Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Classic Post #1 - No-Wise #489 Where is the Hill Cumorah?

Before explaining my new approach for 2022, I'm going to repost some of the classic posts from the past. These are among the most popular posts in terms of page views.

Some of these involve analysis of the "Kno-Whys" from Book of Mormon Central, several of which are so poorly written and reasoned that I refer to them as "No-Wise."

And I emphasize that people can believe whatever they want. That's fine with me. I object only to the way these scholars use their positions of influence and power to persuade people to accept M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) while they (i) pretend they are informing their readers but they are actually misinforming them and (ii) hide their biases, particularly their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets. 

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Classic Post #1

No-Wise #489 Where is the Hill Cumorah?

No-Wise #489 is a definite keeper. It exposes the paucity of evidence to support M2C's repudiation of the prophets. Let's take a look.

Here's the link. Here's the opening image:

They chose an image that makes the Hill Cumorah in New York appear insignificant, which supports their M2C narrative.

Notice how Book of Mormon Central (BOC) superimposes their Mayan logo onto the image.

This is the logo that conveys their corporate mission to "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." 

(If you go to that link, you'll see they changed their mission statement after I posted this, but their content continues to promote their original corporate mission.)

The logo tells you everything you need to know about the content of no-wise #489. Like all the other no-wise articles published by BMC, this one promotes M2C.


BMC has zero interest in pursuing the truth, wherever it leads, because their main objective is to persuade members of the Church that the Book of Mormon is a Mesoamerican codex.

They take this objective so seriously that they repudiate the teachings of the prophets in its pursuit.

Let's observe how they do so in no-wise #489.
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Here's an extract from the no-wise in blue, along with my comments in red.

Not much is known about the land and hill Cumorah. 

To the contrary, quite a bit is known about the land and hill Cumorah. Lucy Mack Smith explained that Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah the first night he met Joseph Smith. She also quoted Joseph Smith referring to the hill as Cumorah before he even got the plates. 

Letter VII explains it is a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place there, and that the hill in New York was the site of the depository of Nephite records. Soon after he joined the Church, Heber C. Kimball visited the hill and observed the embankments that have since been plowed under. Joseph, Oliver and others visited the repository in the hill. Their contemporaries and successors reaffirmed this fact many times.

The only Book of Mormon authors to discuss the location were Mormon and Moroni. 

Plus Ether. We know from Ether 15 that Coriantumr's army pitched their tents by the hill, and that the final Jaredite war took place there, consisting of a few thousand followers of Coriantumr vs. a few thousand followers of Shiz. Extrapolating backward from the numbers Ether gave us, the total number of combatants was apparently fewer than 10,000, which corroborates Letter VII. 

Based on a statement given by Mormon, the land of Cumorah was “a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4). 

This is consistent with western New York, as I discussed here:
http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/01/getting-real-about-cumorah-part-3-many.html

Other geographical clues given in the Book of Mormon appear to situate Cumorah north of the narrow neck of land and near an eastern seacoast (cf. Mormon 2:3, 20, 29; Ether 9:3).1 

You can read these verses yourself and see they don't say what is claimed here. Mormon 2 doesn't even refer to the "narrow neck of land." That was a Jaredite term, found only in Ether 10:20. Mormon 2:29 refers to a "narrow passage." Conflating these different terms is one of the major logical fallacies behind M2C, along with the M2C assumption that the "land northward" is a proper noun instead of a relative term. Ether 9:3 says Ablom, not Cumorah, was by the seashore. 

The hill itself was tall enough that it could be used as a strategic defensive position as well as an observation point for surveillance of the surrounding countryside (Mormon 6:2, 7, 11).

Nothing in the text suggests it was exceptional height that made Cumorah a strategic defensive position; after all, it was a hill, not a mountain. The question is how tall is "tall enough." The New York hill is the tallest in the area; from the top even today, people can see the buildings in Rochester 20 miles away.

It's also possible that Mormon chose the hill because he knew Coriantumr had constructed a fortress there. Maybe the embankments that Heber C. Kimball observed were originally constructed by the Jaredites, so Mormon could use or rebuild those. It's true that Mormon could see 20,000 of his dead people from the top, and presumably an equivalent number of Lamanites. The valley west of Cumorah can easily accommodate this many people. Thousands of visitors attend the pageant every year. Audiences of 5,000, including all their cars and buses and concession stands, don't fill even the area between the hill and the highway.
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Now, let's turn to the sophistry.

There is “no historical evidence that Moroni called the hill ‘Cumorah’ in 1823” during his first encounter with the Prophet Joseph Smith. 

As we saw above, we can all read for ourselves that Lucy Mack Smith explained how Moroni referred to the "hill of Cumorah" the first night he met Joseph in 1823, and that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah in 1827, before he obtained the plates (about two years before he translated the books of Mormon, Ether and Moroni). The No-wise simply ignores this historical evidence and thereby keeps its readers ignorant.

The name Cumorah came into “common circulation [amongst Latter-day Saints] no earlier than the mid-1830s.”2 The first documented person to identify the drumlin hill3 in Manchester, New York where Joseph Smith received the plates with the hill Cumorah appears to have been William W. Phelps in 1833.4

Notice the sophistry here. No-wise #489 wants you to think Cumorah is not in New York because this 1833 publication is "late" and was published by Phelps.

The question is not when the name Cumorah was first published, but but when it was first known (which as we just saw was before Joseph even got the plates, and we'll discuss this more below). The No-wise is trying to get you to think past the sale; i.e., it wants you to think "common circulation" is relevant, when "common circulation" is actually nothing more than a function of when members of the Church were able to publish a newspaper.


The term "common circulation" means something published. The first Church newspaper was The Evening and the Morning Star, published in Missouri by W.W. Phelps starting in June 1832. 


Not surprisingly, Phelps didn't publish everything in the first issue. He covered a variety of topics, including the Ten Tribes and the Resurrection, in the first issues. He also published the early revelations that were later published in the Book of Commandments and today's D&C.


Issue #8, January 1833, focused on the Book of Mormon. He published this:


But before the glorious and happy results of this book are set forth, it seems necessary to go back to the time it was brought forth. In the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty seven, the plates came forth from the hill Cumorah, which is in the county of Ontario, and state of New-York, by the power of God.

You can read this yourself here:

http://www.centerplace.org/history/ems/v1n08.htm


IOW, the very first LDS publication declared that Cumorah was in New York in its eighth issue. If Phelps had published it in the first issue, would that have made a difference? If he had waited until the 10th or 12th issue to focus on the Book of Mormon, would that have made a difference?

In this No-wise, BMC wants you to believe that Phelps unilaterally invented the New York Cumorah in 1833.


A more realistic way to consider this evidence is that the New York Cumorah was so well known among those who knew Joseph and Oliver that there was no urgency in announcing it sooner. Why? 


Notice that Phelps doesn't make a big deal about the New York Cumorah. He published it as a fact, not as speculation. He explains where Cumorah is, but doesn't feel any need to justify the name or explain why he calls it Cumorah. When you read the statement in context, you see that he is reporting to the world facts that were already well known to the Saints.

For example, David Whitmer recalled the exact moment when he first heard the word "Cumorah." It was in early June 1829, when he was bringing Joseph and Oliver from Harmony to Fayette. Along the road, the group met the divine messenger who had the abridged plates. David asked him if he'd like a ride to Fayette, but he declined, saying he was going to Cumorah. 

Phelps’s identification was later followed by Oliver Cowdery in 1835.5 

This is beautiful sophistry. 

Remember, BMC wants you to believe that Phelps invented the New York Cumorah. Here, they suggest that Oliver Cowdery merely copied Phelps' lead. 


You have to go to the footnotes to see that the reference is to Letter VII. Then they give you a link to BMC's own site, not to an original source (such as the Joseph Smith Papers). This allows BMC to editorialize through their "More Like This" to link to M2C-oriented material. 


This misleading link allows BMC to obscure the fact that Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his own history, and that Joseph encouraged others to republish Letter VII, as we'll see next.

We can all read Letter VII for ourselves, right in Joseph own journal:

http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/90

Probably due to the popularity and influence of these two early leaders’ writings, the identification of the hill in New York as same the hill Cumorah mentioned by Mormon in Book of Mormon became commonplace amongst early Latter-day Saints.6

Here, No-wise #489 glosses over a key fact that perceptive readers have surely already noticed. First, though, notice what they're trying to establish here. According to BMC, the only reason people believed Cumorah was in New York is because a couple of obscure articles from 1833 and 1835 became "popular." 

BMC doesn't tell you that Phelps' article was so "popular" that it was never reprinted and had limited circulation in the first place. Instead, they try to persuade you that it "influenced" Oliver Cowdery.


So then we ask, why were Oliver's letters, including Letter VII, popular?


Here are some reasons that BMC will never tell you. In fact, they removed from their archive a little book that explained all of this and instead issued another no-wise that tries to persuade Church members to disbelieve Letter VII.

Letter VII was popular and well-known because:

1. Joseph Smith helped write the letters.
2. Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church when he wrote and published Letter VII. The entire First Presidency endorsed the letters, as did every member of the Twelve who ever commented on them (through the present day).
3. Joseph had his scribes copy the letters, including Letter VII, into his personal history, where you can read it today in the Joseph Smith Papers. See link here: http://www.lettervii.com/
4. Joseph authorized Benjamin Winchester to reprint the letters in the Gospel Reflector newspaper.
5. Joseph gave the letters to his brother Don Carlos to reprint in the Times and Seasons.
6. Joseph's brother William reprinted them in the New York City newspaper called The Prophet.
7. Parley P. Pratt reprinted them in the Millennial Star.
8. The letters were so popular in England that, in response to popular demand, they were compiled into a special pamphlet that sold thousands of copies.


As far as can be determined, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself only associated the hill in New York with the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon towards the end of his life.

This is outstanding sophistry and misdirection.

By using the passive voice--"as far as can be determined"--the anonymous author conveys the false message that no one can find anything to the contrary. 


Earlier in this post I pointed out the well-known statements from Lucy Mack Smith, where she relates what Moroni said in 1823 and specifically quotes Joseph referring to the hill as Cumorah in 1827 before he even got the plates. (We'll see how BMC deals with that in a moment.) 


Notice also the term "himself" in this sentence. That's there because Joseph expressly helped Oliver write the historical letters, including Letter VII. It's also there to exclude statements from everyone else, as we'll see.


The No-wise next mentions D&C 128:20, Joseph's 1842 letter that refers to Cumorah. But then it tells us this:

Before then, Joseph left the name of the New York hill where Moroni gave him the plates unnamed in his accounts of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.8 

I discussed this here:


https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-hill-in-new-york-problem.html 


Now, notice this sentence:


Whether the Prophet arrived at this conclusion about the location of Cumorah by revelation, or by conforming to usage that had become common among the early members of the Church about Book of Mormon geography, or in some other way is historically unknown.9

Do you see how the No-wise is salting the earth here? BMC wants members of the Church to believe that Joseph Smith misled the Church by "conforming" to a false "usage" created by unknown early members of the Church.

That assertion by M2C intellectuals is the first step toward their eventual repudiation of all the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah. 

They actually expect you to believe that Joseph Smith adopted and endorsed a false tradition, and that this false tradition is now canonized in D&C 128.

Plus, as we've seen, it's not "historically unknown" that Joseph learned the name Cumorah before he even obtained the plates. Furthermore, David Whitmer learned the name Cumorah for the heavenly messenger who was taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah. 


But wait. It gets worse.


In the decades after Joseph Smith’s death, other prominent early Latter-day Saints, including Lucy Mack Smith,10 Parley P. Pratt,11 and David Whitmer,12 recounted earlier incidents in which the New York hill was identified as Cumorah by the angel Moroni and by Joseph Smith. Since these statements are somewhat late recollections, coming after the identity of Cumorah as a hill near Palmyra, New York, had become widespread, they should be used cautiously.13

Here, BMC wants you to believe that Lucy, Parley, and David all lied about the New York Cumorah, and thereby, like Joseph, misled the Church. 

Furthermore, BMC wants you to believe that all subsequent prophets and apostles who have ever addressed the topic likewise misled the Church. 

Think of the implications. We rely on Lucy Mack Smith's account as the primary source of information about Joseph's life before the Church was organized in 1830. The Saints book, the Joseph Smith Papers, and innumerable books and articles about Joseph Smith rely on her account not only because it's the primary source, but because she was his mother and she included specific details. While it's true that she dictated her history only after Joseph died in 1844, she explained that she did so because she had related this history many times and could not continue doing so forever. 

Ironically, the same scholars who reject Lucy's account because it's "late" eagerly accept much later accounts from David Whitmer, Emma Smith, and others, including accounts from the 1870s and 1880s. When Lucy dictated her history in 1844, Joseph's contemporaries were present in Nauvoo and could have provided corrections if any were needed. Plus, Lucy's explanation of Cumorah is the most parsimonious explanation, meaning it explains the facts better than the murky conspiracy theories of those scholars who reject the New York Cumorah.

The rest of the No-wise is a rehash of old material, and I've responded to all of it in detail. But I need to comment on two more passages.


However, most Church leaders have simply and accurately said that the geography of the Book of Mormon is not revealed.17 

The argument is two-fold. First, it conflates the location of Cumorah with Book of Mormon geography generally. But the prophets have always made two things clear: (i) Cumorah is in New York and (ii) we don't know where the other events took place. 

This position is the only viable position to take because there are hundreds of possible Book of Mormon sites. But there is only one Cumorah, and the prophets have explained unambiguously and continuously that it is in New York.

The M2Cers cleverly conflate the two points to cast a shadow of confusion about Cumorah. It's blatant sophistry, but they get away with it because people don't know the history and don't think critically.

The second part of the argument is Note 17, one of my favorites. It consists of an obscure, out-of-context quotation by Harold B. Lee that is currently being used by people in the Correlation Department to screen out any material that contradicts M2C. It's also a favorite of FAIRLDS. 

I've addressed it before here:

and here

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/02/cumorah-and-presidents-lee-and-kimball.html

Notice how the No-wise quotes the misleading excerpt from Elder Lee's 1966 comment, but they don't quote from President Marion G. Romney's 1975 General Conference address. They don't expect you to look that up. They also don't cite the other prophets who have corroborated the New York Cumorah. 

Their audacity knows no bounds.


In reality, every Church leader who has addressed the topic has affirmed the New York Cumorah. They have also affirmed the equally consistent and persistent teaching that we don't know for sure where the other events took place. This has been the case from the early days of the Church through the present, but BMC and the rest of the M2C citation cartel constantly try to conflate the two separate issues to confuse and mislead members of the Church.


Additionally, several Latterday Saint scholars have questioned whether the hill in New York could feasibly be the hill Cumorah described in the Book of Mormon. 

Here is the inevitable appeal to authority--the authority of the M2C scholars. They want you to believe the scholars, not the prophets. They follow this with a long paragraph about how the prophets couldn't possibly be right, complete with a citation to the M2C Bible, Mormon's Codex, which declares that the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are "manifestly absurd."

Latter-day Saints need to ask themselves if they agree that the teachings of the prophets are "manifestly absurd." If so, they should embrace M2C. If not, they should

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When we read polemical and agenda-drive No-wise such as #489, we are reminded of Orwell's NEWSPEAK and old Soviet Pravda articles. This no-wise is pure censorship, dressed up to look as if it is balanced or neutral. You have to read it carefully to detect what's going on, but the message is clear.

Book of Mormon Central simply doesn't want you to know what the prophets have taught. 

They want you to believe the scholars, who, according to the M2C intellectuals, have been hired by the prophets to guide the Church.

I write all of this with the greatest respect and kind feelings toward the M2C intellectuals, their followers and their victims. I have no personal animosity toward any of them. I think they're all great people, faithful members of the Church, etc. I just wish they would at least inform members of the Church about all the facts and let us make informed decisions instead of engaging in this sophistry designed to persuade us to believe the scholars instead of the prophets.

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