CC - Mark Hofmann pt. 1
On this episode, we take a break from the historical timeline to examine a person that has been shrouded in mystery since making his way onto the Mormon historical scene in 1978; Mark Hofmann. He’s a man responsible for manufacturing an unknowable number of forgeries and selling them to the Church and other private collectors. All of his actions eventually lead up to 3 bombs going off, killing two people and severely injuring Hofmann himself. This is part one and it gets us up to the Salamander Letter in 1984, a year and a half before bombs start going off.
Outro music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
Joseph Smith III Blessing
Gordon B. Hinckley Conference Talk
September 9, 1984 Deseret News “Church” section
Dallin Oaks CES Symposium defending Salamander letter
Tracking the White Salamander with color coded source texts of
September 1, 1984 Deseret News article titled “Letter”
Today’s episode is a Special Clean Cut episode about a notorious, somewhat infamous person in Mormon historical realms. While attending Sunstone Symposium on the 28th, I had the amazing opportunity of sitting down and speaking with Mormon historians in a one-on-one setting. Last episode featured audio clips from Grant Palmer, D. Michael Quinn, H. Michael Marquardt, and a few other fantastic people. Sunstone was a great setting to meet all of these people that have been so prominent in my own Mormon research for 3 and half years now. They were all quite willing to sit down and discuss their work or elaborate on their current projects, like in the case of D Michael Quinn’s Mormon money book that’s on the way.
There was one more audio clip I recorded while there, that wasn’t played last episode, because I believe it deserves its own full episode. Sandra and Jerald Tanner have spent decades on the forefront of Mormon historical study, and the body of knowledge they’ve built is astounding. While Jerald unfortunately passed nearly 10 years ago, Sandra is still on the forefront of Mormon scholarship and historical studies and remains quite active in the community.
On a personal note, one of the first resources I began consuming when I became fixated on Mormon history, some 3.5 years ago, was a TV show called Heart of the Matter with Sean McCraney. That TV show used to do heavy Mormon historical studies, now it’s just devolved into a preaching and ministry show. But, the information in the earlier episodes is invaluable and heavily backed by the work Sandra and Jerald Tanner have done under the umbrella of Utah Lighthouse Ministries, found on UTLM.org. The Tanners are responsible for spurring enough interest in Mormon history for me to begin this podcast so I have them and their work to thank for literally changing the direction of my life with their body of research.
While at Sunstone, I had the opportunity to sit with Sandra Tanner and discuss some of her work, as well as attend a panel discussion, during which she presented, about the Book of Mormon authorship and plagiarism. Well, I was also able to snag her and talk for over half an hour about a topic that is shrouded in mystery for me, Mark Hoffman. I’ve known some of the highlights of Hoffman for some time, but never have I actually studied him in detail to understand the scope of his work and everything he did. Well, luckily for us, Sandra was happy to share her perspective as the events were unfolding with Hoffman in the early to mid-80’s.
The discussion I recorded with her is incredibly informative, and it serves to enlighten us to who Mark Hoffman was and some of the underhanded deals he did, but I feel like there is a much deeper story worth giving a look. I really want to understand what it was like in the 80’s when the Hoffman bombs went off and people were confused about what was going on. So the format of today’s show will be as follows: first, we will listen to the audio clip of the discussion about Hoffman with Sandra Tanner, Second, we’ll study everything we can find from that time to dive further into the information to which Sandra introduced us, and third, we’ll look at the implication of Hoffman’s work on the larger body of historical studies to see what kind of effect he had on Mormon history as we know it.
First off, let’s listen to the audio recorded between Sandra and myself at Sunstone Symposium on the 29th of July. She’ll introduce us to the topic and give us a brief overview of Mark Hoffman, which we’ll use as a jumping off point to further our research.
Play Sandra Tanner audio
Alright, that was the audio with Sandra so let’s dive into part two of this Mark Hofmann episode and use everything Sandra talked about as a jump off point for further research. I have a feeling like this is going to be a lot of information to cover and have therefore opted to split it into two episodes instead of making it one 6-hour episode or something. Today’s episode will introduce us to Mark Hofmann and other relevant individuals surrounding him, while next week’s episode will cover the bombings and historical fallout of his actions.
To get us started, let’s introduce our protagonist for the episode, Mark Hofmann.
He was born on December 7, 1954 in SLC, Utah. At age twelve he purchased his first piece of Mormon history being a Kirtland Safety Society bank note signed by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. This shows us that from a very early age Mark was drawn to historical artifacts and old documents, especially when they related to Mormon history.
On November 27, 1973, Hofmann was called to serve a mission to the England Southwest Mission, which involved the areas of Portsmouth, Bristol, and Bath. While on his mission, he engaged in the hobby of collecting old books and sending them home for use after his mission.
He enrolled in the Spring 1976 semester of Utah State University in Logan, Utah.
This is when Mark Hofman enters our timeline as a distinguished individual, and where the discussion with Sandra picked up in the previous audio. Around June of 1978 Hofman went to the UTLM Bookstore just south of I-80 on 3rd west in Salt Lake City in order to attempt to sell Sandra a copy of the Second anointing. (Read second anointing)
It was Hoffman’s plan to have UTLM publish the second anointing document in their work to help establish his legitimacy. They refused to do so because they didn’t have the pedigree of the document, nor did they even know the name of the person that gave them the photocopy. They were skeptical of Hoffman as early as 1978.
Hofmann made a copy of the Second Anointing document and left it with the Tanners, showing that he wasn’t in it for the money at the time, but instead was trying to establish himself as a legitimate historical document dealer.
In April of 1979, almost a year after he first talked with the Tanners and picked up their book “Mormonism – Shadow or Reality,” Hofmann wrote a college essay in the form of a letter to his mother, in which he was very critical of the church’s history and how it was discussed and taught among believers.
It’s a challenge to try and ascertain motives for somebody’s actions without asking them directly. Hofmann refuses to meet with anybody today to discuss his motives or any of his actions in the 70’s and 80’s, however, I think we can look at this time before he began really engaging in Mormon document forgery to gain some insight as to why he did what he did. A lot of people are frustrated when they leave the church and learn the real history. I think Mark felt this same frustration when he began researching Mormon history. I believe he began to research the history from sources other than the church and found inconsistencies with how the church reports the evidence, which may have spurred action on his part. We’ll try to analyze the deeper motives later on in the discussion about Hofmann, but just keep in mind that he was a strongly believing member of the church, obviously quite intelligent, went on his mission, and upon returning found out just how convoluted Mormon history really is.
Sometime in October of 1979, Hofmann sold that Second Anointing document of which he gave a photocopy to Sandra Tanner, to a man named Jeff Simmonds for $60. Hofmann sold the document with the caveat that Simmonds couldn’t tell anybody where he had acquired the document from. It was only after Jerald Tanner compared it to their photocopy years later that it was found to be one of Hofmann’s forgeries.
This seemed to be a recurring theme with Hofmann. He would come up with a document, whether a letter, signature, or some other antique writing of importance, and wouldn’t detail from where he acquired the document. He seemed to always come up with some kind of excuse like he got it from a trade with another collector, or he found it in the pages of an old book in a second-hand bookstore or something like that. When it comes to old documents like this, they have to have a pedigree to be legitimized. We have to be able to track where the document came from, and how it got to our hands today in order for it to be a legitimate document. The vast majority of Hofmann’s documents lacked this crucial piece of legitimacy, which only seemed to really surface once his documents started to be questioned 4.5 years after he sold this Second Anointing document to Jeff Simmonds.
Hofmann knew that documents like this needed to be substantiated with a line of pedigree, and in his early days of forgery he tended to pay more attention to that detail. He wouldn’t have the time to do so later, but beginning in 1980, we see that he was aware of the need for a document pedigree to determine where it came from.
On April 16, 1980 Hofmann showed his wife a 1688 bible he’d acquired on his mission to England. He was sure to point out that some of the pages were stuck together, which would seem fairly odd because the rest of the pages weren’t sticking together. Two days later Hofmann took this same bible to Jeff Simmonds, the Utah State University archivist and showed him the pages that were stuck together. They pulled the pages apart and miraculously discovered an old Mormon document. If we remember all the way back to episode 4 of this show, we discussed a guy named Charles Anthon, a bible scholar at the University of Columbia in New York that met with Martin Harris in 1829.
To bring everybody up to speed on the story, in 1829 Martin Harris had reservations about funding the publication of the Book of Mormon and therefore asked Joseph Smith for a copy of some of the reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics that were on the gold plates. Joseph produced a piece of paper with characters arranged in columns, as well as some kind of circular sigil. This document is nowhere to be found today, and the “caractors” manuscript we do know of was copied by David or John Whitmer at a later time. If we had the actual Anthon transcript, we would have characters that were supposedly on the gold plates, copied by the hand of Joseph Smith in print, but the document appears elusive and seems to no longer be extant. When Martin Harris met with Charles Anthon, Anthon warned Harris that he was being preyed upon by rogues because he couldn’t recognize the characters as any language whatsoever. Needless to say, if Hofmann had found the actual Anthon document stuck in the pages of a bible, it would be a very rare and valuable document to determine what language Joseph supposedly saw on the Gold plates.
When Hofmann and Simmonds separated the pages in that old bible and found the Anthon Transcript, it rocketed Hofmann to Mormon historical fame. Less than a week after they “found” the transcript, Dean Jessee of the Mormon Historical Department in SLC accepted the document as legitimate, marking Hofmann’s first big score.
Hofmann went on in the following months to legitimize the pedigree of the 1688 bible that had the Anthon Transcript stuck between its pages by going to a woman named Dorthy Dean, living in Carthage, Ill. Nobody can know what was said during this discussion between Hofmann and Ms. Dean, but he left with an affidavit signed by her stating the bible must have come from her mother, which somehow linked the bible back to Joseph Smith or Martin Harris, the details are a bit fuzzy to me. Hofmann was attempting to establish his credibility and knew that he needed to produce some kind of line of possession or pedigree with the Anthon Transcript if he was going to demand a proper price for it.
Once Hofmann had the signed affidavit from Ms. Dean, the Church considered it valid, and Hofmann cashed out with his first big find. Up to this point he had been manufacturing signatures and other small documents to trade with other collectors, but never had he attempted a forgery this grand, and when he did successfully, it paid off.
On October 13, 1980, 6 months after Hofmann and Simmonds “found” the Anthon transcript, Hofmann sold it to the church for a five-dollar gold coin minted in 1850, an 1830 first edition of the Book of Mormon, and several specimens of pioneer currency from the early Utah years. For this one little scrap of paper that probably took Hofmann a few hours to forge, the Church gave him over $20,000 worth of antiques in trade, which is about $60,000 of today’s money. This was a home-run for Hofmann, but only marked the beginning of what the next 5 years would hold.
On January 8th, 1981, 3 months after this huge score, something amazing happened that would have an impact on the Hofmann timeline later on. On this day, Hofmann was arrested for stealing a bag of sliced almonds from a grocery store in Salt Lake. This may seem ridiculous that a guy that just made a huge score with a forged document would steal something so petty, and I’m nowhere near equipped to try and psychoanalyze such a fascinating mind, but the reason this matters is because it established a criminal record for Hofmann, meaning the police department took his fingerprints and attached them to his name and record.
He must have paid the fine or whatever was necessary because the next entry we have in his chronology is important to his next big historical document “find”. One month after his arrest for the bag of almonds incident, Hofmann called H. Michael Marquardt, the same Marquardt that sat down with me to discuss Martin Harris on the Symposium wrap-up episode. Hofmann sought to inquire of Joseph’s whereabouts on January 17th 1844, 5 months before his death in Carthage. Two days later, Marquardt calls Hofmann back and tells him he was at home for a few days in the middle of January.
Two days after Marquardt gave Hofmann this information, Hofmann approached a church archivist named Donald Schmidt with a photocopy of a faded 1844 document from that time in mid-January, which appeared to be the text of a blessing Joseph gave to his son, Joseph Smith III. This is the text of that 1844 blessing that Hofmann “found,” that Joseph Smith supposedly gave to his son Joseph Smith III, the contents of which are extremely important given what happened after Joseph’s death.
“A blessing, given to Joseph Smith, 3rd., by his father, Joseph Smith Jun., on Jan. 17 1844.
Blessed of the Lord is my son Joseph, who is called the third,- for the Lord knows the integrity of his heart, and loves him, because of his faith, and righteous desires. And, for this cause, has the Lord raised him up;- that the promises made to the fathers might be fulfilled, even that the anointing of the progenitor shall be upon the head of my son, and his seed after him, from generation to generation. For he shall be my successor to the Presidency of the High Priesthood: A Seer, and a Revelator, and a Prophet, unto the Church; which appointment belongeth to him by blessing, and also by right.
Verily, thus saith the Lord: if he abides in me, his days shall be lengthened upon the earth, but, if he abides not in me, I, the Lord, will receive him, in an instant, unto myself.
When he is grown, he shall be a strength to his brethren, and a comfort to his mother. Angels will minister unto him, and he will be waffed as on eagle's wings, and be as wise as serpents, even a multiplicity of blessings shall be his. Amen.”
We know that once Joseph died in the 1844 Carthage shootout, there was what we call a succession crisis. Nobody knew who was the rightful heir to the throne because many had claimed it without express written documentation of proper succession. This letter marked the RLDS church to be the one true church because it implies that the Lord ordained Joseph Smith III to be the prophet once his father died in 1844, 5 months after this blessing was given. The ramifications of this being a real document would turn the SLC LDS church on its head, because they followed Brigham Young after Joseph’s death, instead of following Joseph Smith III, as the lord had ordained to be the rightful heir to the throne, according to this forged letter anyway.
When Hofmann showed this amazing “find” to SLC LDS archivist Donald Schmidt, Schmidt was non-committal, probably being overwhelmed with the implication of the contents, so Hofmann moved on to somebody that might be more interested in the letter. One week after showing the 1844 letter to LDS archivist Schmidt, Hofmann approached a man named Richard Howard, who was the archivist for the RLDS church, which is the church that followed Joseph Smith III after Joseph’s death.
Given the contents of that letter, it’s easy to see that the RLDS church may have been more interested in the letter than the LDS church was, because it expressly called the RLDS church the correct line of authority, having passed through Joseph Smith III instead of Brigham Young.
A few days after Hofmann showed the 1844 letter to Howard, Howard called Hofmann and asked him to not sell the letter to anybody until the 8th of March, to which Hofmann reportedly agreed. After this agreement was made, Schmidt, the SLC LDS archivist, called Hofmann and agreed to buy the document on the 2nd of March. This wasn’t the first or the last time that Hofmann would agree to something like selling or not selling a document, and follow by violating the agreement immediately after. In this instance, Hofmann had the RLDS church competing with the LDS church to buy a document that determined once and for all who the true church was after Joseph Smith’s death. Hofmann was a devious planner to say the least.
On March 2nd 1981, the LDS church purchased the Joseph Smith letter from Hofmann for another $20,000, a purchase authorized by Gordon B. Hinckley, who was first counsellor to Spencer W. Kimball at the time. I really wonder what the atmosphere was like during this time, because there’s simply no way of knowing what was discussed behind closed doors as these documents were surfacing, but after the SLC LDS church purchased the letter from Hofmann, they traded it to the RLDS church 2 weeks later, and received an original 1833 Book of Commandments in return.
There must have been some reservations about the back and forth that happened, because very soon after this, Hofmann donated an 1865 letter from Thomas Bullock to Brigham Young, a legitimate document, not a forgery, possibly as a sign of good will or to remove some circulating doubts about the documents he seemed to be miraculously finding so frequently.
A couple of weeks after this whole deal went down among Hofmann, the SLC LDS church and the RLDS church, the LDS church held its semi-annual general conference, during which Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the existence of Hofmann’s forged 1844 letter. Luckily for us, the talk is 16 minutes long and the whole thing is up on Youtube. I’m going to play an excerpt from the beginning as well as the last minute and leave a link for it on the show notes. This is being used for critique and educational purposes only and falls under the fair use clause of creative commons licensing.
Play GBH Youtube clip one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeLRsGLJz7w&list=PLClOO0BdaFaMJgXD--epQ4wWIqN4rRifk&index=9
The presidency and leadership of the church knew they couldn’t keep this under wraps as it was circulating throughout newspapers and historian circles. The rest of the video that I didn’t play basically argues how the language in the blessing says nothing about Joseph III being the successor to the throne, but is merely a father’s blessing. The final point that Hinckley makes is that Bullock, the clerk who wrote the blessing as Joseph was supposedly speaking it, continued to follow Brigham Young out to Utah after Joseph’s death, and he wouldn’t have done that had he thought Joseph III to be the rightful heir to the office of prophet, seer, and revelator. I would merely point to the language of the actual blessing to refute the argument: “For he shall be my successor to the Presidency of the High Priesthood: A Seer, and a Revelator, and a Prophet, unto the Church; which appointment belongeth to him by blessing, and also by right.” That’s pretty hard to contend with, but, Hinckley didn’t read the actual language of the blessing during his conference talk so anybody that had read newspaper stories about this fabled letter wouldn’t be any wiser to what the letter actually said. He concludes with this…
Part 2 of Hinckley talk
I would argue that the church was trying for all they’re worth to conceal these Hofmann forgeries with very little success. People in the media, as well as prominent Mormon historians, were talking about these documents coming out that challenge the church in one way or another, including this document that named Joseph III as Joseph Smith’s rightful successor. Hofmann knew Mormon history, and really knew how to hit them in a way that would hurt the overall historical narrative the Mormon church claimed then, and continues to teach today. Hofmann knew what screws to turn and who to turn them against to put some people in really awkward positions, like the LDS church and the RLDS church bargaining for a single document that challenged the succession narrative as we know it today.
Hofmann went on in later 1981 to purchase a large collection of letters from a man named Steve Gardiner for $20,000. This was a point when Hofmann really mucked up the historical documents he was selling. He had a huge collection of legitimate documents that he could sell or trade interspersed between his forgeries, which seemed to legitimize the forgeries. Hofmann could no longer take the time and effort to build up a false pedigree or line of possession as he had done with the old bible that had the Anthon Transcript stuck in the pages, he was spending too much time buying and selling antiques and old documents to go to the trouble of substantiating his own forgeries that he was cranking out at an alarming rate.
It should also be said that Hofmann was becoming quite wealthy at this time. He was really establishing himself as the go-to guy for Mormon historical documents, all before he was even 30 years old. He had a very promising career in Mormon history and historians that had been in the game for some time before this were excited to see what amazing document he would “find” next.
I think something that Sandra said during the interview is extremely telling. She said that Her and Jerald had discussions about if it was more probable that this 25-year old returned missionary was finding these documents, or manufacturing them, and neither seemed probable. Hofmann had a lot of people buffaloed and baffled because of what he was able to do. It’s clear that he’s a genius in his own field, and was obsessive when it came to his forgeries. The documents he was able to manufacture were of astonishing quality. Not only did his work fool Mormon historians and archivists, but educated people in forensics and handwriting analysis were left with one option of saying, “well, we can’t prove it’s legitimate, but there’s nothing saying it isn’t legitimate”. Now, that isn’t the same as saying it’s a real document, but to people that were writing headlines following Hofmann and Mormon history, it was much easier to write a headline of “Mormon historians say Salamander Letter probably real”. That sells copies. The line of, “Mormon historians and handwriting experts say that the Harris letter doesn’t show any prominent signs of being a forgery, but the body of historical documents to reference it against is far too shallow to make a realistic assessment of the legitimacy of the Harris letter, therefore judgement should be reserved until proper chemical analyses can be performed to ascertain the age of the ink and paper can be conducted to verify the age of the document.” I nearly fell asleep reading that… It’s so much more exciting to print “Salamander letter proves Joseph Smith practiced Occult treasure digging”.
Here we see a big problem with Hofmann and his work. People were excited to jump on his next big find and claim it as legitimate before the proper work had been done to substantiate it as a legitimate document. There are a few metrics one can use while determining the legitimacy of such a document. You can reference the handwriting and signature against the existing body of verified work, you can compare the content to see if it shares proper language and sentence structure with what we would expect, or you can chemically and microscopically analyze the document to learn much more from the characteristics of the paper and ink itself. All three of those tests need to be passed in order for a document to be considered legitimate. Problem was, with the majority of Hofmann’s documents, only one or two of those tests were performed, and his work was only marginally passing those criteria. The third part, an in depth chemical analysis of the work, served to be the Achilles heel in his work later on, but it wasn’t being performed on his work in the early 80’s.
To get an idea of the scrutiny his work was coming against, here is a list of people and organizations that examined his work.
| April-May 1981 | James Dibowski and Albert Somerford, forensic experts associated with the U.S. Postal Inspectors Crime Lab, authenticate Joseph Smith III blessing. The paper tests would be done by the McCrone Institute of Chicago. | | | --------------- | ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | 15 May 1981 | RLDS President Wallace B. Smith announces that a team of experts has tested the Joseph Smith III blessing and established its genuineness. | | | 29 July 1982 | Hofmann shows Ashworth the letter of Lucy Mack Smith to Mary Pierce, dated 23 January 1829. They agree to have Dean Jessee check the handwriting of the letter prior to final purchase by Ashworth. Selling price about $33,000 in trade. | | | Nov./Dec. 1982 | Spanish Fork Co-Operative notes sold to Alvin Rust. Hofmann had prepared several sets of these undated notes, in denominations of ten cents, twenty-five cents, fifty cents and one dollar. Hofmann sold sets to various individuals at $1,500 - $2,500 per set. | | | 10 January 1983 | Hofmann flies to New York City. He meets there with Charles Hamilton, a well known autograph dealer. Hofmann convinces Hamilton that the 1825 letter is authentic, and he signs a statement to that effect. | | | 14 January 1983 | Letter of Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowell (18 June 1825) sold to LDS Church for $15,000. The letter is then placed in the First Presidency vault. | | | 3 March 1983 | E. B. Grandin printing contract for first printing of Book of Mormon, signed by Joseph Smith and Martin Harris (dated 17 August 1829), sold to LDS Church for $25,000. | | | January 1984 | Christensen retains BYU historians Ron and Dean Jessee to study historical context of Harris Letter. In a 24 January letter to his research team, he counsels them to seek the truth in their studies. | | | February 1984 | Dean Jessee's The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith appears. It contained six Hofmann forgeries. | | | February 1984 | Alvin Rust, Mormon and Utah Coin and Currency published. It contains several Hofmann forgeries. | |
He was able to fool every one of those people into thinking he was dealing legitimate documents. His web of lies was reaching far and wide, catching more and more victims within his grasp. The problem is, that web can only hold so much before it gives from the pressure. The Harris letter, also called the Salamander letter marked the beginning of the end for Hofmann. He did play it smart in the beginning, but I think he became desperate.
Hofmann was living an increasingly lavish lifestyle. He had an addiction to rare books and documents, an addiction which was only surpassed by his addiction of conning people into buying documents he was able to manufacture. He completed the Salamander letter sometime in November of 1983. Once it was completed, Hofmann invited H. Michael Marquardt to his home to have dinner and discuss the letter. Marquardt was shown the text of it, but from what I can tell, not the actual paper version of it. There are a couple reasons Hofmann may have done this. He may have been seeking legitimacy from Marquardt, a Martin Harris expert; if Marquardt signed off on the Salamander letter, it would be some extra confidence Hofmann could bring to the table when showcasing the actual letter to people. It may seem like a remarkable letter, but if a historian the likes of Marquardt signed off on it, it sure would make the Salamander letter seem more legitimate.
Another possible reason to bring Marquardt in was for collaboration. Hofmann may have presented the letter as something he was about to acquire but acted skeptical of it with Marquardt around, questioning the legitimacy of his own forgery to learn what a critical historian might say about such a controversial document.
Maybe, just maybe, Hofmann was feeling out Marquardt, as the Harris expert he is, to try and make the forgery more legitimate. If Hofmann could find out the telling features of a Harris document that would make it seem like a forgery, he might have been able to avoid any of those damning tells that would identify it as a fraud, making it seem more legitimate to the people that would be studying the letter.
Hofmann also may have wanted Marquardt as the Harris expert to be the one to get people riled up about the Salamander letter. If Hofmann was always the guy telling everybody about an amazing new document he found, it may seem suspicious after a while. However, if Marquardt, a respected Mormon historian, is the guy getting excited about this letter and spreading word, then it disconnects Hofmann one step away from being the person that widely publicized it.
Really, there are many reasons that come to mind that would explain why Hofmann did what he did in having Marquardt come over to his house and review the text of the Salamander letter. There’s no way to know for sure his reasoning or motivations behind it, but we do know that Marquardt was the guy that told some prominent historians about the letter, and everybody caught the Hofmann bug again.
People began wondering what the Salamander letter said and what it could mean for church history given the contents linking Joseph Smith to early 19th century occult practices. The whole world of Mormon historians and scholars was caught in rapture about this letter, wondering what would happen when it was finally released.
After Hofmann had Marquardt over to his home to talk about the letter, Hofmann set up another one of his convoluted deals where he would basically sell the document to two people or organizations and then only deliver to the highest bidder. This was not the first or the last time this would happen.
| 16 December 1983 | Lyn Jacobs, fronting for Hofmann, offers to sell LDS Church an 1830 Martin Harris to W. W. Phelps, â€œWhite Salamanderâ€ letter. President Hinckley declines, indicating the price is too high. Brent Ashworth also rejects the offer. Hofmann, â€œfrontingâ€ for Jacobs, approaches LDS Church Archivist Donald Schmidt, eventually suggesting that perhaps a wealthy church member could be found to buy it and then donate it to the Church. This middleman idea proves to be attractive. Brent Metcalfe tells Hofmann of Steven Christensen. | | | ---------------- | -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | 6 January 1984 | The Harris Letter is sold to Steve Christensen and Gary Sheets. Hofmann had asked $50,000 for it but had accepted an offer of $40,000 payable over eighteen months: $1,000 down, $9,000 in two weeks, and the balance in increments of $10,000 at six month intervals. | | | Late Jan. 1984 | Hofmann tells Christensen he has a cash-flow problem; if Christensen could give him the $9,000 plus $5,000 now, Hofmann will give him a bonus: the transcript of a 1 November 1825 contract in which Joseph Smith, Sr., Josiah Stowell, and other partners agreed on the division of proceeds from a money-digging enterprise they had organized to find buried treasure. Christensen agreed to advance the money in exchange for a copy of the text and the right to buy the original for $15,000 if and when Hofmann acquired it. | |
Here we see some confusing things going on, and I’m not sure how to interpret it. Essentially, Hofmann used a front-man in a way to increase value and drive up the bidding price. This is how I’m interpreting it, so I could be wrong, but the way I see the plan is Hofmann had the text for the Salamander Letter and then was able to manufacture a single forgery.
During the discussion with Sandra she said that Hofmann would make a deal with somebody that was buying his documents, usually LDS historians, he would tell them that he won’t talk about the deal or even the existence of the document, and once the deal was made, or like in this case, before the deal was made. In order to drive up the price, he would then leak the deal to somebody like H. Michael Marquardt with the Salamander letter, or another historian, that he was working on something big that the church was buying to try and suppress.
Once it was public knowledge that the deal was about to go down for the purchase of the incriminating Mormon documents in order to suppress them, that would suddenly drive up the demand and price for the documents. We have to keep in mind, the price for this kind of stuff didn’t really have a comparable market. Hofmann was producing one-of-a-kind documents that the church wanted to buy up as quickly as possible. There wasn’t exactly a Kelly blue-book value on essentially blackmail, right? There wasn’t any guide that said historical documents that are fatal to the truth claims of your religion are worth X-number of dollars, Hofmann and the historians he was buying and selling to were the only people putting dollar values to any of these documents.
And of course, Hofmann, who brought forward all these one of a kind documents, had his finger on the knob in determining the size of the market for his one of a kind items, so if he created demand by spreading word among many interested individuals or groups, he could basically ask whatever price he wanted.
I mean, take, for example, the trade that was worked out between the LDS church and the RLDS church for the Joseph Smith III letter. The LDS church bought the letter from Hofmann and traded it to the RLDS church for an original 1833 Book of Commandments. Currently there are none of these on the market because of such a limited original print volume. An original 1830 Book of Mormon had 5000 copies and are going for anywhere from $60,000 to $115,000. A first-edition Book of Commandments is exponentially more valuable than any original Book of Mormon, because they printed less than 100 original copies before the Independence printing press was destroyed in 1833. The Books of Commandments have an absolutely indeterminable value right now because they are that rare in Mormon historical circles. As we heard from Gordon B. Hinckley in that previous audio, the LDS church traded a first edition Book of Commandments for the Joseph Smith III letter. Hofmann’s work was fetching ridiculous prices, that he was determining, because he was that good of a forger and con-man in a completely untapped market with no competitors.
Hofmann had some part in organizing the deal between the LDS church and the RLDS church with the Joseph Smith III Letter and the First edition Book of Commandments. The document he forged had a relative value that he was able to determine because it was essentially blackmail. Hofmann adjusted the market for the Joseph Smith III letter, and he did the same market adjustment trick to increase the value of the Salamander Letter when he leaked its existence before selling it to Steven Christensen and Gary Sheets.
Hofmann had a front man, named Lyn Jacobs, for the purpose of offering the Salamander letter to Hinckley. Hinckley thought it was too expensive so Hofmann went to Brent Ashworth trying to get a better price. After both of them denied, the text of the Letter is released to Mormon historians and the press grabbed ahold, making the story viral among Mormons circles.
This drove the price up because the church wanted to buy the letter and begin damage control as soon as possible, so Hofmann comes back to them with a solution; just have a 3rd-party person buy it and donate it to the church, and here enters our man Steven Christensen. Hofmann struck a deal with Christensen to buy the Salamander letter in installments, unfortunately Hofmann had a cashflow problem, which is code for his living style had outclassed his income and he was a little strapped for cash. To solve this new income issue, Hofmann sweetened the deal of the Salamander letter with another forgery he had yet to manufacture, which was a contract between Joseph Smith Sr. and Josiah Stowell for their treasure hunting trip. Christensen brought in another investor, named Gary Sheets, and the deal was done. Hofmann was officially living on credit of Mormon historians and collectors with his own forgeries that he hadn’t even produced yet as collateral for the credit.
I just have to say, this doesn’t sound like something that somebody who’s in control would do. Early on Hofmann went to the extra work of trying to substantiate his work and establish a believable pedigree of the document, by early 1984 he was making deals and taking money on forgeries he hadn’t even manufactured yet. In my opinion, don’t take it as fact, nothing but a naked Mormon opinion here, I think Hofmann was desperate for money, and the facts in front of us seem to make that an easy assumption.
Hofmann wasn’t able to continue his lifestyle with the work he was producing, so he made deals he couldn’t come through on. Pardon me if this seems a little crass or too simplistic, but doesn’t that sound like a crackhead mentality to approach such a fragile business model?
Any one little mistake could reveal him and unravel everything he’d put together, he had a fragile business. He was seemingly desperate enough for money to do anything necessary, and therefore started making some really shaky deals with increasingly epic stakes. He had his mind focused on getting the next paycheck, instead of making quality forgeries and covering his tracks, which should have been foremost in his mind. I think he became careless out of desperation here, the same way that a crackhead may go to very extreme lengths to get their next hit, but not really pay attention to where their next meal is coming from.
In March of 1984, I think his carelessness begins to catch up with him a little bit.
| March 1984 | Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Utah Lighthouse Ministry, though wanting to believe the Harris letter authentic, admits to â€œsome reservationsâ€ because of its similarity to an affidavit of Willard Chase in E. D. Howe's Mormonism Unveiled[sic] (1834) and to a statement by early LDS convert Joseph Knight. Tanners publish long extracts from Harris letter in The Salt Lake Messenger. | | | | ------------ | ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- | | | | 7 March 1984 | Steven Christensen issues a press release admitting ownership of the 1830 Harris letter but he says that he will not release it until further research is done on it. His researchers were then working on (1)examining the physical text[they chose Kenneth Rendell of Newton, Mass., to do this]; (2)establishing the provenance of the letter[Dean Jessee worked back to Elwyn Doubleday, a dealer in postal memorabilia in Alton Bay, New Hampshire]; and (3)understanding the historical context of the letter [Ronald Walker, Dean Jessee, and Brent Metcalfe were working on this aspect]. | | |
With these two dates we can see the public reaction to the Salamander letter being split. The Tanners were apprehensive about the legitimacy of the letter, while Steven Christensen was working with church historians and officials to wrap their minds around the letter.
Like Sandra had said in the audio clip, Jerald Tanner was hard at work studying Martin Harris and comparing the historical Harris to the “Harris” that wrote the Salamander letter, noticing inconsistencies.
However, Steven Christensen was working with the church to find the correct way to interpret the letter and wrap it into a narrative that works with Joseph Smith’s claims of divine inspiration. It was a challenging thing to understand that the Prophet Joseph was wrapped up in occult practices, we don’t need the Salamander letter to draw those connections, so these historians and apologists had to set the record straight that a White Salamander spirit guardian over the plates isn’t contradictory to the narrative they’ve claimed since 1842.
The Deseret News is the church’s own newspaper agency. I used to deliver it around my neighborhood on a bicycle at 5 in the morning, so it’s a popular newspaper to which many members of the church subscribe. The church used the Deseret News as the first outlet for apologetics defending the Salamander letter.
September 9, 1984 Deseret News “Church” section
“The so-called “Martin Harris letter” is no repudiation of Joseph Smith, but rather probably is a further witness of the Prophet’s own account of the discovery of the golden plates.
This is the feeling of historian Rhett S. James of Logan, Utah, who is author of the pageant, “Martin Harris: The Man Who Knew,” which just completed its five-day run at Clarkston, Utah.
A recent Los Angeles Times copyrighted story by John Dart said the 1.5-page letter purportedly written by Harris is threatening to alter the idealized portrait of Joseph Smith.
According to the Times story, the letter reportedly says that Joseph Smith found the golden plates, which later resulted in the Book of Mormon, with the help of a “seer stone, a kind of magical looking glass.”
“It also claims that Smith was prevented at first from gaining possession of the plates by an ‘old spirit’ that had transfigured itself from a white salamander,” Dart writes.
The letter, owned by Steven F. Christensen, bishop of the Centerville, Utah, 13th Ward, was allegedly written by Harris on Oct. 23, 1830 to W.W. Phelps, a newspaper editor and a potential convert. Following Phelps baptism approximately six months later, he became editor of the first newspaper published by the Church: The Morning and Evening Star, first published in Independence, Mo., in June 1832.
The authenticity of the letter has not yet been established, and Bishop Christensen said the letter will not be released to the public until early 1985, if the letter proves authentic.
The letter, if it is proved genuine, will be released when a book on the origins of Mormonism is released early next year,” Bishop Christensen told the Deseret News.”
This was the apologetics run-around they were scrambling to get out in church media. Dallin Oaks spoke at a CES Symposium in 1985 saying all of this about the letter.
"Another source of differences in the accounts of different witnesses is the different meanings that different persons attach to words. We have a vivid illustration of this in the recent media excitement about the word 'salamander' in a letter Martin Harris is supposed to have sent to W.W. Phelps over 150 years ago. All of the scores of media stories on that subject apparently assume that the author of that letter used the word 'salamander' in the modern sense of a 'tailed amphibian.'
"One wonders why so many writers neglected to reveal to their readers that there is another meaning of 'salamander,' which may even have been the primary meaning in this context in the 1820s.... That meaning... is 'a mythical being thought to be able to live in fire.'...
"A being that is able to live in fire is a good approximation of the description Joseph Smith gave of the Angel Moroni:... the use of the words white salamander and old spirit seem understandable.
"In view of all this, and as a matter of intellectual evaluation, why all the excitement in the media, and why the apparent hand-wringing among those who profess friendship or membership in the Church?" ("1985 CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium," pages 22-23)”
Yeah, a Salamander doesn’t really mean a Salamander, it means a spirit that can live in fire… I think it’s safe to say that the church and its leadership were grasping at straws to try and rationalize the Salamander into their own narrative. This was obviously a controversial aspect of Joseph Smith to try and reconcile with the cardboard cutout that is so often constructed by believers in the church. This Salamander letter was a very challenging aspect of Mormon history for many members to wrestle with.
To get an idea of what it was like to find out that it was actually a forgery, I’m going to read a quote from Ronald Walker, one of the BYU professors and church historians working on a book about the Salamander letter. This quote was given in August 1987, after everything with Hofmann had basically come to a close.
“I remember sitting in a sacrament meeting several days after Mark Hofmann had confessed... I felt an overwhelming emotional and spiritual relief.... that white salamander that had bedeviled me for so long at last was exorcised. I felt spiritual channels once hindered and partly clogged renew themselves. (Professor Ronald W. Walker, Brigham Young University, August 6, 1987)”
For believing members, the Salamander letter was a lot to wrestle with. They were twisting their minds into various pretzel shapes to make it still work and believe in Joseph Smith as the prophet. Let’s face it, believing in the Mormon church can be a very challenging thing once a person learns about the real history. Add on to that already challenging level of cognitive dissonance the Salamander Letter, and you have life-long members who are locked in a downward spiral of wondering if Joseph Smith really had the reported propensity toward the occult and how that affected the golden plates, and in turn, how that affected the truth of the Book of Mormon. This letter was something that forced a lot of members to confront ugly skeletons in Joseph Smith’s closet and it made a lot of people very uncomfortable with their own cognitive dissonance.
Luckily for everybody, there were people like Jerald Tanner who wouldn’t rest until they found the truth. Most of what I’m about to read is how Jerald found the similarities between the Salamander Letter and the possible source texts used to construct it, and the actions he took after coming in to this knowledge. Remember, Jerald and Sandra Tanner were, and still are in Sandra’s case, at the forefront of so-called “Anti-Mormon” research. UTLM has been known to be a spearhead into real Mormon historical research for decades now, constantly bringing up challenging points in Mormon history and drawing connections between Joseph Smith and Masonic or occult practices. The Salamander letter fit perfectly into the narrative that Sandra and Jerald have constructed for Joseph Smith, and had it been real, it would truly be one of the strongest evidences they could use against the church and Joseph Smith. They truly wanted nothing more than for the letter to be genuine, as we heard in the conversation with Sandra at the beginning of the episode.
This is what Jerald wrote in the book “Tracking the White Salamander,” which can be found in its entirety on UTLM.org. I’m going to read quite a few excerpts from it so we can really understand what it was like for Jerald to do this research at a critical time in Mormon history. Keep in mind, the Tanners are biblical scholars and have been tracking source texts for the Book of Mormon for decades. They’ve read and compared hundreds of books to the BoM that sound similar, drawing comparisons and showing the typical signs that imply forgery that are rife throughout the Book of Mormon. Studying words on paper is about the only thing that Sandra and Jerald had been doing for decades prior to the Salamander Letter coming out in 1984.
“Fortunately, I was able to obtain some revealing extracts from the letter and was preparing to print them in the March 1984 issue of the Messenger. I was very excited that we at Utah Lighthouse Ministry would be the first to break this important story to the world. While in the midst of compiling evidence to support the authenticity of the Salamander letter, I made a discovery that shook me to the very core. I found that the account of the transformation of the white salamander into the spirit was remarkably similar to a statement E.D. Howe published in Mormonism Unvailed. This book, written four years after the date which appears in the Harris letter, told of a toad "which immediately transformed itself into a spirit" and struck Joseph Smith. Even more disconcerting, however, was the fact that other remarkable parallels to the Salamander letter were found just two or three pages from the account of the transformation of the toad into a spirit (see Mormonism Unvailed, pages 273, 275 and 276).
Some years before I had encountered similar evidence of plagiarism in Joseph Smith's History of the Church. The Mormon Church leaders had always proclaimed that this History was actually written by Joseph Smith himself. My research, however, led me to the conclusion that the largest portion of it had been compiled after his death. I found that later Mormon historians had taken portions of newspapers and diaries written by other people and changed them to the first person so that readers would believe that they were authored by Joseph Smith himself. In agreement with my conclusions, Mormon scholars later admitted that over 60% of the History was compiled after Smith's death (see Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? pages 127-135).
In any case, parallels I had discovered between the Salamander letter and Mormonism Unvailed reminded me very much of the work I had done on Joseph Smith's History. Although what I discovered about the Salamander letter was not conclusive proof that it was a forgery, it was certainly suspicious. It seemed, in fact, to throw a real monkey wrench into all my plans concerning the publication of the letter. Since I knew that it was very unlikely that anyone else would spot these parallels and realize their significance, there was some temptation to keep the matter to myself. I knew, however, that God knew what I had seen, and I began to feel that He had shown me these unpleasant facts to warn me against endorsing the letter. Furthermore, I knew that I would never be satisfied if my case against Mormonism was based on fraudulent material. It was clear, therefore, that there was only one course of action which I could follow—i.e., print the whole truth in the Messenger. In the March 1984 issue, therefore, we raised the question of forgery by printing the title, "Is It Authentic?" Under this title we wrote:
"At the outset we should state that we have some reservations concerning the authenticity of the letter, and at the present time we are not prepared to say that it was actually penned by Martin Harris. The serious implications of this whole matter, however, cry out for discussion. If the letter is authentic, it is one of the greatest evidences against the divine origin of the Book of Mormon. If, on the other hand, it is a forgery, it needs to be exposed as such so that millions of people will not be mislead [sic]. We will give the reasons for our skepticism as we proceed with this article."
In the same issue of the Messenger, page 4, we made these comments:
"Since we have been deeply involved in research having to do with the relationship of Mormonism to magic...we were delighted to the report that Martin Harris had written a letter relating to the subject....Some time later, we were told of another letter, written by W.W. Phelps, which seemed to prove the authenticity of the letter attributed to Harris. This letter is printed in Howe's book, pages 273-274. In the letter, Phelps tells of Martin Harris' statements concerning the Book of Mormon. There are some remarkable parallels between the two letters. Both letters refer to the Urim and Thummim as 'silver spectacles.' Both accounts tell of Martin Harris taking a copy of the Book of Mormon characters to 'Utica, Albany and New York,' and both talk of the Book of Mormon language as 'shorthand Egyptian.' Since Phelps' letter is dated Jan. 15, 1831 (less than three months after the letter which was reported to have been written by Harris), it seemed safe to conclude that Phelps used the Harris letter in preparing his own. In all fairness, however, we made another discovery which we feel we must report. Just two pages after Phelps letter, we found a statement written by E.D. Howe which is strangely similar to the 'Harris' letter.
The books and articles quoted are as follows:
1--Mormonism Unvailed, by E. D. Howe, 1834 (purchase info)
2--Brigham Young University Studies, Autumn 1976
3--New Witness For Christ In America, by Francis W. Kirkham, 1951
4--Tiffany's Monthly, interview with Martin Harris, 1859 (purchase info)
5--A.B.C. History of Palmyra and the Beginning of "Mormonism," by Willard Bean, 1938
6--Mormonism, Magic and Masonry, by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, 1983 (purchase info)
7--Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by B.H. Roberts, 1930
After that the article goes through the entire Salamander letter and shows color coded similarities to those 7 sources which is remarkably fascinating. Be sure to look in the show notes for the link to the UTLM article from which I’m reading this to really see the possible source texts the Salamander Letter may have been forged from. The article continues:
“The reader will remember that the letter said, 'the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole.' E.D. Howe's statement reads as follows: '...looked into the hole, where he saw a toad, which immediately transformed itself into a spirit,...' Notice that both accounts use the words 'the hole' as well as 'spirit', and the words 'transfigured himself' resemble 'transformed itself.'...
"That Howe's statement (Mormonism Unvailed, page 276) is so much like the one in the 'Harris' letter is a little disturbing. Even more disconcerting, however, is the fact that it appears just two pages from a letter by W.W. Phelps which also bears remarkable parallels....As we understand it, the Church's handwriting expert, Dean Jessee, feels that the signature was penned by Martin Harris, but so far no tests on the paper have been completed. We feel that the letter should be made available to other handwriting experts, and that the public should be informed where the letter was originally obtained. We have heard that there is a red postal mark on the original letter and that the amount of postage is correct for a letter from Palmyra to Canandaigua. Although the average person would have a difficult time forging these things, there are probably a number of people who could do the job....
"While we would really like to believe that the letter attributed to Harris is authentic, we do not feel that we can endorse it until further evidence comes forth."
The article continues on and we’ll keep reading from it in a minute, but I just want to point out something. In the audio with Sandra, I said that I admire her and Jerald for their intellectual honest when it came to the Salamander Letter. They wanted so much for it to be authentic because it’s a huge nail in the coffin for Joseph Smith being divinely inspired; the letter links him directly to occult rituals. The Tanner’s wanted so desperately for this letter to be authentic, but they had reservations about its authenticity, and therefore withheld judgement until more evidence could come forward. I think this says a good deal about their intellectual honesty and constant pursuit of truth. They couldn’t give this letter the stamp of approval and therefore didn’t report on it and begin building a case using the letter as evidence like the church began doing with Oaks claiming the Salamander is just an analogue for a spirit that can live in fire.
It just needs to be pointed out that the church was in damage control mode, while the Tanners were in “let’s find the truth” mode. The church bought the letter hook, line, and sinker, while the Tanner’s were claiming that something was fishy. The next paragraph in the Tanner’s book, “Tracking the White Salamander,” really goes to show the frustration that was introduced with the possibility of the Salamander letter being a forgery.
“As soon as I noticed that there were problems with the Salamander letter, I began to realize the serious implications this would have for the study of Mormon history. Prior to Mark Hofmann's appearance on the scene, the documents we had used in building our case against Mormonism seemed to have a good pedigree. For instance, the Joseph Smith Papyri were rediscovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967. Although officials at the museum did not acquire the papyri until 1947, they had been aware of them since 1918. The papyri could, in fact, be traced back to the Smith family. The documents which proved that Joseph Smith was tried as a "Glass Looker" in 1826 could be traced back to the jail in Norwich, N.Y. Two men, in fact, signed affidavits that they were discovered in the basement of the jail. Joseph Smith's "Strange Account" of the First Vision, as well as his diaries, could be traced directly to the Church Historical Department where they had been preserved.
When Mark Hofmann came on the scene everything seemed to change. Hofmann was vague about where his finds were coming from, and no one seemed to think of questioning his veracity. The Deseret News for Oct. 27, 1985, said that Hofmann's "reputation regarding documents was impeccable, and his friends in the historical circle defended it." It was only after I began to have doubts about the Salamander letter, that I began to realize that Hofmann was not providing pedigrees for his discoveries. While Mormon scholars felt that the Bible in which Hofmann found the Anthon transcript (it was supposed to have been pasted between two pages) came from the Smith family, Hofmann refused to disclose where he had bought the book. Since book collectors sometimes have a policy of checking out every page of a rare book, I would like to have talked to the collector to see if he remembered anything glued between the pages. With regard to the Joseph Smith III Blessing, Hofmann only said that it came from a descendant of Thomas Bullock. When we pressed Hofmann to reveal which descendant (there must be hundreds), he refused to be of any help. Lucy Mack Smith's 1829 letter, Joseph Smith's 1825 letter and Martin Harris' 1873 letter all seem to have no pedigree. In the case of the Salamander letter, I did learn that Hofmann claimed that it came from a man by the name of Lyn Jacobs. I also learned that Hofmann and Jacobs were working together in the document business. Since the documents were all coming from these two men, it was necessary to focus in upon their backgrounds.”
“By August 1984 I was convinced that the evidence against the Salamander letter cast a real shadow of doubt on all the important discoveries Mark Hofmann had made since 1980. On August 22, 1984, I printed the first part of the pamphlet, The Money-Digging Letters. On page 9 of that publication, I wrote: "...a number of important documents have come to light during the 1980's. The questions raised by the Salamander letter have forced us to take a closer look at some of these documents." In the same publication I wrote the following concerning the Salamander letter: 'The more we examine this letter attributed to Harris, the more questions we have about its authenticity." (page 6) I went on to show important parallels between other documents and the Salamander letter. I noted that the parallels to the Joseph Knight account (first published in 1976) seem to be extremely important. On page 7, I told of an interview with Martin Harris which was published in 1859: "The interview in Tiffany's Monthly also raises a very serious question about the lack of religious material in the Salamander letter. In the interview, Harris quoted at least five portions of the Bible. He used the words revelation, Moses, Scripture and Christ at least once. He used the word prayed twice, and mentioned the devil four times. The word angel or angels appears five times. God is mentioned seven times, and the word Lord appears ten times. In the Salamander letter all of these words are absent. In fact, there is nothing we can find concerning religion. Spirits are mentioned many times in the letter, but they are never linked to God in any way. Instead they are linked to money-digging. They are the guardians of the treasures.
"This total lack of religious material seems to be out of character for Martin Harris. A person might try to maintain that Harris was more interested in religion in 1859, but the evidence shows that he was always that way." (page 7)
Let’s just take a second to talk about Jerald’s study of Martin Harris. Last week’s episode had a clip from H. Michael Marquardt where we discussed Martin Harris at great length. He always seemed like a very religiously zealous man, always talking about God and the devil, spirits and revelation, etc. But, the Salamander Letter, which was written a short while after Harris self-reported walking through the woods and speaking with God in the form of a deer for some time, has none of the language we would expect out of Harris. This may have been the most striking problem with the Salamander letter that was supposedly written by this religious zealot of a man. It wasn’t just what was in the letter that gave it away, it was also what wasn’t in the letter that should have been there that gave it away, or at least raised flags for Jerald in his research.
“On the following page, I charged that Mr. Hofmann had originally tried to sell the Salamander letter "to the Mormon Church for a large amount of money." Hofmann later told me that it was actually Lyn Jacobs who took the letter to the church. Hofmann seemed willing, however, to admit that he was involved in the decision to sell the letter to the church. In any case, I went on to state: "In the past Mr. Hofmann acted under the theory that the Church will buy up embarrassing documents to suppress them. This is very clear from his own account of how he handled the discovery of the Joseph Smith III Blessing. In a paper given at the Mormon History Association, Mark Hofmann stated that he did not want 'to come across like I was trying to blackmail the Church,' but he acknowledged that if the Church had wanted him to, he would have promised to never tell anyone about its discovery: ...Hofmann later commented: 'It surprised me a bit that the Church didn't buy it up quick and stash it away somewhere,...' (Sunstone Review, September 1982, page 19)...
"However this may be, it is reported that the Mormon Church felt that Hofmann's price was too high on the Salamander letter and refused his offer. The document was later sold to Steven Christensen.
"We feel that one of the most important tests of the letter's authenticity is its history since it was written. If Mr. Hofmann will tell historians where he obtained the letter, then it may be possible to trace it back to its original source." (page 8)
This is where that intellectual honesty comes in once again. Jerald was examining the source of the document, saying if Hofmann can tell us where he found it, it might be more believable, but instead it looks more like he’s blackmailing the church in hopes that the church will want to buy up and suppress these damaging documents. Jerald was only in pursuit of the truth, even if it came in conflict with what he personally wanted to happen.
“The day following the publication of The Money-Digging Letters (August 23, 1984), Mark Hofmann came to our home and had a long talk with Sandra. He seemed very distressed and hurt that we, of all people, would question his discoveries. He had expected that opposition might come from those in the church, but he was amazed that Utah Lighthouse Ministry had taken a position which was critical of him. Mr. Hofmann tried to explain that he could not reveal the source of the Salamander letter because he had sold it to Christensen. With regard to the Joseph Smith III Blessing, Hofmann indicated that he had given the Mormon Church an affidavit which stated where he had obtained it. He could not reveal the source to the public, however, because the member of the Bullock family from whom he had purchased the document also had important papers concerning Brigham Young's finances that would be embarrassing to the church.
Sandra felt that Mark Hofmann was almost to the point of tears as he pled his case as to why we should trust him. He did not make any threats, however, nor did he show any sign of being violent. At any rate, Hofmann's explanations certainly did not satisfy me.”
This is the best part in my opinion. This is the point that Sandra was talking about in the audio in the beginning where Hofmann was saying something along the lines that, “if you continue to question my work then I won’t be able to produce these Bullock letters that describe Brigham Young’s finances and whatnot.” Sandra wanted to see what would come up next if Hofmann continued, but Jerald was already disenchanted and had Hofmann pegged as a fraud.
This is from a Sept 1 1984 Deseret News article titled “Letter”
“Church officials have restrained their comments about the document because it does not belong to the church.
Though few people have viewed the original document, several have studied typewritten copies of its contents.
The letter purportedly contains an account of experiences Joseph Smith had in discovering the plates that became the Book of Mormon.
The letter purportedly says Joseph Smith found the plates by using a “seer stone,” an item treasure hunters of the era were known to use in their hunts. The purported letter is reported to say he was confronted near the plates by an “old spirit” that transfigured from a white salamander.
But few people seem certain of the letter’s authenticity. In fact, outspoken Mormon Church critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner suspect the document is a forgery, they told the Deseret News.
Jerald Tanner has not seen the actual letter but says similarities between it and other documents make its veracity doubtful.
Tanner said he studied the typescript of the document and wanted to believe it. But when he compared it to the 1834 book “Mormonism Unvailed” by E.D. Howe, he found highly similar stories about Smith viewing a toad that turned itself into a man or a spirit.
Another disturbing aspect, Tanner said, was the letter seemed out of character for Harris. “In the entire text of the letter, there is no mention of religion in the sense of religion as we know it,” Tanner said.
But Tanner feels the document is an extremely important find. “It deserves a lot of attention.” He said. “If it’s authentic, it’s extremely important in linking Mormonism to the occult. If it’s a forgery, then it’s important because there’s a document forger out there.”
I think this speaks great volumes to intellectual honesty. Jerald and Sandra wanted to find the truth about the letter. Instead of siding with the majority that claimed it to be legitimate and damning to the Mormon story, all the Tanners wanted was truth. If the document was real, it has information that is challenging to the genesis of the Mormon church, if it wasn’t real, there’s a document forger out there, and they need to be caught and have their work exposed to clear up the muddied waters of Mormon historical studies.
And I’m afraid this is where we need to end today’s episode. Next week will bring the exciting conclusion to the Hofmann story, and the episode will probably be just as long as this one. We’ve covered all of Hofmann’s life from his birth to his biggest forgery up to this point. He’s manufactured and sold many documents from simple signatures and bank notes, all the way up to the Anthon transcript, Joseph Smith III letter, and now the Salamander Letter.
We don’t have any way of ascertaining the motives behind what Mark Hofmann did or understanding what his end game was. Personally, I think the evidence lends credibility to the claim that he became disenchanted with the church and wanted to catch it in a “gotcha” moment, proving they would be willing to buy up documents that are challenging to their history for the purpose of suppressing them and hiding them from the white-hot light of public scrutiny.
It does need to be pointed out, Hofmann’s forgeries may have been a good thing. I mean, there’s no way of completely reversing the damage he did or even of knowing how many documents he forged throughout his 7 years of active buying, selling or trading old documents. That is really unfortunate, and it tends to lend credibility to the argument that some of what you read online is nothing but anti-Mormon propaganda.
What I find so interesting about it is the fact that Hofmann eventually was called out for manufacturing documents by people in relevant fields that were studying his work in depth. He was obviously a master forger to get away with it for so long, but he made a couple of slips that made a scholar like Jerald Tanner question the work which began the landslide to discovering Hofmann as a fraud.
Why I say it may have been a good thing is it caused us to question Mormon history and the sources by which we understand that history. Hofmann wasn’t creating these documents out of thin air, more often than not, he was only creating a document that was known to exist at one time, merely filling in the gap where the document existed.
Take, for example, the document that Hofmann offered to sweeten the deal with the Salamander Letter. Hofmann claimed he had an 1825 contract signed by Josiah Stowell and Joseph Smith Sr. saying they would evenly split the proceeds of the treasure they were hunting for in Pennsylvania. We know that this treasure hunt occurred from contemporary sources, and we also know that Joseph Smith was essentially convicted as “The Glass looker,” for playing a con on Josiah Stowell, convincing Stowell to pay for the trip and fund the treasure digging for a few weeks. We didn’t know if there was a signed contract between these men, but we do know the treasure hunting trip DID happen.
In forging the contract, Hofmann wasn’t just making something up out of thin air, he knew that a contract may have existed at one point, and forged the contract that fit into the existing historical narrative. The same can be said about the Salamander letter. Harris believed that Joseph Smith had magical powers and could see anything he desired through Joseph’s stone and hat parlor trick, that was how Martin Harris and Joseph Smith really began their working dynamic. In E.D. Howe’s book, we have a person with a signed affidavit saying that there was a toad guardian in the hole, not a salamander, but a toad, and it struck Joseph 3 times when he tried to pick up the plates. A letter like this from Martin Harris to William Wines Phelps may have existed at one point with the detail of White Salamander changed to toad, of course, but we don’t have any reason to believe that a letter like that still exists today. Point is, Hofmann didn’t just manufacture the Salamander letter out of thin air, he forged something that may have existed at one point and fit in the existing narrative of Mormon history that was already well substantiated.
In my honest opinion, naked opinion you may call it, Hofmann doing what he did has served to help the field of Mormon historical study in ways we can’t properly quantify. He caused so many scholars and historians to question from where they learned their Mormon history, and recheck the trustworthiness and pedigree of existing documents. There may have been a problem with Mormon historians trusting people too easily before Hofmann came along and Hofmann merely exposed that weakness in the field of Mormon studies. His work served to bolster the body of knowledge that has been built up around Mormon scholarship and historical studies, not tear it down.
This may sound odd, but I’m almost glad that Hofmann did what he did. It seems that he initially set out on a mission to expose the fact that the church suppresses information, whether they’re historical documents, or how much money they’re paying for those documents, the church was acting as a shady character in these deals, and Hofmann must have known they would do it, or he wouldn’t have embarked on such a journey in the first place. He was smart enough to pull underhanded tricks to drive up the price by increasing public awareness and manufacturing a new commodity system with values he arbitrarily chose based on public outcry, but I think he had a noble goal in doing so, at least to start.
He did say in a later interview that he was in it for the money, and I’ll try to find that exact quote for part II of this CC-Mark Hofmann episode, but initially I think he was angry at the church in the same way and for the same reasons that many believers are angry with the church when they first learn about the real history.
I do think that Hofmann lacked a fair amount of empathy. When we look at the post-trial interview he did and read his answers to some very harsh questions, he seemed to lack any remorse for the people he killed or for the remaining family members after the bombings. The people that purchased the Salamander Letter, Steven Christensen and Gary Sheets, become the targets of Hofmann in mid-October 1985, a year and a half after the point we got to in this episode. As we heard in the interview with Sandra that opened this episode, Hofmann killed two people with mercury switch pipe bombs and one day later nearly killed himself when a third bomb exploded in his own car.
We have a bit to cover in the next episode, so I hope you stick around for part II of this CC examination of Mark Hofmann. He really is a fascinating individual and this is history we’re talking about where the vast majority of the people involved are still alive and active in studying church history. This is important history that’s still in living color in front of us today; it happened only 30 years ago. Mark Hofmann is still in Utah State Pen in Draper, Utah right now.
As for our examination, Hofmann still has many deals to make and many forgeries to manufacture before he dabbles into manufacturing bombs, so be sure to catch next week’s episode to hear the conclusion of Hofmann’s story.
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