The Restoration of Christ's Church

Alright guys, so what you’re looking at right now is the hill from which Joseph Smith removed the ancient Book of Mormon plates in 1827. Latter-day Saints call it the Hill Cumorah. Now, if you’ve read the Book of Mormon you’ll recall that the Nephites make their majestic last stand against the Lamanites also “by a hill which was called Cumorah….”

So naturally, a lot of people have the same question posed by shoosz7 on our channel a while back: “230,000 people are supposed to have perished in wars on and around Hill Cumorah in New York. Approximately about 400 a d[.]  Where are the bones of horses, humans? Where are the swords, the Spears, the armor, the bows and arrows, and the chariots? Like Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter which are fiction, so is the book of Mormon. Blessings to you.”

Shoosz7 brings up an understandable question, so let’s see what we can find out.

Alright you guys, so here’s where the rubber meets the road. The Hill Cumorah in New York was not called the Hill Cumorah until the mid-1830s, long after Joseph had retrieved the plates from the hill. But once different church leaders like William W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery started calling it “Hill Cumorah,” it caught on, and that became the name the Saints culturally assigned to the hill.

But there’s no evidence from the 1820s and 30s that Joseph Smith ever called this the Hill Cumorah. The first time he calls it Cumorah, which is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants section 128, is after the membership had already started calling it by that name, and Latter-day Saints have been calling it Cumorah ever since. 

In fact, when you read the first volume of the Church’s recent history book, Saints, you’ll notice that they don’t ever call the hill “Cumorah.” Historians Jed Woodworth and Matt Grow wrote, “The main historical source concerning events at the hill between 1823 and 1827 comes from the history Joseph Smith began in 1838. There Joseph uses the term ‘hill,’ never ‘Hill Cumorah.’”

But that raises the question: Why did early Latter-day Saints start to call this hill “Cumorah” in the first place? And the answer to that is: It probably stems from a misreading of the Book of Mormon. Mormon chapter 6 states that the prophet Mormon buried ancient records in the Hill Cumorah:

“…I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord…”

If you stop reading there, it’d be easy to assume, “Ok, Joseph found the plates in this hill. Mormon said he buried them in the Hill Cumorah. So, this must be the hill Cumorah.”

But the rest of the verse is rather important: “…I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.

In other words, Mormon buried all of the records he had in the hill Cumorah EXCEPT the Book of Mormon record, which was later buried by Moroni. So the hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon is literally the place where Mormon says the golden plates are not buried.

On top of that, scholars have looked into the geographic details given in the Book of Mormon about the Hill Cumorah, and they’ve compared those details with this New York location. Not surprisingly, the New York hill simply does not match up very well with what a careful reading of the Book of Mormon says about the Hill Cumorah. Probably because it’s not the Hill Cumorah, and if you want to dive deeper into that data, I’ll leave a link in the YouTube description of this video.

That said, I will note that the Church does not have an official position on this issue, and some people have different theories about all of this. Some adhere to the “Heartland” model of Book of Mormon geography and assert that the New York hill really is the same hill described in the Book of Mormon. I strongly disagree with those theories but I officially acknowledge them. 

Most Latter-day Saints who are familiar with this subject believe that the Book of Mormon hill Cumorah is most likely somewhere down in Mesoamerica, which is where most Latter-day Saint scholars believe the events of the Book of Mormon took place. The assumption is that after the final Nephite battle, Moroni traveled for 36 years and eventually buried the plates in the New York hill, which he does not name.

So, in summary: The Hill Cumorah was where the last great Nephite battle went down and where Mormon did not bury the golden plates. This is the hill where the golden plates were found, and absent are any artifacts of any kind of major warfare. Thus, many Latter-day Saints logically conclude that this hill in upstate New York simply is not the hill Cumorah described in the Book of Mormon. Cumorah is just the name early Saints gave the hill, thinking it was the Book of Mormon Cumorah, probably based on the misreading of the Book of Mormon we’ve just talked about. The name stuck, and as confusing as it may be, we still call it that today.

That’s what makes the most sense to me—but you’re certainly free to research it for yourself and come to your own conclusions. If you’d like to learn more, check out the notes and links in the YouTube description, and have a great day!


Learning More

  • What Book of Mormon Central has to say on this topic (more in-depth, with additional source documents if you want to dive deeeeep):
  • An analysis of the location of Cumorah based on internal Book of Mormon geography:
  • “Saints and Book of Mormon Geography,” by Jed Woodworth and Matt Grow: 

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