Murder Among the Mormons is a new documentary about the crimes of Mark Hofmann. Mark Hofmann is considered the best known American forger. His known forgeries include a poem in Emily Dickinson’s hand and signatures by George Washington, Francis Scott Key and Mark Twain. He was also a murderer. In 1985, he killed two people in an effort to hide his fraud. In addition to the forgery and the murdering, Hofmann was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sometimes people are surprised Hofmann was Mormon. I’m not. I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints too. And a Latter-day Saint forging rare documents makes some weird sense. Members of the faith are taught to highly value historical records. We are encouraged to keep journals, they are documents that will provide a historical witness for the generations that follow us. And our religion was founded with the discovery of an ancient document, The Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is a record of ancient prophets who lived in the Americas. We consider the book sacred scripture. Latter-day Saints believe the text of the book was inscribed on gold plates thousands of years go. It was buried by an ancient prophet to be discovered in the latter-days. In 1823, seventeen year old Joseph Smith was led by an angel to the place where the plates were buried. In 1827, he began to translate them from reformed Egyptian into English. When the translation was finished, Joseph Smith said he returned the plates to the angel. Before their return, the plates were shown to a group of men the Church calls the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. No woman officially witnessed the plates.
This founding heritage of found documents helps make sense of Mark Hofmann’s ready acceptance by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There was little skepticism when Hofmann said he found the Anthon Transcript, a lost page of notes transcribed from the plates by Joseph Smith. It was no great departure from our tradition for a young, inexperienced man like Mark Hofmann to find vital historical records. Young men are supposed to move the work of God forward with all kinds of revelation. He was just living up to his history.
The Anthon Transcript contained characters from reformed Egyptian, the language used in the gold plates. There…