The Inconsistency of Joseph Smith by Seymour Bloom

Joseph Smith had a habit of modifying his descriptions of events. The most famous of these are his various, differing accounts of the First Vision. In addition to this event, he has written two different versions of the meeting between Martin Harris and Professor Charles Anthon. In one, Harris presents Anthon the characters copied from the gold plates and their translation. In the other version, Anthon is only given the characters. The characters are not translated until after Harris's return.

I originally read about the significant differences in these accounts about Harris's trip to Professor Anthon in an article by Richard Stout. The link to Stout's article, “A Singular Discovery”, is http://www.olivercowdery.com/smithhome/2000s/2001RBSt.htm The discussion of this discrepancy is a small part of Stout's article; the major part of which develops the theory that the Anthon characters are shorthand symbols.

In Joseph Smith's 1832-1834 Diary, he mentions giving only a copy of the characters to Harris, so he can show them to the professors. Harris, after returning, tells Joseph Smith that the professors were not able to translate the characters. Smith says he then “commenced translating the characters” with the aid of the spectacles. A typed transcript of this diary entry is part of The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott H. Faulring, and published by Signature Books in 1987. The original handwritten account is in the handwriting of Joseph Smith. It is part of a six-page document that includes the 1832 account of the First Vision.

In the Joseph Smith History (1:62-63), Joseph Smith claims to have translated some of the characters, with the aid of the “Urim and Thummim” (seer stone), prior to Harris's trip. He states that that Harris took the copied characters to New York. While he does not state that Harris took the translation, this is implied in Harris's report to Smith, which follows in the next section (1:64-65), where Martin Harris claimed he showed the characters and their translation to the professors.

The disparities between the accounts of Harris and Smith are not slight deviations in recitations. When, and if, Joseph Smith furnished a translation of the Anthon characters to Martin Harris is very significant. It is the key to the important differences between the accounts of Harris, Smith and Anthon of their meeting. In the account attributed to Martin Harris (Stout thinks this was written by Joseph Smith), Professor Anthon verified Joseph Smith's translation of the characters. However, Joseph Smith, in his 1831-1832 diary indicated that he did not begin the translation until after Harris returned from his visit to Anthon.


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