Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

How to work together, and not to

On August 14, 2019, Jonathan Neville published a blog post whose title asks, “How can we work together?” In it, he reflects on the difficulty he’s had getting along with those he has labeled “M2C”*:
I understand that M2C is important to the M2C intellectuals and their followers. So I’m wondering, how can everyone work together to advance the cause of the Book of Mormon, despite differences of opinion about how to interpret and apply the text to issues of historicity and geography?

[In other words], how can everyone work together?
I’m going to assume that Neville is sincere in asking this question.

Let me give you a few suggestions on how to work together with people on the other side, Brother Neville:

1. Stop calling people names. Referring to those you disagree with as the “M2C citation cartel” and their views as “Mesomania” are examples of the ongoing ridicule you lay upon people who hold different views than you do.

You demand respect, but you’re unwilling to give respect. Changing that would be a big first step.

2. Stop misrepresenting the people you disagree with and their beliefs. This blog has numerous examples of the way you misrepresent people who believe the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. The very blog post in which you ask how can everyone work together misrepresents those who disagree with you:
[The “M2C citation cartel] believe only they are qualified to interpret the scriptures (hence, Dan P[eterson]’s Interpreter), and they don’t even want members of the Church to know about alternatives.
Brother Peterson has already corrected this misrepresentation numerous times (see here, here, and here, for example), but you continue to persist in making it. (And Peterson responded again today.)

Being truthful is a critical character trait for Latter-day Saints and all believers in Christ.

3. Stop claiming that those you disagree with are unfaithful. Accusing Church employees, professors, and scholars of “rejecting the prophets,” withholding information from the Brethren, and leading members of the Church astray is deeply offensive, and yet you persist in doing these things, week after week, month after month, year after year.

As I wrote last month, “The sad apparent truth is that Jonathan Neville is not self-aware enough to understand how his rhetoric is perceived by others. He views himself as being on a righteous mission to get people to ‘accept the teachings of the prophets’ that he considers to be divinely inspired, but his name-calling, his accusations of unfaithfulness, and his misrepresentation of the beliefs and arguments of those with whom he disagrees is the root cause of this entire conflict.”

—Peter Pan

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Neville reads minds, just not his own

On August 12, 2019, Jonathan Neville blogged about “Why facts don’t change our minds.” In it he tells us:
For those who wonder why M2C* continues to be taught, consider these two sentences:

[“]We don’t always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about.[”] [source]

There are few more obvious examples than M2C. Employees at Book of Mormon Central, for example, are unusually concerned with what their bosses and mentors think.
Neville’s talent for mindreading is quite exceptional: He claims to know the thoughts and motivations of employees at Book of Mormon Central!

How he knows what they’re thinking he doesn’t tell us. In the absence of any confirmed evidence of human telepathy, the most obvious answer would be that he doesn’t understand why any intelligent person would think or believe differently than he does, so he assumes that the employees at Book of Mormon Central must simply be hirelings who are paid to do a job.

In other words, Jonathan Neville is confirming his own biases.

What’s astonishing about this is that Neville is apparently unable to see the very same flaws within himself that he ascribes to others: Bias confirmation and the possibility that he believes things because they make him look good to the people he cares about (namely, other Heartlanders).

—Peter Pan

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Neville misrepresents speakers at the FairMormon conference

Jonathan Neville attended this week’s FairMormon conference in Provo, and he posted some of his thoughts on the first day’s presentations. Neville being Neville, he couldn’t help but misrepresent some of the people he disagrees with.

(He also complained that “It cost me $50 to see 7 presentations.” FairMormon is a non-profit organization that pays for most of the costs of the conference through admission. That’s different than Heartlander expos which are for-profit ventures that generate revenue from vendor booths that peddle energy healing, emergency supplies, ammunition, and so forth, which allows them to keep the admission prices low.)

According to Neville, “nothing notable” was said at the presentations (!), “except two funny incidents during the Q&A”:
One speaker discussed the Eight Witnesses. During Q&A, someone asked what he thought about the two sets of plates (referring to the Harmony and Fayette plates). He said he was unfamiliar with that idea (naturally, because he only reads M2C* material).

But Scott Gordon, the President of FairMormon who knows about the two sets of plates because he was in a presentation I gave about that history, leaned into the microphone and said, roughly, “That would make things more complicated.” The audience laughed.

Readers here know how the two sets of plates makes things more complicated for M2C advocates. If the Hill Cumorah really is in New York, their whole theory collapses.
The speaker in question was Larry Morris, who earlier this year published his book, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon, through Oxford University Press.

It’s fair for Neville to criticize what Morris and Gordon said. It’s not fair for Neville to misquote Morris and Gordon and then disparage them based on things they didn’t say.

Here’s a transcript of that section of Morris’s presentation, which I created from the recorded video stream of the FairMormon conference. Since Neville loves comparison tables, I’ll put his version side-by-side with what was really said:
Neville’s version Transcript from video (45:24–46:00)
Someone asked what he thought about the two sets of plates (referring to the Harmony and Fayette plates). Larry Morris (reading aloud from the question card): “A blogger has argued for two set[s] of plates, one set of plates seen by the Eight Witnesses and the other by the Three Witnesses.”
He said he was unfamiliar with that idea (naturally, because he only reads M2C material). Morris (to audience): I looked pretty carefully at all the empirical accounts of the plates, and I believe that there was one set of plates and one set only. (pause) Now, I don’t know why someone would argue that there were two sets of plates.
Scott Gordon…leaned into the microphone and said, roughly, “That would make things more complicated.” Scott Gordon (standing just off to the side): That’s more work. (chuckling)

Gordon (louder, seeing that Morris missed his comment): That’s just more work.

Morris (understanding Gordon’s joke): Yeah, it is more work. (both chuckling)
It’s Neville’s singular theory that Joseph Smith translated from, not one, but two sets of plates. Larry Morris didn’t say that he was “unfamiliar” with Neville’s theory; he said that his extensive research on the Witnesses lead him to believe “there was one set of plates and one set only.” This has nothing whatsoever to do with Morris “only read[ing] M2C material.” (How could Neville know what Morris reads and doesn’t read?) I’ll go out on a limb here and assert that Morris knows far more about the Eight Witnesses than Neville does, but Neville chalks the entire thing up to Morris not reading widely enough!

Neville goes on to misrpresent Scott Gordon, claiming Gordon said Neville’s theory is “more complicated” and using that as a springboard to evangelize for a New York Cumorah (his Fourteenth Article of Faith). Gordon actually said that two sets of plates would be “more work.” What, exactly, he meant by that isn’t obvious from the video, but clearly he was joking because he laughed and Morris laughed with him. Neville distorted Gordon’s words and his intent.

Neville next misrepresented Ben Spackman’s comments. Spackman’s talk was on the scriptural creation accounts and the nature of revelation to prophets; in it, he expressed his concerns about a “fundamentalist” view of revelation and scriptural interpretation held by some Latter-day Saints.
The second funny incident was during another Q&A. The speaker was asked what he thought about the Heartland movement. I’m told he replied, “They’re a bunch of crazy fundamentalists.”

That comment says it all. Now, if you still believe what the prophets have taught, you’re ridiculed by the FairMormon intellectuals as a “fundamentalist.”

That pretty well sums up the M2C citation cartel.
What’s particularly awful about Neville’s misrepresentation here is that he didn’t even hear what Spackman himself said; rather, he he was “told” by someone else. Neville is repeating a garbled, second-hand account as fact and using the (misquoted) words of a single individual to disparage an entire school of thought which which he disagress.

Here’s what actually was said:
Neville’s version Transcript from video (49:03–50:08)
  Ben Spackman (reading the question card to himself and chuckling): Alright, we’ll take the gloves off. (clearly intending this metaphor as a joke)
The speaker was asked what he thought about the Heartland movement. Spackman (reading aloud from the question card): “Please name the group pushing ‘fundamentalism.’”

Spackman (aside to Scott Gordon): I’m sorry, Scott. (both laughing)
I’m told he replied, “They’re a bunch of crazy fundamentalists.” Spackman (to audience): There is a group that goes by the name the Heartlanders. They marry a particular geographic interpretation of the Book of Mormon—which is absolutely fine; you can think whatever you want about Book of Mormon geography—but they marry it with right-wing constitutionalist politics, young-earth creationism, an authoritarian view of prophets that is absolutely absolutist—it’s a “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”—and they claim that anyone who disagrees with them is apostate. They have taken to naming Church History [Department] employees and BYU professors who are “off base.” I think the Heartlanders are dangerous fundamentalists. (pause) Bottom line.

(Applause, scattered conversation among the audience.)
Note that Spackman wasn’t asked “what he thought about the Heartland movement”; he was asked for examples of groups among the saints who were “pushing fundamentalism.” Spackman was the one who brought up Heartlanders.

More importantly, though, Spackman did not call Heartlanders “crazy fundamentalists”; he called them “dangerous fundamentalists,” a distinction that is not only clear but also important. And he backed up the term dangerous by giving specific examples of the kinds of thinking and behavior displayed by Neville and his associates in the Heartland movement.
If Jonathan Neville is going to criticize what others have said, the very least he can do is quote them accurately. The instances above are prime examples of the Strawman Fallacy—Neville quoted what he believed other people said, then attacked the misquotation.

Neville continually preaches to his readers about bias confirmation. He should be more aware of when he himself is confirming his biases.

—Peter Pan

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Two answers for Heartlanders

This is a response to Jonathan Neville’s August 6, 2019, blog post “2 questions for the M2C citation cartel.”* (Neville persists in using the disparaging—and inaccurate—term “citation cartel” to refer to those scholars and writers who don’t agree with him and his comrades who advocate for the Heartlander Book of Mormon theory.)

Neville’s post wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular, but it appears to be based on material that has appeared on this humble blog, so your corespondent thought it would be appropriate to respond.

Neville writes:
Some of the M2C intellectuals complain when I observe that they are repudiating the teachings of the prophets.
Complain is too strong a word. I simply submit that his use of the term repudiate is loaded and inaccurate (as I’ll get into in a moment).
They say they don't care about "dead prophets" (an unbelievably disrespectful term they use often), but only about the living prophets, who (according to the intellectuals) agree with them.
I don’t know who the “they” are, but I’ve never claimed to “not care about ‘dead prophets.‘” Rather, I’ve claimed that Neville and other Heartlanders cling to the words of dead prophets and rationalize their disbelief in the teachings of living prophets. (Neville himself does the latter in the very blog post I’m reviewing, as you’ll see below.)

Neville repeatedly cites the writings and sermons of Joseph Fielding Smith, Mark E. Petersen, Marion G. Romney, and other long-dead prophets and apostles who made statements that he agrees with and which he believes prove his beliefs to be correct. Rarely does he cite the statements and teachings of living prophets and apostles—probably because not one of them has made unequivocal statements about the location of the hill Cumorah. Spencer W. Kimball warned about that kind of behavior:
“Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism…

“They who garnish the sepulchres of the dead prophets begin now by stoning the living ones. They return to the pronouncements of the dead leaders and interpret them to be incompatible with present programs. They convince themselves that there are discrepancies between the practices of the deceased and the leaders of the present.… They allege love for the gospel and the Church but charge that leaders are a little ‘off the beam’! … Next they say that while the gospel and the Church are divine, the leaders are fallen. Up to this time it may be a passive thing, but now it becomes an active resistance, and frequently the blooming apostate begins to air his views and to crusade.… He now begins to expect persecution and adopts a martyr complex, and when finally excommunication comes he associates himself with other apostates to develop and strengthen cults. At this stage he is likely to claim revelation for himself, revelations from the Lord directing him in his interpretations and his actions. These manifestations are superior to anything from living leaders, he claims.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 462.)
(I trust that Neville will forgive President Kimball for using the “unbelievably disrespectful” term dead prophets.)

The words in boldface type in President Kimball’s statement reflect where Neville is at this stage of his advocacy for the Heartland hoax. His (dozens of) blogs are filled his disparagement of the modern direction of the Church in its curriculum, its visitors centers, its missionary program, its published histories, and its website. He believes that, in not affirming that the hill Cumorah is the same hill in New York, the Church is “a little off the beam”, led by “M2C intellectuals” who (purportedly) withhold information deliberately from the Brethren. He justifies his criticisms of the modern Church by using selected teachings of long-dead leaders that have never been accepted as revealed doctrine of the Church.
In fact, they claim the living prophets have hired them, these intellectuals, to guide the Church.
Who are the “they” here, Brother Neville? You’ve repeatedly made this claim, and yet you never provide any citations to back up it up. The one person you have fingered, Daniel C. Peterson, has specifically denied that he has ever said or written any such thing, writing that your assertion “is flatly and unequivocally false. Neither I nor anybody I know has ever made such an arrogant and ridiculous claim.”

So, it’s time to “put up or shut up,” Brother Neville: Who said this, when, and in what context?
Here are two questions we'll keep in mind this week.

1. What is the correct term to use when an intellectual says the prophets are wrong?
I reject Neville’s question, based entirely on its loaded terminology. No believing Latter-day Saint “intellectual” asserts that “the prophets are wrong.” Rather, Church leaders, scholars, and (most) members understand that there is a difference between revelation and personal belief, between inspired declarations of doctrine and statements based on assumption and widespread interpretation. (Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught about this in April 2012 general conference.) Statements by previous church leaders—including Oliver Cowdery and other early saints—that the hill Cumorah is the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates are not based on revelation.
The M2C intellectuals try to frame their position nicely by claiming all the prophets who have taught the New York Cumorah were merely expressing their opinions. Unfortunately, they were wrong because they, the M2C intellectuals, know that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is somewhere in Mesoamerica.
This is clearly an overstatement. I could just as easily claim that Heartlanders try to frame their position nicely by claiming all the prophets who have taught the New York Cumorah were speaking from inspired, authoritative revelation. They must have been right because they, the Heartlanders, know that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York.

No one who ascribes to a Mesoamerican geographical setting for the Book of Mormon “knows” that the hill Cumorah was there. It’s a theory based on the internal and external evidence. Lacking any revealed information on the location of Book of Mormon lands, the descriptions of the lands and cultures in the text appear to most closely match the lands and ancient civilizations found in southern Mexico and Guatemala. If a better candidate location presented itself, scholarly attention would turn to that location.
Here's the google [sic] definition of repudiate.

re·pu·di·ate
/rəˈpyo͞odēˌāt/

verb

refuse to accept or be associated with.
"she has repudiated policies associated with previous party leaders"
synonyms: reject, renounce, abandon, forswear, give up, turn one's back on, have nothing more to do with, wash one's hands of, have no more truck with, abjure, disavow, recant, desert, discard, disown, cast off, lay aside, cut off, rebuff; More

deny the truth or validity of.
"the minister repudiated allegations of human rights abuses"
synonyms: deny, refute, contradict, rebut, dispute, disclaim, disavow; More

The definition precisely fits the position of these M2C intellectuals. When it comes to the New York Cumorah, they reject, renounce, disavow, disown, deny, refute, contradict, and every other synonym.
Repudiate is another loaded term. The New York Cumorah is Jonathan Neville’s Fourteenth Article of Faith; therefore, anyone who disagrees with him is, from his point of view, “repudiating the prophets.”

I would assert, rather, that one cannot repudiate a belief that was never accepted as a revealed truth in the first place.
If there's another term that better reflects the position of the M2C intellectuals about the New York Cumorah, I'd like someone to tell me. If it makes sense, then I'll use that term instead of repudiate.

But until then, it seems obvious to me and everyone who reads their writings that the M2C intellectuals at FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, etc., outright repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
Respectfully disagree would be a better phrase, but Neville would likely still twist it to claim that “M2C intellectuals disagree with the prophets!” As I described above, there’s a larger issue here of discerning when the teachings of prophets are to be accepted as the will and mind of the Lord and when they’re speaking as men. In the absence of any revelation or official statement from the Brethren on the location of the hill Cumorah, it’s safe to respectfully hold a view that’s different than some of past prophets and apostles have held.

Next we get into Neville’s self-justification for rejecting the Church’s current position on Book of Mormon geography:
2. What is the significance of the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography?

There are two features of the Gospel Topics Essays generally that put them in a strange category, but this particular one on geography is in a category of its own.

1. The essays are anonymous. This means no one takes responsibility for them. They were written by a committee, which is obvious (as I'll discuss below). Once approved, the essays are just posted on churchofjesuschrist.org and everyone is supposed to think they are authoritative, but in what sense?
Please note that Neville falsely claims that “no one takes responsibility” for the essays. Also note that he skirts right over the key point at issue here: Approved by whom?

The introduction to the Gospel Topics essays answers this question:
“Recognizing that today so much information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be obtained from questionable and often inaccurate sources, officials of the Church began in 2013 to publish straightforward, in-depth essays on a number of topics. The purpose of these essays, which have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has been to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications and place it in the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org, where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties.”
This is far from Neville’s claim that “no one takes responsibility for them”! It is certainly true that the essays were written by individuals or groups who were selected by Church leaders, and what they wrote went through a process of review and rewriting, but the final product, as published on the Church’s website, was approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Presumably they fall somewhere short of the scriptures (although some contradict the scriptures in important ways). Are they more or less authoritative than General Conference addresses? What about General Conference addresses by members of the First Presidency? Do these essays override everything ever spoken or written prior to their undated posting on the Church's web page?
The First Presidency has never produced such a “ranking” of authoritative sources. Rather, the Church’s position has been that the teachings of modern prophets supersede anything written by previous prophets. Elder James E. Faust taught in October 1994 general conference:
“The scriptures and doctrines of the Church are not, as Peter warned, ‘of any private interpretation.’ Great temporal and spiritual strength flows from following those who have the keys of the kingdom of God in our time. Personal strength and power result from obedience to eternal principles taught by the living legates of the Lord. May the Spirit of God rest upon us as we follow the living oracles.”
There are literally no answers to these questions that I can find anywhere. If someone knows of an official framework that prioritizes these essays over the scriptures, over General Conference addresses, or puts them in any sort of category that we can make sense of them, I'd like to know about it.
The answers are there; Jonathan Neville just chooses to ignore them because they conflict with his deeply-held personal beliefs. His cognitive bias is preventing him from accepting new information.
This is important because our M2C intellectuals cite the geography essay for the purpose of overriding all prior teachings about the New York Cumorah--even though the essay doesn't even mention Cumorah. They specifically confer more authority on the essay than they do on General Conference addresses.
Do you see the self-justification that Neville has ginned up? The Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon geography flatly states, “The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas.” It gives no exceptions or exemptions. Neville responds, “Well, the essay doesn’t mention Cumorah!” So what? It doesn’t mention the cities of Zarahemla, Nephi, or Bountiful either, nor the river Sidon, nor the narrow neck of land. Why should Neville get to carve out an exception to the blanket just because it’s important to his theology?
I frequently hear from readers who have questions about the essays generally, and about this one specifically. I respond that, from what I can gather, they are intended as guidance but have no priority over the scriptures or General Conference addresses. Hence, these essays are a framework for further discussion and analysis, with individuals reaching their own conclusions. They were never intended to enable certain intellectuals to claim official endorsement of their positions that contradict the teachings of the prophets.
But, since the essays are “approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” they are “the teachings of the prophets.” They have priority over Neville’s (and everyone else’s) interpretation of the scriptures and previous prophets. Certainly there can be “further discussion and analysis,” but that doesn’t mean that Neville can simply brush them aside with a wave of his hand and muttered complaints about committees.
But again, I could be wrong. Maybe these anonymous essays are the most official of all Church doctrine, with everything else subservient. I just can't tell from any official source.
This statement is a perfect example of the logical fallacy of the False Dilemma. “Either,” Neville tells us, “they’re for guidance only and have no priority or they are the most official of all Church doctrine.” There are, of course, other alternatives between those two extremes, but Neville is unwilling or unable to consider them.

My personal view is that the Gospel Topics essays represent the position of the Church, as approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, in the absence of specific revelation on the subjects they cover. Without a specific revelation, they are, of course, subject to revision as new information becomes available. Which bring us to Neville’s next point:
2. The essays are subject to change at any time without notice. As I've shown in the links below, this geography essay has already been substantially changed once without notice and could be changed again at any moment. Other essays have also been modified without notice.

What does this say for the authority of the essay?

In my view, the susceptibility to change makes these essays useful only as a starting place for discussion. How could they be authoritative if they can be changed at any time, especially without explanation?
Nothing published by the Church is set in stone; everything is subject to revision as new truths are discovered, either by revelation through the Holy Spirit or by human learning (which is the result of the light of Christ). Joseph Smith even revised the Book of Mormon for the second (1837) and third (1840) editions, and he revised his published revelations between the 1833 Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Revision does not compromise authority.

The Church’s handbook for stake presidents and bishops (Handbook 1) is continually revised to deal with new issues and better handle old ones. Is the handbook “not authoritative” because it’s subject to change? Can bishops simply ignore it, considering it just “a starting place for discussion”? Of course not.
The change to the first version of the geography essay corrected some obvious mistakes and misleading information, but the revision retained some of the mistakes. Such a process is an inevitable result of an anonymous committee writing the essay with input from only one point-of-view, that of the M2C intellectuals who have long since repudiated the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
And here we see Neville once again implying that the members First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are easily-manipulated victims of conspirators operating inside Church Headquarters. If we take his statement above at face value, the Brethren must be uneducated, uninformed men who simply rubber-stamp whatever is put in front of them.

That is, of course, nonsense. The Brethren are quite well-informed and the Gospel Topics essays represent many hours of discussion and revision to strike the right balance.
The geography essay purports to establish an official position of neutrality. I've discussed how the so-called policy of "neutrality" is actually implemented and enforced to mean the Church is neutral about where in Mesoamerica the events took place. There is no evidence of any neutrality that even acknowledges, let alone accommodates, the consistent and persistent teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
FALSE. I’ve debunked Neville’s “neutrality” claim now several times, but he persists in telling this untruth because it suits his narrative.
We could discuss other essays as well. The original objective, as I understood it, was to set out some facts and arguments regarding topics that have been discussed for many years without any official acknowledgement of the issues. In that sense, the essays are useful.

The problem is, the essays have taken one point of view and presented it as the "correct" interpretation. That creates all kinds of problems.
Neville’s understanding of the Gospel Topics essays is completely at odds with the First Presidency’s description of what role they serve. If he would only take the time to read the introduction to the essays (quoted above), it would clear up his misunderstanding.

I suspect that he knows that he’s mistaken, but his cognitive bias is preventing him from accepting this fact because of the implications it would have for his assertion that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is in New York.

—Peter Pan

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Neville’s shot at FairMormon raises important questions

Jonathan Neville has spent the last week (July 27–August 2, 2019) setting forth his views on the translation of the Book of Mormon. His rejection of the statements of witnesses to the translation is baffling, but it’s even more concerning that his views directly contradict the teachings of the currently-serving president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: then-Elder Russell M. Nelson endorsed the “stone in the hat” account and quoted from David Whitmer and Emma Smith’s recollections in the July 1993 Ensign.

I hope to return to Neville’s Book of Mormon translation views at some point. There’s a lot to unpack there. Clearly I believe Neville has not followed proper historical methodology in dealing with sources. But my time is limited and a lengthy, five-part blog series is not something I can review right now, considering my other personal commitments.

I did want to take just a moment, though, to comment on Neville’s August 5, 2019, blog post ”FairMormon/BMC conference this week.” FairMormon’s 2019 three-day conference will be held this week, and Neville has not wasted the opportunity to fire shots at his ideological opponents:
[FairMormon and Book of Mormon Central] have lots of useful material, but because of their single-minded focus on M2C, they mix all the good with two unacceptable elements: censorship and ridicule of fellow faithful members of the Church who still believe the teachings of the prophets.

Consequently, IMO, both FairMormon and Book of Mormon Central are contradicting the Church’s official position of neutrality and they are raising barriers to faith.
Neville yet again is falsely claiming that the Church has a position of “neutrality” on Book of Mormon geography.

But, beyond that, I wonder if Neville has bothered to ask himself one important question: If FairMormon is contradicting the Church and “raising barriers to faith,” why is a currently-serving member of the First Quorum of the Seventy speaking, on assignment from the Quorum of the Twelve, at this year’s FairMormon Conference?

This is a key question that deserves an answer that considers its own implications.

A related question: Why haven’t the Brethren asked any serving general authorities to speak at Heartlander conferences?

Often the actions of Church leaders fall into the category of “he who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” I believe this is one of those moments.

—Peter Pan

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Topics Jonathan Neville can’t tell the truth about

Walt Disney's Pinocchio
Over on Book of Mormon Central America, one of his (dozens of) blogs, Jonathan Neville has been throwing David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Emma Smith under the bus to defend his eccentric, singular views on the translation of the Book of Mormon (here and here.) We’ll post a review when he’s finished with that series of blog posts.

In the meantime, today we’ll look at a short post on another of his (dozens of) blogs, Book of Mormon Wars (are over). In “Topics we can't talk about” (July 30, 2019), Neville continues to misrepresent what the Church has said in its Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon geography. He writes:
I, along with many other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, notice that there are elephants in the room that no one can talk about.

It's unfortunate because many of these elephants exist because of past mistakes, and these mistakes can be resolved fairly easily be refocusing on the teachings of the prophets instead of the teachings of modern intellectuals.

For example, there is a lot of confusion about Church history and Book of Mormon historicity that people don't feel free to discuss. The recent Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography expressly prohibits discussing the topic in Church settings.
FALSE. The Gospel Topics essay does not “expressly prohibit discussing [Book of Mormon geography] in Church settings.” This blog has pointed out several times that it actually says:
Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken. However, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters. [Italics added.]
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that the First Presidency and the Twelve want Jonathan Neville and other Heartlanders to stop claiming that their theories of Book of Mormon geography are supported by “the teachings of the prophets,” while other theories (including the Mesoamerican geography) disregard or disrespect the prophets.

Outside of Church settings, like on Neville’s (dozens of) blogs, he’s free to make any claims he wants. However, I would suggest that following the counsel of the First Presidency and the Twelve in every setting would be the wisest course of action.

—Peter Pan

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Whom should we believe—Jonathan Neville or the prophets?

Three times the Book of Mormon calls the land of promise inhabited by the descendants of Lehi a “choice land”:
Wherefore, I will consecrate this land unto thy seed, and them who shall be numbered among thy seed, forever, for the land of their inheritance; for it is a choice land, saith God unto me, above all other lands, wherefore I will have all men that dwell thereon that they shall worship me, saith God. (2 Nephi 10:19)

Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written. (Ether 2:12)

For behold, they rejected all the words of Ether; for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof. (Ether 13:2)
The Heartland Book of Mormon movement, which has its roots in American nationalism and American exceptionalism, identifies the “choice land” in those verse as the United States—and only the United States. Jonathan Neville, one of the leading authors in the Heartland movement, has expressed this repeatedly on his blogs as part of his continue criticism of “M2C”* thinking; for example:
Moroni wrote specifically to us, emphasizing that America is a “choice land above all other lands” and that it is a covenant land such that “the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof” (Ether 13:2). It’s critical for people to understand what land Moroni was referring to. Even though he and Joseph made it clear, many scholars have diverted the focus to Central America and other sites.

(“Letter VII and Moroni’s America,” July 28, 2016)
Thanks to Mesomania, we have LDS scholars (and the educators they’ve trained) teaching members of the Church, all around the world…[that] when the Book of Mormon speaks of a choice land and a promised land from which the gospel would go to the world, it refers to southern Mexico and Guatemala.

(“Why anti-Mormons love Book of Mormon Central,” December 13, 2016)
This United States of America is indeed, “A Land of Promise.” Moroni presides over the destinies of the United States, holds the keys of the Stick of Ephraim (D&C 27:5), and is the guardian angel of this wonderful land. The Lord has said, “…repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon…” (D&C 84:57). As we study The Book of Mormon, we learn to love even more this blessed America we call “A Promised Land.”

(“Original Sources,” n.d.)
What’s most peculiar to me about the Heartlanders’ position on this issue is that it’s directly at odds with the teachings of prophets and apostles that they themselves like to quote.

Let’s begin with what Joseph Smith taught on this subject:
I have a proclamation to make to the Elders[.] [Y]ou know the Lord has led the church untill the present time[.] I have now a great proclamation for the Elders to teach the Church here after which is in relation to zion, The whole of North and South America is zion, the mountain of the Lords House is in the centre of North & South America.

(Joseph Smith, discourse given in general conference, April 8, 1844, as recorded by Wilford Woodruff; original spelling retained, emphasis added)
The reports of that sermon made by William Clayton and Willard Richards are less clear on Joseph’s statement; however, Woodruff’s account is certainly the more accurate one, based on the public remarks made the next day by Brigham Young (“the prophet called North and South America Zion”) and Hyrum Smith (“the gathering [to the temple] will be from the nations to North and South America, which is the land of Zion”). (Brigham was president of the Quorum of the Twelve and Hyrum patriarch to the Church at that time.)

Even more interesting is the statement from President Ezra Taft Benson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, made in April 1976 general conference: “America, North and South, is a choice land, a land reserved for God’s own purposes.” President Benson then immediately quoted Ether 2:9, 10, 12 in support of his statement.

And, five years earlier, Elder Mark E. Peterson of the Twelve said in April 1971 general conference that the “choice land” promises of Ether 2:12 referred to “the modern nations of the Americas.” (Note the plural Americas, referring to North and South America.)

So here we have yet another example of selective quoting by a purveyor of the Heartland hoax. Jonathan Neville will gladly quote specific past prophets when they agree with his beliefs about the destiny of the United States, etc.; but when it comes to prophets and apostles testifying the “choice land” of the Book of Mormon is all of North and South America, his silence speaks volumes.

—Peter Pan

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Misrepresenting Moroni

It’s becoming more and more difficult for me to tell if Jonathan Neville is being willfully dishonest or if he is simply incapable of grasping the arguments of those with whom he disagrees. His latest post (“Believing Moroni vs. M2C intellectuals”) so egregiously misrepresents those whom he pejoratively calls “M2C intellectuals”* that it is hard for me to grant him any benefit of the doubt. But I really want to, so I’ll try my best to operate under that paradigm for this post.

Neville begins his post with this claim:
M2C intellectuals are teaching our youth that Moroni was wrong about important aspects of the restoration.
Does he actually cite a single source from an “M2C intellectual” to support this claim? Of course he doesn’t. Instead, as expected, he repackages his same old threadbare, dishonest, anti-“M2C” arguments that have been refuted again and again by me, Peter Pan, and other researchers.

But it isn’t just that Neville is spinning the same nonsense for which he’s become infamous; in this post, he takes the nonsense to an entirely new level of conspiratorial lunacy. For example, speaking of Mary Whitmer’s encounter with a heavenly messenger, Neville writes:
Moroni was not a portly old man with a long beard, less than six feet tall, the way David Whitmer and his mother Mary described the messenger who took the Harmony plates to Cumorah and brought the plates of Nephi to Fayette. According to Joseph Smith, that was one of the Nephites. According to Mary Whitmer, he called himself brother Nephi.

But according to Book of Mormon Central, the Saints book, and our other M2C intellectuals, the messenger was a shape-shifting Moroni. Book of Mormon Central commissioned this painting and actually titled it "Mary Whitmer and Moroni."

They teach that this old man was Moroni because they don’t want people to know that the Hill Cumorah is in western New York.
Let’s unpack this first before pointing out just how nonsensical Neville’s conclusion is.

First, Neville characterizes the view of “M2C intellectuals” as believing “the messenger was a shape-shifting Moroni.” Have any “M2C intellectuals” actually used term “shape-shifting,” or anything like it, to refer to the angel? Neither the Book of Mormon Central link nor the Saints book that Neville cites say anything like that. It’s just Neville’s derisive straw-man caricature.

Second, Neville’s conclusion—“They teach that this old man was Moroni because they don’t want people to know that the Hill Cumorah is in western New York.”—is monstrously absurd. I challenge him to show a single “M2C intellectual” who has stated, or even hinted, that the ultimate significance of Mary Whitmer’s encounter with the angel (whomever he was) was that it shows the Hill Cumorah was in Central America. Just one reference, any reference, will do. The Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy on this topic says absolutely nothing about the location of the Hill Cumorah. Neither does Saints. So where on earth, besides his fervent imagination, is Neville coming up with this?

Neville doesn’t stop there, however. He ups the ante by claiming, “To promote M2C, these intellectuals want people to disbelieve Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Joseph Smith, and even Mary Whitmer. As well as Moroni himself.”

That’s a pretty bold claim. Let’s see how it holds up by looking at Neville’s chart putting “the teachings of Moroni” and “the teachings of the M2C intellectuals and revisionist Church historians” side-by-side for comparison.

Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com

What, exactly, does Neville mean when he says “LDS intellectuals” claim Joseph “didn’t use the plates”? It would be nice if Neville would perhaps actually quote an “LDS intellectual” or two so that we could hear it from the source and not have to rely on Neville’s jaundiced retelling.

In fact, here’s what two “LDS intellectuals” have said about the significance of the plates:
So, what was the purpose of having the plates if Joseph left them covered during the translation? Though Emma [and other witnesses] explained that Joseph did not use the plates, as a traditional translator would have, they were still deeply important to the translation. They represented where the words originated—demonstrating their historicity, and forming a sense of reality about the individuals described in the Book of Mormon. The plates were in essence the body for the spiritual words that fell from Joseph Smith’s lips as he translated. They created confidence in the minds of Joseph and his family and friends. They offered believers something physical and tangible to understand how and where the text of the Book of Mormon originated.

They were also invaluable for demonstrating that Joseph Smith was a chosen seer. The relationship between the plates, Joseph, and God was indelible for communicating the nature and purpose of the Book of Mormon. Without the plates, the translation was empty, and without Joseph’s gift, it was not from God.

(Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon [Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2015], 87–88; emphasis added.)
I think this citation (and its authors) speaks for itself in refuting Neville’s dishonest reporting.
Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com
This is another of Neville’s misrepresentations. “LDS intellectuals” have never said Joseph didn’t use the Nephite interpreters (later called “Urim and Thummim”), the two stones set in silver wire rims and found with the plates, but rather that he didn’t use them exclusively. There is abundant historical documentation for Joseph using both the Urim and Thummim and his personal seer stone in the translation of the Book of Mormon; for example, here is what the Gospel Topics essay, written by “intellectuals” and endorsed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve has to say about this:
Joseph Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon. According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English. One instrument, called in the Book of Mormon the “interpreters,” is better known to Latter-day Saints today as the “Urim and Thummim.” Joseph found the interpreters buried in the hill with the plates. Those who saw the interpreters described them as a clear pair of stones bound together with a metal rim. The Book of Mormon referred to this instrument, together with its breastplate, as a device “kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord” and “handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages.”

The other instrument, which Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, was a small oval stone, or “seer stone.” As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.

Apparently for convenience, Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather than the two stones bound together to form the interpreters. These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters.… Latter-day Saints later understood the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters. Joseph Smith and others, however, seem to have understood the term more as a descriptive category of instruments for obtaining divine revelations and less as the name of a specific instrument.
Neville has again chosen to either ignore or purposefully misrepresent what these “intellectuals” actually believe and claim.
Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com
See above.
Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com
See above.
Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com
See above. Neville’s ad nauseam use of this dishonest talking point has become, to say the least, rather tedious.
Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com
This is a popular argument used by advocates for the Heartland hoax that Stephen Smoot has completely refuted. It further misrepresents what “M2C intellectuals” have said about Native American ancestry relative to Book of Mormon claims.
Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com
Without citing any “LDS intellectuals” who actually make this explicit point, Neville has done nothing but make a straw-man assertion.
Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com
The wording of this passage is ambiguous; it could be read in at least two different ways: “Written and deposited not far from that place” could mean that the Book of Mormon was both written and deposited in upstate New York (Neville’s reading) or it could mean it was “written [somewhere else] and [then] deposited” in upstate New York, indicating a temporal progression of events. Neville, of course, takes his reading for granted, but that’s because he isn’t a careful historian doing source criticism; he’s a partisan who is bent on proving his interpretation is the only correct one. 
Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com
{Sigh.} Again, this is not what the “intellectuals” have actually argued. In addition to the quote from MacKay and Dirkmaat, above, consider this one:
With Joseph looking into the hat at the seer stones, what need was there for Joseph to even have the plates in his possession? While most of the Book of Mormon translation accounts say little in this regard, the plates may well have served several purposes. Their mere existence may have instilled in Joseph with confidence that the words that appeared on the stones were from an ancient record. In the face of persistent pestering, carrying and possessing the plates would have sustained his confidence that the translation process was authentic. His mission was to “translate the engravings which are on the plates” (D&C 10:41), and he spent some time scrutinizing and transcribing some of the characters on them. Yet the translation usually occurred while the plates lay covered on the table (although some accounts suggest that the plates were sometimes kept in a nearby box under the bed or even hidden in the Whitmers’ barn during translation). In addition, the plates encouraged belief in the minds of needed supporters, such as Emma, the Whitmer family, and the Three and the Eight Witnesses, each of whom spoke of having various experiences touching, hefting, feeling, and seeing the plates. The text of the Book of Mormon is abnormally self-aware of the plates; it focuses again and again on the provenance of and the sources by which Mormon and Moroni compiled the gold plates. It essentially tracks the gold plates and their source material from person to person until the plates end up in the hands of Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon even prophecies of Joseph’s possession and translation of the record. Therefore, the physical plates fulfill thousands of years of preparation, and the witnesses provide authentication of the historicity of the plates. The plates were therefore indispensable for validating the ancient nature of the Book of Mormon.

(Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, “Firsthand Witness Accounts of the Translation Process,” in The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, ed. Dennis L. Largey, et al. [Provo: Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University, 2015], 71–72.)
Can Neville’s dishonesty be any more obvious by this point?
Comparison table by Jonathan Neville, BookofMormonCentralAmerica.com
There are two things to say about this:

First, The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt is a classic of Latter-day Saint literature, and has been rightly enjoyed by scores of Latter-day Saints since its publication in 1874. But Parley P. Pratt died in 1857, so how is it that his autobiography was published nearly twenty years after his death?

Pratt began the book in the mid-1850s, drawing extensively from his personal papers and past publications, but it was not completed by the time of his death and it fell to his son (Parley Jr) and apostle John Taylor to prepare the manuscript for publication. However, “because [the] manuscript has not survived, it is not clear to what extent Taylor and Parley Jr edited the autobiography, particularly the pre-1851 section.” We know from surviving sources that Parley Jr in particular had no qualms about freely revising the text as he pleased, including in its factual details. For example,
To prepare the autobiography for publication, Parley Jr copied his father’s journals into a document known as the “After Manuscript.” This document was then edited. In general, the editing excised passages from Parley’s journal and letters about his family, whether they were positive or negative; also omitted were references to financial difficulties and controversial events. Parley Jr was also conscious of his own image. Parley Sr’s journal for August 18, 1855, notes that Parley Jr met him riding on a mule. In the “After Manuscript,” Parley Jr crossed out “mule” and inserted “horseback.” Eventually, the entire episode was cut from the autobiography.

(Matthew J. Grow, “A ‘Truly Eventful Life’: Writing the Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 1 [Winter 2011]: 156–57.)
Such editorial practices were completely normal and accepted in the nineteenth century, before the current standards of professional documentary editing and preservation became the norm. This is not to say Parley Jr was deceitful or dishonest in how he prepared his father’s text; rather, it shows that you cannot uncritically rely on Parley Sr’s autobiography as if it somehow preserves some pristine view of the past without any potential human interpolation. Real historians such as Matthew Grow understand this; Neville obviously does not.

Second, consider what this source is actually preserving. Beginning on page 57 of the first 1874 edition, it quotes Oliver Cowdery verbatim for three whole pages in a speech to the Indians of the Delaware nation. Remember, this speech was reportedly made in the winter of 1830/1831, during the Lamanite Mission. By the time Pratt committed this account to writing in the mid-1850s, over twenty years had passed. Not only that, but it’s explicitly third-hand hearsay:
This Book [of Mormon], which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the State of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario county.
So, twenty years after the fact, Parley P. Pratt transcribed what Oliver Cowdery had said what the angel Moroni told “him.” Is the him Cowdery? Or was it Joseph Smith, who then told Cowdery—making this a fourth-hand source? The text doesn’t say where Cowdery got this information. And that’s the point of why real historians like Grow urge caution in not blindly accepting late, third-hand recollections as unquestionable truth but rather as pieces of individual evidence that need to be properly weighed and balanced with other sources.

Now you can perhaps understand why I began this post by saying it is honestly hard for me to tell if Jonathan Neville is being willfully dishonest or if he is simply incapable of grasping the arguments of those with whom he disagrees.

—Captain Hook

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Jonathan Neville persists in telling untruths

Jonathan Neville is back from taking a few days off, and today (July 24, 2019) he blogged about Willard Bean, the “fighting parson” of Palmyra. (The Ensign had a lovely article about Bean back in June 1985.)

Apparently Bean believed that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon was in New York, and even wrote a book about it. This is, of course, useful to Neville, who chose today to highlight Bean’s book for no other reason than it confirms his bias.

But, Neville being Neville, he couldn’t help but persist in making claims that are simply not true:
Every member of the Church--everyone who accepts the Book of Mormon whether or not they are LDS--should at least be informed about why every member of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency who has ever addressed the question of Cumorah has reaffirmed the New York setting.
Every member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Brother Neville? Surely you’re forgetting Elder Robert D. Hales and Elder John A. Widtsoe, whose statements contradict your sweeping claim.
In addition to Neville’s fib, please note that he’s still claiming that the Gospel Topics essays can be dismissed if one disagrees with them because they are “anonymous”:
Earlier this year, an anonymous Gospel Topics essay stated that as of now, the Church's position on Cumorah has changed; the Church no longer takes any position on any Book of Mormon settings. But, as we've seen, those anonymous essays are subject to change at any moment without notice.
This flies in the face of the introduction to the essays, which clearly states that they “have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”

—Peter Pan

Friday, July 19, 2019

How much does Jonathan Neville really believe the prophets?

If there’s one thing Jonathan Neville blogs about most, it’s how much he believes and sustains the prophets. Unlike the censorious “M2C citation cartel”* that suppresses the teachings of the prophets and sponsor the teaching of false Book of Mormon geography theories within the Church, Neville accepts what the prophets have taught about Book of Mormon geography.

The other thing he wants everyone to know is that Joseph Smith had absolutely nothing to do with the editorials that appeared in the Times and Seasons in 1842 (while he was editor of the paper) that situated Book of Mormon events in Central America. Instead, Neville has proposed an elaborate conspiracy theory about how those editorials were actually written by Latter-day Saint dissident Benjamin Winchester. The only reason the Times and Seasons editorials continue to be attributed to Joseph Smith, Neville argues, is because of psychologically-conditioned groupthink, a dogmatic unwillingness among “M2C intellectuals” to surrender their position because their pride and vanity won’t permit them to admit they were mistaken.

(If this conspiracy theory sounds crazy, that’s because it is.)

Well, here’s a way to see how consistent Neville is in his claims of faith and confidence in the prophets:

In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith published Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which he had edited. This volume has been a Latter-day Saint classic. It is still in print today and has been published in multiple editions. Elder Smith prefaced his compilation of Joseph Smith’s teachings with the following:
Many faithful members of the Church have expressed the desire that a more extensive work [making Joseph Smith’s teachings accessible] be published. The members of the Church quite generally desire to know what the Prophet Joseph Smith may have said on important subjects, for they look upon his utterances as coming through divine inspiration.… In accordance with the many calls that have been made that there be a more extensive compilation of these discourses and sayings, the matter was taken up in the [Church] Historian’s Office and such a compilation has been prepared, submitted to the First Presidency and passed by them for publication.… It is felt that this volume will meet a need and promote faith among the members of the Church. With this intent it is sent out on its mission as another testimony of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

(Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1976], 3.)
Within the book, Elder Smith republished the September 15, 1842, Times and Seasons editorial that Neville believes has been falsely attributed to Joseph Smith by an evil conspiracy of prideful, psychologically-unstable conspirators—and he attributed it to Joseph Smith.
“FACTS ARE STUBBORN THINGS”

Greatness of the Jaredites and Nephites
From an extract from “Stephen’s Incidents of Travel in Central America,” it will be seen that the proof of the Nephites and Lamanites dwelling on this continent, according to the account in the Book of Mormon, is developing itself in a more satisfactory way than the most sanguine believer in that revelation could have anticipated. It certainly affords us a gratification that the world of mankind does not enjoy, to give publicity to such important developments of the remains and ruins of those mighty people.

When we read in the Book of Mormon that Jared and his brother came on to this continent from the confusion and scattering at the Tower, and lived here more than a thousand years, and covered the whole continent from sea to sea, with towns and cities; and that Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land, and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien, and improved the country according to the word of the Lord, as a branch of the house of Israel, and then read such a goodly traditionary account as the one below, we can not but think the Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people. The extract below, comes as near the real fact, as the four Evangelists do to the crucifixion of Jesus.—Surely “facts are stubborn things.” It will be as it ever has been, the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experiments, as they did Moses and Elijah. Now read Stephen’s story:

“According to Fuentes, the chronicler of the kingdom of Guatemala, the kings of Quiche and Cachiquel were descended from the Toltecan Indians, who, when they came into this country, found it already inhabited by people of different nations. According to the manuscripts of Don Juan Torres, the grandson of the last king of the Quiches, which was in the possession of the lieutenant general appointed by Pedro de Alvarado, and which Fuentes says he obtained by means of Father Francis Vasques, the historian of the order of San Francis, the Toltecas themselves descended from the house of Israel, who were released by Moses from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and after crossing the Read Sea, fell into idolatry. To avoid the reproofs of Moses, or from fear of his inflicting upon them some chastisement, they separated from him and his brethren, and under the guidance of Tanub, their chief, passed from one continent to the other, to a place which they called the seven caverns, a part of the kingdom of Mexico, where they founded the celebrated city of Tula.” (Sept. 15, 1842.) T. & S. 3:921–922.

(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 266–67.)
Like other proponents of the Heartland hoax, Jonathan Neville is quick to trumpet Joseph Fielding Smith’s views on the location of the Hill Cumorah in New York, and he is simply aghast whenever an “M2C intellectual” dares suggest that perhaps Elder Smith was simply conveying his own opinion, and not propounding revealed doctrine.

But here Elder Smith accepted Joseph Smith as the author of one of the Times and Seasons editorials that favorably cited the work of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in establishing the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

So what’s it going to be, Brother Neville?

  • Was Joseph Fielding Smith part of the “M2C citation cartel”?
  • Was he duped by conspiring proto-“M2C intellectuals” of his day?
  • Was he not smart enough to realize that the Times and Seasons editorial was actually written by Benjamin Winchester, the nefarious conspirator against Joseph Smith?
  • Or was Elder Smith simply wrong to attribute this to Joseph Smith—an innocent mistake, a lapse in judgment? If that’s the case, then why couldn’t he also have simply made an innocent mistake about the location of the Hill Cumorah?

Maybe Neville would respond that Joseph Fielding Smith was right about the Hill Cumorah being in New York but wrong about the authorship of the editorial. If so, that would be awfully convenient. He’d be claiming, “Whenever prophets teach something placing the Book of Mormon in Central America, they’re wrong, or just giving their opinion. Whenever they teach something placing the Book of Mormon in the ‘Heartland,’ they’re right, and it’s revealed doctrine you must accept!”

So, is Brother Neville going to be consistent and throw Joseph Fielding Smith under the bus along with the rest of the “M2C intellectuals” who attribute the authorship of this editorial to Joseph Smith? (So much for “believing the prophets”!) Or is he going to make a special exception for Elder Smith and thereby reveal that the entire premise of his absurd conspiracy theory is based on a selective, self-serving double standard?

I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

—Captain Hook

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.