“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;” — 1 Corinthians 1:27
I. Setting the Stage:
According to Joseph Smith’s History, on the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared in his bedroom and told him about the Golden Plates. The angel quoted Isaiah and other prophets, saying that their prophecies were about to be fulfilled. Oliver Cowdery wrote about this visit in a letter to W. W. Phelps, wherein he related that the angel declared he had come “that the scriptures might be fulfilled, which say —‘God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty’“. The angel, quoting Isaiah 29:14, proclaimed that the Lord “will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder; the wisdom, of their wise shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid”. The angel went on to explain that “this cannot be brought about until first certain preparatory things are accomplished,” then he invoked Isaiah 29:13 to warn that “those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him, will seek its overthrow”. The angel instructed Joseph that “the scripture must be fulfilled before it is translated, which says that the words of a book, which were sealed, were presented to the learned” (Isaiah 29:11). Finally, the angel made clear to Joseph that he was to be the Lord’s instrument in fulfilling Isaiah 29:12, “for thus has God determined to leave men without excuse, and show to the meek that his arm is not shortened that it cannot save.”
The following day, Joseph walked to the hill Cumorah and dug up the plates. When he reached into the box to grab them he received a shock. The angel then reappeared and admonished him to remember what he had told him the previous night. In another letter to Phelps, Cowdery explained that “in an instant, all the former instructions, the great intelligence concerning Israel and the last days, were brought to his mind”. The angel declared that before the record could be translated the promise of the Lord (i.e., the Isaiah 29 verses) must first be fulfilled. He explained that the record on the plates “cannot be interpreted by the learning of this generation;” but rather, “they are to be translated by the gift and power of God” and that “by them will the Lord work a great and a marvelous work: the wisdom of the wise shall become as nought, and the understanding of the prudent shall be hid”.
II. Preparing the Script:
In January 1827, Joseph told Emily M. Austin (a friend of Joseph and Emma at Colesville) of “that which Isaiah the prophet had spoken of; a vision which should become as the words of a book that is sealed; which was delivered to one that was learned, saying ‘Read this, I pray thee;’ and he said, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed;’ and the book is delivered to one that is unlearned, saying: ‘Read this, I pray thee;’ and he said, ‘I cannot, for I am unlearned; moreover, inasmuch as this people draw near me, with their mouths and with their lips do honor me, therefore I will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.’” According to Emily, Joseph “brought up many prophecies to show that the Lord was about to do a marvelous work” and such rumors “circulated throughout the country”.
For Joseph, Isaiah 29:11 dictated a clear set of requirements, which had to be accomplished before he “that is not learned” could begin translating; otherwise the opportunity to fulfill this prophecy would be missed. The “words of a book” had to first be delivered by “men” to “one that is learned”. Then, when the learned man was asked to read the words, he had to reply to the effect that he could not read a sealed book. The script thus called for three actors, a learned man, an unlearned man and a delivery man. In December 1827, Joseph cast Martin Harris for a leading role in his drama.
Joseph could not have picked a better man for the delivery job. According to Pomeroy Tucker, Martin “could probably repeat from memory nearly every text of the Bible from beginning to end, giving the chapter and verse in each case.” Harris was fond of “proving the lack of wisdom” of “the rejecters” and always relied on “his favorite quotation, that ‘God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise’” as a “self-convincing argument in reply to similar adversity in his fanatical pursuit.” It is a remarkable coincidence that Martin’s favorite saying was spoken repeatedly to Joseph by the angel Moroni. With Harris itching to put the scholars to shame, it was a simple matter for Joseph to create a document that no linguist could possibly read. And with the failure of their translation-efforts guaranteed, the success of the mission was assured.
III. Playing the Part:
Martin set off from Harmony in Feb. 1828 with transcript in hand. Before heading east, he stopped to see John A. Clark in Palmyra and showed him the transcript. Clark thought that the “H”-like character might be Hebrew but otherwise considered the whole thing a fraud. Clark reports that his “ignorance of the characters in which the pretended ancient record was written, was to Martin Harris new proof that Smith’s whole account of the divine revelation made to him was entirely to be relied on.” Martin next went to Albany to see Luther Bradish and then journeyed on to New York City to see Samuel Latham Mitchill. When Mitchill failed to speak the words of Isaiah 29:11, Martin sought out Prof. Charles Anthon of Columbia College.
Martin told the professor that “a young man” had given him the transcript with instructions to “submit it to the learned” and thus “he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles.” Anthon identified some of the characters as “Greek”, “Hebrew” and “Roman” and specifically denied the presence of “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.“ After some further discussion, Martin gave the Professor a little prompting by mentioning, completely out of context, that “part of the plates were sealed” (even though Martin had not yet seen the plates). This paid off handsomely as Anthon replied with the golden words, “I cannot read a sealed book.”
After procuring the requisite quote from the learned man, Harris returned to his friend John Clark and told him “that among others he had consulted Professor Anthon, who thought the characters in which the book was written very remarkable, but he could not decide exactly what language they belonged to.” Clark relates that “Martin had now become a perfect believer. He said he had no more doubt of Smith’s divine commission, than of the divine commission of the apostles. The very fact that Smith was an obscure and illiterate man, showed that he must be acting under divine impulses: — ‘God had chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the mighty’”. Later, John Gilbert, Book of Mormon typesetter, wrote that “Martin returned from his trip satisfied that Joseph was a ‘little smarter than Professor Anthon.’”
IV. Charming the Patrons:
Sixteen months after Martin’s triumphant return from New York (and with Mosiah-Moroni plus 1 Nephi safely completed) Joseph dictated the Anthon affair to Oliver Cowdery in an excruciatingly detailed nineteen-verse midrash of Isaiah 29:11-12.
2 Nephi 27:
6 And it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book, and they shall be the words of them which have slumbered.
7 And behold the book shall be sealed; and in the book shall be a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.
8 Wherefore, because of the things which are sealed up, the things which are sealed shall not be delivered in the day of the wickedness and abominations of the people. Wherefore the book shall be kept from them.
9 But the book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust, and he shall deliver these words unto another;
10 But the words which are sealed he shall not deliver; neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof.
11 And the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be even unto the end of the earth.
12 Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.
13 And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men; for the Lord God hath said that the words of the faithful should speak as if it were from the dead.
14 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!
15 But behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book: Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee. And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them.
16 And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God.
17 And the man shall say: I cannot bring the book, for it is sealed.
18 Then shall the learned say: I cannot read it.
19 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say: I am not learned.
20 Then shall the Lord God say unto him: The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.
21 Touch not the things which are sealed, for I will bring them forth in mine own due time; for I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work.
22 Wherefore, when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee, and obtained the witnesses which I have promised unto thee, then shalt thou seal up the book again, and hide it up unto me, that I may preserve the words which thou hast not read, until I shall see fit in mine own wisdom to reveal all things unto the children of men.
23 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.
24 And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:
At last, Martin had his reward for undertaking his journey; not to mention an exceedingly strong incentive to foot the printer’s bill. There he was, clear as crystal, in verses 15 & 17, which all but listed his shoe size and blood type. Furthermore, he had the marvelous opportunity to lay claim on verses 12, 14 and 22 as one of the three or so privileged witnesses, for which honor he aggressively lobbied, along with David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery.
V. Taking a Bow:
From June 1830 to July 1833, Joseph spent much of his time translating the Bible (JST). This effort was necessary “to restore truths to the Bible text that had become lost or changed since the original words were written” and to recover “certain truths that the original authors had once recorded”. As further proof of the monumental importance of Martin’s encounter with Prof. Anthon, Joseph restored the plain and precious details of the visit in his inspired translation of Isaiah 29:
11 And it shall come to pass, that the Lord God shall bring forth unto you the words of a book; and they shall be the words of them which have slumbered.
12 And behold, the book shall be sealed; and in the book shall be a revelation from God, from the beginning of the world to the ending thereof.
13 Wherefore because of the things which are sealed up, the things which are sealed shall not be delivered in the day of the wickedness and abominations of the people. Wherefore, the book shall be kept from them.
14 But the book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust; and he shall deliver these words unto another, but the words that are sealed he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book.
15 For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof.
16 And the day cometh, that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the housetops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be, even unto the end of the earth.
17 Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it, save it be that three witnesses shall behold it by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.
18 And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men; for the Lord God hath said, that the words of the faithful should speak as it were from the dead.
19 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and woe be unto him that rejecteth the word of God.
20 But, behold, it shall come to pass, that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book, Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee.
21 And the learned shall say, Bring hither the book and I will read them; and now because of the glory of the world, and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God. And the man shall say, I cannot bring the book for it is sealed. Then shall the learned say, I cannot read it.
22 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say, I am not learned. Then shall the Lord God say unto him, The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.
23 Touch not the things which are sealed, for I will bring them forth in mine own due time; for I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work.
24 Wherefore, when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee, and obtained the witnesses which I have promised unto thee, then shalt thou seal up the book again, and hide it up unto me, that I may preserve the words which thou hast not read until I shall see fit in mine own wisdom to reveal all things unto the children of men.
25 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men, save it be according to their faith.
26 And again it shall come to pass, that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him, Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precepts of men, therefore I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people; yea, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.
Except for the combination of a few verses, to clean up some choppy sentences, the extra JST verses are identical to those in 2 Nephi 27. Thus, in addition to the brouhaha concerning whether Joseph used a Bible in translating the Book of Mormon, we have the highly ironic likelihood that he used a Book of Mormon in translating the Bible!
Joseph gloried in the notion that Isaiah had prophesied his life. In an unfinished history he began in 1832, he took the pen in his own hand and recorded that Martin Harris “took his Journy to the Eastern Cittys and to the Learned saying read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the plates they would read it but the Lord had forbit it and he returned to me and gave them to me to translate and I said cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters and thus the Prophicy of Isaiaah was fulfilled which is writen in the 29 chapter concerning the book.”
VI. Leaving a Mess:
LDS scholars have recently come to realize that Isaiah’s sealed book is not the Golden Plates, but rather the voice of Jerusalem that was to symbolically whisper from the dust; i.e., Isaiah was referring to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, circa 701 BC, when the armies of Assyrian-king Sennacherib layed siege to the city. Joseph Smith’s expanded version of Isaiah 29 is not attested in either the Septuagint or the Qumran Great Isaiah Scroll. The extra verses do not appear in the Codex Sinaiticus, the Latin Vulgate nor any other pre-1829 text. By any reasonable standard of textual criticism (lectio brevior in particular) the JST verses depend on the Nephi verses, which depend on the KJV verses, which derive from the Masoretic Text. In recognition of these difficulties, Cloward, Tvedtnes and others allege that the extra verses belong to Nephi, rather than Isaiah. In their scenario, Nephi reinterpreted Isaiah’s sealed book as his own gold plates and co-opted Isaiah’s dust of death as the hill Cumorah. According to Cloward, prophets are entitled to liken the scriptures unto themselves and “there is no impropriety in their giving old scripture new meaning for their lives.”
The trouble with assigning the extraneous verses to Nephi is that it creates more problems than it solves. Firstly, Nephi’s habit of likening the scriptures unto himself offers no support for this thesis, since neither the learned nor unlearned man refer to him or anyone else in his spatial or temporal locality. If anyone was likening the scriptures unto himself, it was Joseph Smith. Secondly, if Nephi could assign unprecedented new meaning to scripture, then why couldn’t Joseph? What purpose does the middle-man serve? Thirdly, since the Brass Plates served as the basic scriptures of the Nephite nation, and were passed down by all the major prophets from Nephi to Mormon, any alteration of the words of Isaiah could not have gone unnoticed; i.e., metal engravings are not easily erased. Fourthly, Joseph Smith never attributed the extra verses to Nephi. In all of his writings, translations and oral communications he credited the prophesy to Isaiah. If the prophecy was Nephi’s, then why did Moroni attribute it to Isaiah and why did the Lord mislead JS in translating the Bible?
In addition to the above considerations there is the textual evidence. Chapter XI in the 1830 BoM quotes virtually all of KJV-Isaiah 29, except for the first two “Ariel” verses, which clearly address Jerusalem (not New York). The 2 Nephi 27/28 chapter break in the printer’s manuscript, 1830 edition and modern edition coincides with the Isaiah 29/30 chapter break in the KJV Bible.
Chapter breaks did not exist in the Bible until Archbishop Stephen Langton put them there in the 13th century. The most that could have existed on the Brass Plates, were setumah or petuhah demarcating much shorter text units.
Whereas, the Isaiah-29 quotations in 2 Nephi 26 (modern ed.) are followed by obvious commentary, 2 Nephi 27:2-35 flows forth in a single unbroken voice. (e.g., there is no, “And now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words of Isaiah…”) The embellishment in 6-24 is bracketed by verses 10 and 13 in Isaiah 29, with no transitions whatsoever between the direct quotations and the midrash; in fact, the transition to direct quotation at 24-25 occurs mid-sentence.
It is also apparent that the author of 2 Nephi 27 was averse to “Ariel” since he skips 4 instances of it in Isaiah 29:1-2 and changes it to “Zion” in verse 7. “Ariel” is a Hebrew name, which, through its connection with Ezekiel 43, appears to suggest that Jerusalem is going to burn. Nephi would have been very familiar with this name for his home town, just as New Yorkers are familiar with “The Big Apple”. “Zion” on the other hand, is probably not a Hebrew word. Nephi would have understood it to mean “Mount Zion” (Isaiah 29:8 ); i.e., a specific place in Jerusalem. Joseph Smith however, used “Zion” in much broader terms; i.e., the gathering place of the saints, which is how the word is used in 2 Nephi 27:3. Additionally, the author of 2 Nephi 27 copied the KJV mistranslations: “Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay”, in verse 27, and “offender for a word”, in verse 32.
The difficulties surrounding JST Isaiah 29 and 2 Nephi 27 are compounded by the exaggerated claims and internal inconsistencies in the official account of the Anthon affair. From 1828 to 1838 the story evolved to meet the expectations of new converts. At first, Anthon could not read the characters, then later he could authenticate but not translate the characters and eventually he could identify the languages and translate the characters. In 1835, Martin Harris and the “Caractors” transcript got conflated with Michael Chandler and the papyri in the rush to prove that “there was one language Professor Anthon could not translate which the Prophet did.”
Although Anthon owned a copy of Champollion’s Précis du système Hiéroglyphique des Anciens Égyptiens (Paris 1824), it is doubtful that this would have enabled him to discern “that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian” or to confidently proclaim that “they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct.” Just how many translations of Reformed Egyptian had the Professor previously encountered? Moroni wrote that “none other people knoweth our language” because the characters were “handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech” (Mormon 9:32-34).
In 1838 Smith stayed with his future wife Lucinda Morgan Harris, widow of Royal Arch Mason William Morgan. Morgan’s 1826 disappearance had prompted David Bernard, in 1829, to add the Royal Arch degree to his reprint of Morgan’s exposé of Masonry’s first three degrees. In the 1830 oath or obligation of a Royal Arch Mason, the grand omnific word, ‘long lost but now found,’ is JAH-BUH-LUN. “Candidates are instructed to understand that this word signifies God, in three different languages, (i. e.) Hebrew, Chaldaic, and Syriac, and that it is the true word of a mason.” Thus, by changing Anthon’s “Greek” and “Roman” letters to “Chaldaic” and “Assyriac”, Joseph appealed to converts with Masonic backgrounds.
In the end, it appears that Martin Harris was right about the foolish things of the world confounding the wise. It has taken scholars many decades to apprehend that the surest words of prophecy are written by less-learned men after the fact.
 Joseph mistrusted italicized words in the KJV Bible. — Wright, David P. “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon …and Joseph Smith in Isaiah.” In American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, by eds. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, 157-234. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002. Hence, it would not have been hard for him to replace “men” with “man” (Martin Harris) in Isaiah 29:11.
 Charles Anthon’s April 3rd, 1841 letter from New York, printed in Clark: 233-238. According to Joseph’s mother, “It soon became necessary to take some measure to accomplish the translation of the record into English but he was instructed to take off a fac simile of the characters <composing the alphabet which were called reformed Egyptian> Alphabetically and send them to all the learned men that he could find and ask them for the translation of the same. Joseph was very solicitous about the work but as yet no means had come into his hands of accomplishing it.” — Lucy Mack Smith Preliminary History Manuscript, p. 108 (EMD 1:343). According to Joseph’s father, “…the remaining pages [of the gold plates] were closely written over in characters of some unknown tongue, the last containing the alphabet of this unknown language. …[S]ome of them, …[Joseph] showed to the learned…” — Joseph Smith, Sr. 1830 interview (EMD 1:462-63).
 Kimball, Stanley B. “The Anthon Transcript: People, Primary Sources, and Problems.” BYU Studies Vol 10, No. 3, Spring 1970: 325-352. According to Kimball, Harris may have been so intent on fulfilling a scriptural prophecy that he heard only what he wanted to hear. It is unclear whether Anthon actually made the “sealed book” remark, since his comment is not attested in the historical record until 1838.
 Clark: 229-230.
 Memorandum of John H. Gilbert, 8 Sept. 1892, Palmyra, New York.
 Metcalfe, Brent Lee. “The Priority of Mosiah: A Prelude to Book of Mormon Exegesis.” In New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, by editor Brent Lee Metcalfe. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993.
 Dean C. Jessee editor, The Papers of Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Company; vol 1, 1989:295. In Joseph’s words, “Almost immediately after we had made this discovery; it occurred to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and the aforementioned Martin Harris (who had came to enquire after our progress in the work) that they would have me enquire of the Lord, to know if they might not obtain of him to be these three special witnesses; and finally they became so very solicitous, and teased me so much, that at length I complied, and through the Urim and Thummim, I obtained of the Lord for them the following revelation.”
 These verses were deleted from the church website not long after this essay appeared on the Mormon Apologetics & Discussion Board (now renamed).
 Paul R. Cheesman, “An Analysis of the Accounts Relating to Joseph Smith’s Early Vision,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1965. Dean C. Jessee “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Brigham Young University Studies 9 (Spring 1969): 275-94.
 Cloward, Robert A. “Isaiah 29 and the Book of Mormon.” In Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, by Welch & Parry. Provo: FARMS, 1998. and Tvedtnes, John A. “Sealed Books.” In The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness Unto Light. Maxwell Institute.