Guest Post: One Cumorah – historical accounts

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Some LDS scholars continue to insist that the Hill Cumorah is not in New York but somewhere in Mexico. This comes as a surprise to most members of the Church, but the idea is pervasive in Church media, as well as in the various LDS scholarly publications.

These scholars claim there is a consensus behind their two-Cumorah theory, which is the foundation for their theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America.

Those who have read this blog know that I completely disagree with the scholars about Cumorah. I think their position contradicts the text, early Church history, archaeology, and every other framework for analysis.

Among other things, the scholars claim 1) Joseph never said the hill in New York was named Cumorah, and 2) he passively accepted a folk tradition started by unknown persons at unknown times. As always, I encourage people to read the evidence for themselves, ignore any scholar who has an agenda, and make up their own minds.
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Here is an excellent summary of historical evidence about the New York Hill Cumorah, compiled by Theodore Brandley:

One Cumorah (Moroni’s Cumorah)
By J Theodore Brandley

There are at least seven documentary sources that confirm it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, that the hill in Palmyra was anciently known as Cumorah.

1. The only first-person source comes from the epistle that Joseph Smith dictated on September 6, 1842, which was later canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 128.


Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets — the book to be revealed. (D&C 128:20)

The inference is that Joseph knew the name “Cumorah” before the book was revealed. That knowledge could only have come from Moroni. This is substantiated in the subsequent documents.

2. An early documentary source confirming the above are the lines from a sacred hymn, written by W.W. Phelps. William Phelps lived with the Prophet in Kirtland and was in essence his executive secretary during the Nauvoo period.


An angel came down from the mansions of glory,
And told that a record was hid in Cumorah,
Containing the fulness of Jesus’s gospel;
(Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1835, Hymn 16, page 22,

It was the angel who told Joseph that the record was hid in “Cumorah.” This hymn was selected by Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet, approved by the Prophet, and published in 1835 with a collection of hymns, under instructions and directions from the Lord. “And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.” (D&C 25:1)

This hymn was also included in the 1841 edition as hymn #262.

3. Oliver Cowdery, Second Elder of the Church and Co-President with Joseph Smith, stated the following in 1831:


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.(Autobiography of P.P. Pratt p 56-61)

The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt was complied, edited and published in1881 by his son, from the documents and records left by his father after his death. From the length and detail of the address given by Oliver Cowdery in 1831, from which the above quote is taken, it had to have been recorded by Parley P. Pratt at the time it was spoken. “In writing his autobiography, Pratt relied heavily on his previous writings. After extensive analysis, Pratt family historian Steven Pratt concluded that almost ninety percent of the text is either based on or copied from earlier works”(Matt Grow, assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Indiana.)

4. The Prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, provides two separate items of evidence in the original manuscript of her memoirs. In the first item, Lucy is remembering what Joseph told her after Moroni first appeared to him. The quote begins with what Moroni had told Joseph:


Now Joseph <or> beware <or> when you go to get the plates your  mind will be filld with darkness and all man[n]er of evil will  rush into your mind. To keep <prevent> you from keeping the comman dments of God <that you migh may not suceced in doing his work> and you must tell your father of this for  he will believe every word you say the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove  the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone  pry that up and you will find the record under it  laying on 4 pillars <of cement>— then the angel left him. [sic] (Lucy Mack Smith, History 1844–1845, Original Manuscript, page 41)

Lucy dictated the above about 20 years after the fact, but it is consistent with other evidence. In the following, Lucy recalls directly what her son said in her presence. Following Joseph’s meeting with Moroni at Cumorah, one year before Joseph received the plates, Joseph told his parents that he had “taken the severest chastisement that I have ever had in my life.” Joseph said:


it was the an gel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumo rah, 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; that the time had come  for the record to <be> brought forth; and, that I must  be up and doing, and set myself about the things  which God had commanded me to do: [sic] (Lucy Mack Smith, History 1844–1845, Original Manuscript, page 111)

In both of these quotes from the Prophet’s mother, she demonstrates that in her mind it was Moroni, who told Joseph, prior to the translation of the plates, that the hill in Palmyra was named Cumorah.

5. David Whitmer confirmed this in an interview in his later years when he stated:


[Joseph Smith] told me…he had a vision, an angel appearing to him three times in one night and telling him that there was a record of an ancient people deposited in a hill near his fathers house called by the ancients “Cumorah” situated in the township of Manchester, Ontario county N.Y…” (Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration,” p. 233)

6. David Whitmer also recounted an incident that occurred while he was with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in a wagon going to Fayette, NY to finish the translation. They came across an old man with a knapsack on his back who told them he was headed for Cumorah. Joseph identified the man as Moroni. (Deseret Evening News 16 November 1878)

7. Hymn written by Parley P Pratt which we still sing. #328 in the current LDS hymnbook, “An Angel From On High”:

An angel from on high
The long, long silence broke;
Descending from the sky,
These gracious words he spoke:
Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.
Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.
Notice that Parley P Pratt is quoting Moroni in paraphrase, “Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.”

All of the documentary evidence is consistent that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, that the ancient name of the hill in Palmyra was “Cumorah.” There is no documentary evidence to the contrary.

Source: Letter VII

One thought on “Guest Post: One Cumorah – historical accounts

  1. Love this new evidence!! 😀 Also that there is NO evidence to the contrary – that there’s no evidence it WASN’T Moroni who told Joseph the hill’s name! Those two scholarly claims – that Joseph didn’t say the hill was Cumorah, and that he accepted tradition, or speculated on the name – are both speculations, and obviously not researched! It appears from what I have read here, that what scholars can not seem to find, can not have happened. Hmm…

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