Why Geography Matters
WHY GEOGRAPHY MATTERS by Rian Nelson
THE BOOK OF MORMON IN NORTH AMERICA
I want to share with you some brief quotes from prophets and apostles that clearly speak about the Hill Cumorah in New York being the only Hill Cumorah. The Church Educaton System (CES) for years has taught about the two Cumorah theory which I believe is just not accurate. I know many in the Church, like me have been looking to make sense of why Mexico has occupied the minds of Saints in the church for so many years. I feel I have found answers that “just make sense.” I know wonderful Lamanites are found in many places of North and South America, but I feel the main events spoken of in the Book of Mormon happened in the Heartland of North America.
I have researched and studied and found secondary evidences about the Book of Mormon in North America. My testimony is based on solid spiritual confirmation of this Church and the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I am not trying to prove my point or to prove anyone wrong. It is fine with me for others to believe Book of Mormon geography happened in Central America, and there are those who really don’t care. I have been trying for over 40 years to find the other Cumorah somewhere in Central America and I had become complacent as I had never found any answers. In about 2011 I learned what an Indian Mound was, and since then I have been a solid believer that The Book of Mormon events happened in the Heartland of North America. There are hundreds of thousands of ancient mounds, fortifications, cities, and artifacts all over the United States that I have researched. I know there are Lamanites in Central America and in other countries, but they are not necessarily the ones spoken of in the Book of Mormon time frame. The Book of Mormon only contains a fraction of the history of the Promised Land Lehites. But, I believe that small fraction of history speaks about Lehi, and Nephi, and Alma, and Mormon as they lived and fought in these United States.
Why does the geography matter? Think of that question if we are speaking about Israel. Does it matter where the Savior was born, or where the Biblical events happened? Yes. At Mount Moriah where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord made a special covenant with Abraham. The land around Mt Moriah was a covenant land and God’s people were given that covenant land as long as they are righteous. However, if they disobey the commandments, God’s people will be swept off that sacred land. The Jews, Muslims, and Christians fight over control over this one piece of land why? Because it is a beautiful piece of real estate? No, because it is a covenant land. All three religions say Mt Moriah is sacred to them and they are willing to die over it.
In the same token what is the Promised Land spoken of in the Book of Mormon? According to the Book of Mormon this Promised land must meet certain requirements to be the Promised Land. 1. No Kings upon the land 2. Land choice above all other lands 3. Land of Liberty 4. Land where sacred record is kept 5. Land kept from the knowledge of other nations. 6. Land of the New Jerusalem 7. Gentiles to scatter and afflict the Remnant. These are only 7 of 36 prophesies and promises in the Book of Mormon and so only the USA can be the Promised land, not Canada, or Mexico, or South America. Video Here
Just as Israel is a Promised Land forever, so the USA is a Promised Land forever and it does matter where this Promised Land is located. It is in the Heartland of North America. The Nephites practiced the Law of Moses. To do this they needed the following plants and animals to keep the Law. Sheep, Rams, Goats, Bullocks, Doves, Wheat, Barley, and Wine. None of these animals or items are found anywhere in Meso-America during the Nephites times, only in the USA. So, the land and where things happen is critical to us and especially to the Lord. SEE HERE
If we in the church cannot even decide among ourselves where the Book of Mormon happened, how confusing is that to our youth and adults? The Anti-Mormons love the idea that we don’t even know where our sacred scriptures happened. There are over 100 theories of where the Book of Mormon happened, including, Baja, Chile, Malaysia, Honduras, Peru, etc.
I love the Church and I know the Brethren of the Church take a neutral position on the geography. I support the Brethren and know they speak the words of truth. There are many CES members and other BYU professors that teach the Two Cumorah theory and won’t consider other options. that is not a neutral stand. The educated ridicule this Heartland Model and won’t even take time to read about it. That is sad. For you and I to take a neutral stand is not required. The Lord told us to read and study, and in the promise to Moroni, He said we may know the truth of ALL things, and that would include knowing the location of the Book of Mormon events. I feel I know this location to be the United States of America. I will support and follow the Brethren where ever they say it is located, but what if they never tell us and we find out it was our duty as Latter-day Saints to find this out on our own? I would just love for all to consider a North American setting for the Book of Mormon. I believed as many others did about two Cumorahs for 40 years But, with new information in the Joseph Smith Papers and Letter VII written by Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in 1835, I am so excited about the new knowledge the Lord is sending us today to strengthen our testimonies. Another new truth we learn is that Joseph Smith translated two separate sets of plates. Most people have never heard about that. Jonathan Neville is an amazing Church History researcher and he has a new book titled, “Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates”. I believe it is true and it is explained in the new josephpapers.org website. It will make sense to you as you read and pray about it. Is it critical to our salvation? No. But is it cool? Yes. There is so much we can learn and I love it.
I know if you read these few quotes below, you will be able to feel the power of these brethren and as you study and pray about it, I feel you will learn some new truths about the Hill Cumorah. I haven’t found one quote of Joseph Smith speaking about a Hill Cumorah in Mexico, yet I have found hundreds of Apostles, Prophets, and Saints discuss just One Cmuorah as you will see below. If you believe Joseph Smith said something in the Times and Seasons about Cumorah in Mexico, you are wrong. Read this book. HERE
There is “ONE CUMORAH” AND “TWO SETS OF PLATES”
Prophet & Apostle Quotes Below:
- “…Here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed. By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon, you will read Mormon’s account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt.” Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VIIJoseph Smith Papers “Letter VII,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, 1:155–159 .
- “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!” D&C 128:20
- “The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity… During our travels we visited several of the mounds which had been thrown up by the ancient inhabitants of this country-Nephites, Lamanites, etc.” Joseph Smith Papers Letter to Emma Smith, 4 June 1834 Page 56
- “I do not believe that the classrooms or the pulpits of our Church are for laboratory purposes in which to experiment with new doctrines and speculative notions. They are exclusively for the use of those who are willing to convert men and women and boys and girls to the truth. . . . I do not believe we should give credence to the highly speculative theories about Book of Mormon geography. I do not believe that there were two Hill Cumorahs, one in Central America and the other one up in New York, for the convenience of the Prophet Joseph Smith, so that the poor boy would not have to walk clear to Central America to get the gold plates. I do not believe we can be good Latter-day Saints and question the integrity of Joseph Smith. I do not believe we can be good Latter-day Saints and question the testimony of the eleven witnesses of the Book of Mormon. I do not believe you have a testimony of the truth if you question the accuracy of the translation of the Book of Mormon.” Mark E. Petersen LDS Conference Reports, Sunday afternoon, April 5, 1953
- “…This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case… It is known that the Hill Cumorah where the Nephites were destroyed is the hill where the Jaredites were also destroyed. This hill was known to the Jaredites as Ramah. It was approximately near to the waters of Ripliancum, which the Book of Ether says, “by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all… It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains. Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon. Further, the fact that all of his associates from the beginning down have spoken of it as the identical hill where Mormon and Moroni hid the records, must carry some weight. It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery. Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the Spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah, and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of this hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite manner is an established record of history.” Doctrines of Salvation Joseph Fielding Smith Chapter 12
- “On the top of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three altars having been erected one above the other, according to the ancient order; and the remains of bones were strewn over the surface of the ground. The brethren procured a shovel and a hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot, discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs the stone point of a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death. Elder Burr Riggs retained the arrow. The contemplation of the scenery around us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms; and subsequently the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick-set man, and a man of God. His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky mountains. The curse was taken from Zelph, or, at least, in part-one of his thigh bones was broken by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, years before his death. He was killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites.” Joseph Smith Papers History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834], Page 483
- “The United States is the promised land foretold in the Book of Mormon—a place where divine guidance directed inspired men to create the conditions necessary for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”Elder L. Tom Perry Ensign Dec. 2012
Concerning the Mesoamerica Virtual Map
by Rian Nelson
I don’t see how a virtual map of the Book of Mormon lands helps us in any way. I don’t think Book of Mormon geography can be placed in a virtual world like a video game. We don’t know when prophets say “up” in the Book of Mormon, they are traveling north, or maybe traveling up in elevation and going south. Nowhere does it say the river Sidon flows north. In the Index of the Triple combination it says ” Sidon, River—most prominent river in Nephite territory.” It doesn’t mention what direction it travels. When Ether 10:20 says the “Sea divides the land” that speaks of the Great Lakes dividing the land around them, and not the Isthmus of Tehuantepec which is a place where the “Land divides the Sea.” Rather than arguing about the geography we should listen to revelation. D&C 128 talks about Cumorah being in the vicinity of Susquehanna, and Fayette in the northern part of New York. The Church has sacred land at Cumorah in upstate NY. They don’t have an ensign to Cumorah in Mesoamerica. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote Letter VII in 1835 which says the place of the final battles was at Hill Cumorah in NY. Joseph’s vision of Zelph says he was a warrior in one of the last battles of the Book of Mormon, and Zelph was buried near the Illinois River close to Griggsville, IL. Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Emma on June 4, 1834 saying he (Joseph) was picking up the skulls and bones of that once beloved people of the Lord. (Nephites). This was near the Mississippi River close to Atlas, IL and Louisiana, MO., not in Mesoamerica. You can argue about D&C 125, but I believe the Lord would have Joseph put the name of “Zarahemla” for the reason of it being the same Zarahemla as in the Book of Mormon. Forget geography, listen to Joseph and Oliver when he was the Assistant President of the Church. Mark E Petersen said in 1953 “I do not believe that there were two Hill Cumorah’s, one in Central America and the other one up in New York, for the convenience of the Prophet Joseph Smith, so that the poor boy would not have to walk clear to Central America to get the gold plates.” Ask a Mesoamerican proponent and they believe in Two-Cumorahs, which I think is not correct. I believed that for 40 years until I recently began listening to General Authorities. George Albert Smith said ” Looking over the surrounding country we remembered that two great races of people had wound up their existence in the vicinity, had fought their last fight, and that hundreds of thousands had been slain within sight of that hill.” (George Albert Smith, Conference Report, April 1906, Third Day—Morning Session p. 56) and Marion D. Romney said, “Millennia ago he declared: “There shall none come into this land [he was speaking of America] save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord… In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation… Thus perished at the foot of Cumorah the remnant of the once mighty Jaredite nation, of whom the Lord had said, “There shall be none greater … upon all the face of the earth.” (Ether 1:43.)… This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites, flourished in America between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400. Their civilization came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites…” America’s Destiny Marion G. Romney Oct 1975
These are quotes from prophets, and apostles that show the Book of Mormon events happened in “The Promised Land” of the Untied States of America. Why need we look further? August 08, 2017
Update on abstract maps
by Jonathan Neville See Here
Everything I wrote there still stands, including the comments, but I’m writing this post because this BYU quasi-official abstract map seems to be on its way to becoming part of the curriculum, if it isn’t already.
(Well, I know it is part of the curriculum at BYU, but I suspect it’s on the way to becoming part of the broader curriculum).
The Daily Universe published an article about it here:
There is an appeal for donations here:
In my opinion, the more this map is disseminated, the more damage it will do.
In my previous post, I noted this:
“I’m not criticizing the people who put this map together, and I’m not criticizing those who published it, because I think they are well-intentioned and I like the map because it is at least ambiguous (i.e., there is no actual place on Earth that looks like this)…
“However, I think it’s a mistake to create an abstract map of the Book of Mormon in the first place, because the process requires a series of assumptions not required by the text, and the mere creation of the map transforms a theory into an artificial reality. Images such as this create their own reality in the mind of the viewer, and it becomes difficult to dislodge the image while reading the text. For example, this abstract map essentially codifies an interpretation of “narrow neck of land” that I think is inconsistent with–or at least not required by–the text.”
The web page makes this claim:
This map is based on the descriptions found in the book, not on any particular place within the known world. Since it is based strictly on those descriptions, it is one of the most accurate maps of the Nephite and Lamanite world.
I’m sure you can already see the logical fallacies here, but I’ll point out some anyway.
This map is based on the descriptions found in the book. Actually, as you can see for yourself, the map is not based on the descriptions in the book. It is based on someone’s interpretation of the description in the book.
This is the logical fallacy that accompanies all the proposed map–even mine, in Moroni’s America. The text doesn’t speak for itself; it’s inherently too vague. Everyone reads the text according to his/her own interpretation.
Why do people claim their maps are based on the text instead of admitting it’s their interpretation of the text? Because when people work together to reach a “consensus” they come to believe they have come up with the “correct” interpretation. Scholars and educators actually think that they have accomplished something that they also think Joseph and Oliver could not and did not; i.e., correctly interpret the Book of Mormon.
(The Council of Springville was another example.)
not on any particular place within the known world. This fallacy is the point of the next section of this blog post, but think about this a moment. Can anyone imagine a Biblical scholar trying to find Sinai without reference to a known spot in the world? What Biblical scholar would use an “abstract” map of the Bible to understand it? What Bible teacher would use an abstract map to teach the Bible?
The obvious “particular place” they want to avoid is Cumorah in New York.
Since it is based strictly on those descriptions. Not content with the inference raised by the first sentence, they here insist they aren’t even interpreting the text! Instead, they, unlike everyone else who has proposed a map, are basing this map strictly on “pure” textual descriptions! Okay, I inserted the exclamation marks, but that’s the intent of this claim. They apparently actually think they are taking the text literally, without any subjective interpretation. That belief is what makes them impervious to other viewpoints. Any one of us could show that their map doesn’t fit the text. It’s too easy, but they don’t see that because they’ve convinced themselves of the next part of the sentence.
it is one of the most accurate maps of the Nephite and Lamanite world. Of course, we won’t know which if any map is “accurate” unless and until we get more information from people who actually know. (In the world of LDS scholars and educators, Joseph and Oliver don’t count as people who actually know.) And yet, this “most accurate map” reflects a “Nephite and Lamanite world” that doesn’t exist on Earth. Think about that one a moment.
The concept of an “abstract map” is a classic cart-before-the-horse approach. In the real world, the cart follows the horse, not vice versa. Here, the horse is the known location; i.e., Cumorah in New York. The descriptions in the text can’t possibly convey an accurate description of a real-world setting if we don’t put the horse first, but the LDS scholars and educators refuse to do that because… well, I’m not sure why they don’t. Some say because Cumorah is a “clean hill,” but I’ve addressed that at length. Some say because Joseph said, in anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, that Zarahemla is in Quirigua, but I’ve addressed that at length as well. Some say the descriptions don’t make sense if you put Cumorah in New York, but I’ve also addressed that. I’m not aware of any objection to Cumorah that I haven’t addressed.
Obviously, just because I’ve addressed it doesn’t mean I’m right. And people are always free to agree or disagree about anything. But for me, the arguments against Cumorah are logical and factual fallacies, all the worse because they were contrived in the first place to confirm the biases of people who were relying on a mistake in Church history; i.e., attributing to Joseph the anonymous Times and Seasons articles. My shorthand for that is Mesomania.
But now, instead of correcting the mistake in Church history and jettisoning Mesomania, we risk an even graver mistake because of these abstract maps. We risk turning the Book of Mormon into fiction.
Today I’m making the point that this abstract map teaches the “two-Cumorahs” theory and so is destined, as Joseph Fielding Smith said, to cause members of the Church to “become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.”
|Location of the Hill Cumorah according to BYU|
[Note: if you cite Joseph Fielding Smith to many LDS scholars and educators, they’ll roll their eyes and tell you he didn’t know what he was talking about. Try it with his comments on the two-Cumorahs theory and you’ll see what I mean.]
Here’s a closeup on the Cumorah portion.
Not exactly New York, is it?
Any student, any investigator, any member of the Church–well anyone at all–who learns the Book of Mormon with this map is learning two important principles that will be imprinted and reinforced constantly, just like the Friberg paintings of jungles, jaguars and jade.
1. Principle 1: The “real” Hill Cumorah is not in New York.
2. Principle 2: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the location of Cumorah.
If you ask about it, the scholars and educators will tell you, “we have said nothing about Joseph and Oliver.” But kids being kids, students and investigators will peruse the Internet and soon enough discover that Joseph and Oliver were clear enough about this that Oliver wrote it was a fact that Cumorah was in New York and Joseph directed his brother Don Carlos, as well as Benjamin Winchester, to republish Letter VII, as I’ve discussed on the Letter VII blog here.
Do we really think people will accept the premise that Joseph and Oliver told the truth and were reliable and credible about everything, except for this one point about Cumorah?
Do we think they’ll ignore this exception as irrelevant because no one cares where the Book of Mormon took place?
That is to say, no one cares except two groups: (i) those who haven’t yet read the Book of Mormon and (ii) those who have read it. Or if you don’t like those two groups, how about (i) those who don’t believe the Book of Mormon is true, and (ii) those who believe it is true.
The only thing this map lacks to make the two-Cumorahs theory clear is Mayan glyphs. Of course, people can always go to the North Visitors’ Center on Temple Square to learn that.
Those of you who play videogames, or know people who do, may think the abstract Book of Mormon map looks familiar.
Both the Book of Mormon map and the video game maps feature imaginary terrain, surrounded by water and clouds. You can travel virtually through the lands, confronting enemies and allies, gathering supplies, defending your base, etc.
The Book of Mormon, it turns out, is a video game.
|Maybe you’ve been playing Pokemon or another game.|
I’m all in favor of relating to the new generations, and maybe teaching the Book of Mormon as a video game will help the kids engage with it, but if so, let’s at least use a real-world setting and not an imaginary “abstract” setting that is closer to a video game world or Lord of the Rings than to the actual planet Earth. There are video games of lots of real-world events, such as the Civil War, here.
Let’s at least put Cumorah in New York.
In my view, this “abstract map” approach conveys this message: we can best understand the Book of Mormon in a fictional setting.
Which if course is essentially telling people the Book of Mormon is fiction.
And while I know it’s the fashion among more and more people, including active LDS, to think of the Book of Mormon as fiction, plenty of LDS still believe it’s a real history and also believe Joseph and Oliver knew what they were talking about.
Obviously, I think Moroni’s America is the best explanation of the text in a real-world setting. I’ve always invited others to come up with their own alternatives, based on the New York Cumorah. I think it would be great to have some BYU students work on that as a class project.
What I object to is teaching that Cumorah is not in New York. But that’s what is going on at BYU and throughout the Church, thanks to Mesomania and what appears to be its successor, Abstractmania.
Source: Book of Mormon Wars
OVERVIEW OF BOOK OF MORMON GEOGRAPHY AND CHURCH HISTORY
“My thesis: The Book of Mormon took place in North America, not Central America or anywhere else. Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith taught this clearly. Early Church authors, including Benjamin Winchester, speculated about a setting in Central America. Winchester wrote editorials to that effect that were published anonymously in the 1842 Times and Seasons. Ever since, people assumed, incorrectly, that Joseph wrote or approved of these editorials. Over the years, scholars developed a theory that Cumorah was in Mexico, not New York. They elaborated on their theory to the point that it became the de facto theory in the Church. But it’s wrong and I hope the historical mistake gets corrected soon.
I started my blog titled bookofmormonwars to explore questions of Book of Mormon historicity and geography. I’m an active member of the Church and I accept the Book of Mormon as an actual history of real people. There are a lot of active, inactive, and former members who don’t believe that. I wanted to know why. I’ve spent much of the last two years (July 2014-July 2016) focusing on the issue, and now I’m going to state my overall conclusion and thesis. After that, I will briefly summarize the history of the blog and the responses I have received.
Preliminary matters. Many members of the Church are deeply attached to a particular setting for the Book of Mormon. If your ideas work for you—in the sense that your beliefs make the text more real for you and help you understand and apply its meaning—then that’s great. In this blog I’m simply relating the facts as I understand them, along with reasonable inferences. This understanding works for me. Your mileage may vary. Do what you think best. Many active Church members tell me it doesn’t matter where the Book of Mormon took place because it is the message (about Christ and the Gospel) that is the most important. To me, that’s a non sequitur. Granted, the message about Christ and the Gospel is the most important, but that’s not the reason we have the Book of Mormon. That message could have been communicated through modern revelation. It could also have been communicated through parables—which is exactly what many active members of the Church think the Book of Mormon is, instead of an actual history. I’m not saying active members need to be interested in Book of Mormon historicity and geography, but I am saying they need to recognize they are self-selected by their faith in the Book of Mormon. When we recognize that most members of the Church are not active, maybe we’ll recognize one reason is because they don’t accept the Book of Mormon as a literal history. I think the reason we have the Book of Mormon is (as the Title Page explains) to convince people that Jesus is the Christ, manifesting himself unto all nations. If, as I assert, the Book of Mormon is an actual history of real people, then the only explanation for it is what Joseph and Oliver said. And if it’s an actual history, then it took place somewhere—again, as Joseph and Oliver said. Ultimately, the geography depends on where Cumorah is. I suspect most members of the Church—including me—think Cumorah is in New York. Many Church members are surprised to discover that is not what most LDS Book of Mormon scholars claim. I think the scholars are wrong, and this blog explains why.
Summary and thesis: This is a summary of the facts in Church history as I understand and interpret them. You may or may not have heard/read these things before, but probably you have not. Some people will disagree with me about some of the details, but my point here is not to convince anyone. I’m just explaining my thesis. I’m not including any references or detail; I’ve provided hundreds of footnotes in this blog and in my books for those interested.
My detailed thesis: In 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery translated the plates Moroni deposited in the square box he constructed of stone and cement in the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York. Joseph and Oliver worked in Joseph’s small home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. While they worked on the translation, Joseph received a revelation (D&C 10) that he should not retranslate the first part of the plates—the Book of Lehi. (In 1828, he had translated the Book of Lehi with Martin Harris acting as scribe, but Harris lost the manuscript.) Consequently, when Joseph and Oliver reached the end of the Book of Moroni, they were finished with those plates. D&C 10 told Joseph he’d have to translate the Plates of Nephi to replace the lost manuscript—but he didn’t have the plates of Nephi. Due to increasing persecution, Joseph and Oliver arranged to continue the work at the Whitmer farm in Fayette. Joseph gave the plates to a heavenly messenger in the form of a man. David Whitmer drove his wagon to Harmony to pick them up. On their way to Fayette, they passed the messenger on the road. David asked if he wanted a ride, but the man declined, saying he was heading for Cumorah. David had grown up in the area but had never heard of Cumorah. He turned to Joseph to inquire. When he turned back, the messenger had already left. The messenger went to Cumorah where, separate from Moroni’s stone box, there was a large underground room—a repository—containing all the records of the Nephites. Mormon had moved the plates here from the original storage place in the Hill Shim. The messenger left Mormon’s plates in the repository and retrieved the plates of Nephi. He took these to Fayette. He showed them to David’s mother before giving them to Joseph Smith. Joseph and Oliver translated the plates of Nephi (1 Nephi through Words of Mormon) in Fayette. When they finished, Oliver, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris sought permission to see the plates. The messenger brought additional records from the repository, including the plates of brass, the plates of Ether, and other plates and artifacts. He set them up in the woods. Moroni then appeared to Joseph, Oliver and David, showing them all the records. He appeared to Martin Harris and Joseph separately, possibly showing him just some of the things Oliver and David saw. The messenger then returned all the plates and artifacts to the repository in Cumorah. Later, Joseph arranged to have eight other men view the plates. These men were all in the area of Palmyra when they saw them. Joseph and Oliver went to the repository, retrieved a set of plates (probably Mormon’s, not Nephi’s). Joseph and Oliver returned the plates to the repository. This likely happened on more than one occasion; i.e., two groups of four men each saw the plates, but they all signed a joint statement of testimony. From the time Joseph first announced he had found the plates in the Hill Cumorah, people had been digging in the hill seeking buried treasure. The Lord knew that once the statements of the witnesses were published, the treasure seekers would renew their efforts. Before Oliver Cowdery left on his mission to the Lamanites, he and Joseph, probably assisted by David Whitmer and Joseph’s brothers Hyrum and Don Carlos, moved the plates out of Cumorah to another location. Probably this was to the Hill Shim where Ammaron had originally hidden them. It took several trips by wagon, but it left the repository in Cumorah empty.
All of the men involved operated under a vow of secrecy. Oliver and some of the others did tell Brigham Young and a few other people what happened. Possibly they told Brigham where they moved the plates, but if so, this has never been discussed publicly. During Zion’s Camp, Joseph recognized the terrain as the plains of the Nephites. He wrote about it to Emma, who had been one of the original scribes. She knew what Joseph was referring to because they had discussed what Joseph learned from Moroni during his interviews, when Moroni told him all about Nephite society and showed him the people in vision. Also on Zion’s Camp, Joseph had a vision of Zelph, a warrior in the final battles who was killed and buried in Illinois. Joseph knew the Native American Indians who lived in the Great Lakes region were the descendants of Lehi’s people. He met with tribes from this area and told them their fathers had written the Book of Mormon. At various times, Joseph tried to write a history of the Church, but events were unfolding so rapidly – and he was not comfortable writing because of his limited education – that the efforts never amounted to much.
In 1834, Oliver began writing a series of letters to W.W. Phelps, outlining the early history. Joseph assisted in the effort. Oliver wrote eight letters that were published in the Church’s newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate, in Kirtland. In Letter VII, he described the Hill Cumorah and explained that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley west of Cumorah. Oliver didn’t claim revelation on the point; he knew it was true because Mormon had deposited the records in the hill and Oliver and Joseph had both seen them there. That’s why Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his journal as part of his history (this was after Letter VII was published in the Messenger and Advocate in 1835). Years later, Joseph gave express permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish the letters, including Letter VII, in the Gospel Reflector. Joseph’s brother Don Carlos also republished them in the Times and Seasons. The following year, 1842, Joseph referred to Cumorah in D&C 128. Cumorah in New York was universally understood in Joseph’s day because Joseph and Oliver taught it, and they taught it because they had been inside Mormon’s repository and had moved the Nephite records. Apart from Cumorah, which Joseph mentioned in D&C 128, and Zarahemla, mentioned in D&C 125, the Prophet never officially identified specific Book of Mormon sites. He was faced with more pressing matters, including the troubles in Missouri, the need to build the temple and introduce all the temple ordinances before he died, the thousands of immigrants coming to settle in Nauvoo, and much more. It is possible he was unable to relate what he knew to the geography passages in the Book of Mormon because the references in the text are archaic and use Hebrew parallel forms.” Jonathan Neville
Continued at moronisamerica.com HERE