Sunday, December 2, 2018

An Unnamed Hill

One of the mistakes people make when reading historical events, writing, or views, is to evaluate such information in light of their current world and circumstances. Because history has after-the-fact introduced names, opinions, knowledge, or updated evidences, details or knowledge that did not exist at the time of the ancient or historical writing, modern people tend to view matters of the past in light of the understanding of the present.  
Joseph Smith Sr home in Manchester township where the entire family lived in 1820s. How different from even the smallest of family homes of today
  Take slavery, as an example. As detestable a practice as one can find, it nevertheless was not a modern idea during the early years and development of America, to which people today so vehemently decry. The history of slavery dates back to the beginning of time and spans many cultures, nationalities and religions throughout history to the present day. Slavery appears in the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi in 1800 BC, which refers to it as an established institution (Prologue, "the shepherd of the oppressed and of the slaves" Code of Laws No. 307), and even in Biblical times since it was a common practice in antiquity, with many of the patriarchs portrayed as owners of slaves, and scriptural directions abound on how to treat slaves (Exodus 21:2-11). This is not a treatise on, or defense of, slavery, but merely meant to show that attitudes toward slavery in the ancient past were quite different than the attitudes of today.
    Another example is that the marrying age in in 1800s in the southeastern states of the U.S. was 14 and 15 years of age—today that would be considered abhorrent. Not long ago, smoking in public places was considered normal and totally acceptable—today it is seen quite differently. Another difference is the punishment of children—not too many years ago spanking a child for misbehaving was considered both normal and necessary, today it is considered abusive. In fact, you can’t even say “Indian Summer” when referring to a stretch of beautiful fall weather any more, since the term is now considered “racist.”
Layout of the Smith farm in the 1820s, showing the original Smith log cabin home, and the later frame home built in part by Alvin Smith, Joseph’s older brother, including the Cooper (repair) Shop, Threshing Barn, as well as the modern road to the Temple and the Sacred Grove, which at the time was merely “the woods”

The reverse is also true—bikini bathing suits would have been scandalous less than 70 years ago; so would women wearing pants; or women having tattoos; or effeminate men, or stay-at-home dads.
    Obviously, times change, and so do the mores of society. To evaluate the past or make judgments about people of another era, based upon the current trends and acceptable behavior is simply out of touch with the reality of the time in which events took place.
    Yet, we see this a lot today. It has been wreaking havoc across America these past few years. There is an insistence on judging people of past eras based on the mores of today. The same is true about reading of past events and making assumptions and judgments about what is read. In regard to this, Hugh Nibley correctly stated that this was one of the most important approaches in reading the Book of Mormon when he wrote: “The Book of Mormon must be read as an ancient, not as a modern, book. Its mission, as described by the book itself, depends in great measure for its efficacy on its genuine antiquity” (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd ed., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 1988, p3).
The Sacred Grove in Manchester township, next to Palmyra, New York

Today, we understand the First Vision took place in the Sacred Grove behind the Smith home in Palmyra, New York. However, at the time, these woods were not called “the Sacred Grove,” nor was the event called “the First Vision.” More correctly, the event would be described that Joseph Smith walked into the wood behind his home in 1820 where he had a vision of God and Jesus Christ. In the same vein, Joseph walked to the hill not far from his family home, since the hill had no name at the time. The term “Hill Cumorah” was added much later. In fact, Moroni did not call this hill “Cumorah” in 1823, nor at any time afterward.
    It is reported that he said, along the road between Harmony, Pennsylvania, and the Peter Whitmer home in Fayette, New York, when offered a ride by David Whitmer, that “I am going to Cumorah.”  In this vein, it should be noted that Fayette, where Joseph Smith was going in the wagon with the Whitmers, is 28 miles southeast of Palmyra, and that Moroni, who was carrying the plates in an “obviously heavy knapsack on his back,” would also have been going there to deliver the plates to Joseph in Fayette, for Joseph told David Whitmer who inquired of him what the man meant, “the man was Moroni, and that the bundle on his back contained the plates which I delivered to him before we departed from Harmony, and that he was taking them for safety, and would return them when we reached father Whitmer’s home” (The Historical Record, vol. 6, May 1887, pp207–9).
    Thus, it cannot be concluded that Moroni was referring to the hill where Joseph originally obtained the plates, since the road they were upon went directly to Fayette and nowhere near Palmyra. However, based upon modern knowledge, and a later naming of the hill by the early members of the Church, many people today connect “Cumorah” with the hill; however, Moroni must have meant something larger than that since he was not going to the hill where the plates were obtained, but to where Joseph Smith and the Whitmers were headed.
    That later the hill was referred to as the “Hill Cumorah,” is well known, but “the best research on the subject puts the term into common circulation no earlier than the mid-1830s” (Cameron J. Packer, “A Study of the Hill Cumorah: A Significant Latter-day Saint Landmark in Western New York,” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, ch.3, Memorializing the Hill Cumorah, December 2002, from an ETD electronic theses document).
    Joseph Smith’s only official comment regarding Cumorah is found in one sentence in the Doctrine and Covenants dated September 6, 1842, which reads: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets—the book to be revealed" (D&C 128:20).
In fact, all other references to the hill as "Cumorah" in the Prophet's personal writings appear to have “been added by later editors or is being quoted from another individual” (Rex C. Reeve, Jr., and Richard O. Cowan, "The Hill Called Cumorah," Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: New York, Brigham Young University, Provo, 1992, p73).
    In addition, The History of Joseph Smith, begun in 1838, being the main historical source concerning events at the hill between 1823 and 1827, only uses the term “hill,” when referring to where he obtained the plates—never the “Hill Cumorah.”
The slip of paper which Joseph Smith’s scribe, James Mulholland noted his appending Joseph’s history regarding the place where Joseph obtained the plates
In fact, Joseph’s history initially referred to the hill only as “the place,” not even “hill,” but Joseph’s scribe James Mulholland appended the record by adding the word “hill” instead of “place,” and added a slip of paper to the volume describing “a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood.” The back of the slip of paper explains that “he made the addition in consultation with Joseph” (Joseph Smith History, 1838–56, vol.A-1, 7, and attached slip of paper in Karen Lynn Davidson, et al., eds., Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844, volume 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee and others, Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012, pp.232–233, draft 2).
    In addition, on p9 of this history (1839-1841), in regard to Martin Harris meeting with Charles Anthon (stated Prof. Anthony), the finding of the plates used the term “in the place where he found them” which is consistent with Joseph’s continual use of the term “this place,” rather than identifying any name. Unfortunately, where the rules of narrative history do not apply, the term “Cumorah” can be found in many writings and discussions regarding the “place where Joseph obtained the plates.”
    The result is that when such insertions, changes or updates are treated as factual at the time, readers and people obtain the wrong impression and thus, the wrong understanding of the past. The fact is, the hill where Joseph Smith obtained the plates did not have a name when Joseph went there, nor did it have a name for several years thereafter. It was called “a hill,” or “the hill,” by the local people, including Joseph himself. After he obtained the plates in 1827, translated the plates in 1829, and published the Book of Mormon in 1830, word got out that Joseph found “gold plates” in that hill and it was often referred to by most as “Gold Bible Hill,” “Mormon Hill,” and “Inspiration Point.” After a letter by Oliver Cowdery (Letter VII) was published in the July 1835 Messenger and Advocate, most members began calling it the “Hill Cumorah.”
The low-lying nameless drumlin hill now called Cumorah along Canandaigua Rd. in Manchester township, New York, two miles south of the Smith home on Stafford Rd. Note its lack of any height

While there is no question that Joseph Smith obtained the plates from the hill in Manchester township, Ontario County, New York, where the angel Moroni directed him, “on the west side of this hill, nor far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box,” this hill lacks much of the descriptive appearances that are outlined in the scriptural record.
    Many initially connected that hill and location with the “hill Cumorah” mentioned in Mormon 6:2, and noting the fact that Mormon wrote: “I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and 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” (Mormon 6:6), the New York hill was considered, and stills is, the same as where Mormon hid the record.
    However, it should be noted that the records Mormon did not hide up in the hill, and which he gave to his son, Moroni, are those records obtained and translated by Joseph Smith. We do not know from the scriptural record, or from Moroni himself, where he deposited those records during his lifetime, but it seems self-evident, giving the conditions he describes in the scriptural record, unlikely to have been in the hill Cumorah.
    The point, however, is that the hill in New York did not have a name and was not so named by Joseph Smith at any time. Nor does his written record so indicate. It was simply “a hill,” or “the place,” and nothing more. To place our own opinions on this matter is to change the past, rewrite history and mislead people of today into thinking something was that is not so stated in history.

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