In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Book of Mormon's elusive "reformed Egyptian" may not be so elusive after all

Anthon Transcript
Over the past few weeks during my studies I found a continuing pattern of running into questions about “reformed Egyptian”. These were usually from naysayers stating that there is either no such thing as reformed Egyptian or people just questioning if we have any documents or findings that have reformed Egyptian because this is what we are advised by Nephi that the Book of Mormon was written in. Also if we do have any relics or documents with reformed Egyptian how do they compare with the Anthon Transcripts.

 To those not familiar with the Anthon Transcript it is a document that was a copy of some of the characters that were taken from the golden plates (Reformed Egyptian) used in the translation process of what is now the Book of Mormon. They were copied by Joseph Smith jr. and taken by Martin Harris to scholar/Egyptologist Charles Anthon of Columbia University who would confirm their authenticity and correct translation but when he asked Harris how they were obtained and finding out that they were part of the Golden plates that were given to Joseph Smith jr from an angel (Moroni) Charles Anthon tore up his confirmation of authenticity. In 1838, Joseph Smith related an account based on Harris' version of the meeting. Smith wrote that Anthon "stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. [Harris] then showed him those not yet translated, and said they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and that they were "true characters." According to the same account, Anthon provided Harris with a certificate as to the veracity of the characters but tore it up after learning the characters were copied from a book said to have been delivered by an angel.

Example of Micmac writing system
With that aside it has always been of interest for LDS scholars to try to find some of these same reformed Egyptian characters in other writing systems because it would add authenticity to the Book of Mormon and be looked upon as a direct bulls eye as far as evidences for the book are concerned. I have heard from Rod Meldrum who favors a North American setting for the Book of Mormon (Heartland theory) that some of these characters are similar to ones that have been found in the Native American Micmac (Algonquin) writing glyphs, which I personally do find interesting although I openly do not support an North American setting for the Book of Mormon. (Rod and I can agree to disagree but there is no disputing his love for researching the Book of Mormon as I have attended a few of his seminars). 

Along with the Micmac characters there are other relics that have raised some eyebrows because of their similarities to the characters on the Anthon Transcript. One of these was pointed out by Welby W. Ricks and Diane E. Wirth. It is a roller stamp from Tlatilco, Mexico. Roller stamps were used in Mesopotamia (Near East) and in Mesoamerica. They were used to impress a signature kind of like a rolling pin thus becoming a sealed stamp. The design was impressed on clay tablets. According to Mr. Ricks “cylinder seals” were made in three different styles. 1.With handles like a rolling pin 2.With slight concave depressions at each end for holding between one’s fingers, and 3. With a hole through the center lengthwise for the use of a stick or a wire to support and roll the stamp.

Roller Stamp from Tlatilco, Mexico
 In the July 1966 issue of American Antiquity, an article by David H. Kelley tells of the finding in 1948 at Tlatilco of a “cylinder seal” or roller stamp, 8.5 cm. long and 3.5 cm. in diameter, which was identified as belonging to the “Olmec” horizon (i.e., c. 1000-500 BC). The stamp is separated into 3 registers and one is partially broken away. The other two are complete. As noted by Kelly “All three registers clearly carry sequences of arbitrary symbols which are surely part of a hitherto unknown writing system.” As pointed out by Diane E. Wirth the roller stamp found in Tlatilco is of particular interest because it has writing glyphs similar to that of the Anthon transcript. Because this writing system is currently undecipherable it is of interest as well. It must be remembered that the Nephite writing was a priestly script and those scribes were educated to be able to do this as was seen in the case of Mormon when he received the “calling” from Ammoron. 

Dr. Ainsworths friend Esteban and
reformed Egyptian stele
Dr. Jerry Ainsworth in his book, “The Life and Travels of Mormon and Moroni” actually showed a few examples of reformed Egyptian that he claims were found by a friend of his Dr. Jose Padilla. One was a stele roughly about 5-6 feet tall and 8 inches thick. Dr. Padilla advised Dr. Ainsworth and his friend Esteban that he obtained it from Xochicalco Mexico in a cave where it was being used to mark a grave. One side of the stele has a Mayan in ceremonial garb holding an ephod and a shepherds crook. The opposite side has what appears to be reformed Egyptian script. This is not the only artifact that Dr. Ainsworth revealed in his book. He also had an artifact he referred to as “the lock” that appears to also have some sort of a reformed Egyptian script that along with the stele have many comparable hieroglyphs to that of the Anthon Transcript. These are just a few examples of what could be a version of reformed Egyptian or texts that were influenced by Nephite reformed Egyptian.  I personally think there are many more evidences like these out there that are yet to see the light of day and only time will tell.


  1. It would seem that no matter how much evidence is offered by some of the most knowledgeable experts and reputable organizations in the world as to the authenticity of the translation of the Book Of Mormon from Modern Egyptian. How wonderful to have the conviction based on your faith that the book is a true translation of the golden plates. Lets hope that a translation from a language that has never been proved as authentic from plates that have never been rediscovered, reporting and describing events involving millions of people who never left a single trace of their existence.
    Please allow yourself a few minutes of open mindedness and address a question on how the Book of Mormon was written.

  2. I agree that the only way to know if the Book of Mormon is true is by conviction based on faith that is answered through the fruits of the spirit. But I openly disagree about the language. We know that Demotic Egyptian (which is a reformed egytian) first appeared on the scene during the 25th dynasty and dates from 650-400 bc which is ironically right when the Book of Mormon begins and states they are using a reformed Egyptian. And as far as a civilization with no trace I completely disagree. I believe that and feel that I have noted dozens of evidences in this blog and scholars have noted even more showing that the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations did exist in Mesoamerica. I think being open minded as you put it would be to allow your mind to see the coorelations between what we know of the Nephites\Lamanites and what we know of the Maya and their surrounding civilizations go hand in hand. And keeping in mind that we have only unearthed less than 2% of the known Mesoamerican ruin sites....and saying that we have no evidence and coming to a solid conclusion is extremely "closed minded".

  3. That tablet is sitting in someone's home instead of a museum. If it was truly evidence of the Book of Mormon's validity, why do they not put it up to the test of scientific scrutiny? I'm sure archaeologists aren't out to get Mormons. If that tablet was valid, why would the church not have it in a museum or on display on its original location? It's effectively being hidden from the world, which indicates it's probably not authentic.

    That same tablet appears third page down on the link above. It's clearly a modern tool-cut concrete slab. The fifth page has some fairly obvious modern tool scoring on the top left corner of the tablet. It looks like the scoring marks of a circular saw. They never show both sides of the stela simultaneously, (angling of photo should allow that, so would video) and they only have a single image of the glyph side and if you look at the glyph side, you'll notice it's less crisp and the cropping is strangely selective in comparison to the supposed back and the lighting is obviously outdoors. Why did they not choose a nice rectangular crop for both sides and why take a photo outdoors in bright sunlight for one side but not the other? Wouldn't that make for a whole lot of work to move around what should weigh several hundred pounds if it's a stone tablet that's 8 inches thick, 5'-6' tall and indeterminate width? It appears to be very symmetrical on the glyph side, why couldn't they measure the dimensions?

    1. I'm the same person as previous poster. Don't you find it curious that not even an archaeologist from BYU has looked into that tablet? If they took it from a grave, they functionally committed grave robbery.

      The Anthon script up above does not fit what Anthon described, so it's not likely the original shown to him. Anthon described something akin to a Mexican calendar.

      Not having access to the Golden Plates actually presents serious issues with verifying the validity of the Book of Mormon. No one has seen the original text for nearly two hundred years and all we have is descriptions of the plates which varied in dimensions and color. No one can say any script looks like Reformed Egyptian because no one has seen the original in nearly two centuries.

    2. As far as the Anthon Transcript is concerned, your right his description sounded something like a Mesoamerican calendar which to me would add more authenticity. With that said I don't doubt that the stela shown above has a very real chance of being a fraud. Other works in Ainsworth's book have proven to be fraudulent but I don't hold him accountable, instead I think it may have had something to do with some of his assistants Jose Padilla possibly. Unfortunately until it gets tested we will never know but I would agree that the fact that its setting in someones home who claims its reformed Egyptian but still refuses to get it tested definitely raises suspicions.