The Validity of the Cumorah's Cave Legend.
Circulating among the saints are second and third hand accounts of a miraculous sighting of Mormon's cave of records in the New York Hill Cumorah. Brigham Young was the most prominent conveyor of this legend, but at least ten others have written or spoken of it. In the various accounts Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are supposed to have returned the gold plates to the hill following their translation. The hill opened to them and they saw a room full of golden records and a table with the unsheathed sword of Laban lying on it. In some accounts there were two visits to this cave. These accounts are outlined in a well written article by Packer and Cameron entitled Cumorah's Cave in Farms 2004, p. 50.
Many have used these legends to bolter their claim that the Nephite lands were located in the New York area. My contention, of course, is that these lands lay far to the south, in Central America (see my web site for a full treatise on this subject). If the accounts are true they may lend some credence to the New York claims. I will write more at length on them in the future. But for now let us look at the validity of the account itself.
Accounding to the accounts Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery delivered the plates to the angel at the Hill Cumorah. That seems plausible enough until we read the official account, writen by the prophet himself, in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon. Here in his testimony he clearly outlines what really happened. He explains what was required of him and what was to take place when he was finished with the translation.
“I soon found out the reason why I had received such strict charges to keep them [speaking of the plates] safe, and why it was that the messenger had said that when I had done what was required at my hand, he would call for them. ... But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand. When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day, being the second day of May, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.”
This account by the prophet clarifies several important points.
First, Moroni was to pick them up from the prophet, not have them delivered to him. This probably took place in a manner similar to when Joseph lost the plates following the Martin Harris incident.
Second, Moroni did indeed pick them up after Joseph had finished the translation.
Third, no mention is made of Oliver having been present, of going to Cumorah, or of the cave of records.
Fourth, the plates were never returned to Joseph following their return to Moroni, and Moroni had them in his possesion at least until May 1838.
In my mind, this official account casts a cloud of doubt over the entire legend of Cumorah's cave of records.