Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Mormon Stories - Cumorah

This is the first post of the new focus of this blog. We're going to examine the positions taken by critics of the Book of Mormon itself.

We're going to start with Mormon Stories. (Mormon Stories, along with CES Letter, are two of the most prominent critics of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.) I don't know how popular or influential Mormon Stories is, but a lot of people read/view their materials.

Here is one measure: youtube subscribers.

Mormon Stories channel: 16,845 subscribers, 728 videos
Book of Mormon Central: 9,755 subscribers, 637 videos

Remember, Book of Mormon Central has spent millions of dollars to develop and promote its content. I doubt Mormon Stories has spent more than a couple hundred thousand dollars.

(Note: BMC Studios has 4,238 subscribers and 7 videos. BMC en Espanol has 19,319 subscribers with 653 videos. BMC videos in Spanish have far more views than their videos in English, a topic we'll discuss soon on this blog: http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/)

We shouldn't be surprised if Mormon Stories has more influence among English-speakers than Book of Mormon Central. 

Critics of the Book of Mormon have effectively used M2C as a tool for years. (M2C is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory that claims the "hill in New York" where Joseph got the plates was not the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, despite the teachings of prophets and apostles.)

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith warned in the 1930s that M2C would cause members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. He repeated that warning when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve. The fulfillment of his teaching is evident all around us today.

In a courtroom, lawyers object when their opponents badger witnesses by asking the same questions over and over. They stand and say "Asked and answered," and the judge usually sustains the objection. You'll see that many of the arguments by the critics were "asked and answered" in 1834-5. The answers are in the eight historical letters that Oliver Cowdery wrote, including Letter VII on the Hill Cumorah.

The questions persist because LDS intellectuals don't accept the answers Oliver gave, including his declaration that it is a fact that the final battles took place at the hill in New York.

Long-time readers here know this blog started as an evaluation of M2C.

M2C was developed in the late 1800s by faithful RLDS scholars. It was part of the doctrinal competition between the RLDS and LDS churches. The LDS Church, under President Joseph F. Smith, sought to purchase the Hill Cumorah in New York. The RLDS Church said, in effect, "go ahead, that's not Cumorah anyway."

Over the objection of LDS leaders, faithful LDS scholars adopted the RLDS position (often without acknowledging it originated with the RLDS). In the 1970s-1980s, M2C prevailed among scholars at BYU, who began teaching it to students.

Because of the academic cycle, M2C was promulgated through CES and was enthroned as the default explanation for the geography of the Book of Mormon.

Now, M2C is implicit in LDS artwork, media, visitors centers, curriculum at CES and BYU, and, well, just about everywhere. You see it displayed in LDS chapels around the world, in the illustrations in the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon, and even at the Missionary Training Center in Provo.

In my view, M2C is a mistake, even a hoax, for all the reasons I've explained on my other blog:


Our first Mormon Stories article to review is found here:


When I do these reviews, I put the original in blue so it's easy to identify, with my comments in red. My notes are lettered and found at the end.

[Note: For new readers, I consider President Oliver Cowdery's 1835 Letter VII as the single most authoritative explanation of the Hill Cumorah, as corroborated by teachings before and after that letter was published. Letter VII was republished many times, at least twice at the direction of Joseph Smith, and was copied into Joseph's journal as part of his life history. For more, see: http://www.lettervii.blogspot.com/]

My first observation: this article is anonymous. That's good in a sense because none of my comments are personal anyway; I focus on the words, the facts, and the arguments made. I don't care who wrote them.

Anonymous articles are problematic, though, when cited as authority. Two examples come to mind:

The 1842 Times and Seasons articles that the M2C citation cartel constantly cites, and the LDS Gospel Topics Essays that are subject to change at any moment without notice.

This Mormon Stories article could be changed at any time, which is another reason why I archived it here. Maybe my review here will prompt some corrections.

One thing they definitely need to do is provide actual links to their references.

The gist of this argument is the same as that made by the M2C intellectuals.

Both groups claim that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 cannot be in western New York. Like the M2C intellectuals, Mormon Stories uses a misinterpretation of the text to claim huge numbers of combatants, claims there is no evidence of the battles, and claims that the depository could not be located in the hill in New York.



LDS Prophets and numerous Apostles over generations have provided abundant official declarations identifying the hill in New York as the exact site of both epic Book of Mormon battles, where millions of warriors perished with their metal armaments. 
[This is a common rhetorical technique that we find among both critics and M2C scholars. They conflate different teachings or theories into one, thereby misleading readers.
The first part of this sentence is completely accurate. The clause after the comma is not. The notion that "millions of warriors perished" is based on a misreading of Ether 15:2 and contradicts Letter VII, as we'll see below.]
Joseph Smith believed the numerous mounded earth hills located throughout the upstate N.Y. region, now known to be glacial drumlins, to be man-made Indian burial mounds. 
[This is mind-reading, not based on any evidence. No one believed this, actually, although many did find Indian ruins, weapons, and burials on these hills. Heber C. Kimball, for example, described the ruins he observed while living in western NY, including the embankment around the Hill Cumorah.(a)
Statements such as this make us wonder if Mormon Stories is intentionally misleading readers, or is simply unaware of the facts.]  
He repeatedly stated that the largest of all, the very Hill Cumorah, marked the site of the final battles of two civilizations.
[If Mormon Stories knows of any account of Joseph saying this, I'd like to have it. The only one I know of is when he told his mother the name of the hill even before he got the plates. D&C 128:20 refers to Cumorah in the context of other sites of early Church history. Most of the information about Cumorah comes from Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, along with subsequent prophets who joined the Church after Joseph and the saints left the Palmyra area for Ohio.
That said, there is no doubt that all of Joseph's contemporaries accepted the New York Cumorah. All of his successors who have ever spoken or written publicly about the topic have also accepted the New York Cumorah. To date, none has repudiated or even questioned the New York Cumorah.]
The massive battles depicted in the Book of Mormon represent the largest in human history. 
[This is disinformation on two counts. First, it relies on the misreading of Ether 15:2 and contradicts the teachings of Letter VII. In reality, the largest enumerated Nephite army in the text is 40,000 people. I discussed this here: http://www.lettervii.com/2017/08/question-about-numbers-at-cumorah.html.
Second, no one knows the size of the "largest" battle in human history. At most, we have records and estimates of some battles. It's a technical point, but important because of the hyperbole Mormon Stories uses here.]
The Church maintains a large Hill Cumorah Visitor Center, hosting an annual pageant which reiterates the Lamanite narrative and final battle location.
[The pageant does not reiterate the final battle location in New York; to the contrary, the pageant uses a stage and costumes based on a Mayan theme. It actually depicts M2C! Fortunately, this year's pageant (2019) is the next-to-last.] 


As recently as 1990, The Office of the First Presidency of the LDS Church confirmed that Cumorah is in New York. Almost every LDS Prophet since Joseph Smith has reiterated the same narrative.



The U.S. Civil War, one of the bloodiest episodes in human history, killed 600,000 men over 4 years. The Book of Mormon asserts triple that number in very short order; even 2,000,000 dead (Ether 15) and later hundreds of thousands using steel weapons and armor (Mormon 6). If true, this would be the largest battle in human history. Yet Cumorah yields no bones, no metal or armor, no roads or fortifications.
[Here, they at least acknowledge the Ether 15 reference, but they still misread it. Ether 15:2 is Coriantumr reflecting on the loss of 2 millions of his men, plus their wives and children, long before Cumorah. It's not clear if he's thinking about all those killed during his lifetime, or going back generations (which is my interpretation), but the millions of casualties has nothing to do with Cumorah. If you take the specific number Ether provides later in that chapter and extrapolate backward, the total number of Jaredite deaths at Cumorah is under 10,000, which is what President Cowdery wrote in Letter VII.
The second problem here is the claim that "Cumorah yields no bones, no metal or armor, no roads or fortifications." Already I've shown that Heber C. Kimball observed fortification and metal in the area. The text does not mention roads; in both cases, the Jaredites and Nephites were in a rapid retreat and never had a permanent settlement at Cumorah. Unburied bones do survive in that area for thousands of years; if so, there would be deer carcasses everywhere. We do have accounts of people finding stone axes and arrowheads on and around Cumorah, including at least one account of a metal axhead.]


[Note: This entire section is based on the false reading of Ether 15; it's merely a straw man logical fallacy. I think we can all agree that if the text actually said millions of people died at Cumorah in one battle, we would not find it believable.]

No known ancient population base has been sufficiently large and concentrated enough to sustain the massive numbers suggested in the Book of Mormon. Human survival was long a precarious struggle, starvation a constant threat. Prior to industrialization, large scale agriculture, energy production, medicine and the domestication of animals, it was not possible to sustain such a vast civilization in one location. There is simply no evidence supporting any population growth of remotely similar scale anywhere in the world.
The notion of 2,000,000 warriors feeding themselves in a single nomadic location, while fighting a protracted war, merits additional consideration. Even if we grant advanced metal weaponry, anyone who has ever hunted wild game will immediately comprehend the myriad compounding problems of such a massive endeavor. Within just a few days, every living creature within walking distance would have either fled or been consumed.
Envision the City of Phoenix relying upon primitive hunting and gathering to sustain its hungry population while leaving absolutely no trace behind.



“This time it will have to do with so important a matter as a war of extinction of two peoples, the Nephites and the Jaredites, on the self same battle site, with the same ‘hill’ marking the axis of military movements. By the Nephites this hill was called the ‘Hill Cumorah,’ by the Jaredites the ‘Hill Ramah’; it was that same ‘hill,’ in which the Nephite records were deposited by Mormon and Moroni, and from which Joseph Smith obtained the Book of Mormon, therefore the ‘Mormon Hill,’ of  today—since the coming forth of the Book of Mormon—near Palmyra, New York. [1]
“According to the Book of Mormon, the Hill Cumorah of the Nephites – the Ramah of the Jaredites – must be regarded as a natural monument overlooking ancient and extensive battle fields. Around it, early in the Sixth Century B.C., the Jaredites were destroyed. Here, also, a thousand years later, at the close of the fourth century A. D., the Nephites met with practical annihilation in a battle which, whether judged by the importance of the changes it wrought in the affairs of one of the world’s continents, or the number slain, ranks as one of the world’s great battles. 
[It's not clear if Roberts is stating his own opinion or expressing the opinions of others, but here he is contradicting Letter VII and the text itself.]
In view of these Book of Mormon facts, one would naturally expect to find some evidences in this section of the country for such wonderful historical events. Here one has a right to expect the evidences of military fortifications; for, though a thousand years had elapsed between the destruction of the Nephites and the discovery of America by the Europeans, still some military monuments would doubtless survive that length of time.” [2]
[As we've seen, there was evidence of the fortification at least in the early 1830s. There is still a remnant viewable on topographical maps.]
“Only one more reference to Nephite wars will be necessary…mentioned here because it will bring us once more face to face with that strange parallelism we have found so many times in Book of Mormon events. This time it will have to do with so important a matter as a war of extinction of two peoples…on the same battle site, with the same hill. For identification of the Hill Cumorah…Hill Ramah of the Jaredites (Mormon 6:1-11 and Ether 15:11). Also in Oliver’s letters on “Early scenes and Incidents in Church History” there is an identification of Cumorah and Ramah.” [3]
[Here, he mentions Letter VII but not regarding the numbers killed.]



If David Whitmer is to be trusted as one of the three primary Book of Mormon witnesses, should we not also rely upon his assertion that the golden plates were returned to a cave within the Hill Cumorah, “In the State of New York.” [4]
[Definitely, we should rely on David Whitmer's assertion, but the M2C scholars reject what David said. All of this section is accurate.]
Oliver Cowdery, another of Smith’s primary witnesses, described how he personally accompanied Smith multiple times to return the plates into the Hill Cumorah. He reported that a cave opened before them, containing the sword of Laban upon a table, and “wagon loads” of plates stacked high around the cavern. [5]
LDS prophets consistently spoke of that very hill near Joseph’s home, such as when Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “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 Rama…and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites.”
“It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains.  Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon.”
“Further, the fact that all of his associates from the beginning down have spoken of it as the identical hill where Mormon and Moroni hid the records, must carry some weight. It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the Spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah, and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of this hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite manner is an established record of history….” [6]
  • Gordon Hinkley stood at the hill in 1977 and repeated that it happened there.
  • Elder George Albert Smith, Conference Report, April 1906, 56.
  • Apostle Orson Pratt, Feb. 11, 1872 Journal of Discourses Vol. 14, 331.
  • President Marion G. Romney, LDS General Conference, October 4, 1975, Ensign Nov. 1975, 35.
  • Apostle LeGrand RichardsA Marvelous Work and a Wonder, ch 7.
  • Elder George Reynolds, The Story of the Book of Mormon, ch.69, 325.
[So far, so good. These accounts are all on the record.]

“Cumorah, the artificial hill of North America, is well calculated to stand in this generation, as a monument of marvelous works and wonders. Around that mount died millions of the Jaredites; yea, there ended one of the greatest nations of this earth. In that day, her inhabitants spread from sea to sea, and enjoyed national greatness and glory, nearly fifteen hundred years. — That people forsook the Lord and died in wickedness. There, too, fell the Nephites, after they had forgotten the Lord that bought them. There slept the records of age after age, for hundreds of years, even until the time of the Lord.” (The Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol.2, No.2, p.221) “The hill, which was known by one division of the ancient peoples as Cumorah, by another as Ramah, is situated near Palmyra in the State of New York.” [7]
[This is another example of misreading Ether 15. There is more background to E. Talmage's book that I discussed here. http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/01/speculation-vs-certainty-james-talmage.html]
“The great and last battle, in which several hundred thousand Nephites perished was on the hill Cumorah, the same hill from which the plates were taken by Joseph Smith, the boy about whom I spoke to you the other evening.” [8]
[Orson Pratt misreading the text and ignoring Letter VII.]
“We visited the Hill Cumorah…We were delighted to be there. Looking over the surrounding country we remembered that two great races of people had wound up their existence in the vicinity, had fought their last fight, and that hundreds of thousands had been slain within sight of that hill.” [9]
[George Albert Smith relying on Orson Pratt, misreading the text and ignoring Letter VII.]
“These records were carried by Ether from the hill Ramah, afterwards called Cumorah, where the Jaredites were destroyed, as well as the Nephites.” [10]
[No problem.]
“Thirty-six years prior to this time his nation was destroyed in what we term the State of New York, around about a hill, called by that people the Hill of Cumorah, when many hundreds of thousands of the Nephites-men, women and children, fell, during the greatest battle that they had had with the Lamanites.” [11]
[Orson Pratt misreading the text and ignoring Letter VII.]
“It will be, next Thursday night, 54 years since the Prophet Joseph Smith, then but a lad, was permitted by the angel of the Lord to take the gold plates of the Book of Mormon from the hill Cumorah, as it was called in ancient times, located in the State of New York.” [12]
[No problem.]
“Finally, they became so utterly wicked, so fully ripened for destruction, that one branch of the nation, called the Nephites, gathered their entire people arountario County; and the Lamanites, the opposite army, gathered by millions in the same region.  The two nations were four years in gathering their forces, during which no fighting took place; but at the end of that time, having marshalled all their hosts, the fighting commenced, the Lamanites coming upon the Nephites, and destroying all of them, except a very few, who had previously deserted over to the Lamanites.” [13]
[Orson Pratt misreading the text and ignoring Letter VII.]
“The passages which I have quoted from the Book of Mormon and the more extended discussion of this subject by Elder B. H. Roberts which was published in The Deseret News of March 3, 1928, definitely establish the following facts: That the Hill Cumorah, and the Hill Ramah are identical; that it was around this hill that the armies of both the Jaredites and Nephites, fought their great last battles; that it was in this hill that Mormon deposited all of the sacred records which had been entrusted to his care by Ammaron, except the abridgment which he had made from the plates of Nephi, which were delivered into the hands of his’ son, Moroni. We know positively that it was in this hill that Moroni deposited the abridgment made by his father, and his own abridgment of the record of the Jaredites, and that it was from this hill that Joseph Smith obtained possession of them.” [14]
[No problem.]
“In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” 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 . . . . This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites , flourished in America between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400. Their civilization came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites.” [15]
[No problem.]
“Both the Nephite and 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 of the early brethren, who were familiar with all the circumstances attending the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation, have left us a pointed testimony as to the identity and location of Cumorah or Ramah. [16]
[No problem.]
“Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and many of the early brethren, who were familiar with all the circumstances attending the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation, have left us a pointed testimony as to the identity and location of Cumorah or Ramah.” [17]
[No problem.]
“Cumorah, the artificial hill of north America, is well calculated to stand in this generation, as a monument of marvelous works and wonders. Around that mount died millions of the Jaredites; yea, there ended one of the greatest nations of this earth. In that day, her inhabitants spread from sea to sea, and enjoyed national greatness and glory, nearly fifteen hundred years. — That people forsook the Lord and died in wickedness. There, too, fell the Nephites, after they had forgotten the Lord that bought them. There slept the records of age after age, for hundreds of years, even until the time of the Lord.” [18]
[W.W.Phelps misreading the text and ignoring Letter VII. Phelps was passionate about a lot of things but a little loose with facts. You can read this one here:


Over the years, many Book of Mormon scholars have suggested that we can’t know the exact location of the Hill Cumorah described in the Book of Mormon.
[I call these M2C intellectuals because they developed and continue to promote M2C.]
Some scholars suggest that Mormon hid a massive cache of records in a hill, but not that hill, because Moroni wandered for a time with the few plates he had.
“In accord with these general observations about New York and Pennsylvania, we come to our principal object—the Hill Cumorah. Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrowheads. The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here. This is not the place of Mormon’s last stand. We must look elsewhere for that hill.” [19]
[They forgot to put an accurate footnote here, but I've commented on this M2C argument here:
[These sources are part of the M2C citation cartel, but we've also got Fairmormon, the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, Meridian Magazine, etc., none of whom accept what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.]


“When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to hill Cumorah, which he did… the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and specious room…. and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls.” [20]
[No problem.]
Joseph’s purported experience could only have been experienced in his mind’s eye, as we know beyond any doubt that no cave exists within the thoroughly explored Hill Cumorah. Brigham Young related a story about the undiscovered cave at Conference on June 17, 1877.
["Beyond any doubt" is clever rhetoric, but not factual. The case has not been "thoroughly explored" in any sense. A few people in Joseph's day dug some holes. People have walked all over the hill over the last 100 years. But if anyone has done a thorough exploration of hill, it has not been published. 
Look at the assumptions made here. Critics and M2C intellectuals convey an image of a natural cave, and that's one interpretation of Brigham Young's statement. But the statement can also be interpreted to mean the "cave" was man-made and consisted of a room that was about 16'x16' in dimension, as other accounts state. That was a "large and spacious room" by comparison with pioneer cabins. The "hill opened" suggests there was an access point like trap door that opened from the top, which makes sense because it could be camouflaged by covering it with dirt and leaves. Readers here know about the room that fits that description that was reportedly discovered about 12 years ago.]

Heber C Kimball in 1856 taught “…more records than ten men could carry. There were books piled upon tables, book upon book.” [21]
[No problem.]
Numerous early LDS leaders and non-members recounted the cave story, including Hyrum Smith, Orson Pratt, Edward Stevenson, David Whitmer, William Horne, W.W. Phelps and Elizabeth Kane.
[No problem.]
“Early in 1928, the hill Cumorah was purchased by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So that today that great depository of many ancient records is being held in reserve against the time when future revelations and translations will be given to the world… But most important of all, the hill Cumorah became the depository of all the ancient American records (Mormon 6:6). This included not only the abridgment made by Mormon, but the records of the plates of Nephi (both large and small), the brass plates of Laban (brought from the land of Jerusalem), and the plates of Ether.” [22]
[No problem (except I don't know what the citation refers to. Links are needed.)]


[1] Studies of Book of Mormon, 277.[2] New Witnesses for God, B.H. Roberts, 67.
[3] Studies of Book of Mormon, 277.
[4] Deseret Evening News, Aug 16, 1878.
[5] Journal of Discourses 1878, 19:38.
[6] Doctrines of Salvation, vol 3, 232-43.
[7] Apostle James E. TalmageArticles of Faith, ch 14.
[8] Apostle Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol 14, 331.
[9] Elder George Albert Smith, Conference Report, April 1906, 56.
[10] Apostle Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol 16, 50.
[11] Apostle Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol 20, 62.
[12] Apostle Orson Pratt Journal of Discourses, vol 22, 224.
Apostle Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol 17, 24.
[14] President Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report, April 1928-Morning Session.
[15] President Marion G. Romney, LDS General Conference, October 4, 1975, Ensign Nov. 1975, 35.
[16] Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 174-175.
[17] Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 174-175.
[18] Messenger and Advocate, vol 2, no 2, 221.
[19] BYU Studies
[20] Journal of Discourses 19:38, Brigham Young, June 17, 1877.
[21] Journal of Discourses, vol IV, 105.
[22] Liahona, Elders Journal June 25, 1929, 5-6.

 My notes:
[a] "In the towns of Boomfield, Victor, Manchester, and in the regions round about, there were hills upon the tops of which were entrenchments and fortifications, and in them were human bones, axes, tomahawks, points of arrows, beads and pipes, which were frequently found; and it was a common occurrence in the country to plow up axes, which I have done many times myself. I have visited the fortifications on the tops of these hills frequently... The hill Cumorah is a high hill for that country and had the appearance of a fortification or entrenchment around it. In the State of New York, probably there are hundreds of these fortifications which are now visible, and I have seen them in many other parts of the United States." Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 25

No comments:

Post a Comment