Sunday, December 20, 2015

America is the Land of Promise—But Where is America? – Part V

Continuing with the previous post regarding one of our readers sending us information of a blog and asking our opinion and comments. In the last post, we suggested the need to know what land the record refers to when discussing the Land of Promise. 
Blog comment: “Proponents of a Mesoamerican setting claim the modern name is merely a product of tradition established by unknown persons and later accepted or embraced by Joseph Smith. They claim the "real" Cumorah, the scene of the final battles, was somewhere in Central America.”
    Response: It is not difficult to ascertain in all of Joseph Smith’s recorded writings, talks, discussions, etc., he never once referred to the hill where he found the plates as the hill Cumorah. When writing about the hill, Joseph only referred to it as “the hill where the plates were buried,” but never by any name. In fact, the word “Cumorah” appears only one time in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah” (D&C 128:20). The comment above that the name “hill Cumorah” was embraced by Joseph Smith is obviously inaccurate, for there is no record or even suggestion of such ever having happened.
    Yet, the hill the plates came from is not in question; the issue is whether this final resting place is the same hill where the last battles between the Nephites and Lamanites in 385 A.D. occurred. After all, the Church has made it abundantly clear that it does not endorse any particular view of Book of Mormon geography.
    While theorists have their own self-interests and all research in such quarters is likely tainted, or at least presented to make their own case, there are some non-LDS historical sources where information about the history of upstate western New York is available to us from untainted and non-partison sources.
One old but excellent source for New York compiled by E. G. Squier in 1851. (E. G. Squier, Antiquities of the State of New York, Buffalo, NY: Derby, 1851) Another, which is almost 40 years old, was written by (left) William A. Ritchie (William A. Ritchie, The Archaeology of New York State, rev. ed. (Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 1994, originally published in 1965 Natural History Press for the American Museum of Natural History). and most recently revised in 1994, and a third source: Neal L. Trubowitz, Highway Archeology and Settlement Study in the Genesee Valley (George’s Mills, NH: Occasional Publications in Northeast Anthropology, 1983), whose information is unusually good and more recent than that of Ritchie. The bottom line of this archaeological research shows that in this area, hunting and gathering during the Nephite time period was a way of life from 1000 B.C. to 500 B.C., with a number of camps recorded, though the site density was quite low, and remained stable—a pattern that continued during the following period from 500 B.C. to 1000 A.D. However, during this time the number of known sites and total site density drops, implying that a population decline took place.
In addition, E. G. Squier, in his work on pp11-14 states that he personally found and explored 15 sties in Jefferson county, and describes finding 30 to 40 sites overall, and estimates that no more than 100 sites could be located in the area of the lakes, and believes that no more than 200 to 250 sites existed in the State of New York. All of these sites were small, most were from one to four acres, with the largest just 16 acres, with embankments being slight in height, measuring seldom more than four feet high, while in a few cases the embankment measured seven to eight feet from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the wall, but in many cases the embankments were not more than a foot tall, particularly in Jefferson and Erie counties. Most of these small 1 ½-acre sites are about a mile or two from another such site (p37).
    These reports support Ritchie’s earlier findings for New York, that the population in this area was always small and dispersed in small bands—when comparing this data to the scriptural record, when the Nephite nation was growing in size and population, the results found in the Trubowitz and Ritchie report shows contrary results. Stated differently, though the scriptural record shows an increase size, density and population of the area the Nephites controlled, the actual findings of this area in upstate New York shows just the opposite, clearly indicating a lack of agreement between factual evidence of the area and the scriptural record.
    To this can also be added that their findings shows that corn agriculture did not become a significant factor here or elsewhere in the mid-continent or the southeastern United States until after 1000 A.D., at which time with the commitment to corn agriculture, population and village sizes increased more than 600 years after the Nephites had been annihilated. It might also be noted that in Squier’s research in the state of New York, most of the so-called forts he identifies he later talks of their being built after 1600 because of the timber work and finding bullets in them (p41).
It should also be noted that these fortified knolls (mounds) and spurs were all quite small and would have accommodated only about 100 to 400 people in a complex, and do not fit large populations, far smaller than the cities and villages of the Nephite period.
    In fact, the archaeology of western New York forms a long record of small bands of hunters and gatherers (berry eaters) who lived for millennia. Obviously, there is no agreement between factual knowledge of the area and scriptural record of the Nephite era, i.e., the Nephite nation could never have been within this entire area of Western New York according to the archaeological findings there.
    We should also keep in mind that we know quite a lot about the hill Cumorah from the scriptural account: As written and described, Cumorah was:
1. In a land of many waters, lakes, ponds (Mormon 6:4)
2. In a land of rivers and heads of river (Mormon 6:4);
3. In a land of fountains, i.e., sources of water (Mormon 6:4);
4. “So far northward” (Alma 22:30);
5. West of Ablom, which was by the east seashore (Ether 9:3);
6. North of the narrow neck of land (Alma 22:30; Mormon 2:29);
7. In an area of many waters, rivers and fountains (Mormon 6:4);
8. Abundantly filled with water and rivers, or its dense forest or rough terrain apparently provided a military advantage (Mormon 6:4);
9. There was an escape route to the land ("country") southward (Mormon 8:2);
10. The hill was large enough to provide safe hiding for the 24 survivors from a blood-crazed enemy intent on killing them (Mormon 6:11);
11. Apparently a significant landmark for the Lamanite king knew of it through he had not been in the Land Northward before (Mormon 6:2;
12. Apparently a free standing hill so people could camp around it (Mormon 6:4);
13. Surrounded by a plain since Mormon could see from the top the bodies of about 250,000 dead (Mormon 6:11);pparently warm and temperate at least at certain times of the year (Enos 1:20; Alma 46:49);
14. Located in a volcanic zone susceptible to earthquakes (3 Nephi 8:12).
    When taken as a whole, there is no way the hill Cumorah mentioned in the scriptural record could have existed anywhere in the eastern United States.
(See the next post, “America is the Land of Promise—But Where is America? – Part VI,” for answers as to where the overall Land of Promise is located and to what land the Prophets have spoken and the Lord indicated)

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