A Review of:
Translating the Anthon Transcript
Stan and Polly Johnson
Ivory Books, 1999
Long before the Book of Mormon was published Joseph Smith showed his friend Martin Harris a piece of paper which was filled with curious characters. Smith claimed to have copied these figures -- reformed Egyptian -- from the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. Harris took this sample, along with Smith's translation of the characters, to scholars to have the authenticity of Smith's work verified. The translation later disappeared; the transcript, given by Joseph Smith to David Whitmer, is today in the possession of the Community of Christ Church (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints).
A new translation of the Anthon Transcript's reformed Egyptian characters has not been attempted -- until now. Stan Johnson has made a literal translation of the Anthon Transcript and has published it in this volume which he co-authored with his wife, Polly.
Translating the Anthon Transcript is basically a recitation of Stan's process of translation and the conclusions he reached as he worked on this intriguing puzzle. Also included in the book are chapters on the Book of Mormon, Book of Mormon Language with Egyptian and Cursive Equivalents, and the early history of the Anthon Transcript. The Johnsons have included an appendix containing symbol references, symbol incorporations, ideograms or sense signs, and Micmac and Maori hieroglyphics in order to help the reader more fully understand Stan's work.
Stan's initial translation of the reformed Egyptian characters revealed that the transcript contained a portion of Ether chapter 6 from the Book of Mormon. Considering this discovery the Johnsons wrote,
"Then the staggering implications began to occur to both of us. If these characters copied by Joseph Smith from the gold plates could be translated by someone today, and the translation were a story from the Book of Mormon, then it would be further 'evidence' that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. It would be further testimony that Joseph's translation...was the word of God to us in these the latter days. And significantly, if the unique combination of Stan's knowledge of Native American and Egyptian languages enabled him to make this translation, it would be a confirmation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' claim, that the Lamanites are a remnant of the house of Israel, and the principle ancestors of the American Indians." (ix) I, too, was staggered by the ramifications of Stan's efforts.
Translating the Anthon Transcript was an interesting read, but it left me with more questions than answers. The book is filled with claims regarding what scholars say regarding linguistics, but does not identify these scholars or their works. (10, 27) The authors make linguistic statements of their own, but offer no corroborating evidence for the validity of what they say. (7) This may not seem to be much of an issue until one considers Stan's qualifications for translating this heretofore unknown pictorial language. They are listed as the following:
- Artistic training and skills (ix)
- Familiarity with Native American cultures, languages and symbols (ix)
- Knowledge of Egyptian languages (ix)
As a reader untrained in the study of language myself, I am not tremendously impressed by Stan's credentials and am left wondering if there is any real validity to his work.
I suppose the reader may find some assurance in the apparent endorsement of this translation by LDS scholar Hugh Nibley. Nibley's name and short endorsement appear on the book jacket: "Some convincing signs." Nibley's encouragement of Stan's work early on is brought to the reader's attention in the preface. Nibley assured the Johnsons that "the translation might be correct," that they were "on track," and that Stan was "a genius!" (xi)
Perhaps, for some readers, of even greater import in measuring the trustworthiness of Stan's work of translation is the Johnson's frequent bearing of their testimonies of the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith. (xii, 2, 5, 28, 67) Also worthy of consideration is the fact that Stan "felt that he was receiving help beyond his own abilities as he worked on the translation." (33)
In the end, the real validation of Stan's translation of the Anthon Transcript will be found not in dissecting his work, but in the response from the First Presidency of the LDS Church. In the years since the publication of Stan's findings, the First Presidency has remained silent on what one would think is the biggest discovery in support of Mormonism since the Book of Abraham papyrus came to light in 1967. Until official endorsement is given to Stan's modern translation of the Anthon Transcript, this reader will give equal weight to an alternate opinion which suggests that the symbols Joseph Smith provided (as representative of the characters from the Book of Mormon gold plates) were based on common English typographical characters (i.e., proofreaders' marks, mathematical symbols, etc.).
Reviewed by Sharon Lindbloom