Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews: A Source for the Book of Mormon

L. Ara Norwood's book review, " Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon at FARMS (FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1990, pp. 187-204) deals with one of the most significant anti-Mormon efforts to explain the Book of Mormon. His review of David Persuitte's Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon discusses both strengths and weaknesses of Persuitte's approach. It also shows that Persuitte's analysis, even if unchallenged, at best accounts for less than 5% of the verses in the Book of Mormon. Further, the scattered parallels Pursuitte points to do nothing to explain away numerous elements pointing to ancient origins (things like chiasmus, Hebraisms, the accurate details from the Arabian peninsula, etc.).

Parallels between unrelated books are easier to find than you might think. I believe that the parallels between the Book of Mormon and Walt Whitmans's The Leaves of Grass are more impressive than anything you'll find by reading View of the Hebrews, but that is due entirely to chance since Whitman's work came long after the Book of Mormon and obviously was not influenced by it (no, don't try to craft an argument that Whitman was secretly collaborating with Mormons to account for these chance parallels!). The finding of parallels by itself means very little. (For additional discussion on proposed origins for the Book of Mormon, see my Mormon Answers page on Joseph Smith and alleged plagiarism.)

Less than 5% of the Book of Mormon "related" to View of the Hebrews? I bet if I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and worked hard enough, I could find 7% to be "related" to Whitman. But that's a 7% solution you don't want to drink.

58 comments:

Christian Y. Cardall said...

Parallels between unrelated books are easier to find than you might think.

How does this affect our perceptions of how strong the parallels are that Hugh Nibley finds between the Enoch material in the Book of Moses and the pseudepigrapha containing Enoch material?

AlexG said...

It would be time that critics took a serious look on the books they present as 'evidence' of plagarism. I suppose that The Golden Pot will be invoked by an 'anonymous' commentator in this thread. Or possibly, Grant's Palmer book, Insider's View of Mormon Origins or Cowdrey's Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?: The Spalding Enigma. Any other books that I might be missing? Whilst amusing, their parallels could hardly provide evidence of authorship. In that sense, I like Jeff's highly statirical sketch about the origins of the Book of Mormon. All the themes that run in the Book of Mormon would take a vast library, that is ever expanding. Knowledge on ancient poetry, military warfare tactics, ancient construction techniques, etc, would have been required to elaborate the Book of Mormon. It would be nice from critics to provide the list of books that Joseph actually utilised, from documentary evidences, i.e., that show that he actually had a copy of the book and read it.

Mike Parker said...

Jeff: You misspelled Ara's first name (it's Ara, not Aran).

Mike Parker said...

The 11/17/05 New York Review of Books has a review of the new Bushman bio of Joseph Smith. The review begins:

"I, Nephi...," the first words of the Book of Mormon—to some twelve million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, a holy book—reminds me of a similarly brisk summons to attention: "Call me Ishmael," the famous first words of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. In the Book of Mormon, the biblical Ishmael, son of Abraham, soon appears and helps the questing Nephi out of a spot of trouble with the locals....

The truth is out! Joseph Smith plagarized Moby Dick!

Samuel said...

"I suppose that The Golden Pot will be invoked by an 'anonymous' commentator in this thread."

Hehe, already happened, although the commentator wasn't anon. Sorry you missed that conversation, AG. It was several weeks ago and was quite lively.

Ian said...

Ok, maybe I am not looking close enough, but I just read "The pot of Gold" and I find only a trace of parallel between the story and what happened to Joseph Smith. Can anyone enlighten me on the subject?

Here is a link to the story.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16468/16468-h/16468-h.htm

Ian said...

I think I read the wrong story. The authot was Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, not the one I found. Carry on...

Bookslinger said...

The Golden Pot, also known as
The Golden Flower Pot, by E. T. A. Hoffman is here:

http://www.blackmask.com/books72c/goldpotdex.htm

Mike Parker said...

Please note that Grant Palmer is not claiming that The Golden Flower Pot is the source for the Book of Mormon, but the source for Joseph Smith's story of how he found and translated the Book of Mormon.

The thinnest of evidence has been employed to make this connection. Keep in mind that Thomas Carlyle's English translation of The Golden Flower Pot wasn't published until 1827, long after Joseph claimed to have encountered Moroni and learned of the plates and his commission (1823). Residents in Palmyra were aware of Joseph's claims before 1827. And Palmer has yet to turn up one shred of evidence that Joseph Smith was aware of The Golden Flower Pot, let alone had read or purchased a copy.

Like I said, Moby Dick is a more likely source for the Book of Mormon. And don't forget Jeff Lindsay prefers Leaves of Grass.

Anonymous said...

Strange, I always thought there was an uncanny resemblence between the BoM and Green Eggs and Ham.

"I, Nephi..."

"Sam I am"

See what I mean?

Bookslinger said...

Because of what I've read on this blog and Jeff Lindsay's Book of Mormon evidence pages, I'm noticing things in the Book of Mormon that I haven't seen before. I recently finished reading Helaman chapter 5, and I noticed how Helaman's words to his sons Nephi and Lehi are marked off using a verbal form of quote marks in verses 5 and 13.

Bookslinger said...

Has anyone made claim that Oliver Cowdery was the real author of the Book of Mormon? After all, he was more educated than Joseph Smith, and had access to more literature.

Samuel said...

"Has anyone made claim that Oliver Cowdery was the real author of the Book of Mormon? After all, he was more educated than Joseph Smith, and had access to more literature."

I guess they could try. I mean he was Lucy Mack Smith's 3rd cousin so he was obviously willing to lie for the cause! ;)

One problem is that he didnt come on until after the 116 pages were lost. So some writing was going on at least before his arrival.

Anonymous said...

Jeff is a brilliant man... hilarious.

ltbugaf said...

Mike Parker: Has the New York Review of Books been made aware of how pathetically misinformed they are on the identity of Ishmael in the Book of Mormon? Apparently they think if two people have the same first name, they must be the same person.

Mike Parker said...

The NY Review of Books was reviewing Rough Stone Rolling, not the Book of Mormon, so I'm willing to cut them some slack.

But my experience has been that most book reviewers know very, very little about the subject matter they're reviewing.

This is also true for journalists and the subjects about which they write.

Mike Parker said...

I'm constantly amazed by the number of critics of the Book of Mormon who claim its origins are in View of the Hebrews.

Read the Amazon.com reader reviews of David Persuitte's book (reviewed by Ara Norwood in Jeff's blog post). It makes me wonder if any of these people have actually read Ethan Smith's book.

For example, this from one-hit-wonder musician and ex-Mormon Tal Bachman:

"...Persuitte does a good job of covering just about every base there is: Joseph's early career in confidence scheming, his early trial, the contradictory versions of the stories, etc. He is also very good when occasionally dealing with LDS apologetic arguments, which I think without exception are far more embarrassing than helpful to their cause, so bad are they."

Did Bachman read View of the Hebrews? Did he read Norwood's review of Persuitte? It doesn't seem so. In fact, I'd be surprised if he is aware of Norwood. For him, the case has been closed, and any attempts to refute it are "embarrassing."

Sad.

Bookslinger said...

What was funny to me were the anti-mormons who thought the book was a pro-mormon book, and therefore called it garbage. Ha.

Ryan said...

It seems that some critics don't distinguish between a book being "authentic ancient writing" and being "scripture." If I remember history class correctly, historical details tend to be so sketchy that archeologists take an "authentic 'til proven fake" approach with any document they're lucky enough to find.

Unlike your average ancient document, they demand that the Book of Mormon be "proven" authentic, even though the evidence for is much more convincing than the evidence against, in my opinion.

That's what you get for claiming to translate it by the power of God, I guess... it's kind of awkward argue that it's completely false if it's authentic.

AlexG said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
AlexG said...

Anonymous @12:19 AM maybe you would like to consider this version of 1 Nephi written in the style of Dr. Seuss.

Most critics rehash writtings from previous anti Mormons, i.e., Tanners, Brodie, even Howe, in order to attempt a new approach. This is sad. Instead of proposing other points of discussion, they just reheat. Maybe The New Mormon Challenge is separated from the rest of the books. But I agree with Mike Parker, the commonality is quite sad.

Samuel, yep too bad that I missed the discussion. But bet that those books were featured, together with such 'classics' as the Tanners Covering the Black Hole in the Book of Mormon and the Solomon Spaulding manuscript. Lets move on from those 'sources'.

BYU alter ego said...

Ryan: "Unlike your average ancient document, they demand that the Book of Mormon be "proven" authentic, even though the evidence for is much more convincing than the evidence against, in my opinion."

Ummm...what historian has seen the gold plates? We don't have an ancient document anywhere, we have a putative translation.

What Scholars have seen of the "source material" has been damning. Contrary to legend, Professor Anton did not agree that the characters off of the Gold Plates were Egyptian in origin.

When informed that the Mormons claimed he validated the ancient origins of the BOM he quickly wrote a letter to refute that claim.

The full text is as follows:

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 pronouncd 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 farmhouse, 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.
Yours respectfully, CHAS. ANTHON.


So I would suggest Ryan first, that you surely haven't seen all the relevant evidence, so perhaps you should reevaluate your opinion.

Second, the reason many don't respect the ancient origin claim is that nothing certifiably ancient nor documentary exists to credit the Book of Mormon.

We only have what Joseph et al gave us.

The same pattern continues with the Book of Abraham, the Kinderplates and so on.

Samuel said...

Oh I get it. Dr. Anthon immediately told Martin Harris that it was fake and a fraud but refused to sign a letter to that effect. Martin immediately went home and told his wife it was a bunch of hokum and never had anything to do with Joseph Smith again. Um, not quite.

Martin went home satisfied enough to later finance the printing of the BoM (which he had to sell 150 acres of his farm for), became one of the Three Witnesses for the BoM and never recanted his testimony.

BYU Alter, did you ever think Dr. Anthon might be lying to protect his reputation, the story going around that he agreed the translation was correct? You never seem to think that the critics might have ulterior motives. Besides the fact that the later actions (and later statements) of Martin Harris belie the idea that he got a negative response from Dr. Anthon.

Honestly, I think you can do better than this.

Samuel said...

"Second, the reason many don't respect the ancient origin claim is that nothing certifiably ancient nor documentary exists to credit the Book of Mormon."

Byu Alter,

I would enjoy hearing your explanation of how the ancient literary form of chiasmus turned up in the BoM.

Further, I would enjoy hearing your explanation of how JS wrote of an ancient city that has the same name, meaning, and location as the equivalent in the BoM (Nahom).

Bookslinger said...

I wonder if Prof Anthon has accepted the gospel in the Spirit World.

Does anyone know if his temple proxy work has been done?

Walker said...

AE,

Why would Martin Harris, who was skeptical already, come home glowing about Anthon's approval of the characters if Anthon told him the characters were fake? Can a man be so delusional that he's convinced himself that he's not delusional so that he can be deluded by his own desire for delusion?

Mike Parker said...

Add to that the fact that Anthon gave two written accounts of the events of that day, and they conflict with each other.

Sidney Sperry dealt with this decades ago, but, as usual, Book of Mormon critics are blissfully unaware of it.

Bookslinger said...

Speaking as devil's advocate here. Suppose Martin Harris was in on the hoax with Joseph Smith. That would have given him motive to lie about what Anthon said.

But, even after leaving the church, or at least leaving the body of saints, he never recanted his testimony of witnessing the plates for himself.

Does anyone know the name of the talk or "one man play" that someone did not too long ago? It contained the testimony of someone who was a little boy of a family with whom an aged Martin Harris spent a night with not long before his death. Martin gave a powerful testimony to the little boy, who went on to repeat it throughout his adult life into the 20th century.

Bookslinger said...

Is it correct that Martin Harris never recouped his investment or loan for the printing costs of the first edition of the Book of Mormon?

Samuel said...

Indy,

I don't know if Martin ever recouped his money. It can also be said of Dr. Anthon that in a different letter he claimed he had given Martin a letter stating that he believed the whole thing was a fraud, so his two statements do not match.

The thing about the English boy and Martin Harris is found on the DVD of Teaching from the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History in the section "The Works and Designs of God." It is found here:

http://www.ldsvideo.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=534

I am sure that a play has been made about it, I mean if you can write an opera about Abinadi, you can do anything! ;)

Plankton, Evil Genius said...

I found this site a few nights ago. I must say that after reading each night my brain hurts. At any rate, GREAT blog. I'll be a lurker, for sure. I've been a member all of my life but very ignorant when it comes to the "deep" gospel. Great blog. Keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

BYU Alter,

Obviously Martin Harris or Dr. Anton lied. You seem fairly willing to believe the only one of the two that had any reason to lie.

Had Joseph Smith himself gone, then you might have an argument. If you claim Harris was in on it, why stay loyal to the fraud after he left the church?

If you have a reasonable answer, you might have a point.

If not, please don't ever bring this argument up again. It doesn't make you look very good-- and that's a shame, really, because you're such a smart person.

--John

BYU alter ego said...

Mike Parker: " Add to that the fact that Anthon gave two written accounts of the events of that day, and they conflict with each other.

Sidney Sperry dealt with this decades ago, but, as usual, Book of Mormon critics are blissfully unaware of it."


I wasn't blissfully unaware of that article actually. The difference you speak of has to do with whether Prof. Anthon gave Martin a written opinion or not, not about his verdict on the charaters.

In both letters he asserts that the characters were not genuine.

Also, the thesis of that essay in the end is complete conjecture. Sydney asserts that Martin should be believed over Prof. Anthon. The problem there is that the description we have of Martin's account is actually what Joseph related.

So on the one hand we have double hear-say, on the other we have two letters written by Anthon himself, both maintaining that the characters were not genuine.

Let's ask a question then: What motive would Joseph have to assert that Martin said the characters were geniune? It' obvious.

Also the essay argues that Prof. Anthon wouldn't have been able to translate the characters anyways. If I'm not mistaken this occured pre-Rosetta stone so no one could translate Egyptian back then. So how is that relevant?

Enlightening is the fact that now that we have the Rosetta Stone, and yet no one has been able to translate them still should tell you something. If they were truly Egyptian in origin at least some extrapolation would be possible.

More likely is that you just can't translate jibberish.

To Samuel:

You said: "Oh I get it. Dr. Anthon immediately told Martin Harris that it was fake and a fraud but refused to sign a letter to that effect. Martin immediately went home and told his wife it was a bunch of hokum and never had anything to do with Joseph Smith again. Um, not quite."

As Mike pointed out before, in one letter Prof. Anthon does claim to give Martin a letter to that effect. So why wouldn't Martin turn his back on Joseph at that point? Come on, that's easy. Martin was a person who believed strongly in the mystical. There was a dearth of scepticism among the people at the time. He was enamored with the advent of Joseph and the BOM. He felt it was important obviously.

His desire for Anthon's validation probably has a lot more to do with his wife than his own scepticism. Remember the 117 pages affair? That was ALL about his wife.

Would Martin have a reason to lie about his encounter with Prof. Anthon? Yes. But we'll never know will we? Because we only have what Joseph tells us.


Samuel: "Honestly, I think you can do better than this."

So, you're saying that your double hearsay account is more reliable than two source documents?

Um...YOU can do better.

Samuel: "I would enjoy hearing your explanation of how the ancient literary form of chiasmus turned up in the BoM."


First the presence of chiasmus does not make a document ancient. The D&C has Chiasmus. So do the words of men like Shakespeare, Goethe, even JFK.

Remember, "...ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."

Samuel: "Further, I would enjoy hearing your explanation of how JS wrote of an ancient city that has the same name, meaning, and location as the equivalent in the BoM (Nahom)."

Lets be clear, what was found in Arabia was an inscription on an altar that translated reads: "Biathar, son of Saw'd, son of Nawan, the Nihmite"

S. Kent Brown in his FARMS article refers us to other examples of the use of NHM words in the area. "These Arab authors, Ibn al-Kalbi and al-Hamdani, refer variously to a pagan god known as Nuhum (Ibn al-Kalbi), a tribal ancestor named Nuham (Ibn al-Kalbi), and a region and a tribe called Nihm (al-Hamdani), all in southwest Arabia."

First, what we have is an altar, not necessarily a place. Second, it's impossible to know what form NHM should be. Is it Nihm, Nuham, Nuhum or is it really Nahom? We'll never know.

I do concede that the word Nahom does exist in Arabic, and it also appears in the Ethiopian Old testament LINK. But certainly you're not arguing this is a smoking gun? It's absolutely no reason to act as smug as you do.

What's really sad is that to my knowledge this is the first piece of solid archeological evidence that even suggests a connection with BOM historicity.

I hope you enjoyed... :P

BYU alter ego said...

John: "Obviously Martin Harris or Dr. Anton lied. You seem fairly willing to believe the only one of the two that had any reason to lie."

All people lie. No one reading this can honestly claim that they've never misrepresented the truth for selfish reasons.

Do we all lack credibility then? No. Because you've lied in the past doesn't mean you lie constantly.

What's most important about a person's lies are the motives behind them.

Professor Anthon wanted to be distanced from the Mormons, so he lied about cooperating with Martin's request. Can we say that he lied about his analysis though? No, because he, in both letters, indicates that he didn't believe the characters to be genuine.

So yes, he lied, but his lie is far less relevent to our discussion. He wouldn't have a reason to lie about the characters being false would he?

Martin, and thus Joseph, on the other hand wanted to have validity for the Book of Mormon. This is the very thing we're questioning and thus is far more relevant.

John: "If not, please don't ever bring this argument up again. It doesn't make you look very good-- and that's a shame, really, because you're such a smart person."

I'm flattered by the compliment, thank you.

To be honest, I don't see why you trivialize this issue. What Prof. Anthon wrote is very relevant to the subject. He clearly(and consistently) states that he didn't believe the characters to be genuine.

So were am I disinforming here?

Walker said...

AE,

You have yet to explain Martin's willingness to maintain a lifelong testimony of the Book of Mormon, the first seedlings of which took place during the Anthon interaction. Such a devotion is worth a little more than a couple of letters written to individuals who were skeptical of the Book of Mormon anyway.

As to NHM, understand that vowels are quite fluid in Semitic languages. The fact that there is any resemblance at all, given that Joseph merely hodge-podging it together on the fly is remarkable.

As to chiasmus, the key isn't presence; it's constancy and complexity. As Welch has pointed out, a monkey can produce a chiasmus given enough time (ok, I jest, but you know my point). But when they have shades of Hebrew influence in them, far too subtle for a casual reader of the Bible as Joseph Smith was See Helaman chapter 6--Zedekiah and the Lord being the pivot points of the chiasmus. "Iah" is a theophoric suffix, quite comparable to "Lord" in literary terms.

Samuel said...

"No, because he, in both letters, indicates that he didn't believe the characters to be genuine."

Oh, okay. This makes no sense. he tells the same lie twice and that makes it true? The source documents, as you call them, conflict with each other. How do you explain that? Harris' testimony is consistent throughout.

Besides, Harris' actions do not support Anthon's version of events. How do you explain that? He held on to his testimony his entire life because he was enamored with the mystical and Joseph Smith? I mean, come on. This makes no sense. He still supported it even after the ending of his support for JS.

Kennedy's quote compared to Alma 36 is like comparing a log cabin made with popsicle sticks to the Eiffel tower.

The versions of NHM you mention are all the same word in Semitic. The very fact that the same combination of letters appears is extremely lucky if at all. Not to mention the root means mourning in which context it is mentioned in the BoM. Similar for Jershon with inheritance and the Hebrew roots for river and valley.

Not a smoking gun, but another brick in the wall of authenticity.

BYU alter ego said...

Samuel: "Oh, okay. This makes no sense. he tells the same lie twice and that makes it true? The source documents, as you call them, conflict with each other. How do you explain that? Harris' testimony is consistent throughout."

I honestly must not have understood you correctly then. Are you arguing that Prof. Anthon lied about the authenticity issue?

If so, I fail to see why we should take Harris over him. At best it's a "he said she said" affair. Except that Prof. Anthon actually had expertise in Egyptology.

As far as Harris' lifelong testimony, I don't dispute it. But it doesn't neccessarily make him more of an authority on what happened than Anthon. It just shows that he was devoted. Why he was devoted is the real question.

Walker said...

AE,

It just shows that he was devoted. Why he was devoted is the real question.

Nice bob and weave, AE. Only a benighted fool would hold to a testimony even after defecting from the person who supposedly gave you that testimony, unless, of course, we can compartmentalize the experiences i.e. the truthfulness of the Harris' testimony is independent of the Anthon meeting.

Also, we indeed do have a record of Martin Harris’ own words, albeit via interviews. Anthony Metcalf and William Pilkington both recorded interviews with Harris after his return to Utah (keeping in mind, of course, that Harris had stayed true to the testimony throughout his apostasy). In both accounts, Harris confirms the visit and his later belief that he was fulfilling prophecy. Here is the text of Metcalf (as Metcalf's is more thorough):

Harris told me about his trip to New York and what Prof. Anthon told him. He said the characters were translated correctly. After Harris had told the professor how the plates had been found, the professor said that it was his opinion that he (Harris) was being duped by sharpers, and advised Harris to take care of himself. I asked him if he knew what the prophet Isaiah had said about that event. He said, “No,” but that Joseph Smith had shown that chapter to him after his return.

Most interesting is that he confirms one of the details of Anthon’s letter, stating that Anthon told Harris, after stating that the characters were correctly translated, that Harris should take care of himself to not be deceived. However, Anthon does indeed leave out Harris’ claim that Anthon affirmed the translation’s/transcription authenticity. As a side note, the language of W.W. Phelps and Harris in describing the plates has a clear connection to scholarly jargon, indicating that Anthon had influenced their thinking (i.e. the phrase "shorthand Egyptian," a 19th century term for Demotic know to scholarly circles, only appears once in the Mormon documentary record--in this account).

What were Harris’ motives for living a lie long after he had defected? He would have been much better off in the public arena had he denounced his BOM story. Sure, he would have been viewed as gullible. But being gullible is far different from being deluded.

Mike Parker said...

BYU Alter Ego:

I cannot seriously believe that you are claiming Harris went to Anthon, was told by the world's leading scholar in ancient languages that he was being deceived, and then immediately came home and mortgaged his farm to pay for the printing of the Book of Mormon. I mean, really now.

Three thousand dollars was a huge sum of money at that time, the equivalent of nearly $60,000 today. This was not a small personal loan — Harris was putting his entire farm and livelihood at stake here (and he eventually did lose the farm).

Martin Harris had struggled with this issue for years. He was unsure of the BofM translation from the beginning, and begged Joseph to see the plates or have some proof. He pleaded with Joseph to take the 116 pages home to show his family. He was far from being one who "believed strongly in the mystical" or lacked skepticism. When he finally saw the angel and the plates, he cried out, "'Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld!"

And he took that testimony to his grave, despite his public apostasy and excommunication in the late Ohio years.

I don't care if we don't have a first-hand account from Harris — his actions speak much, much louder than Anthon's words.

You are frankly grasping at straws here.

Anonymous said...

BYU Alter Ego: "So yes, he [Anthon] lied, but his lie is far less relevent to our discussion. He wouldn't have a reason to lie about the characters being false would he?"

Yes, he certainly would have reason to lie about the characters being false. That's the whole point. His name lending credibility to some magic bible would not earn him much prestige and admiration from colleagues. He had every reason to change his story regarding the validity of the characters and their translation.

So, what then is the motivation for Martin Harris to lie?

BYU Alter Ego: "Martin, and thus Joseph, on the other hand wanted to have validity for the Book of Mormon. This is the very thing we're questioning and thus is far more relevant."

First, there are two basic, conflicting versions of this event. Both are relevant.

If your argument was that Joseph was seeking validity, then you might have something. Martin Harris, however, had absolutely no personal responsibility for the ancient orgins of the characters nor accuracy of the translation of those characters. In fact, he spent much of the time leading up to this point doubting the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and generally the entire church's foundation. He feared he was possibly even being suckered. Your "reasonable answer" for his actions--

"Martin was a person who believed strongly in the mystical. There was a dearth of scepticism among the people at the time. He was enamored with the advent of Joseph and the BOM. He felt it was important obviously."

--doesn't jive with the real Martin Harris.

So then, let me try to piece this all together. Martin Harris has serious doubts regarding the church/Prophet, even fears that he is being duped, goes to Dr. Anthon, is told that the characters are pure jibberish and that Harris is being made a fool, goes home with renewed vigor and begins spreading lies that Anthon confirmed the validity of the characters and accuracy of the translation, and all this because he believed in "the mystical."

John: "Please don't ever bring this argument up again. It doesn't make you look very good-- and that's a shame, really, because you're such a smart person."

--John

BYU alter ego said...

Some final comments;

1. No one cares to address the issue of Martin's wife that I've brought up. Anyone who's married would know that a wife's problem becomes your problem.

It's just my opinion, but I see Martin's wife, whom he eventually separated from, having a lot to do with the situation. Is it really that hard to imagine that even before the 117 page affair that Martin wanted to believe, but faced resistance and THAT was the reason he resisted putting up the money?

2. I do see Martin making foolish, unskeptical decisions. Remember his time as a Strangite? A Whitmerite? A Bishopite? A Williamite? Before he died, after rejecting Brigham's leadership claim for decades, he moved to Utah where he died. Martin WAS lead about by every wind of doctrine.

Those here who have portrayed him as being somehow immune to foolishness and as being a critical thinker are blind.

3. We have what JOSEPH said about the affair, not Martin. This is CRITICAL. As such, we only know, as has been pointed out, that Martin did indeed take out the loan and provide the money.

4. The original objection raised here was that Anthon was inconsistent in his accounts, and thus was not credible.

I pointed out that the point he changed his story on was far less relevant than the real issue of the characters authenticity.

One could argue that like Harris, whatever mistakes Anthon made he still stuck to his story.

5. Also "blissfully" ignored is the fact that to this day no scholar has interpreted the characters.

At this point, that should tell you something.

So, for all appearances, Anthon was right, regardless of his motive.

The fact that what Anthon said, is consistent with reality ought to tip the scales a little in his favor.

Bookslinger said...

BYU,
Was it 117 pages? I've always read 116. Just a minor point.

That Martin went to Utah before he died bolsters his testimony of the Book of Mormon. That's also a point in favor of Joseph's/Martin's version of the Anthon affair.

That it was his wife who motivated him, or provided additional motivation for him to get a third party opinion of the characters seems logical, but has no bearing on anything that I can see.

I don't accept your assertion that Martin never gave his side of the Anthon meeting, and that the only description of it comes from Joseph. I'll have to look into that more. If Joseph's version of it was untrue, Martin certainly would have gone on record denying it during his period of being disaffected.

My understanding is that Martin left the church prior to Joseph's death, either to being disaffected, or being among those who thought he was a fallen prophet. Either way, I can see how that would lead to his confusion of who had succession of leadership after Joseph's death.

Martin _knew_ the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, having seen the angel and the plates. So even after Jospeh's death he knew that the divine authority for the church had to reside somewhere with someone. From what you said, it looks like he went looking for it, couldn't find it among the splinter groups, and finally concluded that it resided with Brigham and the 12 after all.

I did a web search on it, and it seems the original transcript of characters is lost, and the only thing related to it is supposedly a copy, that rearranged the characters into horizontal lines instead of vertical lines. There is no documented chain of possession from the original to the copy (which was at one time printed on a flyer, or broadsheet) to indicate whether it is a true copy of the original, or something someone did from memory.

I have to agree with those who say that Anthon had more reason to lie about the encounter than did Martin Harris. Martin committed his money to the Book of Mormon after the meeting. Anthon had his professional reputation to worry about, being associated with religious fanatics claiming angelic visitations who were going to claim his endorsement.

But, pretty much like the Bible, these things will never be proven in a temporal fashion. I think God arranged things that way on purpose. If there were proof, then faith would not be necessary.

Maybe you, or Chris/Andy is right, in that Mormon apologists really shouldn't waste time putting forth evidence of plausibility when what we really want is for people to seek spiritual confirmation. But I find it impossible to separate that from the more needed debunking of the so-called evidence against the Book of Mormon.

If antis would just stop misrepresenting and mischaracterizing the historical and archealogical record and stop trying to twist things into something they are not.

LDS apologists will never be able to "prove" things which positively affirm the Book of Mormon. However, I'm impressed how the apologists (Farms, Fair, etc.) consistenly knock down the alleged "proofs" against the BoM.

John said...

BYU Alter Ego: "3. We have what JOSEPH said about the affair, not Martin. This is CRITICAL."

Did you somehow overlook Walker's last post?

BYU Alter Ego: "1. No one cares to address the issue of Martin's wife that I've brought up. Anyone who's married would know that a wife's problem becomes your problem."

Mrs. Harris was extremely skeptical. I don't think anyone here will dispute that. By your post, you have just told us that, necessarily, Martin was skeptical as well. Having negetive comments and doubts constantly ringing in his ears certainly wouldn't bolster his faith any. From all accounts, Joseph provided AND otherwise, Martin's faith was teetering. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

BYU Alter Ego: "2. I do see Martin making foolish, unskeptical decisions. Remember his time as a Strangite? A Whitmerite? A Bishopite? A Williamite? Before he died, after rejecting Brigham's leadership claim for decades, he moved to Utah where he died. Martin WAS lead about by every wind of doctrine."

All his religious history shows is that he was seeking for something. The fact that he left all these organizations supports the historical record that states he was skeptical and filled with doubt. This does nothing to show why he might overlook a noted professor's mockery of something he doubted, only augments the confusion. Martin Harris, the man "lead about by every wind of doctrine" as you've put it, the man quick to leave organizations, sold his farm, renewed his faith, and bore testimony to the truthfulness of the record.

AE, this isn't adding up.

John said...

One other thing to note--

Martin Harris joined and left these different groups AFTER his supposedly sole source of doubt, Mrs. Harris, had left the picture. It looks to me that he was capable of being skeptical all on his own.

Anonymous said...

"If antis would just stop misrepresenting and mischaracterizing the historical and archealogical record and stop trying to twist things into something they are not."
Would you like some cheese with your whine?

Mike Parker said...

Would you like some cheese with your whine?

I can't understand people like anonymous who lob a stink bomb against Mormons then get offended when their efforts get criticized or when opponents fight back. Anonymous seems amused that someone would write a response criticizing the anti-Mormon position, yet they lobbed the first missile. What did s/he think? That no one would notice? That they could go on offense and never have to play defense?

Grow up.

John said...

My favorite part: s/he didn't leave a name. Classic.

Bookslinger said...

I'll take some brie and camembert, si vous plait.

Bookslinger said...

Just a notice that I'm going to change my display name to "Bookslinger."

Walker said...

So I'm assuming that this thread is dead?

Thanks, Anon.

Bookslinger said...

Interesting that the poseurs (antis pretending to be sincere members or investigators) have hit Millennialstar.

Anonymous said...

"I can't understand people like anonymous who lob a stink bomb against Mormons then get offended when their efforts get criticized or when opponents fight back."
Really where and when did I get offended?

Anonymous seems amused that someone would write a response criticizing the anti-Mormon position, yet they lobbed the first missile.
How do I seem amused? What did I say that made you think that? What first missle was lobbed by me?

You do realize that anyone can make anonymous posts. Not every one is by the same individual.

Mike, get over yourself. You are starting to sound a lot like that clod Bookslinger.

John said...

"You do realize that anyone can make anonymous posts. Not every one is by the same individual."

Want to know a great way to avoid confusion? Leave your name.

Although I've only started posting recently, I've read this blog since the first day it started. I want to get this out of my system: anonymous posts drive me insane. You never know who is who. Besides, it provides people the opportunity to say sensationalistic or sometimes even stupid things. They cannot be held responsible for their comments because nobody knows who they are. Then they are free to come right back and do it again. If confronted, "that was somebody else," or more recently, "You do realize that anyone can make anonymous posts. Not every one is by the same individual."

Anonymous posters:

Take responsibility for your comments. Have the guts to own up to everything you have said by posting as ONE person, not dancing around and playing games.

Samuel said...

The whole Ethan Smith thing is just amazing to me. Thanks goodness he isnt Joseph's 3rd cousin once removed like Oliver Cowdery. We would be in real trouble then. I mean, the lengths the anti-Mormon crowd will go to to try to discredit the BoM as opposed to try to answer the many evidences of its validity (which may give us good reason to think they can't.)

Take the whole Spalding controversy or the absolutely ludicrous suggestion that Sidney Rigdon helped write the BoM when he never even saw a copy until months after the Church was organized. Incredible.

It kind of reminds me of the Morgan Robertson book, "Futility, The Wreck of the Titan" which tells the story of an ocean liner (on her maiden voyage, I believe) striking an iceburg in April in the North Sea and sinking with heavy loss of life. Turns out they didn't have enough lifeboats. Now if the book had been written after the sinking of Titanic it would be an obvious rip off. But the book was written in 1898! Amazing coincedences, but it doesnt mean the guy necessarily "saw" the Titanic disaster in a vision or something, or certainly not that the disaster was orchestrated to fulfill the plot of his book. Just a series of strange coincedences. The world is full of them.

My personal opinion is a strange one, I am sure. I feel that with God preparing the way for the restoration of the 1st century Church, some people who might have had a strong connection with God might have gotten feelings about it. I know it sounds weird. Like Alexander Campbell beginning a movement desirous of restoring the Church of the 1st century (now called the Churches of Christ.) Funny that he did that at almost exactly the same time and that many of the early converts were members of his movement. They had been prepared in a way so to speak.

I am on heavy medication today so please forgive if none of this makes sense. Hehe.

Bookslinger said...

Maybe the builders of the Titanic took the fictional story of the Titan as their inspiration.

Bookslinger said...

And I still want to know if Walt Whitman ever read the Book of Mormon before he wrote Leaves of Grass.

Walker said...

Actually Samuel, your views aren't all that weird. Do we think the "and wise men have I raised up" principle only applies to the Constitution? I would venture to say that God gives as much revelation as he can, given the preparedness of people to receive it.

Of course, this is based off the priori assumption that Joseph is a prophet. Simple deductive logic, that's all.

Anonymous said...

L. Ara Norwood is a "he" by the way.