'I cannot read a sealed book': Letters from professor disputing incident are inconsistent in detail

It is striking - almost startling - how precisely the events described by Martin Harris regarding his visit to Professor Charles Anthon in New York City in February 1828 (See Joseph Smith - History 1:63-65) fulfill prophecy in both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. (See Isa. 29:11-12 and 2 Ne. 27:6-10, 15-20.)

The prophecies pertain to the submission of "the book," (meaning the copied characters from the Nephite record) to "the learned."Of course, Anthon had no idea that he, by uttering the words "I cannot read a sealed book," would be fulfilling prophecy.

Years later, Anthon contradicted Harris' account of their conversation in two letters, one written Feb. 17, 1834, to E. D. Howe, and the other April 3, 1841, to T. W. Coit. In the letters, he denied saying the copied characters were genuine. He asserted they were "anything else but Egyptian hieroglyphics."

Anthon's letters are published in their entirety in B. H. Roberts' A Comprehensive History of the Church 1:102-107. Also, Milton V. Backman Jr., in his book Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration, published Anthon's letters in parallel columns for comparison (pp. 215-223.).

"There are several obvious contradictions in Anthon's letters," wrote Brother Backman, professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU. "In the second letter (1841), Anthon wrote that until the present time' no one had ever requested from him astatement in writing' about his encounter with Martin Harris, as if to say that he had never written the 1834 Howe letter."

Also, in one letter he said he gave Harris a written opinion, but in the other he said he did not.

" . . . Since both [Anthon's and Harris'T accounts cannot be entirely correct, why should one believe Harris rather than Anthon? Copies of the characters taken to New York City which have been preserved provide evidence that these inscriptions appear like ancient Egyptian script. Moreover, if Anthon would have convinced Harris that the manuscript was a hoax [as he claimed in his lettersT, then why would Harris have immediately returned to Pennsylvania to assist Joseph Smith with the translations, and why would Harris have sacrificed financially to pay for the publication of the Book of Mormon and contributed much of his material wealth to the advancement of the restored gospel?

"Undoubtedly Charles Anthon was embarrassed by some of the things which he had said to Harris, especially for that which he had written on a certificate, and therefore, he wrote some inaccurate statements." (pp. 65-66.)

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