Question: Did Charles Anthon validate the characters that Martin Harris brought to him that had been copied from the Book of Mormon plates?


Question: Did Charles Anthon validate the characters that Martin Harris brought to him that had been copied from the Book of Mormon plates?

If Anthon did not validate the characters, then why did Martin Harris immediately return home and finance the Book of Mormon?

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.[1]

Martin Harris said that Anton validated the characters

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 the characters and translation, but his two accounts contradict one another

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.[2] 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 committed himself to financing the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Notes

  1. 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. GL direct link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 65–66.