Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hill Cumorah in the Land of Promise

In order to locate the hill Cumorah in the Land of Promise, we first must locate the Land of Promise, not the hill. After all, numerous hills could be pointed out to be the original hill Cumorah. And for those who want to claim the upstate New York site of the hill where Joseph found the plates under Moroni’s direction, it is of interest that Joseph never called the hill by that name.
Hill Cumorah in upstate New York. The hill was named by early Church members as a result of the plates found there by Joseph Smith. Note the shape of the hill and try comparing that to descriptive information in the scriptural record, such as seeing from the top over a battlefield containing about 700,000 combatants
In fact, in Joseph’s account in the Pearl of Great Price, he refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name. In the Doctrine and Covenants the name 'Cumorah' only appears once, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah” (D&C 128:20). No other use of “Cumorah” has been found in any other of Joseph Smith's personal writings. When this name does appear it has been added by later editors or is being quoted from another individual.
At the present time, the Church has no official position on any New World location described in the Book of Mormon. There is no official revelation in the Church establishing the drumlin in New York as the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon where two nations were destroyed. It is true that a number of Church leaders in the past expressed the opinion that the hill in New York is the same hill described in the Book of Mormon, though many comments are contradictory, and on what basis the opinions are based is unknown. And it should be understood that no person’s personal comment, no matter their position, is binding on the Church or considered an official statement of the Church. Only new revelation following proper procedure, and being accepted by the Church as a whole, would clear up this point. And despite the claims of many Theorists, statements from Joseph Smith or others on geography, are not binding on the Church, since they have never been included in official Church statements.
At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. A late account from David Whitmer’s diary dated September 7-8, 1878, is the earliest possible association of the name with the New York hill, in which he wrote: “When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned, wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man [walking] in a clear open place, who saluted us with "Good morning, it is very warm," at the same instant wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way, but he said very pleasantly, "No I am going to Cumorah." This was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant, and as I looked enquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again.
However, even this use of the term does not identify any specific site with Cumorah.
In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote an article published in the Deseret News arguing against what he then termed the "modernist" theory that the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites may have been in Central America rather than in New York. In 1956 this article was included in a selection of Elder Smith's writings compiled by his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie. Although Elder Smith would become president of the church 32 years later, he apparently never revisited the question as president of the church. However, in a letter written to Fletcher B. Hammond, who argued emphatically for a Central American location and had sent Elder Smith a copy of his findings, the apostle explained, "I am sure this will be very interesting although I have never paid any attention whatever to Book of Mormon geography because it appears to me that it is inevitable that there must be a great deal of guesswork."  Apparently, he did not consider his 1938 argument as settled and definitive or as a doctrinal statement.
Sidney B. Sperry, after whom an annual Brigham Young University symposium is named, was also one who initially supported the New York Cumorah view as that area being the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites. During the 1960s, as he began to explore the issue, he came to a different conclusion. Reversing his earlier position, he wrote: "It is now my very carefully studied and considered opinion that the Hill Cumorah to which Mormon and his people gathered was somewhere in Middle America. The Book of Mormon evidence to this effect is irresistible and conclusive to one who will approach it with an open mind. This evidence has been reviewed by a few generations of bright students in graduate classes who have been given the challenge to break it down if they can. To date none has ever been able to do so." 
Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told him that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. As reported by Matthew Roper, Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, "Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it." 
It seems clear, then, that Elder (later President) Smith did not regard his views as the product of revelation, nor did he regard it as illegitimate to have a different view of the matter. Another issue with this site is that it simply does not meet the Book of Mormon criteria as set down by Mormon. First of all, the hill Cumorah in the scriptural record is located to the north of the Narrow Neck of Land, in what is called the Land Northward.
In Alma we find that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5); and Mormon wrote that the narrow neck separated the Land Southward from the Land Northward, and was the distance in width that a Nephite could cover in a day and a half (Alma 22:32), and that the Land Southward was surrounded by water except for the Narrow Neck of Land. Not only was the Land of Desolation north of the narrow neck, but that it went so far northward it came into the old Jaredite land (Alma 22:30), and the land on the south was called Bountiful and the land on the north was called Desolation (Alma 22:31). The key understanding in this is that the Land of Cumorah was so far northward,” and this area of the Jaredite lands continued northward to the Land of Many Waters (Mormon 6:4), where the Hill Cumorah was located in the Land of Cumorah (Mormon 6:2).
Mesoamerican Theorists want to claim that “the text requires a relatively short distance between Cumorah and the neck of land,” however, as can be seen, the scriptural record suggests otherwise. Consequently, along with the upstate New York area model, the Mesoamerican model simply does not fit the scriptural record in this regard, any more than it does in numerous other areas that have been spelled out in these posts over the past three years.

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