Stephen L. Carr and Douglas K. Christensen
Recently, Ed Goble sent a copy of his book, Resurrecting Cumorah, to Doug Christensen and Steve Carr asking us to read it with an open mind to understand his position that the early and major parts of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica but that Mormon’s trek to the battle at the Hill Cumorah took place from Mesoamerica to New York and that the New York Cumorah is the same one that is mentioned in the Book of Mormon. He also wants (at least to begin with) to utilize only what the text states, in other words, limited to primary sources or material and not testimony, etc.
We have done as requested and here are our findings and opinions.
Let us state at the beginning that we found much more in this book that we agreed with and matches the evidence than we took issue with. With Goble’s primary thesis that Nephites and Lamanites ended up far north of Mesoamerica, we disagree only in chronological time. His statement that there is only one Cumorah we agree with, but differ on location.
Ed states, “Some people say it is impossible for Cumorah to have been in the Great Lakes region, because it as too far for anybody to move back and forth between the Great Lake and Mesoamerica. Nonsense. The Book of Mormon describes an exceedingly great distance from Mesoamerica to Cumorah . . . . The land of Cumorah was and exceedingly great distance from Mesoamerica, a place with large bodies of water . . . .”
The Book of Mormon states that large numbers of Nephites and Ammonites, and probably other Lamanites migrated into the north countries before the time of Christ. So, we understand that these and other peoples went into southern and central Mexico, probably as far as Teotihuacan. Undoubtedly some of them went farther over a longer period of time even as far as the US/Mexican border, then to the southwest US, then to the southeast US, and even to the US Midwest and eastern US, to include the NY area. We also know that there were other indigenous peoples in those areas so the migrating Nephites would eventually have settled in with and intermarried with these folks. That then gives rise to the concept that Joseph Smith felt that the gospel should be preached to the Lamanites in the central US; and that Zion’s Camp was treading along the prairies where Nephites once lived; and that Zelph was a white Lamanite. None of this is contested by Mesoamericanists. (See a recent post at www.bmaf.org/node/458 from Tyler Livingston regarding this connection.)
The idea, however, that Nephites from the New York area came and went to Mesoamerica on a regular or routine basis, or even if occasionally, is not quite reasonable, at least to us. We found a few references to archaeological evidence that shows a gradual migration from south to north, as described above, but have found nothing about evidence of an ancient well-worn trail that distance.To think that Mormon (who Ed says was a Hopewellian Nephite) was carried by his father 2000 miles to Zarahemla seems quite far-fetched, although, in theory it was possible. It makes much more sense to us that Mormon grew up in the land of Desolation, possibly 100-200 mil (or less) from the narrow neck of land. He even may have been raised around Cumorah in the land of Desolation so he was aware of its eventual military possibilities. (Incidentally, the area around the Tuxtla Mountains is also a land of many waters and fountains. Additionally, it has natural and man-made topography features that provide excellent defensive characteristics. It is also fertile enough that food for the million or so population could be quickly grown. Further, the Book of Mormon does not say that Cumorah was an exceedingly great distance from Zarahemla. Nor does it even suggest that.)
Ed cites Mormon 2:1-26 to show that the Lamanites pursued the Nephites clear from the narrow neck of land to the Great Lakes area. Then, in verse 27 the Nephites beat the Lamanites and pursued them clear back to the narrow neck – roughly 2000 miles each way – to gain back their land of inheritance. Armies don’t do that sort of thing – travel and fight for 4000 miles. To do such would be tantamount to Honduras declaring war on El Salvador and they both travel to New York to duke it out. Armies do not purposefully choose unfamiliar terrain and potential enemies. Particularly would this be true in a culture, which literally scheduled its wars in advance as occurs in the Book of Mormon.
He then quotes from Mormon 4:1, AD 363, to 4:20, AD 375 noting that Mormon’s army was still in Mesoamerica. Then, Mormon 5:3, he states that the city of Jordan was in the Great Lakes area at which time the Lamanite king agrees to Mormon’s desire to gather his people together. The abruptness from 4:20 to 5:3 to travel 2000 miles is untenable. The Lamanite supply line would have been intolerable and they would preferred to have finished off the straggling Nephites long before they reached the US border, let alone clear up to New York. It is said that an army moves on its stomach. Without food, and lots of it, an army doesn’t get very far. There would have to be food sources along the way. At that time period, the territory that would most likely have to be crossed contained either heavily wooded areas or plains of tall, natural grass, neither conducive to hunting/gathering.
Ed also mentions that Jaredite king Coriantumr could have rested up and recuperated from his wounds well enough that he could have then made the journey from Cumorah 2000 miles to where he stumbled onto the Mulekites. After all, a healthy Moroni made the same trip in reverse, according to Mesoamericanists. Consider this, however: the Lord’s prediction that Coriantumr would live to be buried by another people who should possess the land. (Further, he was still in pretty rough shape so that when he was taken in by the Mulekites he lived only nine more months till he died.) When Coriantumr trekked southward from the New York hill Cumorah he would have passed by thousands of indigenous people and dozens to hundreds of communities. Any of these could have constituted another people who would have been happy to take care of an old warrior king who obviously was alone and didn’t speak their language. Dozens of settlements could have taken him in and cared for him and buried him when he died. It makes a lot more sense to think of Coriantumr struggling with his wounded body a few miles from a Mesoamerican hill Cumorah before falling into the outskirts of Zarahemla and then be taken in and cared for. It also is a stretch of the imagination to think that the Jaredites made the same trek to the NY Cumorah (Ramah) about 200 BC, and have the Nephites/Lamanites make the same journey almost 600 years later. It’s one thing to consider the Jaredites and the Nephites/Lamanites happening to use the same hill in Mesoamerica but for these two disparate groups traveling 2000 miles away to the same hill is not reasonable. Such a hill would have to have very powerful reasons to go that distance. The drumlin in New York offers no natural defensive protection and what happens when a New York winter sets in and the armies only have clothing for a sub-tropical climate?
Ed considers the NY hill Cumorah to be high enough for Mormon to have been able to look out across the fields and see the destruction of his people. And, indeed, Cumorah is the highest drumlin in the nearby area. However, one must realize that until the pioneers and settlers of the numerous cities and towns homesteaded in the late 1700’s, the entire region from the Mississippi River to the eastern seaboard was one vast hardwood forest, including the area around Cumorah. Anyone standing on the top of the NY Cumorah in 385 AD wouldn’t have been able to see anyone else because of all the trees in the way. The Mesoamerican Cumorah, hill Vigía, most likely, is surrounded mostly by scrubby wasteland, and apparently has been for millennia.
One last consideration is the type of hill the NY Cumorah is. Ed understands that the hill Cumorah in New York, along with dozens of similar prominences in New York and New England, is a drumlin, which is a glacial moraine left from the Ice Age when the glaciers retreated and disappeared leaving behind piles of sand, gravel, and other loose debris piled up to form the drumlins. The aggregate of these drumlins is so loose that even should an ice pocket develop in one (during the Ice Age), when the ice melted the roof of the pocket would have caved in and not left a cavity or cave. He then says that it is possible that Mormon, in his desire to store the voluminous records he has abridged into the final plates that he gave to Moroni, used a lot of heavy timbers to build a permanent cave in the hill and shore it up with cribbing such as miners do when constructing a mine tunnel in unstable rock. Ed says that many man-made burial mounds (made by the same Hopewell folks) used this type of timber construction and so could have done the same in making a room in Cumorah. On the other hand, the hills in the Tuxtla Mountains are made from limestone, which produces cavities when water and acids from soil seep in. Hill Vigía in Mesoamerica is riddled with caves and caverns.
Ed also mentions that the Adena and Hopewell cultures were essentially contemporaneous and quotes some authorities that consider them actually one and the same. We were under the assumption that the people who promote the NY hill Cumorah deem the Hopewell to be the Nephites and the Adena the Jaredites. If they were living in close proximity for quite a length of time, that doesn’t really equate to the Jaredites and Nephites who were unaware of each other.
I (Steve) think most, if not all, of us grew up with the idea of the NY hill Cumorah being the one that was mentioned in the Book of Mormon. I started studying the book closely, making my own internal map, making a time-line of events, noting the various encounters between Nephites and Lamanites back in 1964. The more I studied and thought, the more I realized that the distances were too great and for a variety of other reasons decided that New York was not where the Nephites and Jaredites met their ends. In subsequent years, although I didn’t know where the events must have taken place, I’ve studied the materials and ideas from FARMS and other scholars and come to the conclusion that Mesoamerica is the likely location for all the events mentioned in the scripture. Ed, on the other hand, with essentially the same LDS background, has decided that the early parts of the Book of Mormon events do occur in Mesoamerica, but that the culmination of the book is in New York.
Our conclusion is that Ed’s position on all the points he brings up, and we haven’t totally included them all, are remotely possible – but in our way of thinking (along with most other Mesoamericanists), they are basically improbable and extremely unlikely. We laud him for his extensive research and relentless drive and for his willingness to change positions when faced with new information. Unlike some, Ed has proven to not be permanently married to any theory. This is an attribute many Mesoamericanists could profit from.