Question: Could Joseph Smith have acquired the names "Moroni" and "Cumorah" from stories of Captain Kidd that he read in his youth?

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Question: Could Joseph Smith have acquired the names "Moroni" and "Cumorah" from stories of Captain Kidd that he read in his youth?

Captain William Kidd is known to have operated in the vicinity of the Comoro archipelago. One author notes that "During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Comoros, and especially Anjouan, were popular as both a hunting ground and headquarters for Indian Ocean pirates." [1]

  • Ex-Mormon Grant Palmer asserts that Joseph Smith acquired the names "Cumorah" and "Moroni" by reading stories of Captain Kidd in his youth. Palmer concludes that it is "reasonable to assert that Joseph Smith's hill in the "land of Camorah" [Comorah/Cumorah], "city of Moroni," and "land of Moroni/Meroni," is connected with the ilhas [islands] de Comoro"/"Camora," the Moroni/Meroni settlements, and these pirate adventures. [2]
  • Critic Ronald V. Huggins asserts that Captain Kidd was "hanged for crimes allegedly committed in the vicinity of Moroni on Grand Comoro." [3]

The primary inspiration for stories about Captain Kidd, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, fails to mention the names "Comoro" and "Moroni/Meroni/Maroni"

The primary inspiration for Captain Kidd stories and legends, Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, fails to mention the names "Comoro" and "Moroni/Meroni/Maroni" in conjunction with Kidd's exploits. It is the responsibility of those who make this claim to produce some sort of documentary evidence that these names existed in stories that were available to Joseph Smith.

Positive evidence against this claim

The Book of Mormon Onomasticon project done through Brigham Young University gives compelling etymologies for the names Moroni and Cumorah.

"Other Mormon scholars who have written on this..."

It is claimed by some critics that "For some Mormon apologists, the evidence is so compelling [that Captain Kidd stories influenced these names] that they have suggested that Lehi and his family may have encountered the Comoros islands on their initial voyage from the Arabian Peninsula to the western hemisphere, and that the Nephite civilization therefore may have retained a collective knowledge of the names of "Comoros" and "Moroni".[4]

This is in line with a Wikipedia article that states the following:

Alternative origin of the name


Close-up of 1808 map of Africa with the small Comoros islands labelled "Camora" (near center, just below marked line of latitude) Grant H. Palmer has theorized that Smith created the name "Cumorah" through his study of the treasure-hunting stories of Captain William Kidd, because Kidd was said to have buried treasure in the Comoros islands (known by the Arabic name, Camora, prior to being occupied by the French in 1841). Previous to announcing his discovery of the Book of Mormon, Smith had spent several years employed as a treasure seeker. Since the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon printed the name "Cumorah" as "Camorah," it has been suggested that Smith used the name of the islands and applied it to the hill where he found buried treasure—the golden plates. Complementing this proposal is the theory that Smith borrowed the name of a settlement in the Comoros—Moroni—and applied it to the angel which led him to the golden plates.

Others posit that this line of argument commits the logical error of appeal to probability. They also point out that it is highly unlikely that Smith had access to material which would have referred to the then-small settlement of Moroni, particularly since it did not appear in most contemporary gazetteers. However, other Mormon authors have suggested that the ancestors of the Nephite people may have encountered the Comoros islands on their initial voyage from the Arabian Peninsula to the western hemisphere, and that the Nephite civilization therefore may have retained a collective knowledge of the names "Comoros" and "Moroni".[5]

Notice the very odd language from Wikipedia that seems to be trying to apply evidence from Mormon authors accepting the Capitan Kidd theories and stating that the Lehites may have stopped in this port to resupply. We go to the footnote for more information that reads:

One Mormon author suggests that Lehi and his family may have re-supplied at Moroni during the voyage: W. Vincent Coon, Choice Above All Other Lands, pg. 68; see also “How Exaggerated Setting for the Book of Mormon Came to Pass” and “A Feasible Voyage”. This position reflects the argument of others that the tradition that Lehi and his company voyaged across the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and finally the Pacific Ocean is "extreme" and non-authoritative: May, Wayne N., THIS LAND: They Came from the East, Vol. 3, pp. 12–15; Olive, P.C., The Lost Empires & Vanished Races of Prehistoric America, p. 39.

The first thing we can rule out with all confidence is that these men have connected the Capitain Kidd stories to the Book of Mormon. They're both still faithful and don't believe that Joseph plagiarized anything for the Book of Mormon. The next thing we need to learn is why they believe that the "tradition that Lehi and his company voyaged across the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and finally the Pacific Ocean is "extreme" and non-authoritative...". W. Vincent Coon and Wayne May are researchers for the Book of Mormon that believe that the Book of Mormon took place in the Heartland geography (which encompasses primarily the Eastern to Mid United States). They were trying to find evidence that the Lehites were able to sail southward, away from the Arabian peninsula, around Africa, and then come from the east, through the Atlantic Ocean, to the Florida Peninsula, and used this as evidence of that assertion. From the post cited by Wikipedia written by Coon:

One possible location where they may have re-supplied is the island of Grand Comore; about 200 miles off the eastern coast of Africa. The capitol port city of the island, by the way, has a Semitic name – "Moroni".[6]

This says nothing that could support a critical theory that the Capitan Kidd stories are supported by these men. It only says that there is a city, in Comore, with the name Moroni. And to reiterate, there are still no contemporary sources that tie Moroni and Comore in the same map. Critics that would like to argue that the men are using this as supporting critical assertions about the Capitan Kidd stories are seriously misreading their sources.


Notes

  1. Barbara Dubins, "Nineteenth-Century Travel Literature on the Comoro Islands: A Bibliographical Essay," African Studies Bulletin, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Sep., 1969), pp. 138-146
  2. Grant Palmer, John Whitmer Historical Association vol. 34 no. 1 Spring/Summer 2014
  3. Ronald V. Huggins, "From Captain Kidd's Treasure Ghost to Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought36 no. 4 (2003)
  4. See Jeremy Runnells "Debunking FairMormon; July 2014 Revision"
  5. See Wikipedia "Cumorah" under "Alternative origin of the name"
  6. See http://www.bookofmormonpromisedland.com/Gross%20Geographies.htm