FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/Comoros Islands and Moroni/Captain Kidd
Joseph Smith, Captain Kidd and the Comoro archipelago
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Could Joseph Smith have acquired the names “Moroni” and “Cumorah” from stories he read as a youth, maps that he would have had access to, or other people within his local vicinity?
Critics of the Book of Mormon claim that Joseph Smith could have acquired the names “Moroni” and “Cumorah” from either maps he could have had access to as a youth, stories that he may have read associated with Captain William Kidd, or local Palmyra whalers that told stories of their journeys to places where Captain Kidd is also known to have operated.
The argument typically starts with the Captain Kidd stories. Joseph is supposed to have known about stories regarding Captain Kidd and either directly cribbed the names "Moroni" and "Cumorah" (or names close to those two) from the stories or, inspired by Kidd’s and/or other pirates' exploits on the four islands of the Comoros Archipelago (which is almost sandwiched between Mozambique and Madagascar in the Mozambique Channel), gone to maps to learn more about the area and found names on those maps that he could use for the supposedly fictitious creation of the Book of Mormon. On the maps, he would have found that the capital city of one of the islands in the archipelago is Moroni. On one of the islands in the Comoros, Anjouan (also sometimes called "Joanna" historically), there is a port city that is named "Meroni" (sometimes spelled "Merone").
Alternatively, as mentioned, it is possible that American whalers could have sailed in the Comoros and talked about their travels in settings where Joseph could have heard them.
To reiterate, there are two places that Joseph Smith could have gotten the name “Moroni” from and three places that he could have gotten “Cumorah” from according to these critics.
- The capital city of the island Grand Comore is literally Moroni.
- There is an island named Anjouan (also known as "Joanna" by some historically) in the Comoros and one of the port cities of that island is called "Meroni" (sometimes spelled "Merone").
- The islands are named the "Comoros Islands"
- The largest island of the Comoros is called "Grand Comore".
- Prior to French occupation in 1841, critics claim that Grand Comore was often called "Camora".
For this last potential source ("Camora"), critics note that, in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, Cumorah is always spelled "Camorah", suggesting that Joseph and/or Oliver merely added an h to the end of the name "Camora", placed it in the Book of Mormon, and then respelled it later on to perhaps cover their tracks more.
When examining the various parts of this theory critically, the ideas become implausible.
Both the main body of text as well as the footnotes of this article contain valuable information related to these arguments and we encourage reviewing both.
Who Was Captain Kidd?
Some background on Captain Kidd will be helpful as we proceed through this article. This history lesson comes mostly from "MaryAnn", a blogger at the blog Wheat and Tares, with some modifications by the author of this article:
Captain Kidd was Scottish-born but lived in New York. He was a successful privateer who typically worked the West Indies. An upstanding British citizen, he got hired in 1696 to go after pirates in the East Indies (and French merchants, because England and France weren’t on good terms). He and his crew were to be paid from the spoil they got, with a portion going back to his sponsors. Hiring these privateers was a way the British government could supplement their navy to look after their interests on the high seas… and have plausible deniability if the privateers ever did anything stupid.
With a brand-spankin’ new ship (called the Adventure Galley) and a bunch of experienced New York seamen, Kidd made his way to the East Indies. It took a year, but Kidd and his crew finally reached Madagascar, a known pirate haven, in January 1697. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find any pirates. Whoops. After a month he headed over to Johanna, the most popular island in the Comoro archipelago. He spent March and April in the Comoros, bouncing back and forth between the islands of Johanna and Mohilla. On Mohilla he lost fifty men to sickness. Luckily he got more men on the island of Johanna and was finally able to borrow enough money to repair his debilitated ship. He left the Comoro islands an honest man, a little financially desperate, but an honest man. It wasn’t until a few months later things started to get a little fishy.
Kidd traveled about a thousand miles north to Bab-el-Mandeb at the mouth of the Red Sea and unsuccessfully attacked a fleet in August 1697. So he decided to try his luck on the Malabar Coast, along the Western coast of India, over 3,000 miles away from the Comoros Islands. His crew grew antsy, and they attempted mutiny when Kidd refused to attack a Dutch ship. The leader of the mutiny, William Moore, later died when Kidd threw a bucket at him (this death became important later). Ultimately he only ever took two French ships while sailing down India’s western coast, but the second, the Quedagh Merchant, was laden with valuables. Unfortunately, England was on better terms with France, so the capture of the ships was viewed as scandalous (turns out the latter ship was captained by an Englishman – double whoops). Once word of these activities reached London in late 1698, William Kidd was declared a pirate and orders were given to apprehend him.
Captain Kidd, unaware of his infamy, sailed the Quedagh Merchant to the Caribbean (after a brief, uncomfortable encounter with a real pirate at Madagascar). Upon his arrival in the West Indies, he used part of his treasure to purchase a new ship and left the Quedagh Merchant, now a liability, behind. Later Kidd’s crew pillaged the ship and burned it. The remains of the Quedagh Merchant were re-discovered in 2007, just off the coast of Catalina Island.
Kidd sailed up to New York to appeal to higher ups and hid a bunch of his treasure on Gardiners Island (fueling rumors that he or his associates were also burying treasure in other areas of the Northeastern United States). He never buried treasure in the Comoros. He was apprehended and taken to England. Found guilty of piracy and the murder of William Moore, Kidd was executed in 1701 with two associates, and his body was hung for three years over the River Thames to discourage would-be pirates.
The following map is from Wikipedia and gives an overview of the locations and dates for arrival of Captain Kidd's journeys:
The Comoro Islands were indeed heavily utilized by pirates, but typically not for burying treasure. They were a part of the Pirate Round, a “sailing route followed by certain mainly English pirates, during the late 17th century and early 18th century. The course led from the western Atlantic, parallel to the Cape Route around the southern tip of Africa, stopping at Madagascar, then on to targets such as the coast of Yemen and India. The Pirate Round was briefly used again during the early 1720s. Pirates who followed the route are sometimes referred to as Roundsmen. The Pirate Round was largely co-extensive with the routes of the East India Company ships, of Britain and other nations. The Pirate Round started from a variety of Atlantic ports, including Bermuda, Nassau, New York City, and A Coruña, depending on where the pirate crew initially assembled. The course then lay roughly south by southeast along the coast of Africa, frequently by way of the Madeira Islands. The pirates would then double the Cape of Good Hope, and sail through the Mozambique Channel to northern Madagascar. Pirates would frequently careen and refit their ships on Madagascar and take on fresh provisions before proceeding onward toward their targets further north. Particularly important pirate bases on Madagascar included the island of St. Mary's (often called by its French name, Île Sainte-Marie) and Ranter Bay (now called Antongil Bay), both on the northeastern side of the island." The Comoros were sometimes used as a stopping point to prepare for the rest of the journey to India, Yemen, or other destinations.
Only one place in the Captain Kidd Stories that contains a reference to Grande Comore and no place that mentions Moroni nor Meroni/Merone
We'll start with stories regarding Captain Kidd contained in books since critics typically cite those as the most likely source for Joseph's plagiarism.
References to Joseph Smith being interested in the adventures of Captain Kidd come from some of his contemporaries years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. For example, Pomeroy Tucker in his 1867 book Origin, rise, and progress of Mormonism (37 years after the Book of Mormon was published and 23 years after Joseph's death), portrayed the Smith family as an "illiterate, whiskey-drinking, shiftless, irreligious race of people" and Joseph Smith, Jr. as the "laziest and most worthless of the generation.":16 Tucker offers this "insight" regarding the young Joseph Smith and Captain Kidd:
Joseph, moreover, as he grew in years, had learned to read comprehensively, in which qualification he was far in advance of his elder brother, and even of his father; and this talent was assiduously devoted, as he quitted or modified his idle habits, to the perusal of works of fiction and records of criminality, such for instance as would be classed with the "dime novels" of the present day [Noted here is that the first “dime novel” did not appear until 1860. See Wikipedia article "Dime novel" off-site] . The stories of Stephen Burroughs and Captain Kidd, and the like, presented the highest charms for his expanding mental perceptions. As he further advanced in reading and knowledge, he assumed a spiritual or religious turn of mind, and frequently perused the Bible...:17
It's important to note that Pomeroy Tucker did not connect the Captain Kidd stories to the Book of Mormon and attempt to argue that Joseph Smith plagiarized the former.
We would dispute Tucker's late portrayal of the Smith family as lazy and shiftless, as would the contemporaneous historical records (which are more reliable than late, hostile testimony obviously designed to discredit the Smiths). We'd also dispute his characterization of Joseph as an avid reader. Emma Smith, Joseph's wife, remembered that during the translation of the Book of Mormon, he didn't know that Jerusalem had walls around it. She also said "Joseph Smith...could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon." Lucy Smith, Joseph's mother, reminisced that Joseph was less inclined to the perusal of books and more to deep meditation.
However, knowing that Joseph was involved in treasure seeking, and that the great motivation for much of the treasure seeking being performed at the time was the result of a common belief that Captain Kidd had hidden treasure somewhere on the east coast of the United States, it is not unreasonable to assume that Joseph was familiar with the stories.
The Wayne Sentinel reported in 1825:
We are sorry to observe, even in this enlightened age, so prevalent a disposition to credit the accounts of the marvellous. Even the frightful stories of money being hid under the surface of the earth, and enchanted by the Devil or Robert Kidd [Captain Kidd], are received by many of our respectable fellow citizens as truths.
Mostly hostile and, in most cases, clearly late sources reminisced that, in his early years, Joseph Smith "had spent his time for several years in telling fortunes and digging for hidden treasures, and especially for pots and iron chests of money, supposed to have been buried by Captain Kidd.":3:154 Others insinuated that Joseph Smith "studied piracy while digging for the money [his] Father pretended old Bob Kidd <had> buried".:1:597 Another stated that "[h]e had for a library a copy of the 'Arabian Nights,' stories of Captain Kidd, and a few novels.":3:130 Another late, hostile source, "evidently relying on the published accounts of...Pomeroy Tucker",:3:146 reported that Joseph had in his possession "'The Life of Stephen Burroughs,' the clerical scoundrel, and the autobiography of Capt. Kidd, the pirate" and that Kidd was Joseph's Smith's "hero".:3:148 The "autobiography" in Joseph Smith's possession is not specified but one author argued persuasively that the most likely source is Charles Johnson's General History of the Pyrates.:pp. 109–110 One late, hostile source claims that Joseph Smith "saw Captain Kidd sailing on the Susquehanna River during a freshet, and that he buried two pots of gold and silver. He claimed he saw writing cut on the rocks in an unknown language telling where Kidd buried it, and he translated it through his peep-stone." That same source reports that Joseph "dug...for Kidd’s money, on the west bank of the Susquehanna, half a mile from the river, and three miles from his salt wells.":4:182–84. James Harrison Kennedy, a non-Latter-day Saint and then-editor of the Magazine of Western History, wrote in an account of Church history published in 1888 that Joseph Smith Sr. was reportedly "at times" engaged in the hunt for Captain Kidd's treasure.:p. 8 Kennedy also wrote that Joseph Smith had told him that the autobiography of Captain Kidd "made a deep impression upon him".:p. 13 Kennedy cites no source for this statement, however. These sources may very well contain fabrications and exaggerations. They are certainly designed to convince others that Joseph Smith Sr. and Jr. Smith are/were mendacious swindlers as well as fanciful, superstitious lunatics.
"Orrin Porter Rockwell, Joseph's neighbor in Manchester, New York, told Elizabeth W. Kane in the early 1870s that '[n]ot only was there religious excitement, but the phantom treasure of Captain Kidd were sought for far and near, and even in places like Cumorah'".:p. 185n53
Critics more recently have tried to tie the stories to Joseph since Captain William Kidd is known to have been in the Comoros Islands during his life.
The first to propose the Comoros/Moroni/Captain Kidd connection seems to be Fred Buchanan, then an associate professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Utah, in the June 1989 issue of Sunstone Magazine. Buchanan spoke about a "rendezvous at Comoro and Moroni" that Kidd had. Yet Kidd never set foot on Comore nor Moroni.
Years later, in a 2003 article, critic Ronald V. Huggins asserted that Captain Kidd was "hanged for crimes allegedly committed in the vicinity of Moroni on Grand Comoro." Except he wasn't. Similarly, critic Jeremy T. Runnells claimed that Kidd "was...arrested for capturing a treasure ship called the 'Quedagh Merchant' in the Indian Ocean near the Comoros islands." Except he wasn't even close to the Comoros. Kidd was charged with crimes/declared a pirate only after he seized the ship Quedagh Merchant on January 30, 1698. Recall that the seizing of the ship occurred along the western coast of India—over 3,000 miles away from the Comoros! Kidd and his crew spotted the ship about 25 leagues from Kochi. Kidd was hanged in 1701 in London for stealing the Quedagh Merchant and for murdering his ship's gunner, William Moore, during a mutiny which occurred around the same time of seizing the Quedagh Merchant. None of these actions were related to the city of Moroni nor the Comoros generally. The association of these events with "Moroni on Grand Comoro" is an unsupported assertion by Huggins, and these specific names have nothing to do with Kidd's execution. This seems to be a stretching attempt by Huggins to more closely tie Kidd's execution with Joseph Smith and Mormonism. Huggins' other abuses of historical sources and problematic conclusions have been thoroughly exposed by historians Mark Ashurst-McGee and Larry E. Morris. We've reviewed some of Huggins' claims here on the FAIR wiki.
Eleven years after Huggins in a 2014 article, ex-Mormon critic Grant H. Palmer asserted that Joseph Smith acquired the names "Cumorah" and "Moroni" by reading stories of Captain Kidd in his youth. Palmer concludes that it is "reasonable to assert that Joseph Smith's hill in the 'land of Camorah' [Comorah/Cumorah], 'city of Moroni,' and 'land of Moroni/Meroni,' is connected with the ilhas [islands] de Comoro/'Camora,' the Moroni/Meroni settlements, and these pirate adventures." Similarly, critic Jeremy T. Runnells in the 2017 edition of his CES Letter claims that "'Camora' [Grand Comore] and settlement 'Moroni' were names in pirate and treasure hunting stories involving Captain William Kidd (a pirate and treasure hunter) which many 19th century New Englanders – especially treasure hunters – were familiar with." But that's negligibly true. The primary inspiration for Captain Kidd stories and legends, Daniel Defoe's (aka Captain Charles Johnson) 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, mentions Grande Comore once and fails to mention "Moroni/Meroni/Maroni". Neither Grande Comore nor Meroni/Merone/Maroni are connected to Kidd. This is the case for both volumes of General History which can be read/checked online (Vol. 1 | Vol. 2). Volume 2 includes the one mention of "Comaro" (on page 380. Presumably Grande Comore) in connection to the exploits of Captain Nathaniel North but no mention of Grande Comore in connection to Kidd. There is no mention of Moroni nor Merone/Meroni at all. That reference to "Comaro" on p. 380 reads "They cruiz'd among the Islands, landed at Comaro, and took the Town, but found no Booty, excepting some Silver Chains, and check'd Linnen." That's it. "Captain Kidd never set foot on Grande Comore, the location of the current city Moroni, and he wasn’t even a pirate till months after he left the Comoro Islands." Recall that Joseph would have been interested in the stories because of Captain Kidd, who was rumored to have buried treasure in the Eastern United States. The same isn't true of other pirates. "What’s the 'Town'? It’s King’s Town on the northern tip of Grande Comore island, now Mitsamiouli, the only safe anchoring spot at the time...Unfortunately, water is hard to access on this island, so even that harbor wasn’t an attractive 'refreshment' stop for European ships, pirate or not."
The book (General History) recounted the exploits of a number of well known pirates, including Captain Kidd. Johnson's book is said to have contributed to a number of fictionalized stories about Captain Kidd that became popular during Joseph Smith's time. However, the section of this book dealing with Captain Kidd offers little information regarding Comoro or Meroni. In fact, when referring to Kidd's interaction with the Comoros, it only refers to the individual islands by name without mentioning the name "Meroni" or "Maroni" at all. As an example from Johnson’s book:
It does not appear all this while that he had the least Design of turning Pyrate; for near Mahala and Joanna both, he met with several Indian Ships richly laden, to which he did not offer the least Violence, tho’ he was strong enough to have done what he pleas'd with them; and the first Outrage or Depredation I find he committed upon Mankind, was after his repairing his Ship, and leaving Joanna; he touch'd at a Place call'd Mabbee, upon the Red Sea, where he took some Guinnea Corn from the Natives, by Force.
So here we have a reference to Joanna or Anjouan. It doesn't mention Meroni (the port city in Anjouan/Joanna) at all. Nothing resembling the name "Moroni" is mentioned in Johnson's book. Jeremy Runnells lied and said that Captain Kidd "was familiar with Meroni as it was a port [of Joanna]." But there's no evidence of this.
Other sources mentioning Kidd make no mention of Moroni nor the Comoros. "[T]here’s the original transcript of Captain Kidd’s 1701 trial, published multiple times in the 18th and 19th centuries, but neither Moroni nor Camora ([n]or any derivatives) show up in those proceedings. There’s Washington Irving’s 1824 short story, Kidd the Pirate, but that doesn’t have any words like Camora or Moroni (or any derivatives). There’s some fascinating detail in the 1830 Annals of Philadelphia account of Captain 'Kid', including many tales of his treasure supposedly hidden in the Northeastern United States. Unfortunately, no mention of Camora or Moroni (or any derivatives), but it was a year too late for the Book of Mormon, anyway." If Joseph Smith got "Moroni" and "Cumorah" from fictional stories relating the tales of Captain Kidd recounted in novels inspired by Johnson's book, how would such stories even contain these names given that the primary inspiration for the stories, General History, contains only one plausible candidate for Cumorah? Where is the "dime novel" containing anything regarding Comoros/Camora/Grand Camore/Meroni/Moroni? These questions need to be answered.
Other islands in the Comoros are mentioned in General History in relation to various pirates. There are 12 mentions of Joanna, 4 mentions of Mohila, and 25 mentions of Mayotta across the two volumes. We'll bring this up again in our conclusion.
2. Maps and other Sources that Contain the Names Moroni, Meroni, Comoros, Camora, or Grand Comore are not proximate to Joseph Smith
When popular maps and other sources contemporary to Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon are examined, the possibility of Joseph seeing Comoros and Moroni on these maps recedes and the idea becomes less plausible.
One critic, Noel A. Carmack, took up an exhaustive searching of maps, gazetteers, and other sources proximate to Joseph Smith and observes "that [whether] Joseph Smith Jr. had pre-1830 knowledge of the East Indian Ocean pirate haunt ["pirate haunt" being a place pirates like to frequent habitually]—the Comoro Island group and its sultan town, Moroni—is difficult to conclusively determine." He further states that "[n]o extant pre-1830 chart or map shows Moroni as a place name on the larger island [of Grande Comore].":p. 130
Carmack does note that there is a 1778 map of Grande Comore (called "Comoro" in this map) with the town spelled as "Moroon" (hardly the kind of easy grab for Joseph Smith the critics want):
There is also this detail map from 1774 with the names as "Comoro" and "Moroon"
Are we really going to expect Joseph Smith to look at one of these two maps of one island, Comore, flip the name "Moroon" to become "Moroni", flip the name "Comoro" to "Cumorah", and stick it in the Book of Mormon? When there's one mention of Comore and no mention of Moroon in the source closest to him (General History)?
There is also this 1748 map done by Frenchman hydrographer Jacque-Nicolas Bellin of the island of Joanna with the names "Comore" and "Meroni" on it.
A 1752 version of the same map has the name spelled as "Merone"
A map from 1745–47 of Anjouan also contains the names "Komoro" and "Meroni":
But are we really going to expect that Joseph Smith is going to look at one of these three maps of one island, two of which are in French (and by which reason there's little motivation for Joseph to seek these maps out), spin the tiny port town "Meroni" and "Comore" to become "Moroni" and "Cumorah", and stick them in the Book of Mormon? When there's relatively little mention of Joanna (and especially in transitory contexts) and no mention of Meroni in the Captain Kidd stories? Why doesn't Joseph Smith just look at a globe or other global map? Why a map as specific as one of these?
This is the closest that anyone can get to date in placing potential inspiration for both Moroni and Cumorah together in the same source.
3. Could Joseph Smith have gotten the names Moroni and Cumorah from local American whalers?
- There is another speculation put forth by critics regarding how Joseph Smith might have heard the names "Moroni" and "Cumorah" that is not related to Captain Kidd. The assumption made on one website is that he "heard about these exotic places from stories of American whalers." The website notes that "The Comoro islands were visited by a large number of American whaling ships beginning before the appearance of The Book of Mormon. Sailors aboard these ships, when they returned to the whaling ports of New England, told of their adventures in the western Indian Ocean and by the time The Book of Mormon first appeared in the 1820s, both Moroni and Comoro were words known to some Americans living in the eastern United States." One would have to assume, however, that Joseph came into contact with "some Americans living in the eastern United States" who were familiar with the names. Critics have posited that there may be such a connection with Solomon Mack, Joseph's grandfather and "a retired sea captain...who plied the same New England waters once haunted by Kidd[.]":p. 185n53. See also pp. 50–51 therein. Evidence for this, however, is lacking. This "connection" is based on pure conjecture. Given that the stories regarding Kidd mention "Comaro" once and never mention "Moroni" nor "Meroni", how would Solomon Mack even learn the names (or close enough matches that could become the names) "Cumorah" and "Moroni"?
What makes the theory especially lacking in view of the author is that if we're looking for words that are spelled and pronounced roughly the same that Joseph Smith could have cribbed from, we can eventually find what we're looking for and it would have no bearing on the Book of Mormon's authenticity. To demonstrate, consider an experiment done by David Snell, a Latter-day Saint and host of the Faith and Beliefs segment of the YouTube show Saints Unscripted. Snell made up several names that sounded like Book of Mormon names and picked a random state in the United States: Kentucky. Next, Snell searched for place names in Kentucky that sounded like his made up Book of Mormon-sounding names. He found matches or near matches for three of his five made up names. His experiment begins at 4:20 of the video below:
Snell aptly demonstrates the fallacies that critics commit when making the Captain Kidd argument against the Book of Mormon.
4. What about "Cumorah" being spelled "Camorah" in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon?
In order to more closely associate the Book of Mormon with the Comoros Islands, Grant Palmer and other critics note that "Cumorah" is spelled "Camorah" in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Both Palmer and Jeremy Runnells claim that "[p]rior to its French occupation in 1841, the islands were known by its Arabic name, 'Camora.'" The name "Cumorah" figures 9 times in the Book of Mormon text, all within the book of Mormon.
The first thing that we should note is that the spelling of Grande Comore as "Camora" does not occur in any source that the author has been able to locate. Both Grant Palmer and Jeremy Runnells inaccurately identify an 1808 map of the Comoros as calling the group of islands "Camora". The following screenshot is from Runnells' CES Letter:
One will see two things. First, Runnells wrongly claims that "Camora" in the map is referring to all the Comoros Islands when it's actually referring only to Grande Comore. As evidence, one will see that the islands of Mohilla and Johanna are mentioned as well. Mayotta is not mentioned. Second, you'll see that the name here is "Comora" rather than "Camora" as Runnells wrongly claims. For example, compare the "o" in "Comora" on the map above with the "o" of "Mohilla" and the "a" of "Joanno" just below and to the right of Mohilla for evidence that the map indeed says "Comora". So even with the uniform spelling of Cumorah as "Camorah" in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, there is little likelihood that Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery cribbed the name as is from maps of the Comoros.
But pursuing this further, Oliver Cowdery stated that "Camorah" was a spelling error in the July 1835 issue of the Latter Day Saint's Messenger and Advocate. Oliver Cowdery states:
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. (It is printed Camorah, which is an error.)
This assertion from Oliver matches evidence from the Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon where the name is spelled "Camorah" once, "Cumorah" seven times, and "Comorah" twice. The portion of the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon containing the book of Mormon is no longer extant. There were three scribes for the Printer's Manuscript: Oliver Cowdery, and unknown scribe, and Hyrum Smith. The unknown scribe is the one that copied this portion of the book of Mormon from the Original Manuscript to the Printer's Manuscript. This unknown scribe may have been Martin Harris. Royal Skousen argues persuasively that Oliver Cowdery likely meant to spell it "Cumorah" all nine times in the original manuscript and that Harris (when copying the original manuscript to the printer's manuscript) and the typesetter for the Book of Mormon, John Gilbert (when setting the type for the Book of Mormon), thought that some of Cowdery's uses of the letter "u" looked like uses of the letter "o" and "a". Cowdery also sometimes actually did write the wrong letter. These may be the result of Oliver mishearing the pronunciation of Book of Mormon names by Joseph Smith as he dictated the text of the Book of Mormon.
Further, the use of "Cumorah" brings the name into greater parallel with other names in the Book of Mormon including:
We don't have a Book of Mormon name that includes "cam" or "kam" in its spelling.
There are "com" names in the Book of Mormon such as:
And we have plenty of evidence of the islands in general and/or Grande Comore in particular being called Comora, Comoro, Comore, Comoros, etc. But, again, the textual evidence documented by Royal Skousen above argues against the name intentionally being spelled Comorah (or something close to it) first and then changed later to Cumorah.
In each of these above scenarios and with each piece of supposed evidence use, the critics commit the fallacy of appeal to probability (discussed on the linked page) while trying to establish their arguments. Additionally, the probability has receded significantly that Joseph Smith cribbed these names when examining the evidence that the critics use to establish the probability.
5. Have Faithful Latter-day Saint Scholars Found the Captain Kidd/Comoros/Moroni theory plausible?
In his 2014 "debunking" of FAIR's response to the 2013 edition of the CES Letter, Jeremy T. Runnells claimed that "[f]or some Mormon apologists, the evidence is so compelling [that Captain Kidd stories influenced these names] that they have suggested that Lehi and his family may have encountered the Comoros islands on their initial voyage from the Arabian Peninsula to the western hemisphere, and that the Nephite civilization therefore may have retained a collective knowledge of the names of 'Comoros' and 'Moroni'."
Runnells relied on a Wikipedia article that at one point stated the following to make his claim:
Alternative origin of the name
Close-up of 1808 map of Africa with the small Comoros islands labelled "Camora" (near center, just below marked line of latitude) [NOTE from author of this FAIR article: this map is shown above. The Wikipedia editor also wrongly claims that it says "Camora"] Grant H. Palmer has theorized that Smith created the name "Cumorah" through his study of the treasure-hunting stories of Captain William Kidd, because Kidd was said to have buried treasure in the Comoros islands (known by the Arabic name, Camora, prior to being occupied by the French in 1841). Previous to announcing his discovery of the Book of Mormon, Smith had spent several years employed as a treasure seeker. Since the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon printed the name "Cumorah" as "Camorah," 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. 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.Others posit 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. However, other Mormon authors have suggested that the ancestors of the Nephite people may have encountered the Comoros islands on their initial voyage from the Arabian Peninsula to the western hemisphere, and that the Nephite civilization therefore may have retained a collective knowledge of the names "Comoros" and "Moroni".
Notice the very odd language from the Wikipedia article that seems to have suggested that Mormon authors accept the Captain Kidd theories. We go to the footnote for more information that reads:
One Mormon author suggests that Lehi and his family may have re-supplied at Moroni during the voyage: W. Vincent 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”. This position reflects the argument of others that the tradition that Lehi and his company voyaged across the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and finally the Pacific Ocean is "extreme" and non-authoritative: 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, p. 39.
The first thing we can rule out with all confidence is that Coon has connected the Captain Kidd stories to the Book of Mormon. He's still faithful so he's not going to believe that Joseph plagiarized the stories to create the Book of Mormon. The next thing we need to learn is why some believe that the "tradition that Lehi and his company voyaged across the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and finally the Pacific Ocean is 'extreme' and non-authoritative". W. Vincent Coon is a hobbyist researcher of the Book of Mormon that believes that the Book of Mormon took place in the Heartland Geography (which encompasses primarily the Eastern to Mid United States). He was trying to find evidence that the Lehites were able to sail southward, away from the Arabian peninsula, around Africa, and then come from the east, through the Atlantic Ocean, to the Florida Peninsula or another area along the eastern seaboard of the United States, and he used this as evidence of that assertion. He, like the other Heartland theorists mentioned in the Wikipedia quote, was trying to argue against Limited Geography Theories of Book of Mormon geography that place the Book of Mormon somewhere on the west side of the North American continent. Here's every source cited by Wikipedia that supposedly connects Coon to the Captain Kidd theory and what he actually said about the Comoros:
|W. Vincent Coon, Choice Above All Other Lands, pg. 68 [p. 64 in e-book]||After sailing more than 2,400 miles from Arabia, one of the first places Lehi’s family could have re-supplied, is the isle of Grande Comore, 200 miles off the eastern shore of Africa. The capital port city of Grande Comore, incidentally, has a Semitic name – “Moroni”. Evidence shows that other groups of Israelites, leaving Jerusalem, sailed with the currents and seasonal winds from the southern coast of Arabia to the coast of Africa. (“Quest for the Lost Ark”, History Channel documentary, A&E Television Networks, 2007)|
|“How Exaggerated Setting for the Book of Mormon Came to Pass”||One possible location where they may have re-supplied is the island of Grand Comore; about 200 miles off the eastern coast of Africa. The capitol port city of the island, by the way, has a Semitic name – "Moroni".|
|A More Feasible Voyage||After sailing more than 2,400 miles from Arabia, one of the frist places that Lehi's family could have re-supplied, is the isle of Grande Comore, 200 miles off the eastern shore of Africa. The capital port city of Grande Comore, incidentally, has a Semitic name – "Moroni".|
There's nothing here that suggests that either Coon is familiar with the Captain Kidd story or that he found it compelling. These sources only say that there is a city, in Comore, with the name Moroni. Even if Coon is familiar with the Captain Kidd theory, he only says that Lehi and his family "may" have re-supplied at Comore. Not that they positively did. Runnells seriously misread his source. This misreading was almost certainly deliberate.
When weighing probabilities, your mileage varies a little depending on what you assume regarding various questions such as:
- Whether Joseph Smith had co-conspirators or not
- What you assume about how much Joseph Smith (and/or co.) knows about Captain Kidd
- What Joseph Smith (and/or co.) have read about him
- How much Joseph Smith (and/or co.) admires Captain Kidd and his (and/or their) corresponding desire to learn what he (and/or they) can about him
- How much Joseph Smith (and/or co.) admires other pirates and his (and/or their) corresponding desire to learn about them
- How much he (or they) have read about those pirates
- The proximity of maps and other sources containing resemblances of "Moroni" and "Cumorah" to Joseph (and/or co.)
- Joseph's (and/or co.'s) abilities to plausibly spin names in these sources to be Book of Mormon names and, finally
- The proximity and obviousness of sources like the 41 mentions of other islands in the Comoros in General History to Joseph (and/or co.) that may have motivated him (and/or them) to look at maps of the areas.
At nearly every step here, you're making dubious (and, in some of the cases of the critics above, false) claims/assumptions based on tenuous (and, in some of the cases of the critics above, entirely non-existent) strands of evidence.
As your evidence, you have the name "Comaro" once in General History; you have 41 mentions of other islands besides Comore in the Comoros in relation to different pirates, 12 of which are to Joanna; you have a handful of mostly late and mostly hostile (with the clear exception of Orrin Porter Rockwell) statements that say that Joseph Smith sought for Captain Kidd's treasure and one contemporary newspaper account that says that citizens of Palmyra looked for that treasure; you have three late, hostile sources, one relying on the accuracy of the other, stating that Joseph Smith had a copy of an autobiography of or "novels" about Captain Kidd; you have five maps, all of which are detail maps of one island (out of two separate islands) in the Comoros, with names sometimes more similar and sometimes less similar to "Moroni" and "Cumorah", and two of which are in French; and you have some other potential sources documented by Carmack.
As far as the author's beliefs, the evidence really only carries you with certainty as far as Joseph Smith knowing about Captain Kidd and the treasure he buried in New York and looking for it. He also likely (but not certainly) read about Captain Kidd in some sources available to him. Past that, little can be certain. Little wonder Carmack says that whether Joseph Smith knew about the Comoros prior to 1830 is difficult to determine conclusively. Any similarity, closer or further, between the Comoros Islands and the Book of Mormon is most likely coincidental and specious.
A FairMormon Analysis of "From Captain Kidd's Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism" by Ronald V. Huggins, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36 no. 4 (2003), 22.
- Mary Ann, "The Telephone Game: Evolving Misinformation Connecting Joseph Smith, Captain Kidd, and the Comoro Islands," Wheat and Tares, May 27, 2017, https://wheatandtares.org/2017/05/27/the-telephone-game-evolving-misinformation-about-joseph-smith-captain-kidd-and-the-comoro-islands/.
- "Pirate Round," Wikipedia, accessed January 25, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Round.
- Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867).
- Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to My Mormon Doubts (n.p.: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 16 argues that "Some apologists say that Tucker’s Mormonism: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress is “antiMormon” and thus anything in the book cannot be trusted. If this is true, why then did LDS scholar and Church History compiler B.H. Roberts quote Tucker for background information on Joseph Smith? Also, FairMormon has an article in which they quote Tucker’s book 4 times as support for Joseph, and they even refer to Tucker as an “eyewitness” to Joseph and his family. Is Tucker’s peripheral information only useful and accurate when it shows Joseph and the Church in a positive and favorable light?" It should be noted that the article Runnells links to is done by one author for one paper and that the author only used Tucker to establish basic details about Joseph's life and not those that are contested i.e. those for which critics and believers may be more biased about.
- Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History 9 (October 1916): 454; transcribed in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, ed. John Welch with Erick B. Carlson (Salt Lake City/Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2005), 129 (document 38). Briggs also related this story as an aside in “Interview with David Whitmer,” Saints’ Herald 31 (June 21, 1884): 396–397; quoted in Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in Opening the Heavens, 106 n.23..
- Joseph Smith III, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," The Saints' Herald 26, no. 19 (October 1879): 290.
- Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations (1853; repr. 1995), 84. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Early Preparation of the Prophet Joseph Smith," Ensign 35, no. 12 (December 2005).
- "Money digging," Wayne Sentinel 2, no. 21 (February 1825).
- Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2003).
- Another source also states that Joseph Smith Sr. looked for Captain Kidd's treasure. See Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:624–25.
- Noel A. Carmack, "Joseph Smith, Captain Kidd Lore, and Treasure-Seeking in New York and New England during the Early Republic," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 46, no. 3 (Fall 2013): 78–153.
- James Harrison Kennedy, Early Days of Mormonism: Palmyra, Kirtland, and Nauvoo (New York: Charles Scribener's Sons, 1888). As cited in Van Wagoner, Natural Born Seer, 185n53.
- Richard S. Van Wagoner, Natural Born Seer: Joseph Smith, American Prophet, 1805–1830 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2016).
- Fred Buchanan, "Perilous Ponderings," Sunstone 13, no. 3 (June 1989): 7–9.
- Ronald V. Huggins, "From Captain Kidd's Treasure Ghost to Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, no. 4 (2003): 17–42.
- Jeremy Runnells, "Debunking FairMormon", 2014.
- Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian," The FARMS Review 18, no. 1 (2006): 34–100; Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God': Joseph Smith's Account of the Angel and the Plates," The FARMS Review 17, no. 1 (2005): 11–81.
- Grant Palmer, "Joseph Smith, Captain Kidd, Cumorah, and Moroni," John Whitmer Historical Association vol. 34 no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2014): 50—57.
- Jeremy T. Runnells, CES Letter: My Search for Answers to my Mormon Doubts (n.p.: CES Letter Foundation, 2017), 15.
- Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates (London: C. Rivington, 1724), 2:70. The second edition of same year is A General History of the Pyrates : from their first rise and settlement in the Island of Providence, to the present time, The second edition with considerable additions (London: T. Warner, 1724). This second edition contains no mention of Kidd.
- Jeremy Runnells, "Debunking FairMormon, 2014"
- Martin and Harriet Ottenheimer, "COMORO ISLANDS" (website) off-site
- See here for the listings and the manuscript listed on the Joseph Smith Papers website for confirmation of this.
- Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part 1 (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2014), 21.
- Royal Skousen, “Oliver Cowdery as Book of Mormon Scribe,” in Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, ed. Alexander L. Baugh (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 53.
- Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part 6 (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2009), 3636–38.
- See Jeremy Runnells "Debunking FairMormon; July 2014 Revision"
- "Cumorah - Alternative origin of the name," Wikipedia, accessed December 29, 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumorah#Alternative_origin_of_the_name.