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The Anthon Affair


Mortal Man

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Anthon was full of himself, fer shure. He could read none of the languages he claimed to see when Martin approached him.

I'm not convinced that Anthon claimed he could read those languages. Rather, I think that he probably casually mentioned them (may have compared the characters on the transcript to Syriac, Chaldaic, and Egyptian characters), and Martin (innocently) misinterpreted him or exaggerated it slightly.

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Anthon was full of himself, fer shure. He could read none of the languages he claimed to see when Martin approached him.

He only identified the language(s). He didn't do any translating. Martin brought only the transcript itself. The story that he took Joseph's translation along with him for verification is a later modification of the tale. There is some evidence to suggest that what Anthon wrote for Harris was a letter asking to see the record for himself, rather than a certificate to the residents of Palmyra as Martin claimed.

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He only identified the language(s). He didn't do any translating. Martin brought only the transcript itself. The story that he took Joseph's translation along with him for verification is a later modification of the tale.

That makes no sense at all, since Martin was convinced of what he told. We can make that assumption based on his acts (which are more powerful than the words of a self-promoting "scholar").

According to Martin's account, Anthon did translate, at least enough to confirm Joseph's work as correct.

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, Chaldaid, 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.

There is no plausible reason for Martin to have related this experience in any way other than the truth, since, as I said, he acted in a way that only his account can, er, account for.

The only way Anthon's later cover story makes any sense is to paint Martin as a bumpkin, and he was anything but.

Martin's version of the event rings far more true than Anthon's and Anthon would have had to "perform" in order to tie up all the loose ends.

Ergo, I am convinced by the evidence that Anthon did, indeed translate for Martin, or pretend to.

There is some evidence to suggest that what Anthon wrote for Harris was a letter asking to see the record for himself, rather than a certificate to the residents of Palmyra as Martin claimed.

Sorry, this is totally illogical. There would have been no need for him to have destroyed a letter such as you hypothesize, irrespective of any source for the document (the Golden Plates).

In any case, Anthon wrote two letters describing the event. On this point, at least, they contradict each other. He told E.D. Howe (1834) that he did not write anything at all, neither certificate (per Martin) nor letter (per you). In the second (1841), to T. W. Coit, he said he did write something (I do not have the Coit letter in front of me, and it's been ages since I read it).

Lehi

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that the surest words of prophecy are written after the fact.

I suppose that one could discount virtually any prophetic utterance about a future event which pre-dates the reading of the prophecy -- the reference to Cyrus comes to mind. St. Matthew's Gospel is another.

What amazing powers of manipulation an ignorant farm boy had to send a religious fanatic to obtain the talismanic words of Isaiah from Anthon's mouth.

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According to Martin's account, Anthon did translate, at least enough to confirm Joseph's work as correct.

There is no plausible reason for Martin to have related this experience in any way other than the truth, since, as I said, he acted in a way that only his account can, er, account for.

Martin wanted to believe, and he wanted others to believe. As such, he constructed hi narrative in such a way that it had the most persuasive force.

When the canonical 1838 account is compared with earlier tellings, some discrepancies emerge. No other early account reports Anthon having said anything about a "sealed book." Nor do other accounts report Harris having taken a translation along with the characters. To the contrary, they seem to strongly imply that no translation had yet been attempted. Take for example Joseph's own 1832 account:

the Lord had shown him [Martin Harris] that he must go to New York City with some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them and he took his Journy to the Eastern Cittys and to the Learned <saying> read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the blates [plates] they would read it but the Lord forbid it and he returned to me and gave them to me to translate and I said I said [ I ] cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spetticke spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters and thus the Prop[h]icy of Isiaah was fulfilled which is written in the 29 chapter concerning the book[.] (EMD 1:30)

Here Joseph commences his translation only after Martin's return. The account of Joseph Knight, Sr. follows basically the same pattern. According to Knight, when Joseph Smith got the plates he was "anxious to git them Translated." Apparently to this end, Joseph drew off some characters and gave them to Harris, who then took them to Mitchill and Anthon. There were, however, some characters Anthon was unable to understand, so he wrote a letter to Joseph Smith asking to see the original. Harris then confessed that the originals could not be delivered because Joseph had been commanded not to show them to anyone, and at this news Anthon tore up the letter. As in the 1832 History, Harris returned home without a translation, and Joseph, "B[e]ing an unlearned man[,] did not know what to Do. then the Lord gave him Power to Translate himself" (EMD 3:15, 17).

Lucy's Preliminary Manuscript substantially agrees with this accounting of events:

[Joseph] was instructed to take off a fac simile of the alphabet Egyptian characters <composing the alphabet which were called reformed Egyptian> Alphabetically and send them to all the learned men that he could find and ask them for a translation [
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It seems that Joseph Smith was familiar with several methods of shorthand for a young practically illiterate farm hand.

The characters, some with an exact match have been seen elsewhere, even on Mesoamerican artifacts: see Carl Hugh Jones, "The Anthon Transcript and Two Mesoamerican Cylinder Seals".

The article is here:

http://www.shields-research.org/General/SEHA/SEHA_Newsletter_122-2.PDF

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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