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 13, 2016

History of the Two-Cumorah theory

For the first 100 years of Church history, Cumorah was in New York.

One Cumorah

Letter VII was widely publicized and well known while Joseph was alive. Here's a chronological summary:

1829. David Whitmer hears the term “Cumorah” from a heavenly messenger even before he reads the text .

1830. Oliver Cowdery tells Lamanites about Cumorah.

1835. Oliver Cowdery publishes detailed history of Joseph Smith, including Cumorah, with Joseph’s assistance.

1835. Joseph Smith directs his scribes to copy Oliver’s letters into his journal as part of his life history.

1840. Orson Pratt publishes Letter VII in Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions.

March 1841. Benjamin Winchester republishes Letter VII in the Gospel Reflector.

April 1841. Don Carlos republishes Letter VII letter in the Times and Seasons.

September 1842. Joseph Smith writes the letter that will become D&C 128, referring to "Glad tidings from Cumorah!"

1844. Oliver Cowdery’s letters published in pamphlet form in England.

In the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt added footnotes about the geography and other terms. He recognized that some sites were speculative, but he declared unequivocally that "The hill Cumorah is in Manchester, Ontario Co., N. York."

Then, in 1920, the footnotes about geography were removed.

Two-Cumorah theory arises.

In the 1920s, scholars began to advocate a Central American setting for Cumorah, known as the "two-Cumorah" theory. This history is well outlined in an excellent article by Matthew Roper titled "Limited Geography and the Book  of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations," available online here.

1917-1924. Louis Edward Hills, RLDS. Published studies arguing that all Book of Mormon events, including final destruction, took place in ancient Mesoamerica. He rejected the hemispheric interpretation.

1922. J.F. Gunsolley, RLDS. Cumorah must be in southern Mexico.

1920-1926. Janne Sjodahl, in the Improvement Era, suggested narrow neck of land was the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

1928. Jean R. Driggs proposed that Cumorah was in Honduras.

One Cumorah reiterated

In 1938, Joseph Fielding Smith, then an Apostle and Church Historian, addressed the new trend.

"Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory… that… the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico…
This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. 

"Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. 

It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."

1956. His statement was republished in Doctrines of Salvation. But that didn't stop the continued development and expansion of the two-Cumorah theory.


Two Cumorahs continue anyway.

1954. M. Wells Jakeman, LDS. Book of Mormon events are restricted to the central part of the New World.

1950s. Arnold Friberg paints 12 paintings for The Children’s Friend magazine for $1,000 each.

1960s. Sidney B. Sperry. BYU class handouts claiming Cumorah was located in Central America.

1981. David A. Palmer publishes In Search of Cumorah, rejects New York hill in favor of Central American hill. 

1984-5. John L. Sorenson takes Mesoamerica mainstream with two Ensign articles and 
An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon.

2014. In Mormon’s Codex, John Sorenson ridicules the idea of the Hill Cumorah being in New York:
“There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history.” Mormon’s Codex, p. 688.


2016. The current situation is a clear choice between Joseph Fielding Smith and John L. Sorenson.

It's fundamentally a choice between Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, vs the modern scholars in the citation cartel.

Which one do you accept? One Cumorah (New York) or Two Cumorahs (the folk legend Cumorah in New York, the "real" Cumorah in Mesoamerica)?

1 comment:

  1. The "citation" cartel. I love it. There is only one Cumorah, and it is in NY. I honestly don't even know how this became a debate. Excellent post.