long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Oliver Cowdery and Brant A. Gardner

Brant Gardner's treatment of Oliver Cowdery is another reason why I recommend his book, Traditions of the Fathers. His comments on Cowdery are the epitome of the Mesoamerican approach, on display for everyone to see and assess. In the section I analyze below, Gardner explains why Cumorah must be in Mesoamerica and cannot be in New York. 

Like other Mesoamericanists, Gardner never quotes from Oliver's Letter VII. Actually, he never mentions the letter at all. Well, okay--he never even mentions Cowdery! (He does include a quotation from Joseph Fielding Smith that mentions Cowdery along with several others, as you'll see, but he omits any reference to JFS's quotation of Cowdery's letter.) I view Gardner's approach as more of the same suppression of the single most important piece of evidence regarding the location of Cumorah in Church history. 

This is the same pattern you see in the other sources I'm reviewing on this blog.

Much of this passage from Gardner's book consists of quotations, which I'm putting in blue. Gardner's footnotes are in green. My comments in red.


Traditions of the Fathers, p. 373
The Mesoamerican Cumorah

Cumorah was either an impressive defensive position or a metaphorical location for the destruction of a people—perhaps both. 

[Already, we're veering into semantic problems. Gardner uses the term "Cumorah" loosely, but the context here suggests Gardner is referring to the hill Cumorah, which the text never says is an impressive defensive position. The defenses were established in the land of Cumorah, the extent of which the text does not explain. Mormon had to climb the hill to see his ten thousand who were hewn down, which indicates they were in the valley. There is no basis in the text for concluding the term refers to a metaphorical location.]

Moroni writes: “And it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred” (Ether 15:11). Moroni’s equation of the two hills requires that the hill of Nephite destruction be in Jaredite lands, which places all of these events in a limited area that does not stretch from Mesoamerica to New York. (See the next section for the New York Hill Cumorah.) 

[I think everyone agrees that the Book of Mormon setting cannot stretch from Mesoamerica to New York. Fortunately, Joseph never said it did. It was Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, John E. Page, etc., who made that claim. And it was Joseph in the Wentworth letter who edited out the hemispheric theory Orson Pratt was pushing.]  

John L. Sorenson simply accepts Moroni’s equation of Ramah and Cumorah: “The hill Ramah, where the Jaredites destroyed themselves, was the same hill as Nephite Cumorah (Ether 15:11).” 

Nevertheless, we have no source from which Moroni might have known that the two locations were indeed one and the same. Ether certainly knew Ramah but could not have known the name Cumorah. The identification couldn’t have come from Ether’s record.

[Of course it could have. We only have an abridgment; Moroni had the entire record. Brant recognizes this two sentences later, contradicting himself.] 

Moroni knew the location as Cumorah, but there is no way to know how he understood it to be the very hill that Ether called Ramah. It is possible that there was some distinguishing feature of the hill that Ether noted and Moroni recognized (but did not record as he abridged Ether). Perhaps it was revelation, but Moroni doesn’t mention that either. Perhaps it was only the similarity in the final destructions of the two peoples and that made them symbolically the same. It is currently unknowable. 17 

[Do we need to know how Moroni knew the things he wrote about? His declarative statements are not enough? Setting aside the possibilities Gardner suggests here, doesn't it seem likely that Moroni would have known about defensive structures around Cumorah that the Jaredites set up? Or maybe some bones and weapons and other indicia of the battles? Limhi's explorers found some of these, although not necessarily from the scene of the last battles.]

[Footnote 17: I do not think that questioning the correlation between Ramah and Cumorah alters the essential requirement that the final destruction of both people occurred in Mesoamerica. Other data are sufficient for that conclusion. However, arguments for a Mesoamerican location for the Book of Mormon that lean on this correlation (as Sorenson’s does) are weaker than they appear if the two are not the same hill.]

[I wish Gardner had explained this more. From my perspective, it's difficult to imagine how the Mesoamerican location theory could be any weaker and still be called a theory. But it's interesting how he phrases this. Now it is an "essential requirement that the final destruction of both people occurred in Mesoamerica." In my view, the only "essential requirement" is that the historical events match the description in the text. Because I think Mesoamerica doesn't meet that requirement, I am curious how the two hills being different would make any difference, but Gardner doesn't explain.]

We may hope to learn more about Moroni’s Cumorah. 

[Don't worry--you will. But not in Mesoamerica.]

David A. Palmer comments that the site of El Meson is near the proposed Hill Cumorah, which he identifies ad Cerro Vigia in modern Veracruz. El Meson was occupied beginning as early as 400 B.C. and continued to be occupied through Nephite times until ca. A.D. 300. The abandonment of this site around one hundred years earlier than the final events of the Nephite nations suggests that it was a location with the natural resources to support a city population, but that there were no significant competing peoples who had to be dislodged to allow the Nephites access to it.

[I've discussed Palmer's approach to Cowdery, which, as minimal as it is, is still more extensive than Gardner's.]

Lawrence L. Poulsen has proposed a different hill along the eastern seashore of the Gulf of Mexico. Poulsen examined three-dimensional maps against the information in the text and found four possibilities. He then further refined the search, settling on one in Misantla, Veracruz, Mexico. One interesting correlation is to the requirement that there be “many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4). Poulsen quotes from one of the early Spanish descriptions of the land commissioned by the king: “One of the aspects most prominent of the region, is the abundance of water, yes it is a district, humid by nature, where have existed the difficult problems of other places. In the entire jurisdiction there are abundant springs, lagoons, and streams. The great rivers form a true hydrographic net and it is notable that even in the hills, little fountains are found.” The actual hill that might have been Cumorah remains speculative. 

[To be clear, the actual hill in Mesoamerica that might have been Cumorah remains speculative. It always will remain speculative. Imaginary is a better term. Poulson's work is a good example of how people can be always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. What's the point of having prophets if we don't care what they say? Ooops, I don't want to digress from my fact-based analysis, but seriously, now we're going to examine maps and Spanish descriptions to figure out what Joseph and Oliver made clear so long ago? Without at least assessing what they wrote?]

The New York Cumorah

Not long after the Book of Mormon was published, the community of believers began using the name “Cumorah” for the hill from which Joseph had retrieved the plates. 

[Gardner obscures a point that appears in a reluctant footnote 22, below. The earliest known use of the word Cumorah was before the Book of Mormon was even published. David Whitmer heard it from Moroni himself. Whitmer said, "This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant." I'll discuss Whitmer's testimony below and in a separate post.]

The New York hill wasn’t, and isn’t an imposing natural feature. [Nowhere does the text say it is.] There is nothing about the New York hill that suggests an important defensive position, particularly for the numbers of defenders mentioned. 

[Cumorah is the highest hill in the area, as Cowdery said: "To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that route.... I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by." It is a strategic location, because from the top you have a view in all directions. You can see Rochester, for example, which is about 25 miles away. Cumorah is also a natural place for a final battle of the Jaredite and Nephite nations because the major borders would funnel the respective armies there, as I explain in Moroni's America.] 

Although there is a strong tradition linking that hill with Cumorah, the tradition is stronger than any evidence for the correlation. 

["Tradition" is a pejorative term in this context; it implies belief not necessarily based on fact. A neutral term would be "usage." But using Gardner's term, it's true, the tradition is strong; it began before the Book of Mormon was published and Joseph and Oliver unequivocally made the connection. But there are no requirements in the text that the New York Cumorah does not meet.]

As later as almost a hundred years after the publication of the Book of Mormon, Orson F. Whitney indicated that it had different local names: “In the summer of 1914, it fell to my lot to visit some of the scenes made memorable by the early experiences of the Latter-day Saints. One object of surpassing interest was the Hill Cumorah, called ‘Mormon Hill’ by the inhabitants of the region in which it is situated—namely, western New York state about midway between the towns of Palmyra and Manchester.” 

[I'm curious how this is relevant when Cowdery's Letter VII is not.]

Rex C. Reeve Jr. and Richard O. Cowan discuss the way it acquired the name Cumorah:

At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. In his account in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name. In the Doctrine and Covenants the name “Cumorah” only appears one time, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah!” (D&C 128:20). No other uses of “Cumorah” have been found in any other of Joseph Smith’s personal writings. When this name does appear it has been added by later editors or is being quoted from another individual.22

[The account in the Pearl of Great Price (Joseph Smith-History) was produced well after Joseph's History, 1834-1836, which incorporates Cowdery's letters. By the time Joseph Smith-History was published in the Times and Seasons in 1842, Oliver's account had been published in two official Church newspapers, as well as Benjamin Winchester's Gospel Reflector. Cowdery's version, and Joseph's adoption of it, was well established before 1842.]

[Footnote 22 includes this: The earliest possible connection between the New York hill and the Book of Mormon Cumorah comes from an 1878 interview with David Whitmer by Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” 772-73:

When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver , all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned, wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man in a clear open place, who saluted us with "Good morning, it is very warm," at the same instant wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way, but he said very pleasantly, "No I am going to Cumorah." This was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant, and as I looked enquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again.

This report would be much more conclusive had it not been recorded nearly fifty years later. The passage of time and the accepted designation of “Cumorah” as the name of the New York hill by the time of the recollection argue against the second-hand report from Whitmer as being a definitive statement.

[In my view, Gardner's characterization is completely unjustified, but it is the standard Mesoamerican argument. I will have a separate post to focus on David Whitmer to show people how strong of a witness David Whitmer is. When you see Mesoamericanists trying to undermine the credibility of one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, doesn't it make you wonder what they're up to?]

Sidney B. Sperry, “Where There Two Cumorahs?” 268, suggests: Now, if it is agreed that the Book of Mormon evidence points inevitably to a Ramah-Cumorah in Middle America, the question then arises as to how the hill in New York from which the Prophet Joseph Smith received the sacred Nephite records came to be called Cumorah. No details are afforded us as to either how or when the hill was so named. But certainly no adherent of the Middle-American view of Ramah-Cumorah would object to the suggestion that Moroni himself may have called the hill Cumorah in honor of the one in Middle America. He may even have told the Prophet Joseph Smith about it, but of this we have no proof.]

[How would Moroni be "honoring" a hill in Mesoamerica by misleading Joseph into thinking the hill in New York was the one in Mesoamerica?]

The sacralization of the New York hill by association with Cumorah tapped into the miraculous nature of the discovery and translation of the plates. It was an association that certainly occurred very early but the source of the connection between the New York hill and the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is unknown. One might suppose that had Moroni identified the New York hill as Cumorah, Joseph would have used the term earlier than he did. 

[Of course we have no evidence of how Joseph might have used the term verbally; written records reflect a small percentage of contemporaneous oral communication. The Book of Mormon itself tells less than one percent of the history of the people. That is why Oliver's detailed letters are so significant, not only regarding the New York Cumorah issue but many other issues of Church history. The lack of early writings by Joseph is lamentable regarding many matters of Church history (and no historian would claim there are enough records about anything from any period of history). In fact, isn't the lack of historical records the very reason Cowdery wrote the letters? Consider again Cowdery's introduction to the letters (M&A Oct. 1834) and think about whether this sounds like he intended to promote unfounded traditions: 

"That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts."

"Founded upon facts," he wrote. Not speculation or popular tradition.]

Joseph’s use of the term in 1842 is similar to his use of Urim and Thummim for the interpreters and the seer stones. 

[No, it's not. The Book of Mormon doesn't use the term Urim and Thummim. It has no connection to geography issues. Phelps suggested the term in 1833 as a speculative substitute for "pair of Interpreters" while Cowdery expressly used the term in 1835 as a synonym for the Nephite term "Interpreters."]

Although he was in a perfect position to know a different name and to correct the Saints, he didn’t. However, that should not be seen as confirmation that the tradition was correct, but rather that the Saints’ communal interpretation of history influenced Joseph’s descriptions of that history. Joseph not only allowed the communal creation of the Church’s history; he embraced it.

[This speculation about Joseph's motives is not supported by actual evidence. Instead, the evidence we have shows David Whitmer learning about the word Cumorah before he even knew what it meant. There is no evidence of a "communal interpretation of history" that, independent of Joseph and Oliver, made the connection to the New York Cumorah.]

It is plausible that just as W.W. Phelps was the one to associate the interpreters with Urim and Thummim of the Bible, one of Joseph’s companions made the association between the hill from which the plates were taken with the hill in which Mormon had hid the plates. 

[No, it is not plausible. The difference is, Phelps published his association when he wrote, " It was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles-(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim)." There is no evidence of anyone publishing speculation about the association of the hill in New York with Cumorah.] 

While that is a plausible connection, it is based on a misreading of the text. 

[First, Gardner speculates about a "plausible connection" that is not supported by evidence. Then he assumes his imagined connection is based on a misreading of the text. I suppose if one is conjuring up "plausible connections," one might as well also conjure up faulty bases for those connections. But what is the point of this exercise?]

Mormon specifically says, “I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni” (Mormon 6:6, emphasis mine). Although the Book of Mormon specifically tells of plates being buried in the hill Cumorah, they were explicitly not the plates delivered to Joseph Smith. 24

[Footnote 24: Of course, it is possible that Moroni returned to Cumorah and buried the plates there, but nothing in the text makes that assertion. The only information that the Book of Mormon itself offers is that Cumorah was not the resting place of the plates that Mormon gave to Moroni.] 

[In the first sentence of this footnote, I was glad to see Gardner avoid the Hamblin mistake. But in the second sentence, Gardner commits it anyway! Nowhere does the text state that “Cumorah was not the resting place of the plates that Mormon gave to Moroni.” The text is silent on the matter. This note seems to reflect Gardner’s ambivalence about the issue. He recognizes the fallacy of the Hamblin argument, but he can’t let it go completely, so he simply rephrases it. But the rephrasing is no more logical than Hamblin’s more overt statement. Think about it; how could Moroni record the burial place of the plates before he buried them? Theoretically, he could have written, “I intend to bury these plates in the hill Cumorah,” but under the dangerous circumstances he was in, writing such an intention would be pointless. Readers wouldn’t care about his intention; they would want to know where he actually buried the plates. But he couldn’t definitively state that until after he buried them! The expectations of the Mesoamericanists are not only irrational, they are impractical. In the real world, it would be up to the resurrected Moroni to tell Joseph where the plates were buried—which he did—and then to make the connection to Cumorah, which, if Joseph and Cowdery and Brigham Young are to be believed, he also did.]

On the basis of the only information we have in the text of the Book of Mormon, the hill from which Joseph retrieved the plates should never have been called Cumorah. 

[Yes, if Moroni had not tutored Joseph or mentioned the name to David Whitmer, and if Joseph never had any revelation about the Nephites, then everyone would be on an equal basis, interpreting the text however they want. But that hypothetical is not the historical and doctrinal record we have. What Gardner proposes here is a scenario in which everything Joseph wrote or said or incorporated into his history has no prophetic insight; i.e., a person reading the Book of Mormon today knows as much about it as Joseph Smith. Actually, I suppose that is what Mesoamericanists think. In my view, that contradicts not only the historical record but the very purpose for having a prophet.] 

Nevertheless, the association was made and became so entrenched in the Saints’ understanding that it is difficult to separate the historical data from the communal story. 

[How difficult is it? There are a finite number of historical accounts, and all the known ones have been compiled and examined, as Gardner has done here. There is room for further examination of the entire historical record, which Gardner has not done here, but that's not a question of separation; it's a question of research and analysis. What’s to separate?]

The strength of that communal story was sufficient that Sidney B. Sperry originally agreed for a single hill that bore the name Cumorah. However, he changed his mind after reviewing the evidence. He records:

The friendly controversy still goes on, the one camp holding that the only Cumorah in or out of the Book of Mormon is the traditional one in New York State, the other supporting the view that the Cumorah in New York has been named after the one in Middle America, but is not the one around which the last great battles of the Nephites and the Lamanites took place.

Now which of these two points of view is correct? It would be desirable, if possible, to come to a unity in the matter. Truth should never be on the defensive, but sometimes it is hard to decide just where it is. Perhaps most people of the Church hold to the traditional view of Cumorah, and, indeed, I have defended that view in some of my writings.5 But in recent years we have again gone over the Book of Mormon evidence very carefully and are prepared to present what we feel are the elements of the strongest case that can be made for a Cumorah in Middle America. 

[Gardner omits Sperry’s concluding sentence: “Let us present it fairly and objectively as a historical question, letting the chips, so to speak, fall where they may." That approach would be a major--and welcome--change for the Mesoamericanists. I'm demonstrating through these blog entries that the Mesoamericanists have not presented the historical evidence fairly and objectively. Gardner's book is not an outlier; as I've written, it is one of the best. But Gardner shields his readers from the objective reality of the historical evidence he cites.]

Countering the force of traditional association is the archaeological data for the hill and the surrounding lands. John E. Clark discusses the reasons that the New York hill could not have been the location of the final Nephite battle: “Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrow-heads. The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here. This is not the place of Mormon’s last stand. We must look elsewhere for that hill.” 

[Note: I’ll address Clark in a separate post. I can't tell if Gardner's analysis is limited to what Clark has written, but I infer that to be the case because Gardner merely quotes Clark here. Clark's statement is flatly untrue. There are significant ancient walls and trenches in the area, and people have gathered thousands of arrowheads in the valley west of Cumorah--as well as on the hill itself. It may be true that people did not settle there; that's what the Book of Mormon claims. This was a battle field, not a city.] 

Clark has also noted: “The cultural worlds of ancient Mesoamerica and early New York are far enough apart that it ought to be simple to discover from which one the book came. The cultures described in the Book of Mormon fit much better in Mesoamerica than in New York for any century.”

[Obviously these declarations would require extensive examination, but here I'll offer a summary as condensed as Clark's: The cultures described in the Book of Mormon fit much better in Ohio and the Midwest than in Mesoamerica, and the text describes little if any culture in the war zone in New York.]

Nevertheless, we do understand that the plates from which Joseph translated the Book of Mormon came from the New York hill. How did they come to be there? Sorenson comments:

A question many readers will have been asking themselves is a sound and necessary one: how did Joseph Smith obtain the gold plates in upstate New York if the final battleground of the Nephites was in Mesoamerica?

Let’s review where the final battle took place. The Book of Mormon makes clear that the demise of both Jaredites and Nephites took place near the narrow neck of land. Yet New York is thousands of miles away from any plausible configuration that could be described as the narrow neck. Thus the scripture itself rules out the idea that the Nephites perished near Palmyra.

Then how did the plates get from the battleground to New York? We have no definitive answer, but we can construct a plausible picture. Mormon reports that he buried all the records in his custody at the Hill Cumorah of the final battle except for certain key golden plates (Morm. 6:6). Those from which Joseph Smith translated, he entrusted to his son Moroni. As late as 35 years afterward, Moroni was still adding to those records. (Moron.10:1). He never does tell us where he intended to deposit them, nor where he was when he sealed them up (Moro. 10:34). The most obvious way to get the plates to New York State would have been for somebody to carry them there. Moroni could have done so himself during those final, lonely decades.

Would Moroni have been able to survive a trip of several thousand miles through strange peoples and lands, if he did transport their record? Such a journey would be no more surprising than the trip by Lehi’s party over land and by sea halfway around the glove. As a matter of fact, we do have a striking case of a trip much like the one Moroni may have made. In the mid-sixteenth century, David Ingram, a shipwrecked English sailor, walked in 11 months through completely strange Indian territory from Tampico, Mexico, to the St. John River, at the present border between Maine and Canada. His remarkable journey would have been about the same distance as Moroni’s and cover essentially the same route. So Moroni’s getting the plates to New York even under his own power seems feasible. (Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting, 44)

[Sorenson's comments are pure speculation, derived from his own translation of the Book of Mormon (i.e., headwaters, narrow strip of mountainous wilderness, etc.). Contrary to Sorenson's claim, the New York location is in close proximity to the narrow neck of land, as the Joseph Smith translation describes it. The idea of Moroni carrying only his abridgment thousands of miles defies what Joseph, Cowdery and David Whitmer said about the additional plates and artifacts they saw in New York. To accept the Mesoamerican setting, one must set aside all the historical accounts and embrace pure speculation instead.]

How should we see Joseph Fielding Smith’s firm declaration that the New York hill must be Cumorah? His opinion is unambiguous:

[Now, finally, Gardner is getting to the merits of the historical record.]

The Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon. (HC 2: 79-80)

The fact that all of his associates from the beginning down have spoken of it as the identical hill where Mormon and Moroni hid the records, must carry some weight. It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah, and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of this hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite manner is an established record of history.

Although Joseph Fielding Smith was adamant in his opinion, the data upon which the opinion was based are not nearly as strong as his statement suggests. 

[What? Gardner is not telling his readers about the historical evidence, but he is telling them that JFS relied on weak data? Gardner is not even informing his readers about Cowdery's letters, which JFS quoted at length? Well, there is one piece of evidence cited by JFS that Gardner's footnote focuses on: the Zelph incident, which Mesoamericanists constantly attack because of its composite nature (adopting the anti-Mormon argument against the first vision). Gardner also claims that the reference to the Hill Cumorah was “not an identification, but a reference of distance.”] 

Joseph did make the association between Cumorah and the New York hill, but only late and well after it had become an accepted designation. 

[Actually, the Zelph incident preceded Cowdery’s letters, which are supposedly the genesis of the “accepted designation.” But Gardner either doesn't trust his readers with the knowledge about these letters. Is it because of their specificity, their authorship by Oliver Cowdery, their reliance on Joseph’s input, or Joseph's full embrace of them? Gardner doesn't tell us. Furthermore, one of the Zelph accounts referred to Cumorah or the east sea, both Book of Mormon terms, and clearly referring to New York.]

The weight of tradition certainly sees Cumorah in New York, but that tradition hangs on assumption rather than revelation or any firm evidence. 

[This is a subjective rejection by Gardner of the validity of all the evidence that contradicts his Mesoamerican theory. The historical evidence is that Joseph was tutored by Moroni about the Nephites to the point of describing them in detail to his family; that Joseph and Oliver had encounters with angelic beings; that Joseph embraced Oliver's description of Cumorah in New York as part of his own life story and history; and that the term was used before people even read the Book of Mormon.]

There is an assumption that Joseph knew Book of Mormon geography, knew where the Book of Mormon Cumorah was, and declared the Book of Mormon Cumorah to be in New York. Those are three assumptions on which to base such a strong declaration, especially when the evidence does not support the thread on which the weight of tradition hangs. 

[I think this is a misprint, and Gardner meant to write, “Those are not three assumptions…” Compare this to the assumptions made to support the Mesoamerican Hill Cumorah: 1) Joseph Smith did not know Book of Mormon Geography, 2) did notknow where the Book of Mormon Cumorah was, 3) did not declare the Book of Mormon Cumorah to be in New York; but 4) anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons reflected better knowledge than Joseph and Oliver, or at least better speculation, and 5) scientific evidence supports a Mesoamerican setting better than a North American setting. The first four, I suppose, are matters of personal belief based on inferences one makes from the evidence, but the last one, as I demonstrate in Lost City of Zarahemla and Moroni’s America, is inverted. The big problem here, to state it again, is the Mesoamericanists don't disclose all the evidence in a fair and objective way as Sperry requested.]

Archaeology and history declare a different story. The New York hill cannot be the Cumorah described in the text. 

[I have to admire the conviction behind such a declarative statement, but Gardner’s arguments, at least in this book, only support his claim if one is already convinced and therefore seeks bias confirmation. As I’ve shown, his reasoning is flawed and his data is incorrect.]

What history does support is that Joseph came late to using Cumorah to identify the New York hill. 

[There is no history to support Gardner's claim here. He cites no document in which Joseph says or implies that he didn't start using the name Cumorah until late. Gardner's only evidence is lack of a written document by Joseph "early" enough to satisfy whatever his timing criteria might be. But as I mentioned earlier, lack of written evidence is not evidence of no oral usage of the term. And documented history does support the use of the term in Joseph's presence before 1830, use in 1833 in the official Church newspaper, and extensive, specific identification of the New York hill as Cumorah in 1835 that Joseph incorporated into his own history.]

Rather than being able to use Joseph as the foundation of the naming tradition, it is easier, according to the evidence of history, to see Joseph as accepting the tradition. 

[If "easier" is the criteria, then why do Mesoamericanists resist all the documentary evidence in the first place? If the truth is the criteria, then resisting all the documentary evidence is even less excusable.]

He would not have corrected it for the same reason he did not correct the use of “Urim and Thummim” when applied to the interpreters or seer stone. [p. 379]

[It's true that Joseph had a record of allowing people to believe whatever they wanted and not correcting false doctrine, preferring to let people judge for themselves. So that part of Gardner's argument is legitimate. But the implication that the use of the term "Urim and Thummim" needed to be corrected is without foundation. Joseph, like everyone else, used the term to refer to the Nephite translators or Interpreters, thinking it was a better description of their function. No need to correct the use of that term.]

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