The Book of Mormon is purportedly “translated” from the gold plates which Joseph Smith discovered in the hill Cumorah. These writings of the gold plates were in “Reformed Egyptian”. At the time no Egyptian language was translatable, but Joseph could translate them with his seer stone in a hat. In order to prove that the plates and the language legitimate, Joseph copied several lines of these Reformed Egyptian characters from the gold plates onto a paper. This paper, which also includes the translation in English, was taken by Martin Harris to be shown to Dr Charles Anthon, who was an expert and classical scholar of Columbia College. As the Mormon story goes, Professor Anthon said the characters were true characters and the translation was the most correct he had ever seen. Professor Anthon drew up an affidavit saying such and when he asked for Harris to bring the plates to him so he could translate them, Harris said they were sealed. The story then says Anthon said he couldn’t translate sealed plates and tears up the affidavit. Which apparently fulfills some old testament and book of mormon prophecies. Which begs the question, were these prophetic pages of the book of scripture “translated” before the incident or after? Pretty easy to embed a prophecy about something that has already happened in a book of false scripture…
The Canonized Story found in Joseph Smith History
This story is so well known because it is canonized in scripture as well. It is written Martin Harris’ own words in the Joseph Smith History section of the Pearl of Great Price as follows:
64 “I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.
65 “He then said to me, ‘Let me see that certificate.’ I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, ‘I cannot read a sealed book.’ I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”Joseph Smith – History 1:64-65
This story is used in the dominant church narrative to prove that the characters were genuine Reformed Egyptian, that they were correctly translated and that the whole work was authentic. This sets up the binary thinking still prevalent today that either this is the work of God because “how could it not be true”? If Joseph was indeed translating the ancient record correctly he must be doing it by the power of God, which would lead anyone to conclude that he was called of God to do the work. His calling must be prophetic and we can also deduce all the other binary conclusions which encompass “the church is true”.
In short, Joseph Smith needed Martin Harris’s money, a wealthy farm owner, to fund his scheme for the Book of Mormon. To coerce him, Joseph gave Martin Harris a transcript of characters, supposedly taken from the golden plates, along with a translation of the characters to take to Professor Charles Anthon at Columbia University in New York to have them validated as authentic. Now keep in mind, we’re talking about “reformed Egyptian” that nobody knows, nobody has ever seen, nobody knows how to translate, and required the Urim & Thummin to translate (or at least a peep stone in hat). This fact really puts some cracks into the story when we ask a few probing questions.
How would Professor Anthon know and say they were true characters if they were “reformed Egyptian” that nobody had ever seen before? He could have said that they were related to the Egyptian he was familiar with at best. How could Professor Anthon know and say the translation was correct? And how could he say it was the most correct translation he had ever seen if nobody had ever seen reformed Egyptian translated before? He couldn’t even translate regular Egyptian at this time. How would he (or anyone) be an authority on if the translation was correct? If Professor Anthon asked for the plates to be brought to him so he could translate them, are we supposed to believe he thought he could translate reformed Egyptian? He was likely asking to see the plates for proof that it was an authentic artifact. Harris’s response to this request is that the plates are sealed. Why would this be the response? That makes no sense, only some of the plates were sealed and he at least believed that since he was helping in the “translation” effort.
Anthon’s Side of the Story
We find more trouble when we must face the fact that this is only one side of the story, and an uncorroborated one at that. Charles Anthon is a real person and some of these things really happened according to him, but he denies part of the story. Which part? Oh the parts that don’t make sense already. He denies that the characters were authentic and that the translation is correct. He asserted they were “anything else but Egyptian hieroglyphics.” He shares a very different version of the story where he tells Martin Harris that the characters are in no way authentic or ancient and expresses his fears that Martin is being played by someone devious.
Here is a letter from Anthon describing the same incident we have in JSH where he claims “The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” is perfectly false.”
New York, Feb. 17, 1834
Dear Sir –
I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax. When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A “gold book,” consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of “gold spectacles“! These spectacles were so large, that, if a person attempted to look through them, his two eyes would have to be turned towards one of the glasses merely, the spectacles in question being altogether too large for the breadth of the human face. Whoever examined the plates through the spectacles, was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning. All this knowledge, however, was confined at that time to a young man, who had the trunk containing the book and spectacles in his sole possession. This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm house, and, being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather, looked through one of the glasses, decyphered the characters in the book, and, having committed some of them to paper, handed copies from behind the curtain, to those who stood on the outside. Not a word, however, was said about the plates having been decyphered “by the gift of God.” Every thing, in this way, was effected by the large pair of spectacles. The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the “golden book,” the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin. So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles. On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.” Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the “curse of God” would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the “curse of God” upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.
I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics.
Yours respectfully, CHAS. ANTHON.http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/anthonletter.htm
On Fulfilling Prophecy
This prophecy we hear that is fulfilled in this story comes from Isaiah as well as from 2nd Nephi (which is quoting and expanding on what we find in Isaiah)
11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:Isaiah 29:11-12
12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
This chapter of Isaiah uses the word book twice and the word sealed twice. We can see how much this is expanded in 2nd Nephi 27, which has the word book twenty times and the word sealed ten times! That’s some nice prophetic creative license.
6 And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book, and they shall be the words of them which have slumbered.2 Nephi 27:6-26
7 And behold the book shall be sealed; and in the book shall be a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.
8 Wherefore, because of the things which are sealed up, the things which are sealed shall not be delivered in the day of the wickedness and abominations of the people. Wherefore the book shall be kept from them.
9 But the book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust, and he shall deliver these words unto another;
10 But the words which are sealed he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof.
11 And the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be even unto the end of the earth.
12 Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.
13 And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men; for the Lord God hath said that the words of the faithful should speak as if it were from the dead.
14 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!
15 But behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book: Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee. And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them.
16 And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God.
17 And the man shall say: I cannot bring the book, for it is sealed.
18 Then shall the learned say: I cannot read it.
19 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say: I am not learned.
20 Then shall the Lord God say unto him: The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.
21 Touch not the things which are sealed, for I will bring them forth in mine own due time; for I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work.
22 Wherefore, when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee, and obtained the witnesses which I have promised unto thee, then shalt thou seal up the book again, and hide it up unto me, that I may preserve the words which thou hast not read, until I shall see fit in mine own wisdom to reveal all things unto the children of men.
23 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.
24 And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:
25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men—
26 Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.
So again, pretty easy to embed a prophecy about something that already happened in a book you write. Especially when you write this book after the incident happens. There is a faint similarity to the 2 verses in Isaiah and the church version of the story of Martin Harris taking the book to Anthon. Joseph uses these 2 verses and quoting Isaiah later in the translation process and blows it into 20 verses detailing the whole episode. This trip to visit Anthon occurred before much translation at all, even before the 116 pages were lost. Soon after Martin Harris looses the 116 pages, Joseph began writing again but using Oliver Cowdery as his scribe. So there is plenty of time to digest and build on this story and then embed it into the scripture by expounding the Isaiah verses in the new scripture.
Whatever happened to the actual “copied” characters? Well there is debate and certain forgery. First we have a document thanks to the RLDS church. David Whitmer received the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon from Oliver Cowdery, his brother-in-law. This may be how he acquired the Anthon transcript, but these items were later turned over to the RLDS Church. Some claim it to be at least a copy of the characters that were provided to Anthon, though it doesn’t exactly match his description. He specifically said the characters were arranged in columns, and this displays them in rows. He also mentions a circular calendar which is missing. We can analyze the first letter characters here, which upon close examination do look more like deformed english than any reformed Egyptian.
So, there has always been suspicion about this being the real document of characters brought to Anthon. In the 1980’s another document surfaced which better matched the description, but was later admitted to be a fraud. It was part of the schemes of infamous Mark Hofmann! He claimed to have found the paper Martin Harris brought to Anthon. Hofmann would have studied all these accounts and made a document to match any descriptions he could find. Though it may look more “foreign” and more closely match Anthon’s description, it does contain some of the same characters, and obviously, now we know is a fake. But how meta is that? Hofmann forged a missing document, which itself is a forged language that was used in a forgery to prove it’s authenticity, which is now scripture in a forged religion. I can’t tell where the deepest forgery is or even where the most skilled forgery is.
Defending the Church Narrative
The Church has access and awareness of this letter as well as another. Their defense? Inconsistencies in his letter. In one Anthon says he gave Martin a written statement, and in the other he states that he does not. These are very minor differences and as we know from the church variation in the story of a recorded event is actually proof that it is true. Just ask about the first vision.
In one letter he said he gave Harris a written opinion, but in the other he said he did not.
Undoubtedly Charles Anthon was embarrassed by some of the things which he had said to Harris, especially for that which he had written on a certificate, and therefore, he wrote some inaccurate statements.https://www.thechurchnews.com/archives/1993-01-16/i-cannot-read-a-sealed-book-letters-from-professor-disputing-incident-are-inconsistent-in-detail-143241
Undoubtedly… that explains everything…
The church doesn’t use any of these characters anymore, they seem to be making up their own representation of what the writing on the plates might have looked like. This is telling in itself, no?
The church knows that this is a problem, which is why they show “Reformed Egyptian” in a much different manner in their recent videos on the gold plates and seer stones. Look below to see how the church presents “Reformed Egyptian” in 2020 to their members against the actual characters Joseph Smith created above.
If Joseph Smith’s characters from the Book of Mormon had any legitimacy whatsoever, the church would be using them in every material as a proof of the Book of Mormon’s ancient authenticity. Instead they are using made up characters in videos despite having the “Caractors” document ready to cite from. That tells you everything you need to know about the Book of Mormon characters.https://www.ldsdiscussions.com/translation
How does this story sit for you? Learning the actual story from Anthon vs the story we are told in Sunday School and in studying the scriptures is somewhat of a wake up call and hard to reconcile. Have you found a way?
More resources on the Charles Anthon Transcript: