“Unto the Learned - Anthon”

K. Douglas Bassett

(Isa. 29:11–12; JS–H 1:61–65)

This is the brilliant and scholarly gentleman who turned out to be the “one that is learned,” spoken of in Isaiah 29:11 and in 2 Nephi 27:15–18.
It was to this learned professor of Columbia that Martin Harris took the characters which had been copied from the plates of the Book of Mormon.
Charles Anthon was professor of classical studies at Columbia College (later Columbia University) for forty-seven years—1820–1867. In earlier years he attended Columbia as a student and is described as probably the most brilliant scholar ever to attend Columbia College.
The Dictionary of American Biography describes Professor Anthon as a prolific writer. During a period of thirty years he produced at least one volume annually. “Each of his text books passed through several editions, and for thirty years his influence upon the study of the classics in the United States was probably greater than that of any other man.” (vol. 1, 314)
Edgar Allen Poe wrote of Anthon: “If not absolutely the best, he is at least generally considered the best classicist in America … “ (The Literati, New York, 1859, 45–47).
Harper’s Weekly, August 17, 1867, said Professor Anthon was “more widely known in Europe than any other American commentator on classical authors.”
Charles Anthon was a bachelor and lived in a wing of Columbia College. It is believed that it was there, in his study, that Martin Harris interviewed him.
(The above information was abstracted from “The Anthon Transcript,” by Professor Stanley B. Kimball of Southern Illinois University, BYU Studies, Spring, 1970, 331.)

(W. Cleon Skousen, Hidden Treasures from the Book of Mormon, 1:1367.)

I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyric, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.
He then said to me, “Let me see that certificate.” I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying, that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him, he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, “I cannot read a sealed book.” I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”

(Martin Harris, History of the Church, 1:20.)

Dr. Anthon’s unfortunate role in these important events was a source of great embarrassment to him in later years. This would tend to verify the statement of Nephi that his motives were not entirely sincere [v. 16]. For example, he wrote a letter to E. D. Howe on February 17, 1834, verifying the visit of Martin Harris but ridiculing the claim that he had given Mr. Harris a certificate vouching for the accuracy of the translation or the authenticity of the writings. Said Professor Anthon, “He [Martin Harris] requested an opinion from me in writing, which, of course, I declined to give, and he then took his leave, taking his paper with him.” Seven years later, on April 3, 1841, Professor Anthon wrote a letter to the Rev. Dr. T. W. Coit in which he said, “He requested me to give him my opinion in writing about the paper which he had shown me. I did so without hesitation, partly for the man’s sake, and partly to let the individual ‘behind the curtain’ see that the trick was discovered. The import of what I wrote was, as far as I can now recollect, simply this, that the marks in the paper appeared to be merely an imitation of various alphabetical characters, and had, in my opinion, no meaning at all connected with them.” At that point the duplicity of Dr. Anthon becomes fully evident as he verifies the very thing which he had formerly denied, all of which lends great credence to the simple and direct statement of Martin Harris as to what really happened.
At the time of the above visit, neither Martin Harris nor Joseph Smith was aware that the Book of Mormon contained a commentary on chapter 29 of Isaiah, or that it impugned the motives of Dr. Anthon. In later years, when Professor Anthon was told that he had been identified as the “learned” scholar in Isaiah 19:11, he was intellectually horrified. Martin Harris became aware of this when he made a special trip to New York a second time to personally present a copy of the newly published Book of Mormon to him. Professor Anthon would not even allow Martin Harris to leave a copy in the house!

(W. Cleon Skousen, Isaiah Speaks to Modern Time, [Salt Lake City: Ensign Publishing Co., 1984], 100–101.)

Commentaries on Isaiah: In the Book or Mormon