What the Book of Mormon says about Cumorah’s location
What the Book of Mormon says about Cumorah’s
location and why Hill Vigia in Southern Mexico is the
best candidate for Hill Cumorah
By Edwin M. Woolley
The Book of Mormon itself stands as the best source for determining the criteria necessary to locate the Jaredite, Nephite, Lamanite and Mulekite cultures. The following thirteen geographic criteria are taken from the text of the Book of Mormon, also listed are fifteen cultural criteria and are clearly described in the Book of Mormon. You can find a more thorough discussion of these specific criteria in the book, (In Search of Cumorah, David A. Palmer, May 1992)
It makes perfect sense to use the Book of Mormon when searching for evidences supporting all topics mentioned in the text. Whatever the idea or theory is, if it can’t be supported by the text, it is probably not true, regardless of how logical or desirable the idea may be. So, we will see what the Book of Mormon says about the location of Cumorah to determine whether New York or Mesoamerica is the best fit according to the text of the Book of Mormon itself. We must remember that the land of Cumorah is the place where two great civilizations fought epic battles resulting in the collapse of their once mighty cultures. The Nephite Hill Cumorah where Mormon hid the records is the same hill (Ramah) where the Jaredites gathered for their final battles. (Ether 15:11)
1. (1). The Book of Mormon says Cumorah is near an eastern seacoast. (Ether 14:26 & Ether 9:3) (The use of the words “near” and “by” in the Book of Mormon are not clear as to the precise distance being alluded to but must be generally understood using the context to arrive at approximate distances.) For example, it might be helpful when picturing distances in the Book of Mormon to examine Alma’s journey from The Waters of Mormon in the Land of Nephi to the Land of Zarahemla. This journey is measured in 21 travel days and can help us gain an idea of the overall size of the land southward by converting days into miles. (Mosiah 23:3; 24:20,25) If Alma’s group traveled 8 to10 miles per day, (this estimate of 8-10 miles per day is reasonable given that, the size of the group was 450 souls with their flocks and grain, Mosiah 18:35; 23:1) then the journey covered in the neighborhood of about 250 to 300 miles. (For more information on this subject see: “Exploring The Lands Of The Book of Mormon” by Joseph L. Allen, Ph.D., pp. 290-295.) These calculations provide a general idea of the size of the land southward; we are dealing with relatively short distances in the low 100’s, this should help to better understand the terms “near and by” are not vast areas but are rendered in the 10’s and low 100’s, certainly not in the 1000’s. Another contextual clue concerning the overall size of the territory in the Book of Mormon, this time the land northward, was when Mormon’s father, (they are living in the land northward, possibly in the City of Desolation) carried him to the land southward when he was 11 years old. To carry a son into the land southward suggests that the journey wasn’t one that covered a vast amount of territory. (It is possible that Mormon’s father actually carried his son because it is common practice even today among the Maya for the children to be carried on the backs of mothers, fathers and siblings.) The City of Desolation was near the narrow passage that led into the land southward. (Mormon 1:6; 2:28-29; 3:5, 7) Mormon was told when he was ten years old where to go to find the records, (In the Land Antum to a hill called Shim, Mormon 1:3)
These valuable records were hidden close enough for a ten year old to be familiar with the location. This may help somewhat to know when the text uses “near or by” what is generally meant. (I will let others hammer out more precise relationships between lands, cities, and geographical features, only an approximate look at distances will be considered in this paper.)
2. (2). The Book of Mormon says that Cumorah is near a narrow neck of land. Near is a relative thing as mentioned but the text says that this narrow neck is near the land of Desolation and leads into the land northward. (Alma 63:5 ) The Jaredites who lived in the land the Nephites called Desolation built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land. (Ether 10:20-21) This puts Cumorah in the Land of Desolation someplace north of the narrow neck; this narrow neck is used occasionally as a reference point to help visualize the relationship of various places mentioned.
3. (3). The Book of Mormon says that Cumorah was near other mountains and valleys and indicates that the hill Shim and Cumorah are likely close to each other, certainly they are both in the Land of Desolation. During a journey that Omer made, he “passed by” the hill Shim and came to the place where the Nephites were destroyed/ Cumorah. (Ether 9:3) Also, Mormon moved all the records, except the ones he gave to Moroni, from Shim to Cumorah. (Mormon 6:6) This was accomplished in the middle of their preparations for the last battle at Cumorah. Assuming that this preparation required Mormon’s expert attention and experience in warfare, it doesn’t seem reasonable that he would set out on an extended journey covering many weeks or months to move the records that the text suggests were numerous. (Words of Mormon 1:3-10, 4 Nephi 1:48) These many heavy metal plates would require much time and effort to move even a short distance, so a long lengthy journey where Mormon would be absent for an extended period of time from the vital preparations for war doesn’t seem reasonable. These facts suggest that hill Cumorah and hill Shim are not separated by lengthy distances but are reasonably close to one another.
4. (4). The Book of Mormon says that Cumorah is one day’s journey south of a large body of water. (Ether 15:8-11)
5. (5). The Book of Mormon says that Cumorah is in an area of many rivers and fountains of water where Mormon hoped to have as military advantage. (Mormon 6:4)
6. (6). The Book of Mormon says that Cumorah was in the land northward and there was a narrow passage that led into the land southward. This passage was blocked by poisonous serpents during one point in the Jaredite history making movement from the land northward to the land southward impossible. The 24 who survived the last battles at Cumorah and a few others escaped into the land southward using this same route in their efforts to get away from the Lamanites. We conclude that the narrow passage was close enough to Cumorah for the last survivors to use this narrow passage as an escape route. It is instructive to remember access into the south was prohibited when this passage was blocked and the Book of Mormon mentions no other way over land to enter the land southward from the north. (Mormon 2:29; 3:5; 6:15; 8:2. Ether 9:31-34; 10:19-21)
7. (7). The Book of Mormon says the hill Cumorah was large enough to view from its heights, hundreds of thousands of dead bodies. (Mormon 6:11-14)
8. (8). The Book of Mormon says that the hill was a significant landmark. Both Nephites in the north and Lamanites in the south were aware of this hill. (Mormon 6:2-6; Ether 15:11)
9. (9). The Book of Mormon says that hill Cumorah was a free standing hill large enough for vast armies to camp around it. (Mormon 6:4)
10.(10). The Book of Mormon says Cumorah was in an area susceptible to earthquakes. (Mormon 8:12)
11.(11). The Book of Mormon says Cumorah is in an area called the land northward where the whole face of the land was covered with inhabitants. (Ether 10:21) Therefore we should find ruins and evidence of a vast civilization living in the area called the Land of Cumorah.
12.(12). The Book of Mormon says Cumorah is in the area where the final battle took place, “give battle by the hill not on the hill.” (Mormon 6:2) “round about the hill.” (Mormon 6:6)
13.(13). The Book of Mormon doesn’t say anything about cold weather, snow, ice or freezing temperatures leading us to believe that Cumorah was in a temperate climate. In this case we have a clue from what the Book of Mormon doesn’t say. There is never even a hint of cold freezing temperatures mentioned in the text among the Nephites or Jaredites. This would suggest that Cumorah was not in a climate like the frosty conditions and freezing temperatures of the Great Lakes region. It does however mention fevers due to certain seasons and that God prepared many plants and roots for them to remove the diseases. (Alma 46:40) This comment absent any reference to cold or snow strongly suggests that Cumorah was in a mild climate.
Considering the Clues in the Text
As we review the criteria presented by the Book of Mormon, we find that the hill in New York meets criteria 4, 5, & 10 (only minimally) it does not meet any of the others. We are therefore obligated to look further for a hill that would satisfy the Book of Mormon text.
Cerro Vigia in Mexico, proposed by Palmer, Sorenson, Allen, Norman, Hauck and other LDS scholars meets all 13 of the above geographic criteria.
It may be more than just an interesting observation that Joseph Smith referred to the hill in New York simply as, “the hill near my father’s farm,” or “the hill in Manchester…” It was not Joseph but others who started referring to the hill near the farm as Cumorah.
What are the cultural clues that the Book of Mormon gives us to help in locating Cumorah? The Jaredite culture is described in many places throughout Ether. Some of the typical descriptions are found in Ether 9:17 and 10:24. The Nephite culture is described typically in Alma 4:6; 1:29 and 1 Nephi 13:7-8. We find the following characteristics in the Jaredite and Nephite civilizations:
We can also add astronomy to the Nephite’s culture. (Helaman 14:5-7 & 3 Nephi 1:21)
The Book of Mormon outlines a very advanced culture for both the Jaredites and Nephites. In fact the Lord tells the brother of Jared that, “there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth.” (Ether 1:43) These Book of Mormon people were a great and mighty people and the text describes both the Nephites and Jaredites as such.
The Cerro Vigia and surrounding territory in Mexico meets all of these Book of Mormon cultural criteria mentioned in the text. The hill in New York meets none of the cultural criteria because modern archaeological research shows that there was very little, if any, formal culture in the area we call New York. It isn’t until AD 1100 that we find a rudimentary civilization beginning to emerge there. That is 700 years after the close of the Book of Mormon.
Therefore our ultimate authority, the Book of Mormon text itself, and the geographical and cultural evidence, direct us toward Mesoamerica and Hill Vigia in our search for Cumorah.