Mark Hofmann Forgeries

Mark Hofmann

In the early to mid-1980s, the Church paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in expensive and valuable antiquities and cash to Mark Hofmann – a con man and soon-to-be serial killer – to purchase and suppress bizarre and embarrassing documents into the Church vaults that undermined and threatened the Church’s story of its origins. The documents were later proven to be forgeries.


CES Letter, Page 66

The The CES Letter alleges that the Hofmann's forgeries undermined and threatened the Church's story of its origins, which is untrue and overly dramatic. Before they were discovered to be forgeries, their contents were dealt with like any new document would have been. Church leaders were excited to learn of purportedly new documents dealing with the Restoration.

The lack of discernment by the Brethren on such a grave threat to the Church is troubling.


CES Letter, Page 66

Mark Hofmann Timeline

The author of The CES Letter seems concerned regarding a “lack of discernment by the Brethren.”

The timeline shows that Hofmann’s first forgery occurred in 1980 and by 1986 his forgeries were exposed. 

1980    Anthon Transcript

1981    Joseph Smith III blessing

1983    an 1825 Joseph Smith holograph

1984    the Salamander letter

1985    Oath of a Freeman

1985    killings

1986    arrested

1987    pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder

Church leaders are not given the gift of mind-reading when they are set apart. The whole process took less than six years. The CES Letter has unrealistic expectations.

Even Joseph Smith was told in 1828: “But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace” (D&C 10:37). 

While in prison, Hofmann attempted suicide in his cell by taking an overdose of antidepressants. He was revived twelve hours later but had been lying on his right arm, blocking its circulation, and causing muscle atrophy. His forging hand was thereby permanently disabled.

A master forger, Hofmann deceived a number of renowned document experts during his short career. He also forged and sold signatures of many famous non-Mormons, including George Washington, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Boone, John Brown, Andrew Jackson, Mark Twain, Nathan Hale, John Hancock, Francis Scott Key, Abraham Lincoln, John Milton, Paul Revere, Myles Standish, and Button Gwinnett, whose signature was the rarest, and therefore the most valuable, of any signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hofmann also forged a previously unknown poem in the hand of Emily Dickinson.

Some of Hofmann’s forgeries were accepted by scholars for years, and an unknown number of them may still be in circulation.

THE FOLLOWING IS ELDER OAKS’ 1985 DEFENSE OF THE FAKE SALAMANDER LETTER (WHICH OAKS EVIDENTLY THOUGHT WAS REAL AND LEGITIMATE AT THE TIME):

Another source of differences in the accounts of different witnesses is the different meanings that different persons attach to words. We have a vivid illustration of this in the recent media excitement about the word salamander in a letter Martin Harris is supposed to have sent to W. W. Phelps over 150 years ago. All of the scores of media stories on that subject apparently assume that the author of that letter used the word salamander in the modern sense of a ‘tailed amphibian.’

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 in this context in the 1820s. That meaning, which is listed second in a current edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary, is ‘a spirit supposed to live in fire’ (2d College ed. 1982, s.v. ‘salamander’). Modern and ancient literature contain many examples of this usage.

A spirit that is able to live in fire is a good approximation of the description Joseph Smith gave of the angel Moroni: a personage in the midst of a light, whose countenance was ‘truly like lightning’ and whose overall appearance ‘was glorious beyond description’ (Joseph Smith-History 1:32). As Joseph Smith wrote later, ‘The first sight [of this personage] was as though the house was filled with consuming fire’ (History of the Church, 4:536). Since the letter purports only to be Martin Harris’s interpretation of what he had heard about Joseph’s experience, the use of the words white salamander and old spirit seem understandable.

In view of all this, and as a matter of intellectual evaluation, why all the excitement in the media, and why the apparent hand-wringing among those who profess friendship with or membership in the Church? The media should make more complete disclosures, but Latter-day Saint readers should also be more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read.

So, what just happened? Elder Oaks defended and rationalized a completely fake and made up document that Mark Hofmann created while telling “Latter-day Saint readers” to be “more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read.”


CES Letter, Page 66-67

Elder Oaks states: “Latter-day Saint readers should also be more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read." Ironically, this seems to be the very thing that the author of The CES Letter is championing—LDS being more sophisticated in their evaluation of what they read about prophets and history. It is good advice, and apparently Elder Oaks believes that such behavior will lead them to belief, not disbelief.

There was significant dishonesty by President Hinckley on his relationship with Hofmann, his meetings, and which documents that the Church had and didn’t have.


CES Letter, Page 67

The CES Letter is making a is a reckless accusation that is based purely upon speculation. It assumes that the church was going to sequester documents obtained from Hofmann without any evidence of this.

  • Just hours following the bombings on the morning of October 15, 1985, murderer Mark Hofmann met with Elder Dallin H. Oaks in the Church Office Building:

 

He’s just killed two people. And what does he do? He goes down to the church office building and meets with Dallin Oaks. I can’t even imagine the rush, given Hofmann’s frame of reference, that this would have given him. To be there standing in front of one of God’s appointed apostles, after murdering two people, and this person doesn’t hear any words from God, doesn’t intuit a thing. For Hofmann that must have been an absolute rush. He had pulled off the ultimate spoof against God.

— THE POET AND THE MURDERER: A TRUE STORY OF LITERARY CRIME AND THE ART OF FORGERY, P.232

CES Letter, Page 67 (New to the latest CES Letter)

update coming


CES Letter, Page 68

The Church immediately released the documents. The CES Letter's allegation is based upon an assumption that they were not going to release them. There was no wrongdoing, but the author of The CES Letter alleges impropriety based upon its opinion of what would have happened.

  • While these “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators” were being duped and conned by Mark Hofmann’s forgeries over a four-year period (1981-1985), the Tanners – considered some of the biggest critics of the Church – actually came out and said that the Salamander Letter was a fake. Even when the Salamander Letter proved very useful in discrediting the Church, the Tanners had better discernment than the Brethren did. While the Tanners publicly rejected the Salamander Letter, the Church continued buying fakes from Hofmann and Elder Oaks continued telling Latter-day Saints to be more sophisticated.

CES Letter, Page 68

update coming