Review of William L. Moore's
"The 1823 Detroit Manuscript: A Book of Mormon Prequel"

Richard Stout

Since William L. Moore's lead article, in the second episode of Dale R. Broadhurst's on-line book, "Spalding Saga," disagrees in part with a theory put forth in my 2001-02 six-part Evangel article, "A Singular Discovery: the Curious Manuscript, Mitchill, and Mormonism," I've been asked to review Mr. Moore's work-in-progress. Let me say at the outset that the purpose of this review is primarily to deny the words Mr. Moore has put in my mouth for the sake of his own theories. Sad to say, Mr. Moore not only misinforms the reader as to my statements, but he also makes a muddle of the basic facts in the Detroit Manuscript affair. If he ever actually read my article, it is not readily apparent. Naturally, one would expect this to affect his conclusions.

After a brief introduction, Moore begins:

In the spring of 1823, one Col. Abraham Edwards, a prominent Detroit Michigan entrepreneur, discovered an ancient manuscript written in curious hieroglyphics hidden in the foundations of an old house. Almost immediately the discovery became the subject of considerable discussion around the community, which resulted in the manuscript being placed on public display at the local newspaper office for all to see and examine at their leisure. Since none of the locals was able to read or even to identify its strange text, a few pages were eventually sent to various linguistic experts for examination, one of whom was the renowned Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell of New York. After these academics had puzzled over it for some time, it was finally recognized that the manuscript was a Roman Catholic religious text written in "insular minuscule," an obscure form of Latin shorthand dating from the late Middle Ages and last used in remote Irish monasteries during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Following is a listing of a few major and minor errors in Moore's presentation of the "facts" in the case.

1) The manuscript was not found in the spring of 1823. The Detroit Gazette article announcing the discovery was published on 7 March of that year and states that the MS was found a week earlier. (March 20th or 21st is usually the beginning of spring.)

2) The MS was not actually ancient (although one Washington paper's headline read "Ancient Manuscript") -- it was probably written in the previous century.

3) The MS was not written in hieroglyphics, nor did anyone at the time call the characters hieroglyphics. The March 14 Gazette stated re the characters: "They bear more resemblance to the Phenician [sic] Alphabet than any other with which they have been compared, though a number of the letters differ but little from the Saxon. There is no doubt, from the Latin sentences interspersed through it, that it is a religious work and it is probably the production of some learned theologian of the seventeenth century, written in a peculiar cipher.

4) The MS was not found in the foundations of an old house. It was found under a house which had to be relatively new -- all the buildings in Detroit had burned to the ground less than twenty years earlier.

5) A few pages of the MS were sent to Dr. Mitchill, not Mitchell (the Mormon account of Martin Harris's trip to New York with "reformed Egyptian" characters misspells Mitchill's name, too). I'm sure Mr. Moore would not appreciate being called Mr. More throughout this review.

6) Insular Minuscule is not an obscure form of Latin shorthand dating from the late Middle Ages and last used in remote Irish monasteries during the 16th and 17th centuries. In my article I quote a Harvard web site which states, "Insular Miniscule is a combination of Irish Miniscule and Anglo-Saxon Miniscule. With the Norman conquest in 1066, Insular Miniscule died out. The Irish, however, continue to use the hand to this day, as the script for Gaelic."

The following quote finds Mr. Moore relating and debating my supposed claims:

It is not entirely reasonable to assume that, just because some of Smith's 1827 symbols seem to match those used in Irish insular minuscule shorthand, that Joseph simply recycled the same transcript Col. Abraham Edwards had sent to Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell in 1823. Had Joseph Smith sent Dr. Mitchell the same transcript the learned professor had inspected in 1823, he surely would have recalled the circumstances under which he had attempted to decipher the Detroit manuscript and branded Smith's symbols a patent copy. No -- Smith would not have risked sending Mitchell the exact same material his Uncle's business partner had sent the man in 1823. So, on what basis can Mr. R. B. Stout assert that some of these same 1823 symbols occur on the so-called "Anthon Transcript," which, presumably both Dr. Mtichell and Dr. Anthon inspected during February 1828? One possibility is that the so-called "Anthon Transcript" is is [sic] a copy of some symbols dating from 1823 and that it somehow ended up in Mormon hands. But there is a better answer to this mystery.

First, as noted in #6, Insular Miniscule is not shorthand (nor is Irish Miniscule), and I never suggested Harris took any Miniscule characters to Anthon. As #3 notes in its quote from the Detroit Gazette, there appeared to be three languages on the Detroit MS -- Phoenician-like characters, Saxon, and Latin. The "Saxon" (actually Insular Miniscule) accounts for the Gaelic Fr. Grace translated in the Detroit MS. It is the Phoenician-like characters that suggested a cipher to the Gazette writer and added weight to my deductions that the "signs and symbols" noted by Mitchill were early modern shorthand. (The high probability that the Detroit MS. contained shorthand was recently confirmed in an email from Dr. Patricia Brewerton of London's Birbeck University (1/29/2004). She is the author of the early modern shorthand article "'Several Keys to ‘ope the character': The Political and Cultural Significance of Timothy Bright's ‘Characterie'" in the Sixteenth Century Journal (2002).]

Second, I never said that Joseph had Harris take Mitchill the same set of symbols in 1828 that he'd seen in 1823. That would be ridiculous on several levels. For one thing, Mitchill in New York and Grace in Washington D.C. were sent four pages (Mitchill, it would appear, actual MS pages, Grace, facsimiles). The Anthon Transcript is only seven lines, not four pages. Grace was able to make a translation of the Irish despite the presence of what he called "strange abbreviations" (the shorthand). The Anthon Transcript obviously has no translatable Irish writing.

What it does have are several symbols which match Irish ogham ciphers from the late 14th century's Book of Ballymote. (These cipher pages can now be viewed on-line at the "Equinox Project" at http://www.equinox-project.com/ogamscales.htm.) Obviously this suggests a possible Irish origin like the Detroit MS's. The Anthon Transcript also contains many symbols that match early modern shorthand, something else the Detroit MS seems to have contained. For the other connections between the Detroit MS and the Anthon Transcript, see my article at http://olivercowdery.com/smithhome/2000s/2001RBSt.htm

Since Mitchill probably kept the four pages sent to him (he requested the rest of the MS be sent, as well), it is unlikely that Joseph could have "recycled" the same pages (in whole or in part) that had been sent to Mitchill in 1823. They probably weren't available. What I believe the facts indicate is that Joseph copied random symbols from other portions of the Detroit MS. (or his uncle sent the symbols to him at some point). These symbols were only meant to put Mitchill in mind of the "signs and symbols" of the Detroit MS. and the similar ones Mitchill had found in the margins of a Latin Bible MS. (Would Mr. Moore argue that because the Latin Bible contained symbols "so exactly like" the Detroit MS's that the Latin Bible "recycled" those symbols?) That similarity to a Latin Bible's unknown characters was all the gullible Martin Harris would have needed to be convinced of the Book of Mormon's authenticity AND to open his purse for its printing.

Needless to say, given all of the errors in Mr. Moore's article, I cannot recommend it.

Editor's Note 1: Mr. William L. Moore has been invited to complete his piece on the "Mitchill Affair," but has not yet (as of Feb. 2004) submitted his finished text. Nor has he responded to the various comments in Mr. Stout's review.

Editor's Note 2: When Mr. Moore submits his corrected and completed text, the relevant on-line episode of The Spalding Saga will be updated to reflect whatever changes he makes to his piece. The reader should keep that fact in mind, when comparing Mr. Stout's review to Mr. Moore's final text (after it is web-published at this site).

Editor's Note 3: That portion of Mr. Moore's piece which cites the 1942 "Language of the Book of Mormon" article was an editorial insertion, added as an example of how Joseph Smith, jr. might have obtained unusual-looking "characters" from published examples of Egyptian demotic symbols. This particular idea and illustration were not compiled by Mr. Moore, who instead was solicited to provide his opinion upon a certain hypothesis, more or less as now restated by Mr. Stout in his review conclusion: That Joseph Smith, jr. copied various symbols from some portions of the Detroit manuscript (i. e., probably from portions other than those excerpts previously submitted to Dr. Mitchill by the associate of Joseph's Uncle Stephen Mack in 1823). With Mr. Moore's approval, the "demotic symbols" insertion and some minor editorial corrections were made to Mr. Moore's incomplete article, before the text was placed on-line. Thus, Mr. Moore is not entirely responsible for each and every word in that text. For example, the text, before editorial corrections were made, contained one instance of the name "Mitchill." Since all other appearances of the Doctor's name in the text were spelled "Mitchell," that one instance was changed to match the rest. Dr. Mitchill's name was occasionally misspelled in the press of his day, as "Mitchell," and that misspelling has crept into numerous popular and professional publications over the years.


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Last Revised: Feb. 9, 2004