Martin Harris visits 3 noted linguists

Additional information on the Martin Harris  trip to New York.

In December of 1827, Joseph Smith and Emma moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, and Joseph was able to translate without persecution. Until February 1828, Joseph copied many of the characters and translated a few using the Urim and Thummim. Martin Harris, a wealthy farmer who had helped Joseph and Emma financially, came to visit. Martin was given a copy of some of the characters and asked to show them to noted linguists.This was done in accordance with a prophecy given in Isaiah and also quoted by Nephi in the Book of Mormon, "For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. 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."1It is known that Martin Harris visited at least three men who were noted linguists; Luther Bradish, Dr. Samuel Mitchill, and Professor Charles Anthon. Luther Bradish was a diplomat, world traveler, and knew many languages. Samuel Mitchill was the vice president of Rutgers Medical College, and Charles Anthon was a professor at Columbia College in New York City. He was the leading classical scholar of the time and was a professor of Greek and Latin. He also knew French, and German, and was extremely familiar with the latest discoveries in the Egyptian language.Martin recorded that Anthon examined the characters and gave him a certificate saying that the characters and their translation were authentic. Martin took the certificate and was about to leave when Anthon asked him how the plates were found. Martin informed him that it was through revelation from God. Anthon asked for the certificate and Martin recorded, "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." This experience directly fulfilled the prophecy found in Isaiah, and also helped confirm Martin Harris' testimony of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's mission. After this experience Martin was ready to help Joseph in any way possible to bring forth the Book of Mormon.


"There are two independent sources stating that Harris did indeed seek the opinion and advice of [Luther] Bradish [in Albany] concerning the transcription. The first source is Pomeroy Tucker. ... Tucker reports that Harris 'sought the interpretation and bibliological scrutiny of such scholars as Hon. Luther Bradish, Dr. Mitchell, Professor Anthon and others.' ..."

"The second source is a statement made by John H. Gilbert in September 1892. ... According to Gilbert, Harris 'stopped at Albany and called on Lt. Governor Bradish ...' (Furthermore, the statement by W.W.Phelps, that Harris 'went to New York City by way of Utica and Albany,' strengthens the possibility that Harris consulted Bradish about the transcription.)" [ATP 329-330] 

Professor Anthon wrote two letters, approximately seven years apart, and in each of the two letters he states that Martin Harris arrived with a note of introduction from Dr. Mitchell.

"Some years ago, a plain, apparently simple-hearted farmer called on me with a note from Dr. Mitchell, of our city, now dead, requesting me to decipher, if possible, the paper which the farmer would hand me." Letter to E. D. Howe, February 17, 1834. [CHC 1:103]

"Many years ago--the precise date I do not now recollect,--a plain-looking countryman called upon me with a letter from Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell, requesting me to examine, and give my opinion upon a certain paper, marked with various characters, which the doctor confessed he could not decipher, and which the bearer of the note was very anxious to have explained." . . .
"As Dr. Mitchell was our 'Magnus Appollo' in those days, the man called first upon him; but the Doctor, evidently suspecting some trick, declined giving any opinion about the matter, and sent the countryman down to the college, to see, in all probability, what the 'learned pundits' in that place would make of the affair." Letter to T. W. Coit, April 3, 1841. [CHC

According to Joseph Smith's history, Martin Harris indicates that he saw Professor Anthon before seeing Dr. Mitchill.

"He [Professor Charles Anthon] replied 'I cannot read a sealed book' I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthony had said respecting both the characters and the translation." [PJS 1:285-286 and HC 1:20]

If, as Professor Anthon states, Dr. Mitchell initially declined giving any opinion on the matter, it is reasonable to believe that Martin Harris might return to see if Dr. Mitchell would be willing to make some definite statement after Professor Anthon had first expressed an opinion. This would tend to reconcile the differences in the accounts about the sequence of the visits.1:104-105, 106]