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

Revision as of 22:42, 26 January 2022 by DavidSmith (talk | contribs) (Question: Did the First Presidency identify the New York "Hill Cumorah" as the site of the Nephite final battles?)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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.[1]

(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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.


Notes

  1. 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
  2. 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).
  3. Saints: Vol. 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2018).
  4. "Book of Mormon Geography," Gospel Topics Essays for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (last accessed 25 January 2022).