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.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Cumorah: A Decision Tree for Book of Mormon Geography

Lately I've been doing a lot of presentations, and people have asked for a handout. This is a version of the handout in response to multiple requests for a summary of Book of Mormon geography issues. The Church wisely has no official position on the setting. It’s up to each member to decide.

[Note: I cross posted this at the consensus blog here.] 

The question really boils down to this:

Do you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York or in southern Mexico?

Advocates for the North American setting believe the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York and the rest of the geography flows from that.

Advocates for the Central American setting (Mesoamerica) don’t believe Cumorah is in New York. Instead, they claim there are “two Cumorahs.” One, the hill where Joseph obtained the plates, is in New York. This hill was incorrectly named Cumorah by unknown early Saints. Calling the hill in New York “Cumorah” is a false tradition because the real hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is somewhere in Southern Mexico.

If you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York, then you accept a North American setting.

If you think the Hill Cumorah is in southern Mexico, then you accept a Mesoamerican setting.

To decide whether you agree with Central America or North America, you can check the box next to the proposition and then compare your responses to those of the Central and North American proponents. 1-17 are statements of historical fact; 18-20 are conclusions.

1. When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he said the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home.
2. Joseph Smith obtained the original set of plates from a stone box Moroni constructed out of stone and cement in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

3. Mormon said he buried all the Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah (Morm. 6:6), which was the scene of the final battles of the Nephites, except for the plates he gave to his son Moroni to finish the record.
4. Orson Pratt explained that Moroni deposited the plates in “a department of the hill separate from the great, sacred depository of the numerous volumes hid up by his father.”

5. Brigham Young said Oliver told him that he (Oliver) and Joseph had made at least two visits to a room in the Hill Cumorah in New York that contained piles of records and ancient Nephite artifacts.
6. Heber C. Kimball talked about Father Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and others seeing records upon records piled upon tables in the hill Cumorah.

7. When Joseph and Oliver finished translating the original set of plates in Harmony, PA, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger who took them to Cumorah.

8. In Fayette, NY, Joseph and Oliver translated the plates of Nephi.

9. Oliver Cowdery said it was a fact that the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York was the location of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites (Letter VII).
10. Joseph Smith had his scribes to copy Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, into his journal as part of his history.
11. Joseph Smith gave permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in his newspaper called the Gospel Reflector
12. Don Carlos republished Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in the 1842 Church newspaper called the Times and Seasons (T&S).
13. Letter VII was republished in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era.

14. D&C 128:20 reads, “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed,” followed by references to other events that took place in New York.
15. To date, apart from Moroni’s stone box and the plates and other objects Joseph Smith possessed and showed to the Witnesses, no artifact or archaeological site that can be directly linked to the Book of Mormon has been found anywhere.
16. Every LDS who was alive during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and several prophets and apostles since, accepted the New York hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles in General Conference.
17. As an Apostle and Church Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith said the two-Cumorah theory caused members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. He reiterated this when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve in the 1950s in his book Doctrines of Salvation.
18. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were merely speculating about the location of Cumorah. They were wrong and they misled the Church.
19. Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong when he criticized the two-Cumorahs theory and maintained that Cumorah is in New York.

20. Anthony Ivins, Marion G. Romney, and Mark E. Peterson were all wrong when they spoke in General Conference about Cumorah being in New York.

If you agree with 1-20, then you reject the New York Cumorah and probably accept a Mesoamerican setting (or another non-New York Cumorah setting).

If you agree with 1-17 but disagree with 18-20, then you accept the New York Cumorah and reject the settings outside North America.

[I posted a more detailed comparison table in August, 2016, here. This one includes areas in which the two sides agree to disagree. So far as I know, it remains the most detailed and complete statement of the respective positions of those who advocate a Central American (Mesoamerican) setting and a North American (Heartland/Moroni’s America) setting.]

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