“Show Them Unto the Learned”

Alan C. Miner

According to Stanley Kimball and Cleon Skousen, Professor Charles Anthon 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, p. 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, pp. 45-47). Harper's Weekly, Aug. 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. (Stanley B. Kimball, "The Anthon Transcript," BYU Studies, Spring, 1970, p. 331.) [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2, p. 1367]

2 Nephi 27:15 Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned ([Illustration]). Professor Charles Anthon (1787-1867) [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1367]

“Take These Words Which Are Not Sealed and Deliver Them to Another That He May Show Them Unto the Learned”

According to the prophecies of Nephi, "it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book: Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee" (2 Nephi 27:15). Joseph Smith gave an account of the fulfillment of this prophecy of 2 Nephi 27:9-18:

Sometime in this month of February, the aforementioned Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates, and started with them to the city of New York. For what took place relative to him and the characters, I refer to his own account of the circumstances, as he related them to me after his return, which was as follows: "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 shewed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said that 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. Mitchill, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation." [Pearl of Great Price, JS-H 1:63-65]

In a F.A.R.M.S. 72-page overview of this incident, with accompanying appendices, we find the following: (1) the accounts and illustrations of the meeting of Martin Harris and Charles Anthon; (2) reasoning which shows that Harris probably told the truth about Anthon's mention of Egyptian resemblances to the Book of Mormon characters, and (3) illustrations of Egyptian available to Anthon by 1828 that were comparable in form and arrangement to the Anthon Transcript.

We can tell that Martin Harris was telling the truth because of the descriptive term "short-hand Egyptian" which he used to relate his story. Based solely on the books and illustrations which we know were readily available to Anthon, the characters Harris showed him could have reminded him of nothing so much as what the scholars were then calling "short-hand Egyptian." . . . Thus it becomes highly probable that Harris indeed got this phrase from Anthon, and that Anthon did mention "short-hand Egyptian," no doubt struck by certain obvious similarities in the transcript to hieratic or demotic Egyptian. From this, what else can one conclude, except that Martin Harris has been telling the truth all along about what Charles Anthon said on this point.

Charles Anthon's side of the story breaks down in a number of ways, as has long been pointed out. For example, on whether he gave Martin Harris a written statement: Anthon's 1834 letter to Eber D. Howe says that he did not, while his 1841 letter to T. W. Coit says that he did. On how convincing he had been, Anthon's 1834 letter simply says that Harris "took his leave," but his 1841 letter claims that Harris left with the "express declaration" that he would not mortgage his farm or have anything to do with printing the golden book. What else can one say from Harris' subsequent conduct, except that Harris left Anthon fully satisfied?

Although the only surviving Anthon Transcript (1) may not be the original, (2) has not been deciphered, and (3) is too short for decoding; several Egyptologists have thought that it contains many readily recognizable Egyptian cursive characters. When reached at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, the late Dr. W. C. Hayes thought it "conceivably" a poor copy of a Hieratic original. Professor Richard A. Parker, who had advised Ariel L. Crowley in his presentation of a comparison of Egyptian and Anthon transcript signs in the Improvement Era in 1942 and 1944, later stated in person to Professor Richard L. Bushman his opinion that the transcript was a copy of an authentic original in abnormal Demotic--suggesting and demonstrating to Bushman the similarity to Meroitic Demotic--noting in each case that Egyptian script was apparently being used for a non-Egyptian language. It is very important here to distinguish between language and script, just as Parker did in his conversation with Bushman, because that is exactly what Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni did in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 1:2; Mormon 9:32-34; Ether 8:9) [F.A.R.M.S. Staff, "Martin Harris' Visit with Charles Anthon: Collected Documents on the Anthon Transcript and "Shorthand Egyptian," pp. 1, 2, 4-7]

The reader might wonder, where the original copy of the Anthon Transcript might be? Stanley Kimball responds, Martin Harris probably kept his copy for many years, but there is nothing known about what he finally did with it. In 1884 a committee of the RLDS Church conversed with David Whitmer and were shown a transcript of which he wrote, "I have in my possession the original paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates, which paper Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon of New York." Unfortunately we lack any further information regarding how, when, or why David Whitmer acquired this document. Though inconclusive, it is of interest to note that Martin Harris neither confirmed nor denied David Whitmer's claim. The RLDS transcript was given to the Church in 1903 by the heirs of David Whitmer, fifteen years after his death in 1888.

One interesting, and possibly very meaningful, detail about the RLDS transcript is the word "Charactors" written across the top. Four students of early Church history, R.D. Webb, Ariel Crowley, Dean Jessee of the LDS Church Historian's Office, and the anti-Mormon writer I. Woodbridge Riley, think that this word is in the hand of Joseph Smith. If so, the authenticity of the RLDS transcript would be strengthened greatly. [Stanley B. Kimball, "The Anthon Transcript: People, Primary Sources, and Problems," pp. 347-349, Reprinted by F.A.R.M.S. from BYU Studies, Vol. 10 (1970)] [See the commentary on Moroni 10:27-29]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary