the Mormon Claim
The Mark Hofmann Murders
In October, 1985, three pipe bombs exploded in Salt Lake City, killing two people and seriously injuring a third. The injured man was named Mark Hofmann, a Mormon rare book and document dealer who in the previous six years had recovered and sold a number of important early Mormon documents (e.g. original copies of letters from one early leader to another and of documents associated with the founding of the LDS Church). As the investigation into the bombings proceeded, it became clear that Hofmann was both the bomber and a master forger. Hofmann was injured when a bomb went off that he was delivering to another intended victim exploded prematurely, and while he has today almost fully recovered from his injuries he is now serving a life sentence in a maximum-security prison. Although the LDS Church was itself a victim of Hofmann's crimes, there are three issues involved that raise serious questions about the unique claims of Mormonism.
While Hofmann did deal with a number of authentic early Mormon documents, he also forged several important ones. Of these, a couple were very highly regarded by the Church because they provided, or so the Church thought, independent confirmation of a couple of important Mormon claims. Thinking that these documents were authentic, the LDS Church heaped a great deal of praise upon Hofmann and proudly announced his "finds" in Church newspapers and magazines, citing them as proofs of Mormonism. But there were also three forged documents that were believed to be authentic by the Church even though they portrayed a view of Joseph Smith and other early Mormons that is highly
embarrassing to say the least. The first of these was a letter supposedly written by Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowell, the man who in an earlier posting I mentioned had hired Smith because of Smith's "money-digging" reputation. According to that letter, Smith gave Stowell a large number of explicit directions about how to use a divining rod to find buried gold. The second document was a letter supposedly from Martin Harris, the man who fronted the money for the first publishing of the BofM, to another early Mormon leader named W.W. Phelps. In that letter Harris described Joseph Smith's various folk-magic beliefs about buried treasure, "seer stones", and about a spirit that looked like a white salamander that guarded treasure. The third document was a "money-digging" contract signed by Joseph Smith and Josiah Stowell that directly contradicts the canonized official account of Joseph Smith's involvement with Stowell. As I said above, there are three issues involved with this.
First, there is the fact that such embarrassing documents were not immediately discounted as impossible. Even though these Mark Hofmann documents turned out to be master forgeries, the Church knew that their existence was consistent with the actual early history of the Mormons. One Mormon historian wrote in 1987: "The historical issues these forgeries raised for a national media audience require, I believe, a careful re-examination of evidence long in existence regarding early Mormonism and magic. For as noted in an October 1985 memorandum sent from the headquarters of the LDS Church Educational System to regional and local administrators: "Even if the letters were to be unauthentic, such issues as Joseph Smith's involvement in treasure-seeking and folk magic remain. Ample evidence exists for both of these, even without the letters". This study attempts to address and examine, among other issues, the kind of evidence the church's educational bulletin described as "ample.""
Second, there is the fact that Mormon leaders went to some great lengths to cover up the existence of these
embarrassing documents. For example, Gordon B. Hinckley, who is now the President of the LDS Church, paid Hofmann $15,000 directly from Church funds to purchase the Smith-to-Stowell divining-rod letter, whereupon it was locked in a vault in the President's office at LDS Church headquarters. For years the Church denied that it owned such a letter, but was forced to admit the letter's existence in 1985. At the time of the bombings, high-level Mormon leaders that reported directly to Gordon B. Hinckley were working as middlemen to help a wealthy Canadian Mormon leader (he was a mission president, which is a very high-ranking position) covertly purchase another collection of very
embarrassing papers (which were forgeries) from Hofmann for $185,000. One of the bombing victims in fact was a Mormon bishop whose secret job it was authenticate the documents, and his murder took place on the day that he was scheduled to see this particular collection for the first time. This issue of suppressing history that contradicts the Mormon claim is consistent with my previous posting on this topic, even though these particular documents turned out to be forgeries.
The third issue consists of an ironic but troubling parallel between Mark Hofmann and Joseph Smith. Hofmann took documents that he forged himself, falsely represented them as authentic antiques, and the Mormon Church and its members believed him. They were duped by Hofmann and his claims, and even when evidence uncovered by police investigators began to clearly show that a number of Hofmann's documents were forged, the Church continued to defend the authenticity of all the Hofmann documents until Hofmann entered his guilty pleas and confessed. This in itself does not undermine the unique claims of Mormonism, although it is very tempting to point out that of all religions the Mormons should be among the least susceptible to being victims of fraud, since they are led by a man considered to be a modern-day prophet. But what does undermine their unique claims is the parallel between Hofmann and Joseph Smith. What Smith has done is pass off a book that he wrote and duped millions of followers into believing his false claims. Mormons believe that they can't be duped en masse with regard to something like this, but the provable fact is that they were in the case of Mark Hofmann. And if they can be duped into believing the false claims of Mark Hofmann, which they have, then they can be duped into believing the false claims of Joseph Smith.
Avon, Indiana, USA