- Letter VII is accurate: there is one Cumorah and it is in New York.
- Cumorah in New York is the site of Mormon’s repository (Mormon 6:6) and the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites.
- The final battles of the Jaredites involved thousands of people, but fewer than 10,000. The final battles of the Nephites involved tens of thousands of people on all sides, but fewer then 100,000.
- Joseph and Oliver translated two different sets of plates.
- The plates were “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home.
Advocates of every alternative generally feel the same way about their own perspectives—including the detractors who don't accept the Book of Mormon as an authentic divine translation of an actual history.
For many years, I, too, could not "unsee" Mesoamerica in the text. But that changed once I learned about a few critical facts and re-examined the text from another perspective.
Critics could say my biases changed, and all I'm doing is confirming my new biases.
Let's lay out our biases and let others see which biases they most closely identify with.
Here are the respective biases as I understand them, based on writings, speeches, presentations and conversations. I’ve tried to be as accurate and succinct as possible. If I'm wrong about any of these, I’d like to know.
Put a checkmark next to the bias that is closest to yours.
__ My bias: I accept Letter VII’s teachings on Cumorah. Oliver Cowdery was credible and reliable because of his personal experience with (i) Joseph Smith, (ii) the plates, (iii) ministry of angels, (iv) his calling as Assistant President of the Church, and (v) his visits to the repository itself. I accept Oliver’s claim that Joseph Smith helped him write the eight historical letters, including Letter VII. I also think Joseph fully endorsed the letters on multiple occasions.
__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Oliver Cowdery was not credible or reliable about anything, including Cumorah, and he was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church. Joseph Smith passively accepted and perpetuated a false tradition about the New York Cumorah.
The Golden Plates and the Cumorah messenger
Facts: Joseph claimed he obtained a set of plates, a breastplate, and a pair of spectacles or translators from a box made of stone and cement. Oliver Cowdery described the box in detail.
__ Traditional Church history bias: Joseph obtained only one set of plates from Moroni’s box, of which he translated part in Harmony and part in Fayette. David Whitmer may or may not have recalled the incident with the messenger accurately. Although they are not mentioned in the Title Page, the plates of Nephi were always in the set of plates Joseph originally got from Moroni. Witnesses described the plates differently because they were confused or just wrong. We don’t know why he translated the Title Page on the last leaf of the plates before he translated the plates of Nephi. D&C 10 tells Joseph he has to translate the plates of Nephi because they were a replacement for the Book of Lehi, but he had the plates of Nephi all along.
__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with.
__ Meso bias: The Title Page doesn’t mention the original plates of Nephi because Moroni didn’t know they were included or he forgot to mention them. Joseph translated the Title Page either in Harmony before leaving for Fayette or after he arrived in Fayette because he needed to get it printed and sent to the court to register the copyright. We don’t know where it was printed, but probably not in Grandin’s shop. D&C 10 tells Joseph he has to translate the plates of Nephi to replace the Book of Lehi, but he had the plates of Nephi all along. It’s not clear why he translated the last leaf before he translated the plates of Nephi.
__ Anti/Former LDS bias: None of this matters. Neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with.
Facts. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others said there was a repository in the Hill Cumorah that was full of artifacts and metal records as mentioned by Mormon (Mormon 6:6). Orson Pratt said there were two departments in the hill Cumorah; one for the repository, and the other for Moroni’s box.
__ Meso bias: Brigham Young and others may have accurately reported what Oliver and others said about entering the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York, but it was merely a vision of a hill in Mexico, which these men shared multiple times. David Whitmer was unreliable and not credible when he explained that the plates were no longer in Cumorah but were not far from there because the plates were either taken by an angel or had never left the repository in Mexico.
__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with, and no repository except, maybe, a "visionary" one.
The Liahona and Sword of Laban
Facts: The Three Witnesses said an angel appeared and showed them the plates, turning them over one-by-one, and testifying that they had been translated correctly. At the time, none of the witnesses said they handled the plates, although they subsequently claimed they did. Joseph came home and told his parents he was relieved because now others had seen the plates. There was no mention of the Liahona or Sword of Laban at the time, nor did Joseph or Oliver ever say these artifacts were in Moroni’s stone box.
__ Traditional Church history bias: Either the Liahona and Sword of Laban were in Moroni’s stone box all along and Joseph kept them hidden (as depicted in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square), or the angel miraculously produced them in June 1829 near Fayette, along with the table and piles of other plates that are not mentioned in D&C 17 or the official statement of the Three Witnesses.
__ Anti/Former LDS bias: None of these artifacts were in Moroni’s stone box or in any repository because they never existed.
__ My bias: Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, WW. Phelps, William Smith, and others invoked the discovery of ancient ruins in Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon to support their zealous missionary efforts. In addition, anonymous articles appeared in the Times and Seasons during 1842, when Joseph was the nominal editor. Joseph had nothing to do with these articles. Joseph never made a single direct link between the Book of Mormon and Central America, and actually made specific statements repudiating that theory. Alleged correspondences between the Book of Mormon and Central America are illusory because they are characteristics of most ancient societies. Joseph's statements about North America fit the text and relevant anthropology, archaeology, geology, and geography.
__ Traditional Church history bias: Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, WW. Phelps, William Smith, and others invoked the discovery of ancient ruins in Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon to support their zealous missionary efforts. In addition, anonymous articles appeared in the Times and Seasons during 1842, when Joseph was the actual editor. Joseph actually wrote these articles, or at least edited and approved of them, because he didn't know where the Book of Mormon took place. We don’t have enough evidence to know about the geography one way or the other.
__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except modern LDS scholars and educators can't point to any evidence directly connecting the Book of Mormon text to Central America or anywhere else.
Facts: Every one of Joseph's contemporaries expressed or accepted the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah. Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes in the official edition of the Book of Mormon specified, unequivocally, that the Hill Cumorah was in New York, while he acknowledged his identification of other sites was speculative, or "believed to be." Beyond Joseph's contemporaries, Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Peterson and others reaffirmed the New York Cumorah, including in General Conference addresses, while no General Authority has ever contradicted the New York Cumorah in General Conference.
__ My bias: Every one of these prophets and apostles was correct about Cumorah.
__ Meso bias: Every one of these prophets and apostles was speculating about the New York Cumorah and was wrong.
__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except the prophets and apostles were not only speculating and were wrong about Cumorah, but about everything else as well.