S A I N T S: “EDITING PROPHECY INTO THE NARRATIVE”
“Martin explained that part of the plates were sealed and that Joseph was not allowed to show them to anyone.
“‘I cannot read a sealed book,’ said Anthon. He warned Martin that Joseph was probably cheating him. ‘Beware of rogues,’ he said.”
Saints – Volume 1: The Standard of Truth 1815-1846 (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, January 2018), 48.
There are few instances of deception within the modern church that parallel this one. Namely, a deliberate attempt to embellish history to bend it toward the fulfillment of a prophecy.
Many of the faithful are quick to point to this scene as the literal fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy:
“And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.”
Isaiah 29:11-12 (AKJV)
The Anthon/Harris meeting took place in early 1828. The first recorded account of the incident is given by Joseph Smith (in his handwriting, through *) four years later, in 1832:
“[A]nd <h[e]> [Martin Harris] imediately came to Suquehannah and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to new York City <with> some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them and he took his Journy to the Eastern Cittys and to the Learned <saying> read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the blates they would read it but the Lord had forbid it and he returned to me and gave them to <me to> translate and I said I said cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spectticke spectacles for to read the Book therefore* I commenced translating the characters and thus the Propicy of Isiaah was fulfilled which is writen in the 29 chaptr concerning the book”
The Joseph Smith Papers, Letterbook 1 (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 19 May 2021), 5.
There is no reference to “I cannot read a sealed book” in this account, although he does make reference to Isaiah 29:12 by saying “I am not learned.” This is absurd, and simply a way to “bend” a prophesy your way, when he knew he had the technology to do it with the seer stone. He also had four years to devise this entry.
Fast forward to April of 1838.
A new history is being written, penned by freshly called “general church recorder and clerk to the First Presidency” George W. Robinson. The scene is described this way:
“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 him when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministring of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him, he would translate them. I left him and went to Dr Mitchel who sanctioned what Professor Anthony had said respecting both the Characters and the translation.”
Still…no mention of “I cannot read a sealed book.”
But wait…it’s there!
As a later insertion, Robinson places the following words ‘between the lines’ after “he would translate them” and before “I left him”:
“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’.”
View the document here:
“The ‘I cannot read a sealed book’ conversation is implausible, either at the time or in retrospect: if God commands that part of the plates are to remain sealed, then only the unsealed part must be translated. This looks like another embellishment added with the passing of time to make the story correspond better with Joseph’s interpretation of Isaiah.”
Jonathan Ellis, 1 July 2016.
RE-rewrite: “Professor Anthon offered to translate the Book of Mormon [Which is unlikely, given Anthon’s description of the events]. When Martin balked at the offer he warned him that Joseph was probably cheating him. ‘Beware of rogues,’ he said.”