In my opinion, every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes it to themselves to become familiar with the story of Mark Hofmann and his dealings with the Church, since the implications are so damning. Specifically, either Mark Hofmann fooled none other than God Himself, or the leaders of the LDS church have lost the spirit of discernment (assuming they ever had it). If you choose not to believe the latter, forcing yourself to believe the former, then you must admit that Mark Hofmann was certainly the greatest forger who ever lived!
Mark Hofmann was a dealer in historical documents. Although his name is now connected with the word "forgery," he was also able to locate many legitimate documents, and had earned an honest reputation as a man skilled in this field. He may have specialized in documents related to early Mormonism, but he dealt with other historical items as well.
Unfortunately, he seems to have been unable to control his spending habits. To earn more money and perhaps to stave off debt, he decided to forge some documents and sell them.
It is common knowledge among members of the Church that their leadership has all its sensitive documents relating to Church history hidden away in "the Church Archives" and "the First Presidency's vault," and these documents are strictly off limits to the world. Even the membership is denied access. Only select historians in the Church's employ are ever granted access, and even then on a limited basis. In light of this secrecy, Hofmann strongly suspected that the Church leadership was willing, if not downright anxious, to suppress any historical document which tended to reflect negatively on the Church.
Thereafter, he began "finding" such documents, which were in actuality his own forgeries. He had several meetings with Gordon B. Hinckley, now "Prophet, Seer, and Revelator" and President of the Church, in which deals were negotiated wherein the documents were purchased by the church in a roundabout way. They were bought by private collectors who had received money from the Church, and the collectors would then "donate" the documents to the Church, which would subsequently throw them into the bottomless pit of the archives, never to be heard from again.
Part of Hofmann's scheme was to leak news of his "discovery" of these documents. He had two reasons for doing this: One was to inflate their prices; the other was to force the Church to own up to its own history as opposed to whitewashing it. It has often been stated that Hofmann was trying to "rewrite" Mormon history, but this is not the case. He was merely trying to "help history along" by crafting the missing pieces of the puzzle which, according to his intensive study of LDS history, should have been there all along but had already been suppressed or lost.
One such document which happened to become public knowledge was the so-called "Salamander Letter," ostensibly written by Martin Harris to W. W. Phelps. In the letter, Harris described the manner of the finding of the Golden Plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Rather than being led to the plates by an angel, however, Joseph Smith discovered the location of the plates through use of a seer stone (the same stone he used to locate buried treasure on various farmers' lands during his "money-digging" days, and which he later used to translate the golden plates), and upon reaching the place, there was a white salamander in the bottom of the box in which the plates lay. This salamander transformed itself into an 'old spirit,' struck Joseph three times, and made him unable to retrieve the plates at that time.
Mormon leaders bought this story hook, line, and sinker. This raises the question: If such a story was as outlandish as it sounds, why didn't they simply laugh Hofmann out of the office? The fact that they considered such a story genuine makes it obvious that the current leadership is under no real delusion regarding the actual genesis of the religion, unlike the rest of the membership. (On a related note, one faithful Latter-day Saint actually committed suicide as a result of the crisis of faith he had which was triggered by the contents of the Salamander Letter.)
In a classic example of the ludicrous lengths the leadership will go in the quest for damage control, Dallin H. Oaks, a Mormon apostle, even went so far as to claim that the Salamander Letter actually reaffirms Joseph Smith's prophetic claims(!) In the 1985 CES Doctrine and Covenants Symposium, he stated:
"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. . . 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."One wonders how Elder Oaks felt when he discovered that the entire letter was a mere fabrication.
Interesting side note: Jerald Tanner, who has been called a "career anti-Mormon" and who with his wife Sandra runs the Utah Lighthouse Ministry, was actually highly suspect of the document's validity, even though it clearly vindicated his point of view. He was suspicious because the story closely matched the Willard Chase affidavit found in Eber D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed, published in 1834, which has the distinction of being the first anti-Mormon publication. As it turns out, the Salamander Letter actually was a forgery, of course, which boosted the Tanners' reputation for honesty, since they refused to tout a document they couldn't authenticate, no matter how damning to the LDS Church. This also leaves faithful Mormons with the unenviable task of reconciling the fact that a career anti-Mormon could detect a forgery while the "prophets, seers, and revelators" of the Mormon heirarchy could not.
To be taken in by a forgery is, of course, an understandable human error. We all make mistakes. So why is this somehow unforgivable when a person in Mormon leadership does it? The answer to this is that LDS leaders have long claimed that they are immune to such deception, due to the nature of their calling. See the following declaration by Bruce R. McConkie, formerly a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in his book Mormon Doctrine under the heading Discernment:
". . . the gift of the discerning of spirits is poured out upon presiding officials in God's kingdom; they have it given to them to discern all gifts and all spirits, lest any come among the saints and practice deception. . . Thereby even 'the thoughts and intents of the heart' are made known."
Lest anyone think that McConkie was merely giving his own opinion, the same thing was stated by God Himself (according to faithful Mormons) in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 46, verse 27:
"And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God."
Mark Hofmann had long since lost faith in Mormonism and was conducting meetings with the leadership with the express purpose of defrauding the Church, so he almost certainly qualifies as being "professing and yet be not of God." Therefore, although the Bible is replete with examples of prophets being fooled, deceived, and duped, Mormons can no longer use that excuse to cover their current leadership, since God apparently deciced to "burn" that particular "bridge" when He supposedly revealed section 46.
Among Hofmann's other forgeries bought by the Mormon leadership:
"Verily thus Saith the Lord unto Hyram Smith if he will come strateaway to Far West and inquire of his brother it shall be shown him how that he may be freed from det and obtain a grate treasure in the earth even so Amen"Therefore, not only were the highest leaders of the LDS Church unable to detect a forged letter, they were unable to tell the difference between a genuine and a bogus revelation from God himself! Which raises another question: Which of God's other supposed revelations to the LDS leadership are, in reality, mere falsehoods?
Why raise capital for a nonexistent collection? Most likely he was trying to gain money to tie him over to the time he could secure the sale of "The Oath of a Freeman," another forgery by himself of the first document printed on Colonial America's first printing press. This would have netted him approximately $1,500,000.00, after which he could simply repay his LDS investors and claim that he was unable to secure the purchase.
Hofmann was apparently delayed in the sale of "the Oath of a Freeman," and his LDS creditors were understandably clamoring for a return on their investment. It was at this time that he decided to resort to murder to buy more time. For the McLellin collection, his liaison to the Church was Steve Christensen. On October 15, 1985, Mark Hofmann planted a homemade bomb which killed Christensen. Another victim that day was Kathy Sheets, wife of one of Christensen's former business associates, who had nothing to do with document transactions. The bomb was meant for her husband to make the killings look motivated by a disgruntled former investor or employee. The next day, Hofmann himself was nearly killed by another one of his bombs which accidentally exploded in his own car.
After officials began to see inconsistencies in Hofmann's story about the circumstances surrounding the explosion, they decided to investigate him. Prosecutors began to unravel the truth and were suspicious that Hofmann was a fraud. They could not yet establish a motive for the killings, since Hofmann might well have been telling the truth about his discovery of the McLellin collection.
During the investigation, the LDS heirarchy was asked to conduct a thorough inventory of their vaults and produce all documents which had passed through Hofmann's hands. During the course of this inventory, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were made aware of a startling discovery: The McLellin collection was already in the archives, having been purchased by the Church itself in 1908! Hard evidence of this magnitude would have convinced prosecutors that Hofmann did not actually have access to the collection, so his claims thereto would have proven him a liar. If the leadership were to hand the collection over to the prosecuting attorneys, they most likely would have sought the death penalty. If the leadership did so, however, they would have found themselves in the embarrasing situation of having to explain why they negotiated for the purchase of something they already owned. They ended up keeping the discovery secret, an action from which only one conclusion can be drawn: The leadership of the Mormon Church chose to maintain their public image as opposed to seeing justice served on the murderer of two of their own members.
Hofmann's preliminary hearing (which hearings are conducted to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to merit a trial) lasted five weeks, the longest in Utah's history. As it turned out, before the actual trial began Hofmann entered into a plea agreement and is now serving a life sentence. Unfortunately for the world, this spared Gordon B. Hinckley a potential public cross-examination by the defense attorney on the subject of Hinckley's ability or inability to receive revelation.
We learn from this entire unpleasant affair that the Church does, indeed, buy up and suppress sensitive documents regarding its history. We also learn that the LDS leadership's claim to divine revelation is little more than a hollow statement, 180° different from reality. Perhaps there are those who say, "Maybe God for his own reasons chose not to offer inspiration at that time." To this I say, if the murders of two innocent people aren't enough to warrant inspiration, especially when the detractor is in your own office and you can quickly put an end to the entire scheme by saying, "not interested," then what is enough to warrant inspiration? Or maybe some say, "The leaders are too busy nowadays to grill everyone they meet with on a daily basis." To this I say, at what number of people met with does God suddenly lose His ability to offer inspiration?
Who knows, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Church's leadership is inspired, but Mark Hofmann was such a good forger that he was able to fool God Himself! Hmm, I wonder which it is?
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