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.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fun with Cumorah

In this installment of my "fun" series, we'll look at the Hill Cumorah. The basic question is, "Where is the Hill Cumorah?"

This requires a lot of unpacking of rhetorical baggage, but I think it's important to get to the bottom of the Mesoamerican theory. This kind of unpacking takes time and attention, which may be why no one has apparently done it in the past, but I'm tired of seeing the Mesoamerican nonsense slide by unexamined, and I think most readers of this blog are too.

One advantage of the citation cartel's approach is that every source you consult leads to the others; i.e., FARMS will lead to the Interpreter, which leads to the Maxwell Institute, which leads to BYU Studies, which leads to FAIRMORMON, which leads to BMAF, etc. They're interchangeable, and they're all listed as links on the bottom of the BOMC web page here. (Okay, I think BYU Studies is a cut above the others, but so far I've never seen an article in BYU Studies that offers any alternative to the Mesoamerican theory. If I've missed such an article, please send me the citation.)

I'll start with the FAIRMORMON entry because it epitomizes the "Mesoamerican seer" approach. Then I'll look at some other Mesoamerican seers.

Question: Where is the Hill Cumorah?

Joseph Smith never used the name "Cumorah" in his own writings when referring to the gold plates' resting place [classic example of begging the question; i.e., providing what is essentially the conclusion of the argument as a premise]

It is not clear exactly when the New York hill from which Joseph Smith retrieved the gold plates became associated with the name "Cumorah." Joseph Smith never used the name in his own writings when referring to the plates' resting place. [Notice the term "own writings" here. Joseph wrote very little himself. He relied on scribes. When Oliver Cowdery wrote Letters VII and VIII to W.W. Phelps (the letters in which he specifically stated, as a fact, that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York), he said Joseph helped him write the letters. Joseph instructed his scribes to copy these letters into his own journal as part of his life story. When viewed through the Mesoamerican lenses, Joseph's own journal is not "his own writings."] The only use of it from his pen seems to be D&C 128:20, which uses the phrase "Glad tidings from Cumorah!" [Think about this. Letter VII, which unequivocally identifies the Book of Mormon Cumorah as the New York hill, had been published in the Messenger and Advocate (1835), copied into Joseph's personal journal (1835), republished in the Gospel Reflector (1841) and the Times and Seasons (1841), and included in Orson Pratt's 1840 missionary pamphlet which Joseph adapted for the Wentworth letter, including the Articles of Faith, in March 1842. The Mesoamerican seers are blind to all of this context, and instead claim that D&C 128, written just six months after the Wentworth letter, cites Cumorah as an abstract concept. Worse, they insist Joseph was not referring to the gold plates' resting place, in direct contradiction to Letter VII. Later I'll show where some Mesoamerican seers actually claim Joseph was paying homage to a hill in Mesoamerica.] 
In 1830, Oliver Cowdery referred to the records' location as "Cumorah," while preaching to the Delaware Indians, and by 1835 the term seems to have been in common use among Church members.[1] 
[The article doesn't mention that, according to his mother, Joseph used the term Cumorah in 1827, before he even translated the plates.
"As I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel met me, and said that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord..."
Let's recap this paragraph. First, it's "not clear exactly when" the New York hill became associated with the name Cumorah, but by the end of the paragraph, we see Oliver Cowdery using it in 1830 during his mission to the Lamanites (also notice how the article avoids using the term Lamanites here, as it is used in the revelation calling Oliver on this mission). So while it is "not clear" when the term was first used, it is clear it was being used by Oliver Cowdery within a year of the publication of the text. Ordinarily, one would think Oliver Cowdery was a reliable source, but not if you're wearing the Mesoamerican lenses. And those lenses prevent you from even mentioning Joseph's use of the term in 1827.]

David Whitmer is not told that the hill from which Joseph received the record was called Cumorah, but this usage seems to have nevertheless become common within the Church [Nevertheless? One of the Three Witnesses explains when he first heard the term Cumorah--from a heavenly messenger, before he had even read the manuscript--and the Mesoamerican seers think it is a contradiction that the term "became common" within the Church?]

One reference comes from a later interview [This is hardly an ordinary interview. It was Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt interviewing one of the Three Witnesses for a formal report to the First Presidency.] with David Whitmer, who recounted how Oliver Cowdery had written to him, asking for help to transport Joseph and Oliver from Harmony to the Peter Whitmer home in Fayette:
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 suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon and saluted us with, "Good morning, it is very warm," at the same time 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 name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked around inquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again.[2]
Interestingly, Whitmer is not told that the hill from which Joseph received the record was called Cumorah, [Notice this rhetorical trick. We don't know what Whitmer was told by the messenger; we only know what he related in this interview as reported by Smith and Pratt. Whitmer also did an interview with Edward Stevenson, who recorded that "David asked him [the messenger] to ride and he replied I am going across to the hill Cumorah." FAIRMORMON is aware of this interview (they cite a different portion of it here), but somehow failed to mention it here. Any guesses why? You can see Stevenson's original letter describing one of his interviews here. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, Stevenson's diary containing the Whitmer's hill Cumorah statement is "closed to research" online (see here), but it is cited in Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 1993, p. 13 and Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 2003, vol. v, p. 30.] but this usage seems to have nevertheless become common within the Church. [I love this "nevertheless" qualifier. Before the translation is even complete, and almost a year before the Book of Mormon is published, an angel tells David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith that he is taking the plates "to the hill Cumorah." Inexplicably, according to the Mesoamerican seers, "this usage" becomes "common within the Church." Such rhetorical audacity is a lot of fun to observe.] Given that Whitmer's reminiscence is late, and unsubstantiated by other contemporaneous accounts, some historians question its accuracy, especially in a detail such as the name of the Hill, which later became common Church usage.[3]
[Okay, so now, when viewed through the Mesoamerican lens, official testimony, given to two Apostles, by one of the Three Witnesses, is questionable. No wonder why Joseph Fielding Smith said that, because of the Mesoamerican Two Cumorah theory, "some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon."
The FAIRMORMON article refers to "some historians" but cites only one, here. Martin Raish writes, "Unfortunately, the accuracy of David’s story is uncertain. For one thing, this recollection came 49 years later, when he was in his seventies. Moreover, it is not corroborated by any other early account. For example, neither Oliver Cowdery’s 1835 description of the hill nor Joseph Smith’s 1838 history of the church refers to the site by the name Cumorah (see Joseph Smith—History 1:51). For these reasons, some scholars do not accept the account as historically reliable." 
There are several fun aspects of Raish's piece. For example, he refutes the Mesoamerican seers' assertion that Cumorah was a folk tradition when he writes, "it apparently did not become part of common usage, even among Latter-day Saints, until many years later. Throughout the 1830s and ’40s, the mount, if named at all, was called “Mormon Hill,” “Bible Hill,” or “Golden Bible Hill.”
The most fun in Raish's piece, though, is when he claims Oliver Cowdery's 1835 description does not refer to the site by the name Cumorah. If you look at his article, he quotes from Letter VII, concluding with this sentence: "here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed."
But in the very next sentence in Letter VII, Oliver writes, "By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon, you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped around this hill Cumorah."
Did Raish not read the next sentence in Letter VII? Was he using an extract of Letter VII from another Mesoamerican seer's work that omitted every reference to Cumorah? 
Raish's article was published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, a hopelessly Mesoamerican publication like the others in the citation cartel. Like the Interpreter, these publications are not peer reviewed, which is why errors such as this crop up. The citation cartel publishes peer-approved, not peer-reviewed, material.  
To sum up, the one scholar cited by FAIRMORMON didn't even read his original source, and therefore misrepresented what Oliver Cowdery wrote. 
Note: I previously addressed the David Whitmer issue in more detail here.]

The Book of Mormon text indicates that the Hill Cumorah in which the Nephite records were hidden is not the same location as the one where Moroni hid his plates

Despite this early "identification" of the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon with the hill in New York, readers who studied the text closely would later conclude that they could not be the same. [This is a variation of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy; i.e., if you don't reach the same conclusion as the Mesoamerican seers, you are not "studying the text closely." It's a lot of fun to have these Mesoamerican seers inform us that Oliver Cowdery did not "study the text closely." Nor did Joseph Fielding Smith. When you encounter the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, which you see a lot among the citation cartel, you can ignore the argument because people resort to that fallacy as a last resort when they have nothing of substance to say.]
In 1937–1939 Washburn and Washburn argued that the Nephite/Jaredite final battles at the Hill Cumorah were near the narrow neck of land, and thus unlikely to be in New York.[4] [See how fun this is? First, the Mesoamerican seers decide the "narrow neck of land" is in Mesoamerica; then they argue that the Hill Cumorah can't be in New York because it's close to the narrow neck of land! Do I really need to explain the fallacy of this argument?] Thomas Ferguson was of the same view in 1947,[5]and Sidney Sperry came down on the side of a Middle America location in a 1964 BYU religion class,[6] though he had previously endorsed a New York location.[7]  [The formal term for this fallacy is "appeal to authority," and it is among the most common fallacies you see in the citation cartel. Anyone interested can unpack the arguments made by Ferguson and Sperry; I find appeals to authority not worth the time and effort. Note that this fallacy is a different argument than an appeal to authority based on special credibility, such as a witness (which is why we publish the testimony of Joseph Smith and the 3 and 8 witnesses in every edition of the text). The appeal to authority fallacy applies when the cited authority has no more unique knowledge or expertise than anyone else. Any member of the Church can assess the same evidence that Ferguson and Sperry did and make up his/her own mind. There is zero reason to defer to them on this issue (or any other member of the citation cartel).]

Since the 1950s, opinion among Book of Mormon scholars has increasingly trended toward the realization that the Nephite Cumorah and the Hill in New York cannot be the same [The only thing more fun than an appeal to authority is an additional appeal to authority. This one is cleverly worded. Scholars are converging on the realization! It's no longer a matter of opinion, fact and analysis; it's a question of realizing the truth. IOW, if you disagree with these scholars, you just haven't realized that you're wrong. Another fun aspect of this one is "Book of Mormon scholars." The term, as used here, means "Mesoamerican seers." In my view, every member of the Church is, or can be, a Book of Mormon scholar. You certainly don't need a PhD, or any degree, to be a Book of Mormon scholar. In fact, once you put on the Mesoamerican lenses, you "can't unsee" Mesoamerica. Such closed-mindedness is the antithesis of scholarship.] 

Since the 1950s, opinion among Book of Mormon scholars has increasingly trended toward the realization that the Nephite Cumorah and the Hill in New York cannot be the same.[8] Elder Dallin H. Oaks recalled his own experience at BYU:
Here [at BYU] I was introduced to the idea that the Book of Mormon is not a history of all of the people who have lived on the continents of North and South America in all ages of the earth. Up to that time, I had assumed that it was. If that were the claim of the Book of Mormon, any piece of historical, archaeological, or linguistic evidence to the contrary would weigh in against the Book of Mormon, and those who rely exclusively on scholarship would have a promising position to argue.
In contrast, if the Book of Mormon only purports to be an account of a few peoples who inhabited a portion of the Americas during a few millennia in the past, the burden of argument changes drastically. It is no longer a question of all versus none; it is a question of some versus none. In other words, in the circumstance I describe, the opponents of historicity must prove that the Book of Mormon has no historical validity for any peoples who lived in the Americas in a particular time frame, a notoriously difficult exercise.[9]

[If I had to pick out my favorite fallacy in this FAIRMORMON article, I think this would be the one. Nothing in Elder Oak's statement endorses Mesoamerica. In fact, if you combine Elder Oaks with Joseph Fielding Smith, the statement excludes Mesoamerica. 

The whole geography issue boils down to this: you have to choose between the New York Cumorah and the Mesoamerican Zarahemla. You can't have both. Which means choosing between Joseph, Oliver and Whitmer on Cumorah vs. an anonymous and isolated 1842 article in the Times and Seasons on Zarahemla. 

Here's another way to put it. I invite every member of the Church to choose between these.

Explicit descriptions of Cumorah in New York:

Joseph (1827)

David Whitmer (1829)

Oliver Cowdery (1830)

Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII (1835), reprinted in Joseph's personal journal (1835), Orson Pratt (1840), the Gospel Reflector (1841), the Times and Seasons (1841), D&C 128 (1842), and the UK pamphlet (1844).

Explicit description of Zarahemla in Guatemala:

Anonymous article in the 1842 Times and Seasons, never mentioned or referred to again until the development of the two-Cumorah theory by scholars in the 1900s.


There are 13 geographical conditions required for the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah [This section is a classic in the canon of the citation cartel. Palmer wrote a book titled "In Search of Cumorah" in 1981. I bought a copy when it came out. Palmer also wrote the self-serving entry on Cumorah in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. He is cited by most Mesoamerican seers, so I'll address this here. You're going to love the "conditions" that are "required" by the Mesoamerican seers here. I'm not going through them in detail, just enough to give you the flavor.]

In 1981, Palmer identified 13 geographical conditions required for the Book of Mormon Hill Ramah/Cumorah:
  1. near eastern seacoast [the text specifies no distance between Ramah/Cumorah and the sea]
  2. near narrow neck of land [the text specifies no distance between Ramah/Cumorah and the narrow neck of land (and notice that the Nephites never mention the narrow neck of land; it is found only in Ether 10:20)]
  3. on a coastal plain and near other mountains and valleys
  4. one day's journey south of a large body of water
  5. an area of many rivers and waters
  6. presence of fountains
  7. water gives military advantage
  8. an escape route southward
  9. hill large enough to view hundreds of thousands of bodies [The text doesn't require this, but in fact, from the top of the Hill Cumorah, you can see the city of Rochester 20 miles away. Oliver Cowdery refers to tens of thousands, which is consistent with the text. Certainly the mile-wide valley west of Cumorah, which Oliver identified as the scene of the final battle, is plenty big to accommodate this number of dead.] 
  10. hill must be a significant landmark [just as Oliver described it]
  11. hill must be free standing so people can camp around it [as the New York hill is]
  12. in temperate climate with no cold or snow [complete fabrication, the product of the Mesoamerican lenses. Nothing in the text requires this. The climate is never described in the text, except it had "some seasons," which excludes Mesoamerica anyway. This common Mesoamerican argument is like saying the Apostle Paul could not have traveled in Turkey because he never mentions snow. Yet snow in Turkey is well known; I've been in a snowstorm in Turkey where Paul traveled.]
  13. in a volcanic zone susceptible to earthquakes[10] [another complete fabrication that defies the text. See my post on fun with volcanoes]
Clearly, the placement of Cumorah will greatly affect the map which results. Issues of distance, as discussed above, play a role here as well. [yes]
Some authors [Note the diminutive; these are not "Book of Mormon scholars" now] who have other views on the internal geography have directly disputed the validity of some of David Palmer's criteria for the ancient Cumorah.[11] [Here, they cite Andrew Hedges and Edwin Goble. Goble advocates a Mesoamerican setting for Zarahemla. Hedges does an excellent job pointing out how Palmer's conditions are not required, or even implied, by the text, and so far as I know, he demurs on the location of Zarahemla, but like Goble, he does not reject the Mesoamerican setting. IOW, the "skeptics" FAIRMORMON cites here both accommodate the Mesoamerican setting!] The question of distance plays an important role in the skeptical views towards these criteria. [Notice how they rhetorically shift the burden of proof here. Palmer's conditions are "required." If you disagree, you're the skeptic.] If it is demonstrated [This passive voice leaves the analysis vacant. Who would be doing the demonstrating? On what criteria?] that there is a greater distance between the narrow neck of land and Cumorah, for example, and there is a "northern hinterland" to the Nephite domain, then the questions of climate and so forth in these criteria are not going to apply necessarily to the hill Cumorah. Furthermore, the issues of height have been called into question as well. [What can anyone say in response to this vacuous rhetoric?]
[Bottom line on Palmer: his fabricated "conditions" are "required" only if you are wearing the Mesoamerican lenses. You don't get them from the text Joseph translated. Citations to Palmer are ubiquitous in citation cartel literature, from John Sorenson's 1985 An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon through Brant Gardner's 2015 Traditions of the Fathers. But when you unpack Palmer's arguments, you see they are transparently designed to justify a Mesoamerican Cumorah. 
Truly, once you put on the Mesoamerican lenses, you can't unsee Mesoamerica. This FAIRMORMON article is a prime example of how the Mesoamerican seers adapt the evidence to confirm their biases, and why it is necessary to unpack their work piece by piece.
This post is too long now, so I'll save the rest on Cumorah for a separate post.


  1. Great post! This certainly ought to cause those with "Mesoamerican lenses" to squirm.

    I fear though that those with such lenses, and who ought to relish this challenge to their "worldview" will never read it. As one friend of mine at FAIRMORMON stated recently (paraphrasing), "I won't waste my time with Neville and other Heartlanders peddling their 'snake oil'."

  2. Yes, your friend exemplifies the approach taken by the Mesoamerican seers. They don't dare read actual facts and rational argument. They're not used to it if they've been reading FARMS, FairMormon, etc. Many times I've offered to discuss all of this with them, and they nearly always refuse. Even those who agree to discuss it usually only want to try to convince me why they're right--without addressing the facts. I've yet to find a single one who will engage seriously with the issues I've identified. When you try to talk with them, if they respond at all, it is by grumbling among their friends or in a forum, or maybe if you're lucky they'll write a ridiculous article in the Interpreter.
    But that doesn't stop us from continuing to try to bring reason and unity to the endeavor. Fortunately there are thousands of people reading these blogs, growing all the time. Keep spreading the news.

  3. The thinking exercises to come of with this criterion was shallow at best. I'm sorry, Mr. Palmer, but golly gee willikers! You made up some stuff!

    I've thought about the weather quite a bit here, but it can't be inferred like this. The data presented in the Book of Mormon could not provide any such conclusion on weather-- I agree, all signs point to some sort of slippery-slope assumption with little to no peer review. It's funny, you gotta "Winchester" the facts just justify a Winchester!

    I wonder what it the Book of Mormon could be like if it did have weather involed?

    For the North American Setting:

    "And it came to pass in the 17th year of the reign of the judges, it snowed in the winter, and it was sunny in the summer time, and the Lamenites and Zoramites began to make preparation for war against the people of Ammon... And then it came to pass in the 18th year, it snowed in the winter and it was sunny in the summertime, and rained a little more than usual by the hill cumorah, but it didn't rain that much by the river sidon, but there was still some flooding by the land of Nephi, and in the fall time all the leaves looked so pretty."

    For the Central American Setting:

    "And it came to pass that it rained everyday in the afternoon for four moons out of the year... and it came to pass in the next year it rained every day in the afternoon for four moons out of the year."

    Don't rag on me about the central american one, I lived there for a few years. It's either hot or it rains.

  4. Nice one RJ! You got it just right. Do you mind if I post your comment as a guest post?

    I was going to do one on how Paul never visited Turkey (Ephesus, Galatia, Cappadocia, etc.) because he never mentioned snow and it snows there. (I know because we awoke to a serious snowstorm in Cappadocia a few weeks ago.) So the maps of Paul's travels must be wrong; he actually visited Egypt, where it never snows, and some evil translator substituted Galatia for Giza. Instead of the Epistle to the Galatians, we know it was originally the Epistle to the Gizans because Paul never mentioned snow.

    That's how ridiculous the Mesoamerican seers have gotten with their snow refrain.


  5. Ha ha, Giza - that was a funny one!

    You mentioned Brant Gardner's 2015 "Traditions of the Fathers." Every time I read that title I keep wondering how he could have chosen it in light of the fact the Book of Mormon writers constantly warned us about the detrimental effects of the traditions of the fathers?! And in the preface to that nearly 500 page book, he says it is told "more concisely" than his "comprehensive" 6-volume "Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon." Maybe... but I do not think "concise" means what he thinks it means! ;)

  6. Ha ha, Giza - that was a funny one!

    You mentioned Brant Gardner's 2015 "Traditions of the Fathers." Every time I read that title I keep wondering how he could have chosen it in light of the fact the Book of Mormon writers constantly warned us about the detrimental effects of the traditions of the fathers?! And in the preface to that nearly 500 page book, he says it is told "more concisely" than his "comprehensive" 6-volume "Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon." Maybe... but I do not think "concise" means what he thinks it means! ;)