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Coordinates: 43°02′20″N 77°14′18″W / 43.038972°N 77.238307°W / 43.038972; -77.238307

Mormon Hill engraving (1841)

An 1841 engraving of Cumorah (looking south), where Joseph Smith said he was given Golden Plates by an angel named Moroni, on the west side, near the peak.

Cumorah (also called Mormon Hill) is a drumlin near Manchester, New York, where Joseph Smith, Jr. said he found a set of golden plates which he translated and published as the Book of Mormon. In the text of the Book of Mormon, "Cumorah" (originally Camorah,1830 edition) is a land situated in “a land of many waters, rivers and fountains”.[1] In this land, one hill is named the "hill Cumorah". The Book of Mormon describes the hill Cumorah as a place where two hundred thirty thousand Nephite soldiers were killed in a final battle with the Lamanites,[2] and where centuries earlier, the last battle of the Jaredites took place, which destroyed their civilization. The hill “Cumorah” (its Nephite name) was previously called the hill Ramah by the Jaredites.[3]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church)—the largest of the Latter Day Saint churches that use the Book of Mormon—has no official position on the geography of the Book of Mormon, nor is there currently any official claim of correspondence between the hill mentioned in the Book of Mormon and the hill in New York.[4] Numerous LDS Church authorities have, in the past, indicated that Cumorah of the Book of Mormon resides in the Finger Lakes region of western New York.[5] It has been argued that LDS scripture also locates Cumorah in this region.[6] In an 1842 letter to the Church that has been canonized into LDS Church scripture, Joseph Smith stated that the church had received, “the gospel … truth out of the earth … glad tidings from Cumorah".[7] Smith did not specifically refer to the Hill Cumorah in this letter.[8]

In the 20th century, scholars from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church) and later the LDS Church speculated that the Book of Mormon’s Hill Cumorah is in southern Mexico, Central America or South America.[9] This hypothesis has been controversial and has been opposed by some leaders and members of the church[10] but embraced by others.[11]

Some mainstream scholars who specialize in 19th-century American literature place the original literary setting for the Book of Mormon among the mythic mound builder people of North America.[12] Accepting the mound-builder setting, at least one LDS researcher has pointed out that no proposed Central or South American setting for the Book of Mormon is likely to be accepted by mainstream academia as a legitimate representation.[13]

New York

Hill Cumorah Visitor Center

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Visitors Center at Hill Cumorah

Hill Cumorah 3

The statue of Moroni atop Hill Cumorah in Western New York.

The hill named Cumorah in western New York (coordinates: 43°00′N 77°13′W / 43°N 77.217°W / 43; -77.217 (Hill Cumorah in Western New York)) is where Smith said he discovered the golden plates which contained the writings of the Book of Mormon. Smith wrote: "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."[14]

Smith visited the hill each year on 22 September between 1823 and 1827 and said he was instructed by "holy messengers", including Moroni.[14] Smith said he was finally allowed to take the record on September 22, 1827.[14] No one else saw the plates until June 1829, when twelve other men gave written testimony that they had also seen them.[15]

This hill (unnamed prior to 1829) is situated a few miles from Joseph Smith's boyhood home on a farm that was then owned by a local farmer, Alonzo Sanders. This farm was four miles (6 km) south of Palmyra, on the main road toward Canandaigua from Palmyra to Manchester and is not far from Carangrie Creek and the Clyde River. According to geologists, the hill was formed during the retreat of the Ice Age glaciers and it rises approximately 110 feet (34 m) above the surrounding valley floor.

Since 1829 Mormons have called the hill "Cumorah". The locals have called it "Mormon Hill" or "Mormon Bible Hill". The hill and surrounding land was purchased in the 1920s by LDS Church under the direction of church president Heber J. Grant. The transaction involved two separate purchases — the purchase of the "Inglis farm" and the purchase of the "Sexton farm." The Inglis farm consisted of ninety-six acres on both sides of the Canandaigua–Palmyra road and encompassed one third of the western edge of the hill. The 187-acre (0.76 km2) Sexton farm was purchased from the heirs of Pliny T. Sexton, who owned the "Mormon Hill Farm" which encompassed the remainder of the hill.

There appears to be no firsthand statement by Joseph Smith, referring to the drumlin hill where the plates were deposited, as the Hill Cumorah. According to one LDS researcher, when Joseph mentions “Cumorah”[16] he is referring to the land Cumorah - the Smith family residence near the Finger Lakes – “in a land of many water, rivers, and fountains”.[17] It was there, at the Smith home, that according to LDS scripture, Moroni declared the near fulfillment of ancient prophecies in connection with the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel.[18] Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, recalls her young son Joseph referring to the place where the Book of Mormon plates were deposited, as “the hill of Cumorah”, meaning hill of the land Cumorah.[19] Mother Smith’s preliminary manuscript, indicates that the angel referred to the hill as “hill of Cumorah”.[20] The New York location of the land and hill Cumorah is consistent with Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer’s account of an incident in which he, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were riding in a wagon to the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York. According to Whitmer, an aged heavyset man walked alongside the wagon. The man had a knapsack strapped over his back with something square in it. When David invited the man to ride he replied, “I am going across to the hill Cumorah.” Joseph Smith reportedly later told David Whitmer that they had seen one of the Nephite prophets.[21]

Book of Mormon

Nephites

In the Book of Mormon, Cumorah is mentioned in six verses, five in Chapter 6 and one in Chapter 8 of the Book of Mormon. According to the Book of Mormon, Mormon is the caretaker of the record of his people. His people, called the Nephites, were near to being destroyed by the Lamanites who had had many previous wars with the Nephites. Mormon wrote to the leader of the Lamanites to ask that he may gather his "people unto the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah, and there we could give them battle."[22] Cumorah is described as being in a land with "many waters, rivers, and fountains".[23]

The leader of the Lamanites agreed, and all of the Nephites gathered together, including their women and children. Mormon wrote, "And when three hundred and eighty and four years had passed away [since the sign of the birth of Christ], we had gathered in all the remainder of our people unto the land of Cumorah."[24] Mormon then hid all of the records of his people in the hill, except for the plates that he was currently writing on, which he gave to his son Moroni.[25]

The Lamanites then attacked the Nephites, who were led by twenty-three men each with ten-thousand men under their command.[26] After the battle was finished, "even all my people, save it were those twenty and four who were with me", except for those who fled to the south or defected to the Lamanites.[27] The usage of "ten-thousand men" in relation to those who were killed may or may not have included the women and children.

Mormon then records his mourning for his people and a last message to those who will read his record later, then again turns the records over to his son Moroni. Moroni records, "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. And my father also was killed by them, and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people."[28]

Jaredites

This hill known as "Cumorah" among the Nephites was called "Ramah" by the Jaredites:

In the Book of Mormon, during the time of the Book of Alma, this land (of Cumorah) was part of the land of Desolation, "the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken". This land is identified as being north of the land of Zarahemla.[29]

Moroni lived several years after recording the destruction of his people. He translated and abridged the plates which were the record of the Jaredites as the Book of Ether on to the plates that he was keeping. During this process, he wrote, "Omer ... passed by the hill of Shim, and came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed,"[30] and "... it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred."[31] These passages identify the Nephite hill Cumorah as the same hill where the Jaredites had fought their final battle. Mormon records: “seeing that the Lamanites were about to overthrow the land, therefore I did go to the hill Shim, and did take up all the records which Ammaron had hid up unto the Lord.”[32] Later, Mormon hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to him, except for certain plates which he gave to his son Moroni.[33]

Geography and historicity

There has been no on-site archaeological research at Hill Cumorah in New York. In recent years, there has been discussion within the Latter Day Saint movement about whether Hill Cumorah in New York is the same place described in the Book of Mormon, or whether there are two hills of the same name—one in New York and one in either Southern Mexico, Central or South America. Some non-LDS scholars have provided alternative theories for the origin of the name Cumorah.

New York hill

At least 10 different accounts refer to certain events that occurred at the hill Cumorah in New York.[34] According to the account of Brigham Young, the angel instructed Joseph Smith, Jr. to carry the gold plates back to the hill Cumorah. When Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery arrived, "the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room." The account continues by saying they found "...more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls." When they first entered, the Sword of Laban was hanging on the wall. When they re-entered later, the Sword of Laban was unsheathed and resting on top of the newly delivered gold plates. The sword had an inscription on it that said the sword "...will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ."[35] The wording of this account appears to describe an actual physical visit to a space inside the hill Cumorah. It has been suggested by Mesoamerican Cumorah advocates that these events occurred in a vision rather than a physical visit.[36]

Cerro Vigia

LDS scholars have proposed the "Cerro Vigia" (coordinates: 18°33′N 95°11′W / 18.55°N 95.183°W / 18.55; -95.183 (Cerro Vigia) or 18°27′25″N 95°21′01″W / 18.45694°N 95.35028°W / 18.45694; -95.35028 (Cerro Vigia) ) in Veracruz, Mexico, as the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon for a variety of reasons. John L. Sorenson has listed 15 cultural criteria (based on contextual clues from the text of the Book of Mormon) for the hill Cumorah. They are: cities, towers, agriculture, metallurgy, formal political states, organized religion, idolatry, crafts, trade, writing, weaponry, astronomy, calendar systems, cement, and wheels. He alleges that the hill in New York at least partly fits four of these requirements while the "Cerro Vigia" meets all of them.[37] Other LDS disagree with Sorenson’s assessment of scriptural Cumorah[16] in western NY.[38]

Alternative origin of the name

File:Camora.jpg

Some scholars have theorized that Smith created the name "Cumorah" through his study of the treasure-hunting stories of Captain William Kidd.[39] Because Kidd was said to have buried treasure in the Comoros islands, it has been suggested that Smith used the name of the islands and applied it to the hill where he found buried treasure—the golden plates.[40] Complementing this proposal is the theory that Smith borrowed the name of a settlement in the Comoros—Moroni—and applied it to the angel which led him to the golden plates.

Mormon apologists have argued that this line of argument commits the logical error of appeal to probability. They also point out that it is highly unlikely that Smith had access to material which would have referred to the then-small settlement of Moroni, particularly since it did not appear in most contemporary gazetteers.[41]

Several LDS authors reject as “extreme” and non-authoritative the tradition that Book of Mormon patriarch Lehi and his company voyaged across the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and finally the vast Pacific Ocean.[42] One LDS author suggests that Lehi and his family may have re-supplied at the isle of Grade Comore (capital port city “Moroni” – “a Semitic name”) about 200 miles (320 km) off the eastern shore of Africa.[43]

Mainstream archaeological view

There is no mainstream archaeological position on the linkage of real-world locations with specific New World places mentioned in the Book of Mormon.[44] The literary setting for the Book of Mormon is recognized by specialists in 19th Century American literature, as indicative of the North American mound builder genre.[45]

Pageant

File:HillCumorahPageantLogo.JPG
See also: "And it Came to Pass" Pageant, Easter Pageant and Mormon Miracle Pageant

Currently, the 283-acre (1.15 km2) site near Palmyra, New York hosts the annual "Hill Cumorah Pageant".[46] This large, outdoor Latter-day Saint Pageant typically occurs in early July and is free to the public.

The pageant can trace its history back to 1935. However the current title, America's Witness for Christ, was first used in 1937. This was a play by H. Wayne Driggs that remained the basic text of the pageant until 1987. The 1987 revision, which is still used, was written in large part by Orson Scott Card.[47]

Notes

  1. Mormon 6:2-6
  2. Mormon 6:11-15
  3. Mormon 6:5-6, Ether 15:11
  4. [1], Correspondence from F. Michael Watson, 23 April 1993, Cited with commentary in William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197, accessed 13 September 2009. See also Book of Mormon geography/Statements/First Presidency Letter on the FAIR LDS Wiki
  5. Hamilton, New York Nephites, “What Church Leaders Have Said About the Hill Cumorah”, Olive, “The Hill Cumorah and Its Rightful Place in New York”. On the subject of Cumorah’s authentic location, some LDS researchers and authors quote the published statement of LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie:
    “Both the Nephite and the Jaredite civilizations fought their final great wars of extinction at and near the Hill Cumorah (or Ramah as the Jaredites termed it), which hill is located between Palmyra and Manchester in the western part of the state of New York…Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and many early brethren, who were familiar with the circumstances attending the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation, have left us pointed testimony as to the identity and location of Cumorah or Ramah.” (Mormon Doctrine, s.v. “Cumorah”, pg. 175); (quoted, for example, by Coon, W. Vincent in Choice Above All Other Lands– Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to the Best Sources, pg. 194)
    Coon also notes the following broadcast statement made on April 6, 1980, by then president of the church, Spencer W. Kimball, the contents of which are currently recommended for presentation in LDS Church Gospel Doctrine classes:
    "From the soil of Cumorah's hill a few miles west of here, Joseph obtained from the angel Moroni the records of a people who anciently inhabited this land; and through the gift and power of God, he translated that record now known as the Book of Mormon." (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History DVD Presentations for Youth and Adult Sunday School Gospel Doctrine Classes, Lesson 9: "Organization of the Church")
    Coon concludes that the context of “President Kimball's expression, "Cumorah's hill", suggests that the hill from which Joseph obtained the records, belongs to the land Cumorah” named in the Book of Mormon. (Coon, Choice Above All Other Lands, pg.61); see also bookofmormonpromisedland.com, “Promised Lands”
  6. May, Wayne N., THIS LAND: They Came from the East, Vol. 3, pg. 85
  7. Doctrine and Covenants 128:19-20
  8. Coon draws attention to D&C 128:20, arguing that the location of “Cumorah”, indicated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, should be as well established in LDS minds as the biblical “Carmel” mentioned in the previous verse. Coon further interprets that Joseph Smith does not specifically refer to the Hill Cumorah, but to the land Cumorah in the Finger Lakes region, where the Smith family abode, and where Moroni appeared “declaring the fulfillment of the prophets – the book to be revealed.” Joseph Smith – History 1:36-41 (Choice Above All Other Lands, pp. 59-60, 188-193, 221-224); see also Coon “How Exaggerated Settings for the Book of Mormon Came to Pass”
  9. Roper, Matthew, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations”, Maxwell Institute, 2004, cites early Limited Mesoamerican settings for the Book of Mormon advanced by Hills, L. E. (RLDS), “Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 B.C. to 421 A.D.”, Independence, MO, 1917; Hills, “A Short Work on the Popol Vuh and the Traditional History of the Ancient Americans”, Independence, MO, 1918; and Hills, “New Light on American Archaeology”, Independence, MO, 1924; and also Gunsolley, J. F. (RLDS), “More Comment on Book of Mormon Geography”, Saints Herald, Vol. 69, No 46, 1922, pp. 1074-1076. See also the South American setting proposed by Priddis, Venice (LDS), The Book and the Map, 1975, Ch. 11, “Mormon, Moroni and Cumorah”, pp. 153-157.
  10. On the subject of a Mesoamerican Cumorah, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith said:
    “…This modernist 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, not withstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years…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…for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes, and also in the land of many rivers and fountains…” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, pp 233–234).
    In April Conference, Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve stated:
    “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.” (123rd Annual Conference of the Church, April 4-6 1953, General Conference Report, pp 83-84; or Improvement Era, June 1953, pg 423)
  11. William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197.
  12. Silverberg, Robert, “…and the mound builders vanished from the earth”, American Heritage Magazine, June 1969.
  13. Coon, “How Exaggerated Settings for the Book of Mormon Came to Pass”.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 See "Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith", found inside most Books of Mormon printed after 1980.
  15. Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005) p. 79.
  16. 16.0 16.1 D&C 128:20
  17. Coon, Choice Above All Other Lands, pp. 60, 221-224
  18. Joseph Smith – History 1:36-41
  19. Coon cites History of Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, pg. 100
  20. Coon cites The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, Bookcraft, 1996, pg 107 n. 14
  21. Coon cites David Whitmer Interviews, edited by Lyndon W. Cook, Grandin Book, 1991, pp. 19, 27
  22. Mormon 6:2
  23. Mormon 6:4.
  24. Mormon 6:4-5
  25. Mormon 6:6
  26. Mormon 6:9-14
  27. Mormon 6:15
  28. Mormon 8:2-3
  29. Alma 22:30-32
  30. Ether 9:3
  31. Ether 15:11
  32. Mormon 4:23
  33. Mormon6:5-6
  34. Packer, Cameron J (2004). "Cumorah's Cave". Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (Maxwell Institute) 13 (1): 50–7. http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=338. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  35. Journal of Discourses 19: 38
  36. Tvedtnes, John A (1990). "Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon". FARMS Review of Books (Maxwell Institute) 2 (1): 258–59. http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=49. Retrieved 2007-01-09.  Brenton G. Yorgason discusses his belief that it is geologically impossible for God to create a cave within the existing hill. He suggests that the accounts given were a vision.
  37. Taken from the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), The Land of the Nephites under the heading, "Book of Mormon Criteria."
  38. Olive, P.C., The Cumorah Lands of Western New York
  39. See, e.g., Ronald V. Huggins, "From Captain Kidd's Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changin Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 36:4 (Winter 2003) pp. 17-42.
  40. Prior to 1830, most maps and gazetteers referred to the Comoros as "Comora". The 1830 first edition of the Book of Mormon printed the name "Cumorah" as "Camorah".
  41. FAIR LDS Wiki, Comoros Islands and Moroni.
  42. May, Wayne N., THIS LAND: They Came from the East, Vol. 3, pp. 12-15; Olive, P.C., The Lost Empires & Vanished Races of Prehistoric America, pg. 39
  43. Coon, Choice Above All Other Lands, pg. 68; see also “How Exaggerated Setting for the Book of Mormon Came to Pass” and “A Feasible Voyage”
  44. Smithsonian Institution statement on the Book of Mormon, 1996, irr.org, accessed 22 December 2008.
  45. Silverberg, Robert, “…and the mound builders vanished from the earth”, American Heritage Magazine, June 1969.
  46. Hill Cumorah Pageant website
  47. Gerald S. Argetsinger, "The Hill Cumorah Pageant: A Historical Perspecitive", Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13(1).

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