Chronology of LDS Thought on Cumorah

This chronology is taken with permission from the book Between These Hills written by Jonathan Neville. It comes from pages 71-74.

Let’s review the chronology.

Beginning in 1827, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, their contemporaries and successors all taught that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is the same hill near Palmyra, New York, where Joseph found the plates.

1842: Anonymous articles (Signed “Ed.” for editor) in the Times and Seasons claim that ruins in Central America were left by the Nephites. One article claims the ruins of Zarahemla, specifically, have been found. None of the article refer to Cumorah. On September 6, 1842, Joseph Smith writes a letter to the Church that includes this passage:

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. (Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)

1879: The LDS Church publishes a new edition of the Book of Mormon 6:2 says “The Hill Cumorah is in Manchester, Ontario Co., N. York,” but the notes qualify other identified sites as speculation. The footnotes are published in subsequent LDS editions including the 1918 Salt Lake City Edition published by the Deseret News.

1899: LDS President Joseph F. Smith republishes Letter VII in the Improvement Era., reaffirming the long-accepted teaching that it is a fact that the hill in New York is in fact the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

1909: LDS President Joseph F. Smith sends Elder George Albert Smith to Palmyra to purchase the Hill Cumorah. Pliny Sexton refuses to sell.

1910: Former RLDS member Charles Shook writes Cumorah Revisited to refute the hemispheric model and anthropological and archaeological claims of the Book of Mormon.

1911: RLDS publication Saints’ Herald publishes an article by RLDS scholar H.A. Stebbins that claims the actual Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is located in southern Mexico.

1917: RLDS Elder L.E. Hills publishes a map showing the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 in southern Mexico, based on the 1911 Stebbins article.

1920: LDS Church publishes a new edition of the Book of Mormon that deletes the geography footnotes from prior editions.

1921: LDS Elder James E. Talmage participates with a “Book of Mormon committee” that evaluates proposed geography models, and decides not to endorse any.

1921: RLDS First Presidency notifies RLDS members that Hills did not represent the RLDS Church and was acting on his own initiative.

1923: The RLDS Committee on Book of Mormon Archaeology reports to the RLDS Presidency that “we feel it is unwise, at the present time, to give indorsement to any map of the Book of Mormon geography.”

1924: RLDS Elder Hills publishes New Light on American Archaeology, declaring it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in Mexico.

1924: Pliny Sexton dies.

1928: LDS Church President Heber J. Grant purchases the Hill Cumorah in New York and President Anthony W. Ivins reaffirms the fact that this is the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

1929: President Ivins explains that the LDS Church has no position on the location of other Book of Mormon settings.

1938: Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, a 20-year member of the Quorum of the Twelve and Church Historian, writes an editorial in the Deseret News about M2C, stating “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 [i.e., in western New York], but that in very deed such is the case.”

1950s-1970s: LDS intellectuals write books and articles promoting M2C. President Joseph Fielding Smith, now President of the Quorum of the Twelve, re-publishes his 1938 editorial on Cumorah.

1975: In General Conference, President Marion G. Romney delivers an address titled “America’s Destiny” that reaffirms the teaching that the hill in New York is the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

1978: In General Conference, Elder Mark E. Petersen reaffirms the
New York Cumorah.

1980s: LDS intellectuals, including David Palmer and John Sorenson, publish books promoting M2C. Jack Welch and others start FARMS, which strongly promotes M2C. The academic cycle begins teaching M2C to the youth of the Church.

1990: In response to questions arising about Cumorah, the entire First Presidency (Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson) approve a letter sent by their secretary that declares “The Church has long maintained, as attested to by reference 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.”

1990s through 2018: LDS intellectuals create the M2C citation cartel that promotes M2C and censors alternative views-especially the New York Cumorah. M2C is unambiguously depicted in LDS Church visitor
centers, artwork, videos, and CES/BYU curriculum.

2019: Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon Geography released. The first version quotes President Ivins 1929 General Conference talk explaining the Church has no position on Book of Mormon sites other than Cumorah. When it is pointed out that President Ivins also specifically reaffirmed the New York Cumorah in
his 1928 General Conference talk, the Gospel Topics entry is revised to omit the original quotation from President Ivins. The entry does not mention Cumorah and provides no references to teachings about the
New York Cumorah for readers to consider.

Current Status (2021): Church members are free to believe whatever they want. However, previous teachings by Church leaders about the New York Cumorah cannot be discussed in Church settings, especially not at Church history sites in Palmyra. Only books and organizations that promote M2C can obtain licenses from the Church to use current official edition of the Book of Mormon. CES and BYU specifically teach M2C as part of the official curriculum.

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