Glad Tidings from Cumorah
The location of the land of Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon (and of all other lands and places mentioned in that book) is a matter of considerable study, conjecture, and even contention. Some have suggested that the name Cumorah, as used in Doctrine and Covenants 128:20, necessarily refers to a hill in New York and that this reference supports the conclusion that this hill in New York is one and the same with the hill named Cumorah in the Book of Mormon. A reasonable argument can be made, however, that the name Cumorah, as used in D&C 128:20, refers to the ancient land of Cumorah and that this passage, with its reference to that ancient land, gives us little, if any, information about the location of that ancient land.
In Mormon 6:6, Mormon tells us that he wrote the Book of Mormon after the Nephites had gathered to the land of Cumorah.
“And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold, I Mormon began to be old. And knowing it to be the last struggle of my people and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer that the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites—for the Lamanites would destroy them—therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.” (Mormon 6:6, emphasis added)
After Mormon finished making, in the land of Cumorah, the record that he called “these few plates” (same verse), he gave the plates to his son, Moroni. Decades later (compare Mormon 6:5 with Moroni 10:1), after wandering “whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life” (Moroni 1:3), Moroni “hid up” the completed record, the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, “unto the Lord” (Mormon 8:4). The location where Moroni “hid up” the golden plates is never named in the Book of Mormon.
On September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared as a resurrected being to Joseph Smith in the upstairs bedroom of the Smith home and declared that the record compiled anciently by Mormon would soon be revealed (see Joseph Smith History 1:27-50). The next day, Joseph went to the hill near his home where the plates were deposited. Four years later, at that same hill, a hill never named by Joseph Smith or by Moroni, Joseph received the golden plates (see Joseph Smith History 1:59).
This hill in New York has come to be called Cumorah by members of the Church. There is, however, no revelation or authoritive statement by Joseph Smith that designates this hill as the one mentioned in the Book of Mormon. So it remains unclear what the relationship may be between this hill in New York and the hill named Cumorah in the Book of Mormon. They may be one and the same, but they may also be two different hills, quite distant from each other.
It’s not uncommon for place names mentioned in scripture to be re-applied to new locations. For instance, there’s a river named Jordan in the Holy Land and another river named Jordan in Utah. In most cases, such duplicate names don’t cause confusion because the location of the place named anciently is well known and clearly different from the new location that now has the same name. In the case of Cumorah, however, we don’t know for certain the location of the ancient land or hill. The existence of a hill in New York dubbed Cumorah in modern times, which may be different from the hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, can cause confusion among people trying to locate the land and hill described in the Book of Mormon.
Section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants is an epistle, or letter, written by Joseph Smith the Prophet. The main topic of the letter is baptism for the dead. Near the end of the letter, the Prophet rejoices in the revelations that have ushered in “the dispensation of the fulness of times” (v.18). He asks, “Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received?” and then begins to answer the question, “A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth” (v. 19). The Prophet’s reference to a voice from heaven and a voice out of the earth alludes to the Lord’s promise to Enoch that, in the last days, “righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten” (Moses 7:62).
This “voice of truth out of the earth” that bears testimony of Jesus Christ is clearly not an audible voice. It is the Book of Mormon–a book that Joseph Smith received out of the earth. Ancient prophets prophesied that, through this book, their voice would “cry” from the dust. This “voice” from the dust is, of course, a figurative voice. It consists of written words coming to us in modern times as if they were being spoken by the dead. In one passage, the Lord tells the ancient prophet Joseph that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon “shall be as if the fruit of thy loins had cried unto them from the dust” (2 Nephi 3:19, emphasis added). In his final message in the book, Nephi the son of Lehi wrote “And now, my beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust” (2 Nephi 33:13, emphasis added). The final message of Moroni, the last person to write on the golden plates, includes these words, “the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?” (Moroni 10:27, emphasis added).
After referring to the Book of Mormon as “a voice of truth out of the earth,” the Prophet again refers to the Book of Mormon in the next verse. He continues, “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).
A modern reader of this passage might initially assume that the name Cumorah, as used here, is a reference to the familiar hill in New York, now called Cumorah. However, it is very possible that the Prophet used this Book of Mormon place name in reference to the ancient land described in the Book of Mormon where Mormon wrote the glad tidings now found in the Book of Mormon. So, just as we might say that the Book of Revelation came to us from the island of Patmos (where it was written), Joseph Smith may be using the phrase Glad tidings from Cumorah to refer to a book full of glad tidings written for people in our day by Mormon while he resided centuries ago in a land called Cumorah. In a very specific sense, these glad tidings now cry unto us from the dust of the land of Cumorah.
If the phrase Glad tidings from Cumorah refers to the Book of Mormon itself, then it doesn’t identify the place from which “Moroni, an angel from heaven, declar[ed] the fulfilment of the prophets–the book to be revealed” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:20). This is appropriate, because that event did not take place at any Cumorah. The angel Moroni came to Joseph Smith in the upstairs bedroom of the Smith home to make this declaration. “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants” (Joseph Smith–History 1:34). By the time Joseph Smith visited the hill where the book was deposited, the angel had made this declaration four times.
It’s reasonable to conclude that the book itself is the glad tidings from Cumorah just as it is the voice of truth out of the earth. It contains the glad tidings of the everlasting gospel, the voice of truth, that had been written by Mormon in ancient times in the land of Cumorah. Because a clear case can be made that the name Cumorah refers to the ancient land of Cumorah (wherever it may be located), it’s improper to assume that Doctrine and Covenants 128:20 necessarily refers to a hill in New York that now goes by that name.