Book of Mormon/Hill Cumorah/Quotes

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Statements made by Church leaders or Church publications related to the "Hill Cumorah"

Summary: Church leaders have expressed a variety of opinions over the years regarding the location of the Hill Cumorah


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Marion G. Romney (1975): "As the conflict intensified, all the people who had not been slain—men...gathered about that hill Cumorah"

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.

You who are acquainted with the Book of Mormon will recall that during the final campaign of the fratricidal war between the armies led by Shiz and those led by Coriantumr “nearly two millions” of Coriantumr’s people had been slain by the sword; “two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.” (Ether 15:2.)

As the conflict intensified, all the people who had not been slain—men “with their wives and their children” (Ether 15:15)—gathered about that hill Cumorah (see Ether 15:11). —(Click here to continue) [1]


Harold B. Lee (8 Jul 1966): "if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think?"

Some say the Hill Cumorah was in southern Mexico (and someone pushed it down still farther) and not in western New York. Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think? And why bother our heads trying to discover with archaeological certainty the geographical locations of the cities of the Book of Mormon like Zarahemla?[2]


Paul R. Cheesman (Nov 1968): "There are those who believe that there are two Hill Cumorahs...Advocates of this theory establish their analysis primarily from the internal evidences of the Book of Mormon"

There are those who believe that there are two Hill Cumorahs. Their theory is that the hill on which Mormon fought the last battle with the Lamanites is not the same hill in which Joseph Smith found the gold plates. Advocates of this theory establish their analysis primarily from the internal evidences of the Book of Mormon. Others conclude that there is only one Hill Cumorah, and that the place where Joseph Smith and Moroni met was the same place Mormon and Moroni visited in the fifth century. There is no official Church view.[3]


Question: Did the First Presidency identify the New York "Hill Cumorah" as the site of the Nephite final battles?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #489: Where is the Location of the Hill Cumorah? (Video)

Many Latter-day Saints (including apostles and members of the 1st Presidency) have expressed opinions about the location of Cumorah (or other Book of Mormon geography issues), the Church has no official geography for the Book of Mormon.

According to the Church, no revelatory basis exists for any geographical scheme outside of the Book of Mormon text itself.

A letter from the Secretary to the First Presidency said that "that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon"

In 1990, F. Michael Watson (secretary to the First Presidency) sent a letter to a questioner which read as follows:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Office of the First Presidency
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
October 16, 1990
Bishop Darrel L. Brooks
Moore Ward
Oklahoma City Oklahoma South Stake
1000 Windemere
Moore, OK 73160
Dear Bishop Brooks:
I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.
The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.
The Brethren appreciate your assistance in responding to this inquiry, and asked that you convey to Brother Sparks their commendation for his gospel study.
Sincerely yours,
(signed)
F. Michael Watson
Secretary to the First Presidency
Letter from F. Michael Watson sent 16 October 1990.

Two statements made available within the next three years

Two statements made available within the next three years addressed this issue, suggesting that those who use the above letter as proof that the Church officially supports a given geography are mistaken.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

The first statement is found in the publication of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Although not an official statement of Church policy, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elders Oaks and Maxwell, served as advisers during the production of the Encyclopedia. Thus, we have the following statement published in 1992:

In 1928 the Church purchased the western New York hill and in 1935 erected a monument recognizing the visit of the angel Moroni (see Angel Moroni Statue). A visitors center was later built at the base of the hill. Each summer since 1937, the Church has staged the Cumorah Pageant at this site. Entitled America's Witness for Christ, it depicts important events from Book of Mormon history. This annual pageant has reinforced the common assumption that Moroni buried the plates of Mormon in the same hill where his father had buried the other plates, thus equating this New York hill with the Book of Mormon Cumorah. Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better (Palmer), there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested.
—David A. Palmer, "Cumorah" in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Some have said that this statement is only meant to communicate that there are some members who differ with the Church's leaders and official views.

This seems unlikely--the author of the article, David Palmer, cited one of his papers as evidence ("(Palmer") for the idea that there are "possible sites that may seem to fit better." It would be strange if Palmer was writing an article essentially saying, "There's an official position, but I happen to disagree with it." It would be even stranger if Elders Maxwell and Oaks allowed the blatant advocacy of a position at variance with the Church's official stance.

The Secretary to the First Presidency later wrote to FARMS: "there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site"

On April 23, 1993, F. Michael Watson provided a letter after a discussion with a FARMS staffer. The text is similar and consistent with what was published in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism the previous year:

The Church emphasizes the doctrinal and historical value of the Book of Mormon, not its geography. While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations [for Book of Mormon geography] because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.[4]

(Some have complained that the fax was private and should not be cited--but why would Watson send a private note to FARMS if it was not anticipated that it would be used to answer the questions being put to FARMS? The letter has long been available publicly, since its text was published by FARMS soon after its receipt.)

Since the text of this letter was published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, some critics have charged the FARMS authors with either manipulating the Church into sending the letter, or forging the letter text altogether.[5]

Matt Roper of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship located a faxed copy of the same statement sent from the Office of the First Presidency, along with its cover page, and sent FAIR a copy with permission to post it, in order to dispel the myth popularized by critics of the Church that FARMS had invented or forged this letter.

The 1993 fax was sent by Senior Executive Secretary for the Office of the First Presidency, Carla Ogden, to Brent Hall of FARMS. The text of the fax matches exactly the text reported to have been in the response by Watson as described in the FARMS Review. The cover letter reads as follows:

I thought you would be interested in this FAX from Michael Watson, secretary to the First Presidency. We have been receiving a number of questions from the Oklahoma, Texas area where anti-Mormons are using a letter from Brother Watson to a Bishop where Brother Watson said that the Church supports only one location for Cumorah, and that is the New York location. I talked with him on the phone the other day and told him of the questions that were coming to us. He responded that the First Presidency would like to clear up that Issue and he would FAX me with that clarification.

Thanks

[signed] Brent [Hall]

Fax from the Office of the First Presidency to FARMS dated April 23, 1993.

(Phone and numbers have been redacted from these scans; they are otherwise unaltered. The top of the First Presidency's fax had "Apr 23 '93 12:25 PM FIRST PRESIDENCY SLC P.1" in fainter letters applied by the receiving fax, which does not appear on the scan.)

More recently, the Church has issued other statements and taken further action

Saints: Vol. 1 (2018): The Church's official history does not name the hill in which Joseph found the plates.

The Church's official history, Saints, tells the story of Joseph's recovery of the plates from the hill near his home. The account does not, however, ever use the label "Cumorah" for the hill. This is an odd omission if the official prophetic stance on the Hill Cumorah is fixed on the New York site.[6]

The Church also addressed issues of Book of Mormon geography in the Gospel Topics essays available on the Church's official website

Since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have expressed numerous opinions about the specific locations of the events discussed in the book. Some believe that the history depicted in the Book of Mormon—with the exception of the events in the Near East—occurred in North America, while others believe that it occurred in Central America or South America. Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas. ...

The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. Speculation on the geography of the Book of Mormon may mislead instead of enlighten; such a study can be a distraction from its divine purpose.

Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken. However, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.[7]

In accordance with this request from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve apostles, FAIR's only position is that the Book of Mormon is a genuine ancient record, whose events occurred somewhere in the ancient Americas.


Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith reject the theory that the final battlefield of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica rather than New York?

Joseph Fielding Smith, before he became President of the Church, argued for a New York location as the scene of the final battle

One review of this topic notes:

In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote an article published in the Deseret News arguing against what he then termed the "modernist" theory that the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites may have been in Central America rather than in New York. In 1956 this article was included in a selection of Elder Smith's writings compiled by his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie. Although Elder Smith would later become president of the church in 1970, his article arguing for a New York location as the scene of the final battlefield was written many years before he assumed that position, and he apparently never revisited the question as president of the church. There is evidence that Elder Smith may have softened his opposition on the Cumorah question. In a letter written to Fletcher B. Hammond, who argued emphatically for a Central American location and had sent Elder Smith a copy of his findings, the apostle explained, "I am sure this will be very interesting although I have never paid any attention whatever to Book of Mormon geography because it appears to me that it is inevitable that there must be a great deal of guesswork."  Apparently, he did not consider his 1938 argument as settled and definitive or as a measure of doctrinal orthodoxy.

Joseph Fielding Smith acknowledged that this was his opinion, and that others were entitled to their own opinions regarding this subject

Sidney B. Sperry, after whom an annual Brigham Young University symposium is named, was also one who initially supported the New York Cumorah view (that is, an area of New York as the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites). During the 1960s, as he began to explore the issue, he came to a different conclusion... Reversing his earlier position, he wrote: "It is now my very carefully studied and considered opinion that the Hill Cumorah to which Mormon and his people gathered was somewhere in Middle America. The Book of Mormon evidence to this effect is irresistible and conclusive to one who will approach it with an open mind. This evidence has been reviewed by a few generations of bright students in graduate classes who have been given the challenge to break it down if they can. To date none has ever been able to do so."  Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told him that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, "Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it." [8]

It seems clear, then, that Elder (later President) Smith did not regard his views as the product of revelation, nor did he regard it as illegitimate to have a different view of the matter.


Notes

  1. Marion G. Romney, "America’s Destiny," Ensign (Nov 1975).
  2. Harold B. Lee, “Loyalty,” address to religious educators, 8 July 1966; in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Church Educational System and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982), 65; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 172-173.
  3. Paul R. Cheesman, "Archaeology and the Book of Mormon," The Instructor, Vol. 103, No. 11 (November 1968): 429.
  4. Correspondence from Michael Watson, Office of the First Presidency, 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. wiki
  5. Daniel Peterson wrote on a now-defunct message board: "…Professor Hamblin and the FARMS Review source checker and the FARMS publications director and the FARMS Review production editor and I all saw it during the preparation of the article for publication. Two or three very vocal critics of FARMS, however, pretend to suspect that we made the letter up, attributing views to the First Presidency that they do not, in fact, hold, and that we brazenly published our forgery for all to see. ... I myself don’t doubt that there was such a letter. I held it in my own two little hands, and read it with my own two little eyes. Those for whom this is an issue, however, are entirely free to investigate, cited in Lehi's Library blog, (18 April 2009).
  6. Saints: Vol. 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2018).
  7. "Book of Mormon Geography," Gospel Topics Essays for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (last accessed 25 January 2022).
  8. Matthew Roper, "Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist "Movement" and the Book of Mormon (A review of "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America" by: Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum)," FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 87–124. off-site wiki