The Hofmann Case: "Suppression" of Documents

Russ McGregor

 

One of the allegations frequently made against the Church, in connection with the Hofmann case, was that the Church was interested in obtaining documents from Hofmann in order to suppress them. Rumors to this effect began to circulate as early as January 1985, when the Tanners alleged that Hofmann had "obtained the original Egyptian Papyrus which Joseph Smith used as Fac. No. 2 in the Book of Abraham". They further alleged that Hofmann intended "to secretly sell the document to the Church so that it can remain hidden from the eyes of the public." They claimed confirmation of this rumor from two unnamed sources, including a "prominent Mormon scholar." [1]

In the event, the rumor turned out to be a fairly standard example of Tanner "research," i.e. it was entirely unfounded. However, the idea that the Church was trying to suppress unhelpful documents persisted, despite the lack of factual support, largely because of its popular appeal. There is nothing the public likes as much as a good juicy scandal. There is nothing the Church's enemies like to imagine as much as the Church desperately trying to cover up unflattering facts (unless it is themselves exposing those same facts, and the Church's cover-up thereof). And there is nothing quite so scandalous as a good conspiracy story. And since it is quite against their principles to let facts, or the lack thereof, get in the way of a good story, the Church's enemies have done their best to keep the pot boiling with their baseless allegations.

The reality, of course, is an entirely different story. And to see this reality, we need look no further than the Hofmann case itself. One of the documents that Hofmann forged and ultimately sold to the Church was a "blessing" supposedly given by Joseph Smith upon his son, Joseph Smith III, and naming him as his father's successor. (Incidentally, the document had been independently authenticated, so the Church officials in question were not the "suckers" they have been made out to be.) Now we ask: if there is any document that the Church would like to "suppress," would it not be a document that undermines the premise of apostolic succession and supports the claims of the Reorganized Church? Of course it would be. And so what, may we ask, did the Church do to "suppress" this document? Well, if you must know, the Church traded it to the RLDS Church in exchange for an 1833 Book of Commandments. (When the "Blessing" turned out to be a forgery, the Church gave the Book of Commandments back again, even though the RLDS Church had relied upon the independent authentication, and was willing to "take it on the chin.")

Now doesn't this seem like a strange thing to do? If they wanted the JS3 Blessing to "remain hidden from the eyes of the public," why on earth would they give it to the Reorganites, who of all people would have the most to gain from publishing it abroad? Did they perhaps think the Reorganites would do the "suppressing" for them? Since the RLDS Church actually included the JS3 Blessing in their Doctrine and Covenants there was clearly no "arrangement" or "understanding" between the two churches that the document would be suppressed.

I challenge the Church's critics to come up with an explanation for the Church's actions in this instance that both (a) preserves their precious "suppression" theory, and (b) does no violence to the facts. Since I know of very few anti-Mormon theories that meet the second criterion, I feel we may be waiting a very long time.

 

Endnotes

1 "Important Find?" Salt Lake City Messenger, No. 55 (Jan. 1985): 15, quoted in R. E. Turley, Jr., Victims, The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case, University of Illinois Press, 1992.