I didn't realize until recently how they obscure the facts.
Basically, the Mesoamericanists take the position that the name Cumorah was applied to the hill in New York by unknown early Church members who developed a tradition that Joseph Smith merely followed.
I'm serious. That's the claim.
You can see it at FairMormon here. You can see it in Brant Gardner's books, which will be the topic of a future post.
FairMormon, Brant Gardner, and other Mesoamericanists refer to the following article as authority about the origin of the naming of the New York hill: Rex C. Reeve, Jr., and Richard O. Cowan, "The Hill Called Cumorah," in Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Susan Easton Black, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: New York and Pennsylvania (Provo: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992), 73–74.
It's unclear why they cite that article, but I think it's because it is both obscure and inaccurate, at least with regard to the naming of the hill (which was a minor point of the article--no aspersion on the authors). I found it on GospelLink here, but you need a subscription.
When you read the entire article, you can see that the 500-word section about the name is intended as brief background. Most of the article is about the acquisition of the hill and the pageant.
This is a perfect article for Mesoamericanists to cite because the citation gives enough appearance of scholarly work to confirm the bias of their readers. Anyone who knows Church history and reads this article, however, will immediately recognize it completely skips over the most important document that links Cumorah to the New York Hill.
Of course, that is Oliver Cowdery's letter VII.
To recap, Oliver Cowdery published this letter in the Church newspaper (Messenger and Advocate) in 1835. It as part of a series of letters about Church history that he wrote with the assistance of Joseph Smith, relying on original documents we don't have now, and with the express statement that they were based on fact. Letter VII includes a detailed description of the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites taking place in the valley west of the New York hill. I'm going to post the chronology separately, but for now, I'll just mention that Joseph had his scribes copy this letter into his personal journal as part of his own story.
No wonder the Mesoamericanists don't want people to know about it.
FairMormon gives a little attention to Joseph Fielding Smith (JFS), who did discuss Oliver's Letter VII, but they don't let readers see what JFS actually wrote. Instead, they display a "review" of "this topic" that downplays JFS's extensive and detailed statement in favor of Matt Roper's spin on Sidney Sperry's survey of his students. Here's a screenshot of that masterpiece:
This is perfect material for confirmation bias. FairMormon readers of this web page will go away thinking they know all they need to know; i.e., the Mesoamerican setting is "true."
It's also interesting to read David Palmer's 1981 book, In Search of Cumorah, which is often cited by Mesoamericanists. Palmer was one of the first to detail the argument for Cumorah in Mesoamerica, including a proposed site. How does he handle the Cowdery letter?
On p. 20, he writes, "[Joseph] does not appear to have corrected Oliver Cowdery, who may have been the one to first name the New York hill 'Cumorah.' (Cowdery, 1835)"
I'm not kidding.
That is the sole reference to Oliver Cowdery in the entire book.
The reader must turn to the References pages at the back, where there is a citation to the Messenger and Advocate. Then the reader has to look up the reference to see how detailed Oliver's letter was. No mention that the letter was republished twice more during Joseph's lifetime, including in the Times and Seasons, or that Joseph included it in his own history.
Another point about Palmer's book. He implies that Joseph should have corrected Oliver. Think about that a moment.
Joseph and Oliver translated the Book of Mormon. Oliver was the first person to hear the word Cumorah as Joseph spoke it. He was the first to write it down. He and Joseph were visited by John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, as well as the heavenly messenger who carried the plates back to the New York hill (which the messenger referred to as Cumorah). At least twice, Oliver and Joseph visited the room in the hill that contained a storehouse of records and other artifacts. A few months after Oliver published Letter VII and Joseph had it copied into his journal, Oliver and Joseph were visited by Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Savior himself.
And then, in 1981, Palmer claims Joseph should have corrected Oliver?
Or in 2015, FairMormon, Brant Gardner, and the rest presume Oliver was speculating?
Actually, if Oliver was speculating, than he was lying, because he declared those letters were based on fact.
This is the inevitable point one reaches to defend the Mesoamerican theory.
I've done screenshots of the FairMormon page because 1) some people are skeptical that what I'm writing about them is accurate and 2) some of their pages have mysteriously disappeared lately. Here is their list of references as of today at this site: