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, December 14, 2016

Yes, they do teach the two-Cumorahs theory

Church leaders, staff and members continue to tell me they don't believe LDS scholars and educators are teaching a two-Cumorahs theory.

And I agree that things are changing. The official position of the Church is neutrality on the question of Book of Mormon geography, but for many years, the two-Cumorahs theory was taught explicitly and implicitly. I learned it at BYU.

Advocates of the two-Cumorahs theory have used Church media that depicts two Cumorahs as evidence that the Church endorses the Mesoamerican theory of geography.

To review: The "two-Cumorahs" theory was developed by Mesoamerican advocates to justify their theories that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. They say the hill in New York is too far away to be the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and the Lamanites, so they rationalize that the hill in New York was misnamed by some unknown early member of the Church. These scholars say that Joseph Smith adopted this false tradition. He and Oliver Cowdery, when they wrote Letter VII, were ignorant speculators who misled the Church for 100 years. These scholars say the hill in New York is "Moroni's hill" because Moroni deposited the plates there. The real Cumorah, "Mormon's hill," (mentioned in Mormon 6:6) is somewhere in southern Mexico. They even have people in Mexico searching for the "real Cumorah." These scholars say the idea that Cumorah is in New York is "manifestly absurd."

It's simple. Whenever you see the distinction between Moroni's hill and Mormon's hill, you are seeing the two-Cumorahs theory.

Typical scholarly map of the Book of
Mormon in Mesoamerica that relies
on the two-Cumorahs theory
In fact, every time you see a painting, illustration, movie, video or other depiction of Book of Mormon events or characters in Central America, you are seeing the two-Cumorahs theory at work. In this post, I'll give some examples. I've discussed these before, but this topic is new for many readers, so a review is important.

Proponents have been teaching the two-Cumorahs theory for decades, but they know most members of the Church would be uncomfortable with it, so they don't talk about it much. In this post, I'll show you some of their writing, which they circulate mainly among themselves. Nevertheless, their influence on the Church has been profound. Often Sunday School, Seminary and Institute teachers don't even realize they are teaching this theory that expressly and intentionally contradicts what Joseph and Oliver taught.

To begin with, I'll repeat what Joseph Fielding Smith said about the two-Cumorahs theory:

"This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon."

Proponents of the two-Cumorahs theory have rejected President Smith's warning on the ground that he didn't know what he was talking about. They reject every prophet and apostle who has spoken about Cumorah, all the way back to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Keep that in mind as I show you how widely the two-Cumorahs theory is being taught in the Church today.

Temple Square, North Visitors Center, teaches the "two-Cumorahs" theory. 

If you visit the exhibits in the North Visitors Center, you will see the two-Cumorahs theory on display in as public a venue as is possible. Millions of people walk through these exhibits and learn about the two-Cumorahs theory. Many of them will never read the Book of Mormon, but they will learn that the events took place in Central America. If they do any investigation at all, they'll soon learn that Joseph and Oliver said Cumorah was in New York. Then they'll realize the exhibits depict the two-Cumorahs theory, which is based on the idea that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled everyone about the location of Cumorah.

Moroni's hill in New York

Mormon's hill in Central America
The two-Cumorahs theory has never been made more explicit than it is right now in the North Visitors Center. Look how Mormon's cave (Mormon 6:6) is decorated with Mayan glyphs.


Missionary and foreign-language editions of the Book of Mormon teach the "two-Cumorahs" theory. 

If you have a missionary or foreign-language edition of the Book of Mormon printed in 1981 or later, open it to the illustrations at the beginning. You'll find three depictions of the two-Cumorahs Mesoamerican theory: Alma baptizing in the jungle; Samuel preaching from high atop a Mayan stone wall; and Christ appearing among Mayan ruins with Chichen Itza in the background.
Alma baptizing in Mayan jungle
Samuel preaching from Mayan wall

Christ visiting Mayan Nephites 

Then you'll find the painting of Moroni burying the plates in New York. This is Moroni's hill, carefully distinguished from Mormon's hill, which the Mesoamerican proponents want everyone to believe is in southern Mexico.

Painting of "Moroni's hill" in New York added to
the missionary and foreign-language editions

You might think this collection of paintings doesn't portray the two-Cumorahs theory as explicitly as the Visitors Center, and I agree. However, when you realize how these illustrations were changed in 1981, the message is clear.

Painting of New York Cumorah deleted from the
missionary and foreign-language editions
Prior to 1981, the illustrations in the missionary edition included the Arnold Friberg painting of Mormon and Moroni together on the Hill Cumorah in New York. Friberg made it clear by including an oak leaf in the painting.

In 1981, the Friberg New York Cumorah painting was replaced by the painting of Moroni burying the plates in New York all by himself.

To make it worse, the painting of Christ at Chichen Itza was added.

It's no wonder people think the Church is not really neutral about Book of Mormon geography. This artwork definitely puts the thumb on the Mesoamerican side of the scale.

Prior to 1981, in addition to the Friberg New York Cumorah painting, there were also photos of the Hill Cumorah in New York. These were removed in 1981.

The collection of paintings in the missionary and foreign-language editions are misleading on their face. Nowhere does the Book of Mormon refer to jungles, pyramids, or Mayans. Nowhere does it refer even to buildings made of stone. These illustrations are false advertising, and have the inevitable effect of causing confusion among members and investigators.

Publications of LDS scholars and educators teach the "two-Cumorahs" theory. 

If you read the publications by LDS scholars and educators, you will soon learn that the "two-Cumorahs" theory is the basic premise for the Mesoamerican setting that is taught throughout the Church. To avoid focusing on individuals instead of concepts, I'm not providing citations to these quotations, but if you want to see the citations, you can email me. These quotations are from the leading scholars who have educated the educators throughout the Church, as well as the staff who work for the Church. My comments in red.

“There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history.”

[This dismissive attitude toward those who accept what Joseph and Oliver said about Cumorah in New York is widespread among LDS scholars and educators. LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican setting by definition think the prophets and apostles who have supported Joseph and Oliver in the past are perpetuating a false tradition.] 

"In 1842, after reading about ancient cities in Central America, Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located there. I derive two lessons from his speculation: First, Joseph did not know exactly where Book of Mormon lands were; second, he considered their location an important question addressable through scholarship."

[We've seen through a detailed analysis of Church history that Joseph never wrote or edited the anonymous 1842 articles referred to here. That doesn't deter the scholars, though, because the narrative fits their view that their scholarship should prevail over what the prophets and apostles have taught. In their view, whenever an apostle or prophet says something they disagree with, that apostle or prophet was merely expressing a personal, non-prophetic opinion.]

"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... Although [Joseph Smith] 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 description of that history. Joseph not only allowed the communal creation of the Church's history; he embraced it.... The New York hill cannot be the Cumorah described in the text. What history does support is that Joseph came late to using Cumorah to identify the New York hill. 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."

[The author here completely ignores Letter VII and the multiple times Joseph explicitly approved of it, including its clear, unambiguous identification of the New York hill as Cumorah. The author ignores Joseph's mother's statement that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah even before he got the plates (but after his interviews with Moroni). He portrays Joseph as passively accepting a false tradition started by unknown persons at an unknown time, and thereby misleading the entire world about Cumorah until the scholars, such as this author, set the Church straight.]

I could give more examples, but three from highly prominent LDS scholars should suffice to give you the flavor of what has been taught for decades.

These examples show beyond question that the two-Cumorahs theory is being actively taught throughout the Church today.

The two-Cumorahs theory has had exactly the consequences that President Smith warned the Church about, but the scholars repudiated that warning, and they have prevailed. 

The evidence of this confusion is well-known to anyone serving in Church leadership, anyone involved with missionary work, and anyone who simply wants to understand the Book of Mormon. 

I'm optimistic that the two-Cumorahs theory will be eventually discarded. It will become a footnote in Church history, long forgotten. I'm also optimistic that the change will come soon.

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