33. Ibid., p. 399-400.
34. Ibid., p. 373.
35. Brodie, Op. Cit., pp. 301-302.
36. Kautsky, Op. Cit., pp. 264-267.
37. Ibid., pp. 241-245.
38. Cornelius, Op. Cit., 369-376 and 398-402.
39. Ibid., p. 373.
40. Gresbeck, Heinrich. "Master Heinrich Gresbeck's Bericht von der
Wiedertaufe in Munster." pp. As published in Dr. C. A. Cornelius,
Op. Cit., pp. 60, 65.
41. Kautsky, Op. Cit., p. 275n-276n, observations on Gresbeck, Op.
Cit., pp.64-65.
42. Kerssenbroick as cited in Dulmen, Op. Cit., p. 144.
43. Barret, Pierre and Jean-Noel Gurgand. "Der Konig der Letzten
Tage - Le Roi des Derniers Jours - ." (Ernst Kabel Verlag, Hamburg,
Germany, 1982 Hachette, Paris, France, 1981).
44. Quinn, D. Michael, "Socioreligious Radicalism of the Mormon
Church: A Parallel to the Anabaptists," in Davis Bitton and Maureen
U. Beecher (eds.): "New Views of Mormon History," (University of
Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1987) pp. 363-386.

  Go Back to Understanding Pages

Go Home