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.

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