Friday, April 30, 2021

Questions About the Geography of the Book of Mormon – Part I

We have received the following comments and questions from our readers:

• Comment: The more I have studied the Book of Mormon, particularly about the geography, the more it has become clear that there were some significant clues. Just as obviously, however, these clues can be interpreted many ways—no one’s way is necessarily correct.

Response: There should be no difference of opinion based upon the scriptural record. As an example, when Lehi said to his sons: “And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:14, emphasis added), there are not two ways to interpret this—God created the earth and all things in it. 

Helaman teaching the Nephites who had gathered to listen to him


Or when Helaman taught: “And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free,” there is no different way to interpret that man is free to act for himself—the agency to choose right or wrong on his own.

The same can be said about the geography descriptions as well. After all, north is north and south is south despite John L. Sorenson’s attempt to claim a so-called “Nephite North” or “Mormon North” meaning “east and west,” not “north and south.” Mormon makes it clear with a lengthy description of the layout of the Land of Promise (Alma 22:27-35). Or that Nephi knew cardinal directions: “we traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction, and we did pitch our tents again; and we did call the name of the place Shazer” (1 Nephi 16:13, emphasis added).

Sometimes understanding is aided by a knowledge of Hebrew, and an understanding of ancient Hebrew/Jewish customs. Sometimes it is a knowledge of geologic facts and scientific principles. But in the end, it is not difficult to accurately interpret the meanings of the Book of Mormon geography.  The real issue is not to have a predetermined place or location in mind that clouds the true meaning of the writing.

• Comment: To clarify, are you saying that the entire Andes mountain range rose out of the water in only three hours?

Response: The Disciple Nephi, who experienced these events, makes it clear: “When the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease—for behold, they did last for  about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours—and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land” (3 Nephi 8:19, emphasis added).

• Comment: How is it possible for mountains to become valleys and other valleys to become mountains of great height?” 

Tectonic Plate Movement showing subduction of the low density Oceanic Plate beneath the more density South American Plate


Response: It is a matter of tectonic plates moving beneath the oceans and continents, constantly moving into one another, forcing one plate down below another, called subducting—the sliding of one plate beneath another. Typically, an oceanic plate slides under a continental plate because of the difference in density, causing earthquakes at the surface and pushes up the land, forming mountains—causing dramatic changes to the earth’s surface. This is because the lithosphere is pretty thin, even though it contains all of the crust and a thin slice of the upper mantle.

The asthenosphere beneath it, which is much more massive, moves very slowly as it is roiled by the much hotter rock beneath it forming convective currents in the asthenosphere which rise up in some places, moves laterally, and sinks down in other places.

Typically, this is a long-term event and these changes occur slowly, except for an initial earthquake which occurs suddenly at the surface, causing a tsunami, which is the displacement of a large volume of water generally caused by the earthquake. Tsunamis hit suddenly, with little warning, sometimes catastrophically, but always in a few hours or a day or two and its gone and the aftermath forgotten (except for those in the near-destroyed areas); however, when the Lord’s hand is involved (“darkness should cover the face of the whole earth for the space of three days” –Helaman 14:27), then the time frame is very quick by comparison (earth was divided in the days of Peleg) and the events can be quite noticeable (mountains rising from valleys “whose height is great” –Helaman 14:23).

• Comment: “How could an entire continent, or at least the area of Brazil, rise up out of the water as you say?”


Continental Crust or Plate is more dense than the Oceanic Crust or Plate, forcing the Oceanic Plate to subduct beneath the South American Plate


Response: Continental crust is less dense than oceanic crust. Older and colder oceanic crust is denser than younger oceanic crust. It is this difference in density that results in one plate sliding under the other as they are forced together. Subduction can occur between continental and oceanic crustal material, but also between two oceanic crusts of different density based on age. If the crust has the same density, the two plates pile up against one another. The Himalaya are an example of this, but the piling up effect also explains the massive Tibetan Plateau, which overall involves a much larger uplifted area, though not as massively high as the zone of collision at the Himalaya.

This is how Brazil, or more accurately the Amazonian Drainage Basin, which makes up about 35% of the present-day South American continent, rose up out of the water, resulting from this subduction of the Pacific Plate or the Nazca Plate beneath the South American Plate. As for mountains becoming valleys as Samuel the Lamanite prophesized (Helaman 14:23), subduction also involves a second element, which is down welling of the asthenosphere.

Although this is the vast change to the surface, and the raising of the Andes Mountains, such tectonic collision resulting from this collision on the surface, the motion of these two plates is also influenced by the asthenosphere beneath them, which is also in collision. This is where the downward leg of convective motion is taking place, and the earth above tends to flatten in places—such as the Amazonian Draining Basin.

When crust forms at the mid-ocean ridges it is somewhat hotter than the average that would be found on the sea floor. This is because it is thinner and the result is that it is also less dense than the average sea floor.

As the crust moves further from the mid-ocean ridges, it cools and thickens. As a result, the density increases. As it subducts beneath the Continental Plate, it pushes the Continental Plate upward, and in many cases, out of the water to form the land, as it did in both the Tibetan Plateau and South America.

(See the next post, “Questions About the Geography of the Book of Mormon – Part II,” for more questions about the geography and how certain areas were formed that cause a lot of difficulty for people to grasp or accept and reject South America as the location of Lehi’s landing in his Land of Promise)

Monday, April 26, 2021

Ancient Walls in North America? – Part III

Continued from the previous post regarding additional comments made by theorists regarding their interpretation of the information regarding claims that North America is the location of Lehi’s Land of Promise). The Third point regarding the hill in Manchester being the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon, and the assertion that the Book of Mormon places a town or city nearby the hill, it should be note that such a claim is spurious since there is no mention of such in the scriptural record. 

In Book of Mormon times, there was no city around the Hill Cumorah


In fact, Mormon and Moroni make it clear there was no city around the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon—at least they never said there was one, or inferred that there was such.

The first mention of the Hill Cumorah in Lehi’s Land of Promise is found in Mormon 6: “And now I finish my record concerning the destruction of my people, the Nephites. And it came to pass that we did march forth before the Lamanites. And I, Mormon, wrote an epistle unto the king of the Lamanites, and desired of him that he would grant unto us that we might gather together our people unto the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah, and there we could give them battle” (Mormon 6:1-2, emphasis added).

In addition, the best description of the Hill Cumorah in Lehi’s Land of Promise is also found in Mormon 6: “We did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites” (Mormon 6:4, emphasis added).

Note there is no mention of any settlement, town or city around the Hill Cumorah. The hill is also mentioned in chronological events:

1. At the end of 80th year (Mormon 5:6)

2. Three hundred and eighty and four years had passed away, we had gathered in all the remainder of our people unto the land of Cumorah” (Mormon 6:5, emphasis added);

Mormon burying the plates (all but those he gave to Moroni) before the final battle at Cumorah


3. “When we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old…therefore 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” (Moromn 6:6, emphasis added).

4. “We having survived the dead of our people, did behold on the morrow, when the Lamanites had returned unto their camps, from the top of the hill Cumorah, the ten thousand of my people who were hewn down” (Mormon 6:11, emphasis added)

5. “After the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed” (Mormon 8:2, emphasis added)

Once again, note there is no mention of any development around the Hill Cumorah. In fact, if one thinks about it with any equitable manner, coming to a town, village or city at Cumorah with at least an army of 230,000 people (not to mention the extensive amount of non-combatants, i.e., the old, infirmed, children, and many women), a people in a city would be overwhelmed by the sudden arrival and unable to handle the requirements of a quarter of a million people.

It would not take long for the army to use up whatever natural resources or food supplies of the city that might exist. Scuffles would, obviously, break out, turmoil would exist and both military and civilian leaders would be hard-pressed to maintain control.

Not only is there no mention of a city, it is highly unlikely that any such development or city existed anywhere near the Hill Cumorah.

Sometimes the farmers did build a wall out of the rocks they took from their planting fields, but stacked them in pilescalled cairns


As mentioned earlier, the argument North American theorists (both Heartland and Great Lakes models) use to show their beliefs and opinions to be backed by the scriptural record and their claims, are erroneous. The one, though, that seems to have the most questionable talking points are the so-called stone walls found in New England and upstate New York, though mostly in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Theorists who have their opinions about North America being Lehi’s Land of Promise, often develop them from viewing maps, hearing someone state their opinion about an area, or just plain supposition. However, quite often if they would have “boots on the ground” regarding their claims, they would never make them.

As an example, North American theorists point to the many “rock walls” found in New England, and scattered close around that area. Despite Mormon stating that Capt. Moroni “had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land” (Alma 48:8, emphasis added), they proceed to show a scattering of rocks, or low stacks of rocks, claiming this supports Mormon’s statement.

However, when one tarries long enough in New England, they find another story altogether. Now New England has really rocky soil. When European settlers arrived in New England, they set about clearing the land for agriculture. As they cleared it, however, they kept turning up rocks. What were they supposed to do with all these rocks? They built walls that served a variety of purposes, primarily as property lines and windbreaks. Sometimes they were also used to demarcate fields growing different crops, or to keep livestock in a given area. They also served as the foundations for settlers’ homes, and many old farmhouses and barns have sturdy fieldstone foundations to this day.

Some of the farm demarcation walls built after the Europeans arrived


In fact, New England has so many short stone walls, typically under three feet in height, though some are as high as 3½ feet, it is almost impossible to go anywhere outside a townhship and not see dozens in the first mile or so.

As for the stone walls in the middle of the woods? While there’s much talk by theorists that these walls could not have been borders or divisional lines, the outsider (not New Englander) has little knowledge of the area’s history as compared to its seemingly unchanged present. However, since the early 1800s, people have been leaving farming communities, which are losing populations, and old farms are often left abandoned—which have become overgrown and merged into part of the growing forests. This has resulted in there being almost no “old growth”—that is, current forests in the region, particularly in southern New England, especially Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, as well as elsewhere, were once fields, now thickly overgrown, and those walls were once what demarcated those fields. Sometimes the foundation of an old farmhouse will be stumbled over.

The point is, those rock walls that authors, theorists, historians and others have tried to place in an ancient time with an unknown people, simply have been around since the Europeans entered the land. After all, there is little history or factual data to suggest any of the indigenous “Indian” tribes that were known for clearing large fields and planting voluminous crops, which is why they did not have much in the way of stones for building—if building is what they intended to do, though that is questionable, given the state of their construction for many centuries.

Thus, it cannot be used by these theorists that stone walls are evidence that these were Nephite lands and were built at the direction of Capt. Moroni as many theorists claim.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Ancient Walls in North America? – Part II

Continued from the previous post regarding additional comments made by theorists regarding their interpretation of the information regarding claims that North America is the location of Lehi’s Land of Promise)

For the Second point about the hill in Manchester being the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon, take the story of John Sheldon Fisher, who created the first New York State Historic Site devoted to Native American Culture established in Victor, New York. The town is about 8 miles southwest of Palmyra, New York, and about 10 miles due west of the Manchester hill Cumorah.

Valentown Hall, now a museum in Victor, New York, is a landmark building and a rare example of 19th century architecture now on the National Historic Register, has remained almost unaltered since its original construction


In 1879, Levi and Alanson Valentine constructed the 4-story shopping plaza and community center (complete with underground parking) on a busy crossroads homestead owned by their grandfather, Ichabod Town, hoping the property would be a stop on the Pittsburgh, Shawmut, and Northern Railroad. However, the railroad went bankrupt and the center failed. In 1940 it was purchased by Langdon and Lillian Sheldon, who established the Historical Museum to house his diverse collection, which includes Iroquoian, Military, Scientific, Folklore, Genealogical interests of the man known as Hiawasees, a name given to him by the Seneca Indians in 1964 at the time of his adoption by the Heron Clan—a name meaning "the eagle who gathers news and history" and it is an appropriate handle for the man who has spent most of his life gathering, chronicling and preserving the history of Western New York.

Professionally, he has helped build the renowned archaeological collection of the Rochester Museum and Science Center and became the first county historian in Ontario County. Always active as a volunteer in community organizations, and shortly before his 80th birthday, in the summer of 1987, he was honored as the primary influence in the 42-year campaign that led to the dedication of Ganondagan, New York (Lewis F. Fisher, Victor Historical Society & Historic Valentown, 2002, Victor New York; J. Sheldon Fisher, The Fish Horn Alarm, Heart of the Lakes, 1994). s

In 1993, then 86-years old, Sheldon Fisher made the statement regarding the hill Cumorah in New York, that he “had a standing agreement with all of the bulldozer and backhoe guys. They would be doing jobs in the general area. “Many times I would beat them to the job, but, of all these years I have never found any kind of artifact around the hill [Cumorah] area. I’ve read the Book of Mormon trying to figure it out and spent several hours talking about the area's history. But I have never found any artifacts there—there just aren't any artifacts of the kind spoken of in that book around that hill.”

Arrowheads have been found in western New York, just not around the hill in Manchester


While theorists have often talked about the basketful of arrowheads and artifacts of the Nephite era found by early searchers in the Cumorah area, we see from a non-member living all his life in the area, and spending his life identifying and collecting arrowheads and ancient artifacts in western New York, and specifically around the Cumorah site, found none at all.

On the other hand, there have been Arrowheads found in Genesee County, New York, between Rochester and Buffalo, about 360 miles west of the hill Cumorah—another huge site is around Lake George, north of Sarasota Springs in northeastern New York, and 220 miles east of Cumorah. But none are on record as being found in the area of Cumorah

Another artifact hunter, Langdon G. Smith of New Haven, Vermont, a member of the Church who, upon his retirement, did archaeological investigations around the Hill Cumorah area in upstate New York. He had a great interest in archaeology, especially Native American artifacts, and was a popular speaker for students and community groups on artifact hunting in upstate New York, where he was given the name “Chief–Wanna-Talk-A-Lot”—a very apt description.

As he stated: “Working with the state archaeologists I get to see things the average person does not see. A while ago I saw the state site map for the state of New York. With my interest in history and pre-historic times, I looked around Palmyra. South of Syracuse on the east below this area there are several campsite areas as well as below Rochester to the west, but up around the Palmyra area it is several miles to the closest listed sites.”

Recently plowed fields are one of the best areas to find arrowheads and artefacts 


He certainly never found arrowheads at Cumorah, let along “baskets full of arrowheads,” as some theorists claim. Langdon Smith went on to say that “Wherever there are early American sites, collectors will find them. Plowed fields are the best places to look and there are plowed fields in the Palmyra area. On my own or as I work with professionals I find early sites. At this time I have found 298 new early American campsites. I have reported
these and obtained site numbers from the state historic preservation office, so I do have experience in searching out and finding sites.

Langdon Smith’s experience of finding nothing while artifact hunting in the fields surrounding the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra has often been quoted. Though he has found numerous ancient Indian sites in eastern New York, the closest one to the Palmyra area is 60 miles away—not at the hill Cumorah. There simply are no artifacts, arrowheads, nor broken flints that would have been left over from the making of arrowheads.

I have read the stories written by Mr. Bean and also Mrs. Samson as they lived in the Hill Cumorah area. Stories which state how they, when plowing in the area, would pick up arrowheads by the basketful and then sell them to the tourists. Having this interest in artifacts, I drove out to the Cumorah area [and] searched the field on the east, then went to the farm north of the Hill and asked to look through their fields. They stated that I was the first one that they knew of to go out looking for arrowheads
there. I did not find one single piece of evidence of any kind. There were not any arrowheads, nor were there any pieces of broken flints that would have been left over from the making [of arrowheads]. Chips are always left. Why pick them up? They are
waste. There are about 75–85% waste in making these arrowhead artifacts [and] any area where such a battle would have taken place would have been filled with such flakes, slabs, and chips in the various work areas that would have existed in a battle about six hundred thousand warriors (230,000 Nephites against an overwhelming Lamanite army)—there are none at the New York hill Cumorah site or around it.

No authenticated arrowheads were found within 60 miles of the hill in Manchester


“In archaeological report after report of New York, thousands upon thousands of arrowheads have been found from Lake George in northeastern New York state all through the state, even in the western upstate area, according to Christina Rieth, the state’s head archaeologist. Untold thousands of such arrowheads, pieces of stone tools and other artifacts dating way back into BC times, but nothing as recent as 400 AD that matches anything in the Book of Mormon (Joseph Lovell Allen and Blake Joseph Allen Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 2nd ed., Brigham Distributing, Brigham City, Utah, 2008, pp702–703).

(See the next post, “Ancient Walls in North America? – Part III,” for more of the comments made by theorists regarding their interpretation of the meaning) for the rest of the information regarding theorist claims that North America is the location of Lehi’s Land of Promise)

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Ancient Walls in North America? – Part I

The various cultures collectively termed "Mound Builders" were prehistoric, indigenous inhabitants of North America who, during a claimed 5,000-year period, constructed various styles of earthen mounds for religious, ceremonial, burial, and elite residential purposes. Theorists who cite North America as the location of Lehi’s Land of Promise have used this information to build their theory of Book of Mormon peoples’ occupation of the land.

The closest mound to the hill Cumorah in New York is at Newark, 9 miles away


An entire theory of Jaredite and Nephite possession of the land has thus been built on the presence of earthen mounds throughout the middle and some eastern states. The theorists’ claim these mounds were used for defense, and used as reference when Moroni was “throwing up banks of earth round about, to enclose his armies” (Alma 48:8).

However, the problem with this theory as it is with all theories, is that once an opinion is stated, there is a strong tendency to try and support it, rather than looking elsewhere when evidence to the contrary is found.

As an example, North American theorists, especially those who site the mound builders, have placed themselves in a difficult position—having stated emphatically that the Book of Mormon time period corresponds to the archaeological phases of the Late Archaic period (2500 to 1000 BC) being the Jaredites, and the Hopewell time period (100 BC until around 500 AD) being the Nephites, there was a period of time in between when the Adena, another mound-building people, ruled (1000 BC to 300 AD). Thus, these theorists had to claim there was an overlap and interaction between the Jaredites and the Nephites (David D. Robinson, Who Built the "Old Fort" on Bare Hill, The Crooked Lake Review, Keuka Lake, New York, 1997).

However, the Book of Mormon leaves no room for someone else to have existed between the Jaredites and the Nephites, so the theorists have to say that the Adena were a Jaredite and Nephite combination—that is, both peoples existed at the same time and interacted with one another. The problem is, there is no verification, reference or even hint of this in the scriptural record that these two civilizations had anything to do with each other, nor even that they lived at the same time.

From the hill Cumorah, the Jefferson County mound is 130 miles, and the Cooperstown mound is 154 miles. Nether are impressive


To strengthen their claim, North American theorists claim that there are significant ancient walls and trenches in the area of the hill in Manchester they call Cumorah, and that people have gathered thousands of arrowheads in the valley west of the hill—as well as on the hill itself. They also claim that the Book of Mormon places a town or city nearby.

These three claims of theorists do not stand up against scriptural and historical facts. Even some theorists disclaim the area in North America. John E. Clark, a professor at BYU in the archaeology department, has stated: “The archaeology of New York—and specifically the Hill Cumorah—is persuasive evidence that Book of Mormon peoples did not live in that region. By implication, the Cumorah of the golden plates is not the Cumorah of the final battles—Mormon’s hill and Moroni’s hill are not one and the same (John E. Clark “Archaeology and Cumorah Questions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol.13, no.1, BYU, Provo, 2004, pp144–151, 174).

While it is true that there are rare examples of ancient forts and trenches, such as Old Fort on Bare Hill in Middlesex, New York, 28 miles south of the hill Cumorah in Manchester, is claimed to be older than the Seneca (1000 AD), however, while the Seneca—part of the confederacy of Six Nations known as the Haudenosaunee called by others the Iroquois confederacy—encountered in the 1700s claimed they had not built the fort, the Seneca as a people date back to 1000 AD, and likely did and built several things unknown to their descendants, 700 years later.

It might be of interest to know that while South Hill, known to the Seneca as Nundawao and located at the head of Lake Canandaigua produced Seneca artifacts, Bear Hill, known to the Seneca as Genundewah, produced artifacts from a cultural group described as Algonkin, an Indigenous people of Eastern Canada down through eastern New York along the Atlantic Coast. The point is, there is really no knowledge of this “fort” that is now nothing but rubble, nor indication it was actually a fort, let alone that it would have dated nearly 1000 years earlier.

Rock walls have been found in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, all hundreds of miles from the Cumorah area. 

A forest grown up around a two-foot-high stone wall in Grafton, Vermont. This is the archetype wall for the crystalline metamorphic terrain of southern New England: a classic farmstead wall consisting of a single, un-coursed tier of stacked stone


According to Robert M. Thorson, a University of Connecticut geology professor and an expert on New England stone walls, big families with teenage boys, were put to work picking stones if they didn’t have another job to do. “They’d go build stone walls because they had that youthful testosterone and aggression,” Thorson said. As he noted in Stone by Stone, “The average farmer probably spent twenty-two times as much effort to heat his home as to clear his fields of stone.” Much of the work was done in the “off season,” when sowing and hoeing and harvesting weren’t on the agenda. Late fall and early winter were prime time for wall construction – before the snow came and the ground froze. He added that “New England fences were regulated by towns and generally were required to be four feet, six inches to five feet, six inches tall to keep cows out of the neighbors’ corn. “There are very few stone walls in the woods that are that high. They’re basically knee-high to thigh-high. That means they were not fences or walls in and of themselves” (Joe Rankin, “Writtren in Stone,” Northern Woodlands, Lyme, New Hampshire, Summer 2018). They were certainly not defensive walls, either.

(See the next post, “Ancient Walls in North America? – Part II,” for more of the comments made by theorists regarding their interpretation of the meaning) for the rest of the information regarding theorist claims that North America is the location of Lehi’s Land of Promise)

Friday, April 23, 2021

Who Said What, and What Did They Mean? – Part IV

Continued from the previous post, regarding the different opinions and attitudes theorists have about correlating their beliefs with the scriptural record.

Moroni “hiding the plates up in the earth”


Comment: “Nowhere does the text state that “Cumorah was not the resting place of the plates that Mormon gave to Moroni. The text is silent about the matter.”

Response: Exactly! We do not know where Moroni hid up the plates in 421 AD. It is always interesting when theorists claim the scriptural record does not say something, then go on to say that it means it could just the same did take place.

They never seem to think in terms of the opposite—if the scriptural record does not state something took place or existed, then it was not or did not happen! Unless there is other evidence that it did take place or exist. Thus, nowhere in the scriptural record does it state that the burial place of the plates was in the same place or hill that they were later disclosed to Joseph Smith and where he obtained them. The scriptural record and Joseph Smith’s writings are both silent about the matter. Thus, we must conclude that such was and is unknown!

After all, how could Moroni record the burial place of the plates before he buried them? Theoretically, he could have written, “I intend to bury these plates in the hill Cumorah,” but under the dangerous circumstances he was in, running and hiding from the Lamanites, writing such an intention would be pointless since he could not say where he might be at the time he intended to hide up the records.

This is not rocket science—he could not have said with certainty before the hiding, and afterward he would be unable since he no longer had the plates to write on. Thus, we simply do not know. For theorists to keep saying Moroni said where he was going to hide the places, other than in the ground (Mormon 8:4), is merely speculation and not proof of, or support for, burial in the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon—just in the earth.

Second, to recount this, Mormon tells us that: “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). 

Mormon hid the records in the Hill Cumorah save the few he gave to his son, Moroni, which few were the records Moroni gave to Joseph Smith


What “few plates” Mormon gave to Moroni were those upon which Moroni completed his father’s record, abridged his translation of Ether, and then compiled his own work. So at least we know that those “few plates” contained the record from Mormon to the end. And since Mormon states “I made this record out of the plates of Nephi,” referring to one record, then stated, “and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord,” evidently referring not only to second set of records, but those from which he abridged his record (stated as “this record” in Mormon 6:6). Then he added, “except these few plates I gave unto my son Moroni,” thus explaining that his record was the record he gave to his son in which he called them “these few plates.” These, of course, are the same plates that Mormon much earlier stated that he had to deliver to his son when he wrote him a letter, which Moroni included in his own work, “And if it so be that they perish, we know that many of our brethren have deserted over unto the Lamanites, and many more will also desert over unto them; wherefore, write somewhat a few things, if thou art spared and I shall perish and not see thee; but I trust that I may see thee soon; for I have sacred records that I would deliver up unto thee” (Moroni 9:24, emphasis added).

Of these plates, Moroni only says, “Therefore I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not” (Mormon 8:4), later he added, “And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you” (Moroni 10:2). However, at no time does Moroni say where he “buried in the Earth” or hid up the records upon which he was writing, the records (the few plates) his father gave to him.

Theorists have speculated and members assumed, that they were buried in the Hill Cumorah by Moroni at that time, around 421 AD. However, we do not know what Moroni did with the plates in 421 AD, or at any time prior to Joseph Smith obtained them where Moroni directed him to—in the hill in Manchester, in upstate western New York. 

Did Moroni bury them in the hill Cumorah stated in the scriptural record, in the Land of Many Waters, Rivers and Fountains, in the Land Northward? We do not know that. Nor do we know that he buried the plates in what was known to him in his mortal life as the Land of Promise. We only know that the records ended up in a nondescript hill near the area where Joseph Smith, Sr., moved his family to Palmyra Village in 1817, and then out into the log house on the farm along the Palmyra-Manchester border in 1819, which was a year before Joseph had his First Vision in the Sacred Grove in 1820.

When the plates were buried in the stone box on side of the hill in New York is not known and cannot be determined from the written record of Moroni. Nor does he tell Joseph Smith when the plates were buried in the hill where Joseph obtained them. To say that this is the one and only hill the plates were buried in solves no problem, because Moroni could have transported them over any distance and in any direction from where he lived out his life—and it could have been done while he still lived, or it could have been done as a translated being.

Comment: “Lettter VII should prove to anyone with half a brain that the hill Cumorah was in New York, not Central America.”

Response: First, you are right—the Hill Cumorah of the scriptural record was not in Central or Mesoamerica. However, that does not mean it was the same as the hill in Manchester, New York, where Joseph Smith obtained the plates. Second, as for Letter VII, the Editorial Note in Joseph Smith History 1834-1836, Joseph Smith Papers, published by the Church, which preceds the eight letters is meaningful: 

The following section includes transcripts of eight letters, written in 1834 and 1835 regarding Joseph Smith visions of an angel and his discovery of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon. Cowdery addressed the letters to William W. Phelps, and published them as a series in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate between October 1834 and October 1835. The titles and formatting employed in this history are similar to those in the published series of articles, indicating that the Cowdery letters were copied into the history from the Messenger and Advocate, not from a manuscript version of the letters.

“Oliver Cowdery composed the letters to inform the Latter-day Saints of the history of their church, but he also wrote for the non-Mormon public. Employing florid (elaborately or excessively intricate or complicated) romantic language (such as in a novel), frequent scriptural allusions (brief reference), and much dramatic detail (meant to stir the imagination and emotions deeply), he clearly intended to present a rhetorically (intended to impress or persuade) impressive account of early Mormon history. He placed the rise of the church in a dispensational framework, characterizing the time between the end of the New Testament and Joseph Smith’s early visions as a period of universal apostasy. He included the revivalism of various denominations during the Second Great Awakening, which Joseph Smith experienced in his youth, as an example of the doctrinal confusion and social disharmony present in Christendom (italics: added definitions for better understanding). The eight letters follow.

Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, often shortened to Messenger and Advocate, was an early Latter-day Saint monthly newspaper published in Kirtland, Ohio, from October 1834 to September 1837. It was the successor to The Evening and the Morning Star, and the predecessor to the Elders’ Journal. In it, Cowdery’s eight letters to Phelps were published over the length of a year.

The point is, that theorists often state inaccurate information or make it up, in an effort to support their point of view and model of the location of the Land of Promise. As these theorists evidently believe, to make a claim is sufficient to proving a point. However, no matter how many times one makes the claim, there is no evidence from professionals of the area whose livelihood is involved in the finding, cataloguing and displaying of such arrowheads or other such artifacts in, on, or around the hill Cumorah in New York!


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Who Said What, and What Did They Mean? – Part III

Continued from the previous post, regarding the different opinions and attitudes theorists have about correlating their beliefs with the scriptural record.

Comment: “The early Saints referred to the hill in Manchester as the Hill Cumorah, which should show that the tradition was correct, and that the Saints’ communal interpretation of history influenced Joseph’s descriptions of that history. Joseph not only allowed the communal creation of the hill name but embraced it."

Response: First of all, the early Saints only began calling the hill in Manchester, “Cumorah” after Oliver Cowdery’s publication of his Letter VII to William W. Phelps in July, 1835, five years after the Church was organized. Prior to that it had no name and was referred to in many ways as we have discussed earlier. Second, as far as we know, Joseph Smith never embraced the name or term Hill Cumorah for the hill in New York—had he, there would be some record of it. In fact, as said earlier, he never referred to it as anything other than “the hill where the plates were buried,” or just plain “the hill.” Generally, even when talking to his immediate family, he used only the term “the hill” when referring to the hill in Manchester.

This is seen on the occasions where Joseph had perfect opportunity to expand on the hill and its name, if any. The fact that it was “the hill” to him might be sufficient to assume that he did not think of it as having any name at all. And as for members calling it the hill Cumorah, he still did not use that name, but continued to call it “the hill.”

All of Oliver Cowdery’s letters to W.W.Phelps were first published in the “Messenger and Advocate” newspaper which replaced the Evening and Morning Star that was destroyed by a mob in Independence, Missouri


Comments: “Phelps writings which he published, show an understanding of the work Joseph accomplished. As he wrote: ‘It was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles-(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim ["lights"] and Thummim ["perfections]. Therefore, it is plausible that just as Phelps was the one to associate the interpreters with Urim and Thumim of the Bible, one of Joseph’s companions made the association between the hill from which the plates were taken with the hill in which Mormon had hid the plates—how did he know that unless Joseph told him.”

Response: It is interesting that theorists often leave out of a statement, they are quoting, the rest of a statement because it does not agree with their point of view. As the case of William W. Phelps, in the statement of how Joseph translated the plates, the theorist did not complete the last sentence, which read: “There is no evidence of anyone publishing speculation about the association of the hill in New York with Cumorah in the Book of Mormon.”

It is evident here that the theorist is confusing Cowdery’s testimony of the translation process with Cowdery’s opinion about the hill Cumorah. These are two entirely different issues, which he lumps together. One can accept Cowdery’s factual testimony of the translation process, yet still disagree with his opinion of Cumorah in New York being the hill Cumorah of the scriptural record—just like one can disagree with his 1838 statement that the Lord told him the Church was in error and the leaders were all falling away from the truth, but accept his testimony about the truthfulness of the Church as it appears in the introductory pages of the Book of Mormon (See “Testimony of Jacob Gates,” Improvement Era, March 1912, pp418–419. Elder Gates was later one of the seven Presidents of the Seventy in the Church, from 1862 to 1892; also see David H. Cannon, Autobiography, 13 March 1917, 5; photocopy of holograph in possession of BYU professor Richard Lloyd Anderson).

1907 photo of the low-lying drumlin hill that is about three miles southeast of the Smith farm along the Manchester-Palmyra border in western New York. In Joseph’s time the north end was covered with grass, the south with scattered timber and forests


Another statement by Joseph Smith that became widespread knowledge of an event that happened in 1827. “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.” Again, “The messenger . . . told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates.”

Joseph further described the hill as “Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. 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 (Joseph Smith—History 1:51).

Joseph also said, “On the twenty-second day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me (Joseph Smith—History 1:59.)

All of these were written after 1839—certainly by then the hill was called “Cumorah” by most of the early members, but Joseph Smith still referred to it merely as “the hill.”

An earlier comment made by Joseph Smith in1838, bears this out, which was printed in the “Answers to Questions,” Elders’ Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (July 1838): pp42-43, which reads:

Moroni instructs Joseph regarding the plates on the hill in Manchester New York


Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon?

Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County New York, being dead; and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them (emphasis added).

Comment: “There are two major issues that support the hill in New York being the same as that found in the Book of Mormon: 1] Oliver Cowdery claimed the two Cumorah hills were one in the same, and located near Palmyra, New York; and 2] David Whitmer claims to have heard Moroni saying he was going to the hill Cumorah when stopped along the road.”

Response: First, the road indicated was the route to Fayette (from Harmony Pennsylvania), and Secondly, David Whitmer, said immediately afterward and 58 years later that the person Joseph Smith identified as the angel Moroni, that “he was going to Cumorah.” No “hill” was mentioned, though Heartland and Great Lakes theorists love to insert “hill Cumorah,” in this story of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, along with David Whitmer going to Fayette. They were driving a horse-drawn wagon along a deserted country road and came upon a man walking in the same direction.  David looked to Joseph for instruction and Joseph told David to offer the man a ride, but the man declined and stated that he was heading to Cumorah. At the time, the name Cumorah was not known to David, so he turned to Joseph for an explanation. When David looked back the man had disappeared. Upon inquiry, Joseph identified the man as Moroni and Joseph told the others that Moroni was safely transporting the plates to the Whitmer Farm in Fayette and would return the plates to Joseph once they arrived.”

The hill in Manchester people since Joseph Smith’s time called the Hill Cumorah. It is a low-lying drumlin hill, and does not match Mormon’s descriptions


There simply was no mention of a hill. Nor do we know what Moroni meant by the singular term Cumorah. As an example, the term Cumorah, as used in the scriptural record applies to two physical locations: 1) the Land of Cumorah, and 2) the Hill Cumorah. If Moroni meant the hill, he did not say so, and it would be in opposition to what Joseph Smith said Moroni told him, and if he meant the hill, why didn’t’ he say so—and why would he be going there since it was 30 miles beyond Fayette (and not even on a direct line) where Joseph said he was going. Is it possible the term “Cumorah” meant something else to Moroni that is unknown to us? Or, if he meant the land of Cumorah, then Fayette might possibly have been within that area that Moroni knew as the Land of Cumorah in his mortal lifetime (Mormon 6:2).

The point is, we simply do not know and the statement cannot be used to support a claim that the hill Cumorah in New York being the same hill as that stated in the scriptural record.

Therefore, what is the point of these two unsubstantiated claims as well as their purpose in repeatedly citing them since one claim is strictly an opinion, and the other is without explanation or purpose in light of Joseph Smith saying Moroni told him he was heading to Fayette, making the hill Cumorah incorrect from what Moroni said.

(See the next post, “Who Said What, and What Did They Mean? – Part IV,” for more of the comments made by theorists regarding their interpretation of the meaning)