Sunday, December 22, 2013

Another Question About the Hill Cumorah – Part I

Every so often someone asks why we post so many different articles about the same subject, such as the Narrow Neck of Land, or the Directions of the Land of Promise, or the ocean winds and currents, etc. The reason is that many subjects in the Book of Mormon about the Land of Promise cover a great deal of information, and all cannot be answered or covered in a single or even several posts. In fact, some subjects could be an entire book of their own if one were to write everything of importance about it and answer all the questions, comments, and criticisms regarding that area. In addition, occasionally new information is found or discovered that has some bearing on the Book of Mormon, such as horse and elephant remains in the Western Hemisphere that have been discovered.
Hill Cumorah in upstate New York where Joseph uncovered the plates of the Book of Mormon. Note the drumline shape (left) and the very low height (right), hardly dimensions that match the Book of Mormon account
    As an example, take the Hill Cumorah. Much has been written about this site in upstate New York as being the hill Cumorah mentioned in the scriptural account. While some claim the record is ambiguous about the subject, it does raise some interesting questions and does tell us certain things that allow us to gain some understanding about it. For the record, Mormon wrote: “And now I finish my record concerning the destruction of my people, the Nephites. And it came to pass that we did march forth before the Lamanites. And I, Mormon, wrote an epistle unto the king of the Lamanites, and desired of him that he would grant unto us that we might gather together our people unto the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah, and there we could give them battle.”
    Mormon says they were marching, which in the military, means the army was on the move. And it appears the Lamanites were not far behind them, which should tell us that the Nephites were retreating rapidly, and the Lamanites were in hot pursuit.
But more importantly, the question arises that if the Nephites were on the move and ahead of the Lamaniters, why did Mormon choose that time to write the Lamanite king and arrange for a location for a final battle? Granted, it was the custom at the time to make announcements to one another of your battle intentions, but why at that moment? The battles had been raging for years, and by this time Mormon, as well as the army, would have fully understood that: 1) The Lamanites were not going to give up, and 2) The Nephite army was insufficient to stop the Lamanites.
    Why not keep ahead of the Lamanites? Among Mormon’s army were the wives and children of his soldiers. The Nephites had already seen how the Lamanites had sacrificed their women and children on more than one occasion (Mormon 4:14, 21), and would have known that such a horrible death awaited their wives and children if they stopped to do battle once again. So why would Mormon arrange for his army to stop and fight another major battle? And why would his army stop just because Mormon wanted them to?
Why not keep going if the Land of Promise was in Mesoamerica, or the Great Lakes/heartland, or Baja California or Malaysia, since in all of these areas, the land continued to the north for hundreds to thousands of miles? After all, the last time they fought, the Lamanites so outnumbered them that they tread the Nephites under their feet (Mormon 5:6), and the result was that they “did again take to flight, and those whose flight was swifter than the Lamanites' did escape, and those whose flight did not exceed the Lamanites' were swept down and destroyed” (Mormon 5:7), which resulted in “such an awful scene of blood and carnage” that Mormon refused to describe it.
    Yet, it was during this flight that “Mormon, wrote an epistle unto the king of the Lamanites, and desired of him that he would grant unto [the Nephites] that we might gather together our people unto the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah, and there we could give them battle” (Mormon 6:2).
    Mormon did, after all, have at least three choices that held out a hope for a better result than an all-out battle against such overwhelming odds: 1) He could have continued to flee before the Lamanites, hoping that their pursuers might eventually give up, or at least that the Nephites could find a better place to try and defend themselves, or 2) Keep fleeing, but sending out small groups to attack and harry the Lamanites on their flanks, hoping to either discourage the Lamanites from continuing, or at least whittle down their numbers for a more even final battle, or 3) Detach a large enough force to hold off and delay the pursuing Lamanites while the women and children could flee to safety far to the north?
Any of these options would have been preferable to an all out final battle that could only end in the total annihilation of the Nephite forces and people, since even Mormon knew it would be the final battle of the Nephites (Mormon 6:6). Yet Mormon chose to stop and fight. Why?
    John L. Sorenson, the Mesoamerican guru in his book, An American Setting for the Book of Mormon, presented the feeble excuse that all the best land to the north had already been taken by other people and there was not enough good land to satisfy the Nephites if they went further north. Who, with their wife and children, would not continue fleeing rather than stop and be killed?
    The Dragoons of history who “ran away to fight another day” were far more successful in their next battle; Mormon could have done the same. So why did he stand and fight when death of all his people could be the only outcome?
    From a military viewpoint, there is only one possible reason to account for such an action—there was nowhere else to flee; they had reached the extent of their land and were hemmed in on the south by the Lamanties and to the east and west were only limited land spaces that would soon prove to be controlled by the advancing Lamanites—and to the north was an ocean or impassable mountains.
    Consequently, for any Land of Promise location that would provide Mormon an escape route to the north simply does not make sense. Mormon chose to stop and fight because that was his only alternative. Thus, the Land of Promise had to have had a blockage of impassable mountains or ocean to keep him from leading his people further north away from the Lamanites. After all, there is always hope that another day might bring salvation in one form or another—unless there simply was no place to go further north.
To verify this, we have the reply to Mormon’s epistle. “And it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites did grant unto me the thing which I desired” (Mormon 6:3). Since Mormon and the Nephites were hemmed in on the north and had nowhere else to flee, the Lamanite king could be generous. After all, he knew his numbers far exceeded that of the Nephites, and knew no location could overcome his most obvious superior advantage over his enemy.
    Finally, Mormon tells us: “And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites. And when three hundred and eighty and four years had passed away, we had gathered in all the remainder of our people unto the land of Cumorah” (Mormon 6:4-5). What advantage Mormon thought he might have is not disclosed in his writing. Nor are his thoughts on this upcoming battle. He had a force of some 230,000 soldiers, which he divided among twenty-one captains, plus himself, and his son, Moroni. In addition to these fighting men were their wives and children (Mormon 6:7). In his battle array, Mormon placed himself and his 10,000 soldiers in front (Mormon 6:11), which were the first to fall. Yet, despite the numbers in his command—perhaps 350,000 to 400,00 (including the women and children of fighting age)—Mormon’s force trembled at the size of the Lamanite army (Mormon 6:8).
(See the next post, “Another Question About the Hill Cumorah – Part II,” to see how the information Mormon wrote tells us about the Land of Cumorah and the Hill Cumorah and its location)

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