MORMON STUDIES PRESENTS:
Entire contents of this web-page Copyright ©2000 by Jerome J. Knuijt
The "Anthon Affair"
By Jerome J. Knuijt
In most contentious issues it is the thought processes or evaluative processes of the mind, with or without the aid of physical objects, which are most important (ignoring emotional factors) in leading a person to decide a case in favor of one contested thesis over another, or to decide the issue is a draw. Therefore in the following presentation concerning an issue that is important in helping a person to at least partially resolve the question of the validity of the "Spaulding Theory" over the "Golden Plates" story (or vice versa) I will be especially careful in attempting to clearly present and illustrate the thought processes I go through in evaluating the supposed supporting evidence of these two views on the origins of the Book of Mormon.
And even before I get into the "Anthon affair," Martin Harris claimed he went to see a Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell after he met with Professor Anthon; while Anthon states that Harris went to see Dr. Mitchell before he came to see him. (contradictory fact #1). See appendices 2, 4, and 5 of STF-90, from FARMS, copyright 1990: 72 pages in length.
Professor Anthon and Martin Harris had a lengthy meeting by themselves and then parted. About two years later Martin Harris returned to show Professor Anthon the Book of Mormon which he had paid to have published (which Professor Anthon had strongly urged Harris not to do). The substance of what transpired in these meetings (especially the first one) constitutes the "Anthon affair."
I will now present the physical evidence that is known to exist that does, or at least is supposed to, elucidate the events and circumstances involved in the "Anthon affair."
1. The supposed "Anthon transcript" as provided by David Whitmer (whose family reported many personal "miracles" -- Brodie, p. 75) A picture of this document is included with this article. This document does not fit the description of the "Anthon transcript" that Professor Anthon was presented with by Martin Harris and described by him in his first letter of February 17, 1834 as "...the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments;" and in his letter of April 3, 1841: "... and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac." (a circular representation of constellations in the sky). (contradictory fact #2). The document from Mr. Whitmer has no circular or compartmental aspects in it!
3. Statements (written or quoted) by Martin Harris and Charles Anthon as to what transpired in the first meeting Harris had with Professor Anthon. These statements are included throughout the text that follows.
(from David Whitmer)
A small page of markings obtained from David Whitmer that is reputedly, but
erroneously, connected up with the "Anthon transcript." It is of unknown origin,
authorship, and intention.
A Pictorial Horoscope Chart Mexican Calendar Stone (right)
The appearance of an astrological horoscope chart and the Mexican Calendar Stone both fit the general composition of the "Anthon transcript" as described by Professor Charles Anthon in his letters of 1834 and 1841. Astrology was important in early Mormonism and there was general public knowledge of and interest in the Mexican Calendar Stone which was rediscovered in 1791. Also, there was considerable interest in Egyptian antiquities since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in Egypt in 1799 and attempts to interpret it in the early 1800's the time of the birth of Mormonism. Thus Joseph Smith was clever to include elements of these three topics in his "Anthon transcript." See Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p.289 and Mr. Anthon's first letter of Feb. 17, 1834.
The first letter: to Eber D. Howe on February 17, 1834
(from Howe's Mormonism Unvailed pp. 270-272)
New York, Feb. 17, 1834.
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 of the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but "Egyptian Hieroglyphics."
satisfactory answer to the charge of my being a Mormon proselyte, I proceed to lay them before you in detail.
clearly that there was no risk whatever in the matter, and that the work was actually what it claimed to be, he was told to take the paper, which purported to be a copy of one of the pages of the book, to the city of New York, and submit it to the learned in that quarter, who would soon dispel all his doubts, and satisfy him as to the perfect safety of the investment. As Dr. Mitchell was our "Magnus Apollo" in those days, the man called first upon him; but the Doctor, evidently suspecting some trick, declined giving any opinion about the matter, and sent the countryman down to the college, to see, in all probability what the "learned pundits" in that place would make of the affair. On my telling the bearer of the paper that an attempt had been made to impose on him and defraud him of his property, he requested me to give him my opinion in writing about the paper which he had shown to me. I did so without hesitation, partly for the man's sake, and partly to let the individual "behind the curtain" see that his trick was discovered. The import of what I wrote was, as far as I can now recollect, simply this, that the marks in the paper appeared to be merely an imitation of various alphabetical characters, and had, in my opinion, no meaning at all connected with them. The countryman then took his leave, with many thanks, and with the express declaration that he would in no shape part with his farm, or embark in the speculation of printing the golden book.
For further comments, comparisons, and evaluations I now turn to a FARMS document; STF-90 "Martin Harris's Visit with Charles Anthon" copyright 1990. In this document (which also includes the Anthon letters) there are numerous evaluations to be made and considered.
In his first letter of February 17, 1834, Professor Anthon states, "The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be 'reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics' is perfectly false.... Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax ...and (I) well remember that the paper contained anything else but 'Egyptian Hieroglyphics.'" Yet on the first page of Appendix two of STF-90 is the statement quoted from Martin Harris that "Professor Anthony stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian." (contradictory fact #3)
Later on in this letter Professor Anthon states "He (Martin Harris) requested an opinion (about the transcript) from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper (transcript) with him."
While Martin Harris stated -- as related by Joseph Smith on page 2 of Appendix 2 of STF-90- "I took the certificate (containing the opinion of Dr. Anthon on the transcript) and put it
In the first and second letters of Professor Anthon he warned Mr. Harris that the transcript was being used as "a scheme to cheat the farmer out of his money", "and defraud him of his property" and "I (Professor Anthon) would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues." And "...which convinced me that he had fallen into the hands of some sharper, while it left me in great astonishment at his own simplicity." Professor Anthon was evidently genuinely concerned about Martin Harris, but one would not get this impression from the authors of STF-90 by reading from page 6. And from page 8 "Moreover, Anthon had the motive to immediately destroy his written opinion because of the intellectually 'disreputable' source of the transcript, as well as the motive to either deny having given any written opinion or to affirm only that he had given a negative evaluation in writing- both of which he later claimed on separate occasions (compare Anthon's conflicting accounts in Appendices 4 and 5)."
The authors of STF-90 are here trying to authenticate Harris' story about Anthon ripping up his stated opinion (see my comments in the Hoax of Mormonism, 2nd edition, pages 29-30) and to indicate that Anthon's statements are not to be trusted because he made (supposedly) contradictory statements about whether or not he authenticated the "Anthon transcript" from Martin Harris in his letters of 1834 and 1841. This perplexing problem will require some extended coverage, clear thinking, and careful logic on the content of the two letters; especially since the authors of STF-90 make so much of it in determining the character and motives of Professor Anthon in the "Anthon affair", and because it may appear to a casual reader that Mr. Anthon is lying in one or both letters and thus his truthfulness is under suspicion against the contrasting views and statements of Martin Harris.
First of all I ask the reader to read the two letters, and I feel you will be impressed by the similarities in factual statements made in both written 7 years apart. Professor Anthon's words do not seem to reflect an attitude of defense or fear, but rather of plainly stated facts and concern for Martin Harris who Anthon feels is a simple person who is being deceived and cheated by a person "behind the curtain" (Joseph Smith). This is clearly illustrated in the following sentence in his 1841 letter to Dr. Coit, "That the prophet aided me by his inspiration, in interpreting the
And to complicate matters even more, in the second letter of 1841 to reverend Dr. Coit, Professor Anthon responds to "he (Martin Harris) requested me to give him my opinion in writing" (about the transcript), with "I did so without hesitation, partly for the man's sake, and partly to let the individual 'behind the curtain' (Joseph Smith) see that his trick was discovered."
Clearly, or so it seems, Professor Anthon is contradicting himself: in the first letter he declines writing an opinion about the transcript, and in the second letter he "did so without any hesitation."
If anything is clear to me about these statements, it is that if they are responses to the same question, and if Professor Anthon was truly concerned about the negative public image he might create in being associated with the Mormons, he certainly would have written out a negative opinion on the transcript that he expressed throughout the first letter (which he didn't do!); and he would not have subsequently given a positive written opinion about the transcript in his second letter (which he did do!). Something is wrong. Either Anthon was rather stupid,
AH, HA! But here is (I believe; logically theorize; and will logically defend) the crux of the enigma. And it thoroughly includes the ignorance and assumptive nature of the reader which I have elsewhere commented on as to their extreme importance in thinking and drawing conclusions. And it fits the historical facts and the motives, desires, and human nature of the participants in the "Anthon affair."
What has probably been assumed by the reader (as at first it was by me) is that we are reading Professor Anthon's response to the same question! But after considerable thinking on, and critical evaluation of the whole "Anthon affair" -especially the transcript itself- and what it meant to the participants, I have concluded that Professor Anthon in letters 7 years apart was commenting on his responses to two different questions about the transcript that would logically fit the motives and human nature of Mr. Harris for seeking professional validation of the transcript in the first place.
Joseph Smith probably felt that he had nothing to lose by sending Harris on his mission, as he knew he could manipulate the simpleminded Harris no matter what happened; and Harris was very eager to get validation to pacify his wife's extreme mistrust of Joseph Smith, and to convince himself that mortgaging his farm to pay for the publication of the Book of Mormon would be in his economic and religious interest to do so.
Thus what is foremost on the mind of Mr. Harris when he first came to Professor Anthon is authentication of the transcript as being composed of "reformed Egyptian" characters. And the first question he would most likely ask Professor Anthon after he examined the transcript would have been very close to this: "professor Anthon, would you write me a letter or statement validating the origin of this transcript?" Which Professor Anthon would decline doing, as he clearly expressed in his letters he thought it was a fraud or hoax. And later in the conversation when Anthon was convinced that Harris was a victim of a trick or hoax and he felt evident compassion for Harris' "simplicity"; and Harris wished to salvage something positive out of his trip, Harris most likely asked another different question like: "Professor Anthon, would you at least write me a letter or statement giving your opinion on the transcript," and Anthon was
Professor Anthon was responding to two different questions: one of which he related his response to in the letter to Eber D. Howe in 1834, and for some reason he thought of and responded to the second question -and wrote out his opinion and gave it to Martin Harris- and then related his response to it in his letter of 1841. It should be apparent to the thoughtful and knowledgeable reader what statement in the "Anthon affair" got ripped up and by whom!
The problem of the two seemingly contradictory statements and all the false, illogical, misleading, and self serving conclusions derived therefrom by the authors of STF-90 and anyone else, would appear to be consequently reasonably, factually, and logically resolved in their historical and human nature contexts. It appears at this point that Professor Anthon was not overtly attempting to distance himself from the "intellectually 'disreputable' source of the transcript", and that his straightforward statements should now be accurately evaluated at their face value from an apparently candid Professor Charles Anthon. Mr. Martin Harris on the other hand had numerous reasons and motives to lie about what happened when his statements conflict with those of Professor Anthon on the same topic. Thus the statements and revelations of Professor Anthon should be considered the most accurate and truthful renditions of what transpired in the "Anthon affair."
I will now go back and discuss the four contradictory facts which I designated earlier in this paper.
#1. Did Martin Harris see Dr. Samuel Mitchell before or after visiting with Professor Anthon?
It makes no sense to me that Professor Anthon would make up a story involving a letter from Dr. Mitchell introducing Martin Harris to him, even though Harris doesn't mention the fact in this literature. So I conclude that Harris did visit Dr. Mitchell first. After his abortive attempt to have Professor Anthon authenticate the transcript, Mr. Harris could have decided to visit Dr. Mitchell once again to see if he couldn't wrangle something positive on the transcript from him. (Mr. Harris was unaware that Dr. Mitchell had already told Professor Anthon that he didn't understand the paper or transcript that Harris had shown him.) Therefore Harris could have again
And the authors of STF-90 either didn't remember or chose to ignore the very lucid statement by Dr. Anthon in his letter of 1834 to Eber D. Howe, that Mr. Harris was not given a translation of the transcript: "...he (Martin Harris) had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper he brought with him, ...although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles." (Joseph Smith)
#2. Is the so-called Anthon transcript provided by David Whitmer and now in the hands of the RLDS the one that was written by Joseph Smith and taken to Professor Anthon by Martin Harris for authentication?
Professor Anthon describes the transcript in his first letter as composed "...in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various components." In the second letter he describes it as "...the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac" (like the pattern shown in the circular and compartmentalized Mexican [Aztec] Calendar Stone). The original "Anthon transcript" was therefore circularly composed, while the extant supposed transcript has no circular character and is therefore not the transcript that Joseph Smith gave to Martin Harris. There is no reason within reality that I can even dream up why Professor Anthon would make up such a description of the transcript if it really wasn't composed that way! And therefore
Such a (hopefully supportive view in spite of the nature of the document) trip is wonderfully elaborated upon in STF-90 on page 7 beginning with "(it) may not be the original,". Because it is obviously not the original it should not even be designated as "the only surviving Anthon Transcript" because that is a deceptive designation. Page 7 is a page of futile and illogical attempts to make something (to support the authors views) out of nothing!!
#3. Professor Anthon's statement that "The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be 'reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics' is perfectly false" is opposed by Martin Harris' statement that "Professor Anthony stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian."
Two problems can be solved together here. The first one is in the interpretation of Harris' statement which has led some persons to conclude that there was a second transcript (besides the page of only characters that had no message associated with them as described by Professor Anthon.) The second problem is about who is telling the truth. Professor Anthon's statement here is confirmed throughout the two letters in which he commented frequently on the fraudulent character of the transcript and thus the evidence weighs heavily on his telling the truth because I see no good reason for him to lie. Therefore Harris must be lying (and the recorded historical facts provide many reasons for his doing so) about what Professor Anthon said, and there never was a "message transcript." It only existed in the fabricated Anthon statement as manufactured in the mind of Martin Harris. See #1.
#4 Professor Anthon states he did not give Martin Harris a validating letter or statement on the transcript, while Martin Harris said he did but subsequently tore it to pieces.
I have already discussed the first letter of Professor Anthon written in 1834 where he stated he did not give Martin Harris a (validating) letter or statement on the transcript. And the ridiculous story about his first giving Harris the letter and then taking it back and destroying it is discussed in The Hoax of Mormonism, 2nd. Ed. Page 29.
The last two-thirds of the contents of STF-90, which is included with absolutely no commentary, seems only put there to intimidate the ignorant (which we all are to a more or less degree) or unschooled reader with the supposed complexities of the topic, and to insinuate that he leave it up to the "experts." This serves no useful purpose in illuminating one's understanding of basic issues involved, or in the presenting of pertinent facts which the reader could use in evaluating the Martin Harris visit with Professor Anthon.
And finally, the letter on page 15 of STF-90 by W. W. Phelps in 1831, which is included to supposedly show something about Professor Anthon, shows mainly the assumed omniscience of its rather pompous author: "...but his (Joseph Smith's) knowledge of divine things, since the appearance of his book, has astonished many." How does Mr. Phelps (or anyone else) know what
Also much ado has been made by the authors about this "short-hand Egyptian," which term is used by Mr. Phelps in what I just quoted from his letter of January 15, 1831 and which he "probably learned (page 4) ...from Harris or other early Mormons" and "... This is strong evidence that Anthon was the source of the statement that the characters resembled short-hand Egyptian." From these statements it is apparent that no one knows for sure who or what was the source of the term "short-hand Egyptian" as used by persons peripherally associated with the "Anthon affair." Nor does it seem to be known for certain who originated the statement that "the characters on the 'Anthon Transcript' resembled short-hand Egyptian." And here the story should end. But it doesn't! The authors go on to state on page 5 that "Thus it becomes highly probable that Harris indeed got this phrase from Anthon, and that Anthon did mention short-hand Egyptian (in his conversations with Martin Harris). I agree that this is a possibility. But now the authors get involved deeper in assumptions by stating that Mr. Anthon was "no doubt struck by certain obvious similarities in the transcript to hieratic or demotic Egyptian." But this is a completely false and misleading assumption or a deliberate lie!1
And then from all these uncertainties, probabilities, and assumptions, the authors take the big leap to certainties with "From this, what else can one conclude, except that Harris has been telling the truth all along about what Anthon said on this point?" Did these authors catch a bad case of "BELIEF BLINDNESS"? One could conclude many things or nothing from these uncertain possibilities! They certainly do not prove the unquestionable honesty of Martin Harris. And so another abortive attempt to prove the truthfulness of Martin Harris succumbs to physical and logical uncertainties.
I believe the reader can ascertain pretty much for certain from the facts and logic presented herein, that Martin Harris was not an honest man as the authors of STF-90 try to portray him.
Thus it appears certain that the most accurate, truthful (and thus most reliable) accounts of what transpired in the "Anthon affair" are to be found in the words and written accounts of Professor Anthon.
I also believe this paper does show by factual analyses and logical reasoning that the "Anthon transcript" as shown to Professor Anthon by Martin Harris was a fraud; and therefore it was not "translated" by Joseph Smith from the "reformed Egyptian language" written on "Golden plates" which were obtained from "angel Moroni." Thus the Book of Mormon had other authorship, which gives indirect support for the "Spaulding Theory" as a partial explanation for at least some of the contents of "The Golden Bible."
Jerome J. Knuijt
Martin Harris' visits to New York City were mentioned in the Palmyra Freeman in August of 1829. A reprint of a Freeman article published in the Lockport NY Niagara Courier of August 27, 1829 says:
"Golden Bible." -- ... the greatest piece of superstition that has ever come within our knowledge, now occupies the attention of a few individuals of this quarter. It is generally known and spoken of as the "Golden Bible."... The subject was almost invariably treated as it should have been with contempt. A few however believed the "golden" story, among whom was Martin Harris, an honest and industrious farmer of the town of Palmyra. So blindly enthusiastic was Harris, that he took some of the characters interpreted by Smith, and went in search of some one, besides the interpreter, who was learned enough to English them; but to all whom he applied (among the number was Professor Mitchell, of New York,) happened not to be possessed of sufficient knowledge to give satisfaction! Harris returned, and set Smith to work at interpreting the Bible....