The Contradicting Stories of Joseph Smith and Charles Anthon
The Beginning of Mormonism
Joseph Smith, the prophet, in The Pearl of Great Price makes some very confident and amazing claims. He would have the world believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons) possess the keys to the Kingdom of God. His desires were to have everyone believe that the Mormons are the only true church and that all other churches have believed lies and are apostate.
According to Smith,
“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
This claim is remarkable in light of the fact that a church claiming to be the sole church seems to have much to hide. A group that makes these sorts of claims should voluntarily place all of its cards on the table and invite others to examine their claims to perfection. They should air out their laundry for all to see rather than hide certain highly questionable dealings, beliefs and claims. If all other churches believe abominable creeds then the Latter Day Saints should invite theirs to be examined. If all other churches teach the commandments of men then surely the Mormons would openly invite the examination of their God sent teachings. However, this is not the case.
One such deception coming from Mormon history are the circumstances surrounding the claims of Joseph Smith and the copying of the symbols that he allegedly found on the golden plates. This seems odd because this is not a minor question but the very foundation that their whole belief system is built upon.
Who Was Joseph Smith?
A bit of Joseph Smith’s background should be introduced to the reader as a means to show that his character was extremely questionable therefore his claims should be examined very carefully.
“According to many witnesses who lived near the Smith family regarded them as “illiterate, whiskey-drinking, shiftless, and irreligious.” Joe (as he was known) was said to be indolent with a penchant for exaggeration and untruthfulness. His mother, Lucy Mack, practiced magic and had visions. His father, Joe, Sr., was known as a persistent treasure seeker, always trying to dig up the fabled booty of Captain Kidd. The founder of Mormonism often accompanied his father on these expeditions and was himself fond of the occult, especially divining and fortune telling by ‘peep stones.’”
Other eyewitness interviews show that Smith’s family was guilty of minting their own money. This is very well documented by Judge Daniel Woodard, the judge involved in the case.
“Judge Woodard went on record in the Historical Magazine in 1870 with a statement to the effect that the elder Smith definitely was a treasure hunter and that ‘he also became implicated with one Jack Downing, in counterfeiting money, but turned State’s evidence and escaped the penalty”
Another account tells of Joseph Smith using “peep stones” to find buried treasure. He kept them in his hat and claimed that they helped him find buried treasure. Numerous reports testify to Smith simply being a con-man.
This historical information is not an attempt to degrade someone’s pure character, but an attempt to expose the true character and practices of one who has made some highly amazing and irregular claims. Should one believe Joseph Smith or should one doubt a fantastic story coming from a man of questionable character?
Introducing the People and Events of Mormonism
Before we get going too far, the reader should be introduced to the major players in the Mormon story. First, we have Joseph Smith (the Prophet) who claimed to have had a visitor beside his bed in the year 1823. This visitor, the angel Moroni the resurrected son of Morman who was a deceased part of a forgotten race of Americans known as the Nephites, buried golden plates in a vault in New York in the year A. D. 421. The visitor told Smith about a book of golden plates that contained the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
According to Mormon history, four years later in Palmyra, New York, Smith unearthed golden plates and a pair of supernatural spectacles called Urim and Thummim. These special glasses were to be used to decipher the ancient language (Reformed Hieroglyphics) which the plates contained.
According to Mormon history, Smith went to work translating the plates. Along the way, again according to Smith, at some point in the translation process Smith claimed to have been visited by John the Baptist who administered an ordination for him. When the translation was completed (with the help of Oliver Cowdrey, a school teacher and Emma Hale, his first and only legal wife) he returned the plates to the Angel Moroni (which is a very convenient excuse for why no one has seen them). Then in 1830 the Book of Mormon was published and on April 6 of that same year Smith and the others formed the Church of Jesus Christ.
At some point during this time, Smith was in conversation with Martin Harris, a local farmer and land owner. Martin Harris will play a big part in the story.
It is important to note the weight Mormons place on the extra biblical writings they have. The Mormons view the Book of Mormon, The Doctrines and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price (Smith’s work on Matthew) as divinely inspired Scripture. When these writings differ from the Bible, they are upheld over the Bible.
The difficulty lies in the evidence of the Mormon writings. For example, the Bible is attested to by a multitude of ancient manuscripts which include the Dead Sea Scrolls. These ancient witnesses speak volumes for the authenticity of the Bible. However, the Mormon writings are only written in English and only attested to by one man, Joseph Smith. As we have already noted, there are many reasons to doubt the story of Smith.
All this basic Mormon history brings us to the point of examining the circumstances and claims of Joseph Smith and his claim to have translated Reformed Hieroglyphics into English. Is the Book of Mormon a divine work as Smith claimed or a work of a young man with an agenda?
Many questionable beliefs and practices are a part of Mormon theology. The one this paper addresses is the claim of Joseph Smith that the letters/characters he transcribed on paper that came from the gold plates were Reformed Hieroglyphics.
The Mormon saga continues. After allegedly discovering gold plates in New York, Smith claims to have transcribed some of the characters unto paper. Here is the official account by Smith himself from The Pearl of Great Price Smith’s History (62-64),
“62 By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there 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.
63 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. For what took place relative to him and the characters, I refer to his own account of the circumstances, as he related them to me after his return, which was as follows:
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.”
According to Smith and Martin, in The Pearl of Great Price, the professor believed the characters to be Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyrian, and Arabic. Also according to Smith and Martin the professor claimed that he had never seen anything like this and that they were translated correctly and gave Harris a certificate to affirm his claim. All this is according to Joseph Smith in The Pearl of Great Price.
Who was Professor Charles Anthon and what really happened?
Charles Anthon (November 19, 1797 – July 29, 1867) was an American classical scholar, born in New York City. After graduating with honors at Columbia College in 1815, he began the study of law, and in 1819 was admitted to the bar, but never practiced. In 1820 he was appointed assistant professor of Greek and Latin in his old college, full professor ten years later, and at the same time headmaster of the grammar school attached to the college, which post he held until 1864.
Unfortunately, what Anthon is remembered for is his encounter with Martin and the story highly promoted by the Mormons.
In the account, the two stories are very different depending on which version you go with. The Mormon version says that Professor Anthon met with Martin and affirmed that the plates translation was genuine and even gave a seal of approval. Non-Mormon historians have a very different view of that meeting. Also, Anthon, himself had a very different view of his encounter with Martin. Which story is true? When there are contradicting accounts, which one is to be believed? While the accounts differ, I believe one is clearly affirmed as true and the other is to be seen as false.
In February of 1828, Martin Harris made a trip to Columbia University to inquire about the authenticity of a piece of paper he was carrying. The claim made by Smith was that the writing found on the golden plates was Reformed Hieroglyphics. Once at Columbia University, Harris went to see Professor Charles Anthon who was known for his studies in ancient linguistics. Martin Harris’s purpose was to get proof from Anthon that the writings were genuine. Harris would seek to get a certificate of authenticity from Anthon.
Evidently, Harris and Anthon met by themselves for a while and then parted ways. A couple of years later they had a second meeting when Harris presented Professor Anthon with the published copy of the Book of Mormon. What really happened in this meeting still seems to be somewhat vague.
“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.”
However, Professor Anthon in two different letters claims the very opposite to be true. He claims that a simple farmer paid him a visit and what he was shown proved to be a hoax and a fraud. Anthon tried to convince the farmer, who was going to sell his farm to fund the publishing of these writings, not to have anything to do with these fanatics. Rather than delivering a certificate to prove the writings were real the professor claimed that they we a hoax.
Another issue that should be brought out is that what Professor Anthon was shown, according to him looked very much like a copy of the Mexican Zodiac. He described figures and letters in perpendicular columns around a circle. But what Mormons have that they use as proof of the transcribed letters is not what Professor Anthon described.
Anthon Transcript according to Mormons:
Here is Anthon’s description of the transcript:
From the letter dated February 17, 1834 (Six years after Harris’ visit)
“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.””
Here is Professor Anthon’s description of what he examined in another letter dated 1841 (13 years after the meeting with Harris and 7 years after the first letter):
A very brief examination of the paper convinced me that it was a mere hoax, and a very clumsy one too. The characters were arranged in columns, like the Chinese mode of writing, and presented the most singular medley that I ever beheld. Greek, Hebrew and all sorts of letters, more or less distorted, either through unskilfulness or from actual design, were intermingled with sundry delineations of half moons, stars, and other natural objects, and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac.
Here is a picture of the Zodiac (left) and the Mexican Calendar/Zodiac (right), which Anthon wrote that what he saw resembled. I personally do not think what Mormons have as the transcript is what Anthon had been shown by Harris.
Another very strange piece of this story is when Professor Anthon pleaded with Harris not to be taken in by this scam; he asked Harris if he still had the plates. Harris said yes he did and that they were locked in a trunk at his farm. The professor asked him if he had seen them and Harris said no. Anthon was trying to help this poor man out by telling him if they were truly gold that he should sell them in order to recover some of the money that Smith had tricked him out of. Harris’ answer was that to open the trunk would be to bring the curse of God upon you. Which I think Smith told him to keep him from discovering that there really were no plates in the trunk or anywhere else.
The main problem with Mormonism is its foundation of unknowns. Who knows for sure what happened? There were no witnesses. Who knows if there were really any golden plates with hieroglyphics on them, nobody saw them but Smith. Who knows if he really transcribed them using mysterious spectacles, He was allegedly behind a curtain.
If Mormonism is the real gospel and if their teach is the only true message, then why is there so much doubt, speculation, swirling around their foundational issues? Joseph Smith veiled himself behind a mysterious curtain while he supposedly translated portions of the Book of Mormon. However, God’s Word the true gospel is not veiled (2Corinthians 4:2)
The true gospel is the gospel found in the Bible. It is the message that has witnesses and solid tradition. It’s the gospel that has been proven by the test of time.
Professor Anthon’s Two Letters
The first letter: to Eber D. Howe on February 17, 1834
(from Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed pp. 270-272)
New York, Feb. 17, 1834.
Dear Sir — I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. 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 with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax.
When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A “gold book,” consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of “gold spectacles”! These spectacles were so large, that, if a person attempted to look through them, his two eyes would have to be turned towards one of the glasses merely, the spectacles in question being altogether too large for the breadth of the human face. Whoever examined the plates through the spectacles, was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning. All this knowledge, however, was confined at that time to a young man, who had the trunk containing the book and spectacles in his sole possession. This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm house, and being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather, looked through one of the glasses, decyphered the characters in the book, and, having committed some of them to paper, handed copies from behind the curtain, to those who stood on the outside. Not a word, however, was said about the plates having been decyphered “by the gift of God.” Everything, in this way, was effected by the large pair of spectacles. 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, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles.
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.”
Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the “curse of God” would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the “curse of God” upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.
I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics.
The second letter: to Reverend Coit on April 3, 1841
(from John A. Clark’s Gleanings By The Way pp. 233-238)
New York, April 3d, 1841.
Rev. and Dear Sir:
I have often heard that the Mormons claimed me for an auxiliary, but, as no one, until the present time, has even requested from me a statement in writing, I have not deemed it worth while to say anything publicly on the subject. What I do know of the sect relates to some of the early movements; and as the facts may amuse you, while they will furnish a
satisfactory answer to the charge of my being a Mormon proselyte, I proceed to lay them before you in detail.
Many years ago, the precise date I do not now recollect, a plain looking countryman called upon me with a letter from Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell requesting me to examine, and give my opinion upon, a certain paper, marked with various characters, which the Doctor confessed he could not decypher, and which the bearer of the note was very anxious to have explained. A very brief examination of the paper convinced me that it was a mere hoax, and a very clumsy one too. The characters were arranged in columns, like the Chinese mode of writing, and presented the most singular medley that I ever beheld. Greek, Hebrew and all sorts of letters, more or less distorted, either through unskilfulness or from actual design, were intermingled with sundry delineations of half moons, stars, and other natural objects, and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac. The conclusion was irresistible, that some cunning fellow had prepared the paper in question for the purpose of imposing upon the countryman who brought it, and I told the man so without any hesitation. He then proceeded to give me the history of the whole affair, which convinced me that he had fallen into the hands of some sharper, while it left me in great astonishment at his simplicity.
The countryman told me that a gold book had been recently dug up in the western or northern part (I forget which), of our state, and he described this book as consisting of many gold plates, like leaves, secured by a gold wire passing through the edges of each, just as the leaves of a book are sewed together, and presented in this way the appearance of a volume. Each plate, according to him, was inscribed with unknown characters, and the paper which he handed me, a transcript of one of these pages. On my asking him by whom the copy was made, he gravely stated, that along with the golden book there had been dug up a very large pair of spectacles! so large in fact that if a man were to hold them in front of his face, his two eyes would merely look through one of the glasses, and the remaining part of the spectacles would project a considerable distance sideways! These spectacles possessed, it seems a very valuable property, of enabling any one who looked through them, (or rather through one of the lenses,) not only to decypher the characters on the plates, but also to comprehend their exact meaning, and be able to translate them!! My informant assured me that this curious property of the spectacles had been actually tested, and found to be true. A young man, it seems, had been placed in the garret of a farm-house, with a curtain before him, and having fastened the spectacles to his head, had read several pages in the golden book, and communicated their contents in writing to certain persons stationed on the outside of the curtain. He had also copied off one page of the book in the original character, which he had in like manner handed over to those who were separated from him by the curtain, and this copy was the paper which the countryman had brought with him. As the golden book was said to contain very great truths, and most important revelations of a religious nature, a strong desire had been expressed by several persons in the countryman’s neighbourhood, to have the whole work translated and published. A proposition had accordingly been made to my informant, to sell his farm, and apply the proceeds to the printing of the golden book, and the golden plates were to be left with him as security until he should be reimbursed by the sale of the work. To convince him more 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.
The matter rested here for a considerable time, until one day, when I had ceased entirely to think of the countryman and his paper, this same individual, to my great surprise, paid me a second visit. He now brought with him a duodecimo volume, which he said was a translation into English of the “Golden Bible.” He also stated, that notwithstanding his original determination not to sell his farm, he had been induced evidently to do so, and apply the money to the publication of the book, and had received the golden plates as a security for payment. He begged my acceptance of the volume, assuring me that it would be found extremely interesting, and that it was already “making great noise” in the upper part of the state. Suspecting now that some serious trick was on foot, and that my plain looking visitor might be in fact a very cunning fellow I declined his present, and merely contented myself with a slight examination of the volume while he stood by. The more I declined receiving it, however, the more urgent the man became in offering the book, until at last I told him plainly, that if he left the volume, as he said he intended to do, I should most assuredly throw it after him as he departed. I then asked him how he could be so foolish as to sell his farm and engage in this affair; and requested him to tell me if the plates were really of gold. In answer to this latter inquiry, he said, that he had never seen the plates themselves, which were carefully locked up in a trunk, but that he had the trunk in his possession. I advised him by all means to open the trunk and examine its contents, and if the plates proved to be of gold, which I did not believe at all, to sell them immediately. His reply was, that. if he opened the trunk, the “curse of heaven would descend upon him and his children.’ “However,” added he, “I will agree to open it, provided you take the ‘curse of Heaven’ upon yourself, for having advised me to the step.” I told him I was perfectly willing to do so, and begged he would hasten home and examine the trunk, for he would find that he had been cheated. He promised to do as I recommended, and left me, taking his book with him. I have never seen him since.
Such is a plain statement of all I know respecting the Mormons. My impression now is, that the plain looking countryman was none other than the prophet Smith himself, who assumed an appearance of great simplicity in order to entrap me, if possible, into some recommendation of his book. That the prophet aided me by his inspiration, in interpreting the volume, is only one of the many amusing falsehoods, which the Mormonites utter relative to my participation in their doctrines. Of these doctrines I know nothing whatever, nor have I ever heard a single discourse from any of their preachers, although I have often felt a strong curiosity to become an auditor, since my friends tell me that they frequently name me in their sermons, and even go so far as to say that I am alluded to in the prophecies of Scripture!
If what I have here written shall prove of any service in opening the eyes of some of their deluded followers to the real designs of those who profess to be the apostles of Mormonism, it will afford me satisfaction equalled, I have no doubt, only by that which you yourself will feel on this subject.
I remain, very respectfully and truly, your friend,
CHAS. ANTHON. 
Larson, Robert. Larson’s Book of Cults, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1985
Martin, Walter. Kingdom of the Cults, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany Fellowship Inc, 1977
Reed, Davis and Farkas, John. Mormons Answered Verse by Verse, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993
 Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith’s History 1:19
 Larson’s Book of Cults, Bob Larson Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House. 1985. Page 157
 Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany Fellowship Inc. 1977. 150
 Mormons Answered Verse by Verse, David Reed, John Farkas, Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1993. 30
 Mormons Answered Verse by Verse, David Reed, John Farkas, Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1993. 30
 Pearl of Great Price
 Much of this line of thought is from a book called The Hoax of Mormonism by Jerome J. Knuijt