Modern Prophets on Cumorah
BYU packet on Cumorah
BYU-CES Packet for Book of Mormon classes
When the issues of evolution and the origin of man generated controversy at BYU, the administration developed an “Evolution packet” in 1992, titled “Evolution and the Origin of Man.” See http://ndbf.net/010.pdf
The explanation included this statement: “the selection of material for such a packet could not depend on the content of the statements. The goal is not to achieve some kind of "balance" among the views that have been expressed, but to give students the full range of official views so that they can judge the different positions they encounter. The full range of official views should provide the basis for the evaluation of other views that have been expressed but that do not have the status of official Church positions.”
Now that the issue of Book of Mormon geography has generated similar controversy, this packet of statements by Church leaders is intended to achieve a similar purpose.
Guidance accompanying the “Evolution packet” is equally relevant to the “Geography packet.”
“None of us involved in preparing this packet for Board review anticipate that professors will be limited from distributing other materials to their students. It is only requested that BYU faculty members refer students to the materials in this specific packet along with the other items they may choose to distribute. When other items are distributed, they should be clearly separated and given as a supplement to this material and include a fair sampling of the diverse viewpoints among LDS leaders. For example, if one included statements by LDS apostles in a handout on evolution, the range of views would include some statements against evolution, some sympathetic to evolution and several shades of opinion in between. We want to avoid the implication that a greater sense of unanimity or resolution of this topic exists than is actually the case, and we are eager to avoid contention. The university has also suggested that faculty members limit supplemental LDS material on the subject of evolution and the origin of man to published documents, avoiding private letters or other private material."
This packet contains, as far as could be found, all statements issued by members of the First Presidency and official publications of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the subject of the hill Cumorah and the geography of the Book of Mormon.
These statements evince a sharp distinction between two separate but related teachings by Church leaders that have often been commingled or conflated; i.e.,
1. The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York, near Palmyra.
2. We don’t know where the other events of the Book of Mormon took place, but there are many possibilities.
1. Early 1827 – Joseph Smith (quoted by his mother Lucy Mack Smith)
[In January 1827, Joseph] returned with his wife, in good health and fine spirits. Not long after this his father had occasion to send him to Manchester on business. <And,> as he started quite early in the morning, we expected him home, at the outside, by 6. o clock in the evening. But when 6. came he did not arrive.— we always had a peculiar anxiety about him whenever he was absent from us; for, it seemed as if something was always taking place to jeopardize his life. But to return, he did not get home till the night was far spent. On coming in, threw himself into a chair, apparently much exhausted. My husband did not observe his appearance, and immediately exclaimed, “Joseph, why have you staid so late? has anything happened you? we have been much distressed about you these three hours. As Joseph made no reply, he continued his interrogations until I finally said: now, father, (as that was the manner in which I commonly addressed him) let him rest a moment— dont touble him now— you see he is home safe, and he is very tired; so pray wait a little.
The fact is, I had learned to be a little cautious about matters with regard to Joseph; for I was accostomed to see him look as he did on that occasion, and could not easily mistake the cause thereof. Presently he smiled, and said in a very calm tone, “I have taken the severest chastisement, that I have ever had in my life”. My husband, supposing it was from some of the neighbors, was quite angry; and observed, “I would would like to know what business any body has to find fault with you.”
“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; 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: but, Father,’ continued he, ‘give yourself no uneasiness concerning the reprimand that I have received; for I now know the course that I am to pursue; so all will be well.”
It was also made known to him at this interview, that he should make another effort to obtain the plates on the 22d. of the following September; But this he did not mention to us at that time.
2. 1830 – 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.
"In that neighborhood there lived a young man named Joseph Smith, who prayed to the Great Spirit much, in order that he might know the truth; and the Great Spirit sent an angel to him, and told him where this Book was hid by Moroni; and commanded him to go and get it. He accordingly went to the place, and dug in the earth, and found the Book written on golden plates.
"But it was written in the language of the forefathers of the red man; therefore this young man, being a pale face, could not understand it; but the angel told him and showed him, and gave him knowledge of the language, and how to interpret the Book. So he interpreted it into the language of the pale faces, and wrote it on paper, and caused it to be printed, and published thousands of copies of among them; and then sent us to the red men to bring some copies of it to them, and to tell them this news. So we have now come from him, and here is a copy of the Book, which we now present to our red friend, the chief of the Delawares, and which we hope he will cause to be read and known among his tribe; it will do them good."
We then presented him with a Book of Mormon.
There was a pause in the council, and some conversation in their own tongue, after which the chief made the following reply: "We feel truly thankful to our white friends who have come so far, and been at such pains to tell us good news, and especially this new news concerning the Book of our forefathers; it makes us glad in here"—placing his hand on his heart.
Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44896/44896-h/44896-h.htm
3. First formal Church History, 1835 – Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith wrote a series of essays, published as letters, about early Church history, including the restoration of the Priesthood, the visit of Moroni, and Joseph’s recovery of the plates. Letters I and II were published in The Messenger and Advocate in Kirtland, Ohio, in October and November 1834. An excerpt from Letter I was canonized in the Pearl of Great Price as a note to Joseph Smith-History.
In December 1835, Joseph Smith ordained Oliver Cowdery as Assistant President of the Church. In 1835, when Letters IV through VIII were published, the First Presidency consisted of Joseph Smith, Jr., President; Oliver Cowdery, Assistant President; Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor; and Frederick G. Williams, Second Counselor.
President Williams began copying the letters into President Smith’s personal history before another scribe completed the work, as Joseph noted in his journal. This history can be seen in the Joseph Smith Papers and is the source of the quotations below.
In 1840, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon specifically approved of the republication of all eight letters in the Gospel Reflector, a newspaper in Philadelphia published by Benjamin Winchester. Also in 1840, Joseph Smith gave the letters to his brother, Don Carlos Smith, with instructions to republish them in the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo. Don Carlos published them in 1840-1841. Parley P. Pratt republished all eight letters in the Millennial Star.
Excerpt from Letter IV.
He [Moroni] then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightned and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.
“Yet,” said he, “the scriptures must be fulfilled before it is translated, which says that the words of a book, which were sealed, were presented to the learned; for thus has God determined to leave men without excuse, and show to the meek that his arm is <not> shortned that it cannot save.”
A part of the book was sealed, and was not to be opened yet. The sealed part, said he, contains the same revelation which was given to John upon the isles of Patmos, and when the people of the Lord are prepared, and found worthy, then it will be unfolded unto them.
On the subject of bringing to light the unsealed part of this record, it may be proper to say, that our brother was expressly informed, that it must be done with an eye single to the glory of God; if this consideration did not wholly characterize all his procedings in relation to it, the adversary of truth would overcome him, or at least prevent his making that proficiency in this glorious work which he otherwise would.
While describing the place where the record was deposited, he gave a minute relation of it, and the vision of his mind being opened at the same time, he was permitted to view it critically; and previously being acquainted with the place, he was able to follow the direction of the vision, afterward, according to the voice of the angel, and obtain the book.
Excerpt from Letter VII.
I must now give you some description of the place where, and the manner in which these records were deposited.
You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N.Y. and also, as you pass from the former to the latter place, before arriving at the little village of Manchester, say from three to four, or about four miles from Palmyra, you pass a large hill on the east side of the road. Why I say large, is because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country. To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that rout. The north end rises quite sudden until it assumes a level with the more southerly extremity, and I think I may say an elevation higher than at the south a short distance, say half or three fourths of a mile. As you pass toward canandaigua it lessens gradually until the surface assumes its common level, or is broken by other smaller hills or ridges, water courses and ravines. I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by.
At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.
By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the book of Mormon120 you will read Mormon’s account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (it is printed Camorah, which is an error.) In this vally fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope or doubt. A few had fled to the South, who were hunted down by the victorious party, and all who would not deny the Saviour and his religion, were put to death. Mormon himself, according to the record of his son Moroni, was also slain.
But a long time previous to this disaster it appears from his own account, he foresaw approaching destruction. In fact, if he perused the records of his fathers, which were in his possession, he could have learned that such would be the case. Alma, who lived before the coming of the Messiah, prophesies this. He, however, by divine appointment, abridged from those records, in his own style and language, a short account of the more important and prominent items, from the days of Lehi to his own time, after which he 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, who, as appears from the same, finished, after witnessing the extinction of his people as a nation. …
This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tents. Coriantumr was the last king of the Jaredites The opposing army were to the west, and in this same vally, and near by, from day to day, did that mighty race spill their blood, in wrath, contending, as it were, brother against brother, and father, against son. In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying of our fellow men. Here may be seen where once sunk to nought the pride and strength of two mighty nations; and here may be contemplated, in solitude, while nothing but the faithful record of Mormon and Moroni is now extant to inform us of the fact…
In this vale lie commingled, in one mass of ruin the ashes of thousands, and in this vale was destined to consume the fair forms and vigerous systems of tens of thousands of the human race—blood mixed with blood, flesh with flesh, bones with bones and dust with dust!
Excerpt from Letter VIII
I have now given sufficent on the subject of the hill Cumorah—it has a singular and imposing appearance for that country, and must ex[c]ite the curiosity curious enquiry of every lover of the book of Mormon: though I hope never like Jerusalem and the sepulcher of our Lord, the pilgrims. In my estimation, certain places are dearer to me for what they now contain than for what they have contained. For the satisfaction of such as believe I have been thus particular, and to avoid the question being a thousand times asked, more than any other cause, shall procede and be as particular as heretofore.
4. 1836 “An Angel Came Down from the Mansions of Glory”
Hymn 16, Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1835 (published in 1836)
Pursuant to D&C 25, Emma Smith selected hymns for the first Church hymnal, published in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836. Hymn 16 mentions Cumorah.
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;
And also the cov’nant to gather his people.
Attributed to W.W. Phelps
From the Historical Introduction in the Joseph Smith Papers: “At a meeting of the church’s presidency on 14 September 1835, it was “decided that Sister Emma Smith proceed to make a selection of sacred hymns, according to the revilation, and that President W. W. Phelps be appointed to revise and arrange them for printing.” (Minute Book 1, 14 Sept. 1835)”
Emma retained this hymn in the hymnal she produced in Nauvoo in 1841 as Hymn 262.
5. 1840 An Angel from on High
Elder Parley P. Pratt wrote the lyrics of this hymn, which he included in the hymnal he, Brigham Young and John Taylor published in Manchester, England in 1840 as hymn #197.
Emma Smith added this hymn to her 1841 Nauvoo collection as hymn #275.
These are the lyrics of the first verse.
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.
Lyrics by Parley P. Pratt
In the 1985 Hymnal (current) this hymn appears as #13
6. 1842 Times and Seasons (D&C 128)
Eighteen months after Don Carlos Smith republished the eight historical letters in the Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith wrote a letter that he sent to the Editor of the Times and Seasons for publication. This letter has since been canonized as D&C 128.
20 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. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!
7. 1844 The Prophet in New York City.
In 1844, Joseph’s brother (and Apostle) William Smith republished the eight historical letters in a Church newspaper in New York City titled The Prophet. Also in 1844, the eight letters were republished in England as a separate pamphlet that sold thousands of copies.
8. 1877 President Brigham Young
Just two months before he died, as he was travelling through Utah reorganizing the Priesthood and setting in order the Temple ordinances, Brigham Young spoke to a Special Conference in Farmington. As recorded in the Journal of Discourses, President Young said this:
"I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things pertaining to that country. I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family.
Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, 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. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: “This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ.”
I tell you this as coming not only from Oliver Cowdery, but others who were familiar with it, and who understood it just as well as we understand coming to this meeting, enjoying the day, and by and by we separate and go away, forgetting most of what is said, but remembering some things. So is it with other circumstances in life. I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost. Carlos Smith was a young man of as much veracity as any young man we had, and he was a witness to these things. Samuel Smith saw some things, Hyrum saw a good many things, but Joseph was the leader.
Now, you may think I am unwise in publicly telling these things, thinking perhaps I should preserve them in my own breast; but such is not my mind. I would like the people called Latter-day Saints to understand some little things with regard to the workings and dealings of the Lord with his people here upon the earth."
8. 1899, Improvement Era.
President Joseph F. Smith, as counselor in the First Presidency and Editor of the Improvement Era, republished the eight historical letters again in Salt Lake City in 1899.
9. 1928, President Anthony W. Ivins in General Conference
On April 6, 1928, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency spoke in General Conference about the Hill Cumorah in New York, which had recently been purchased by the Church.
"Reference has been made by the President of the acquisition by the Church of the spot of ground in the state of New York known as the hill Cumorah. It appears to me to be an event of such importance that I desire to devote the short time which is at my disposal this morning to a discussion of that subject. There have been some differences of opinion in regard to it, and in order that I might be correct in the statements which I make I have this morning finished a short manuscript which I would like to read—the first time, I believe, in my experience, that I have ever addressed a congregation in this manner, and I do it for the purpose stated….
This sealed portion of the record which came into the hands of Joseph Smith but was not translated by him so far as we are aware, with the abridgment made by Mormon, the record of Ether, and the other sacred records which were deposited in the hill Cumorah still lie in their repository, awaiting the time when the Lord shall see fit to bring them forth, that they may be published to the world.
Whether they have been removed from the spot where Mormon deposited them we cannot tell, but this we know, that they are safe under the guardianship of the Lord, and that they will be brought forth at the proper time, as the Lord has declared they should be, for the benefit and blessing of the people of the world, for his word never fails….
"All of these incidents to which I have referred, my brethren and sisters, are very closely associated with this particular spot in the state of New York. Therefore I feel, as I said in the beginning of my remarks, that the acquisition of that spot of ground is more than an incident in the history of the Church; it is an epoch—an epoch which in my opinion is fraught with that which may become of greater interest to the Latter-day Saints than that which has already occurred. We know that all of these records, all the sacred records of the Nephite people, were deposited by Mormon in that hill. That incident alone is sufficient to make it the sacred and hallowed spot that it is to us.... Those additional records will come forth, they will be published to the world, that the children of our Father may be converted to faith in Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, through obedience to the doctrines which he taught.”
10. 1975 President Marion G. Romney.
In the October 1975 General Conference, President Romney, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, gave a talk titled “America’s Destiny” that included these statements:
In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) 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.
You who are acquainted with the Book of Mormon will recall that during the final campaign of the fratricidal war between the armies led by Shiz and those led by Coriantumr “nearly two millions” of Coriantumr’s people had been slain by the sword; “two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.” (Ether 15:2.)
As the conflict intensified, all the people who had not been slain—men “with their wives and their children” (Ether 15:15)—gathered about that hill Cumorah (see Ether 15:11)....
Thus perished at the foot of Cumorah the remnant of the once mighty Jaredite nation, of whom the Lord had said, “There shall be none greater … upon all the face of the earth.” (Ether 1:43.)
As I contemplated this tragic scene from the crest of Cumorah and viewed the beautiful land of the Restoration as it appears today, I cried in my soul, “How could it have happened?”
"The tragic fate of the Jaredite and the Nephite civilizations is proof positive that the Lord meant it when he said that this “is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity.” (Ether 2:9.)"
11. 1978. Elder Mark E. Peterson.
In the October 1978 General Conference, Elder Mark E. Peterson of the Quorum of the Twelve said:
Moroni’s father was commander of the armies of this ancient people, known as Nephites. His name was Mormon. The war of which we speak took place here in America some four hundred years after Christ. (See Morm. 6.)
As the fighting neared its end, Mormon gathered the remnant of his forces about a hill which they called Cumorah, located in what is now the western part of the state of New York.
Their enemies, known as Lamanites, came against them on this hill....
When finished with the record, Moroni was to hide it up in that same Hill Cumorah which was their battlefield. It would come forth in modern times as the Book of Mormon, named after Moroni’s father, the historian who compiled it.
12. Articles of Faith, by James E. Talmage, published by the Church
The final struggles between Nephites and Lamanites were waged in the vicinity of the Hill Cumorah, in what is now the State of New York, resulting in the destruction of the Nephites as a nation, about 400 A.D. The last Nephite representative was Moroni, who, wandering for safety from place to place, daily expecting death from the victorious Lamanites, wrote the concluding parts of the Book of Mormon, and hid the record in Cumorah. It was this same Moroni who, as a resurrected being, gave the records into the hands of Joseph Smith in the present dispensation. …
Here they [the Jaredites] became a flourishing nation; but, giving way in time to internal dissensions, they divided into factions, which warred with one another until the people were totally destroyed. This destruction, which occurred near the Hill Ramah, afterward known among the Nephites as Cumorah…
13. 1990 – Letter from the Office of the First Presidency, personally approved by President Ezra Taft Benson and his counselors, Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson.
“The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.”