Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Monday, October 3, 2022

Church History blog debunks Heartland hoaxes

The Church History Library recently published a blog post responding to questions they regularly receive about supposed Book of Mormon artifacts:
The Church History Library receives numerous questions about artifacts mentioned in the Book of Mormon and Church history. These questions often ask if the Church is in possession of an artifact, whether we know the whereabouts of an artifact (if the Church doesn’t have it), or whether a recent archaeological exploration has unearthed an artifact. In most cases, unfortunately, the answer is no.
The blog post responds to five questions, three of which are connected to claims made by those who advocate for the Heartland theory of the Book of Mormon. In response to number 1, “Does the Church have the sword of Laban?”, Church historians Jeffrey Tucker and Ryan Combs respond, “No, we don’t.” After explaining what we know of appearances of the sword of Laban in Joseph Smith’s time, Tucker and Combs write:
On June 17, 1877, Brigham Young gave a talk in Farmington, Utah, in which he recounted a story from Oliver Cowdery. Oliver had said that he and Joseph Smith saw the sword of Laban inside a cave in the Hill Cumorah. The cave, Oliver had told him, also contained piles of gold plates bearing the records of the Nephites. Other Saints of Brigham’s era were familiar with the story of the cave, too, though Brigham’s version remains perhaps the most well-known of the accounts, as it was published in the Journal of Discourses. The story has generated much discussion over the years, since, geologically-speaking, the Hill Cumorah is a drumlin, a giant pile of sand and gravel that is unlikely to support naturally-occurring cave structures. That hasn’t stopped people from searching for the cave Oliver described, but nobody has found it.

If you would like to learn more about the sword-in-the-Hill-Cumorah story, Cameron Packer wrote an article in 2004 comparing the story’s versions—all of which, Packer noted, were at least secondhand. Based on the available information, some researchers have concluded that Oliver may have seen the cave in a dream, not during an in-person visit.
As the Neville-Neville Land blog has explained, the accounts of Oliver Cowdery’s story of visiting a cave full of plates are late, second- or third-hand, and conflicting. Jonathan Neville insists that the cave of plates really does exist inside the hill Cumorah in upstate New York and this is evidence that hill is the same hill mentioned in the Book of Mormon; however, as Tucker and Combs note, the existence of such a cave is very unlikely and no such cave has yet been discovered.

In response to number 3, “Did the members of Zion’s Camp find the grave of a Book of Mormon-era warrior during their march through the American Midwest?”, Tucker and Combs respond, “Maybe.” After recounting the multiple accounts of the discovery of Zelph, they write:
The Zelph story is often cited by those interested in establishing the geographical location of Book of Mormon places and events: if Zelph was present during the “last destruction of the Lamanites,” then some researchers conclude that Book of Mormon events may have happened in what is now southwest Illinois. However, the exact interpretation of this phrase is unclear—it is unique to Heber’s account—and the Church takes no official stance on Book of Mormon geography.

In 1990, archaeologists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Center for American Archaeology went to the Zelph mound. Their excavation of the site unearthed additional artifacts, such as bowls and axe heads, which were dated to between 100 AD and 500 AD.

Still, it is difficult to definitively say that Zelph was a warrior during the Nephite-Lamanite wars. If the records of the Zelph story are accurate, and if Joseph truly meant that Zelph was a participant in Book of Mormon events, and if Zelph was buried in the mound at the same time as the other items, then it is possible—but that’s a lot of ifs.
As Tucker and Combs note, the Zelph story is a very slender thread on which to hang such a heavy weight. The narrative found in the seven-volume History of the Church is an amalgamation of four separate accounts made in 1834, only three of which were written by eyewitnesses. As Kenneth W. Godfrey noted in his 1999 scholarly article on these accounts, many of them “are inconsistent and most of the details surrounding Zelph and his life remain unknown. The skeleton cannot, therefore, provide conclusive evidence for anything.”

The accounts of the cave of plates and Zelph are weak evidence exploited by Heartlanders. Much worse, though, is their fascination with the Michigan Relics. I’ve written about these fake artifacts before; here’s what Tucker and Combs have to say in answer to question 4, “Were Nephite tablets found in Michigan?”:
No, it was a hoax.…

Elder James E. Talmage was asked to investigate [the relics]. After extensive trips throughout the country collecting evidence, including a visit with [supposed discoverer James] Scotford himself in which Talmage dug up planted artifacts, Talmage used his scientific training to perform laboratory experiments on samples of the relics he took home to Salt Lake City. The experiments confirmed the relics’ fraudulent nature.
James E. Talmage was not alone in his conclusions: Many experts at the time of the artifacts’ discovery asserted that the Michigan Relics were forgeries crafted by James Scotford and Daniel Soper as a money-making scheme. Modern scientific analysis has confirmed that they are not ancient artifacts. Despite this, over one hundred years later some people are still falling for Scotford and Soper’s con.

When this blog launched in February 2019, I wrote that “the Heartland movement in general—and [Jonathan] Neville’s writings in particular—are a case study in sloppy thinking, poor scholarship, and agenda-driven conclusions” that are based on “appeals to conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.” I’m pleased to see scholars at the Church History Library confirming my evaluation.

—Peter Pan
 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Strange Case of Dr. Neville and Mr. Hyde

Jonathan Neville not infrequently contradicts himself in his writings, but occasionally he contradicts himself within the same blog post.

To wit:
[Blog post begins with:] When people ask me what I think about Book of Mormon Central (BMC), I observe that I personally like and respect everyone associated with the organization. I assume they’re all faithful Latter-day Saints with good intentions.

[Blog post concludes with:] It’s amazing that anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty would even work for Book of Mormon Central, let alone support the organization as currently constituted.
So, which is it, Brother Neville? Is Book of Mormon Central staffed by “faithful Latter-day Saints with good intentions,” or does everyone who works there lack “an ounce of intellectual honesty”?

(Oh, and by the way: Accusing other people of being dishonest is a dangerous affair when you yourself are standing on such thin ice.)

—Peter Pan
 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Saints to be the focus of a worldwide Church devotional

Jonathan Neville has claimed that Saints—the multi-volume Church-published history—lacks “an accurate historical narrative,” presenting instead “a false historical narrative” written by anonymous editors who surreptitiously “omitted or spun” the source materials they worked with.

Unsurprisingly, his allegations continue to go unheeded by Church leaders: Saints volume 3 is going to be the subject of an hour-long worldwide devotional with Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Ruth, on September 11, 2022. It’s telling that the Brethren continue to promote and build up the Saints volumes while Jonathan Neville continues to try to tear them down.

What does Jonathan Neville know about Saints that Elder Renlund and the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve don’t? Less than he thinks, I imagine.

—Peter Pan

Sunday, September 4, 2022

It’s all so tiresome

When I started this blog, I legitimately hoped that, by pointing out the errors in Jonathan Neville’s arguments and methods, he would come to understand how misguided and offensive his manner is and perhaps moderate his approach.

Three-and-a-half years later, I am not so sanguine. He continues to misrepresent the arguments and the motivations those who disagree with him. He continues to call for mutual respect and to tolerate different points of view while simultaneously presuming the worst about his opponents.

One example of this is the terms that he uses to describe those on the other side. One of these is the acronym SITH, which stands for “stone in the hat,” referring to the (overwhelming) historical evidence that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by using a seer stone that he placed into a hat. The term “Sith” comes from the fictional Star Wars universe; it describes “an ancient order of Force-wielders devoted to the dark side [who] practice hate, deception, and greed…[and] look to amass power at all costs.”

This is not an innocent coincidence. Jonathan Neville knows the connection the word Sith has to great evil: In one of his earliest blog posts in which he used the term, he included photos of Star Wars-related media and used the phrase “the revenge of the SITH,” a reference to the title of the 2005 Star Wars movie. He’s deliberately using this acronym to describe those who disagree with him because it implies they are evil.

And yet Neville still protests his innocence and claims that all of this is just for convenience: “Some people don’t like these acronyms,” he writes, “and I’m happy to consider alternatives, but for now…SITH = stone-in-the-hat theory.” This is a lie. He is not going to “consider alternatives.” He knows exactly what he’s doing, and the evidence clearly shows that he’s doing it deliberately.

Amidst all of this, Neville continually—and hypocritically—pleads for disagreements to be “handled charitably.” That was the focus of two recent blog posts (here and here) in which he called for “respect [for] other perspectives, interpretations, beliefs, etc.,” while in the very same post calling the BYU Virtual Scriptures conceptual Book of Mormon map a “fantasy map,” claiming his opponents’ beliefs are “based on the premise that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant, naive, or deceitful,” and asserting that “the citation cartel”—(another derogatory term he uses frequently)—“obscures and censors sources so that people cannot make informed decisions.”

It requires either a massive amount of chutzpah or a total lack of self-awareness to plead for respect and charity while simultaneously resorting to name-calling and misrepresenting one’s ideological opponents.

Double down blackjack table The evidence sadly suggests that Jonathan Neville is not going to stop doing these things or even tone down his rhetoric. If anything, Neville’s recent appearance on Steven Pynakker’s Mormon Book Reviews YouTube channel shows that he’s doubling down on his approach in the wake of Spencer Kraus’s incisive reviews of his recent books.

My interpretation of all of this is that Jonathan Neville is allowing himself to become more and more convinced that Church leaders are going to come crawling to him, telling him that he’s been right about everything and pleading with him to come cast out the evil historians and save us all with his brilliance. But the phone keeps not ringing, so he has to keep ramping up the hyperbole to show the world how sincere and right he is. (See, for example, his recent blog post “Yet another SITH video!” in which he accuses the Church of the “suppression” of “what Joseph and Oliver taught.”) Neville’s latest interview with Pynakker doesn’t help, because Pynakker just feeds Neville’s sense of self-importance by telling him there is a time coming for him to shine, calling this approaching moment “the hour of Jonathan.”

If my reading of these tea leaves is correct, then Jonathan Neville is following a well-trodden path that many would-be ark-steadiers` have walked before him. This road never leads to good ends.

—Peter Pan
 

Friday, August 26, 2022

Those who live in glass houses, pt. 16

(Part sixteen of a series.)

On August 24, 2022, Jonathan Neville wrote:
Some people wonder why I discuss SITH on this page which originated as a discussion about M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). One reason is that both theories share the claim that Joseph and Oliver were unreliable speculators who misled the Church. M2C teaches that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone about Cumorah. SITH teaches that they misled everyone about the translation.
Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stonesSITH teaches that [Joseph and Oliver] misled everyone about the translation.

This, from the man who claims that Joseph Smith merely pretended to translate when he used a seer stone in front of other people as a “demonstration” that all who observed him believed to be the actual process of translation.

This, from the man who claims that Joseph pretended to translate the Isaiah portions of the Book of Mormon, but instead he memorized Isaiah from the King James Bible and recited it back to his scribes.

As I said in my previous “glass houses” post, it takes true audacity—or cluelessness, or both—for a man like Jonathan Neville to accuse fellow Latter-day Saints of doing precisely what he himself does on nearly a daily basis.

—Peter Pan
 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

There has been a critical error

MoronisAmerica.com WordPress critical error August 25, 2022
Screenshot taken August 25, 2022
What could the critical error be? Apostasy? Special pleading? Strawman arguments?

The world may never know.…

—Peter Pan
 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The conspiracy mindset of the Heartland movement

A friend, who I’ll call Wendy Darling, has been looking at the schedule and “speaker bio’s” [sic] for the upcoming “FIRM Foundation EXPO, featuring the 30th International Book of Mormon Evidence Conference,” scheduled for October 20–22, 2022.

Wendy sums up Saturday’s presentations thus:
Dean Sessions: Scientists are lying to you about the age of the earth, the Flood, and evolution.

Tim Ballard: Historians are lying to you about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Hannah Stoddard: The Church is lying to you about Church history.

Bob Wright: Scientists are lying to you about the age of the earth, the Flood, and evolution.

Rod Meldrum: The Church is lying to you about Book of Mormon geography.

Eric Moutsos: Everyone is lying to you about COVID, Trump, and the 2020 election, and the prophet is wrong about masks and vaccines.

Jonathan Neville: The Church is lying to you about Church history and Book of Mormon geography.

Jen Orten & Sophie Anderson (“Two Red Pills”): Everyone is lying to you about COVID, Trump, and the 2020 election.

Kate Dalley: Everyone is lying to you about COVID, Trump, and the 2020 election.

The dozens of booths on the convention center floor: Doctors are lying to you about the true causes and treatments of disease.

In short: Flattery upon flattery that you, the FIRM conference attendees, are the very few who see through all the lies.
An astute observation. As I’ve pointed out numerous times, the Heartland movement is thoroughly rooted in conspiracy theories.

Something else interesting about the FIRM EXPO schedule web page is that it uses the acronym LDS over fifty times. (This is something that Jonathan Neville also does regularly on his blogs). This is contrary to the explicit instructions in the Church’s General Handbook that, when referring to the Church or its members, “titles such as ‘Mormons’ or ‘LDS’ is discouraged” (38.8.33). —Peter Pan
 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Spencer Kraus: “A swing and a miss from Jonathan Neville”

Jonathan Neville has continued his critique “peer review” of Spencer Kraus’s review of his book, A Man that Can Translate.

In his latest blog post, Neville makes some fundamental errors because he misreads both the original sources and Kraus’s review. (For a former lawyer, he has a surprisingly poor ability to understand what he reads.)

On his own blog, Spencer Kraus has replied to Neville’s misfire:

https://latterdaylightandtruth.blogspot.com/2022/08/a-swing-and-miss-from-jonathan-neville.html —Peter Pan
 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

President Nelson and the attention to detail in Saints

Here’s a timely follow-up to my last post:

I’m at this year’s FAIR conference, and Jed Woodworth just gave a presentation about Saints volume 3. Woodworth is a historian and writer in the Church History Department, and he’s managing historian of Saints, the Church’s multi-volume history that Jonathan Neville has done his level best to criticize it for presenting a “false historical narrative.”

Except for the portions in quotations marks, the following is my paraphrase of Woodworth’s remarks. (I’m looking forward to a recording of the presentation becoming available so I can get an exact transcript.)

Saints volume 1 has been reviewed and approved by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Woodworth said, “We have learned that President Nelson is a footnote-reader” and will correct the footnotes in draft manuscripts of Saints that he reviews.

He also said that the First Presidency and other apostles “read every word” of Saints before the volumes are published. President Nelson even once corrected a place in the manuscript that was missing the middle initial in a person’s name.

Woodworth’s comments show that the Brethren are concerned about exacting attention to minute detail, something that’s very odd for a history that supposedly “[doesn’t] present an accurate historical narrative,” as critic Jonathan Neville has claimed.

—Peter Pan
 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The First Presidency reviewed Saints before publication

It’s no secret that Jonathan Neville has serious problems with Saints, the Church-published, multi-volume history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Neville maintains an entire blog called Saints Review that he uses to criticize what he considers to be its “censored” version of Church history.

For example, concerning Saints, Neville has written:

  • “[Accepting the history in Saints] wouldn’t be a problem if the editors had decided to accurately present the historical events from the perspective of the people involved; i.e., if they had presented an accurate historical narrative. Instead, they chose to promote modern ideas about Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon.” (September 25, 2021)
  • “The Saints books, especially volume 1, created a false historical narrative present (meaning, how did historical figures think and act in their day) to accommodate M2C and SITH.” (August 12, 2021)
  • “The Saints books…are anonymous. We don’t know who wrote or edited them, we don’t have access to editorial decisions, and despite the numerous footnotes, readers can’t tell what was omitted or spun unless they have extensive background in the source materials.” (May 17, 2021)

Neville is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but that last statement from him is not even factually accurate: Jed Woodworth is the Managing Historian for the Saints project, and Scott Hales is also an editor. These facts are easily discovered with a simple Google search, which Neville apparently didn’t even attempt.

In a podcast produced by the Church about Saints volume 2 and published to the Gospel Library, Jed Woodworth had this to say about how the books have been produced:
My main duty is to ensure that the history [published in Saints] is accurate, to make sure that our writing measures up to the highest standards, [and] that we’re source-accurate. And I also incorporate feedback from a number of reviewers—external reviewers, general authority reviewers, including the First Presidency.
(The Saints Podcast, season 2, episode 1, “Gather Up a Company,” timestamp 0:59–1:19; emphasis added.)

Saints volume 1 has been reviewed and approved by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints So, contrary to what Jonathan Neville has been telling his readers for almost three years, the editors of Saints have “decided to accurately present…an accurate historical narrative.” Not only that, but the the manuscripts for Saints have been reviewed by general authorities, including members of the First Presidency. The First Presidency also wrote a foreword to the first volume, in which they encouraged “all to read the book and make use of the supplementary material available online” and expressed their hope “that this volume will enlarge your understanding of the past, strengthen your faith, and help you make and keep the covenants that lead to exaltation and eternal life.”

The raises an important question: Whom are we to believe? The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Jonathan Neville, conspiracy theorist, ark-steadier, and critic of the Church?

—Peter Pan
 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Another shameless lie from Jonathan Neville

On July 25, 2022, Jonathan Neville posted to one of his thirty-four blogs the following:
Some LDS [sic] intellectuals want the Latter-day Saints to read only their own work. They lack confidence in the viability of their own theories and dogma.

By contrast, I want people to compare multiple working hypotheses.

I encourage people to read what the M2C and SITH citation cartels publish because I encourage people to make informed decisions. Definitely, read Mormon’s Codex, From Darkness Unto Light, the Interpreter articles, the Kno-Whys on Book of Mormon Central, the entries on FAIRLDS.org [sic], etc.

But notice that the SITH sayers don’t want you to read A Man that Can Translate or Infinite Goodness.

The M2Cers don’t want you to read Between these Hills, Letter VII, Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?, or even The Lost City of Zarahemla.

That’s why I say, read the works the M2C/SITH citation cartel want to ban.
Pinocchio long nose In response to this, I point out the obvious:

When has anyone who disagrees with Jonathan Neville ever said that people shouldn’t read his books, let alone claimed his books should be banned?

Jonanthan Neville has invented this accusation. It is a lie; it has no basis whatsoever in the truth. That’s why he didn’t provide any sources for his claim.

—Peter Pan
 

Saturday, July 23, 2022

“Doctor Scratch,” perpetual gadfly and blowhard

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you amusing developments over at DiscussMormonism.com.

An individual who calls himself “Doctor Scratch” has been criticizing Daniel Peterson and other Latter-day Saint apologists for over fifteen years now. Peterson refers to him as “my Malevolent Stalker,” and not without good reason.

Now, I have no problem with using a pseudonymous identity to make critical comments about well-known individuals. [ahem] In fact, I must give “Doctor Scratch” all the credit he is due for managing to keep his true identity a secret for a decade and half. That feat alone is impressive.

Scratch has recently set his sights on this humble blog, telling his followers:
“Neville-Neville Land” is a curious artifact of Mopologetics [“Mormon apologetics”]: one marvels at the sheer extent and obsessiveness of it. The blog began in February of 2019, and a new entry has been posted at least a couple of times per week since then, meaning that the total entries rivals the volume of [Daniel Peterson’s blog] “Sic et Non.” We are talking hundreds of entries—all devoted to one purpose: taking down Jonathan Neville, one of the chief proponents of the so-called “Heartland Theory.”
Doctor Scratch, B.H. Roberts Chair of Mopologetic Studies
“Doctor Scratch, B.H. Roberts Chair of Mopologetic Studies”
I won’t dispute “Doctor Scratch’s” description of this blog, but I can’t help but notice what may be the veritable Marianas Trench of irony that he would call me out for “the sheer extent and obsessiveness” of this blog. This, from a man from whom obsessiveness herself hides her face in shame! Uncounted masses can only stand silent, their mouths agape, at his utter and complete lack of self-awareness.

Perhaps just as amusing, though, is that “Doctor Scratch” has proclaimed to his trained minions that he has cracked the case regarding my identity. In his message board post that goes on for a rambling 3,400 words (!), he connects all the dots and triumphantly proclaims that I, Peter Pan, am in reality Stephen Smoot. (The title of his exposé is “Stephen Smoot’s Vendetta.”)

I hate to break to the good Doctor, but I’m not Stephen Smoot. I’m not Daniel Peterson either, but we’ve been over that many times on this blog. And, since we’re on this subject, I’ll freely admit that I’m also not Spencer Kraus.

For over a decade-and-a-half, “Doctor Scratch” has been posting to online message boards supposedly inside information about Latter-day Saint apologetics. That he would go through all the effort to reveal my true identity and yet get it completely wrong demonstrates how reliable his other claims must have been.

This is the first and last time I’ll mention “Doctor Scratch.” His pompous posts are worth less than the time I’ve already given them.

—Peter Pan
 

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