This is the updated preface to my book Between these Hills.
to the magnificent world of the Book of Mormon. People everywhere are curious
about the reality of its people and places.
stipulate that the message of the Book of Mormon is more important than its
geography or history. Believers rely on spiritual impressions more than
physical evidence. But lingering questions about geography and history impede
acceptance of the book as scripture.
many misconceptions about this topic exist, here are two important premises
behind this book.
The location of Cumorah does not determine the settings of other Book of
Mormon locations in the New World.
The Cumorah question is not so much about geography as it is about the
reliability and credibility of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, their
contemporaries, and their successors.
decades of thinking of the Book of Mormon in a Mayan (Mesoamerican) setting, in
2014 I learned two alternative concepts: the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is
really in western New York, and Book of Mormon events took place in Ohio,
Illinois, Tennessee, and New York. I began blogging about what I was learning.
My premise: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught the truth.
The opposing view: Joseph and Oliver were
wrong about Cumorah.
only a minor participant and late comer compared with other well-known scholars,
authors, speakers, and their organizations. For decades, they have produced
numerous books, articles, web pages, blogs and videos. Yet my simple blogs have
generated over 750,000 page views from all over the world.
the interest in Cumorah?
his first visit to Joseph Smith, Moroni identified the location of the plates
as “the hill of Cumorah.” In early 1827, before he obtained the plates, Joseph and
his family referred to the hill by the name Cumorah.
Cowdery learned the name when he and Joseph translated
the abridged plates in May, 1829, in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
June 1829, David Whitmer learned the name for
the first time from a divine messenger who was taking the Harmony plates back
all of Joseph’s contemporaries, the fact of Cumorah linked the Book of Mormon
to the modern world. They expressed various opinions about other locations of
Book of Mormon events, but the New York Cumorah was an established fact.
many believers in the Book of Mormon, Cumorah is part of the
historical reality at the core of their belief in the divine authenticity of
the book. Because they believe the book is true spiritually, they believe it
must also be true physically.
believers think questions about Book of Mormon geography are irrelevant,
troublesome, or contentious.
claim there is no extrinsic evidence to supports its historical claims—at
least, not the type of evidence they’ve been led to expect. For similar reasons,
some believers accept the book as an inspirational text akin to the parables in
the Bible; i.e., it teaches truth but is not a real history.
in the historicity of the Book of Mormon is declining, even among
members. A survey published in 2019 indicated that younger
members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are less inclined than
previous generations to accept the Book of Mormon as an actual history—such as
only 50% of Millennials.
Table 1.3 Mormons’ Certainty about LDS Teachings,
% who are “Confident and Know this Is
Born before 1965
Born since 1981
Book of Mormon is a literal, historical account
Figure 1 - Certainty about Book of Mormon
surprising, perhaps, is that more than 1 in 3 of older generations question
whether the Book of Mormon is a literal history.
of what you believe now, I hope this book will give you insights into why so
many people (i) accept the Book of Mormon as an authentic history and (ii)
still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
Moroni first visited Joseph, he explained there was a “history of the aborigines
of this country” that had been “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home near Palmyra, New York. Joseph’s
mother explained that Moroni told Joseph the name of the hill was “Cumorah,”
the name by which his family identified the hill thereafter.
Joseph translated the abridged plates from Moroni’s stone box in the hill, he
and Oliver visited Mormon’s depository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) in another
part of the hill.
chose that location because he knew the Jaredites had built defenses there. The
Jaredites, who called the hill Ramah, had chosen the site because of its
strategic location. Abundant external evidence corroborates this setting.
decades, prophets and apostles reaffirmed these teachings about the New York
Cumorah. For those of us who grew up in the LDS Church before the 1990s, the
New York Cumorah was a well-established given. Newer members, however, know
little or nothing about the New York Cumorah. For example, the Church history book
Saints, volume 1, completely erased Cumorah from the historical record.
the early 1900s, a book titled Cumorah Revisited criticized the
prevailing hemispheric model of Book of Mormon geography. This made sense,
actually. In the 1842 Wentworth letter, Joseph had replaced Orson Pratt’s hemispheric
speculation with the declaration that Lehi’s remnant were “the Indians that now
inhabit this country,” a reprise of what Moroni told him the first night. People
forgot or ignored that.
in response to Cumorah Revisited, scholars rejected what Joseph and
Oliver taught and decided that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 could not be
located in New York but must be in southern Mexico. They developed what I call
the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C), reasoning that the New York Cumorah was merely a tradition—a
false tradition—based on ignorant speculation.
the scholars taught M2C to their students, and through the academic
cycle, pursuant to Alma 12:9, within two generations the New York Cumorah was
forgotten and M2C became the de facto—and nearly ubiquitous—faithful explanation
of the Book of Mormon. Bias confirmation has produced plenty of supporting
you accept M2C, that’s fine with me. If
you don’t think geography matters, that’s also fine with me. I won’t persuade
you otherwise. I only encourage people to make informed decisions.
thing that attracted me to this topic was what I considered academic abuse of
faithful Church members who still believed what the prophets taught. For years,
the credentialed class attacked and ridiculed those who disagreed with them
about Book of Mormon geography. They sought to censor alternative ideas and
evidence that contradicted M2C. I investigated, concluded the scholars were defensive
because their work was riddled with logical and factual fallacies, and blogged about the problems I saw. But blogs have
presented a dilemma. On one hand, I’m happy for people to believe whatever they
want. I don’t want to disturb the faith of those whose beliefs are interwoven
with M2C. They deserve respect—as
do those who disagree with them.
the other hand, people are troubled by the rejection of the teachings of the
prophets about the New York Cumorah and related topics. The logical and factual
fallacies in apologetic M2C arguments turn people off. Believers
seek an explanation of the Book of Mormon that corroborates and vindicates the
teachings of the prophets.
don’t see this as a case of right vs. wrong. Instead, the topic calls for
recognizing multiple operating hypotheses. That will lead to mutual
understanding and respect, despite disagreement.
in diversity leads to the establishment of Zion.
my perspective, just as the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion,” the New York Cumorah is
the keystone of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. It is the only
specific New World touchstone between the modern era and the ancient Jaredites
and Nephites that has been identified by prophets and apostles.
is not a book about Book of Mormon geography, per se. Originally, I
contemplated writing a detailed, evidence-based presentation on why people
should embrace the New York Cumorah. There is plenty of material. But by now,
we all can see that facts don’t really matter. People believe whatever they
want and then find facts to reinforce their beliefs.
I use Cumorah as a case study. You can adapt the principles of analysis and
thinking described in this book to explore other topics. I won’t try to
persuade you or tell you what to think. Naturally, we will review internal and
external evidence about the New York Cumorah, but this is not a comprehensive
resource. I’ll offer information and
interpretations you might not have considered. Then you’ll make up your own
mind by making informed decisions.
review the two key points.
point #1: the New York Cumorah does not determine where other events took
teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are consistent and
persistent. But they have also taught that we cannot specifically identify
where other events took place. That makes sense because there are many ancient
sites in the real world that fit the text.
point #2: The Cumorah question is not so much about geography as it is about
the reliability and credibility of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
historical record is clear: Oliver Cowdery’s explicit declaration that it was a
fact that the hill in New York is the Cumorah of the Nephites and the Ramah of
the Jaredites was universally accepted by Joseph’s contemporaries for the
reasons we’ll review in this book. We have to consider the ramifications of
repudiating those teachings.
people can believe anything they want. Whatever our beliefs, let us all strive
to humbly “receive knowledge from time to time.” D&C 1:28. There is surely
more to discover—if we’re open to it.
 Numerically most believers
are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church),
but there are thousands of believers in other faith traditions, including traditional
Christian denominations as well as the Community of Christ, the Church of Jesus
Christ, The Restoration Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, etc. I use
“Church” to refer to all of these.
 Jana Reiss, The Next
Mormons (Oxford University Press, New York, 2019), Table 1.3.
 All these references are
cited in the body of this book. For one of many detailed discussions, see
Cameron J. Packer, “A Study of the Hill Cumorah,” https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6007&context=etd
 Quotation from the journal of Wilford Woodruff, attributed to Joseph Smith, Jr.
 The Bibliography lists
some resources. A visual resource is https://www.mobom.org/known-bom-locations.
A comprehensive reference is https://stepbystep.alancminer.com/.
If you’re interested in my explanation of how the text of the Book of Mormon
describes a geographical setting consistent with the New York Cumorah, see my
book Moroni’s America.