Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: How Moroni and the plates may have made it to Hill Cumorah
As explained last week, the Book of Mormon model for a Mesoamerican geography has — like virtually all scholarly models — a handful of anomalies or potentially problematic issues. One of those areas of concern legitimately asks how the golden plates could have been dug out of the ground in upstate New York, if Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica.
In a previous article I pointed out that the hill in New York known as Cumorah was probably not the Cumorah of Book of Mormon times and that the name was likely given to the New York hill by early Latter-day Saints.
When Mormon died he passed his record on to his son Moroni. For the next several decades Moroni kept adding to the plates until, before his own demise, he buried them as his father had done. Some Mesoamerican-proponents have suggested that Moroni may have taken the plates to the New York hill as a resurrected being. The angel Moroni took the plates away from Joseph once the translation was finished, so it certainly seems reasonable that he — as an angel — could have deposited them near Joseph’s home as well.
It’s also possible that during the decades in which Moroni was wandering and fleeing from the Lamanites (Moroni 1:1-3) that he simply carried the 50-pound plates until he made his final home in upstate New York. It's interesting to speculate who and what Moroni might have encountered during such a trek.
Some may be tempted to think that walking several thousand miles would be an impossible, if not unlikely, journey. History, however, has given us other examples of a similar trek. In the mid-16th century, for example, English sailor David Ingram and several shipmates were marooned on a coast of Mexico. Ingram and a couple of dozen other sailors began a journey northward. Eleven months later Ingram and two of his comrades had reached Nova Scotia Canada (just a bit further northeast of Joseph Smith’s home land).
While Ingram embellished his travel stories with some tall tales (and possibly conflated some details from his travels in Africa and South America), most scholars accept the veracity of his claim that he actually traveled from Mexico to Canada in less than a year. To test the possibility of the journey 46-year-old Richard Nathan walked the same route in reverse in nine months from August 1999 until May 2000.
Other LDS scholars, such as Larry Poulsen, have suggested that Moroni may have taken a different path to New York. Thousands of years ago, the Native Americans developed footpath trails and trade routes that connected Mexico to what is now New Mexico (and possibly beyond). The main route was eventually developed by the Spaniards as the 1,600 mile "El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro" or “Royal Road of the Interior” which linked the Spanish colonial capital in Mexico City with its north frontier.
The El Camino was eventually instrumental in many phases of American history including the path used by the U.S. army to invade Mexico, which incited the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848. Today the pathway is paralleled by Interstate 25. The ancient trade route would have been no more than a foot trail in Moroni’s day but could easily have led him to the Santa Fe area.
A number of years ago LDS scholar H. Donl Peterson discovered two copies of a hand-drawn map (author unknown) in the LDS Church archives. The maps claim to depict the travels of Moroni. The previous owner of the map claims to have acquired the maps from early Latter-day Saint Robert Dickson, who got it from William McBride and Andrew Hamilton, who got it from Joseph Smith.
The map lists the “land Bountiful” in Central America and claims to describe Moroni’s travels from Central America to Sand Hills Arizona, then on to Salt Lake, Adam-Ondi-Ahman, Nauvoo, Independence, Kirtland and then New York.
If the map is genuine and accurately reflects the thinking of early Latter-day Saints and/or Joseph Smith, it supports the theory that Moroni traveled Northward along what became the El Camino, continued traveling north-northwest to Arizona, and then worked his way north through Utah (where we learn that he dedicated the spot for the Manti Temple as well as other temple sites) and eventually found his way to upstate New York.
While such a trip would have been much longer than the trip taken by the ship-wrecked sailor David Ingram, the travel distance is not unreasonable — especially given the several decades Moroni had from the day he acquired his father’s plates until the day he buried them himself. While we may never know if Moroni buried the plates during his mortal ministry or as an angel, the fact that he could have brought the plates from Mesoamerica to New York dispels the argument that the Mesoamerican model is incompatible with Joseph’s retrieval of the record from a hill on the family farm.
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