Thursday, March 27, 2008

Prophecy and Professor Anthon

Part 6 of a series on Martin Harris and the Anthon Transcript
(For the whole series, click here)

Can you believe I am still blogging about the Anthon transcript? I don't know why this has intrigued me so much. Much of this information is not new to me, but I haven't seriously considered it in the past, or tried to come to any conclusions. If you're still reading me, here are some concluding ideas I've had as I've looked at the whole incident.

Anthon's and Harris' accounts changed over time. But there are certain undisputed historical facts from which we can form a coherent narrative. Joseph Smith copied some characters which he said he got from the gold plates onto a sheet of paper. Martin Harris took this and other materials back East to get the opinion of the classicists of the day. Professor Charles Anthon spoke with Martin Harris and gave him an opinion. Latter-day Saints believe this event fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 29.

The disputed points are immaterial:

1. Were the characters Egyptian? The writings in the Book of Mormon were done in reformed Egyptian, and certainly changed even more during the many years in the New World before Mormon made his abridgement. [1]

2. Did Professor Charles Anthon possess the ability to recognize ancient Egyptian in 1828? It is unlikely that Anthon would have been able to actually translate ancient Egyptian texts. But he certainly had a familiarity with the hieroglyphics and possessed a reference book that would have contained Egyptian writings. However, being "reformed" and evolved, the characters did not necessarily have a recognizable correspondence with the Egyptian alphabets with which Anthon was familiar in 1828.

3. Did Anthon verify the characters in writing? A verification of the characters by Anthon was not necessary for the encounter to satisfy Biblical prophecy. In fact, if Anthon had been able to translate the characters in any way, it would have served to weaken the correlation between this story and the Isaiah prophecy that the learned man was unable to read the sealed book. A verification was only important to Martin Harris to satisfy him that he should contribute financially to the publication of the Book of Mormon. Apparently his interactions with the "learned men" were enough to convince him to do so.

Some Latter-day Saints have attempted to view the encounter with Anthon as a way to verify that the characters were of ancient origin. They would be better served to drop this approach and instead see the incident as did Orson Pratt: " was a sealed writing to the learned professor—the aboriginal language of ancient America could not be deciphered by him. He was as much puzzled as the wise men of Babylon were to interpret the unknown writing upon the wall. Human wisdom and learning, in this case, were altogether insufficient. It required another Daniel, who was found in the person of Mr. Smith." [2]

Although there are several questions in my mind as to whether the characters represent a form of ancient Egyptian, I can agree that the Anthon encounter fits well into Biblical prophecy:

And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.

Next: is the Caractors Document an accurate rendering of what appeared on the Gold Plates? What correlation does it have with the Anthon Transcript which Martin Harris took with him to show the learned men?

[1] An interesting paper on this subject is _Reformed Egyptian: "In the Language of my Fathers"_ by Richard G. Grant.

[2] Orson Pratt, "Divine Authority, or the Question, Was Joseph Smith sent of God?" Doctrines of the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1884), 9.

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