Origin and rationale of M2C

This article discusses the origin of the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). 

It is well known that prominent LDS intellectuals such as John Sorenson, John W. (Jack) Welch and Dan Peterson have repudiated the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. They have taught thousands of BYU students, many of whom became Institute and Seminary teachers who promulgated the M2C ideology.

After decades of M2C indoctrination, many Latter-day Saints have become emotionally attached to M2C. Their worldview is based on the M2C assumptions. They respect and admire the M2C scholars. Thus, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to consider the issue rationally.

Nevertheless, there are many people who are not emotionally wedded to M2C and can assess it somewhat objectively. This article is intended for those people.

All students of Church history know that Joseph Smith's contemporaries taught that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is the same hill where Joseph obtained the plates; i.e., the hill in New York a few miles south of Palmyra. They also know that Oliver Cowdery, as Assistant President of the Church, declared unambiguously that it is a fact that this hill is where the Nephites and Jaredites fought their final battles. Joseph Smith had his scribes copy Oliver's explanation into his own journal as part of his life story. 

Joseph also approved the republication of Oliver's explanation in the Times and Seasons and Gospel Reflector. It was also republished in the Millennial Star and in The Prophet, a Mormon newspaper in New York City edited by Joseph's brother William. Joseph's mother and other contemporaries gave accounts of the New York Cumorah, as have his successors in Church leadership.

As recently as 1981, the Institute manual taught the New York Cumorah by quoting the teachings of President Joseph Fielding Smith and President Marion G. Romney.

Despite these teachings, as we noted at the outset, prominent LDS intellectuals such as John Sorenson, John W. (Jack) Welch and Dan Peterson have repudiated the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

The two different approaches follow this process (click to enlarge).

For those of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets, the M2C approach is irrational. To us, it makes no sense to reject the specific, factual teachings of the people actually involved with the plates, who interacted with Moroni, etc., in favor of a series of cascading rationalizations based on a mere assumption that Book of Mormon events took place in Central America.

Many people wonder why these scholars reject what the prophets have taught. To help answer that question, this article offers an overview of the history of M2C.

Basically, all of these scholars start with the assumption that Book of Mormon events took place in Central America. Then they reason that New York is too far away to be the scene of the final battles. Then they rationalize away the teachings of the prophets, attributing them to erroneous and ignorant opinions.

They then buttress their assumptions and interpretations with a flurry of papers and books, citing their academic credentials in various fields as authority. But close analysis of these papers reveals that they are merely exercises in confirmation bias; i.e., they continually try to justify their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets by finding parallels, correspondences, etc. between Mesoamerican history/culture and the text. 

The fallacy of their approach is evident by the fact that a case for the New York Cumorah can also be made by interpreting the text, finding supporting quotations, and citing relevant extrinsic evidence from archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.

All of their work boils down to their assumption that Oliver Cowdery was wrong. In so doing, they obscure the fundamental issue by miseducating their readers, depriving them of all the relevant information to channel them into agreement with M2C.

(click to enlarge)



Jack, Dan, and their employees and followers (the "M2C scholars") who reject the teachings of the prophets instead embrace the idea that there are "two Cumorahs." They claim the "real" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in southern Mexico, while the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates was named Cumorah by early Church members because of pure speculation.

Book of Mormon Central (BMC) spends millions of dollars to promote M2C. They embedded M2C in their logo (until they changed it in 2023). This was the old FARMS logo. FARMS (1979-2001) was an M2C-promoting organization formed by Jack Welch. 

Although BMC replaced the M2C logo, BMC continues to promote M2C exclusively and specifically. BMC's Spanish website even provides detailed maps explaining the M2C theory. 

As editor of BYU Studies for many years, Jack Welch persistently promoted M2C. His legacy endures on the BYU Studies website which still depicts M2C maps.

Before examining how the M2C scholars promote M2C, we'll look at how M2C originated. 


Henry A. Stebbins, an RLDS scholar, published an article titled "Cumorah Hill" in the Saints’ Herald March 15, 1911, p. 245.

Stebbins simply assumed that Book of Mormon events took place in Central America and then reasoned that New York was too far distant to be the setting for Cumorah. 

All Book of Mormon students understand that the colony led by Melek, the youngest son of King Zedekiah, (whose migration was prophesied of in Ezekiel 17: 22, 23,) that his colony landed in Central America, and then, as stated in Omer 1: 1 they found the surviving Jaredite warrior, Coriantumr.

He claimed that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were speculating on Book of Mormon geography as an excuse for the actual Hill Cumorah being in Central America.

I know that in Doctrine and Covenants 10 : 20 it reads, "glad tidings of Cumorah," but it is in a letter from Joseph Smith, evidently after the idea had become fixed that because records were hidden in Cumorah therefore the one in New York must have been the same hill.

In his "Letters," pages 29, 33, Oliver Cowdery calls it Cumorah, evidently from the same idea, not from any divine or angelic statement that it was Cumorah. Certainly the idea did not originate with any careful student of the Book of Mormon. There may not have been any real study of the book at that time. The book appears to have been largely taken on trust by the old Saints, without great examina­tion or study.

If you've read the writings of the modern M2C scholars, they have adopted the Stebbins rationale instead of accepting the teachings of the prophets.

Louis E. Hills (L.E. Hills) published an M2C map in 1917 which shows Cumorah in southern Mexico. Notice how closely the BYU Studies map above follows the Hills map. Modern M2C scholars moved their Cumorah a little to the east from where Hill placed it.

In his 1924 book titled New Light on American Archaeology, Hills justified his M2C theory by referring back to Stebbins' explanation. 

You can read the passage from the book here:

John Sorenson acknowledged that Hills was the first to propose a non-New York Cumorah. In his Source Book, he described Hills' 1917 model. He showed it on his comparison chart (click to enlarge).

Sorenson, Source Book

In 1995, LDS scholar Sidney B. Sperry published an article titled "Were There Two Cumorahs?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol. 4 : No. 1 , Article 30.

Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/jbms/vol4/iss1/30 , which notes that "This previously unpublished handout was used in a religion 622 class on 31 March 1964."

Like Stebbins and other M2C scholars, Sperry also simply assumed that Book of Mormon events took place in Central America and then reasoned from there. 

Now the lands of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom, the territory where Limhi's people dwelt, were presumably in Central America. No Book of Mormon student would doubt that they were in "the land southward." But is it reasonable to believe that Limhi's men would travel over three thousand miles to find the site of the last great Jaredite ballies and the Jaredite records, assuming they were at or near a hill Ramah in our state of New York? 

At the beginning of his article, Sperry wrote:

The friendly controversy still goes on, the one camp holding that the only Cumorah in or out of the Book of Mormon is the traditional one in New York State, the other supporting the view that the Cumorah in New York has been named after the one in Middle America, but is not the one around which the last great battles of the Nephites and the Lamanites took place.

Now which of these two points of view is correct? It would be desirable, if possible, to come to a unity in the matter. Truth should never be on the defensive, but sometimes it is hard to decide just where it is. Perhaps most people of the Church hold to the traditional view of Cumorah, and, indeed, I have defended that view in some of my writings.[1] But in recent years we have again gone over the Book of Mormon evidence very carefully and are prepared to present what we feel are the elements of the strongest case that can be made for a Cumorah in Middle America. Let us present it fairly and objectively as a historical question, letting the chips, so to speak, fall where they may.

However, Sperry misinformed his readers by omitting the key historical evidence from the teachings of the prophets. He didn't even attempt to justify his assumption of a Mesoamerican setting. In rhetoric, that's called "thinking past the sale" because while he is actually selling the Mesoamerican setting, he accomplished that by simply assuming his readers agreed.

When we look at Sorenson's table above, we see how confused the Cumorah issue has become as M2C scholars have rejected the teachings of the prophets in favor of their own assumptions and rationalizations. 

Consequently, Latter-day Saints are "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness" (Ephesians 4:14).

To quote brother Sperry, "It would be desirable, if possible, to come to a unity in the matter. Truth should never be on the defensive, but sometimes it is hard to decide just where it is."

But it is not hard to decide where the truth is if we adhere to the teachings of the prophets.

[1] For example, Sidney B. Sperry, The Book of Mormon Testifies (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), 335-36.

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