6. THE DOCUMENTS EXAMINED
"I don't think forgery is a possibility," asserts Rendell. "Mark Hofmann, for example, is too sophisticated to try that...." (Document expert Kenneth Rendell, Utah Holiday, Dec. 1985, p. 86)
"I can't understand why he would do that. Up until I saw that photocopy I thought Mark was rational. But [cutting it up] that was crazy." (Statement by Kenneth Rendell after learning that Hofmann had cut up his papyrus, Ibid. page 88)
In this chapter the reader will find a detailed and critical look at many of Mark Hofmann's documents which have been sold to the Mormon Church and other collectors.
The Anthon transcript was Mark Hofmann's first major "discovery." This sheet of paper is believed to contain copies of the characters which appeared on the gold plates, from which the Book of Mormon was supposed to have been translated. On May 3, 1980, the Mormon owned Deseret News printed an article entitled, Utahn finds 1828 writing by Prophet.. In this article we find the following:
"A handwritten sheet of paper with characters supposedly copied directly from the gold plates in 1828, and also bearing other writing and the signature of Joseph Smith, has been found in an old Bible by a Utah State University student.
"This would make it the oldest known Mormon document as well as the earliest sample of the Prophet's handwriting. His earliest known writing previously dated to 1831.
"Experts believe the paper may be the original one copied by Joseph Smith from the plates and given to Martin Harris in February 1828 to take to New York City for examination by linguistic experts.
"The story of how Harris showed the characters to a Professor Charles Anthon...is a well-known episode in Mormon history and also is considered fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
"The paper, written in faded brown ink, was discovered by Mark William Hofmann, a premedical student at USU....Written on the back, apparently after Harris brought the paper back from the encounter with Professor Anthon, are the following words (and spellings):
" 'These caractors were dilligently coppied by my own hand from the plates of gold and given to Martin Harris who took them to New York Citty but the learned could not translate it because the Lord would not open it to them in fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaih written in the 29th chapter and 11th verse. (signed) Joseph Smith Jr.'
"The paper has been compared with other samples of the Prophet's writing and appears to match them in style and spelling on numerous points, experts said.
" 'In my judgment, this writing is that of Joseph Smith,' said Dean C. Jessee, senior historical associate in the Church Historical Department. He is a recognized authority on the handwriting of the Prophet.
"At a press conference held April 28 in the Church Office Building, Brother Jessee said that after a preliminary examination, the paper and ink also give every appearance of being authentic materials of the 1828 period....'we can see more clearly than ever before what the characters were like on the gold plates,' Brother Jessee said....
"The discovery of the historic paper by Brother Hofmann was quite accidental....
"President Spencer W. Kimball expressed gratitude to Brother Hofmann for his discovery and 'for bringing it to our attention and for leaving it in the custody of the Historical Department.' "
In an affidavit, dated Oct. 25, 1980, Mark Hofmann gave this account of his discovery of the Anthon transcript:
"I have been an avid collector of LDS antiques, books, manuscripts, and related material for the past eight years. During that time I have owned, or do now own, documents bearing the signatures of such Mormon notables as Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, George Miller, John C. Bennett, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and William Clayton....
"During the month of March, 1980, I acquired from a gentleman in Salt Lake City, Utah, a 1668 Cambridge edition of the King James Bible. I had previously purchased some rare Mormon material from this gentleman and had an interest in this Bible because it contained the handwriting and signature of one Samuel Smith. Furthermore, this gentleman claimed that he obtained it in the 1950's in Carthage, Illinois from the granddaughter of Catherine the sister of Joseph Smith Jr. Although this gentleman friend of mine said that he could not remember the name of Catherine's granddaughter, he described her as an elderly lady whose home was full of antiques.
"In my Logan, Utah, apartment, on Wednesday, April 16, 1980 between 4:30-5:00 pm, I noticed that two of the pages of the Bible were stuck together about halfway down from the side of the page. I had flipped through the Bible several times before but had not previously noticed the joined pages in the beginning of the Book of Proverbs. While carefully trying to separate the pages it was discovered that a folded piece of paper with a black glue-like substance was between the pages and holding them together.
"I succeeded in prying off the top page of the Bible which exposed a document bearing the name 'Joseph Smith Jr.' still stuck to the bottom page. Carefully I used a razor blade to separate the folded document from the Bible. The document was folded in fourths and stuck together with the glue-like substance. After giving up the attempt to pry the document apart without damaging it, I decided it best to wait until the next morning and have a manuscript expert at Utah State University help me separate it.
"In the morning of April 17, 1980, I took the document to Jeff Simmonds, Curator of the Utah State University Special Collections and Archives Departments. After evaluating the manuscript for several minutes he succeeded in separating it out with the aid of toluene and various tools."
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A photograph from the Church Section of the Mormon newspaper, Deseret News, May 3, 1980. Notice that Mark Hofmann is showing the Anthon transcript to the Prophet, Seer and Revelator and other leaders of the church (Hinckley on far right).
The reader will note that Mark Hofmann did not open the document himself; instead, he solicited the help of A.J. Simmonds. While Mr. Hofmann's request for help would be considered as a wise move by those who are interested in the preservation of documents, there could be another interpretation of this actioni.e., to involve someone else in the discovery process and thus gain support for the authenticity of the transcript. In any case, Mr. Simmonds says that when the paper was opened, Hofmann professed to have no knowledge of what it was all about. Simmonds, however, recognized the importance of the find and its relationship to the Book of Mormon. In an account of the discovery which appeared in the Church's publication, The Ensign, July 1980, page 73, Mr. Hofmann indicated that his wife also played a role in the discovery. She was, in fact, the first one to actually notice the sheet stuck between the pages of the Bible:
"When I was examining it [the Bible] in my apartment...I noticed that two of the pages...were stuck together...this was the first time I noticed the joined pages. My wife, Doralee, noticed that a piece of paper was stuck between the pages while I was trying to separate them."
Mark Hofmann went on to say that after A.J. Simmonds helped unfold the sheet, he "dashed over to the LDS Institute of Religion and showed it to Danel W. Bachman, who studied it for a few minutes and excitedly telephoned Dean Jessee in the Church History Division in Salt Lake City.
"We made an appointment for the next day, not daring to hope that we had found the original transcript that Martin Harris showed to Professor Anthon or that the name on the back was actually the Prophet's signature. However, we were on cloud nine the next day when Brother Jessee gave a preliminary opinion that not only the signature, but also the paragraph, was in Joseph Smith's own hand.
"Of course my wife and I felt that such an important document should be in the keeping of the Church." (Ibid.)
The Mormon Church published color photographs of the Anthon transcript and an article containing "compelling reasons for accepting it as genuine" in the July 1980 issue of The Ensign. The Mormon leaders were completely sold on the document. According to the testimony of Donald Schmidt given at the preliminary hearing, Hofmann was eventually given "roughly $20,000" worth of items from the Church Archives in exchange for the old Bible and the sheet of paper found within its pages.
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Photograph of the Anthon transcript forgery that appeared in The Ensign, July 1980, p. 2.
In 1980 Mormon scholars were rejoicing that Mark Hofmann had made such an outstanding discovery. Richard L. Anderson, of Brigham Young University, was quoted by the Provo Herald, May 1, 1980, as saying the following:
"Joseph Smith's story is really vindicated by the finding of the document because he mentioned that he sent Harris to the East to show the characters on the gold plates to 'the learned.'
"We have Anthon's story in letters explaining exactly what Harris showed to him. What Anthon describes is quite remarkably like what is on the new transcript.' "
Dr. Anderson also commented: " 'This new discovery is sort of a Dead Sea School [sic] Equivalent of the Book of Mormon (Ibid.) The noted Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley was quoted as saying: "This offers as good a test as we'll ever get as to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon (Ibid.) In the same paper, Dr. Hugh Nibley triumphantly announced: "Of course it's translatable." According to The Herald, "Nibley also said he counted at least two dozen out of 47 characters in the Demotic alphabet that could be given phonetic value.
"This offers as good a test as we'll ever get. Nobody could have faked those characters. It would take 10 minutes to see that this is fake.' "
On May 12, 1980, the Provo Herald reported: "The Herald called Hugh Nibley to see if he was still confident about his earlier assessment.
" 'I still say just what I said before. It can be translated.' "
As time passed it became evident that neither Dr. Nibley nor any other scholar was able to produce an acceptable translation of Hofmann's transcript. The President of the Mormon Church is supposed to be a "Prophet, Seer, and Revelator," and according to the Book of Mormon a "seer" can "translate all records that are of ancient date" (Mosiah 8:13). Instead of using the "seer stone" to translate the characters, President Spencer W. Kimball examined them with a magnifying glass (see photograph in Deseret News, Church Section, May 3, 1980). He was apparently unable to throw any light on the subject.
When the Anthon transcript first came forth historians were very excited about what it might reveal. Sandra and I had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the new find and published our findings in a booklet entitled, Book of Mormon 'Caractors' Found. Some people felt the transcript might contain magic characters. We tried very hard to find evidence to support this idea but were finally forced to conclude that the "similarities" were not "sufficient to prove the case." (Mormonism, Magic and Masonry, page 42) Sandra and I compared the Anthon transcript with many documents and samples of ancient writing, but in the end we found ourselves feeling frustrated with the transcript. Instead of containing anything related to any language, the Anthon transcript appeared to be composed of meaningless doodlings. In February 1984, just after I began feeling apprehension concerning the authenticity of the Salamander letter, Sandra and I took color photographs of the Anthon transcript with us to Chicago and compared them with rare magic books in special collections at the University of Chicago. I still found nothing that paralleled the transcript and began to develop grave doubts concerning its authenticity. While doing research with regard to the Salamander letter, I noticed something about Hofmann's first discovery that bothered me. This was Charles Anthon's letter describing the sheet of paper which contained the characters copied from the Book of Mormon. Anthon stated that the "letters...were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks This description exactly matched the document which Mark Hofmann found in 1980i.e., the Anthon transcript. Before Hofmann's discovery, the Church had a photograph of another old sheet of paper containing Book of Mormon characters. It was believed at that time that this was the sheet Harris had taken to Professor Anthon. Instead of having the characters running in vertical columns, this paper has them going horizontally. Furthermore, it does not have a circular object. When Hofmann made his remarkable discovery, Anthon's letter was appealed to as evidence that the real "Anthon transcript" had been found. At the time, this seemed to be a good argument for the document's authenticity, but when I later examined E.D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed in the light of its possible relationship to the Salamander letter, I discovered that Anthon's letter is printed on page 272 of that book. This could be quite significant because the important parallels to the Salamander letter begin on the very next page (page 273). I could not help but wonder if Howe's book had provided the creative impulse for both the Anthon transcript and the Salamander letter.
By August 22, 1984, I made it rather plain that I was critically examining all the documents Hofmann had found since he first announced the discovery of the Anthon transcript in 1980: "...a number of important documents have come to light during the 1980's. The questions raised by the Salamander letter have forced us to take a closer look at some of these documents." (The Money-Digging Letters, page 9) On July 10, 1985, I published a study of the Anthon transcript which suggested that there may be spelling problems in the material written on the back of the document which is supposed to be in the handwriting of Joseph Smith. The following appeared in the publication Mr. Boren and the White Salamander:
"One thing that should be of great concern to Mormon scholars is the fact that there seems to be an attempt in the Boren material to duplicate the spelling errors of Joseph Smith....
"Misspellings can be useful in helping authenticate documents. When Mark Hofmann discovered the original 'Anthon Transcript' in 1980, this method was used by Dean Jessee. After talking to Mr. Jessee, Danel W. Bachman wrote: 'In addition to paper, ink, and script comparisons, there are other indications that the document is authentic and is the original 'Anthon transcript'... 2. There are typical misspellings of words, such as 'caractors,' 'coppied,' 'Citty,' 'propscy,' and 'Isaih.'
"The Boren documents show us that in the future we will have to be very careful about using misspellings as evidence of a document's authenticity. It is obvious, of course, that if someone came forth with a letter bearing the signature 'Joseph Smith' which had all the words he usually misspelled written correctly, we would have to question its authenticity. On the other hand, however, the fact that typical misspellings appear must not carry too much weight in determining a document's authenticity. It might only prove that we are dealing with a clever forger.
"It is interesting to note that both the Anthon transcript and the purported letter of Joseph Smith to Morley (the Boren document) misspell the word city as 'citty.' My brief examination of the documents written in Joseph Smith's own hand leads me to believe that Joseph Smith knew how to correctly spell city. In the eleven different places I have found it in his writings it is spelled 'city' (see The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, pages 7, 16, 252-253, 468, 515, 557, 560 and 616). It is true that Smith misspelled the word cities as 'Cittys' on at least one occasionwhen he spoke of Martin Harris taking the Anthon Transcript 'to the Eastern Cittys' (see 'Joseph Smith's 1832 Account of His Early Life,' as photographically reproduced in Joseph Smith's 1832-34 Diary, page 10; also found in The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, page 7). It would appear to me that Joseph Smith knew the correct spelling of city, but added an extra t when he tried to make the plural form of the word. The 1832 account has the correct spelling of the word just three lines above the word 'Cittys': '...to new York City...' The Anthon transcript, on the other hand, reads: '...to new York Citty...' As I have already stated, the Boren manuscript uses the spelling 'citty': '...Brother Gilbert and Brother Hadly are now in the citty...'
"In looking over 'Joseph Smith's 1832 Account of His Early Life,' I notice that it has a number of important parallels in both wording and spelling to the writing on the back of the Anthon transcript. Parallels between the two documents, of course, would be expected because both documents deal with the same subject and were supposed to have been written by the same author. In both documents the word characters was originally written without the letter 'h,' and in both cases it is added above the line. The 1832 account uses the word 'coppy' and the Anthon transcript reads 'coppied.' It is interesting to note, however, that in a letter to his wife, dated March 21, 1839, Joseph Smith spelled the word copied as I 'coppy-ed.' (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, page 409)
"If we exclude letters written above the lines to correct spelling, there is an interesting parallel between Joseph Smith's 1832 account and the Anthon transcript. The 1832 account speaks of... 'the Propicy of Isah.' (This, of course, is supposed to read, 'the prophecy of Isaiah.') The Anthon transcript also refers to 'the propicy of Isah.' The 1832 account has the letters 'ia' added above 'Isah' in an attempt to correct the spelling. The Anthon transcript has the letter 'i' above 'Isah' and 'h' over 'propicy.' That these words were identical before corrections were added above the lines might be used as evidence that Joseph Smith himself wrote both documents. Unfortunately, however, according to Dean Jessess's transcript of the 1832 account (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, page 8), the words 'Propicy of Isah' were written by Joseph Smith's scribe Frederick G. Williams. Joseph Smith's handwriting ended in the line just before these words appear. In an entry Joseph Smith recorded in his own hand in his diary (Nov. 29, 1832), he spelled prophesied as 'Prophecyed.' (Ibid., page 16)" (Mr. Boren and the White Salamander, pages 9-10)
As I indicated earlier in this book, Mark Hofmann refused to reveal from whom he had obtained the Bible in which the Anthon transcript was discovered. In the affidavit he speaks of him as a "gentleman friend of mine." In The Ensign, July 1980, p. 73, he referred to him as "a collector friend." The Church Section of the Deseret News called him "the unnamed Salt Lake Collector." (May 3, 1980) At one time Mark Hofmann told a scholar that the name of the man was confidential but some people knew him as Mr. "White." As far as I can learn, no one has ever found out the identity of this mysterious individual. Lyn Jacobs said that "Mark bought the Bible for almost nothing. I don't know if the seller knew the significance of the Smith names in the Bible,..." (Sunstone, vol. 10, no. 8, p. 12) Jacobs was asked if it were true that "most [book] dealers go through every page of a book before they bought it? If so, why didn't the person who sold it to Mark notice the transcript stuck between the pages?" In his answer, Jacobs said that a book dealer would "go through every page," but he claimed that it was an antique dealer who had it and that many "antique dealers don't take old books seriously." Jacobs statement on how Mark Hofmann obtained the Bible is somewhat different than the story Hofmann gave in the affidavit. Jacobs claimed that "Mark told me that the Bible belonging to Joseph's sister which had the Anthon transcript in it originally came from a small antique store in the Midwest. The Bible made its way to Utah, where Mark acquired it." (Ibid.) Hofmann's affidavit, of course, says nothing of the antique store in the Midwest. It says that he got it from a "gentleman in Salt Lake" who obtained it directly "from the granddaughter of Catherine, the sister of Joseph Smith Jr."
In any case, Hofmann claimed the transcript was "folded in fourths" within the Bible. (The Ensign, July 1980, p. 73) After I became suspicious of his story, I did an experiment with a Bible and a single sheet of paper. I found that when the paper is "folded in fourths" it becomes four times as thick and this makes it rather obvious that something is in the book.
In the interview published in Sunstone Review, Sept. 1982, p. 16, Mark Hofmann made a very strange statement concerning the "glue-like substance" found in the transcript:
"But in the case of the Anthon transcript, they haven't done everything I thought they were going to do. For example, there's a black gluelike substance which held it in the Bible. They still don't know what that substance is. I know that laboratory identification could be made on that. Perhaps someday the Church will do it."
I couldn't understand what Mr. Hofmann's fascination with the contents of the "glue-like substance" would be unless he had spent a lot of time creating it and was disappointed that the Church never bothered to check it out.
The reader may be curious as to why anyone would forge such a document as the Anthon transcript and why Mormon historians did not question its authenticity. Actually, this transcript seems to solve a number of problems. Prior to its appearance on the scene, scholars had only a handwritten manuscript which Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer preserved and two published versions of the characters Joseph Smith was supposed to have copied from the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. The published versions did not appear until 1844one was a broadside and the other appeared in a Church publication known as The Prophet on Dec. 21, 1844. Although the printed versions are shorter than the Whitmer manuscript, they contain some characters not found on it. Since Hofmann's manuscript has these missing characters, it has been claimed that this provides evidence for its authenticity. Now, while it is true that the Hofmann transcript seems to solve this problem, it should be pointed out that scholars have been aware of these sources for many years. In the Spring 1970 issue of Brigham Young University Studies, Stanley B. Kimball published an excellent article on the Anthon transcript in which he listed these sources, and Ariel L. Crowley has photographs of them in his book, About The Book Of Mormon, published in 1961. Anyone making a serious study of the Anthon transcript could come into contact with them. At the time Mark Hofmann made his affidavit on the Anthon transcript he claimed that he had a number of original editions of early church publications and "other books published for and against the Church during the last century."
Although David Whitmer claimed that he had the original sheet containing the characters Martin Harris took to Anthon, this has been questioned by some scholars. In his article in Brigham Young University Studies, page 349, Stanley Kimball commented that it is possible that Whitmer was "mistaken about the originality of the 'Anthon transcript' he claimed to have." In The Newsletter and Proceedings of the Society For Early Historic Archaeology, Dec. 1976, page 2, John L. Sorenson quoted Charles Anthon's statement that the transcript Martin Harris showed him had vertical columns of characters and a circular objectthe Whitmer transcript, of course, has horizontal rows of characters and no circular object. Professor Sorenson went on to point out that "No Mormon student apparently ever took Anthon seriously in his statement that they were vertical, although his is the only eyewitness account." Sorenson went on to say that if "Anthon's recollections were accurate, we are led to suppose the following characteristics of the source document for the Book of Mormon which Joseph Smith had in his possession:...These symbols were arranged in vertical columns....At the end of the columns appeared a circle, divided into compartments..." Professor Sorenson's description of what the document would look like, matched what Mark Hofmann came up with less than four years later!
While the Joseph Smith writing on the back of the Anthon transcript would be very difficult to forge, the front side containing the characters could have been done by a child. It appears that all the forger did was copy the characters from the Whitmer manuscript and the early printed reproductions. It is true that there are some additional characters and that others were altered to some extent, but this would not require much skill. The characters, of course, were changed from horizontal rows to vertical columns. Even the circular object contains characters from the bottom of the Whitmer manuscript. (For an excellent study of the relationship between the Hofmann transcript and the other documents see Danel W. Bachman's article in BYU Studies, Summer 1980.)
At the preliminary hearing George Throckmorton testified that he examined the purported Joseph Smith writing on the back of the Anthon transcript. He reported that he was unable to reach "a positive identification" on the handwriting. He noted, however, that Joseph Smith "was not very neat. In fact, in my own terms I would say he is quite a sloppy writer." His opinion concerning the writing on the Anthon transcript was that the "quality of the writing is too neat for the writing that I saw from Joseph Smith. It's not consistent with how he normally wrote. In fact, the writing appears to be a higher quality than he was ever capable of doing."
Mr. Throckmorton observed that the Hofmann document had "a characteristic glowing effect" under ultraviolet light. Kenneth Rendell said that the "color of the ink" did not seem right in the Anthon transcript.
Document experts did not find evidence of cracking in the ink on the Anthon transcript itself, but they were convinced that heat had been used to artificially age the ink. William Flyn noted: "What was unusual about the heating pattern on the document was that...it was not uniform throughout the document, but there was an area that was more highly scorched..." George Throckmorton seemed to feel that a common household iron could have been used on the transcript:
QWhat did you do to duplicate, or at least in your opinion, duplicate what's exhibited on the Anthon transcriptthis scorching?
AI, first of all, used modern-day papers to experiment with and by placing an iron at different temperatures for varying lengths of time to see how long it would take before that scorching effect occurred. Later on, I progressed backwards and eventually was able to use some of the cover letters that we were able to obtain for experimentation purposes.
QYou say cover letters from the time period of the 19th century,...?
AThat's correct. And the same experiments were conducted then. I also dipped some of those in a ammonium hydroxide solution and other types of solutions and after drying, heated them or during the process of drying I also heated them and was able to come up with this same characteristic feature."
The most devastating evidence against the Anthon transcript came when the Bible in which it was discovered was examined. The Mormon writer Danel W. Bachman gave this information about the Bible: "...inserted in the center of the Bible is a handwritten copy of the entire book of Amos with the signature of Samuel Smith at the end...Hofmann's supposition was that this Samuel was either the great-grandfather or the great-great-grandfather of the Prophet Joseph Smith." (BYU Studies, Spring 1980, page 327) William Flyn noted that the purported Samuel Smith addition to the Bible "bears the dated watermark of 1819, showing that the paper was manufactured in 1819." Mr. Flyn testified that the signature Samuel Smith did not agree with the handwriting found in the text of the document and that it was written in a different ink:
Q...Did you have an occasion to compare the handwriting of the body of the writing with the signature itself?
QAnd what was the results of that comparison?
AThe writer of the text, which comprises the book of Amos, is not the same writer that signed the name Samuel Smith at the end of that writing.
QHow about the ink itself on the signature. Is there a difference in that and the body of the text?
AYes. The ink comprising Samuel Smith appears nowhere in the text of the writings of the book of Amos.
Flyn went on to testify that he believed another name had been written where "Samuel Smith" now appears and that this had been "bleached out": "...there was an area aroundthe signature Samuel Smith that had been bleached out. What it appears is that there had been a different signature at that location which had beenold writingthat had been bleached out and the name Samuel Smith written on top." That the name Samuel Smith was a fraudulent addition to the document was clearly revealed when William Flyn observed it under a microscope: "The Samuel Smith signature in the Bible was indeed one of the cracked inks." Mr. Flyn also testified: "The writing in the text itself exhibited no cracking, The writing of the signature Samuel Smith did."
William Flyn's research revealed that the Anthon transcript could not have been in the Bible for any great length of time:
"If the document had been in intimate contact with the pages of this Bible over a prolonged period of time, I would have expected the characters themselves which were made of the iron gallotannic ink to transfer onto the pages themselves. The highly acidic ink would have burned the pages in the form of the letters themselvesthe characters which comprise the ink. In fact that did not happen. There is a uniform browning across the page rather than the ink itself, the characters of the ink, burning the pages in the shapes of the...letters and the characters on the page."
When Mr. Flyn was asked his opinion concerning the authenticity of the Anthon transcript, he replied: "My opinion [is] it is not a document from that at period."
THE BLESSING DOCUMENT
Less than a year after the Mormon Church announced the discovery of the Anthon transcript, another important discovery was reported in the Church Section of the Deseret News:
"A handwritten document thought to be a father's blessing given by Joseph Smith Jr., first president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to his son Joseph Smith III, has been acquired by the Church Historical Department.
"The document, which includes the possibility of Joseph Smith III succeeding his father as prophet and church leader, was presented Thursday to authorities of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in exchange for another valuable church document....
"[Earl E.] Olson and other LDS officials said they are convinced the blessing is authentic. Handwriting and the paper were examined and compared with other documents....
"The blessing document, dated Jan. 17, 1844, is thought to have been written by Thomas Bullock, one of several men who served as clerk to Joseph Smith Jr....
"Church officials obtained the document from Mark William Hofmann, a collector of historical documents and antiques. He said he received it from a descendant of Thomas Bullock. Church officials declined to say how much was paid for the document....
"The document outlines a blessing given by Joseph Smith Jr. to his son, then age 11, and includes the possibility of the son succeeding his father "to the Presidency of the High Priesthood: A Seer, and a Revelator, and a Prophet, unto the Church." (Deseret News, March 19, 1981)
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A photograph of both the front and back sides of the document purported to be Joseph Smith's blessing to his son, Joseph Smith III.
The Utah Mormon Church has always claimed that Brigham Young was the true successor of Joseph Smith. The Reorganized LDS Church, on the other hand, maintained that Joseph Smith had appointed his son, Joseph Smith III, as his successor. Joseph Smith III rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and became the leader of the RLDS Church. Mark Hofmann's discovery of the Joseph Smith III Blessing document seemed to sew up the case for the RLDS Church. The text of the blessing reads as follows:
"A blessing, given to Joseph Smith, 3rd, by his father, Joseph Smith, Jun., on Jan. 17, 1844.
"Blessed of the Lord is my son Joseph, who is called the third, for the Lord knows the integrity of his heart, and loves him, because of his faith, and righteous desires. And, for this cause, has the Lord raised him up; that the promises made to the fathers might be fulfilled, even the anointing of the progenitor shall be upon the head of my son, and his seed after him, from generation to generation. For he shall be my successor to the Presidency of the High Priesthood: a Seer, and a Revelator, and a Prophet, unto the Church; which appointment belongeth to him by blessing, and also by right.
"Verily, thus saith the Lord: if he abides in me, his days shall be lengthened upon the earth, but if he abides not in me, I, the Lord will receive him, in an instant, unto myself.
"When he is grown, he shall be a strength to his brethren, and a comfort to his mother. Angels will minister unto him, and he will be wafted as on eagle's wings, and be as wise as serpents, even a multiplicity of blessings shall be his. Amen."
The blessing seemed to provide devastating evidence against the Utah Mormon Church; therefore, officials from the Church tried to downplay its importance. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, March 20, 1981, Church spokesman Jerry Cahill referred to it only as "an interesting historical footnote." At the 151st Annual Conference of the Church, President. Gordon B. Hinckley tried to explain away the obvious implications of the document:
"I think I should like to say a few words this afternoon about the recently discovered transcript of a blessing, reported to have been given January 17, 1844, by Joseph Smith to his eleven-year-old son. This has received much attention in the media of late....
"Our Historical Department secured it in pursuit of their practice of obtaining artifacts of many kinds related to our early history. We determined that we would give full publicity to the discovery, even though we were confident that critics, knowing little of the factual history of the Church, would seize upon it as suggesting a flaw in our line of authority....for those who may feel that the document casts a cloud on the principle of transfer of authority through the Council of the Twelve Apostles, I desire to review briefly a few facts concerning the document and the history of the period to which it is related,...
"First, it should be said that the document is a transcript of a blessing. It is not a record of ordination to an office....
"Thomas Bullock had joined the Church in England in November 1841....Would have have been willing to pay so heavy a price for his membership in the Church and to have suffered so much...if he had any doubt that President Young was the proper leader of the Church and that this right belonged to another according to a blessing which he had in his possession and which he had written with his own pen?...
"We are glad to see our brethren of the Reorganized Church get the document which contains a father's blessing given upon the head of a son he loved. It is a precious artifact, with great sentimental value for the family of Joseph Smith. It does not seriously raise any question concerning the validity of succession in the presidency...Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." (The Ensign, May 1981, pages 20-22)
Earlier in this book I observed that Mark Hofmann believed that the Mormon Church would buy up embarrassing documents to suppress them. He certainly seemed to have been acting under this theory when he approached the Church about the Joseph Smith III Blessing. He even admitted that he was willing to promise to keep quiet about the document if that was what the Church leaders desired:
"On February 16th, 1981, I first showed a xerox of the Blessing to the LDS Archivist, Don Schmidt...I was also willing to promise not to breathe a word of its existence to anyoneDon being the first person I had contacted. Since I had previously made several trades with Don in this same price range which were completed immediately....(not wanting to come across like I was trying to blackmail the Church) I fully expected to relinquish ownership immediately." (Sunstone Review, August 1982, page 1)
The whole transaction seems to have been rather bizarre. Hofmann told Schmidt that he thought the Reorganized LDS Church "might possibly trade a Book of Commandments for it," yet he was "willing to trade the document [to the Mormon Church] for about a quarter of the value of a Book of Commandments." (Ibid.) This would mean that Hofmann would take approximately $5,000 when he could have obtained $20,000. (The price of the Book of Commandments has continued to go up. It is believed that one might sell for $50,000 at the present time.) In the Money-Digging Letters, p. 9, I made these comments about this strange transaction:
"In the September 1982 issue of Sunstone Review, p. 17, Hofmann says, 'I'm in this for the money.' If this is the case, we find it a little hard to understand why he would sacrifice $15,000 just so the Mormon Church could hide the blessing document.
"In any case, Schmidt did not jump at the offer. Hofmann later commented: 'It surprised me a bit that the Church didn't buy it up quick and stash it away somewhere,...' (Sunstone Review, September 1982, page 19) Hofmann then offered the document to officials from the Reorganized Church, and they agreed to give him a Book of Commandments. Instead of selling it to them, however, he turned it over to the Mormon Church. This caused the Reorganized Historian, Richard Howard, to accuse Hofmann of 'duplicitous negotiating' and to consider 'the possibility of legal action in response to Hofmann's breach of contract (His written, self-imposed deadline of March 8, extended verbally to March 17, had been violated by his March 6 sale of the document to the LDS Church).' (Statement of Richard Howard, published in Sunstone Review, August 1982, page 7) In an attempt to bring about a peaceful settlement, the Mormon Church turned over the blessing document to the Reorganized Church in exchange for a Book of Commandments."
By the time the Mormon Church decided to buy the document, it was too late to attempt to suppress it. Officials from the RLDS Church already knew of its contents and it is doubtful that they would have kept silent about the matter. According to the testimony of former Church Archivist Donald Schmidt, Mark Hofmann came out very well on the deal. Schmidt claimed that Hofmann received material from the Archives which was valued "in the neighborhood of $20,000."
At the time the Blessing came to light, the Mormon scholar Van Hale noted an interesting parallel between the blessing document and the Anthon transcripti.e., both items have a description of what they are about on the back side in handwriting which was identified as belonging to Joseph Smith himself. Mr. Hale felt this was not consistent with other documents he had examined in the Church Archives. He believed, however, that the documents were both genuine and that what he observed was only a remarkable coincidence. In retrospect, it is evident that Van Hale was probably onto something important. If the Anthon transcript did not have the handwritten statement on the back of it that Joseph Smith personally copied the characters with his "own hand from the plates of gold," the Church would have had no way of knowing when it was prepared or whether it was an accurate copy of the characters. Joseph Smith's personal endorsement is the thing that gives the transcript its great value. The same thing is true of the Joseph Smith III Blessing. Since the scribe, Thomas Bullock, lived until 1885, there would be no way to know when it was written if it were not for the words "Joseph Smith 3 blessing" in Joseph Smith's handwriting on the back of the document. The purported Joseph Smith inscription, of course, convinced scholars that the document was actually written in 1844 before Smith's death. These four words also made the document more official and, consequently, worth a great deal of money.
The idea that Joseph Smith wanted his son to be his successor and gave him a blessing to that effect was certainly nothing new. Donald Schmidt testified: "Most historians knew or know that there was supposedly a blessing given to Joseph the III by his father." A person could have learned this from a number of books about Mormonism. For instance, in MormonismShadow or Reality? page 195, we wrote the following:
"After Joseph Smith's death it was expected that his son would someday lead the Church, although he was too young at the time. John D. Lee stated: 'It was then understood among the Saints that YOUNG JOSEPH WAS TO SUCCEED HIS FATHER,... Joseph, the Prophet, had bestowed that right upon him by ordination, BUT HE WAS TOO YOUNG at that time to fill the office... Brigham Young arose and roared like a lion, imitating the style and voice of Joseph, the Prophet. Many of the brethren declared that they saw the mantle of Joseph fall upon him. I myself, at that time, imagined that I saw and heard a strong resemblance to the Prophet in him, and felt that he was the man to lead us until Joseph's LEGAL SUCCESSOR should grow up to manhood, when he should surrender the Presidency to the man who held the BIRTHRIGHT.' (Confessions of John D. Lee, p. 155)
"On June 29, 1856, Heber C. Kimball, a member of the First Presidency, stated: 'At present the Prophet Joseph's boys lay apparently in a state of slumber, everything seems to be perfectly calm with them, but by and bye God will wake them up and THEY WILL ROAR LIKE THE THUNDERS OF MOUNT SINAI.' (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, p. 6)
"Brigham Young, the second President of the Mormon Church, made this statement on June 3, 1860: 'What of Joseph Smith's family? What of his boys?...They are in the hands of God, and when they make their appearance before this people, full of his power, there are none but what will say'Amen! we are ready to receive you.'
" 'The brethren testify that brother Brigham is brother Joseph's legal successor. YOU NEVER HEARD ME SAY SO....I do not think anything about being Joseph's successor. That is nothing that concerns me.' (Ibid., Vol. 8, p. 69)
"As it ended up the Mormon people did not receive Joseph Smith's sons as Brigham Young prophesied. One of Joseph Smith's sons [Joseph Smith III] became the president of the Reorganized L.D.S. Churchthis is the church which actively fought against some of the doctrines of the Utah L.D.S. Church."
As to the actual composition of the text of the Joseph Smith III Blessing, Joseph Smith's revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants could have provided structural material. For instance, the wording in Joseph Smith's revelation of January 19, 1841, resembles some of the wording found in the blessing given to his son. In the Doctrine and Covenants 124:57 and 59 we read: "...this anointing have I put upon his head, that his blessing shall also be put upon the head of his posterity after him.... let... his seed after him have place in that house, from generation to generation,..." In the blessing to Joseph Smith III we find this: "the anointing of the progenitor shall be upon the head of my son, and his seed after him, from generation to generation."
One document which was undoubtedly used to write the blessing was mentioned as early as 1976 by the Mormon scholar D. Michael Quinn. In BYU Studies, Winter 1976, p. 225, Dr. Quinn wrote concerning a "patriarchal blessing given to Joseph Smith III by his grandfather, which stated in part: 'You shall have power to carry out all that your Father left undone when you become of age.' " In footnote 104, on the same page, Dr. Quinn gives his source as: "Blessing of Joseph Smith III, given by Joseph Smith, Sr., in Kirtland, written by Lucy Mack Smith from memory in 1845, Church Archives; Saints' Herald ...65 (28 July 1909): 702."
Fortunately, I obtained photocopies of this document and was able to compare it with the Hofmann document. The Joseph Smith, Sr., blessing says that Joseph Smith III "shall live long upon the Earth." The Hofmann document promises, that "his days shall be lengthened upon the earth,..." The blessing written in 1845 informs the boy what he will do "after you are grown." The purported 1844 blessing uses the words, "When he is grown,..." The Joseph Smith, Sr., blessing says to young Joseph: "You shall be a help to your brothers." The Hofmann document claims that "he shall be a strength to his brethren,..." The 1845 document contains these words: "And a comfort to your Mother." The 1844 blessing is almost identical: "...and a comfort to his mother."
From what I have been able to learn, Mark Hofmann had a copy of the 1845 Joseph Smith, Sr., blessing at the time he "discovered" the Joseph Smith III Blessing document.
At the time Mr. Hofmann brought the Anthon transcript to light (almost a year before he found the Blessing document), I thought that it was such an incredible discovery that it was almost too good to be true. I felt, in fact, that if a stranger had brought the document to me with the story Hofmann told, I would be suspicious that it might not be genuine. I would not feel comfortable about publishing it as an authentic document unless I had some additional evidence. Since the Mormon Church leaders bought the Anthon transcript, I assumed that they would do everything in their power to determine if it was authentic. In the Church's publication, The Ensign, July 1980, p. 71, we were told that "Scientific paper and ink analysis will provide objective evidence of the document's authenticity,..." Donald Schmidt's testimony, however, seems to show that these tests were never performed. The Church leaders seem to have relied entirely on their own scholars to authenticate the document. Since I was a critic of the Mormon Church, I knew that I would never be allowed to see the original of the Anthon transcript or any document relating to it in the Church Archives. I was forced to rely upon the information printed by the Church or its scholars. It seemed to me that the Church would take a very hard look at this transcript because it elevated the statement of Charles Anthon, printed in an anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unvailed, over that of Joseph Smith. In the History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 71, Smith plainly stated that the language on the gold plates ran "the same as all Hebrew writing in general;..." A footnote on the same page informs: "That is, from right to left." The characters on the Hofmann document certainly do not run from "right to left" as "all Hebrew writing in general." The writing, in fact, is in perpendicular columns," just as Professor Anthon described it! I felt that if the Church leaders accepted the Hofmann transcript as authentic, they were forced into a position of believing that Joseph Smith later altered the way the characters appeared on the gold platesi.e., changed them from horizontal lines to vertical columns. Moreover, this would also seem to indicate that Joseph Smith suppressed the circular object in the copy of the transcript which David Whitmer preserved. Under these circumstances, it did not seem logical that Church leaders would welcome the Hofmann transcript with open arms unless they had some very good reasons for believing it to be authentic. Unfortunately, it now appears that I should have been more careful and not allowed myself to be swayed by the opinions of others.
When the Joseph Smith III Blessing was discovered, Church leaders found themselves faced with a document that was much more embarrassing to the Church than the Anthon transcript. This blessing undermined the entire concept of an unbroken chain of succession in the presidency of the Church. Again, one would expect that Church leaders would have had every reason to order a critical examination of the document before commenting on its authenticity. It appears, however, that the matter was left entirely in the hands of their own scholars. These scholars, without exception, concluded that the document was authentic. D. Michael Quinn wrote:
"All internal evidences concerning the manuscript blessing of Joseph Smith III, dated 17 January 1844, give conclusive support to its authenticity. Anyone at all familiar with the thousands of official manuscript documents of early Mormonism will immediately recognize that the document is written on paper contemporary with the 1840s, that the text of the blessing is in the extraordinarily distinctive handwriting of Joseph Smith's personal clerk, Thomas Bullock, that the words on the back of the document ('Joseph Smith 3 blessing') bear striking similarity to the handwriting of Joseph Smith, Jr., and that the document was folded and labeled in precisely the manner all one-page documents were filed by the church historian's office in the 1844 period.
"Moreover, the fact that the document is in the handwriting of Thomas Bullock makes impossible any suggestion that the blessing is an invention of someone sympathetic with the later claims of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." (The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, vol. 1, 1981, page 12)
After the Reorganized Church obtained the document, it was submitted to document experts. On June 1, 1981, RLDS Church Historian Richard P. Howard reported the following in the Saints Herald: "The transcript of the January 17, 1844, blessing...has been authenticated by the work of two document examiners and a paper testing laboratory." Unfortunately, the tests made on the document did not delve into the one area which could have revealed the fraudulent nature of the documenti.e., the ink. The First Presidency of the Reorganized Church made this comment in a printed statement: "Ink tests were not conducted due to the general opinion among researchers that there is a lack of scientific standards and data applicable to nineteenth-century inks." (Saints Herald, March 1986, p. 40) These experts, of course, did not have access to the other Hofmann documents. It is doubtful, therefore, that they could have detected the forgery even if ink tests were made. One thing that should be noted about this matter is the fact that the RLDS Church was willing to seek outside help. RLDS Church leaders certainly did everything in their power to determine if the Blessing was authentic.
I was absolutely astounded when the discovery of the Joseph Smith III Blessing was announced. If Mark Hofmann had claimed that he found it in an old book (as in the case of the Anthon transcript) or in some similar manner, I certainly would have been suspicious. It would be almost impossible to believe that one person could randomly find two such documents in less than a year. As it was, however, it was reported that the Blessing document came from a descendant of Thomas Bullock and that Mr. Hofmann was only playing the role of dealer in the transaction. The Church's own newspaper reported that Hofmann claimed "he received it from a descendant of Thomas Bullock." (Deseret News, March 19, 1981) I naturally assumed that the Church leaders had checked Hofmann's story out and knew all about this descendant of Thomas Bullock. On the basis of this information, combined with the fact that the handwriting looked like that of Thomas Bullock, I had every reason to believe the document was authentic. Therefore, I published a pamphlet concerning it which was entitled, Joseph Smith's SuccessorAn Important New Document Comes to Light. Unfortunately, it now appears that Church officials did not do their homework. There was no serious attempt to check out the story that the Blessing document actually came from a descendant of Bullock, and the Reorganized Church Historian who was interested in the source of the Blessing was discouraged from checking it out.
I first became concerned about the authenticity of the Joseph Smith III Blessing after I began to have misgivings about the Salamander letter. I wanted to talk to the descendant of Thomas Bullock who was supposed to have originally had the document. I felt that if I could trace the document back beyond Mark Hofmann to the Bullock family, I would be sure of its authenticity. I soon found, however, that it was virtually impossible to learn the name of the descendant of Thomas Bullock. I became very suspicious and on August 22, 1984, I published the following:
"In his public statement about the Joseph Smith III Blessing document Hofmann has said he a[c]quired it from a descendant of Thomas Bullock. An official from the Reorganized Church [RLDS Church Historian Richard P. Howard] told us that when he asked Hofmann the specific source of this document, he would not reveal it. The same man [Howard] asked us the question, 'Would you want to buy a used car from someone who wouldn't tell you who the last owner was.' At any rate, he was given a name by the Mormon Church historians, but never followed up on the matter because he was told it could prove embarrassing for the Mormon Church. The reason why it would prove embarrassing was not explained." (The Money-Digging Letters, pages 8-9)
As I indicated earlier in this book, on August 23, 1984, Mark Hofmann came to our home and talked to Sandra for a long time about the questions I had raised in The Money-Digging Letters. With regard to the Joseph Smith III Blessing, Hofmann indicated that he had given the Mormon Church an affidavit which stated where he had obtained it. He could not reveal the source to the public, however, because the member of the Bullock family from whom he had purchased the document also had important papers concerning Brigham Young's finances that would be embarrassing to the Church.
Strange as it may seem, testimony given by former Church Archivist Donald Schmidt at the preliminary hearing, confirms that Hofmann actually gave the Church a notarized statement with the name of a man he was supposed to have obtained the Blessing from:
A...He furnished me with a notarized...statement.
QDoes that statement state where or whom he received the Joseph Smith III Blessing from?
AThe statement was signed by an Allen Bullock.
QThat being the person he obtained it from?
QWere you able to receive any more information about an Allen Bullock?
AYes. In a conversation on [the] telephone with Mark Hofmann, he told me his full name was Allen Lee Bullock.
QDid he give you any information concerning whether or not this particular person was related to Thomas Bullock?
AIt was my understanding that he was.
Donald Schmidt even testified that Hofmann told him when "Allen Lee Bullock" was born:
QDid he also give you a date of birth for this Allen Lee Bullock?
AYes. As I recall the birth year is 1918 or in that general period of time.
The testimony of Donald Schmidt reveals that the Church failed to verify whether there was such an individual as "Allen Lee Bullock":
QAs a result of those investigations, what did [you] have in your...files verifying the provenance of this document?
AWe were unable to do so.
QDid you have any personal contact with this Allen Lee Bullock?
AI did not.
QDid anyone in your department have contact with him.
QDid you provide the RLDS Church with a copy of this affidavit or the original of it.
Mark Hofmann told one scholar that the descendant of Thomas Bullock from whom he obtained the Blessing document had a collection of 37 items. Hofmann also indicated that this individual lived in Coalville, Utah. Jeffery O. Johnson, who used to work for the Church Historical Department, also indicated that Hofmann claimed that he obtained the blessing in Coalville:
"LDS historian Jeffery O. Johnson,...said that, since the document controversy following the bombings, he has questioned the source of the Joseph Smith III blessing.
" 'The Smith family logically would have had such an important blessing,' Johnson said. 'It's never been clear where it came from. Hofmann said it came from the Bullock family in Coalville. But why did the clerk keep it through all those generations? Thomas Bullock worked in the church history department. This is more like a historical document than something he would keep in his family.' " (Deseret News, December 22, 1985)
Even with all the information that Hofmann gave concerning "Allen Lee Bullock" (his name, city and when he was born), no one seems to be able to locate him. One would think that if Mr. Bullock actually existed, his name would be found in genealogical records of the Bullock family or that someone in Coalville would have heard of him. To date, all efforts to confirm his existence have failed.
William Flyn examined the handwriting on the Joseph Smith III Blessing document. The Deseret News, May 8, 1986, reported: "It was difficult, Flynn testified, to determine if a blessing purportedly given by Joseph Smith to his son was authentic based on the precise 'handprinting' style of church clerk Thomas Bullock. The writing resembles calligraphy more than fluent cursive writing. The printing would be easier to imitate than handwriting because a forger can stop and lift his pen without disturbing authentic appearance of letters, he said."
Mr. Flyn made his own copy of the Blessing in the style of Thomas Bullock with a turkey feather formed into a pen for writing. This copy was given to the court in an attempt to prove that Bullock's handwriting could be duplicated. Flyn testified that although he could not condemn the document on the basis of the handwriting, he did note that the indentation of paragraphs did not match that found on authentic Bullock documents.
George Throckmorton testified that the document was not authentic because he found the "characteristic cracking effect" in the ink. William Flyn also observed this phenomenon: "This is another one of the documents where the surface of [the] ink is extensively cracked throughout the document." Mr. Flyn commented that he also saw "one-directional ink running on that document." When asked if he believed the Joseph Smith III Blessing was authentic, Flyn responded: "I don't believe that's genuine either."
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