Friday, September 10, 2021

Scholars vs prophets and multiple working hypotheses

The discussion about the New York Cumorah presents people with a simple, clear choice about whom you follow and how you interact with the scriptures, particularly the text of the Book of Mormon but also the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.

Choice 1: Scholarly, subjective speculations about the text and extrinsic evidence that guide our interpretation of the location of Cumorah. 

Choice 2: Prophetic, factual statements about Cumorah in New York that guide our interpretation of the text and extrinsic evidence.

In the case of Cumorah, it makes an enormous difference which choice we make. If we accept the teachings of the scholars, we reject the teachings of the prophets. If we accept the teachings of the prophets, we reject the teachings of the scholars. There is no middle ground on this point. It's a binary, either/or choice. The Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is either in western New York, or it's elsewhere. And if the prophets were wrong about the New York setting, it doesn't really matter where the "real Cumorah" is. 

It's a bizarre "tail wags the dog" scenario. The scholars insist the prophets are wrong solely because of their subjective speculations about where the Nephites must have lived, which leads them to develop "criteria" for Cumorah based on extrinsic evidence from their speculations. For example, because they insist the Nephites lived in Mesoamerica, they also insist Cumorah must be in a land of volcanoes, even though the text never mentions volcanoes. They insist Cumorah must be in a place inhabited by millions of ancient people, even though the text never says or implies that was the case.

When we read what the text actually says, as opposed to what commentators have said about what the text says, it's easy to reconcile the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah with the extrinsic evidence. For example, we can see that population estimates based on the text are congruent with extrinsic evidence from archaeology and anthropology in western New York, Ohio, etc. I discussed some of that here:


Discussions about history involve two elements:

A. Historical facts (documents and extrinsic evidence). Because we're dealing with history, and no one is claiming any new revelation about that history, everyone is on a level playing field. No one has "special knowledge" about history because of their experience, credentials, positions, etc. Anyone who can read and understand English has equal access to all the facts.

B. Interpretation of those facts (multiple working hypotheses). This is where it is easy to get confused. Often, historians write in a style that presents their hypotheses as facts. Obviously, they have no personal knowledge of historical facts; they rely on evidence just like everyone else. This is a standard persuasive technique, but don't accept historians' statements as fact without seeing the evidence they rely upon. In the context of Church history, historians who are both believers and unbelievers use this rhetorical style. Discerning readers can tell the difference. 


Ideally, we first establish the facts. Everyone should be able to agree about what the facts are. Proponents often avoid, discount, or even censor facts that contradict their hypotheses, but that's easy to expose. 

For example, ask yourself, did you know that Joseph's mother reported that Moroni identified the hill in New York as Cumorah the first time he visited Joseph Smith in 1823? 

Moroni said, "the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place."

If you don't know that, why don't you know that? 

Ask your BYU or CES teacher. Or ask the teachers of your children or grandchildren. 

It is inexcusable that Latter-day Saints don't know about this.

As a test, if you search for that phrase on, you get two results, here and here. Both are buried in discussions about the First Vision, and both cite Dan Vogel's Early Mormon Documents book, volume 1, instead of the Joseph Smith Papers. 

If was a legitimate educational organization instead of an advocacy front for the M2C citation cartel, they would feature Lucy's account in their discussions of Cumorah. But they don't and they won't. They don't want Church members to know about anything that contradicts M2C.


Every sincere seeker of truth should be able to agree on what the facts are. 

That's the easy part.

Next, we interpret those facts to develop hypotheses that explain and reconcile the facts in various ways. This involves assessing reliability, credibility, authenticity, and other indicia of truthfulness. Much of that analysis is subjective, but that's fine so long as we clearly explain our reasoning.

Different people develop different hypotheses that reflect their respective biases, desired outcomes, values, priorities, etc. Some people claim they "follow the evidence" but we can all see that is a delusion. The worst extreme of bias confirmation is not recognizing your own biases--or actually believing you have no bias.

To repeat: Because we're dealing with history, and no one is claiming any new revelation about that history, everyone is on a level playing field. We all have access to all the evidence. 

In this short post, I can't list all the evidence about Cumorah (some of it is here), but readers of this blog by now are familiar with it. Really, regarding Cumorah there is very little debate about the evidence itself. The debate involves (i) disclosing and (ii) interpreting the evidence. 

Here's a table that illustrates the two separate approaches to the Cumorah issue. Most references are here:


Interpretation - Prophets

Interpretation - Scholars

Lucy Mack Smith: When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he told Joseph that "the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place."

Lucy was correct and this explains why everyone knew Cumorah was in New York

Lucy was wrong because she related a false tradition, or else Moroni was referring to a “second” Cumorah because the real Cumorah is in Mexico

Lucy Mack Smith: Joseph said, “as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are

Lucy was correct and this explains why everyone knew Cumorah was in New York

Lucy was wrong because she related a false tradition, or else Moroni was referring to a “second” Cumorah because the real Cumorah is in Mexico

David Whitmer: The messenger who had the abridged plates declined a ride to Fayette and said “No, I am going to Cumorah.” David said, “This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant.”

David was correct and this explains why everyone knew Cumorah was in New York

David was wrong because she related a false tradition, or else the messenger was referring to a “second” Cumorah because the real Cumorah is in Mexico

Oliver Cowdery (quoted by Parley P. Pratt) during the mission to the Lamanites (D&C 28, 30 and 32). "This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the State of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County.”

Oliver and Parley were correct and this explains why everyone knew Cumorah was in New York

Oliver and Parley were wrong because they related a false tradition, or else the Moroni was referring to a “second” Cumorah because the real Cumorah is in Mexico

Heber C. Kimball, who lived in western New York and joined the Church in 1832, visited Cumorah after his baptism and reported he could still see the embankments around the hill (most of which have since been plowed under)

Heber was correct because he had been taught about the New York Cumorah and observed the evidence with his own eyes

Heber was wrong because he didn’t describe the embankments in enough detail to verify his observations and because he was relying on a false tradition anyway

Oliver Cowdery, then Assistant President of the Church (which meant he was Joseph’s spokesman) wrote a series of essays about Church history with the assistance of Joseph Smith, published as letters in the Messenger and Advocate, Times and Seasons, Gospel Reflector, Millennial Star, The Prophet, and the Improvement Era. Joseph also had them copied into his journal as part of his life story.

Letter I. “[Moroni] said this history was written and deposited not far from that place” referring to Joseph’s home near Palmyra

Oliver was correct. If the history was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home, Mormon and Moroni lived in that vicinity when they abridged the Nephite and Jaredite records.

Oliver was wrong because either he or Joseph misquoted Moroni based on a false tradition

Letter VI. Referring to the mile-wide valley west of the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates, “here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.”

Oliver was correct because he and Joseph had visited the depository of Nephite records in the hill mentioned in Mormon 6:6 multiple times, as related by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, David Whitmer, and others

Oliver, David Whitmer, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and others were wrong because either Oliver misled people based on a false tradition or he was relating multiple joint visions of the “real Cumorah” in southern Mexico, but also Oliver and Joseph never had any revelation about Cumorah

Letter VII. “[Mormon] deposited, as he says, on the 529th page, all the records in this same hill, Cumorah and after gave his small record to his son Moroni”

Oliver was correct because he had visited that depository, so he knew exactly where it was and he explained by citing Mormon 6:6

Oliver was wrong because he was merely speculating based on a false tradition

Letter VII. “This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tents.”

Oliver was correct because he had visited that depository and knew from personal experience what it contained

Oliver was wrong because he was merely speculating based on a false tradition

D&C 128:20 (originally a letter published in the Times and Seasons in September 1842): “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed.”

Joseph was correct because he had learned the name from Moroni before he ever got the plates, he had visited the depository, and he had helped write and promulgate Letter VII, which had been published in the Times and Seasons a year previously.

Joseph was wrong because he had adopted the false tradition about Cumorah, or else he was referring to the hill in southern Mexico because of speculative articles in the Times and Seasons that anachronistically attributed Mayan ruins to the Nephites

Various other teachings by Joseph’s contemporaries and successors about the New York Cumorah

They were correct because they relied on what Joseph and Oliver taught

They were wrong because they relied on a false tradition, which we know is false because our interpretation of the Book of Mormon requires Cumorah to be in southern Mexico

Monday, August 23, 2021

Abraham Lincoln on extinct giants

Book of Mormon geography and historicity is not complicated. Moroni explained that the history of the Jaredites was the history of those who lived in "this north country." (Ether 1:1) Separately, he told Joseph that "the history of the aborigenes of this country... was written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home.

Because Mormon and Moroni wrote the history not far from Joseph's home near Palmyra, NY, and because Moroni explained that the Jaredites lived in "this" north country, we can see that the Jaredites lived in the "north country" that included western New York.  

It's very simple (unless you've been persuaded by M2C scholars and their followers who insist the prophets were wrong about Cumorah, that Oliver was an ignorant speculator, etc.)

Those of us Latter-day Saints who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah know about the ancient giants who lived in "this north country" as Moroni described it. 

And it came to pass that they ate and slept, and prepared for death on the morrow. And they were large and mighty men as to the strength of men. (Ether 15:26)

In Moroni's America I quoted what Abraham Lincoln said about the "race of extinct giants" when he visited Niagara Falls. The original, with a link, is below.

The eyes of that species of extinct giants - whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara as ours do now....,0.502,1.184,0.623,0

page 14.

In the late 1800s there were newspaper accounts from that area describing the discovery of giant human skeletons deep in the ground. Some from Cayuga and Dunnville are included below.

(click to enlarge)

Note the proximity of Cayuga and Dunnville to both Niagara and Cumorah.

Another book described the mummies found in Lexington, Kentucky.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Translation art

The best depiction of the translation is still on the Church's web page.

(click to enlarge)

This image is exceptionally important because it shows the curtain or screen that was common knowledge. If not for the screen, the Spalding theory would have made no sense. The whole point of the book Mormonism Unvailed was to explain what was behind the "vail" when Joseph dictated. This is one way we can tell that the SITH sayers (stone-in-the-hat) witnesses were not observing the actual translation, but instead merely a demonstration.

It would be even better if this image showed the Urim and Thummim, but this is far more historically and doctrinally accurate than the goofy SITH images. So far, I haven't seen a single SITH image that aligns with David Whitmer's description of the demonstration, with the people gathered around the table and the three scribes ready to take turns because Joseph was dictating so fast.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

David Whitmer, the Nephite, and the Urim and Thummim

Edward Stevenson's journal entry in which he reported that David claimed the messenger who took the abridged plates to Cumorah was one of the Three Nephites.

(click to enlarge)

Stevenson's journal entry in which David said the angel showed him the Urim and Thummim with the plates.

(click to enlarge)

Later in this journal, Stevenson recorded this note: "David said that the Prophet translated first by the Urim and Thummim and afterwards by a seer stone." Because David was never present in Harmony during the translation, he was either repeating hearsay or what he observed (or heard) at the Whitmer home in Fayette.

When Joseph arrived at the Whitmer home, he began translating the plates of Nephi that we refer to today as the "small plates." The Original Manuscript shows that Oliver, Christian Whitmer and John Whitmer were the scribes for 1 Nephi. 

Later, Emma arrived and Joseph conducted a demonstration with three scribes taking turns as they got tired. Because Joseph couldn't show the plates or the U&T, he used the stone in the hat (SITH) to demonstrate the concept of translating. 

Thus, David was correct in the sense that Joseph translated first with the U&T, which took place upstairs from morning until night, out of sight of the household. Later, Joseph conducted the demonstration with SITH downstairs, probably reciting the Isaiah chapters by memory. David naturally inferred this was part of the translation. 

Joseph and Oliver would have concluded the final few pages of 2 Nephi through Words of Mormon after the demonstration, upstairs.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

A record of the Indians

There was a time when Church members still believed what Moroni first told Joseph Smith when he "gave a history of the aborigenes of this country" and said "this history was written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home near Palmyra, New York.


For example, Lucy Mack Smith told people it was a record of the Indians.

From Lucy Mack Smith's History, 1844-5.

I will now return to the time when the Elders set out for Misouri the reader will reccollect that Hyrum Smith my oldest son was directed to go by the way of Detroit I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to visit the family of my My Brother stephen Mack Who had been dead some 4 or 5 years this being 1831 and my brother died in 1826— Hyrum was very anxious to have me accompany him And as my niece was about returning home I this was another inducement for me to undertake the journey I accordingly set off in the month 

[p. [8], bk. 12]

of june our company consisted Hyram Smith Brother Moredock [John Murdock] Lyman Wight Brother Corril [John Corrill] Almira Mack my Niece and myself— 

When we went on board the boat we held a consultation to Determine whether it was best to say much concerning the gospel at first it was concluded that we should be entirely still as to religion but finally Hyrum said that Mother might say what she was disposed to and if a difficulty arose the Elders should assist her out of it 

We had not been long on board when as I was setting one day at the door of the cabin very much engaged reading the Book of Mormon a lady accosted me thus What book have you madam you seem very much engaged The Book of Mormon I replied— The Book of Mormon said she what work is that I then gave her a brief history of the coming forth of the work She seemed highly delighted I said that it was a record of the Indians Is it possible she exclaimed why My Husband is a Missionary out now among the Indians and I am going to how I do wish that I could get a book to carry him

Monday, May 10, 2021

Article from the Times and Seasons, Vol. 6, 20:1076

Sunday, June 1st, 1834, We had preaching, and many of the inhabitants of the town came to hear. Elder John Carter, who had formerly been a Baptist preacher, spoke in the morning, and was followed by four other Elders in the course of the day all of whom had formerly been preachers for different denominations.—  

When the inhabitants heard these elders they appeared much interested, and were very desirous to know who we were, and we told them one had been a Baptist preacher, and one a Campbellite; one a Reformed Methodist, and another a Restorationer, &c. 

During the day many questions were asked but no one could learn our names, profession, business or destination, and, although they suspected we were Mormons they were very civil. Our enemies had threatened that we should not cross the Illinois river, but on Monday the 2nd we were ferried over without any difficulty. The ferryman counted and declared there were five hundred of us; yet our true number was only about one hundred and fifty. Our company had been increased since our departure from Kirtland, by volunteers from different branches of the church through which we had passed. 

We encamped on the bank of the river until Tuesday the 3rd during our travels we visited several of the mounds which had been thrown up be the ancient inhabitants of this county, Nephites, Lamanites, &c., and this morning I went up on a high mound, near the river, accompanied by the brethren. From this mound we could overlook the tops of the trees and view the prairie on each side of the river as far as our vision could extend, and the scenery was truly delightful.

On the top of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three alters having been erected one above the other, according to ancient order; and human bones were strown over the surface of the ground. 

The brethren procured a shovel and hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot discovered skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs was a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death, Elder Brigham Young retained the arrow and the brethren carried some pieces of the skeleton to Clay county. 

The contemplation of the scenery before us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms; and the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the spirit of the Almighty I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us, was a white Lamanite, a large thick set man, and a man of God. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Omandagus, who was know from the hill Cumorah, or Eastern sea, to the Rocky Mountains. His name was Zelph. The curse was taken from him or at least, in part; one of his thigh bones was broken, by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites.

(Times and Seasons VI.20:1076 ¶4–5)

(click to enlarge)

Monday, April 19, 2021

An accurate account

A recent article in the Wall St. Journal discussed a physicist who has assessed the data regarding climate change and has concluded the media and politicians have misled the public (no surprise). 

The article included this observation.

Mr. Koonin says he wants voters, politicians and business leaders to have an accurate account of the science. He doesn’t care where the debate lands.

That observation struck me as describing the way I approach issues of Church history. 

I want members of the Church to have an accurate account of all the history, and I don't care where the debate lands.

As I see it, there have been four distinct approaches to Church history.

1. Traditional faithful narratives that supported Joseph Smith's prophetic role but were highly edited versions of Church history, generally omitting what could be perceived as "negative" information from historical sources. Examples: Essentials in Church History and Truth Restored.

2. Critical narratives that undermined or directly attacked Joseph Smith's prophetic role but generally omitted information from historical sources that supported Joseph's claims. Examples: Mormonism Unvailed and No Man Knows my History.

3. "New Mormon History" that, while purportedly faithful, sought to incorporate the "negative" information by reframing our understanding of Church history by largely accepting the critical narratives and omitting information that contradicts modern consensus on such topics as M2C and SITH. Examples: Rough Stone Rolling, Saints and From Darkness unto Light.

4. Reactionary narratives that responded to the "New Mormon History" by characterizing as lies the historical sources that contradicted or reframed the traditional faithful narratives. Example: Seer stone vs Urim and Thummim.

Each approach naturally satisfies a distinct audience because each is an exercise in bias confirmation. I have no problem with anyone accepting whichever approach they prefer.

However, as I evaluated these approaches, I concluded that each lacked what I considered a basic requirement because each approach simply ignored evidence that contradicted the thesis of the respective authors. While each presents itself as the "correct" interpretation, unsuspecting readers never see the information that the authors omit.

Narratives by nature involve interpretation, assumptions and conjecture. Each individual can assess an author's views and make an informed decision--but only if they have all the relevant facts available.

As Mr. Koonin said in the WSJ article, I want people to have an accurate account of all the history.

I think it makes more sense to assess all of the available and relevant evidence, and then see if there is a narrative that explains all of that evidence. 


Following that approach led me to write numerous blog articles and three books on Church history and related topics. I make my assumptions and biases clear up front. I include all the relevant information I can find from all four categories of approaches listed above, plus additional sources. 

Regarding the translation issue, A Man that Can Translate proposes that Joseph did translate the engravings on the plates with the aid of the Urim and Thummim, but also used the seer stone to conduct a demonstration for his supporters.

Regarding Book of Mormon historicity, Between these Hills makes a case for the New York Cumorah that Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors consistently and persistently taught.

Regarding the language of the Book of Mormon, Infinite Goodness argues that the text itself is evidence that Joseph translated the plates "after the manner of his language."

I welcome input from readers, including critics. I often update my blogs and books in response to new information or better arguments.

I hope the ongoing discussion will lead to improved understanding of historical events and greater faith among Latter-day Saints.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Church History Department blog is excellent

The Church History Department has an excellent blog. If you haven't seen it, it's worth taking a look.

You can subscribe to their newsletter.

They announced the digitization of several historical items. The collection of Joseph F. Smith personal photographs is interesting. Here's a link to one with him and his son, Joseph Fielding Smith.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Steven C. Harper and agenda-driven history - part 1

Many Latter-day Saints remain perplexed at the revisionist Church history narratives we see replacing long-familiar traditional history. In my view, these changes are based not on new historical sources or better analysis, but instead they are driven by specific agendas.

Brother Harper's books Joseph Smith's First Vision and First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins, contain some wonderful insights into the work of historians that we'll discuss in this series.

BTW, on these blogs I'm going to start posting only summaries of the longer articles I send to subscribers to MOBOM, the Museum of the Book of Mormon. You can subscribe for free here:


Here is Brother Harper's bio as provided in First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins.

Steven C. Harper earned a PhD in early American history from Lehigh University, where he was Lawrence Henry Gipson Fellow. He taught at Brigham Young University campuses in Hawaii and Utah, and served as a volume editor of The Joseph Smith Papers and later as managing historian and a general editor of Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days. He is the author of Promised Land (2006) a study of colonial Pennsylvania's dispossession of the Lenape or Delawares. He is also the author of dozens of articles and two books on early Latter-day Saint history. He is currently editor of BYU Studies Quarterly and professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University.

Here we see the revolving door between BYU and the Church History Department, which helps explain why Saints teaches what it does. We'll discuss that throughout this series.

BYU Studies continues to produce important articles, such as those in the issue focusing on the First Vision, which you can see here:

Like most Latter-day Saints, I love BYU Studies. I have physical copies of dozens of issues, although the digital copies are more useful. It has always been disappointing to see BYU Studies promote the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory (M2C), but we all understood that was inevitable because the long-time editor was one of the major proponents of M2C. 

It's similar to the annoying editorial stance of Book of Mormon Central, FAIRLDS, the Interpreter, and the rest of the M2C citation cartel. They produce a lot of great material, but much of it is tainted by their M2C worldview that directly contradicts the Church's position of neutrality on these issues.


When Brother Harper replaced John W. Welch as Editor of BYU Studies, some of us hoped he would change direction and extract BYU Studies from the M2C citation cartel. 

Sadly, that hasn't happened. BYU Studies still features the M2C maps that depict Book of Mormon events, including the final battles at Cumorah, taking place in Mesoamerica.

BYU Studies also promoted the fake story that it was Moroni who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer instead of Nephi (one of the Three Nephites), as both Mary and David explained.

The article simply omits David Whitmer's statement about what Joseph said after they encountered the messenger on the way to Fayette from Harmony. 

Shortly afterwards, David relates, the Prophet looked very white but with a heavenly appearance and said their visitor was one of the three Nephites to whom the Savior gave the promise of life on earth until He should come in power. After arriving home, David again saw this personage, and mother Whitmer, who was very kind to Joseph Smith, is said to have seen not only this Nephite, but to have also been shown by him the sealed and unsealed portions of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

See full account, with references, at

As we've discussed before, this wasn't the only time Joseph identified this messenger as one of the Nephites. It's pretty easy to create fake history by simply omitting historical references that contradict the history you want to promote.

Why would M2C proponents insist it was Moroni who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer? 

M2C proponents simply cannot accept David's statement that the messenger was going to Cumorah before meeting Joseph in Fayette. They have no explanation for why he would take the abridged plates Joseph translated in Harmony back to Cumorah, or why Joseph translated the plates of Nephi in Fayette after having translated the Title Page, which was on "the last leaf of the plates," in Harmony.

We've seen how the previous editor of BYU Studies simply changed the history of the trip from Harmony to Fayette, the same way he created the fake Moroni story by simply omitting David's statement that the messenger was one of the Nephites and Mary's statement that the messenger called himself Brother Nephi.

The irony in all of this is that Brother Harper is an outstanding historian. His discussion of the intersection between memory and history incisive. It deserves a lot of attention, as we'll see in this series.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Finding Cumorah references in JSP

This post is an example of my notes that I'm sharing because people ask these questions and now I can refer them to this blog.

I've mentioned before the "quirk" in the Joseph Smith Papers search engine that omits references to Cumorah. Other results are obscured by the formatting of the search results, which buries many of the results in a sublink. Consequently, you'll miss the important references to Cumorah unless you know enough to dig a little deeper.

This is problematic because I still meet people who have no idea about these references to Cumorah, and if they go to the Joseph Smith Papers to search for them, they are difficult to find and/or not even present in the search results.


Go to

In the search box, type "Cumorah," with or without the quotation marks. You'll get 18 results, depending on which types of documents you click on the right. (click to enlarge).

1.* Printer's manuscript.

2. 1835 Hymns.

3. D&C 128. (Five versions, ##3, 6, 8, 11 and 12)

4. Zelph account.

5.* Book of Mormon 1837.

6.* Orson Pratt's Interesting Account.

7.* Lucy Mack Smith, p. 1, bk 6 [click on link to get p. 11, bk. 3]

8.* History, 1834-1836, p. 101 (Letter VIII) [click on link to get 

9. Corrill, History of the Church.

10. Blessing from Oliver Cowdery.

11. Introduction to Documents.

12. Gold plates reference.

13. Manchester Township reference.

14. I Had Seen a Vision transcript.

* Results marked with (*) have reduced font sublinks that say "Show only results from this document." 

I'm sure there is a legitimate reason for this structure, but it makes the search results incomplete and unwieldy, even misleading. 

Unless you know exactly where to look for what you're looking for, you won't get the important Cumorah references in the first-level results and you can't tell which of these sublinks to click on to find them. Going through each of the sublinks takes a lot of time.

The sublink architecture omits from the first-level results both Letter VII and Lucy's account of Moroni's first visit to Joseph Smith in which Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah. The reader has to know which sublink to click on to find these references. 

Ordinary readers could easily conclude that these references to Cumorah don't exist in the Joseph Smith Papers. 

It's also interesting that while the Joseph Smith Papers often leads people to articles in the Times and Seasons, it omits Letter VII and the other Oliver Cowdery letters that were published in the Times and Seasons, even though Joseph helped write them and his brothers Don Carlos and William each republished them. That's important context for the presence of these letters in Joseph's own History, 1834-1836.

The republication of these letters by Don Carlos in the 1841 Times and Seasons (at Joseph's direction), is especially significant to understanding the reference to Cumorah in Joseph's 1842 letter first published in the Times and Seasons that later became D&C 128. In other words, D&C 128:20 did not appear randomly or in a vacuum. It alluded to the history that was well known to readers of the Times and Seasons because they had read Letter VII just the year before in the same newspaper. By omitting all of this context, the Joseph Smith Papers does a disservice to readers.

Plus, as we've seen, these search results still omit the important reference to Cumorah in Lucy Mack Smith's 1845 history that was also inexplicably omitted from the Saints book, volume 1.

“Stop, father, Stop.” said Joseph, “it was the angel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met me and said, that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord;


Now, open a new tab and go to again. This time, search for "Camorah," with an "a" instead of a "u." This is how it was spelled in the printer's manuscript and the 1830 edition. You'll get 4 results. 

1. Book of Mormon, 1830.

2. Printer's Manuscript.

3. John Corrill, History of the Church (noting the hill was "anciently called Camorah").

4. History, 1834-1836 (Letter VII).

You can see in the fourth item that the search engine hits on "Camorah" in Letter VII, but when you searched for Cumorah, it did not pick up "Cumorah" (circled in red below) in the first level results even though the words are on the same line. You only get this search result if you know enough to click on the sublink under History, 1834-1836, when you search for "Cumorah.".

You can see this again by doing a search for "great struggle." You'll get two hits.

If you click on the first link, it takes you to the page in Joseph Smith's history that relates the Zelph account.

Last Great Struggle

It's interesting that the phrase "last great struggle" (as well as "great struggle") appears in the Joseph Smith Papers in only two places: (i) the Zelph account from History, 1838-1856, based on an event during Zion's Camp in 1834 and (ii) Letter VII, first published in the 1835 Messenger and Advocate in Kirtland. 

Oliver Cowdery did not accompany Joseph Smith and the rest of Zion's Camp when they left Kirtland for Missouri in May, 1834. Oliver and Sidney Rigdon remained in Kirtland. 

Oliver said Joseph assisted him in writing the historical letters, which included Letter VII. Those who disbelieve the New York Cumorah say Joseph Smith did not assist Oliver in writing Letter VII. 

Can this unusual and distinctive phrase ("last great struggle") tell us anything?

The Book of Mormon uses the term "struggle" four times (the only appearance of the term anywhere in the scriptures), but Mormon refers to the "last struggle," not the "great struggle." (Mormon 6:6) 

Although the Zelph account took place in 1834, History 1838-1856 was compiled starting in 1838; i.e., the history postdates the initial publication of Letter VII. The Zelph portion was compiled by Willard Richards, who started working on the project in 1842. The Historical Introduction to the history in the Joseph Smith Papers observes that "it remains difficult to distinguish JS’s own contributions from composition of his historian-scribes."

None of the known journals that refer to the Zelph account use the phrase "last great struggle." Heber C. Kimball wrote that Zelph "had been an officer who fell in battle in the last destruction among the Lamanites." Moses Martin wrote that "we found those mounds to have been deposits for the dead which had fallen no doubt in some great Battles." 

This leaves three possibilities.

1. Willard Richards could have composed the phrase based on his own interpretation of the events as reported in the journals (such as combining "last" from Heber C. Kimball, "great" from Moses Martin, and "struggle" from Mormon 6:6. In this case, the duplication of the phrase is merely a coincidence.

2. Willard Richards could have obtained the phrase from an oral account from a participant on Zion's Camp, including from Joseph Smith directly. In this case, the phrase originated in 1834 from Joseph Smith and its appearance in Letter VII corroborates what Oliver said about Joseph assisting him with writing the letters. 

3. Willard Richards could have borrowed the phrase from Letter VII, which had been republished in the Times and Seasons in 1841 and was well known among Church members. This case corroborates the reliability and credibility of Letter VII.

It seems unlikely that Richards would have combined three sources to come up with a coincidental phrase. It also seems unlikely that Richards would have borrowed only this one phrase from Letter VII, although it could have been a subliminal borrowing.

Consequently, I lean toward possibility #2. Previous authors who have examined the Zelph accounts have sought to derive the Richards account by examining the known journals, but they acknowledge the possibility (which I consider a likelihood) that Richards also interviewed the people involved, including Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, and Joseph Smith. It's not clear that Richards quoted from the journals in the first place; if he interviewed the people involved, they may have referred to their journals in relating the event but used slightly different wording.

For example, Godfrey notes that Richards "introduced minor differences or discrepancies into the story" because he assumes Richards was "blending the sources available to him," but such differences would naturally result from an oral recitation. 

Cannon also assumes that "The primary source material for the Zelph story comes from diaries kept by some members of Zion's Camp.2 Six men wrote diary accounts concerning Zelph: Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, Levi Hancock, Moses Martin, and Reuben McBride."

In my view, the evidence suggests that Richards relied on interviews with the participants on Zion's Camp. The Joseph Smith Papers explain that "Aside from the material dictated or supplied by JS prior to his death, the texts for A-1 and for the history’s subsequent volumes were drawn from a variety of primary and secondary sources including JS’s diaries and letters, minutes of meetings, the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, church and other periodicals, reports of JS’s discourses, and the reminiscences and recollections of church members." 

All of this suggests that Richards' use of the phrase "last great struggle" originated with the participants on Zion's camp, which corroborates Oliver's claim that Joseph helped him write Letter VII.

One more consideration. As published in the Times and Seasons in 1846, this account reads "the last great struggle" instead of "a last great struggle." 

This same difference appears on a second copy of the history, written by Wilmer Benson, known as Manuscript History of the Church, Book A-1. However, the Benson version refers to Zelph as "a son of God," while the Richards version refers to him as "a man of God," the way it appears in the Times and Seasons. For whatever reason (possibly to conform to Letter VII?), it appears that the editor of the Times and Seasons in 1846 (not Willard Richards) changed the wording from "a last great struggle" to "the last great struggle."

Ancient inhabitants = Nephites and Lamanites

History, 1838-1856, originally read "During our travels we visited several of the mounds which had been thrown up by the ancient inhabitants of this country, Nephites, Lamanites &c, and this morning I went up on a high mound..." 

Notice that the clause "Nephites, Lamanites &c" was crossed out at some point. 

However, when first published in the Times and Seasons in January 1846, the original version was intact.

Here's a link to a .pdf facsimile of the original Times and Seasons (scroll to page 309). 

To the left is a screen capture of the original page.

(click to enlarge)

Those familiar with this subject know that our LDS scholars who teach M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) claim the Zelph account, to the extent it is credible at all, involved Nephites who lived "in the hinterlands" far from the center of Nephite activity in Mesoamerica. They resist the idea that Joseph identified the mounds in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois as having been thrown up by Nephites and Lamanites.

Look again at the page from JS History 1838-1856. 

About half way down, you'll see the reference to Zelph and Onandagus. Depending on how you interpret the grammar, one of them "was known from the hill Cumorah, or eastern sea, to the Rocky Mountains." That contradicts the "hinterlands" theory because Cumorah was anything but in the "hinterlands," being the site of the final battles of both the Jaredites and the Nephites.

Thus, it's no surprise that "hill Cumorah" is also lined out here, but the original version was also published in the Times and Seasons, as you can see from the facsimile. 

Important point: This is one of the references that does show up if you search for "Cumorah" in the Joseph Smith Papers. 

Second important point: the version of the Zelph account in this history was a compilation of multiple journal accounts (or personal recollections). Willard Richards worked on the history between 21 December 1842 and 27 March 1843. He apparently relied on Wilford Woodruff's journal. Woodruff had written "inhabitants of this continent" and "probably by the Nephites and Lamanites." Richards omitted "probably" when he wrote the history and that's how it was published. Whether he did so in consultation with Joseph Smith is unknown.

Now, go back to your search for "Cumorah" and look at the last two results. These are explanatory notes from the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers (click to enlarge). 

They refer to the place where the plates were buried as "what is now known as the Hill Cumorah." 

The "now known as" language conveys the revisionist history that Joseph never called the hill Cumorah, that some unknown early Latter-day Saint misread the text of the Book of Mormon and speculated that the hill was the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, and that there are really two Cumorahs, with the "real Cumorah" being somewhere in Mesoamerica (i.e., M2C).

Of course, anyone can read the original sources throughout the Joseph Smith Papers and see that it was Moroni himself who identified the hill as Cumorah during his first visit to Joseph Smith, that Joseph's family knew the hill as Cumorah even before Joseph got the plates, that David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery all referred to the hill as Cumorah (in David's case, before he had read the book and before Joseph had translated the plates of Nephi in Fayette), etc. 

Except that, because of the search engine "glitch" in the Joseph Smith Papers, people can't find these references if they search for them.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Ten thousand

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here are some thoughts about the term "ten thousand" as used in Mormon 6.


Discussion of 10,000.

The term "ten thousand" appears in the scriptures in these frequencies:

In the Old Testament, it is used to mean a large, but inexact, number. 

8 And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.
(Leviticus 26:8)

This couldn't mean exactly 10,000. What if 100 of them put 9,999 to flight?

Here's another figurative usage:

30 How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up?
(Deuteronomy 32:30)

Here, it refers to a unit, not a precise, literal number.

10 ¶ And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.
(Judges 4:10)

Another example of a figurative usage:

11 ¶ And Amaziah strengthened himself, and led forth his people, and went to the valley of salt, and smote of the children of Seir ten thousand.
12 And other ten thousand left alive did the children of Judah carry away captive, and brought them unto the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they all were broken in pieces.
(2 Chronicles 25:11–12)

There are similar examples in the New Testament.

31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
(Luke 14:31)

15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
(1 Corinthians 4:15)

It doesn't seem plausible that any military unit or other group would have exactly 10,000 people in it. Soldiers die, become sick, leave, etc. Adjusting the term for the unit every time the numbers changed would be unmanageable. You wouldn't refer to the group as 9,999 when one soldier died. It's a round number, not a precise count.

This is what we see in cultures around the world and throughout history; several languages have a term for "10,000" that means a large number or military unit. 

For that reason, I infer that Joseph Smith translated the Nephite term accurately, although the Nephites used it to refer to a unit, not a literal, exact number.

Here are some examples in the Book of Mormon.

28 And also there were sent two thousand men unto us from the land of Zarahemla. And thus we were prepared with ten thousand men, and provisions for them, and also for their wives and their children.
(Alma 56:28)

10 And it came to pass that my men were hewn down, yea, even my ten thousand who were with me, and I fell wounded in the midst; and they passed by me that they did not put an end to my life.
(Mormon 6:10)

Would Mormon have used a different term if he actually had 10,001 men? If he had 9,999? 9,500? 7,500? 

Surely not. And if the term means a unit instead of an exact count, it affects our interpretation of these passages.

12 And we also beheld the ten thousand of my people who were led by my son Moroni.
13 And behold, the ten thousand of Gidgiddonah had fallen, and he also in the midst.
14 And Lamah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Gilgal had fallen with his ten thousand; and Limhah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Jeneum had fallen with his ten thousand; and Cumenihah, and Moronihah, and Antionum, and Shiblom, and Shem, and Josh, had fallen with their ten thousand each.
15 And it came to pass that there were ten more who did fall by the sword, with their ten thousand each;
(Mormon 6:12–15)

Biblical scholars have raised the issue about the Bible as well. Because the numbers given in Exodus seem unrealistically large (600,000 men fleeing Egypt, etc.), scholars have proposed the term was used for a unit or group. That debate continues. 

Here's a quick summary:


The Hebrew word eleph means "thousand" (BDB 48, KB 59 II).  It is used in several senses in the OT.

1. a family unit, Jos. 22:14; Jdgs. 6:15; 1 Sam. 23:23; Zech. 9:7; 12:6

2. a military unit, Exod. 18:21,25; Deut. 1:15

3. a literal thousand, Gen. 20:16; Exod. 32:28

4. a symbolic number, Gen. 24:60; Exod. 20:6; 34:7; Deut. 7:9; Jer. 32:18

5. the Ugaritic cognate alluph means "chieftain," Gen. 36:15

These different connotations cause modern interpreters to question the literalness of the numbers

1. of the exodus

2. of Israeli tribal military units

Here's a paper that quantifies the alternatives.

A wikipedia entry makes an interesting point about the number 10,000:

Many languages have a specific word for this number: in Ancient Greek it is μύριοι (the etymological root of the word myriad in English), in Aramaic ܪܒܘܬܐ, in Hebrew רבבה [revava], in Chinese 萬/万 (Mandarin wànCantonese maan6, Hokkien bān), in Japanese 万/萬 [man], in Khmer ម៉ឺន [meun], in Korean 만/萬 [man], in Russian тьма [t'ma], in Vietnamese vạn, in Thai หมื่น [meun], in Malayalam പതിനായിരം [patinayiram], and in Malagasy alina.[1] 

In many of these languages, it often denotes a very large but indefinite number.[

Given the widespread use of 10,000 to mean a large number, that would seem to be a natural use by the Nephites as well.

In English, we use the Greek word "myriad" to mean a countless or extremely great number, but in classical history it meant a unit of 10,000.

When I studied Greek, we read Xenophon's book Anabasis, which recounts the history of the "ten thousand" mostly Greeks who invaded Persia. The name of the unit did not change with the number of soldiers. 

The wikipedia article explains the actual numbers of men involved: "When the Ten Thousand started their journey in 401 BC, Xenophon stated that they numbered around 10,400. At the time Xenophon left them two years later, their number had dwindled to just under 6,000." 

And yet, Xenophon did not start referring to them as the "six thousand."

Anonymous LDS scholars have observed this:

2. A Thousand May Not Actually Mean a Thousand

It is also possible that “ten thousand” represents a military unit and not an exact number of soldiers. In Hebrew, the word eleph can mean the literal number 1,000, but it can also mean a military squad. (
Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 264; Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai, 153–159.) If this is the case, each military commander could simply have been in charge of 10 “squads” of unknown numbers, putting the number of casualties much lower than they might seem at first. (Other ancient cultures used terms like this as well. The Roman military unit “century” was also the word for 100, but these units often did not have 100 people in them. See Smith, “How Many Nephites?” 286.)

All of this means that the text is subject to multiple interpretations--multiple working hypotheses.

One approach is to take the numbers literally; i.e., each group of "ten thousand" had exactly 10,000 men, not 9,999 or 10,001, and all 230,000 of them died at or near the Hill Cumorah. That has been a common interpretation over the years and has led people to search for archaeological evidence of a war involving hundreds of thousands of deaths (230,000 Nephites plus an equivalent number of Lamanites, so say 500,000). So far as I know, no such archaeological site has been found anywhere in the Americas.

Another approach is to take the numbers figuratively; i.e., each group of "ten thousand" was a military unit of uncertain numbers, or, alternatively, a generalized round number. In this case, we could look at Xenophon as an example. After two years of war, his "ten thousand" had been reduced to under 6,000. In the case of Cumorah, the final battle took place after many years of retreat and carnage. It's anyone's guess how many men in each unit would have died by the time they reached Cumorah, but one could still argue that all 23 units died there. Using Xenophon's example, the number could be 6,000 times 23, or 138,000 Nephites. It could easily be more or fewer than that.

A third approach (the one I favor) also treats the phrase "ten thousand" as a military unit of unknown numbers, but makes a further distinction between the number of units Mormon said he could actually see from the top of Cumorah--two, his and Moroni's--and the number of units he could not then see but could remember and reflect upon with the interjection, "Behold." This means that 20,000 Nephites dying at Cumorah is on the high side. Using Xenophon's example, it could be 12,000, plus 12,000 Lamanites, for a total of around 25,000.

We can infer, although the text does not say it, that there were more Lamanites attacking than Nephites defending. How many Lamanites were killed is also unknown. But we can reasonably infer that at least as many Lamanites died as Nephites, giving a number in the tens of thousands, but well below one hundred thousand. 

All of this means we are dealing with an unknown number of deaths at Cumorah, but most likely a number far lower than 230,000 Nephites. 

This is all another variable to consider when evaluating scientific evidence. 

Here's how Oliver Cowdery described the situation from the perspective of Mormon, who knew the Jaredites had died at the spot and the Nephites were about to die there.

In this vale lie commingled, in one mass of ruin the ashes of thousands [of Jaredites], and in this vale was destined to consume the fair forms and vigerous systems of tens of thousands of the human race [Nephites and Lamanites]—blood mixed with blood, flesh with flesh, bones with bones and dust with dust!

In my view, this description matches the text. We have the death of thousands (but not even ten thousand) of Jaredites, and tens of thousands (but not even a hundred thousand) of Nephites and Lamanites.

Assessing scientific evidence for the death of, say, 25,000 men is significantly different from assessing scientific evidence for the death of 500,000 or more in one location.