The Anthon Transcript (often identified with the "Caractors" document) is a small piece of paper on which Joseph Smith, Jr. wrote several lines of characters. According to Smith, these characters were from the Golden Plates (the ancient record from which Smith claims to have translated the Book of Mormon) and represent the Reformed Egyptian writing that was on the plates. In 1828, this paper was delivered to professor Charles Anthon, a well-known classical scholar of Columbia College, Columbia University, for an expert opinion on the authenticity of the characters and the translation. Some adherents to the Book of Mormon claim that Anthon attested to the characters' authenticity in writing to Martin Harris but then ripped up his certification after hearing the story of Joseph Smith and the plates. Critics claim that Anthon believed any idea of Reformed Egyptian was a hoax all along and that Harris was being deceived.
In 1980, Mark Hofmann created and sold a forgery of the Anthon Transcript to leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was revealed to be fraudulent when Hofmann's crimes were investigated.
Harris' account of his meeting with Anthon
In 1838, Joseph Smith related an account based on Harris' version of the meeting. Smith wrote that Anthon "stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. [Harris] then showed him those not yet translated, and said they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and that they were "true characters." According to the same account, Anthon provided Harris with a certificate as to the veracity of the characters but tore it up after learning the characters were copied from a book said to have been delivered by an angel.
Anthon's accounts of meeting with Harris
In 1834, Anthon stated in a letter that, "The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be 'reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics' is perfectly false...I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax...[Harris] requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving." Anthon stated in the letter (to a Mr. E.D. Howe on February 17, 1834) that the story of Anthon's authentication was false, that Anthon had identified the writings as a hoax, and that Anthon had told Harris that the writings were part of "a scheme to cheat the farmer [Martin Harris] of his money...." Anthon gave a second account in 1841 that contradicted his 1834 account as to whether or not he gave Harris a written opinion about the document: "[Harris] 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." However, in both accounts he maintained that he told Harris that he (Harris) was the victim of a fraud. Pomeroy Tucker, a contemporary of Harris and Joseph Smith, wrote in 1867 that all the scholars whom Harris visited "were understood to have scouted the whole pretense as too depraved for serious attention, while commiserating the applicant as the victim of fanaticism or insanity."
The Community of Christ possesses the handwritten slip of paper known as the Anthon Transcript. David Whitmer, who once owned the document, stated that it was this slip of paper that Martin Harris showed to Charles Anthon, as noted above. Both Mormon apologists and critics, however, claim that it is not certain that the document is the original, since Anthon had mentioned that the characters on the slip he saw were arranged in vertical columns and ended in a "rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Aztec calendar given by Humboldt," (1834) or "a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac" (1841). The symbols on the document were published twice in 1844, after Joseph Smith's death, as characters that had been copied from the gold plates, one of them in the December 21 issue of The Prophet.
The document is portrayed in the 2004 film The Work and the Glory.
- Smith, Jr., Joseph. Joseph Smith—History. LDS Church. Archived from the original on 26 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-29.
- E.D. Howe (1834). "Chapter XVIII". Mormonism Unvailed. Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press. pp. 269–274.
- Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 65-66.
- Holy Bible: Authorized King James Version. LDS Church. Archived from the original on 1 December 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-29.
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.
- Smith, Calvin N. (1983-07-17). "Charles Anthon, Reluctant Witness". Deseret News. Retrieved 2009-12-13.
In his 1841 letter, Anthon said that "no one until the present time has even requested from me a statement in writing."
- Howe, E. D. (1834-02-17). "Anton to E. D. Howe". Mormonism Unvailed. Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834..
- So What's the Difference?, p. 154-156, Fritz Ridenour, ed., Regal Books (1973).
- Danel W. Bachman (1992). "Anthon Transcript". Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Macmillan Publishing Company. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
- Tucker, Pomeroy (1867). Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism. New York: D. Appelton & Company. p. 42. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
- Jerome J. Kniujet (2000). "The Anthon Affair". Spalding Research Associates. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
In 1834 Anthon wrote that "[Harris] requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving." In 1841 he wrote that, "[Harris] 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."
- Johnson, Stan, and Polly Johnson. Translating the Anthon Transcript. Parowan, Utah: Ivory Books, 1999. xv. 112 p., ill. ISBN 1-890558-81-8