Mar 8, 2011

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.  
How did the Mulekites lose their language?

When Mosiah was commanded by the Lord to leave the land of Nephi he and his group traveled in the wilderness, being led by the Lord, until they found the land of Zarahema. There they encountered a people who have been called Mulekites; this because their king, Zarahemla, was a descendant of Mulek, son of Zedekiah, former king of Jerusalem. They could not communicate with Zarahemla's people, even though both groups had originally spoken Hebrew. We are told that the Mulekites's language had become corrupted and that they did not have any written records. We read the account in the Book of Omni.
And they discovered a people, who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.
Behold, it came to pass that Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon.
And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth.
And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.
But it came to pass that Mosiah caused that they should be taught in his language. And it came to pass that after they were taught in the language of Mosiah, Zarahemla gave a genealogy of his fathers, according to his memory.
The question arises, why did they lose their language and why was it “corrupted”? After all it had only been about 400 years since their separation. It seems to me that they should still have been able to communicate even if the language had gone through a natural process of change over time. The Nephites and Lamanites had been separated for a similar period of time and they could still communicate. And the Jews of the diaspora have been living among separate nations and languages for milenia, yet they still maintained a knowledge of the formal Hebrew. So why did the Mulekites lose their Hebrew language skills even though they could still remember their genealogy? Part of it could be attributed to their failure to have brought a written record with them. But I believe there is another reason.
According to ancient Indian legends a people, which I believe were the Mulekites, came from the east. Quoting Bernardino Sahagun, an early Spanish historian:
From what can be gathered from probable conjectures, the people first came to settle this land from the direction of Florida, and came coasting along the coast disembarking in the port of Panuco which they call Panco, which means 'place where those arrived who crossed the water.' This people came in search of the terrestrial paradise and they had as a family name Tamoanchan, which means 'we are looking for our home.
Landing at Panuco, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, they would have found themselves among, or adjacent to, groups of Jaredites. In such a situation, it is likely that there would have been conflict. The scripture mentions that “they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time.” This may have occurred among themselves, but it is just as likely that it would have been at an earlier time and with outsiders.
I suspect that they were a minority among a majority population of Jaredites. In such a case they would have been required to learn the Jaredite language and may have even been under tribute or worse still, servitude. This would have been their lot for 200-300 years. The new generations would have learned the dominant language, gradually losing the old. This would have gone on until the final Jaredite wars, about 300-200 BC. At that time some, or all of them, escaped the chaos and fled to the safe haven of Zarahemla in the wilderness. Their leader at this time was Zarahemla, a descendant of Mulek.  Although he was their nominal leader, he doesn't appear to have been regarded as a king.
If such were the case, it would explain the use of Jaredite names and words among the Mulekites-something that Hugh Nibley observed in his book Lehi in the Wilderness and the World of the Jaredites. It may explain the tradition of secret combinations among the Mulekites, as well as the traditional use of jade. If we assume that the Olmec era peoples, who valued jade above gold, then this would explain its use and value among the natives of Costa Rica 500 years later. It may also explain the rapid rise of Nehorism among the Nephites, for this religious philosophy certainly smells of Jaredite apostasy. It may explain the use of elevated stands for religious worship (rameumptom). It may also explain the strange monetary system outlined in Alma 11 whose coins have Jaredite names.