Saturday, May 16, 2015

What is in a Scriptural Description? Hope for Some Advantage

Mormon, desperate for a victory over the Lamanites who had been driving the Nephites from one disastrous battle to another over most of the past 70 years, settled on a battleground around the hill Cumorah in the Land of Cumorah, which was located in a land of many waters (Mormon 6:4). However, as much as he hoped to gain an advantage over the Lamanties, he knew in his heart it was not going to happen. In this same moment of writing this, he began with “And now I finish my record concerning the destruction of my people, the Nephites” (Mormon 6:1), and followed with the thought, “knowing it to be the last struggle of my people” (Mormon 6:6).
    Still, hope springs eternal, and Mormon indicates he thought he might find a way to gain an advantage in this land. Obviously, it seems likely that Mormon knew of this area from previous experience, whether scouting it recently, or as a boy growing up in the Land Northward before his father took him to Zarahemla in the Land Southward (Mormon 1:6). Here, in this land of Cumorah, Mormon admits he hoped to gain some advantage over the Lamanites (Mormon 6:4), no doubt a forlorn hope, for the Lamanties had driven the Nephties during this lengthy war all the way from the southern area of the Land of Zarahemla (Mormon 1:10), across all the Land Southward, beyond the narrow neck of land and into the Land Northward, and here to an area deep into the north country.
Mormon was 15 years old when he was put in charge of the Nephite army, very likely as a result of his father’s death in the war who had probably been in charge of the Army previously, and perhaps why he had come to Zarahemla—in any event, it was characteristic of the Nephites to replace a strong leader with the son of that leader, as Moronihah replaced his father Moroni as head of the Nephite army (Alma 62:43). Whether this is what happened or not, the point being that Mormon took over at the age of 15 and spent the next sixty-five years leading the army in an almost constant-war footing as they were driven from one end of the Land of Promise to the other.
    So they “did march forth to the land of Cumorah,” and they pitched their tents around the hill Cumorah, and this place was “in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains,” a place where Mormon hoped he might have a chance in a major battle against the Lamanites.
    What was it about this area that gave him that slight hope he might be able to stand against a far superior army (Mormon 6:8), a blood-thirsty people who had sacrificed his women and children to dumb idols (Mormon 4:21), an Army that had been victorious against him in several earlier battles. As Mormon says, “we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah” (Mormon 6:4). Perhaps it was the hill itself that held the hope Mormon counted on to give him an advantage.
    Obviously, the Lamanite army was far superior in numbers, so how might that hill have somewhat evened the odds? From a military standpoint, any General in a desperate battle in the field, is going to look for a way to protect his back and flanks in hopes of fighting a frontal battle, thus limiting the advantage of numbers. Is it possible that the hill Cumorah offered that protection to his back and sides? If so, then the maneuver and location would make a lot of sense, both from a military standpoint and from a scriptural commentary standpoint.
     If that were the case, then we should expect to find a hill Cumorah so configured as to provide protection from that quarter, i.e., not allow the enemy to advance from that angle—in this case, from the rear.
By placing an army at the (yellow arrow) foot of a steep hill, the (white arrow) rear and flanks would be protected from attack and the army would only have to face a frontal attack, lessening the numbers against them
    However, in the case of the hill Cumorah in upstate Western New York that Great Lakes Theorists, including Olive, claim was the hill Cumorah in the Land of Promise, we can see that this little drumlin (cigar-shaped) hill would have provided no protect at all, and pitching tents around it would have made no sense at all. If Mormon was going to choose the battlefield, certainly he would not have chosen a little hill like this one that would have been so easy for Lamanite forces to overrun at any time, and would have provided no protection to the 24 survivors of the battle, who looked down “from the top of the hill Cumorah” (Mormon 6:11) at the more than two hundred thousand lying dead below.
The hill Cumorah in New York. Top, shows how low the hill is and how it would have provided no obstacle to crossing and no protection or defensive position; Middle: The view up the short hill that any Lamanite force could have easily overrun, providing no protection for Mormon and his 24 survivors; Bottom: The angle of climb, providing no barrier to an approaching army
    Olive uses a picture of this hill to show how Mormon and his survivors could have looked out over the dead. The photo below, which appears on page 94 of her book, does show a vantage point, thought at 130-feet in height, whether or not all the dead could have been seen is debatable; on the other hand, and the important point here, is that standing on this hill and looking out over the landscape, Mormon and his survivors would have presented a target for further Lamanite attack, with such a low hill, nothing would have deterred the Lamanite horde from rushing up and wiping out Mormon and Moroni and the others.
Olive’s photo from her book, page 94, showing how low the hill actually is and how easily it could be attacked, providing no refuge in any way, nor a place Mormon and his survivors could have remained concealed
    The point is, Mormon gave us a fairly good description of events, and even in some cases the places and their relationship between each other. We know, as an example, that Mormon thought he might have an advantage if they fought the Lamanties at the hill Cumorah within the "Land of Many Waters". In addition to this might have meant the hill was large enough and difficult enough to move across or climb that he could use that as a shield as described above. It also might have meant that there was so much water around the hill that it would hamper the movement and attacking formations of the Lamanites.
    While we do not know why Mormon thought that way, or what advantage he felt this area would provide his army, it is certainly a possibility that opens the door to a better understanding of this area. And it does suggest that the hill Cumorah in New York simply would not have provided any advantage at all, whatever that advantage he might have considered could have been.
    The problem lies, not only with Olive, but others who make the same mistake, is that they begin with a place in mind—she felt the hill Cumorah in New York was the setting of the Land of Promise. And in so doing, she had to fit the rest of Mormon’s descriptions in that area, and as been seen, it does not fit. Nor does her comment on page 208, that “the land southward was described as extending between the east and west seas while the land northward extended between the north and south seas. She makes this statement to justify her map showing the land between Ripliancum (Lake Ontario, her Sea North) and her South Sea (which is to the southern edge of her Land of Many Waters), though it is to the east of her Land Southward and her Land of Nephi. However, there is neither any comment to suggest such a division, nor any that would suggest such a layout. Again, she has to justify her land arrangement because it is already there and does not match the scriptural record.

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