Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Finding the Land of Promise – Hill Cumorah – Part I

We are asked from time to time where certain landmarks in the scriptural record would be in the world today in order to pinpoint a location for the Land of Promise, with the Hill Cumorah around the top of the list. However, the problem with this type of thinking is that it is working backwards from the issues at hand. 
    “So where is the hill Cumorah?” we are often asked. First of all, there are so many erroneous ideas about the Hill Cumorah located in upstate New York, that a bit of clarification is necessary. First, Joseph Smith never referred to it as “the hill Cumorah,” which was unnamed prior to 1829, where the plates were deposited and located. In fact, in his account in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name. In the Doctrine and Covenants the name '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), which obviously refers to the message of the plates found there. 
    As Rex C. Reeve, Jr., and Richard O. Cowan (“The Hill Called Cuorah,” quoted in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: New York and Pennsylvania, Church History and doctrine, 1992), No other uses of 'Cumorah' have 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.
    Secondly, because Joseph was led by Moroni to that drumlin hill in Manchester, New York, it was the early Saints who so named it, along with several other names, such as the Golden Hill, Mormon Hill, Gold Bible Hill, and Inspiration Point. In his own words, Joseph wrote: "On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box."
    At no time did Joseph refer to it as the hill mentioned in the scriptural record. But early Saints assumed this was the original hill Cumorah mentioned prominently in the scriptural record, because the plates were deposited there that Joseph uncovered, and once understanding this, began to call it such.
Joseph went to the hill [now named Cumorah within the Church] which he had seen in a vision. There he found a big rock, and pried it up with a stick that uncovered a stone box in which were set the gold plates (Joseph Smith History 1:44-52)

The problem is that theorists, in an effort to try and located the Land of Promise, sometimes look to a specific site mentioned in the scriptural record and decide they know where that is, and then backtrack, building an entire location of the Book of Mormon based on that one idea. However, there are very few places in the scriptural record that provide enough information that would allow one to pinpoint a physical location, such as a city, particular mountain, lake, river, etc. Many of these types of things change, disappear, or are altered over time—at least some 1800 years of time or more.
    After all, the hill the plates came from in Manchester, New York, is not at issue; the question is whether this final resting place of the plates is the same hill where the ending battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites occurred. Many serious scholars have attempted to prove that the Palmyra hill was the battle hill, but to little avail, largely because they do not understand archaeology as an inexact science. They argue that the Palmyra hill and its surrounding area once had tons of convincing evidence that has long since been destroyed or carted away.
    Again, it is not the case that the Church authoritatively identifies the drumlin in western New York as the same Hill Cumorah mentioned in the text of the Book of Mormon. The Church has made it abundantly clear that it does not endorse any particular view of Book of Mormon geography. 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 was the same hill described in the Book of Mormon, but whether their opinions were based on personal revelation to those individuals is not known.
    Even if so, personal testimony on points such as this are contradictory, and are not binding on the Church, regardless of how high the position was of the person making the assertion. Only new revelation following proper procedure, and being accepted by the Church as a whole as binding can clear up this point. Statements from Joseph Smith or others on geography, such as Oliver Cowdery, are not binding on the Church, despite the claims of various theorists, historians and writers.
    Also, just because the early Saints called the hill where Joseph Smith was shown the plates Moroni and Mormon deposited, the Hill Cumorah in upstate New York, that does not mean that was the hill in the scriptural record—otherwise, we might as well look to Bountiful, Utah, for the location of the Bountiful alongside the Irreantum Sea, or the Bountiful where the Lord visited the surviving Saints after the crucifixion.
    We know so little about the hill Cumorah that could be used today to pinpoint a specific hill or mount, that it seems fruitless to even try. To feel that this or that would be a good candidate for a Book of Mormon location is merely playing a game that has no value since there is no way to verify almost all suggested locations. 
    We only know the Hill Cumorah was in the Western Hemisphere, in an area far north in the Land Northward, in an area of many waters, rivers and, most importantly, “fountains.” Since there are few fountains (actual sources of water), again, the task would be beyond anyone’s capability without knowing exactly where that Land Northward was located.
    What we do know about the hill in the scriptural record is that it must have been of sufficient size and design as to provide protection for Mormon and the other 23 survivors that they could retreat to and hide away for the night and morning without detection from the blood-thirsty, half-crazed Lamanite army roaming the countryside around the hill searching for any Nephites so they could kill them. The hill would also have to be high enough to provide sufficient view to look out over a battlefield of between 300,000 and 350,000 dead, yet not be seen by their hereditary enemy, who were in such a bloodthirsty rage at the time that they would not have been deterred from wiping out the final 24 men if they could be seen and located.
    Having been to, and walked around and over the hill Cumorah in New York, it seems easy to see that it does not provide these two simple but necessary requirements. The New York hill is relatively small and quite low, with an easy incline that would not have been any effort to walk up and look around the hill by the victorious Lamanites during or after the battle at Cumorah.
The Hill Cumorah in western New York: Top: Shows the height of the hill is slight, only 110-feet; Middle: Shows a slight uphill grade, which takes less than five minutes to climb and without much effort; Bottom: Shows a slight rounded “drumlin” dome to the hill, affording little cover

Since nothing else is really known about the hill in the scriptural record except that there is or was a seashore within a short distance to the east (Ether 9:3), which was probably the East Sea but that is merely an assumption since the scriptures do not give it a name, consistent with the time and method of the Jaredite writing.
    Rather than to ask that type of question, i.e., where was the hill Cumorah, or where were the Waters of Mormon, or where was the River Sidon, it seems far more valuable and beneficial to ask the right questions, such as where did Nephi's ship take him that he built and set sail from the shores of present day Oman on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula (of course, you could go further back and take his trek form Jerusalem to Bountiful, but that has been done by several historians and well documented. The next step is to then follow Nephi's clues, of which he provided several, such as:
1. He built a sailing ship;
2. It was driven forward by the wind;
3. Winds blow currents and they work in tandem, therefore, follow the winds and currents from where he set forth and they will take you to where he could have landed.
    It really is as simple as that, though not very adventuresome—in fact, it is usually difficult work, time consuming, and not always rewarding. But it is accurate. The type of winds and currents found in the oceans of the world are consistent and based upon factors that do not change, including gravity, earth’s rotation, the Coriolis Effect, etc. Drift voyages, i.e., the winds and current that drive weather vessels at sea, are constant and follow a known and provable pattern and are easily tracked. In the case of those in the Sea of Arabia, Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and the southern or South Pacific, have always been constant as long as man has recorded them and would not have changed before then. These winds and currents are so well known and defined that mariners for centuries have used them to travel the open seas.
    The next important step is to match what would be located at the place of landing along this path and whether or not that matches what Nephi said he found upon landing in the Land of Promise.
(See the next post, “Another Look at the Hill Cumorah – Part II,” for the continuation of this search)


  1. I've been trying to understand lately why people think Moroni buried the plates in the original hill Cumorah. To me the Book of Mormon seems to state clearly that all the records except the ones Moroni had were hid in the original hill Cumorah. If you found the original hill Cumorah, you should expect to find all the plates except what Moroni buried up. By contrast, the New York Hill Cumorah is where Moroni's plates were buried and found- which to me is more of an indicator that the New York Hill Cumorah is not the original hill Cumorah.

    Mormon 6:6 Mormon says he: hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.

    Then in Mormon 8: 1-8, Moroni writes that he has the record of his father. That it is about 400 AD. That the Nephites who escaped to the south country have been killed, Mormon has been killed, Moroni is alone. Verse 4: "Therefore I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not".

    Moroni then abridges the Jaredite record into the Book of Ether, then in Moroni 1 he says he is hiding from the Lamanites and will write a little more. Chapter 2-7 are doctrinal writings (no historical info or statements about the records), 8-9 are epistles he had received from his father. Then in Chapter 10 he indicates it is 421 AD and he will write a few things and then seal up the records. Verse 2: "And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you."

    How did Moroni know that the Nephites in the southern land were being hunted and killed by the Lamanites? It's possible someone told him; it's also possible he traveled there and many other places over the 21 years before he hid up the plates. It is unlikely that his sat in the land of Cumorah for 21 years including the years right after the final battle - among the smell of hundreds of thousands of dead soldiers.

    So, maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that the scriptures never say Moroni buried the plates in the original hill Cumorah like a lot of people seem to think. Moroni does not say where he buried the plates. The original hill Cumorah had and probably still has all the plates except Moroni's plates.

    The Introduction to the Book or Mormon says that "Moroni..hid up the plates in the Hill Cumorah". But the Introduction is not a translation of the plates nor was it written by Joseph Smith. It was written in 1981. And it says "Hill Cumorah". The capital H is what is used for the Hill Cumorah in New York. The H referencing the original hill Cumorah is never capitalized in the Book of Mormon. So, the introduction seems to be saying that Moroni buried the plates in the hill in New York.

    A lot of people seem to have a hard time getting past the notion that there are two different hills called Cumorah, but to me the scriptures support this and do not imply in any way that Moroni hid the plates in the hill where the last Nephite battle occurred.

    As Del has explained, it is common to name a place after another place. I live in Utah within an hour or so of cities named Bountiful, Lehi, Nephi, Manti, and others. Many cities in Eastern U.S. were named after lands where the settlers came from. It seems too that the Hill Cumorah in New York was called that after the original hill Cumorah where Mormon hid up all the sacred records except those given to Moroni.