The Hill Cumorah (Hill Ramah)
By: Joseph L. Allen and Blake J. Allen
Many members of the Church are not aware that the hill Ramah of the Jaredites is the same hill as the hill Cumorah of the Nephites (see Ether 15:11). Scientific and scriptural analyses have been presented beginning in the 1940s proposing the hypothesis that the Hill Cumorah in New York is not the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon.
The hypothesis is stated as follows: If the Olmecs, who had their headquarters along the Gulf of Mexico, are the same people as the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon, then the hill Cumorah referred to in the Book of Mormon is in Veracruz, Mexico, and not in upstate New York. That hypothesis is based on Book of Mormon givens that the hill
Ramah was located in Jaredite territory and that the Jaredite hill Ramah is the same hill as the Nephite hill Cumorah.
Nevertheless, the issue is still a sensitive one. Traditional history of the Church affirms that the hill in New York is, indeed, the hill Cumorah referred to in the Book of Mormon. In the year 1868, Orson Pratt, an Apostle of the Church, presented an overview of Book of Mormon geography that is recorded in the Journal of Discourses (vol. 14:324–31) wherein he states that “the great and last battle, in which several hundred thousand Nephites perished was on the hill Cumorah, the same hill from which the plates were taken by Joseph Smith.”
Very few members of the Church ever lived in Palmyra where the Prophet Joseph Smith received the gold plates because, within just a few years, the Church moved its headquarters from New York to Ohio and subsequently to Missouri, Illinois, and Utah. Nevertheless, tradition dictated that the “hill of considerable size” (Joseph Smith—History 1:51), where the Prophet retrieved the plates and which was located near the
Smith home in Ontario County, New York, was the actual hill where the final Nephite-Lamanite battle was fought (see Mormon 6:6).
A careful reading of Mormon 6:6 has caused adherents of a Mexico hill Cumorah to reinforce their position by illustrating that Mormon “hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records” that the Lord entrusted to him except “these few plates” that he gave to his son, Moroni (Mormon 6:6). The “few plates,” they say, are the plates (our Book of Mormon) that Moroni carried from Mexico to New York. In his own words, he writes, “I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not” (Mormon 8:4).
Fifteen years later, at about AD 400, Moroni wrote that he had made an end of abridging the book of Ether and had not yet left the lands of the Lamanites. He wrote that he would wander “whithersoever” for the safety of his life (Moroni 1:3). It is during that time of wandering from AD 400 to his last entry in AD 421 that adherents of the Mexico hill Cumorah say he would have wandered from Veracruz, Mexico, to upstate New York.
This concept, which became known as the “two-Cumorah theory,” proposed the existence of two separate hill Cumorahs—one in Mesoamerica where the last battles were fought and another in upstate New York where Joseph Smith was directed to the plates left there by Moroni. However, that thinking is not a totally accurate assessment because the Book of Mormon speaks of only one hill Cumorah—and it is the same hill that the Jaredites called Ramah (see Ether 15:11). As far as we know, no valid information has come forth between 1823 when Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith to the present time to suggest that Joseph Smith ever stated that the hill in New York is the hill Cumorah/Ramah where the last battles of the Nephites/Lamanites and Jaredites took place.
Further, as far as we know, when Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith yearly over a four-year period, Moroni never referred to the New York hill as the hill Ramah or hill Cumorah. In writing about the hill at a later time, Joseph simply says, “Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood” (Joseph Smith—History 1:51). This statement does not mean that at some point Joseph or other members of the Church did not feel that the hill where the plates were retrieved is not the hill Cumorah referred to in Mormon 6:6. A case in point is a letter written by Joseph Smith to the Church dated September 6, 1842, which is now section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph uses what might be considered poetic, figurative language in this letter when he writes, “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets—the book to be revealed” (D&C 128:20). If current members of the Church view this statement as a revelation on Book of Mormon geography, then they would probably not want to entertain the idea that the hills Ramah and Cumorah are in Mexico. On the other hand, if Joseph’s words are considered a generalized statement about events that occurred during the restoration process and leading up to the section 128 central theme of baptism for the dead, then Joseph’s words should not be viewed in connection with Book of Mormon geographical issues.
A hill in Mesoamerica that has received the most attention over the last thirty years as a candidate for the hill Ramah/Cumorah is the Hill Vigia located near the Papaloapan water basin about ninety miles southeast of the city of Veracruz.
David Palmer wrote a book in 1981 called In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico in which he writes: “The impact of placing
Mormon’s Cumorah in the State of New York is to grossly distort the geography of the Book of Mormon. Doing this makes it impossible to reconcile the internal geography of the Book of Mormon with actual maps. Without a valid geography of the Book of Mormon there cannot be any serious studies of the correlation between the geography and the Book of Mormon.”1
The Hill Vigia is a rather freestanding hill, and with the exception of some volcanic mountains in the area, Vigia is the most prominent. The community of Santiago Tuxtla rests peacefully at the base of the Hill Vigia, and the ancient archaeological Olmec site of Tres Zapotes flanks the opposite side of the hill. Families live on the hillside of Vigia, and cows and other animals graze in its pastures. Springs of water spout up at different places on the hill. The Hill Vigia is considerably larger than the hill in Palmyra, New York. The local people from the town of Santiago Tuxtla require about two hours to walk to the top of the Hill Vigia. From the top of the hill, on a clear day, visitors can observe the plains to the south and the rolling hills that extend to the Gulf of Mexico to the north.
Proposing the Hill Vigia to be the same hill as the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon, Palmer writes: “After examination of satellite pictures, visits to the hill and the ancient mounds which surround it, and analysis of the topography and archaeology of the immediate area, I have become fairly convinced it is the correct spot.”2
Palmer then proceeds to outline the qualifications necessary for the hill Cumorah preceded by the following statement: “At the present time it does not appear that there is any alternative site which has archaeological support to the degree that the Cerro
Reasons for Labeling the Hill Vigia to Be the Hill Cumorah
A careful reading of the Book of Mormon will pinpoint several requirements for the hill Cumorah, all of which are met by the Hill Vigia and the surrounding area.4 The hill
Cumorah must be
1. Near an eastern seacoast. The eastern side of the Gulf of Mexico constitutes an eastern seacoast and is in close proximity to the Hill Vigia.
2. Near both the hill Shim and the narrow neck of land. The Hill Vigia is about sixty miles from the top of the pass that runs through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
3. Situated so it overlooks a coastal plain, possibly near other mountains and valleys. The Hill Vigia meets those requirements.
4. Located a distance of a one-day journey from a large body of water called the waters of Ripliancum. The Papaloapan water basin that empties into the Gulf of Mexico is about eighteen miles from the base of the Hill Vigia.
5. Located in a land of many waters and rivers. The Hill Vigia is located in a land of beautiful lakes and picturesque rivers.
6. Located in a land where “fountains” are found. The Hill Vigia is located in a land of pure water where streams of underground water spring forth.
7. Located in an area where an abundance of water is available to provide sustenance for men, women, and children and a military advantage. The Tuxtla Mountains area, where the Hill Vigia is located, meets that requirement.
8. Located in an area wherein Nephites escaping to the south countries could escape without being captured by the Lamanites. A secluded route between the coast and the Tuxtla Mountains meets this requirement.
9. Large enough for Mormon to view hundreds of thousands of bodies. The Hill Vigia is about twenty-four hundred feet high and fulfills that requirement.
10. A significant landmark because two nations perished on the spot and because sacred records were hidden there.
11. Freestanding so people could camp around it. It must also be situated in such a manner that it could serve as a protection for the women and children. The Hill Vigia meets those requirements.
12. Located in a temperate climate because of the absence of any reference to snow or cold in the Book of Mormon. The Tuxtla Mountains area is the “Hawaii of Mexico.”
13. Located in an area that is subject to volcanoes and earthquakes, a requirement for the land northward. Mesoamerica is a land of volcanic activity and earthquake eruptions. The San Martin Volcano last erupted in 1793.
Although the above list is compelling, the primary reasons that the hill Cumorah is in the area of the Tuxtla Mountains are the facts that it is the same hill as the hill Ramah of the Jaredites and that it is close to the hill Shim, a hill identified by both the Jaredites and the Nephites. This reasoning simply means that if the Jaredites and the Olmecs are the same people, as defined in Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, then the hill Cumorah is in the area of Veracruz because that is where the hill Ramah is located. The words Ramah and Vigia have the same meaning—that of a lookout hill, or a hill overlooking a designated area.
1. David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1981), 18.
2. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, 91.
3. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, 91.
4. See Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, 96–101. In addition to Palmer’s analysis, we have made several editorial comments on the requirements outlined in the text.
For a complete discussion on the Hill Ramah/Cumorah and the events associated with those hills in The Book of Mormon, see Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, chapter 27, Hills and Valleys, pages 686-704)
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