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.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Cumorah: land of mounds and waters

Land of many waters, but
what about mounds?
Yesterday we looked at some observations from Kirk's blog post about "many waters."

Today we'll consider the opinion of a linguist that the word "Cumorah" has a double meaning. It could refer to both "land of mound(s)" and "land of water."

It's pretty easy to see how the Great Lakes overall, and western New York in particular, are areas of "many waters." But what about the second meaning?

It turns out that western New York is one of only two areas in North America that have an abundance of natural mounds. Cumorah is, literally among both "many waters" and "mounds."

Here is the last paragraph of Kirk's post that we considered yesterday:

For 30 other detailed textual criteria this correlation satisfies, see the blog article "Ramah/Cumorah." For an independent corroboration of this correlation, see the blog article "Linguistic Cumorah."

Today we'll discuss the article "Linguistic Cumorah."

[The article "Ramah/Cumorah" is a fascinating example of bias confirmation for those interested in the psychology of M2C. Our M2C friends have a variety of techniques to justify their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. In this article, the 30 "textual criteria" are outcome-driven interpretations of the text, designed to explain the "2C" part of M2C.]

The link to "Linguistic Cumorah" goes to another post on Kirk's blog that starts this way:

David Richins has a degree in linguistics from BYU. He has lived most of his life in Ohio. He authors a fascinating blog on Mormon topics entitled "The Lunch is Free" which is a nod to a famous essay by Hugh Nibley entitled "Work We Must, But the Lunch is Free." I find Richins' work on Book of Mormon etymologies insightful and highly creative. He corroborates and extends the impressive work Robert F. Smith, Paul Y. Hoskisson, Stephen D. Ricks, and John Gee have done in their Book of Mormon Onomasticon.

The rest of that article is more boring justification for M2C, so let's look at what Richins himself has to say. I don't know Richins personally and I don't endorse everything on his web page, but because Kirk considered his work "insightful and highly creative," it's worth a look.


It's a long article, so let's look at just a few excerpts.

As I thought about the name Moroni, I realized that Moroni is linguistically related to Mormon and Cumorah. All three words have the root mor....

Mor appears to be related to the ancient Egyptian root mr, which means “collection of water.” This is represented in hieroglyphics by the sign of the hoe, followed by the canal, thus depicting irrigation. The root mr refers to all bodies of water, including lakes, rivers, streams, canals, etc. It is the likely source of modern Indo-European words for “sea” such as the Spanish mar and the French mer....

The other word that the Egyptians used to define themselves is khem, which means “black.” This refers to the dark fertile land surrounding the Nile. It might also refer to dark-skinned people. Khem is related to the Biblical name Ham, who was the son of Noah.

In the Book of Mormon, the word khem appears as kum or cum. So as we look at the word Cumorah, we can see that it contains the word khem (land) and also the word mor (water). Without any context, we could guess that Cumorah means “fertile land with water” or “land of water.” Mormon actually gives us the meaning of Cumorah right in the text:

And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; (Mormon 6:4)...

The ancient Egyptian word for “pyramid” is mer, from the root mr. This sounds the same as the word for “water,” but the pyramid mr in hieroglyphics begins with the chisel instead of the hoe. Our English word pyramid comes from the Greek pyramidos, meaning “fire within” or “fire in the middle.”

The origin of the English word is irrelevant, really; the Egyptians didn't call it a pyramid. Some say the Greek word was a transliteration of the Egyptian word, which has nothing to do with fire. You can usually find lots of debate about the origin and meaning of words.



Richins then explains why he thinks the pyramids represent volcanoes. He thinks the "original" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was a Central American volcano. That doesn't make sense to me; I've visited lots of volcanoes and I wouldn't describe any of them as a "hill." Nor does it seem possible that all of the Nephite authors would have forgotten to mention volcanoes in 1,000 years of living in Central America. And, of course, the text never mentions pyramids.

He discusses the common creation myth of a mound of earth rising out of the watery abyss. (The Bible itself describes "dry land" appearing out of the earth that was without form and void--a water planet.)

Skywoman's descent to Turtle Island
These creation stories are common among Native Americans. Not far from Cumorah in New York, the Haudenosaunee tribe explains their story of Creation. They say the world was formed on the back of a giant turtle that rose out of the water. The place, Turtle Island, is now called North America. Skywoman, who was pregnant, fell through the sky dome and was saved by a flock of water birds that gently set her down on the turtle's back.

Richins explains that the Egyptian version of the creation myth started with a mound but evolved into a volcano motif.

It is understandable that the Egyptians would want to be buried in the mound of creation. They were obsessed with death and resurrection. They believed that if their bodies were placed within the mound, then they would become alive again.

Knowing the Egyptian creation myth helps us understand the origins of the pyramid. The first stage in the evolution of the pyramid was the simple burial mound, in which bodies were placed in a heap of earth. This gave rise to mastabas, rectangular tombs made of clay bricks. The mastabas then developed into step pyramids, and eventually into the large pyramids which were tombs for the pharaohs.

You can find debates about whether the pyramids were originally meant as tombs or not, but the next point seems legit to me.

Cumorah’s Double Meaning

In the Egyptian creation myth, everything begins with the primordial waters. The god of these primordial waters is Nu (meaning “abyss”), so we could call them the “waters of Nu.” In ancient Egyptian, this would be pronounced as mr (water) + n (Nu) or mrn. So the name Moroni, in its most fundamental sense, means “waters of Nu” or “watery abyss.” But because water became associated with the story of creation, Moroni came to refer to the mound itself. We can trace the evolution of mr as follows:

water → mound, heap → tomb → pyramid → king → beloved, favored

As I mentioned before, the name Cumorah contains the two words by which the Egyptians identified themselves: khem (land) and mor (water). So what is Cumorah? It is the land of Egypt. It is a fertile land with many waters. The Egyptians saw the watery land around the Nile as being representative of the primordial waters of Nu. The pyramid is the mound that rose up out of the waters. Because mr means both water and mound, that means that Cumorah has two meanings. Not only is it a “land of many waters,” but it is also the “land of the mound,” or “land of the hill.”

In all of North America, there are only two areas that are characterized by extensive formations of natural mounds: central Wisconsin and western New York. These are the drumlins.

Cumorah in the land of mounds and water
When you look at the map with the modern water features removed, you can see the ancient water courses. The drumlins surrounding Cumorah served as natural defenses. An attacking army would have to conquer a series of defended hill tops, or else try to circumvent them while being observed and attacked from a higher elevation. To the south of Cumorah is a valley through which, at one time, water from the finger lakes flowed north toward Lake Ontario.

From Cumorah, you are surrounded by natural defenses of mounds (drumlins) and water (lakes, rivers, and marshes).
Cumorah with water removed to see ancient water courses

Although Richins accepts M2C because of the volcanoes, he makes an interesting point here:

Some LDS scholars, in trying to discredit North American geography models, have pointed out that the Hopewell mounds in the eastern United States were used for ceremonial purposes and not for defense. Therefore, they couldn’t be connected to Moroni’s fortifications. 

[Archaeologists in Ohio have discovered that walls were built to encircle inhabited areas well after the living structures were built, as described in Alma 48:8.]

Many of the Hopewell mounds were burial mounds, and it has been claimed that there is no mention of burial mounds in the Book of Mormon. 

[Note: When preaching at a funeral in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon mentioned the sacredness of the burial mounds, an indication he was referring to material on the lost 116 pages.]

But what we learn from connecting the name Moroni back to Egypt is that the mound is first and foremost a tomb. This is the place where the people wanted to be buried. And the Book of Mormon does mention burial mounds.

Nevertheless, after many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. (Alma 16:11)

And there was great calamity in all the land, for they had testified that a great curse should come upon the land, and also upon the people, and that there should be a great destruction among them, such an one as never had been upon the face of the earth, and their bones should become as heaps of earth upon the face of the land except they should repent of their wickedness. (Ether 11:6)

The word that the Nephites used for “heap up” may have been related to the Akkadian kamaru, which ties back to Cumorah.

This means that the mound building activity of the Hopewell people is exactly what we would expect.

You can read the entire article and make up your own mind. I think there's some interesting word connections here. Plus, we can see why the Jaredites, and later the Nephites, would choose a "land of mounds and waters" to establish a last defense.

Today, most of the fortifications and man-made mounds have long since been destroyed, plowed under, etc. But in the early 1800s, they were well known.

After he joined the Church, Heber C. Kimball went to see the hill Cumorah for himself. He recorded that he could still see some of the ancient embankments. He also mentioned the numerous hilltop fortifications in the area.

Close up of the area around Cumorah
If you get a chance to visit Palmyra, be sure to check out the ancient civilizations who lived in the area.

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