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BRENT HANSON (Artistic Director): The Hill Cumorah Pageant is a volunteer operation. All the actors and staff members are here out of the goodness of their hearts because they believe in the cause and they're excited to be participants in it.

COURTNEY DONE (Participant): It’s the first time I’ve ever been this part. So I get married on stage and then I travel through the wilderness before they have the boat scene. And that’s probably one of my favorite things to do.

HANSON: This year the cast has 750 people in it. And that's part of the excitement of the show, it's just plain big. The cast members are from across the United States, 30 some states this year, several international families participating. The pageant is loaded with costumes, special effects. The soundtrack has been recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This site in the Palmyra, New York area is really the cradle of our faith. It's where Joseph Smith lived when he first began to receive revelations from our Father in heaven. This is the site where the Book of Mormon was translated largely and where it was eventually published. That was in 1830. And it is exciting to be in the actual place where some of these events which are so special to us as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took place, there's a sense of coming home. A sense in some ways of a pilgrimage, although that's not a tenant of our faith exactly.

Brent Hanson, Artistic Director, Hill Cumorah PageantThe story starts out in the Book of Mormon with a group of people who leave Jerusalem. They're led by a man who’s had revelations from God:

LEHI: The Lord spoke to me in a dream last night. He told me to take my family and go into the wilderness.

LEHI’S WIFE: Leave Jerusalem?

HANSON: Those people are eventually led to the American continent. It's their new promised land. After they arrive, they have problems. There are brothers who don't get along, who have different ideas about how things should be run. And eventually they split into two groups of people and they have ongoing conflict for centuries. The Book of Mormon was written by those ancient prophets in America, and as their civilization deteriorated, the last of those prophets hid the record.

NARRATOR: Some day your words will be given to a people of another nation so they too can know the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The words that Nephi wrote became part of the Book of Mormon. This sacred record would be continued by one prophet after another through all the thousands of years that Nephi's people would live in the promised land of America.

HANSON: Those people were waiting for the arrival of Jesus Christ, just like the people in the Old Testament were, and they were promised that after his resurrection in Jerusalem he would visit them here, and that scene depicting the Savior's visit to those ancient Americans at the meridian of time is certainly the highlight, the climactic scene of the pageant.

NARRATOR: He ordained 12 disciples who served him in America as the 12 apostles served him in the old world.

JESUS: Ye are my disciples, ye are a light unto this people. This is the land of your inheritance given unto you by thy Father. Write the things which ye have seen and all that I have said. Some day I will establish a great nation in this land, a free nation, and I will give them the words ye write. Ye shall be a witness unto them.

HANSON: That's perhaps what makes us different from the rest of Christianity, the concept is that it's a restoration of what had been before and had been lost.

PROPHETS MORMON AND MORONI: And I shall take these plates wherever the Lord commands and hide them. And then the Lord will keep these plates safe until he raises up a prophet in the latter days. He will send our record forth to convince the world that Jesus is the Christ. It will be called the Book of Mormon.

HANSON: At the end of the pageant we are introduced to Joseph Smith as a character. We view Joseph Smith as a prophet, just like the prophets of old, and we see enacted on the stages and hillside of the pageant Moroni coming to him, giving him the plates, telling him to translate it and get it published.

ANGEL MORONI: Joseph, you will translate this book by the gift and power of God. The Lord has a great work for you to do.

NARRATOR: In 1829, Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, and in 1830 it was published in nearby Palmyra, New York. At the Lord's command, God's holy priesthood was restored, and the Church of Jesus Christ was once again organized on this earth.

HANSON: I have great hopes every night, as people come in, that there will be some people who will really connect, who will be searching for the kinds of answers that we're offering, and that their lives will be changed then.

JOSEPH SMITH: The Savior will return. Soon he will be here.

LDS Pageant

Last year was the 75th anniversary of the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant near Palmyra, New York, a lavish outdoor theatrical production of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based on the Book of Mormon.

  • Jennifer Zimmerman

    Someone please correct me, but isn’t the hill where this pageant is presented, “Hill Cummorah” where an epic battle took place? I seem to recall some Mormon neighbors telling us that hundreds of thousands of soldiers died there.

    Has the Mormon church excavated the place? Shouldn’t there be a lot of artifacts there?

  • Bill T

    The epic battle you refer to most likely took place at another hill with the same name – possibly current day Cerro Vigia in the Veracruz area of southern Mexico. After the slaughter of hundreds of thousands, Moroni was left without a civilization and an army sworn to exterminate anyone who would not defect to their side. A man names Jerry Ainsworth wrote a book detailing the possible route of Moroni northward following the Rio Grand into the western states and eventually heading eastward across the continent to the New England area where he buried the plates and other artifacts before expiring of exhaustion or old age.

  • Matthew Turner

    That is a good question, Jennifer. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for you. Except to say that for us the Book of Mormon is considered to be scripture based on faith, not archeology. Any scientific evidence for or against its historicity is not really material to that faith.

    Brother Hanson does a great job here. But I would point out that one thing he says is quite inaccurate. While Joseph Smith, Jr. received the gold plates at Cumorah in Manchester, NY, their translation was not done at all in the Manchester/Palmyra area. The translation work was mostly done in Harmony, PA (now Oakland, PA). The translation was finished in Fayette, NY (now Waterloo, NY). The first edition of the Book of Mormon was indeed published in Palmyra, NY.

    All of these sites–Hill Cumorah in Manchester, Smith farm and Grandin publishing house in Palmyra, Hale farm in Oakland, and Whitmer farm in Waterloo–are all wonderful historical sites to visit and learn more about our fascinating early church history.

  • Tsaot

    @Jennifer Zimmerman
    No this is not the same hill. Moroni traveled a great deal after the battle at Cumorah. In fact, it’s hard to pin down who first called the hill such. Last I knew, it was either Martin Harris or Oliver Cowdry who named the hill.

  • Ken Dahl

    @Jennifer: One of the many incongruities of the “Book of Mormon” story, and hyperbole surrounding the founding of Mormonism during the Second Great Awakening in this ‘Burned Over District’ of Upstate New York. For one thing, Smith let on that he was working on this novel about the origins of the American Indian starting in 1823. He and his collaborators had seven years to complete the text before it was finally published and sold in late 1829, with the title page noting “Joseph Smith, Junior AUTHOR AND PROPRIETOR”. That phrase and many other alterations have since been made to the original text.

  • beaglelady

    Lots of artifacts have been found–but they were all dropped by the cast members.

  • Laura Turley

    That’s a good Question which can be most simply answered by reading the following article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumorah

  • Kami

    This is a well documented report on the Hill Cumorah Pageant. It is uplifting and inspiring to learn more about the history of the Book of Mormon, and how this book came to be. The people and their stories come to life as they are portrayed on stage. I am impressed with the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who not only sacrifice their time, but their means to participate in this production. This seems to be a worthwhile experience for the cast and audience.

  • Lund Johnson

    I have been associated as an Assistant Director, Director and Cast members for the Pageant for 21 years.
    It has always been a baptism of spirit to attend, be in and work there. The cast and crew and their work is the true miracle of the pageant. working together in unity and Love in that humidy and heat is aanother witness to the power of the Spirit to instill Charity and faith to all who seek it.
    I love the Spirit and Message and people of the America’s Witness for Christ at Cumorah.

  • Lori Anderson

    No.
    The locations of the events of the Book of Mormon are not known, except in a general way (we know they occurred in the New World). There is speculation by many -some experts, some not- about exact locations, similar to speculations about some of the Old and New Testament events, and archeological artifacts support existence of the civilizations discussed in the Book of Mormon.
    A battle that you speak of did occur at a site named Hill Cumorah (mentioned in the Book of Mormon), but it is not Mormon doctrine that said site represents the same site as where the Hill Cumorah Pageant takes place.

  • Doris M Mason

    When Hanson says that the restoration is what makes LDS different from other Christian religions is a statement that disturbs me. The restoration as explained to me by LDS people implies that LDS are the only correct religion.
    I wish that your program would invite a spokesperson to go in more depth with details of their faith including definition of God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, preexistence, time and eternity. In order for me to form transparent relationlships with my friends of different faiths and in this instance the LDS, we have had to talk in specific definitions which include a side by side comparison of our defintions of God, Jesus as the only begotten son,
    communion and sacrament. Then I acknowledge that they truly believe their definitions and they acknowledge that I believe my defintions. After such a conversation, a former LDS Bishop was introducing me to his replacement and informed him that we have the above understanding. We join together in tasks that serves the needs of our community, i.e. feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, caring for the poor, providing health care.

  • Kathleen Stiles

    I feel you gave legitimacy to the fairy tale of the founding of the Mormon faith without any mention of the fact that there are no historical or archeological artifacts to support anything in the book of Mormon. Joseph Smith was a well known con artist, run out of many towns before he came up “The Book of Mormon” and the Mormon religion. Don’t get me wrong, I know many wonderful people and have friends and relatives who are Mormon. I support their right to believe in and practive their religion. But I expect Religion & Ethics Newsweekly to present all sides of this issue and practice the word ethics (the science of moral duty), by presenting all the facts about Mormonism both pro and con.

  • Channah

    @Kathleen Stiles:

    I can understand where you are coming from. However, the same can be said for the Christianity of the New Testament. There is no proof. There are acheological artifacts——–of the people who lived in this area, but, not of Jesus and Christianity. Paul was the man who might be compared to Joseph Smith. He was a great speaker, loved the acting and the attention, and pushed forth a religion of his own making. Then, the Council of Nicene coded the beliefs of Christianity so that it took in the people and the church’s ability to control them.

  • bytebear

    There are plenty of archeological artifacts to pick from. If you choose to not believe they are evidence, that’s your right, but to claim there is nothing at all to bolster Mormon faith is simply ignoring a lot of what’s out there. Nothing? No, nothing to convince you? Sure, but not nothing at all.

  • bytebear

    The best source for the information you seek is the the book “How Wide the Divide?”

  • bytebear

    Joseph Smith was required by law to put in Author and Proprietor. The introduction explains in detail that Smith was the translator. Also, an interesting fact is that if it was a seven year fraud then everyone involved was really REALLY good at keeping a secret since no one “spilled the beans” even after leaving the church, and bad mouthing Smith.

  • Tom Jones

    Channah,
    How can you say there’s no proof when ancient Roman and Jewish historians recorded the existence and the claims of Jesus Christ and his early followers?
    Also, the Christian faith is based on faith, with or without proof. But the Mormon faith is based on faith, in spite of proof. That, in any honest person’s book, is folly. And according to the Bible, it leads to outer darkness, or hell, forever.
    I hope you, and everyone who reads this, will examine the “truth” claims of Christianity and see if they will not stand the test. I have been married to a Mormon for 32 years, during which time I have studied the history of the LDS faith and compared it to the historical facts of Christianity. The more I question both faiths the more satisfied I am that Mormonism is leading people down the path to hell and Christianity is the only religion that actually has good sound evidence that demands a verdict.
    By the way, Joseph Smith began by teaching several accurate attributes of the God of the Bible but, only nine years later, he apostatized from his own teachings and began teaching another god which his people had never know before, a god who was once a man without the powers of godhood, who had to work his way to the position. The Bible condemns such actions from a “prophet” and states that those actions deserve death, not honor. And those who follow the false prophet follow him to the same fate. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
    Tom Jones

  • Tom Jones

    Would you care to enumerate a few of those evidences? All that I know of have been debunked, even by Mormon archaeologists themselves. They continually warn Mormons not to go around bragging about evidence that simply does not exist.

  • Tom Jones

    Lori,

    You said, “A battle that you speak of did occur at a site named Hill Cumorah (mentioned in the Book of Mormon), but it is not Mormon doctrine that said site represents the same site as where the Hill Cumorah Pageant takes place.”

    The script of the Hill Cumorah Pageant says that the battle took place, “on this very hill”. So which is it? The LDS Church officially recognizes the Hill Cumorah site just south of Palmyra, NY as the very location. Speculations by others are immaterial, aren’t they?

    The truth is that we have abundant evidence for the Biblical lands and people, politics, coin age, etc. and zero for the Book of Mormon. In the movie clip shown in this article, Jesus, in the pageant, commands the people to write “all” his words so that they can be preserved for the coming restoration. Yet, there are precious few of Jesus’ words in the Book of Mormon, and those come from the beatitudes in Matthew.

  • Tom Jones

    bytebear,

    You repeated the frequent claim by Latter-day Saints that, “Joseph Smith was required by law to put in Author and Proprietor”. I have searched and could not find any such law. Could you help me by pointing to a resource that can verify that claim?

  • bytebear

    “Joseph Smith was complying with federal law (see I Statutes 124, 1790, as amended by 2 Stat. 171, 1802), which dictated the words the district clerk had to write when a person was taking out a copyright on a book. It can be demonstrated historically that many translators, including those who produced the 1824 edition of the King James Version of the Bible, were listed as “Author” to conform to this law.” – Kenneth H. Godfrey, “Not Enough Trouble, review of Trouble Enough: Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon by Ernest H. Taves and Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon by David Persuitte,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 no. 3 (Fall 1986), 143.

  • bytebear

    You’d have to be specific. What has been debunked? That there were great civilazation in America? true. That some have been wiped out? True. That they were gold metallurgists? True. That they used cement? true. All are evidence. You claimed NO, NONE, ZIP. That’s simply false.

  • Reason

    It is disgraceful for a respected program like Religion & Ethics Newsweekly to present Mormonism as a credible religion. It is a figment of a charlatan’s imagination (i.e., Joseph Smith). While Mormons may do some good work now, it’s origins have been proven to be fake with no evidence, so the religion is fake. Next week are you going to do a feature on another fake, made up religion, Scientology?

  • gr8ful4nething

    Your poor wife. How would it be to be married to someone who spends 32 years telling her she’s on the path to hell?

  • David D.

    I challenge all who read this. Read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Pray and ask God with honest and pure intent whether it is true. He will answer you. — You can get a free copy at Mormon.org — http://mormon.org/free-book-of-mormon

  • sfcanative

    Gold, cement, temple ruins? These are things well known in J. Smith’s day. The chariots, swords, horses, and countless millions killed in the endless wars without a trace?

    The Associated Press/October 27, 2003

    Grand Rapids, Mich. — Some of the now-debunked Michigan Relics — once considered by some influential Mormons as evidence of the church’s connection to a Near Eastern culture in ancient America — have a new home.

    For decades, the Mormon Church kept a large collection of the artifacts in its Salt Lake City museum, but never formally claimed them to be genuine.

    This past summer, after scholars examined the relics and declared them fakes, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated the 797 objects to the Michigan Historical Museum, which will display them next month.

    The relics were once hailed as the greatest archaeological discoveries since Pompeii. But there are many clues they are really fakes, Michigan State Archaeologist John Halsey told The Grand Rapids Press.

    Among the relics are engraved slate tablets. One scene depicts the crucifixion of Christ. The problem is, all the engravings tell stories of the Old Testament.

    “It is arguably the largest archaeological fraud ever in this country, and the longest running,” Halsey said.

    James Scotford claimed he found the first relic — a large clay casket — while digging a post hole on a Michigan farm in October 1890. He announced his discovery, touching off a frenzy of digging.

    Over the next 30 years, thousands of artifacts were found, including tiny caskets, amulets, tools, smoking pipes and tablets. The items were made of clay, copper and slate, and most bore the mark “IH/,” which some interpreted as a tribal signature or a mystic symbol. Some thought it was a variation on IHS, the ancient Hebrew symbol for Jehovah.

    A syndicate was formed to corner the market and sell the items to the highest bidder, perhaps the Smithsonian Institution.

    Oddly, nearly all the items were found when Scotford, a former magician and sleight-of-hand expert, was present.

    Almost from the beginning, skeptics doubted the authenticity of the finds. Francis Kelsey, a University of Michigan Latin professor, called them forgeries in 1892.

    The relics, however, had their vocal promoters, chief among them Daniel Soper, a former Michigan Secretary of State who was forced to resign because of corruption.

    In the early 1900s, Soper teamed with Scotford to sell the objects. They enlisted the support of the Rev. James Savage, a priest at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Detroit.

    Historians and archaeologists today believe Savage, who became the most avid collector, was not privy to the scam, but was duped to give the finds credibility. Savage believed the artifacts were left by the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel or a colony of ancient Jews.

    In 1911, Scotford’s stepdaughter signed an affidavit saying she saw her stepfather making the relics.

    Savage died still believing the Michigan Relics were genuine. He bequeathed his large collection to Notre Dame University. When a pair of Mormon missionaries found the collection there in 1960, the university gladly donated it to the church.

    In 1977, the church asked Richard Stamps, a Mormon and Oakland University archaeology professor, to examine the relics.

    Stamps also concluded they were fakes. The copper relics, he said, were made from ordinary commercial copper stock and had been treated with chemicals to make it look older.

    In 1998-99, Stamps again studied the relics in the Mormon collection and reached the same conclusion.

    “Poor Father Savage. I feel so sorry for this Catholic father,” Stamps said. “I think Scotford was cranking these things out and slipping them into the ground, and I think Savage didn’t have a clue.”

    Through Stamps, the Mormon Church decided to donate its collection to the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing.

  • Matthew Turner

    What’s so “credible” about the Bible or traditional Christianity? The creation story? The flood? The talking donkey? The very resurrection of Jesus–as central as it is to the message of traditional Christianity–cannot be “proven.” Faith is not about proof. It is about your personal experience with the divine and what you do with it.

    It is easy to simply dismiss Joseph Smith, Jr. as a charlatan. But as a student of his life and work, I find there is a sincerity there. After all, he did die for his testimony of the “great and marvelous work” that he himself initiated. And before his untimely death, he suffered and sacrificed greatly for the sake of that work. If it was all made up, I don’t think he was consciously aware of it. He really believed in what he was doing.

    But I for one find great value in what the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, Jr. have to say about Jesus Christ. I find great truth there. I do believe Joseph was a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. And so do about 6 million other practicing Mormons. Mormonism is indeed a legitimate religion. Your comment reflects more your own prejudice and parochialism than anything else.

  • cipher

    And what if the answer is “No”?