I continue to write occasionally about the New York Cumorah because it is apparent how deeply the rejection of the New York Cumorah has affected the perception and even the interpretation of the Book of Mormon.
Half of LDS millennials no longer believe the Book of Mormon is an authentic history, and that number continues to decline as they are taught M2C by CES and BYU. That seems inevitable, doesn't it?
The issue certainly isn't worth arguing about, but it is worth learning about because, as President Nelson has taught, "good inspiration us based upon good information."
Most discussions about Cumorah involve the difference between lazy and engaged learners. A lot of people are lazily deferring to scholars who promote their own theories, backed up by their credentials. But credentials are meaningless when we're dealing with the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets.
We can't make informed decisions in ignorance. I know from my own experience because I accepted M2C for decades, despite thinking I had been fully informed and had diligently examined the evidence. But then I learned that trusting the scholars was a huge mistake because they were pushing their own theories and deliberately changing narratives to match what they wanted people to believe. I've shown several examples on this blog, and I see more all the time.
I didn't know what I didn't know--and what I learned changed my mind. Now I accept the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, which are supported by the text and the external evidence.
As I've been working on my book on apologetics, people send me new material daily. It is been fascinating to see how committed people are to M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). Both pro- and anti-LDS authors simply assume M2C and debate from that assumption.
One thing FairLDS and CESLetter, Book of Mormon Central and MormonStories, BYU faculty and MormonThink, etc., share is their devotion to M2C.
Both sides embrace M2C because it suits their respective agendas, both sides use logical fallacies to support their positions, and both sides resist alternative explanations--especially the New York Cumorah.
But as Latter-day Saints, we should not ignore the plain reality about this topic.
The bottom line: M2C proponents reject the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.
And that's fine. Everyone can believe whatever they want.
But they must own their position, and they should do it openly.
As readers here know, I've long supported the approach of multiple working hypotheses, meaning there are lots of ways to interpret the evidence and the teachings of the prophets.
However, there is one point that everyone should be able to agree upon (because it's a matter of public record): the teaching about the New York Cumorah has been consistent, persistent, and unambiguous.
Certainly, many scholars have cast doubt on the New York Cumorah because it doesn't fit their various theories on other Book of Mormon locations or their own interpretations of the text. But their objections don't change the well-established record of prophetic teachings.
So far as I know, no prophet (including members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) has ever expressly repudiated the teachings of his predecessors about the New York Cumorah.*
If the modern prophets ever do repudiate the prior teachings, like other faithful Latter-day Saints I'd be happy to go along based on the principle of continuing revelation.
Some people claim that the anonymous Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon Geography constitutes a rejection of the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, but the essay doesn't even mention Cumorah. Instead, the entry leaves the issue open for individual study and interpretation.
Which leads us right back to the basic principle that everyone can decide whether to follow the scholars or the prophets.
M2C proponents rationalize their position in various ways. People can accept these rationalizations, no problem, but here I offer my response.
- Some say the prophets never taught the New York Cumorah, despite the well-established record in the Joseph Smith Papers, General Conference reports, and various books and articles. That's just denial. Accepting this rationale is lazy learning.
- Some say the prophets were wrong because an unknown person in the early days of the Church started a false tradition. The historical record includes Lucy Mack Smith's recollection that Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah the first night he met Joseph Smith. That is corroborated by subsequent accounts by other people, including all three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Parley P. Pratt, and other contemporaries of Joseph Smith. M2C proponents rationalize this evidence away, but anyone who is unaware of all the evidence is a lazy learner.
- Some say Oliver Cowdery never claimed revelation when he wrote Letter VII. But he also never claimed revelation when he described the visit of John the Baptist, the translation of the Book of Mormon, or other events. He simply reported what happened. Having visited the repository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah, how could Oliver not say it was a fact that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was the same hill in New York where Joseph found the plates? The factual nature of Oliver's report, coming as it did to refute claims the Book of Mormon was fiction, makes it more, not less, credible.
- Some say Joseph Smith adopted a false tradition of the New York Cumorah by having Letter VII copied into his own history, having it republished in Church newspapers, and referencing it in D&C 128:20. But the evidence shows Joseph was the source of the New York Cumorah, not the ignorant adopter of a false tradition. The claim that Joseph adopted false traditions created by others has obvious other implications, which is why unbelievers use M2C as much as the M2C citation cartel does.
- Some say all the prophets and apostles who subsequently reiterated the New York Cumorah were expressing their private opinions and were wrong. This includes members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference. The Church has explained that "Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church." First, Oliver expressly declared it as a fact, not an opinion, as did his contemporaries and successors. Second, this was not a matter of doctrine but of history. Third, this was not a case of a single statement by a single leader, but a deliberate, unambiguous and persistent teaching by many Church leaders over many generations. By contrast, those who repudiate the New York Cumorah typically cite unofficial, second-hand statements by individual Church leaders that are expressly not binding.
- Some say the New York Cumorah must be false because of anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons, attributed to Joseph Smith, which claimed Mayan ruins in Central America were left by the Nephites. But those articles said nothing about Cumorah. Letter VII was published both before and after those articles, in both cases by Joseph's brothers. There is plenty of evidence that Joseph didn't write or endorse the articles in the first place. And the ruins in question post-dated Book of Mormon events anyway. Even some people who accept the articles as authoritative nevertheless accept the New York Cumorah.
- Some say the New York Cumorah doesn't fit the text because the text doesn't mention snow, there are no volcanoes in western New York, New York is too far from the narrow neck of land, there is no evidence of an ancient civilization of millions of people in New York, and there is no evidence of a battle involving hundreds of thousands of people at the New York site. Each of these objections is based on an assumption generated by M2C.
The text doesn't mention snow (except to describe white), but it doesn't mention jungles, jaguars, jade, or other elements of ancient life in Mesoamerica. The New Testament also doesn't mention snow (except to describe white), but it snows in Biblical sites.
There are no volcanoes in New York, but there are also no volcanoes in the Book of Mormon. Some people read volcanoes into the text, but the events actually described in the text match real-world events in North America consistent with the New York Cumorah.
Some people assume the "narrow neck of land" must be an isthmus in Panama or somewhere in Mesoamerica, but there are innumerable geographical features referred to in English publications as a "neck of land," "narrow neck of land," and "small neck of land." Such features are consistent with the New York Cumorah.
There is no evidence of an ancient civilization of millions of people in New York, but there is no evidence of millions of Nephites/Lamanites in the text as a whole, and not even a suggestion that they all lived near Cumorah anyway. Regarding the Jaredites, long before the battle and Cumorah Coriantumr reflected on the loss of "two millions of his people" but he didn't indicate over what time period. This could have been throughout his lifetime or throughout their recorded history going back to Jared (33+ generations), in which case the population would be consistent with the archaeological evidence.
There is no evidence of a battle involving hundreds of thousands of people at the New York site but the text does not require that in the first place. The Nephites reached Cumorah only after decades of war and fleeing their enemies. Their largest enumerated army, after Mormon gathered in his people, was 42,000. Mormon and Moroni could see only their respective "ten thousand" from the top of Cumorah, but "ten thousand" is a universal term for a military unit, not a precise number. Oliver explained that only "tens of thousands" died at Cumorah, including Nephites and Lamanites. That's consistent with other battles in antiquity, some of which have still not been located by archaeologists. Yet Heber C. Kimball reported seeing the embankments at Cumorah and people finding ancient weapons all around the area.
Obviously, this is a brief summary, but there continues to be enough interest in this topic that I thought such as summary would be useful.
*FairLDS has tried to cast doubt on those teachings with various informal, out-of-context references, a point I've addressed specifically and repeatedly on this blog. Just search this blog for whatever quote they offer.