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Historians agree Sanders' Joseph Smith family Bible is authentic

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Aug. 2, 2010 at 5:43 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY -- A Bible that is said to have belonged to Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, went on sale Monday for $1.5 million. Some are now wondering how the book was authenticated to make sure it wasn't a forgery.

If you're old enough to remember, it's hard to think of Mormon historical artifacts without thinking of master forger Mark Hofmann. Before he went to prison for murder, his fake documents fooled the experts.

As rare books dealer Ken Sanders put the Bible of Joseph and Emma Smith on Monday display, the first visitor was historical researcher Paul Smith.

"I do volunteer work for the Smith family. I'm also doing research work on Nauvoo and Emma Smith for the [LDS] Church," Paul Smith said.

He believes this bible is definitely authentic.

The next two visitors were veteran prosecutors, who came out of professional curiosity. Bob Stott sent Mark Hofmann to prison 25 years ago. Hoffman, the master forger-turned-murderer, once faked a Joseph Smith Bible.

"He claimed it came through the Smith line; and in it, it had some writing which he claimed was by Joseph Smith," Stott said.

So, what does Stott think about this Joseph Smith Bible?

"Well, I would trust Mr. Sanders here, is what I would do," Stott said.

Historical experts don't seem suspicious of this Bible.

"The book is known. It's not that it just fell out of the sky," said Kent Tschanz, who works at Ken Sanders' bookstore.

Tschanz says the chain of ownership, the so-called "provenance," is clear. The Bible was handed down though Emma Smith's descendants until it was sold into private hands in 1979.

"You can make a direct line from Joseph Smith to here," Tschanz said.

For decades, historians relied on the book for accurate information, particularly the handwritten records of marriages, births and deaths in Joseph and Emma Smith's family.

"It's in their own handwriting, according to Dean C. Jessee," Tschanz said. "I mean, he was a scholar that specialized in the Joseph Smith Family."

"To my mind, this bible probably belongs in the LDS Church archives," Tschanz continued, "but I'm not in a position, nor are the owners, to donate it."

We don't know who the current owners are; Sanders is keeping that a secret.

Meanwhile, officials from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say they're aware of the Bible but have not been involved in authenticating it and have no current plans to purchase it.

E-mail: jhollenhorst@ksl.com

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