MORE ON THE SALAMANDER LETTER
On November 19, 1985, Brent Metcalfe, who worked as a historical researcher for Mark Hofmann, appeared on a television show broadcast by KUED. Mr. Metcalfe claimed he had new and important evidence which helped verify the Salamander letter. This was an inscription found in an 1830 printing of the Book of Common Prayer. Although the inscription is neither signed nor dated, Mr. Metcalfe claimed that Dean Jessess' preliminary analysis of it demonstrated that it is in the same handwriting that appears in the Salamander letter. There is a signature at the front of the book, but it is not that of Martin Harris. The signature it bears is that of Nathan Harris. Martin Harris' father was named Nathan and Martin's brother Emer also had a son by that name. The book has a date of "1833" written at the front and the words "Kirtland, Ohio." Both Martin Harris' father and his nephew were living during the year 1833. The inscription attributed to Martin Harris reads as follows: "If this book should wander and you this book should find please to kindly remember that what you hold is mine."
It has been claimed that Mormon-owned Deseret Book has had the book since the early 1970's and that Mark Hofmann could not possibly have had access to it until after the Salamander letter was discovered. In November 1985 Sandra and I had access to a good xerox copy of the inscription for a few minutes and agreed that the handwriting looked remarkably similar to that found in the Salamander letter. A photograph of this inscription has now been published by Dean Jessee in BYU Studies, vol. 24, no. 4, page 428. In the Salt Lake City Messenger, January 1986, I raised these questions concerning this purported inscription of Martin Harris:
"To begin with, if the inscription was really written by Martin Harris, why didn't he sign his name to it? It would be important, also, to know if Martin ever had the book in his possession. The inscription by the unknown hand says, 'this book...is mine.' It is claimed that the book actually came down through Emer Harris' descendants....
"However this may be, if the handwriting in the book is verified to be the same as that found in the Salamander Letter, investigators will have to take a very close look at the book itself to see if there are any signs of foul play. It is known that Mark Hofmann obtained this book from Deseret Book before the bombings. On KUED, Brent Metcalfe said that 'Mark had, in fact, purchased the book from Deseret Book who had it as early as 1971...' He also said that 'Mark Hofmann was, in fact, involved in the sale of it...' One person told us that Hofmann bought the book from Deseret Book in September 1985 and resold it to the Church Historical Department in October 1985. The reader will remember that September was the very month that Hofmann bought the papyrus from Mr. Rendell and broke it up for the purpose of deception.... I feel that this whole transaction is very suspicious. If I were a detective, I would want to take a close look at the book to see if a page has been removed or substituted at the back of the book.... The forger, of course, would not be able to add the signature of Martin Harris after the poem because it would give the whole scheme away. It would, however, at least give the impression that handwriting that looked like that in the Salamander letter had been found in a book which had a pedigree which could be traced to Harris' family. I do not, of course, know that this is what happened, but I feel that in view of what Mark Hofmann did to the papyrus, we must take a hard look at everything that passed through his hands."
In The State of Utah v. Mark W. Hofmann, page 6, the "Nathan Harris Book [of] Common Prayer" is listed as a forgery. According to that document, Mark Hofmann sold this book to the Mormon Church on "October 3, 1985." At the preliminary hearing, Curt Bench, of Deseret Book, told some circumstances surrounding the purchase of the book that sound very suspicious. He claimed that when he first showed the Book of Common Prayer to Mark Hofmann, Mr. Hofmann "offered to pay $50 for the book." Later, however, Hofmann indicated "that in going through the book he had found some Martin Harris handwriting in it." He then told Mr. Bench "he had been able to sell if for $2,000, and would offer us a thousand for it instead of the $50." Bench went on to testify that Hofmann "felt it would be a fair thing to let us know that he had sold it for more....and in good conscience would of course give us more money for it on that basis."
Since Mr. Hofmann was supposed to have made the discovery of the Martin Harris writing in the book, I can see no reason why he felt obligated to give half of the money to Deseret Book. Allen Roberts and Fred Esplin speak of Hofmann as having "a growing reputation as a shrewd bargainer of perhaps questionable scruples." (Utah Holiday, Jan. 1986, p. 54) This story hardly fits that image and also seems inconsistent with Hofmann's conduct with regard to the Salamander letter. There is no record of Mr. Hofmann sharing half ($20,000) with the person he supposedly bought the letter from. Lyn Jacobs said that Hofmann claimed he obtained it from William Thoman. Mark Hofmann not only refused to share any of the profit with Mr. Thoman, but he also neglected to even pay back the $60 he owed him. Instead he shared the profit with Lyn Jacobs. It would appear to me that Mark Hofmann was trying to impress Curt Bench with his honesty so that Bench would not become suspicious of the inscription. In any case, when Mr. Bench was asked what he knew about the writing in the back of the book when Deseret Book owned it, he could not remember exactly what was there: "I believe that I remember writing in the back, but I didn't pay much attention because there's nothing striking about it. I couldn't say absolutely what was there." Investigators found a woman by the name of Francis Magee who owned the book before Deseret Book obtained it. She testified as follows:
Q...Now these two pages. Was the writing that appears on those two pages in the book when you were given it by your mother-in-law?
QThat writing was not there?
QHow long did you have the book?
AFrom 1936 to 1973.
Although I do not think that this testimony by itself provides absolute proof that the Martin Harris inscription is a forgery, there is other evidence which makes the inscription highly questionable. George Throckmorton examined the ink in the purported Martin Harris inscription under ultraviolet light and found it "had a very distinctive purple color, which was different from any of the other ink that I've seen at that time and any of the other ink I found in the book itself..." Mr. Throckmorton examined the marks caused by water on the page which has the inscription and also "certain spots or marks that can be made by ink or other items...when they're left in contact with each other through the process of osmosis they actually will be incorporated on both pages." He found the water stains "were not consistent with the pages surrounding it." He went on to testify: "...this staining was not consistent with what should have been found. Not only on this page but also on the page immediately preceding it....it gave the appearance that either this page had been inserted or it had been removed at one time and later reinserted. I could not reach a definitive conclusion on that, but it's not consistent with the way it should have been." Throckmorton charged that the book "has been changed or altered somehow. I'm not certain the exact technique that was used, but...it is incongruous within itself...it's not consistent within itself."
In the Jan. 1986 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger (pages 16-19), 1 wrote the following:
"There is something else that I feel I must relate which casts a very bad light on the new discovery. That is that both Mark Hofmann and Brent Metcalfe previously claimed that there was a Book of Mormon inscribed with the longest known sample of Martin Harris' handwriting and also bearing his signature underneath it. Why, I ask, would they use an unsigned poem if an inscription bearing Harris' signature had been located?
"The inscription was originally mentioned by Mark Hofmann himself months before the Salamander Letter was supposed to have been discovered. The inscription was reported to have been found in an early edition of the Book of Mormon printed in England. Mr. Hofmann mentioned this matter to a scholar on May 8, 1983. This fact was recorded on a piece of paper that very day, and this piece of paper is still in existence. The remarkable thing about the conversation is that Mark Hofmann mentioned the contents of the inscription as containing a statement that Martin Harris had printed the Book of Mormon with his own money. This is a very important parallel to the Salamander Letter which has Harris writing about 'the book of Mormon which I had printed with my own money' "
"On December 10, 1983, which was after the discovery of the Salamander Letter, Mark Hofmann spoke to the same man about the inscription and the important parallel to the text of the Salamander Letter. In addition to this information being recorded in a contemporary note, I distinctly remember that it was relayed to me. From that time I looked forward to seeing the purported Martin Harris inscription.
"In November 1984, after Brent Metcalfe had worked for Steven Christensen as a historical researcher who was attempting to validate the Salamander letter, he came to my house and tried to convince me that my criticism of the Salamander Letter was of no value because he had in his possession a photocopy of Martin Harris' inscription in the early edition of the Book of Mormon printed in England. Mr. Metcalfe claimed that he had personally compared this with the Salamander Letter and found the handwriting to be identical. In the light of this evidence, he felt that I was foolish to continue criticizing the letter.
"When the Mormon History Association met in May 1985, I was expecting Dean Jessee to produce this inscription as his main piece of evidence. Instead, however, he showed slides of samples of Martin Harris's signature. Although he had one document containing four words and a signature supposed to have been written by Martin Harris, he did not use the longest inscription purported to be in Martin Harris' handwriting. I was disturbed that this inscription was missing and asked Brent Metcalfe about it. His reply was something to the effect that Jessee had not received it in time to include it in his study. I assumed, therefore, that it was going to be used later. After some time had passed, I asked Mr. Metcalfe again why Dean Jessee was still not referring to this inscription. He replied that Jessee felt that it was unwise to use a photocopy. He wanted to see the original book to be certain that it was not a forgery. Metcalfe said he had the information telling of the book's location at his home somewhere and was trying to locate it.
"On August 24, 1985, I directly asked Mark Hofmann concerning the inscription. He replied that he had never heard of it. I could not imagine that Hofmann would forget the very best evidence for the authenticity of the Salamander letter. In any case, the scholar Mr. Hofmann had spoken to on at least two occasions concerning the inscription was present during the conversation. Hofmann evidently remembered that he had told him the story, and his memory started to improve. He said that a man by the name of Jerry Kelly might be able to help me locate the book. Hofmann then asked me how I had learned about the inscription. I told him that Brent Metcalfe had told me he had a photocopy. For just a moment, Hofmann seemed to be angry. He regained his composure, however, and said that Mr. Metcalfe always shared with him but had not told him about the photocopy. I replied that Metcalfe was very reluctant to share anything with me, and yet he had told me about it. Later Metcalfe told me that Hofmann talked to him about his mentioning the photocopy to me. He did not reveal what Hofmann had said.
"After the bombings (Nov. 13, 1985), Brent Metcalfe came to our home again and tried to convince me of the authenticity of the Salamander Letter. I reminded him of the conversation we had had before about the Martin Harris inscription in the Book of Mormon. To my surprise (Sandra was also present during the conversation), Mr. Metcalfe completely denied that he had ever told me that he had a photocopy of it or had ever seen the inscription. He said that he was still looking for the notes which told where the original book was located. I was absolutely astounded at his answer. My first conversation with him concerning this subject is indelibly written on my mind. Mr. Metcalfe did, in fact, tell me that he had a photocopy and that he had personally compared it with the Salamander Letter and found that the handwriting was identical. He even spoke to me concerning the identical formation of one of the letters found in both documents. Furthermore, I asked him at that time if I could obtain a copy of his photocopy. His reply was that that would not be possible. His response on Nov. 13, 1985, was also contrary to what he told me in our third conversation on the subject. This was that Dean Jessee had said the photocopy could not be used for comparison. They would need to obtain the original book. I really do not know what the truth is about this matter. I feel, however, that there are three possible explanations as to why the purported inscription has not been brought to light.
"One, that it is a forgery that may not pass the critical examination of experts. Perhaps the proper ink was not used or the signature was not just right. It could even be possible that the inscription did not really appear in a book. All one would have to do is obtain a photocopy of the front portion of an early English printing of the Book of Mormon and then add an inscription on the photocopy. If the photocopy were then recopied, it (the second copy) would give the impression that the inscription was in the original book. If this were the case, no original book could be produced. This might explain why Mark Hofmann was upset that Brent Metcalfe had told me about the photocopy and why he had a talk with Metcalfe about the matter. Hofmann would have known that I would be pressuring him and the researchers to produce the original book so that the inscription could be verified. If no such book existed, it would put Hofmann in an embarrassing position. On the other hand, if the inscription does exist in a book and is a forgery which could be detected, it might destroy the Salamander Letter. The reason for this is that it was supposed to be in existence months prior to the discovery of the Salamander Letter, and there is no way that the forger of the inscription could have known what Harris' handwriting would have looked like. (The reader will remember that Mr. Metcalfe said the handwriting was identical.) It is interesting to note that Mark Hofmann claimed that when he was on his 'mission to Bristol, England, I bought several early copies of the Book of Mormon in old bookstores.' (Sunstone Review, September 1982, page 16)
"Two, it is possible, of course, that the inscription is really in a book and that it is a genuine Harris inscription. It could, in fact, have been used as a pattern to forge the Salamander Letter. If this were the case, the reason for suppressing the inscription would be that the larger the sample of real Martin Harris handwriting available to handwriting experts, the more likely they would be to detect the forgery....
"Even though Brent Metcalfe is very intelligent and knows a great deal about Mormon documents, he is not a handwriting expert. Mark Hofmann, therefore, could have shown him a photocopy of such an inscription without fear of detection. Turning the inscription over to a handwriting expert, however, would be an entirely different matter.
"Three, it is possible that no such inscription ever existed in a Book of Mormon and that Mr. Hofmann never had a photocopy. This explanation would not only cast doubt upon the honesty of both Metcalfe and Hofmann, but it would also present a serious problem to those who believe in the authenticity of the Salamander Letter. If the inscription does not really exist, then it is evident that Mark Hofmann was daydreaming about a Martin Harris inscription months before the Salamander letter was even discovered. Strange as it may seem, this imaginary inscription contained the same information about Harris publishing the Book of Mormon with his own money that was discovered later in the Salamander Letter. The serious implications of this matter cannot be ignored. If the inscription does not really exist, then one has to seriously consider the possibility that Mr. Hofmann himself could have created the text of the Salamander letter....
"Whatever the case may be, it is apparent that what should be the best evidence for the Salamander Letter (if it does, in fact, exist) is being covered up. Instead of bringing forth the signed inscription which also contains an important parallel to the Salamander Letter, Brent Metcalfe and Mark Hofmann have put forth a purported inscription which has neither a signature nor a date. Brent Metcalfe was the only full-time historical researcher who worked for Steven Christensen in authenticating the Salamander Letter. He later worked for Mark Hofmann. Mr. Metcalfe claims that somewhere in his material he has the information concerning the location of the Book of Mormon which has Harris' signed inscription in it. To me it seems incredible that a historical researcher would not spend the time to locate the most important evidence. I feel that both Brent Metcalfe and Mark Hofmann owe us an explanation." (Salt Lake City Messenger, January 1986, pages 16-19)
As I have shown in the first chapter of this book, the lack of provenance, or pedigree, for the Salamander letter has always bothered me. That fact that I made an issue of this matter caused Mark Hofmann some concern. He discussed this matter with Sandra on August 23, 1984, but he still did not reveal a source for the letter. Brent Metcalfe informed me that at one time Hofmann told him he was planning to come to my house and reveal what he knew about the letter's pedigree. This visit, of course, never took place.
The reader will remember that it was originally claimed that Lyn Jacobs bought the letter from a collector in New York. At the preliminary hearing, Jacobs testified that he had "fabricated" this story and that it was Mark Hofmann who obtained the letter from a dentist by the name of William Thoman in Cortland, N.Y. Mr. Jacobs admitted that he had never had any contact with Thoman:
Q...[had] you been to Mr. Thoman's place of business?
AI had never met the man.
Q...any contact at all with him over the phone or any other way?
Hofmann, as I have shown, could not have bought the letter from William Thoman in late 1983 as Jacobs maintained because he owed Dr. Thoman $60. Thoman claimed, in fact, that he did not deal with Hofmann after 1982. At the preliminary hearing, Jacobs showed a little uncertainty over whether he had actually given Thoman's name to Hofmann: "That was one name, I believe....I'm having a hard time remembering exactly how many names I gave him, but it seems to me that was one [of] them."
Some scholars have tried to construct a pedigree for the Salamander letter which extends back to a collector by the name of Royden Lounsbery who lived in Ithaca, New York. According to this theory, the letter passed from the Lounsbery estate to a collector by the name of Elwyn Doubleday. Mormon scholar Dean Jessee seemed to buy this theory:
"The Harris letter was obtained in 1983 by Lyn Jacobs, a Salt Lake City manuscript collector. Prior to that the letter had been in the possession of Elwyn Doubleday, a dealer in rare postal memorabilia, at Alton Bay, New Hampshire. According to Doubleday, the Harris letter was very probably a part of a large collection of New York handstamped letters he obtained in 1982." (BYU Studies, vol. 24, no. 4, page 404)
One of the most important links in Jessee's chain broke when Jacobs admitted he did NOT buy the letter, and the other link now appears to be very doubtful. In an article published in the Maine Antique Digest, April 1986, page 10-A, we find this information:
"Almost all of the Lounsbery estate material bore small penciled codes on the envelopes, consisting of Lounsbery's initials and a number denoting what he had paid for the item.
"In January, 1983, Elwyn Doubleday sold a large lot of this material to Dr. William Thoman....
"Elwyn Doubleday says, 'I'm 90 percent sure it [the Salamander letter] was in the batch I sold Thoman. Mark Hofmann called me in 1984 and said it had Lounsbery's penciled code on the cover. That inscription has since been erased...
" 'Hofmann's two associates, Rick Grunder and Lynn Jacobs, have both indicated to me that they felt the letter came from the Lounsbery estate, as have all L.D.S. church historians I've talked to. In the spring of 1985, the church sent out three historians to look at my inventory. They seemed certain I was the source of the letter. They were trying to develop a pedigree for it.
" 'In the middle of 1985, all hell broke loose. Hofmann held a symposium [the Sunstone Theological Symposium?] in Salt Lake and stated that the letter had come from me, through the Lounsbery estate. Then I got a letter from a law firm in Boise, Idaho, Hanson and Hanson, saying they were interested in any Mormon material I might have and could they visit me while they were back East to take in the B.Y.U.-B.C....football game.
" 'Three men showed up here that Saturday and looked at what I had in stock....I had a 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers autographed baseball on my desk and one of the men was openly very interested in it. I finally gave it to him.
" 'When the F.B.I. showed up here after the October murder in Salt Lake City, they asked me if I had given that baseball to one of the Hanson group. I said yes. They said that he wasn't a Hanson, that was Mark Hofmann in disguise, and one of the other men was his friend, Shannon Flynn.' "
If Mark Hofmann called Mr. Doubleday and told him that the Salamander letter once "had Lounsbery's penciled code on the cover," it must have been an afterthought. At the Sunstone Symposium, August 24, 1985, the theory of the Lounsbery markings was brought up by Marvin Hill. We discussed the matter with Mark Hofmann and Lyn Jacobs and they showed no knowledge whatever of the markings.
At one point Elwyn Doubleday appeared on a Salt Lake City television station and unreservedly stated that he had sold the Salamander letter for 20 or 25 dollars. Although I feel that Mr. Doubleday now believes that he sold the letter, when Wesley P. Walters asked him that same question back in 1985, Doubleday had no recollection of the matter. His memory seems to have got better as the letter became more widely known. In his interview in Sunstone, Lyn Jacobs admitted it would be difficult to even trace the Salamander letter to Mr. Doubleday:
SUNSTONE: If necessary, could you trace back the path the letter traveled before you found it?
JACOBS: Not effectively, no. The only time the origin of these letters becomes important is if they contain something valuableand by then it's almost too late....As troubling as that may seem to some people, that's simply the nature of the cover business.
"A TV report following the bombings broadcast Elwin Doubleday saying he had owned the Martin Harris letter at one time....No photograph or record was made of it, however, and so Doubleday can never be completely sure he had it. (Sunstone, vol. 10, no. 8, p. 16)
The original argument for the pedigree on the Salamander letter which historians latched onto was that it came from Lounsbery to Doubleday to Thoman to Jacobs. When Jacobs admitted that he "fabricated" the story that he obtained it, the pedigree was changed from Lounsbery to Doubleday to Thoman to Hofmann. Even this is not acceptable, however, because Thoman said he never sold Mark Hofmann anything after 1982, and he did not obtain the Lounsbery material until "January, 1983." (Maine Antique Digest, April 1986, p. 10-A) All the evidence now points to the unescapable conclusion that the Salamander letter has no provenance because it is a forgery.
In the Salt Lake City Messenger, Jan. 1986, p. 7, I told of a report which I had received concerning "a gettogether which occurred late one night after a meeting of the Sunstone Symposium, [at which] Hofmann and Jacobs talked freely about the sale of both the 1825 letter and the Salamander letter. The letter attributed to Joseph Smith was sold to President Hinckley for a large sum of money. At that time Hinckley was supposed to have said that it would never see the light of day again. Later the Salamander letter was offered to Hinckley for $100,000 which was to be paid for in one hundred dollar bills. Hinckley rejected the offer. He said that word had leaked out about the 1825 letter and that the General Authorities had decided against continuing to buy up the documents."
A scholar who was actually present when these statements were made has contacted me. He claims that while there was a meeting late one night which he attended, the majority of the information was derived from a dinner held at the Sunstone Symposium. Mark Hofmann was not present at the table, but Lyn Jacobs gave out the information he had learned from Hofmann. Jacobs also told of his attempt to sell President Hinckley the Salamander letter. The scholar who was present claims that the statement that "the Salamander letter was offered to Hinckley for $100,000 which was to be paid for in one hundred dollar bills" contains an error. While the amount is correct, the statement should read "unmarked bills" instead of "one hundred dollar bills." He felt that Jacobs implied that this strange request was for income tax purposes. In his testimony at the preliminary hearing, Lyn Jacobs did not mention asking $100,000 cash, but he did say that he was willing to receive a gold coin the Church owned which was worth "60,000 to over 100,000 dollars":
QDid you and Mr. Hofmann have a discussion as to what to do with the document?
QWhat did you decide upon?
AWe had decided to offer it to the LDS Church....
QWho was going to make the offer?
AI was going to make it.
AMark had asked me to take full responsibility for the letter at that time because he did not want the publicity that...would surround it....
QSo Mark was the one who acquired the letter; now he wanted you to take responsibility for it?
AThat is correct. Based on his understanding of my partial ownership of it.
QNow, that responsibility includes what?
AOkay, I was
QMerchandising the item?
A...I didn't really know what to do with it exactly and I was going under his instructions. However, basically, my part in it was to present the letter and he turned the letter over to me and said, "It is now 100% yours to do with as you wish." And at that point I said, "Okay. That's fine. Well, now, tell me what you think I should do." And so I was to present it and I was also [to] represent it as the full owner since he had given that to me and had turned it over to me as the full owner.
QDid you enter into a contract at that time?
AWe had a verbal contract.
QDid you discuss the value of the letter and what it would be sold for?
AWe had some estimations that we had discussed. We did not know how much it would sell for.
QWhat are the estimations?
AOh, monetary value, anywhere between 20 and 60 thousand.
QHe bought it for around $25 and you were going to ask 25- to 60,000 dollars?
AThat is correct. Based on its content.
QSo the content was pretty important?
AAnd its historical importance. Yes.
. . . . .
QWhat arrangements were made as far as splitting the proceeds, if there were a sale?
AAt that time, we didn't discuss that in detail. He said it would be a smaller portion than, of course, he would receive for it because it was, he had the major portion of the ownership.
. . . . .
QDid he tell you where to try to sell it?
AWell, he suggested that the First Presidency of the LDS Church would be the first place and I agreed because I really had no other alternatives in mind since I don't know the market for covers, basically.
QWho did you go to first?
AI...went directly to President Hinckley. No, that's not true. I showed it to Donald Schmidt and Homer Durham at the Church Historian's Office first.
. . . . .
QWhat did you tell Mr. Hinckley about the document?
AI told him basically that it had been located in New England.
. . . . .
Q...at that time, were you representing that you were the one who found the document and bought it or were you representing that it was Mark Hofmann that found _______?
AI was representing that I owned it at that time.
. . . . .
QDid you show it to him?
AI did and he read it.
QWhat else did you tell Mr. Hinckley?
A...he had suggested to me that he was interested, and he said, "Well, what shall we do about it?" or something to that effect. And I said, "This is what I would like."
QWhat did you tell him you would like for the document?
AI said, "I think that something within reason would be perhaps one of the gold coins that was minted early in the state of Utah."
QDo you know the value of that, monetary wise?
AIt runs anywhere from perhaps 60,000 to over 100,000 dollars.
QSo you're starting off pretty good.
A...Why not? I was shooting in the dark anyway.
QWhat was his reaction?
AHe sat there for a second and thought it was a little high and I probably did too.
QDid you make a counter offer?
A...I suggested, "Well, why don't we go with one of the Book of Commandments...
. . . . .
QAnd what was his response to that?
AHe said that he wasn't really sure, at that point, whether he really and honestly thought that it would be useful to purchase the document at that point....
QDid that terminate your discussion?
ABasically....I did mention to him, I said, "Well, perhaps Brent Ashworth would be interested since he has purchased some of these sorts of things in the last little while." And I did mention to President Hinckley that perhaps Brent would be willing to donate it or something to the Church and President Hinckley said, "Well, that's a possibility." And that basically ended our conversation.
One of the most mysterious things about the Salamander letter is its relationship to the Oliver Cowdery history. On April 6, 1830, the very day the Mormon Church was organized, the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a revelation in which he was commanded to see that a history of the Church was kept: "Behold, there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1)
Book of Mormon witness Oliver Cowdery was appointed to keep this history. Joseph Fielding Smith, who later became the 10th President of the Church, claimed that the Historian's Office had preserved this important history:
"Oliver Cowdery was the first one appointed to assist Joseph in transcribing and keeping a history of the Church; John Whitmer took his place, when Oliver was given something else to do. We have on file in the Historian's Office the records written in the hand writing of Oliver Cowdery, the first historian, or recorder of the Church." (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2, page 201)
In 1961 we tried to get the Church to make Cowdery's history and other documents available. We were informed in a letter by the Assistant Church Historian, however that Joseph Fielding Smith was "not interested in the project you have in mind." In our book, Mormonism, Magic and Masonry (published 22 years after our request was turned down), we reported that the Cowdery history could provide important information on the relationship of Mormonism and Magic:
"We have been told that there is a very important document being suppressed which may relate to the involvement of the early Mormon leaders in magic. This is the history of the Church written by Oliver Cowdery....
"We understand that a number of documents which were originally stored in the Church Historian's Office were later moved to the vault of the First Presidency. This was undoubtedly done to keep them out of the hands of the public. The Mormon leaders were especially concerned about this matter when Dr. Leonard J. Arrington became Church Historian. In any case, we understand that the Cowdery history of the Church...is now located in the First Presidency's vault. At one time an inventory was made of what was contained in the vault. When the Cowdery history was opened, it was discovered that it contained MAGIC CHARACTERS!...Since Cowdery's history is supposed to go back to the time Joseph Smith found the plates, it may contain many things that would be embarrassing to the Church." (Mormonism, Magic and Masonry, pages 43 and 46)
We heard nothing more of any importance concerning the Cowdery history until May 15, 1985, when we read this startling headline in the Salt Lake Tribune, "Researcher Says LDS History Disputes Golden Plates Story." In the article we find the following information:
"A little-known history written by an important early Mormon leader contains an account of Joseph Smith's brother Alvin finding the gold plates, rather than the Mormon prophet himself, according to a research historian.
"An LDS spokesman will neither confirm nor deny the contents of the history....
"Brent Metcalfe, who worked on authenticating an earlier Mormon letter, said officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the history, written by Oliver Cowdery, who at one time was second in importance only to Joseph Smith....
"Mr. Metcalfe quoted the document as saying: 'A taunting Salamander appears to Alvin and prevents him and his companions from digging up the gold plates.'...
"Traditional accounts of the founding or 'restoring' of the LDS Church tell of heavenly visitations from angels, rather than salamanders. A cornerstone of Mormonism is the belief that Joseph Smith, not his older brother Alvin, found the gold plates....
"LDS spokesman Jerry Cahill said the LDS Historical Department does not have the Cowdery history. He said he would not ask members of the church's ruling First Presidency if the history is locked up in a special presidency's vault.
"When asked about references to a Cowdery history in a book written by former President Smith, Mr. Cahill said he assumes the church has the history but it is no longer in the church's Historical Department.
" 'I don't intend to respond to every report or rumor of documents in the First Presidency's vault,' said Mr. Cahill. I have no idea if the history is there, nor do I intend to ask. I can't have my life ordered about by rumors. Where does it end?...
"Mr. Cahill said he has no way of 'confirming or denying rumors,' and he will 'not pursue the matter' of the Cowdery history."
In the Salt Lake City Messenger, June 1985, p. 3, we commented:
"In not making the Cowdery history available the Mormon Church finds itself in a cover-up situation. According to the Doctrine and Covenants, God Himself instructed Joseph Smith that 'there shall be a record kept among you;...' It hardly makes any sense for the Mormon leaders to say that God commanded the history to be kept and then lock it up in a vault so that no one can read it. We have always suspected that this history provides no support for Joseph Smith's First Vision of 1820, and it has recently been reported that it does not support the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood by Peter, James and John.
"In any case, the cover-up situation the Mormon Church finds itself in is reminiscent of the Watergate scandal....
"The 'Salamandergate' cover-up even has its own 'Deep Throat'that mysterious and unidentified person who had access to Nixon's secrets and leaked them to the press. Only a very limited number of people could have had access to the material in the vault of the First Presidency. It is reported that Brent Metcalfe will not name his source for fear that he will get the individual into trouble with the Church."
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1985, John Dart reported that the individual who had seen the Cowdery history allowed himself to be interviewed:
"Now an allegation is being made that the church possesses a 150-year-old handwritten history that claims that it was the church prophet's older brother, Alvin, who actually found the golden plates....
"Church officials here have been vague in their response to questions about whether they have the history,....A highly reliable source told the Times in an interview here, however, that he has viewed it in the church's headquarters.
"The source, who insisted on anonymity in order to preserve his standing in the church, said the Cowdery history and the role it gives Alvin Smith lend further credibility to the documents disclosed earlier, which portray Joseph Smith's involvement in occult methods to find hidden treasures without any references to religious events so familiar to present-day Mormons....
"Church Spokesman Jerry Cahill...said, 'I presume (they are) in the possession of the First Presidency' because they are not in the history department archives....A First Presidency staff member had no comment....
"The source interviewed by The Times described the Cowdery history as a book bound partly in leather, with marbled cardboard covers measuring about 8 inches by 10 inches in width and height and between half an inch and three-quarters of an inch thick. The pages are lined, he said.
"The source said he decided to be interviewed about the history because the Cowdery documents provide corroboration for the salamander references in the Harris letter, which some Mormons are claiming is a forgery.
" 'I don't remember the exact wording, but it said that Alvin located the buried gold with his seer stone,' he said. 'I remember clearly that it was not a private venture. Alvin had other people with him, including Joseph.
" 'There was no mention of a dream beforehand,' he said. The salamander appeared on three occasions, once to Alvin and twice to Joseph, he added....
" 'Conspiracy may be a bad word to use,' said the source who claims to have seen the Cowdery book, 'but there must have been some sort of agreement that Joseph is the new seer now that Alvin is gone. Certainly the family and Oliver Cowdery knew. I can't imagine that any more knew, because it's an important aspect of the founding of the Church and it hasn't come down in other histories that we know of.'...Mormon historian Ronald Walker of Salt Lake City said in an interview,...'What we need is to get the church to release it, if the church has it.' " (Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1985)
In the Salt Lake City Messenger for August 1985, we suggested that it was possible that Mark Hofmann himself might be the mysterious "Deep Throat":
"As far as we know, Brent Metcalfe and John Dart are the only ones who know who the individual is who saw the Cowdery history. Dart's article makes it clear that we are dealing with a man, and The Universe for May 16, 1985, informs us that he is one of Brent Metcalfe's friends....Brent Metcalfe was at one time a security guard for the Mormon Church and had a number of friends in the Church Office Building. Besides these contacts, it is reported that Metcalfe is well acquainted with Mark Hofmann....There is evidence that Mark Hofmann has had special access to the First Presidency's vault. (As we pointed out earlier, only the most trusted individuals can see documents from that vault.) On September 28, 1982, the 7th East Press reported that since the discovery of the Anthon transcript, Hofmann has 'enjoyed privileged access to otherwise restricted Church archive material, including the First Presidency's vault. One reason for this privileged access, Hofmann thinks, is the fact that 'I am not a historian. I'm not going to write an expose of Mormonism." Through his discoveries and knowledge of documents, Mr. Hofmann has worked himself into the innermost circle of Mormon historians. He says that 'The real reward in the whole business is being able to see things that no one else knows about. It gives me a kick to know that this is original stuff, that no one else on earth has pieced this together or knows what this says. So there's the pleasure. It's like being a detective." (Sunstone Review, September 1982, page 17)"
On a number of occasions when people have asked me what documents the Church is suppressing, I have indicated that the Cowdery history is a very important item which should be examined. Although I do not have a specific recollection of the incident, one scholar claims that at one time Mark Hofmann told him that he was going to have access to the First Presidency's vault and he wanted to know what to look for. According to this scholar, he asked me what items would be important, and I replied that the Cowdery history would be one item he should try to get access to. This information was then relayed to Mr. Hofmann.
It is interesting to note that the Los Angeles Times says that the anonymous individual decided "to be interviewed about the history because the Cowdery documents provide corroboration for the salamander references in the Harris letter,..." If Mark Hofmann is the mysterious "Deep Throat," it would make sense that he would try to stifle criticism of the Salamander letter buy telling of its relationship to the Cowdery history. One interesting parallel between the Salamander letter and the account given by "Deep Throat" of the discovery of the gold plates in the Cowdery history is that the word "plates" is missing in both. The Salamander letter says that the "old spirit" told Joseph Smith to "dig up the gold." The anonymous source claimed that the Cowdery history "said that Alvin located the buried gold."
There are now at least two different theories with regard to the Cowdery history. One is that it actually mentions salamanders appearing to the Smith family and that the individual who forged the Salamander letter had access to this information and incorporated it into the letter. Since hardly anyone but the top leaders of the Mormon Church could have known about the contents of the Cowdery history, the mention of a Salamander in the Harris letter would tend to convince them of the letter's authenticity. The second theory is that the Cowdery history does not really mention salamanders at all but that the contents would still be so devastating to the Church that it cannot be released. If Mark Hofmann is the "Deep Throat," he could have capitalized on this situation by falsely claiming that the Cowdery history mentioned salamanders. This, of course, would bring forth a great deal of support for the Salamander letter from scholars, and Hofmann could have rested in the fact that the Mormon leaders would not dare bring forth the Cowdery history to refute the charge because its presence could do irreparable damage to the Church.
Whatever the case may be, Church spokesman Jerry Cahill finally admitted that the Church does, in fact, have the Cowdery history. In an Associated Press story, Michael White reported:
"Church spokesman Jerry Cahill said that Cowdery's history had been in the church's possession since around 1900 and probably is locked away in the private vault of the governing First Presidency.
"But Cahill said he did not know whether it contained the information described by Metcalfe, and he would not try to find out.
" 'Frankly, I don't intend to raise the question. Obviously, it's in the possession of the church, but what shelf it is on I don't know,' he said.
"He would not speculate on whether the First Presidency would make the history available for study." (The Oregonian, May 21, 1985)
If the forger of the Salamander letter did not get the idea of including a salamander from the Cowdery history, there are other writings that could have suggested this idea. For instance, in the Salt Lake City Messenger for Jan. 1985, p. 7, I wrote the following:
"After reading the letter attributed to Martin Harris, I became very interested in the reason why it was a 'salamander' that was transformed into a 'spirit.' I found that salamanders are connected to magic and money-digging. The word salamander is defined in one dictionary as 'a spirit supposed to live in fire; an elemental spirit in Paracelsus' theory of elementals.' (For more information on this subject see The Money-Digging Letters, page 13.) I spent a great deal of time trying to find the word 'salamander' in literature connected with Mormonism. I was not successful, however, until I examined an unpublished manuscript by A. C. Lambert which is found in the Western Americana Department of the University of Utah Library. In this work of over 400 pages, Dr. Lambert claimed that people in Joseph Smith's time were aware of the four elemental spirits. He then stated that " 'salamanders' were to be placated and made helpful or were to be defeated and put under control." (page 76) If this statement had appeared in some other work, I might have considered it as evidence for the Salamander letter. As it is, however, it makes me even more suspicious of the letter's authenticity. This manuscript happens to be written concerning Martin Harris and is entitled, 'A study That Gives Some Special Attention to Martin Harris.' It is the very type of manuscript that someone making up a letter concerning Harris would want to read for background material."
I have since been told that Mark Hofmann did quite a bit of research in manuscripts at the University of Utah Library. Since Lambert did a great deal of research on Martin Harris and the Anthon transcript, his writings would have been of interest to Mr. Hofmann.
Another possible explanation for the appearance of a white salamander in the Martin Harris letter might be that the forger read E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Golden Flower Pot," which was reprinted by Dover Publications in 1967 in the book, THE BEST TALES OF HOFFMANN. This is the story about "the Student Anselmus" who worked for "Archivarus Lindhorst." In this tale a rope magically turns into a "white serpent" and attacks Anselmus (page 12). This is similar to the portion of the Salamander letter which tells of a "white salamander" that transforms itself into a spirit and strikes Joseph Smith three times. The Salamander letter speaks of "the old spirit." The tale of Hoffmann refers to the "old earth-spirit" (page 29). Archivarus Lindhorst is also referred to as "the Old One" (Ibid.). As it turns out, the Archivarus was originally "a Salamander" in the "Fairyland Atlantis" (page 45). As punishment for his folly in Atlantis, the Salamander was turned into a man. Anselmus fell in love with the Archivarus' daughter who was a "green snake." On page 57 of The Best Tales of Hoffmann, Anselmus commented: "But of course you do not believe in the Salamander, or the green snake." The whole story is filled with magic, and at one point Anselmus tells a witch that "the Salamander will catch you, you vile beet!" (Ibid., p. 58)
Since E.T.A. Hoffmann originally wrote this tale in German in the early 19th century, some people have suggested that Joseph Smith may have heard about it. If there is a connection between the Salamander letter and the tale of Hoffmann, it would seem more likely that it came through the paperback edition of The Best Tales of Hoffmann, which was printed in 1967.
Although I do not know whether Mark Hofmann traces his roots from E.T.A. Hoffmann (Mark Hofmann only has one f in his name), the name Hoffmann on the cover probably would have caught his attention.
While a salamander is not mentioned in any early history of Mormonism, there seems to be some basis for the story that some type of a transformation occurred at the Hill Cumorah and that Joseph Smith was struck by the spirit or angel. I have already mentioned the fact that E.D. Howe said Joseph Smith "saw a toad, which immediately transformed itself into a spirit and gave him a tremendous blow." (Mormonism Unvailed, page 276) This seems to be Howe's paraphrase of an affidavit given by Willard Chase. Chase claimed that Joseph Smith's father told him the story. Chase said that the creature which transformed itself looked "something like a toad" (Ibid., page 242) Mormon scholar D. Michael Quinn has noted that a toad is also mentioned in an 1884 interview with Benjamin Saunders. In a typed copy of this interview, we find the following:
"I was acquainted with the old man Smith and all the boys and girls....They were good workers by days work...I heard Joe tell my Mother and Sister how he procured the plates. He said be was directed by an angel where it was He went in the night to get the plates. When he took the plates there was something down near the box that looked some like a toad that rose up into a man which forbid him to take the plates." (Interview with Benjamin Saunders, RLDS Research Library, typed copy)
Joseph Smith's mother did not speak of the toad, but she does relate that when Joseph tried to take the gold plates from the box, "he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence." (Joseph Smith's History by His Mother, photomechanical reprint of the original 1853 edition, page 86)
One thing that is interesting to note concerning the Salamander affair is the reaction of Mormon apologists and the way some of them tried to make the appearance of a salamander an acceptable part of the "gospel." Instead of simply admitting that the Martin Harris letter contained some devastating material which put the Church in a very poor light, there was an attempt to smooth over the whole matter. In a memorandum, dated Oct. 2, 1985, and distributed to men in important positions in the Church Educational System, we find the following:
"As we begin teaching the history of the Church and the Doctrine and Covenants this year, questions may arise in the classroom regarding recent press reports about two old letters [i.e., the Salamander letter and the 1825 Joseph Smith letter]....We urge you to read these materials as soon as possible, and where appropriate provide copies of these materials to the full-time seminary and institute of religion teachers under your charge. These items are not to be distributed to students, but are for the benefit of teachers as they are called upon to answer the questions of students. It is not intended that this information be taught in the classroom. We do not believe that many seminary students are intensely interested in this subject. Thus, we would suggest that teachers not discuss the issue unless there is an honest and sincere inquiry."
While the memorandum indicates that the information concerning the letters is not to be "taught in the classroom," it turns right around and states: "Some of the media stories have implied that these recent discoveries will challenge and undermine the faith of the Latter-day Saints. This review on the other hand will show that a correct understanding of the context of these letters will not undermine faith, but rather strengthen it."
Before the Mormon scholar Rhett S. James became persuaded the Salamander letter was not authentic, he made the astounding claim that the portion of the Harris letter concerning the salamander transforming itself into an "old spirit" could be reconciled with Joseph Smith's story of the visit of the Angel Moroni:
"The so-called 'Martin Harris letter' is no repudiation of Joseph Smith, but rather probably is a further witness of the Prophet's own account of the discovery of the golden plates.
"This is the feeling of historian Rhett S. James of Logan, Utah....
"James who received a bachelors degree in history from Washington State University, said it is the salamander imagery that intrigues him. 'If you look the word up in the Oxford Dictionary, it has many uses and meanings not known in the modern world, not just the amphibian we think of today.'
"According to James, the salamander's somewhat magical connotation began in 16th century Germany, when people noticed that salamanders, which hid inside old logs, ran out of them when the logs were put on the fire.
" 'By the time of Martin Harris, the word salamander also meant angel. It also referred to brave soldiers who would run into the heat of battle,' James said. 'The bravest soldiers in the French Revolution were known as salamanders.'
"In regards to the reference purported in the letter that the 'old spirit' prevented him from obtaining the plates, James said, 'Joseph Smith's own account was that the family was very poor, and he originally looked on the plates as possible monetary gain. But when he reached for them, the angel Moroni chastened him for that thought." (Deseret News, Church Section, September 9, 1984)
The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, an organization devoted to presenting a defense of Mormon claims, published a great deal of foolishness on the subject of the Salamander letter. In a sheet entitled, Moses, Moroni, and the Salamander, we find the following:
"Martin Harris' letter...has dismayed some people. Harris talks of a 'white salamander' which was 'transfigured' into 'the spirit' otherwise known to us as the Angel Moroni. We may never know whether this description was an embellishment on the part of Harris, or an allegory employed by Joseph Smith, or whether Moroni somehow chose to appear to Joseph out of, or in the form of, a salamander. But since Phelps joined the Church after reading Harris' letter, he must not have found the allusion to a salamander very disconcerting. In fact, as new research is showing, the salamander has been thought for millennia to have supernatural and extraordinary powers....Moreover, salamanders were associated with the voice of God and with the Holy Ghost! From Midrash Ex. Rabbah XV.28 on Exodus 12, we find that the rabbis of the 9th Century A.D. and before believed that 'God had to show Moses four things with his finger because he was puzzled by them.' one of these things God showed Moses on Mt. Sinai was the salamander:...Not all salamanders were good, however. The poisonous ones are 'spectacularly colored' with bright spots on a dark background.... They were linked with evil spirits. But the non-poisonous good ones were white or grey-brown.
"Obviously, much has changed culturally since 1830. Some of us may wince at the suggestion that an angel of God should be associated with, or described as, a salamander. But to people then, no image or description would better fit the appearance of a brilliant white spiritual being, once a valiant soldier, now dwelling in a blazing pillar of light, shockingly pure and glorious, speaking with the voice of God while flying through the midst of Heaven, than the salamander! Moroni should be flattered....
"Still, it was predictable that people would not understand this. The Lord apparently knew this would happen. In 1829, God commanded Harris not to try to describe things which he had not personally witnessed:... Harris seems to have overstepped his commission here when he wrote to Phelps in 1830."
In 1985 the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (F.A.R.M.S.) published a 28-page preliminary report entitled, "Why Might a Person in 1830 Connect an Angel with a Salamander?" In this report we find the following:
"Martin Harris'...talk of a 'spirit' that 'transfigured himself' from a 'white salamander' has dismayed some people. They feel that any involvement of a salamander in divine matters is at least unseemly, smacks of occultism rather than divine revelation, and is surely without precedent....in Rosicrucian and alchemical thought, the salamander, a 'fierey man, lived in ethereal fire surrounding a glorious throne, could father gods or demigods, and was able to appear as a flaming giant (in robes and armor, no less).
"Renaissance metallurgist and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini's father showed him in an unforgettable manner 'a salamander' in an intense furnace in their home.
"As a symbol of fire the salamander was considered one of the four fundamental constituent elements of nature (materia prima), used by alchemists in attempts to make gold...the complex of meanings and connotations surrounding the salamander make it a remarkably appropriate cognitive and spiritual summary of Moroni the Angel. The reader can draw many parallels between the foregoing materials and the descriptions of the Angel Moroni....As a messenger from God, Moroni could be said also to dwell in fire around His throne. This point alone might have readily spawned a connection between Moroni and the salamander. Moroni's association with gold (the plates) is obvious and may also be relevant here." (pages 1, 5, 7-8)
In a paper written for Sunstone Theological Symposium, Reston, Virginia, May 18, 1985, Glenn Willett Clark argued that the Angel Moroni could be identified as a white salamander:
"A salamander is, quite simply, a being that can reputely endure fire....
"But, you may say: Is not the salamander a mere amphibian, cousin to a newt, slimy and lizard-like, offensive, if innocuous, and not at all the subject of scripture?...was it not a brazen serpent, finely wrought in brass, that Moses lifted up to heal the Children of Israel? (Numbers 21:8)...This 'fiery serpent' was the first such salamander in the scriptures...
"Those faithful and courageous young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, could endure the firethey were salamanders. The eternal spirit who came to sustain them could endure the firehe was a salamander....Plainly, the least interesting sort of sal[a]mander (having no relation to the core image and the eternal message) is a small amphibian, invariably dark, that inhabits hidden and rotten places. I trust we have it in mind to join the one species of salamanderbut not the other....It is our hope, of course, that, when we 'grow up,' we may, salamander-like, live in eternal flame....
"The 'white salamander' Joseph Smith saw in 1823 was named Moroni. No two words then in the English language could better have conveyed a more readily comprehensible report than those words likely didwords used in Martin Harris' now-famous letter of October 23, 1830 (" 'My Son, The Salamander,' as Mrs. Mormon might have said!," pages 1, 3-4, 11-12)
In the Church Section of the Mormon newspaper, Deseret News, June 2, 1985, the following was printed:
"The recently discovered Martin Harris letter published in the Church News April 28 has shed new light on an old controversy. The letter adds evidence to support Harris' account of his interview with Prof. Charles Anthon, according to researchers at the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS)....
"Researchers at the foundation say that a little-noticed paragraph toward the end of the letter includes an unusual termshort hand Egyptianto describe the characters copied from the Book of Mormon....
"John W. Welch, president of the foundation, said the phrase 'short hand Egyptian' is a scholarly term that Harris probably would not have learned on his own.
" 'The phrase almost certainly came from Anthon,' declared Welch. 'It is a very precise term that was used by scholars in the 1820s and would have been known to just a few students of ancient languages. While Anthon was part of that scholarly community, it is highly unlikely that the phrase was part of Harris' vocabulary.' '
The Foundation For Ancient Research and Mormon Studies reported that it had found "further evidence in favor of the authenticity of the [Salamander] letter" in the portion of the letter which mentioned short hand Egyptian. (Why Might a Person in 1830 Connect an Angel With a Salamander? page 1, footnote 1) Actually, the appearance of the words "short hand Egyptian" in the Salamander letter did not help establish its authenticity. On the contrary, it only demonstrates that the forger of the letter plagiarized these words from a letter by W.W. Phelps which was published in Mormonism Unvailed, p. 273.
At any rate, even Apostle Dallin Oaks tried to equate the white salamander with the Angel Moroni:
"Another source of differences in the accounts of different witnesses is the different meanings that different persons attach to words. We have a vivid illustration of this in the recent media excitement about the word 'salamander' in a letter Martin Harris is supposed to have sent to W.W. Phelps over 150 years ago. All of the scores of media stories on that subject apparently assume that the author of that letter used the word 'salamander' in the modem sense of a 'tailed amphibian.'
"One wonders why so many writers neglected to reveal to their readers that there is another meaning of 'salamander,' which may even have been the primary meaning in this context in the 1820s. That meaning,...is 'a mythical being thought to be able to live in fire.' Modern and ancient literature contain many examples of this usage. For examples see the research notes by F.A.R.M.S., circulated at this symposium.
"A being that is able to live in fire is a good approximation of the description Joseph Smith gave of the Angel Moroni:... Since the letter only purports to be Martin Harris' interpretation of what he had heard about Joseph's experience, the use of the words white salamander and old spirit seem understandable.
"In view of all this, and as a matter of intellectual evaluation, why all the excitement in the media, and why the apparent hand-wringing among those who profess friendship or membership in the Church?...
"Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local....Evil-speaking of the Lord's anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true....
"The Holy Ghost will not guide or confirm criticism of the Lord's anointed, or of Church leaders, local or general....
"Our individual, personal testimonies are based on the witness of the Spirit, not on any combination or accumulation of historical facts. If we are so grounded, no alteration of historical facts can shake our testimonies." ("1985 CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium," Brigham Young University, Aug. 16, 1985, pages 22-26)
Ironically, just two months after Apostle Oaks gave this controversial speech he found himself being criticized because of his role in the Mark Hofmann affair. In any case, the fact that Mormon apologists would try so desperately to make the Church look good that they completely ignored the obvious implications of the letter makes one wonder just how far they would go in their defense of the Church. Now that the salamander crisis has passed, it is doubtful that faithful Mormons will continue to speak of the Angel Moroni as a salamander or extol the virtues of salamanders. The Martin Harris letter will fade out of view, and unless the Cowdery history is found to contain salamanders, the "white salamander" will gradually cease to be a topic of conversation. Nevertheless, the problem concerning the relationship of Joseph Smith to magic and money-digging will remain. A number of the Mormon Church's most prominent scholars have stated that even without the Salamander letter or the 1825 Joseph Smith letter, the Church must face up to Joseph Smith's involvement in the occult. In the Oct. 2, 1985, memorandum sent to leaders in the Church Educational System, we find these comments:
"Even if the letters were to be unauthentic, such issues as Joseph Smith's involvement in treasure-seeking and folk magic remain. Ample evidence exists for both of these, even without the letters. The publicity surrounding the letters served only to heighten the general public's awareness of these two issues....
"Precisely what his 'foolish errors' and weaknesses' were Joseph [Smith] did not relate. To some extent they may have included treasure-hunting with his seerstone, an activity we know he participated in during the 1820s. We also know that he was involved in what we call today 'folk magic,'...As honest educators, we can acknowledge that Joseph Smith was engaged as a young man in unprofitable treasure-hunting episodes during the 1820s... Joseph discovered a chocolate-colored, egg-shaped stone while digging a well on a neighbor's farm. Joseph soon learned that he could discern wondrous things with this stone, and it became his 'seer stone.' He carried it with him the rest of his life and used it for various revelatory purposes, including, according to some accounts, the translation of the Book of Mormon. Until Joseph learned to channel his seeric gifts, however, he also believed that he could use the stone to locate buried treasure."
On January 16, 1986, the Provo Herald reported the following:
" 'In order to understand Mormonism, one should realize that its beginnings were rooted in magic and the occult,' Dr. Michael Quinn, professor of history at Brigham Young University told a packed audience at the Algie Ballif Forum...
"Joseph Smith Sr. believed in the link between religion and witchcraft, and brought his children up in these beliefs. Joseph Sr. was a 'rod man,' that is, he used a hazel wand in hunting for treasure....
"Astrologyanother form of occultismwas also accepted and relied upon by the Smith family, and by most Mormons up to and during Brigham Young's time. Seer stones, as well as divining rods, were acceptable tools of folk magic during Joseph's time."
Professor Ronald W. Walker, of Brigham Young University, made these revealing comments:
'The question before scholars is no longer if Joseph and his family participated in the cunning arts, but the degree and meaning of their activity....the question of whether the Smith family participated in money digging does not rely on the recently found letters. The weight of evidence, with or without them, falls on the affirmative side of the question. For instance, we have the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits, which since 1834 have asserted that the Smiths were involved with money digging. The same story also emerges from other eyewitnesses, including the less negatively biased interviews gathered by RLDS churchman William H. Kelly. Nor are these collections our only affidavits. The anti-Mormon and non-Mormon witnesses represent too many viewpoints and their accounts were given in too many circumstances to be dismissed merely as trumped-up misrepresentations designed to discredit Joseph Smith and Mormonism." (Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 24, no. 4, pages 463-464)
Professor Marvin Hill, also of Brigham Young University, agreed with Ronald Walker about the relationship of Mormonism and magic:
"...it is the argument of this paper that in large part the question of the 1825 and 1830 letters' authenticity is not crucial since there is enough evidence from other sources that the issue of the relationship between Mormonism and magic is still with us. For one thing, the evidence that Joseph Smith was tried in court as a money digger in 1826 is considerable, and, for another, there are several Mormon sources which establish an integral relationship between the folklore of magic and some traditional accounts of Mormon origins....
"That the Chase account appears in a collection of testimonials published by an anti-Mormon while the Knight narrative comes from a faithful Latter-day Saint...suggests that the anti-Mormon material cannot be lightly dismissed because of its origin. The anti-Mormon statements have to be checked against what is admitted by the Mormons themselves....
"In the light of the accumulating evidence of a strong influence of magic upon the early Mormons, it is vitally important that serious historians should not overreact." (Ibid., pages 474, 479 and 483)
Earlier in this book, I mentioned that investigators are not sure why Mr. Hofmann would want to kill J. Gary Sheets. Detective Jim Bell felt that it might be a diversionary technique so that the investigation would be directed toward the financial problems that Christensen and Sheets had with CFS Financial Corporation. Another matter with regard to Sheets that should be considered is the problem concerning a book about the Salamander letter which never materialized. Before Mark Hofmann sold the Salamander letter to Christensen, he was very concerned about its contents and how it should be presented to the world. After Christensen bought it, Hofmann apparently decided he wanted it back. The Deseret News for Dec. 8, 1985, claimed that "Joe Robertson, Christensen's close friend, Sheets' son-in-law and a CFS employee, told the Deseret News that...Christensen told him he was approached by Hofmann, who asked to repurchase the Harris letter at nearly twice the $40,000 Christensen had paid. 'Steve wrestled with selling it back to Mark or giving it to the church.' Christensen told another friend that he donated the letter last April after learning that the church would like to have it."
While Steven Christensen had the Salamander letter, he and his business partner, J. Gary Sheets, planned to publish a book about it. This undoubtedly made Mr. Hofmann very happy. One of Hofmann's best friends, Brent Metcalfe, was appointed to do research for this important book. The Deseret News for September 1, 1984, told of the forthcoming book:
" 'The letter, if it is proved genuine, will be released when a book on the origins of Mormonism is released early next year,' Christensen said. Christensen, a Salt Lake businessman, is a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints....
" 'Already, thousands of man-hours have gone into research for the book,' Christensen said. 'The letter has been a catalyst to dig into events leading to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the LDS Church...
"Authors of the book are Dr. Ronald W. Walker, Dr. Dean C. Jessee and Brent Metcalfe. Walker and Jessee, associate professors at Brigham Young University, are widely published specialists on Mormon history."
Allen Roberts and Fred Esplin give this information in Utah Holiday, Jan. 1986, pages 55-56:
"Together with his financial consulting partner, J. Gary Sheets, Christensen decided to fund a study of the letter. They chose not to finance the project through their business, Consolidated Financial Services, but through a separate entity, J. Gary Sheets & Associates. About 70 percent of the research funding came through this company and 30 percent from Christensen personally....They felt such a book on Mormon origins would sell well and return a profit on their investment....Word of the document and the project had, by this time, reached authorities of the Mormon church. They were not pleased with the possibilities. During the church's general conference of April 1985, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie proclaimed that no member of the church should be involved in writing an article or publishing a book that would challenge the faith of another member. Two days after McConkie's address, the book project was cancelled. (Others close to the project say differences among Walker, Jessee and Metcalfe on interpretation of the letter were also at issue.)"
Since both Christensen and Sheets were serving as bishops in the Church it is understandable why the project was aborted. Linda Sillitoe said that "Sheets scrapped the Harris letter project," and that "The research was discontinued, Metcalfe was removed from the payroll and was asked to return the computer and printer Christensen bought to write the book." (Deseret News, Dec. 8,1985)
Before working for Christensen and Sheets, Brent Metcalfe had had a shattering experience. He had returned from his mission as a strong defender of the Mormon faith. The Church hired Metcalfe as a security guard and he spent much of his spare time studying Mormon history in the Church Archives. As he continued to study, his views became more liberal and he was forced to resign his position. When he was hired by Steven Christensen, Mr. Metcalfe was elated. As he did research on magic and money-digging, however, his testimony concerning the divine authenticity of the Church seems to have become weaker. J. Gary Sheets may have been speaking of Metcalfe when he said:
" 'One young man lost his testimony. Steve and I said if this book we were writing had an impact that people who weren't strong in the faith might lose their testimony, it was best not to be involved in this." (Deseret News, Oct. 17,1985)
Brent Metcalfe was apparently very disturbed when he learned of his dismissal. Although Christensen did not change the decision with regard to the book, he decided to keep Metcalfe on the payroll for some time. At the preliminary hearing, J. Gary Sheets testified that he "was upset" when he learned that Mr. Metcalfe was still being paid. He went on to say: "...when we decided not to write the book, I think Metcalfe was upset, and I think that because he was upset, I think Steve just kept him on that long." The fact that Sheets stopped the project must have been rather disturbing to Mark Hofmann. In addition, one of his closest friends, Brent Metcalfe, found himself entirely removed from a project which had meant a great deal to him. Hofmann, of course, later hired Metcalfe as a research historian. While most people were not aware that Mr. Sheets scrapped the project, Mark Hofmann undoubtedly learned all about it from Brent Metcalfe. Hofmann was probably upset at both Christensen and Sheets for stopping the salamander book. One scholar informed me that before the Salamander letter was sold to Christensen and Sheets, he spent a number of hours with Mark Hofmann discussing just how the letter could be released to the public and how it should be presented so that it would not be too offensive to orthodox Mormons. Mr. Hofmann probably had a deep psychological attachment to the Harris letter. It is interesting to note that at one time he even used the alias of "Harris." Jack Smith testified that when the plate for the Oath of a Freeman was ordered, it was under the name "Mike Harris." In any case, the fact that Sheets and Christensen would cancel a book which would have greatly helped the image of the Salamander letter could have been a real blow to Mark Hofmann's ego. Whether this played a part in the violence that followed is only a matter of speculation.
When I first began to have doubts about the Salamander letter and Hofmann's other documents, I realized the devastating affect it could have on both Mormon scholars and critics of the Church if Mark Hofmann was allowed to continue in his pernicious activities. The battle has been very difficult, to say the least. When I published my first attack on the Salamander letter in March 1984, I thought that other researchers would see the problem and join me in pressing for an investigation of its origin. Such was not the case, however, and the publication of The Money-Digging Letters in August 1984 did little to help the situation. Although I had noted that there were similarities between the Salamander letter and the Joseph Knight account of the discovery of the gold plates in the March 1984 issue of the Messenger, in The Money-Digging Letters, page 6, I demonstrated that these parallels are very important:
"Knight's account was published by Dean Jessee in BYU Studies, Autumn 1976, pages 29-39. According to Jessee, it was not written for at least three years after the 'Harris' letter was supposed to have been penned. In examining the complete transcript of the letter, we see more striking parallels to this document. For instance, the Knight account quotes Joseph Smith as saying that in the Urim and Thummim he 'can see any thing' (p. 33) The Salamander letter likewise says that Joseph 'can see anything' in his 'stone.' The Knight account says that after Smith found the 'Book' (the gold plates), he 'laid [it] Down' to 'Cover the place over' (p. 31). The wording in the letter is similar: 'I lay it down to cover over the hole.' We have already pointed out in the Messenger that both accounts use the identical words, 'Joseph says when can I have it.' In both accounts the plates are taken away from Smith because he laid them down. The Salamander letter and the Knight account also agree that Joseph was commanded to bring his brother Alvin when he returned for the plates. The Knight account says that 'his oldest Brother Died' before it was time to come again for the plates. In the 'Harris' letter, Joseph says, 'my brother is dead.' In both stories Joseph goes back to the place where the plates were deposited. The Knight account says that he was told that he 'Could not have it.' The Salamander letter likewise says he 'cannot have it.' In both cases Joseph does not know who to bring with him to obtain the plates. The Knight version says that 'he looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale.' The Salamander letter also identified Emma as the person he sees in the stone: 'the spirit says I tricked you again look to the stone Joseph looked & sees his wife.' Both accounts go on to tell of Smith putting the sacred instrument into a hat to translate the Book of Mormon....
"Another thing we noticed in the Knight account that could have had an influence on the Salamander letter is the use of the words 'says he' and 'says I.' On page 37, as published in BYU Studies, we find the following: 'Says he,...Says he,...Says I,...Says I,...Says he.' In the 'Harris' letter we read: '...says he...says he...says I...says I..."
The reader will remember that I was also suspicious of Joseph Smith's 1825 letter to Josiah Stowell because of the lack of errors in it. Although I could find no hard evidence against it, I felt that it was produced by the same mind that wrote the Salamander letter. Both letters, of course, link Joseph Smith to the occult. It seemed unlikely to me that the only letter that Joseph Smith wrote in the 1820s which is known to have survived would link him to magic. Even more remarkable, however, is the claim that right after this the only letter in the actual handwriting of Martin Harris was discovered and it also ties Joseph Smith to magic. Like the Salamander letter, the 1825 letter is devoid of any mention of God, angels or religion. The absence of religion in the 1825 letter, of course, is not really a major concern because the letter is written before the discovery of the gold plates and the organization of the Church.
In any case, if a person puts both the letters together, they combine to present a devastating argument against the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. In fact, they tend to give strong support to an idea we suggested in Mormonism, Magic and Masonry, page 40: "Joseph Smith himself seems to have been convinced that there were guardians over the treasures....a person can not help but wonder if Joseph Smith transformed the guardian of the treasure into the angel who gave him the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was supposed to have been translated." In 1831 the Palmyra Reflector printed a series of articles which told that Joseph Smith's father believed "in the existence of hidden treasures" and that he accepted the "popular belief that these treasures were held in charge by some evil spirit..." The 1825 letter, attributed to Joseph Smith, likewise says that, "the treasure must be guarded by some clever spirit..." The Harris letter makes it very plain that the "old spirit" who guards the gold plates of the Book of Mormon is a devious spirit, for it quotes him as making this statement to Joseph Smith: "...I tricked you again." The 1830 letter seems to go to great lengths to show that the "old spirit" connected with the Book of Mormon is one of the spirits connected with buried treasures. It says that "Joseph often sees Spirits here with great kettles of coin money..." The letter goes on to say that "Joseph made no attempt on their money." The letter even says that the spirits let Harris "count their money."
I have often wondered what the Mormon Church would do if a signed confession by Joseph Smith were found in which he repudiated Mormonism. While the 1825 letter is not quite that sensational, it certainly casts grave doubt upon the authenticity of the Book of Mormon story in that it absolutely ties Joseph Smith to divination and clever spirits at the very time he was supposed to be having dealings with the Angel Moroni. It lacks only one thing, however, and this is that it fails to link magic and money-digging directly to the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. The Salamander letter picks up the story at this very point and completes the shocking picture. While it would be better to have the Salamander letter in the handwriting of Joseph Smith himself, a second letter by Smith would probably be just too unbelievable. The Salamander letter does the next best thing, however; it has one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon quoting Joseph Smith's own words and brings a clever spirit into the story of the Book of Mormon. Since David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, the two other main witnesses to the Book of Mormon, have written a number of things in their own handwriting, a forger would be inclined to choose Martin Harris as the author. There is scarcely nothing to compare his handwriting with and no way that the spelling or style can be checked.
While I have always believed in miracles, I felt that the appearance of these two letters at almost the same time was just too good to be true.
By January 1985, I had heard that the physical tests conducted on the Salamander letter pointed to its authenticity. In response to this I wrote the following:
"As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, some of the tests which the experts have completed on the Salamander letter seem to indicate that it is genuine. My study of the text, however, has led me to have serious doubts about its authenticity. In view of the tests, I have to ask myself whether I am being unscientific. Can the case I have built against the document possibly outweight [sic] the findings of the experts? Everyone would probably agree that if the letter mentioned Joseph Smith watching television before he was visited by the spirit, it could not be accepted as authentic no matter what the scientific tests revealed. The evidence furnished by the text of the letter would override all physical tests. With the Salamander letter, however, I must admit that I do not have anything which is that convincing. My doubts are based solely on circumstantial evidence. As I investigated the matter, the evidence seemed to grow, and I found it increasingly difficult to believe in the document's authenticity. I originally entered into the research with a strong desire to prove that the letter came from the pen of Martin Harris. Unfortunately, however, the inconsistencies seemed to swallow up all my enthusiasm. Some of the evidence against the letter seemed to be similar to that which led me to the conclusion that a large portion of the History of the Church was not actually authored by Joseph Smith as the Church had always claimed....
"At any rate, I now find myself wondering how much I can rely on the scientific tests which are available. I am convinced that the average person could not come up with a forgery that would stand up against these tests. On the other hand, I wonder how difficult it would be for someone who is seriously involved with old documents to create a forgery that would pass the tests. In The Money-Digging Letters, I questioned whether handwriting analysis is an exact science and pointed out important cases where the experts have differed....
"If I were certain that the tests could not be thwarted by an expert forger, I would feel compelled to accept the document as authentic. As it is, however, the circumstantial evidence makes it very difficult for me to accept the letter as having come from the pen of Martin Harris." (Salt Lake City Messenger, Jan. 1985, p. 12)
When Sandra and I attended the meetings of the Mormon History Association in May 1985, I was shocked to find that all four of the speakers who addressed the issue supported the Salamander letter and the great majority of those who attended the meeting seemed to completely agree with their research. I tried to pass out literature containing the opposite viewpoint, but very few people seemed to be interested. Dean Jessee, whose paper dealt specifically with the letter, entirely ignored the evidence of plagiarism and the other arguments I had presented. The Mormon History Association Newsletter for July 1985, however, did note Professor Jessee' failure to mention the the research I had worked so hard to compile:
"...the literary style of the letter, is a more controversial matter, since there is a drastic difference in this regard between the 1830 letter and other documents accepted as being the product of Harris' mind. While it was not mentioned by Jessee, these differences had already caused opponent of Mormonism Jerald Tanner to question whether the letter was authentic...Dean Jessee's...conclusion was that the 1830 letter is the 'real' Martin Harris, as opposed to the 'polished' Martin Harris of other documents prepared for public consumption.
"Jessee closed by noting that the authenticity of documents is most often challenged when the subject at issue is controversial, with people on one side or another tending to find support for their own positions." (Mormon History Association Newsletter, July 1985, page 4)
The same newsletter contained these comments by two different scholars who had studied the Salamander letter:
"...if currently available evidence were placed before a jury of historians, I believe that they would have little difficulty finding the Martin Harris letter to be genuineand this 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' While future evidence might modify this judgment, Utahns who are currently arguing the case of fraud have produced little to support their view besides wishful thinking and an understandable but misplaced religious fervor." (Ibid., page 7)
"The post-MHA conference preoccupation with elemental salamanders, clever spirits, scrying seers, and enchanted treasures has regrettably engendered several ill-considered public denials of the historicity of the 1830 Harris and 1825 Smith letters....Careful consideration has led me to conclude that if aspersions are to be cast on the authenticity of these documents, it must be on grounds other than those presently advanced." (Ibid., pages 7-8)
The Mormon scholar Stanley B. Kimball was the only writer in that issue of the MHA Newsletter to express any concern about the authenticity of the letter. Professor Kimball complained about the "arbitrary elimination of a question-and-answer period" at the meeting of the MHA where the Salamander letter was discussed, and then stated: "Jerald Tanner may be closer to the truth with his doubts about the authenticity of the document." (Ibid., page 6)
As I noted in the first chapter of this book, the Salamander letter was published in the Church Section of the Deseret News on April 28, 1985. The title on one of the articles about the letter read: "1830 Harris letter authenticated." In another article published in the Church Section, these comments appeared:
"A letter written early in Church history by Martin Harris and sent to William W. Phelps is almost certainly authentic and has been donated to the Church....
"According to Jessee, handwriting analysis 'shows that the writer of the 1830 letter is the same person who wrote the authentic Harris signatures. On the basis of the paper, ink and handwriting tests, the Harris letter appears authentic.' "
By June 1985, I found myself feeling almost entirely alone. The results of physical tests had been released which indicated that the Salamander letter was authentic. Moreover, the Mormon History Association and almost all the top Mormon scholars endorsed the letter, and even the Mormon Church itself had published it and indicated that it had been "authenticated." Besides all this, strong psychological pressures were being exerted by both Mormons and anti-Mormons to bring Sandra and I into conformity with the experts. We were told that when the research on the letter came out we would really have egg on our faces. The newspapers were also carrying stories concerning how the Oliver Cowdery history might provide support for the Salamander letter. At various times we had heard rumors such as: that Hofmann would name the dealer from whom the letter was obtained; that the letter was actually mentioned in a newspaper published by W.W. Phelps or that the letter had been directly traced to the Phelps family. While none of these stories proved to be true, they certainly had an affect on us at the time. At one point I was told by a noted scholar that if I continued in the foolish course of questioning the letter, I would completely lose my credibility with both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars. With all this pressure on me it was very difficult to go on with the work.
As I was contemplating what to do, I remembered that after the Piltdown man was discovered, Henry Fairfield Osborn had serious reservations about the matter and stated:
"Doubts which have been entertained from the first by many anatomists as to the association of the Piltdown jaw with the Piltdown skull appear to be entirely confirmed by the recent exhaustive comparative study made by Gerrit S. Miller, Jr., of the United States National Museum. He has shown that those portions of the Piltdown jaw preserved, including the upper eye-tooth or canine, are generically identical with those of an adult chimpanzee....
"This conclusion, which has been accepted by several eminent comparative anatomists, has two very interesting results; first, it deprives the Piltdown specimen of its jaw and compels us to refer the skull to the genus Homo rather than to the supposed more ancient genus Eoanthropos; second, it demonstrates the presence of anthropoid apes in Europe during the Glacial Epoch (Men of the Old Stone Age, New York, 1916, page 512)
Other scientists, however, proclaimed that Piltdown man was genuine and under the pressure Dr. Osborn yielded to their opinion:
"The author not only recants his former doubts as to the association of the jaw with the skull, but expresses his admiration of the great achievement of his life-long friend, Arthur Smith Woodward, in making the original discovery and in finally establishing beyond question the authenticity of the Dawn Man of Piltdown." (Man Rises to Parnassus, Princeton, New Jersy, 1928, page 72)
C. Loring Brace and M.F. Ashley Montagu give this information:
"With the prestige and authority of such eminent scientists standing behind the discoveries, it never occurred to anyoneeven the most critical scientiststhat the finds might be forgeries and that they might not be genuinely ancient....
"Apparently the desire to believe in Piltdown was great enough to overcome any doubts. Among other things, it demonstrated to the satisfaction of the English that humanity had its origins on British soil;..." (Alan's Evolution, pages 167-68)
In his book, The Problem of Man's Antiquity, page 149, Dr. Kenneth Oakley pointed out that in 1935 scientists had listed the Piltdown cranium as being "c. 500,000 years" old. By 1949 the age had dropped to "c. 50,000 years." Then in 1953-54 the age declined to "Perhaps two or three thousand years old." Finally, in 1959 scientists disclosed that the skull was only "A few centuries old." Careful examination revealed that a human cranium had been combined with the jaw of an ape. The teeth had been filed flat to look more like human teeth. The application of an iron salt and bichromate had given a fossilized appearance to what was at one time called "the world's most famous fossil of early man."
After thinking of Professor Osborn's experience, I made my decision: I decided it would be wrong for me to yield to pressure or have such a "desire to believe" that I let it override the research I had worked so hard to compile. I did not want to find myself making the same mistake that Osborn did. Consequently, the June 1985 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger contained an article entitled, "Editors Divided." For the first time Sandra and I took opposing viewpoints: "Unfortunately, the editors of the Messenger find themselves divided over how to deal with the Salamander letter. We feel that it is best, therefore, to give our readers both viewpoints." In my portion of the article, I wrote the following:
"...I still find myself with some serious doubts....I cannot help wondering if this is not just too good to be true. The Salamander letter fits perfectly into my case against the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, but I have to ask myself this question: if the Mormons brought out a letter which was supposed to have been written in 1830 which said that Joseph Smith saw both The Father and the Son in 1820, and this letter had strong parallels to sources printed at a later date and also contained elements which seemed foreign to the purported author, would I keep silent about the matter? The answer, of course, is no. I would proclaim these findings to the world."
At that point in time, Sandra felt that the physical evidence that had been marshalled in support of the letter was "impressive" and she didn't see how the letter could pass all the tests unless it was authentic. Nevertheless, she noted that "there are impressive parallels between the Martin Harris letter and different printed versions. These can be viewed either as proofs of plagiarism or authenticity. I, too, am bothered by the lack of information on the history of the letter and the lack of specific information on the tests given the letter." (Ibid., page 14)
After the bombings, a reporter for a Salt Lake City TV station commented to me that during the past few years Mr. Hofmann had made a far greater contribution to Mormon history than Sandra or I had. I replied that if his documents were genuine, this would certainly be the case. I noted, however, that I did not believe in the authenticity of his documents. The next day the same reporter said that either my reputation or Dean Jessee's was now at stake. I did not look at the matter in quite the same light. If I had been wrong in condemning the documents, I still think that many people would have realized that I was trying to do the best I could with the facts I possessed at the time. Naturally, I would have been very embarrassed about the matter and would have felt obligated to offer a public apology to both Mark Hofmann and Lyn Jacobs. As it turns out, of course, the documents have been shown to be spurious. This, however, does not mean that Dean Jessee has lost his reputation. On the contrary, Professor Jessee still remains an expert on the identification of handwriting from 19th century Mormonism. I have a great deal of respect for his judgment concerning handwriting. I feel, in fact, that he did an excellent job in his comparison of the handwriting of Solomon Spalding with that of the unidentified scribe in the Book of Mormon manuscript. I learned a great deal from the work he did on the subject. In the case of the Salamander letter, it is obvious that it is a superb forgery. The signature appears to be consistent with other examples of Harris' signature as both Dean Jessee and Kenneth Rendell have stated. If anyone should lose their reputation, it should be the person or persons who forged it.
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