Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Importance of Palmyra – Part I

I read an article recently by an individual who was trying to claim that the Book of Mormon could only have come forth in the area of Palmyra, because, as he stated; “It would have been utterly impossible for this movement to take place at any recognizable location, as did other notable events in human history. In fact, this prophesied restorative work could begin only at one place in the world, a region that relatively few knew—Palmyra, New York. In this light, the marvelous work of the Restoration was truly a wonder.”
His point went on to say, “The Restoration was inseparably linked to Palmyra because within a relatively unobtrusive and common-looking hill nearby a sacred record was buried. This record, written and deposited in the hill by ancient prophets, would become known as the keystone to the doctrine of the Church and was directly associated with the miraculous restorative events during 1820–30.”
    Now there is no question that the basic understanding is correct; however, to think that those records couldn’t have been located in some other hill in some other community in some other state of New England is foolhardy. It was the Lord’s Plan to have the Smith family live where they did, to be farmers as they were in a time when farming was an honorable and absolutely important occupation. It is also, no doubt, important that these events took place in a low-density occupied area, where someone could move about without a close neighbor always aware of what was going on “next door.”
    But the plates could have been deposited in any number of places in any number of areas. Even a similar drumlin hill, which are scattered all over western New York.
    There is nothing special about that particular drumlin hill we now call the hill Cumorah in western New York. After all, drumlin hills, as we have reported before, are derived from retreating ice sheets and made up of the glacial till (rubble) that occurs as the retreating ice sheet scrapes across the earth and scourge the rock and grinds it into pebbles, etc. The ice age discussed that allowed ice sheets into Southern New England, followed the most recent continental ice sheet to cover New England called the Laurentide, which formed during the late Wisconsinan glacial stage. 

The Laurentide ice sheet formed in Canada thousands of years ago. During the early and middle Wisconsinan stages the ice sheet advanced, then retreated from northern New England. Late Wisconsinan cooling initiated another advance of the ice sheet, which reached southern New England, stopping just south of the Cape Cod peninsula in the vicinity of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Islands.
    According to geologists, as the global climate warmed, the ice sheet began its retreat from southern New England. The portion of the ice front that covered eastern Massachusetts had a lobate form whose three lobes covered the area of the Massachusetts coast and Massachusetts Bay to the east. The lobes retreated at different rates, which caused proglacial lakes to form in front of the ice. As deglaciation continued, the sea covered lowlands that had been isostatically depressed by the weight of the glacier.
    Stated differently, there are drumlin hills all around New England; however, such hills are not particularly the important thing here—what is important, is that it is a hill in a land that is relatively flat, devoid of mountains or anything even relatively high. The hill Cumorah is about 130 feet from base to tip at the highest point to the north, and slopes downward over its mile length to become relatively even with the ground to the south. The problem would have been to find any hill of any height in the entire area in which to place something for whatever reason the Lord wanted the plates deposited in a hill.
    After all, the true Hill Cumorah of the scriptural record, as we have discussed before, would have been such a “stink hole” for years following the death and decaying of at least one-third of a million people suddenly killed within a day or two (230,000 Nephites plus women and children and whatever amount of Lamanites killed in the battle).
To think that Moroni would have stayed around this hill for all that time, at least 36 years before he finished his account and hidden the records somewhere there, is foolhardy—the disease alone would have been devastating to the area, let alone the horrendous smell of all those dead and decaying bodies that were never buried. The fact that the “hyped-up” Lamanites in destrying their thousand year enemy in one final battle would have caused some lengthy celebration on the part of the victors that would have centered around that battlefield for some days until the stink drove them away, no doubt forcing Moroni to immediately seek his safety elsewhere.
    Not only such a celebration could have ensued, but it obviously deteriorated into fighting among the various tribes and groups of the Lamanites until, as Moroni called it, a vast civil war erupted all across the land (Moroni 8:8).
    As Moroni said, he wandered whithersoever (the word: whither and soever, meaing "to whatever place. I will go whithersoever you lead), he could or the spirit led him for the safety of his own life (Moroni 1:3). Wandering means to move about—again telling us he did not stay at the Hill Cumorah after this last battle in which his father and 230,000 Nephites or more were killed, and their bodies lay scattered (heaped) on the ground.
    No doubt, after a few days as the stench began to overwhelm the Lamanites, they were also driven away from their celebrating and fighting to the area round about where their civil war continued
    The author of the article continued with “Another fixed facet of the Restoration to consider was the foretold participation of a “seer” who would be raised up with the power to bring forth the word of God (Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 50:30). Joseph of Egypt prophesied that this seer would be a deliverer “like unto Moses” (2 Nephi 3:9) and that “his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father” (2 Nephi 3:15). President Brigham Young later clarified that it was Joseph Smith Jr. who would be the seer, for “it was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God” (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–86), 7:289). Thus, a specific man and a specific hill had to meet.”
    Actually, it seems more accurate to say that a specific man and the location of the deposited plates had to meet. Where that location was to be could have been most anywhere in the surrounding area. In fact, around Palmyra are other small towns that would have given Joseph and his family a living and the privacy to carry out the work in this general area of New York, such as Ontario, Williamson, Sodus, Walworth, Marion, Lyons, Clyde, North Rose, Rose, Butler Center, Savannah, Dublin, Newark, Port Gibson, Macedon, Honeoye Falls, Lima, West Bloomfield, East Bloomfield, South Lima, Hemlock, Honeoya, Cheshire, Hopewell Center, as well as another twenty or so in this general area of Western New York.
    Joseph’s grandfather, Asael Smith, lived in Turnbridg, Vermont—his father, Samuel Smith, Jr., was born in Topsfield, Massachusetts, and his father, Robert Smith, had been born in England. That these families lived where they did, in New England, in the Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, area is no accident, for the Lord knows all things from the beginning. As Isaiah wrote: “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:9-10).
We need to keep in mind that location does not govern the Lord’s acts, but his acts govern or determine the location and time. It was certainly not an accident, of course, that these people all came together in one local—the Lord brought them together as part of his Plan to perform the work. But whether he brought them together in Palmyra/Manchester, or one of the other forty or fifty towns of the area, seems of little important—what matters is they were brought to one location.
    Why the Lord chose Palmyra is unknown, but the fact that a hill happened to be located there is of even less importance given the fact that Moroni could have located the plates in any hill or area around that he chose. That he chose an unnamed hill of little description, with little value in climbing around it by the local populace is far less importance than the events that followed this and its eventually being named the Hill Cumorah by early members who automatically associated it with the hill Cumorah of the scriptural record becasue of the plates being hidden there.

(See the next post, “The Importance of Palmyra – Part II,” for more about an article I read and the author’s approach to the place of Palmyra and the Hill Cumorah driving the events that occurred there, rather than the other way around).

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