Where is Cumorah?

By Sandra Tanner

Every year in July the LDS Church produces the Hill Cumorah pageant in Palmyra, New York. This pageant places the final scenes of the Book of Mormon in that location. Moroni, the last one to record on the gold plates, supposedly buried the records in the hill sometime after 421 AD. Years later, Moroni, now an angel, appeared to Joseph Smith to direct him to the deposit in the hill.

cumorahhillthumb.jpg (22233 bytes)
(The Hill of Cumorah — photo from Church History in the Fullness of Times [color added] published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989)

However, in recent years some LDS scholars have stated that the hill in New York is not the Hill Cumorah, scene of the last battle of the Book of Mormon peoples.

Who are we to believe? Is a BYU professor more reliable than the President of the LDS Church or an Apostle?

"Doctrinal interpretation is the province of the First Presidency. The Lord has given that stewardship to them by revelation. No teacher has the right to interpret doctrine for the members of the Church"

President Ezra Taft Benson
"The Gospel Teacher and His Message"
as found in LDS manual "Charge to Religious Educators," pp.51-52

The following was written by LDS Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth president of the LDS Church:


SPECULATION ABOUT BOOK OF MORMON GEOGRAPHY. Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory to the effect that within the period covered by the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico—the isthmus of Tehauntepec probably being the "narrow neck" of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon rather than the isthmus of Panama.

This theory is founded upon the assumption that it was impossible for the colony of Lehi's to multiply and fill the hemisphere within the limits of 1,000 years, or from the coming of Lehi from Jerusalem to the time of the destruction of the Nephites at the Hill Cumorah. Moreover, they claim that the story in the Book of Mormon of the migrations, building of cities, and the wars and contentions, preclude the possibility of the people spreading over great distances such as we find within the borders of North and South America....

LOCALE OF CUMORAH, RAMAH, AND RIPLIANCUM. This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case. It is known that the Hill Cumorah where the Nephites were destroyed is the hill where the Jaredites were also destroyed. This hill was known to the Jaredites as Rama. It was approximately near to the waters of Ripliancum, which the Book of Ether says, "by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all." Mormon adds: "And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents round about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites."

EARLY BRETHREN LOCATE CUMORAH IN WESTERN NEW YORK. It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains. Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon.

Further, the fact that all of his associates from the beginning down have spoken of it as the identical hill where Mormon and Moroni hid the records, must carry some weight. It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery. Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the Spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah, and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of this hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite manner is an established record of history....

NEPHITE AND JAREDITE WARS IN WESTERN NEW YORK. In the face of this evidence coming from the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, we cannot say that the Nephites and Lamanites did not possess the territory of the United States and that the Hill Cumorah is in Central America. Neither can we say that the great struggle which resulted in the destruction of the Nephites took place in Central America. If Zelph, a righteous man, was fighting under a great prophet-general in the last battles between the Nephites and Lamanites; if that great prophet-general was known from the Rocky Mountains to 'the Hill Cumorah or eastern sea,' then some of those battles, and evidently the final battles did take place within the borders of what is now the United States....

CUMORAH ONCE SITE OF CARNAGE AND DESTRUCTION. As I stood upon the summit of the Hill Cumorah, in the midst of a vast multitude, only a few of whom belonged to the Church, I tried to picture the scenes of former days. Here were assembled vast armies filled with bitterness and bent on destruction....

IMPORTANCE OF CUMORAH UNKNOWN TO WORLD. . . ."Here it was that Moroni, commanded by the Lord, hid up the sacred records of his people. Here it was. 1,400 years later, that he, then a resurrected being, came to Joseph Smith and committed these same records to the young man's care. At the time of the Prophet's first visit to the hill, it was covered with trees; today (1923) it is stripped and bare, save for the grass which grows abundantly. " (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, Bookcraft, 1956, p.232-43.)

In 1990 the office of the First Presidency of the LDS Church stated that Cumorah is in New York:

(Typescript below)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Office of the First Presidency
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

October 16, 1990

Bishop Darrel L. Brooks
Moore Ward
Oklahoma City Oklahoma South Stake
1000 Windemere
Moore, OK 73160

Dear Bishop Brooks:

I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.

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.

The Brethren appreciate your assistance in responding to this inquiry, and asked that you convey to Brother Sparks their commendation for his gospel study.

Sincerely yours,
F. Michael Watson
Secretary to the First Presidency

Thus we see that the top leaders of the LDS Church have consistently maintained that the hill in New York is the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon. BYU professors evidently see the impossibility of the Book of Mormon story taking place over all of North and South America and have therefore come up with the limited geography theory. But this does not agree with the statements of their leaders.

In 1978 the LDS Church News warned members not to get involved in trying to figure out where the Book of Mormon story took place:


THE GEOGRAPHY OF the Book of Mormon has intrigued some readers of that volume ever since its publication. But why worry about it?

Efforts to pinpoint certain places from what is written in the book are fruitless because the record does not give evidence of such locations in terms of our modern geography.

Attempts to designate certain areas as the Land Bountiful or the site of Zarahemla or the place where the Nephite city of Jerusalem sank into the sea ‘and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof’ can bring no definitive results. So why speculate?

To guess where Zarahemla stood can in no wise add to anyone’s faith. But to raise doubts in people’s minds about the location of the Hill Cumorah, and thus challenge the words of the prophets concerning the place where Moroni buried the records, is most certainly harmful. And who has the right to raise doubts in anyone’s mind?

Our position is to build faith, not to weaken it, and theories concerning the geography of the Book of Mormon can most certainly undermine faith if allowed to run rampant.

Why not leave hidden the things that the Lord has hidden? If He wants the geography of the Book of Mormon revealed, He will do so through His prophet, and not through some writer who wishes to enlighten the world despite his utter lack of inspiration on the point.

SOME AUTHORS have felt ‘called upon’ to inform the world about Book of Mormon geography and have published writings giving their views. These books, however, are strictly private works and represent only their personal speculations. (Deseret News, July 29, 1978, Church News Section, p.16)

Obviously, the LDS Church has not changed its position. To date there is no official map issued by the LDS Church for the Book of Mormon story.


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