Book of Mormon/Translation/Anthon transcript
This page is based on an answer to a question submitted to the FAIR web site, or a frequently asked question.
What do we know about the Anthon transcript and the translation of the Book of Mormon? What is the current scholarly thought on the transcript? Didn't Charles Anthon deny having "validating" the characters?
If Charles Anthon really did tell Martin that the characters and translation were bogus, it would therefore be very strange for Martin Harris to immediately return home, help Joseph translate the Book of Mormon, provide funds, and eventually mortgage his farm to help print it.
On the other hand, Anthon clearly had no desire to have his name associated with "Mormonism," and so he has clear motives to alter the story after the fact.
More than one copy of the "Anthon transcript" exists. The oldest known copy (pictured here) is in the possession of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). The paper seems to be of the same age and type as that used by Joseph Smith for the Book of Mormon translation.
Joseph Smith's era
Joseph describes how between December 1827 and February 1828,
- I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife's father, in the month of December, and the February following. (Joseph Smith History 1:62).
Martin Harris and Charles Anthon
Joseph then described how Martin Harris carried the transcripts to experts in the east.
- Where Martin Harris went, whom he saw, and what happened are clouded in contradictory reports. He stopped at Albany, probably to see Luther Brandish, a New York state assemblyman with a reputation for knowledge of the Middle East. Someone referred Harris to the illustrious philomath Samuel Latham Mitchill, then vice president of Rutgers Medical College in New York City and famed as a "living encyclopedia," a "chaos of knowledge." Accounts vary as to whether he saw Mitchill or Charles Anthon, another scholar, first, or if he saw Mitchill before and after Anthon, but the Mitchell episode was of slight importance. According to Harris, Mitchill encouraged him and referred him to Anthon, where a more important exchange took place.
Martin Harris' account of the visit to Charles Anthon was included in Joseph Smith's 1838 history:
- 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).
Anthon denied that he had ever validated either the characters or Joseph's translation, though his two written accounts contradict each other on key points. For example:
- in his first letter, Anthon refuses to give Harris a written opinion
- in his second letter, Anthon claims that he wrote his opinion "without any hesitation" because he wished to expose what he was certain was a fraud.
A clue as to what Anthon said may be found in Martin Harris' reaction. Martin was a shrewd farmer and businessman, and a man of some property. He often warred between belief and doubt. For example, Martin put Joseph to the test during the translation of the 116 pages with the seer stone:
- Once Martin found a rock closely resembling the seerstone Joseph sometimes used in place of the interpreters and substituted it without the Prophet’s knowledge. When the translation resumed, Joseph paused for a long time and then exclaimed, “Martin, what is the matter, all is as dark as Egypt.” Martin then confessed that he wished to “stop the mouths of fools” who told him that the Prophet memorized sentences and merely repeated them.
Mark Hofmann also forged a document based on the Anthon transcript, which he presented to the Church on 22 April 1980. Prior to the forgery being revealed, it was thought that this was the earliest extant Joseph Smith holograph.
Characters in the authentic Anthon transcript(s) have been reported on two "Mexican seals made of baked clay" dating from no later than 400 B.C. Non-LDS archaeologists have remarked on this "hitherto unknown writing system" which "closely resemble various oriental scripts ranging from Burma and China to the rim of the Mediterranean," which if authentic "would almost surely be...an instance of transpacific contact during the Preclassic [pre-A.D. 400]." Other examples of the same script may also have been found between 1921 and 1932. This is currently an area requiring more research.
A good summary of current scholarly opinion on the Anthon transcript can be found in:
- John Gee, "Some Notes on the Anthon Transcript (Review of: Translating the Anthon Transcript)," FARMS Review of Books 12/1 (2000): 5–8. off-site PDF link
- [note] John W. Welch, "What did Charles Anthon Really Say?," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 47–49. ISBN 0875796001 off-site FAIR link GL direct link
- [note] David E. Sloan, "The Anthon Transcripts and the Translation of the Book of Mormon: Studying It Out in the Mind of Joseph Smith," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 57–81. off-site PDF link wiki
- [note] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 65.
- [note] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 65–66.
- [note] Millennial Star 44:87; quotation from Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A New Prophet and a New Scripture: The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Ensign (January 1988), 6. off-site
- [note] Anonymous, "New Light: "Anthon Transcript" Writing Found?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 68–69. off-site [No PDF link] wiki ; citing David H. Kelley, “Cylinder Seal from Tlatilco,” American Antiquity 31 (July 1966): 744–746 and John A. Graham’s comments on Hanns J. Premm, “Calendrics and Writing,” in Observations on the Emergence of Civilization in Mesoamerica, ed. Robert F. Heizer and John A. Graham (Berkeley: University of California Archaeological Research Facility, 1971), 133.
- [note] Richard E. Turley, Jr., Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 24–39.