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, February 24, 2023

Ramah, Cumorah, and military strongholds

We can gain insights about Cumorah by considering the name Ramah. 

The term corroborates what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery always taught about Cumorah in New York; i.e., that it was the site of military battles and was, as the text says, a "hill" and not a mountain.

This was certainly not some mountain somewhere in southern Mexico.

This explains why Mormon moved the records from the hill Shim to the hill Cumorah. He knew the Jaredites had a military stronghold there that he could use to fight the Lamanites and conceal the repository of Nephite records as he continued the abridgment. 

This also explains why Moroni told Joseph Smith that the abridgment was "written and deposited" not far from his home near Palmyra, NY. As Orson Pratt explained, there were two departments in the hill: one for the repository of records, and one for the stone box built by Moroni to contain the abridged record that Joseph would translate in Harmony, Pennsylvania.


Ramah was the name used in Ether for the Hill Cumorah.

11 And it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred.
(Ether 15:11)

The onomasticon gives the following explanation for Ramah, including the possibility it is a Jaredite word or a Jaredite word translated into Nephite or otherwise related to a Semitic language:


Until possible language affinities for JAREDITE names can be determined, all suggestions for etymologies of JAREDITE names must remain more speculative than substantive. With that caveat, the onomasticon does offer etymologies for some JAREDITE names, especially if it is possible that some JAREDITE names were translated into NEPHITE, or were otherwise related to one or more Semitic languages.

RAMAH is given in Ether 15:11 as the name of the hill where CORIANTUMR encamped before his final battle as well as the name of the place where MORMON hid the sacred records. Given the close association of the location with both events, the name RAMAH may well be of NEPHITE, rather than JAREDITE, origin, and may be derived from the HEBREW rāmāh, "elevation, height;" cf. HALOTRAMAH was also called CUMORAH by the NEPHITES (Mormon 6:6).

Another possibility is that Joseph transliterated or translated the term on the plates (whether it was Jaredite or Nephite) as Ramah because the Bible uses the term for military strongholds.

While the onomasticon suggests the Hebrew Raman means "elevation, height," Biblical commentaries explain it has a military connection.

Ramah is the name of several different cities in the Bible.... Ramah means “height” or “high” and is often applied to military strongholds. ...

Ramah of Benjamin appears again during the divided monarchy and the rival kingdoms of Israel and Judah. King Baasha of Israel built a fortress at Ramah in Benjamin to stop people from entering or leaving Judah. 

Ramah means "high, lofty place" or "the height" in Hebrew. Because high places are easily defended and make good lookouts, Ramah also means "military stronghold or watchtower." There are four towns in the Bible with this name. 

When the tribes of Israel received their inheritance, the tribe of Benjamin received a town called Ramah that was five miles north of Jerusalem on the edge of their territory along the border with Ephraim (Joshua 18:25). The tribe of Simeon received a town called Ramah in the south known as Ramah of the Negev (Joshua 19:8). Both Asher and Naphtali also received a town named Ramah, although it is possible those Ramahs may have been the same town on the border the two tribes shared (Joshua 19:29, 36). It is the Ramah of Benjamin in the hill country of Ephraim that plays a significant role in Scripture. ....

Being a fortified city on the border, Ramah in Benjamin was also the site of some military battles.

The biblical sites called Ramah are strategically located on hills or borders, which makes sense for a military stronghold. 

Nothing about the term connotes a mountain.

There's more info about all of this, but for purposes of this post, it's useful to think of Ramah as a military stronghold on a high place.

Or, as Oliver Cowdery described it, 

I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by.
At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.


Some additional useful information about Hazael, king of Syria, whose army injured king Joram at Ramah.

28 ¶ And he went with Joram the son of Ahab to the war against Hazael king of Syria in Ramoth-gilead; and the Syrians wounded Joram.
 29 And king Joram went back to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds which the Syrians had given him at Ramah, when he fought against Hazael king of Syria. And Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah went down to see Joram the son of Ahab in Jezreel, because he was sick.
(2 Kings 8:28–29)
HAZAEL hā zĭ’ əl (חֲזָאֵ֛ל, חֲזָהאֵ֗ל; Assyr. haz’ilu). One of the most powerful of the kings of Syria (Aram), ruling from c. 843 b.c. to c. 796 b.c. He reigned contemporaneously with Jehoram (the last few years), Jehu, and Jehoahaz, kings of Israel; and Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, and Joash, kings of Judah. He is first mentioned in 1 Kings 19:15-17, where Elijah at Mount Horeb was told by God that he would anoint Hazael king over Syria. At this time he was a high officer in the court of Ben-hadad II, king of Syria (2 Kings 8:7-9), for a short time later his sick sovereign sent him to inquire of the prophet Elisha, who was then in Damascus, whether or not he would recover from his illness. To this question Elisha replied that the illness of his master was not fatal, but that he would nevertheless die; and he added that Hazael himself was to become king of Syria and would be the perpetrator of monstrous cruelties against the children of Israel. The day after Hazael reported to the king the results of his interview with Elisha he killed him by smothering him with a wet cloth; and Hazael became king in his stead (8:7-15).

Soon after, Hazael fought against the combined forces of Jehoram and Ahaziah at Ramoth-gilead (8:28, 29; 9:14, 15). He frequently defeated Jehu in battle, devastating all his country E of the Jordan from the Arnon in the S to Bashan in the N (10:32, 33). During the reign of Jehoahaz, Jehu’s successor, he repeatedly encroached upon the territory of Israel, which was kept from complete destruction only by God’s mercy (13:3, 22, 23). Hazael also moved into SW Pal., taking Gath; he compelled the king of Judah to pay a heavy bribe for sparing Jerusalem (12:17, 18; 2 Chron 24:23, 24). It was not until the death of Hazael that Israel was able successfully to check the aggression of Syria under Benhadad III, the son of Hazael (2 Kings 13:24, 25).

Cuneiform inscrs. show that Hazael played a large role in some of the campaigns of Shalmaneser III. In a pavement slab from Calah, Shalmaneser records that in 842 b.c. he joined battle with Hazael. He recorded that the Syrian king was defeated, losing 6,000 warriors, 1,121 chariots, and 470 horsemen, together with his stores, and that although he did not capture Damascus, he overran the Hauran and all the territory back to the Mediterranean Sea. Among his tributary kings he mentioned the name of Jehu son of Omri.

In another inscr. Shalmaneser refers to Hazael as the “son of a nobody,” and mentions the fact that Hazael had “seized the throne.”

Among the spoils taken from Damascus by Assyria, and found by archeologists at Arslan Tash (Hadathah) were an ivory inlay from the side of a bed, with the words engraved on it, “Bar Ama to our Lord Hazael in the year....,” and another ivory tablet, possibly a part of the same bed, showing in relief a god or king in Phoenician-Aramaean style, which some scholars believe is actually a portrait of Hazael himself.

Bibliography E. Kraeling, Aram and Israel (1918); M. F. Unger, Israel and the Aramaeans of Damascus (1957), 75-82, 160-163; I. M. Price, O. R. Sellers, E. L. Carlson, The Monuments and the Old Testament (1958), 239-241, 245, 347-349; D. W. Thomas (ed.), Documents from OT Times (1958), 46-52, 242-250; M. Avi-Yonah, Views of the Biblical World, II (1960), 248, 264, 273.

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