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Book of Mormon translation
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Saturday
Mar262011

Charles Anthon

Timeline
1799
Rosetta Stone discovered: a breakthrough to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics
1828
Martin Harris alleges that Prof. Charles Anthon certified the accuracy of Joseph Smith's translation of Egyptian characters. Prof. Anthon denies.
1830
Book of Mormon published
1858
English translation of Rosetta Stone complete

In February 1828, Joseph Smith copied characters allegedly from gold plates and gave them to Martin Harris, one of the Book of Mormon's Three Witnesses so he could have them inspected by Charles Anthon, a respected classical scholar at Columbia College in New York.

Joseph Smith Sometime in this month of February, the aforementioned Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates, and started with them to the city of New York.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
Joseph Smith—History 63

Martin Harris and Charles Anthon offer different views on what happened when they met:
Martin Harris 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. 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.

Martin Harris
Mormon apostle
Joseph Smith—History 64:65
Charles Anthon 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... requesting me to decipher, if possible, a paper... Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax...

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...

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...

...the paper contained any thing else but "Egyptian Hieroglyphics."

Professor Charles Anthon, Columbia University
Letter to E.D. Howe
* Harris mortgaged (and lost) his farm and his wife after financing the first printing of the Book of Mormon

In determining who's telling the truth we know that:
  • Translating Egyptian hieroglyphics was not possible until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. The English translation of the stone was completed in 1858. Thus it would have been impossible in 1828 for Charles Anthon to certify that: "the translation was also correct" as Martin Harris alleged.
  • The Book of Mormon narrative says the characters engraven on the plates were reformed Egyptian which remains an unknown language today.
  • The characters Joseph Smith copied and gave to Martin Harris to show Charles Anthon (aka Anthon Transcript), were reprinted in the LDS periodical The Prophet and a broadside promoting the Book of Mormon.

Anthon Transcript Anthon transcript
  • The characters of the Anthon Transcript are clearly not Egyptian.


Conclusion

If the characters Joseph allegedly copied from the gold plates aren't Egyptian, but amount to gibberish and thus aren't translatable, then we have no reason to believe that the Book of Mormon is Joseph's translation of anything but his own imagination.

Besides, since a Mormon prophet is a Seer: one who can translate ancient characters, its telling that no Mormon prophets have volunteered to translate the Anthon transcript.


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