Thursday, April 28, 2016

Accounting for all the evidence, including Cumorah

Mark Allen Wright offered what I consider the best effort by a Mesoamerican advocate to account for all the evidence with his excellent article "Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography." However, in my view, Brother Wright erred on his analysis of Cumorah and got the geography backward. We should embrace the hinterland concept, but I think a North American Core and a Mesoamerican Periphery fits all the evidence.

Here's how Brother Wright addresses Cumorah: "If any specific Book of Mormon site is known for sure, it must be the Hill Cumorah, right? We know that Moroni buried the plates in Cumorah anciently and that Joseph Smith dug them up there. Or do we? To be clear, Moroni never says that he buried the plates in the Hill Cumorah, and there are no firsthand accounts indicating that Joseph Smith ever referred to the hill in New York by the name Cumorah. In fact, a careful reading of Mormon 6:6 makes it clear that all of the Nephite records were buried in Cumorah except the abridgment that would become the Book of Mormon."

This is the Mormon's Cumorah vs Moroni's Cumorah argument that David Palmer and John Clark relied on to conclude that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites could not have taken place in New York, as I've discussed elsewhere.

Comments to Brother Wright's article point out some of the problems, such as Theodore Brandley's comment here: "Both Book of Mormon civilizations ended at Cumorah. All of the documentary evidence indicates that was it was Moroni who stated that Cumorah was the ancient name of the hill in New York. Your suggestion that Mormon 6:6 indicates that the plates of Mormon could not have been buried in ancient Cumorah is also false reasoning. The fact that Mormon gave these plates to Moroni does not preclude Moroni from burying them in the same hill about 35 years later." Brother Brandley also cites the "six documentary sources that confirm it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, that the hill in Palmyra was anciently known as Cumorah."

Nowhere does Brother Wright mention, let alone address, Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII. Nor do any of the comments to the article.

Hopefully by now everyone reading this blog knows that Letter VII unequivocally states, as a "fact," that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. Readers also know that Joseph Smith helped Oliver Cowdery write the letters, that Joseph had his scribes copy them into his journal as part of his history, and that Letter VII was published with the other in the Messenger and Advocate, the Times and Seasons, the Gospel Reflector, and in a stand-alone pamphlet in 1844.

IOW, during Joseph's lifetime, it was universally accepted, as a fact, that the Hill Cumorah--both Mormon's and Moroni's--was in New York. It was in his context that Joseph wrote D&C 128: "Glad tidings from Cumorah!"

No student of the Book of Mormon should ignore Letter VII. I hope every member of the Church today reads it, as they did in Kirtland and Nauvoo when Joseph was alive.

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I began my analysis of Book of Mormon geography decades ago as a seminary student while living in Germany. Then I went to BYU and learned the Mesoamerican theory in more detail. For decades, I accepted it by default, but the two-Cumorah theory on which it depends never felt right. I didn't realize until much later that Joseph Fielding Smith had specifically addressed that theory in the 1930s, stating that "because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith of the Book of Mormon."

No truer words about this topic have ever been written. The evidence of that is all around us today.

President Smith went on to write, "It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located [in New York] as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."

Among other things, he cited Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII and notes that the letters "were written at the Prophet's request and under his personal supervision." He points out that Letter VII was published in the Messenger and Advocate and the Times and Seasons. Apparently President Smith didn't know that Joseph had also instructed his scribes to copy the letters into his journal (something I didn't know until I searched in the Joseph Smith Papers) and had given Benjamin Winchester express permission to publish them in the Gospel Reflector.

The more we learn, the more we realize President Smith was right all along.
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