Did Joseph Smith copy the names Moroni and Cumorah?
On one anti-LDS Web site resides the claim that Joseph Smith got the names Cumorah and Moroni from the Comoros Islands, near Madagascar, off the South-east coast of Africa. Moroni is the capital city of the Islands, and brings up a big question as to whether Joseph Smith copied them or not. This question was submitted to the Studies in Ancient Mormonism email list (SAMU-L), and the following information came from the discussion.
Many thanks to Martin Raish, Gordon Thomasson, William Hamblin and Jim Larsen for their scholarly input, for what could have been a strong argument against Mormonism has actually become a strong argument FOR Mormonism!
First off, what are the Comoros Islands?
"The Comorro islands, four in number, lie about midway between the northern part of Madagascar, and the continent of Africa." (A New System of Modern Geography, or a View of the Present State of The World . . ._ by Sidney E. Morse, Boston, 1822, page 598). Today, they are settled primarily by Muslims.
Did Joseph have a Gazeteer/Map with this Info?
Could Joseph have gotten the names Cumorah and Moroni from this place? Very unlikely. Of several tomes available in Joseph's day checked, few mentioned the Comorros islands, and none mentioned the town of Moroni (see footnote). Why not? Because Moroni became the capital of the Grand Comoros island only in 1876 (32 years after Joseph's death and 47 years after the publishing of the Book of Mormon), when Sultan Sa'id Ali settled there. At that time it was only a small settlement. Even a century later, in1958, it's population was only 6500.
So far, it looks like the the names Cumorah/Comoros and Moroni possibly came from a similar ancestry in the Middle East, since Joseph could not have gotten the name Moroni from any source. But it goes farther than that!
The Name Game
The name Moroni is Italian as a name in Shi-Ngazija. One similar word here or there does not make a powerful argument against Mormonism. What is important are large patterns of parallels of many words. Considering there are a large number of parallels between the Book Of Mormon and Hebrew words and grammar is far more significant than a single parallel. Indeed, even if one is impressed by Cumorah/Comoros parallel, it still remains to explain the Semitic and other Near Eastern parallels. The key is which one does the Book of Mormon parallel closest?
The Polynesian Factor
Madagascar is the major westernmost extension of the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Migrants from Indonesia sailed there about 2,000 years ago or so. They brought with them many foods, music (and musical instruments), traditions and their language.
As Dr. Gordon Thomassen then asks us:
"Did my friendly neighborhood ocean- going outrigger Malayo-Polynesian Malagasy friends name the Islands or contribute to their language? Or is it Arabic? Or, or, or. People moved all over that world, long before the Ming treasure fleets....let your mind expand to the worldview of Malayo-Polynesian peoples who navigated by the seat of their pants (almost literally), all the way from the coast of South America to the east coast of Africa."
Why is this important?
Because the Book of Mormon teaches that circa 55 B.C., some of its people, led by a man named Hagoth, left the Americas in ships to settle far away places, and they were never heard from again! (see Alma 63:5-8). In Joseph's day, and even in our day, the idea of early world travel was not conceivable. Remember, many thought in Columbus' day that sea monsters would destroy ships, or at least those ships which didn't fall off the edge of the world!
To consider such travel 1500 years before such an event as the discovery of the New World by Europeans was foolhardy and unbelievable. Yet, the archaeological record shows that it occurred!
Another Weak Theory Bites the Dust!
Given the evidence, Joseph Smith couldn't have known that Moroni was a town on the Comoros Islands. In fact, odds are he didn't even know the Comoros Islands existed!
Whether the names Comoros/Cumorah and Moroni come from the Arabic language or from Polynesian/South America travelers, we don't know. What we do know, is either of these answers strengthens the story of the Book of Mormon as being valid and truthful.
So, on behalf of all truth seekers out in the world today, I would like to thank those on anti-LDS websites for helping us research this and come up with another strong evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon!
Gazeteers of Joseph's Day and what they said concerning Comoros and Moroni:
Mucullock's Universal Gazateer, 2 vols (1843-4), 2257 pages of double columned miniscule print. no reference to Comoros Islands or Moroni
Morris' Universal Gazateer 1821 (831 pp), no mention of either
1794 ed = Comora on p. 400
1819 ed = Comora
1835 ed = Comoro p 214
1843 ed = Comoro
no mention of a city called Moroni.