Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Jonathan Neville vs. Royal Skousen

Royal Skousen’s latest volume from the Critical Text of the Book of Mormon endeavor is now available for purchase, and Jonathan Neville doesn’t like Skousen’s theory on how the translation was accomplished:
I’ve often expressed my respect and admiration for Brother Skousen’s work on the Book of Mormon. I rely on it all the time for understanding the details of the Original Manuscript and the Printer’s Manuscript. However, I think his Early Modern English theory is misguided and has unfortunate repercussions.
Based on reports from friends of mine who attended Skousen’s lecture this week at BYU, Skousen, when asked point-blank about his beliefs said that he believes God is directly responsible for the translation. (We’ll need to wait for the video of the presentation to be released to hear his exact quote.)

What bothers Neville is the following passage from page 6 of Skousen’s book, which addresses the quotations from the King James Bible that are found in the Book of Mormon:
All of this quoting from the King James Bible [in the Book of Mormon] is problematic, but only if we assume that the Book of Mormon translation literally represents what was on the plates. Yet the evidence in The Nature of the Original Language (parts 3 and 4) argues that the Book of Mormon translation is tied to Early Modern English, and even the themes of the Book of Mormon are connected to the Protestant Reformation, dating from the same time period. What this means is that the Book of Mormon is a creative and cultural translation of what was on the plates, not a literal one. Based on the linguistic evidence, the translation must have involved serious intervention from the English-language translator, who was not Joseph Smith. Nonetheless, the text was revealed to Joseph Smith by means of his translation instrument, and he read it off word for word to his scribe. To our modern-day, skeptical minds, this is indeed “a marvelous work and a wonder.”
Neville claims:
As near as I can tell, all the M2C intellectuals agree with Brother Skousen’s views of the translation, at least in part. It fits the M2C* narrative that Joseph was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church with the New York Cumorah, his claim that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim, etc.
Sigh. “M2C” has evolved from Neville’s term for Latter-day Saints who believe the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica to Neville’s term for Latter-day Saints who believe anything he disagrees with.

In any case, his accusation that “all the M2C intellectuals agree with Brother Skousen’s views of the translation” is yet another overstatement on Neville’s part. There is, in fact, rigorous debate among legitimate Latter-day Saint scholars (of which Neville is not one) about Joseph’s translation method. For example, Brant Gardner, a prominent scholar and author whom Neville mentions in his blog post and whom he certainly considers a leading “M2C intellectual,” disagrees with Skousen on numerous points. (Gardner has written an entire book that sets forth his views on the translation.)

Neville further claims that “It is standard M2C doctrine that Joseph did not provide a literal translation of what was on the plates,” which is why (according to him) “M2Cers” teach that towers in the Book of Mormon were made of stone, the destructions at Christ’s death involved volcanos, etc., even though these things aren’t explicitly mentioned in the Book of Mormon. This is more than a little hypocritical of Neville, for he and other Heartlanders have made interpretive claims that are not directly stated in the text that are far more egregious than anything claimed by “M2C intellectuals.”

In any event, what Neville seemingly fails to comprehend is that there is no such thing as a literal translation of a text—any text. Every translation is a “creative and cultural translation” (Skousen’s phrase), to a greater or lesser extent. There’s no way to translate any text without injecting meaning into it that the original speaker or writer did not intend. A “literal translation” is not only impossible, it would be gibberish to the intended audience.

The biggest problem with Neville’s blog post about Skousen is that he falls back on his usual stock-in-trade: Claim that Skousen’s work is good and that he’s a faithful member of the Church, etc., but dismiss his conclusions because they rub him and his fundamentalist views the wrong way. “All the M2C intellectuals agree with Brother Skousen,” he asserts; therefore Neville’s Heartlander audience can safely disregard what he has to say.

But here’s the thing: Skousen deserves to be taken seriously.
Royal Skousen

Royal Skousen’s curriculum vitae is 50 pages long. He received his B.A. from Brigham Young University in 1969, with a major in English and minor in mathematics. Within less than three years, he received both his M.A. (1971) and Ph.D. (1972) in linguistics from the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign. After being employed for seven years as a professor of linguistics at the University of Texas, in 1979 he became an an assistant professor of English and linguistics at BYU; he has been a full professor there since 1986. He has been a visiting professor or research fellow in linguistics at the University of California at San Diego, the University of Tampere, Finland, and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in The Netherlands, where he did work on analogical modeling and quantum computing. He’s consulted for numerous corporations and organizations, including WordPerfect Corporation (he developed the first spell checker for version 4.0 of their word processing software in 1984) and the Scripture Committee of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1989–1999). He is fluent in Finnish and has reading knowledge of German, French, Koine Greek, Latin, Old English, Swedish, and Hebrew. He has been the author or editor of nineteen books (with three forthcoming) and seventy-seven published scholarly articles.

Since May 1988, Skousen has been the editor of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project—now a nearly thirty-two-year endeavor. By my count, since 2001 he has produced, through that project, 10,462 printed pages on the text of the Book of Mormon, including The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, published by Yale University Press, and the two-volume photographic reprint of the printer’s manuscript, published the Church Historian’s Press.

Needless to say, Dr. Skousen is one of the most informed and accomplished scholars currently living and working. He knows more, from a scholarly standpoint, about the language of the Book of Mormon than any human being who has ever lived.

Now, Professor Skousen’s credentials and achievements do not automatically guarantee that his hypotheses on the origins of the Book of Mormon text are correct. He could be the world’s most educated and experienced scholar and still come to incorrect conclusions. But the length and breadth of his scholarly work on the text of the Book of Mormon simply require one to take him seriously, engage his arguments in good faith, and—if one disagrees with his conclusions—come up with alternative hypotheses that fit the mountain of evidence that Skousen has assembled.

Has Jonathan Neville done any of that? No. Instead, he’s simply dismissed Skousen’s arguments by falsely implying that Skousen is just another intellectual who rejects Joseph Smith’s prophet gifts and Oliver Cowdery’s witness. Neville has responded to Skousen’s mountain of evidence by erecting a “Bandini Mountain” of assertion.

—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, January 8, 2020

Picking cherries with Jonathan Neville

picking a cherry
Jonathan Neville has begun posting a weekly series of blog entries that parallel the Church’s Come, Follow Me schedule for studying the Book of Mormon.

If his first post on 1 Nephi 1–7 is indicative of what the rest of the year has in store, we can look forward to him pushing weird Heartlander theories that have very little connection to each week’s reading.

For example, in this week’s post he doesn’t tell us anything useful or inspiring about 1 Nephi 1–7; instead, he pitches his odd “two sets of plates” theory and repeats his assertion that Joseph Smith only used the Nephite interpreters and never used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon.

As usual, there are historical and logical problems with what Neville claims. One of the biggest problems is the way he uses (or rather abuses) Lucy Mack Smith for his own purposes. Neville writes:
[In Harmony, in the spring of 1829] Joseph received a commandment through the Urim and Thummim to contact David Whitmer, a man he had never met, and ask him to come to Harmony to take Joseph and Oliver to Fayette where they could finish the translation at the Whitmer home.

His mother related the account here:
In the mean time Joseph was 150 miles distant and knew naught of the matter e[x]cept an intimation that was given through the urim and thumim for as he one morning applied the<​m​> to his eyes to look upon the record instead of the words of the book being given him he was commanded to write a letter to one David Whitmore [Whitmer] this man Joseph had never seen but he was instructed to say him that he must come with his team immediately in order to convey Joseph and ​Oliver [Cowdery]​ back to his house which was 135 miles
Last week we mentioned the translation. Here we see that as he neared the end of translating the original plates in Harmony, Joseph was still applying the Urim and Thummim to his eyes to look upon the plates.

Notice, Lucy did not say “as he one morning looked into a stone he place in a hat.”
Here we see Neville engaging in cherry-picking: presenting evidence that supports his position and withholding evidence that contradicts it.

According to Lucy Mack Smith’s 1844 reminiscence, Joseph translated by looking upon the open plates through the Urim and Thummim [the Nephite interpreters]. But how did she know this? Lucy Mack Smith never came to Harmony, Pennsylvania; she was not and could not have been an eyewitness to the translation of the Book of Mormon there. Her statement is, at best, a secondhand account.

With all due respect to Mother Smith, her secondhand account of the translation method conflicts with the firsthand, eyewitness accounts left by Martin Harris and Emma Smith, both of whom served as Joseph’s scribes in Harmony:
“Martin Harris…said that the Prophet [Joseph Smith] possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone. Martin explained the translation as follows: By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, ‘Written,’ and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected.” — Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 44/6, pp. 86–87

Emma Smith: “I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by [Joseph], he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.” — The Saints’ Herald 26/19, p. 289
Now, it’s entirely possible that Joseph did use the Nephite interpreters while in Harmony, both to translate the Book of Mormon and to receive revelations. As Martin Harris indicated in the quote above, Joseph used both the interpreters (or Urim and Thummim) and a seer stone. But Neville’s claim that Joseph didn’t use a seer stone because Lucy Mack Smith said he used the Urim and Thummim ignores important eyewitness testimony that contradicts his theory.

—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, January 6, 2020

Jonathan Neville thinks I’m Daniel Peterson

Jonathan Neville, who is often mistaken but seldom in doubt, took the time today to respond/not respond to this humble blog:
Some readers remind me from time to time that “Dan the Interpreter” and his anonymous troll lapdog continue to complain about my blogs.

Actually, considering the irrational and ad hominem nature of the anonymous troll, it’s probably not “them” but “he.” We can infer it is “the Interpreter” himself using a pseudonym. It’s the same type of rhetoric that led to a firing from FARMS many years ago.
Daniel C. Peterson as Peter Pan Jonathan Neville’s latest fever dream.
Wow—so much to unpack in just four sentences.

  1. As I’ve pedantically pointed out numerous times, this blog is not anonymous; it’s pseudonymous.
  2. I’ve also noted that I’m not a troll. Trolls sow discord to provoke emotional reactions for their amusement; this blog, on the other hand, exists to provide substantive responses to Neville’s false claims specifically and to the Heartland hoax in general.
  3. It’s amusing that Neville has resorted to name-calling: I am, according to him, Daniel Peterson’s “lapdog.” It’s so much easier to call your critics names than to actually respond to their arguments; isn’t it, Brother Neville?
  4. I challenge Neville to provide a single instance from this blog of “irrational” or “ad hominem” arguments. Since he refuses to offer any examples of such behavior, I suspect he has none; let him bring forth his evidence so our readers can judge for themselves.
  5. So, Neville now believes that I am Daniel Peterson. I don’t know whether to laugh or to be flattered. For the record, I am not he.
  6. Like Daniel Peterson’s anti-Mormon critics, Jonathan Neville knows next to nothing about what happened at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute (née FARMS) in 2012 that caused Peterson and almost all of the rest of the staff there to be dismissed. I only know some of the story, but it certainly wasn’t for Peterson’s “rhetoric.”

I find it revealing that, after eleven months of this blog’s existence, Neville has yet to respond to anything Captain Hook and I have written. At last he’s given his readers and excuse for this oversight:
If he/they had something substantive to say, he/they could email me and let me know. I’d welcome a dialog. He/they don’t, apparently.

Don’t let them bother you. Just turn the other cheek like I do.
Jonathan Neville wants to make outlandish and irresponsible claims and amass his following in public, but he’d prefer that any criticism of his fatuity be done in private. It doesn’t work that way, Brother Neville. When you misrepresent others’ views so badly, as you regularly do, you should expect to see your writings critiqued and evaluated in a place and manner where the public can find it.

By his indignation at the existence of this blog, Neville also demonstrates his hypocrisy: For years he has been blogging and publishing his attacks on the scholars and Church employees who disagree with his views on Book of Mormon geography. He’s called them names. He’s explicitly stated that he believes they are “rejecting the prophets” and leading the Church astray. He’s insinuated that there’s a massive conspiracy within the Church to “suppress” and “censor” the Heartland geography theory. He’s misled individuals who innocently offered to help him. And there are other examples of his bad behavior that I’ve collected that I’m not at liberty to discuss here.

Neville has done most of these things in public, rather than handling them privately. Yet he has the temerity to insist that I “email [him] and let [him] know” because he “welcome[s] a dialog.” No, Brother Neville; you don’t get off that easily.

Lest the reader believe that I have some sort of personal vendetta against Jonathan Neville, allow me to disavow that claim. I am motivated purely by truth and the desire to refute the cancerous Heartland hoax that is infecting the body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I will not do this privately and quietly, as Neville would prefer.

Jonathan Neville regularly and repeatedly misinforms his audience about Book of Mormon geography and the translation of the Book of Mormon, and he impugns and defames the characters and reputations of good men and women who, for decades, have worked tirelessly to provide evidence that the Book of Mormon is an actual history of a real people. I will continue to announce this from the rooftops until that changes.

—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, January 2, 2020

Neville accuses a general authority of publishing anti-Mormon material in the Ensign

As I predicted last week, Jonathan Neville is not happy with some of the content in the January 2020 issue of the Ensign.

In his January 2, 2020, post on his Book of Mormon Central America blog, Neville accuses the Church-published Ensign of containing “revisionist Church history.” Specifically, he criticizes the article “The Translation of the Book of Mormon: A Marvel and a Wonder,” by Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., who is a general authority Seventy, Church Historian and Recorder, and the Executive Director of the Church History Department.

Neville objects to Elder Curtis quoting David Whitmer’s testimony of Joseph Smith using a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon. Neville rejects Whitmer’s account because it was published in An Address to All Believers in Christ, the same book in which Whitmer gave his reasons for disassociating himself from Joseph and the Church. Neville rhetorically asks:
Obviously, the Ensign does not condone that part of David Whitmer’s book [where he accused Joseph of drifting into errors], but why accept uncritically any of that book? Why refer readers to it at all?
Neville apparently cannot distinguish between David Whitmer’s eyewitness testimony of something he personally saw and Whitmer’s interpretation of events. The former is an objective statement that has great validity; the latter is highly subjective. One can believe the first without agreeing with the second.

Furthermore, Neville himself is inconsistent in the way he treats historical material: He accepts those things which support his unusual theories and rejects those things which do not, even when they come from the same source. For example, Neville rejects David Whitmer’s 1887 testimony of Joseph’s use of a seer stone, but he accepts Whitmer’s 1887 testimony of meeting one of the Three Nephites who said that he was “on his way to Cumorah.” It must be awfully convenient for Neville to pick and choose which evidences he accepts and which he does not.
Jonathan Neville‘s doctored cover of the January 2020 Ensign
Jonathan Neville‘s doctored cover of the January 2020 Ensign

Neville also included in his blog post a doctored image of the January Ensign that has a photo of the title page of the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed. It was the first anti-Mormon book, and it derisively called Joseph’s seer stone a “peep stone.” By publishing this fake image, Neville is asserting that a general authority Seventy has published anti-Mormon material in the Ensign, the Church’s official magazine.

Jonathan Nevile is a critic of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The most dangerous critics are the ones who are within the Church, for they carry a veneer of authority and respectability. They “only want the best for the Church,” they claim, and are thereby able to spread their poisonous message of “soft apostasy.”

All Latter-day Saints should reject Neville’s aberrant views and criticisms of the Church and its leaders.

—Peter Pan

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Top Neville Neville-Land posts of 2019

2019 year in review
The Neville Neville-Land blog has seen a remarkable amount of traffic since we published our first post on February 6, 2019. Captain Hook and I have published 142 posts over the last eleven months, most of them responses to specific blog entries written by Jonathan Neville.

Here are the top ten posts of 2019 by number of views:

  1. Jonathan Neville accuses Church missionaries of deception (July 12, 2019)
  2. The Neville Land Manifesto (February 9, 2019)
  3. The “fundamentals” of a heterodox faction within the Church (July 11, 2019)
  4. Responsible scholarship and use of primary sources (February 9, 2019)
  5. Evils and designs in the hearts of conspiring men (February 12, 2019)
  6. The importance of using primary sources (February 10, 2019)
  7. The Heartland hoax, or Neville through the looking-glass (March 22, 2019)
  8. An example of Neville Land thinking (February 11, 2019)
  9. Neville misrepresents speakers at the FairMormon conference (August 9, 2019)
  10. When prophets testify but Neville doesn’t believe them (March 24, 2019)

Most of our high-trafficked posts are from early in the year. That’s almost certainly because the longer a post is active, the more views it can attract.

Although it’s not accurate to say that we’re looking forward to another year of refuting Jonathan Neville’s misrepresentations, poor scholarship, and logical fallacies, the Captain and I do promise to continue to respond to Neville throughout 2020.

—Peter Pan

Monday, December 30, 2019

Examining the Heartlander brain

This is your brain on the Heartland theory
Jonathan Neville frequently psychoanalyzes those who do not agree with his views. For example, he accuses those who believe in what he calls “M2C” of living in a bubble of “Loserthink” and being stuck in “mental prisons,” and that those individuals are afflicted by these because “M2C has been imprinted on [their] minds…from an early age.”

In other words, Neville believes that people don’t accept his views on Book of Mormon geography and Church history because they are mentally deficient and brainwashed—in other words, they’re too stupid to understand the Book of Mormon the way that he does.

In Neville’s mind Heartlanders are, of course, enlightened and thinking persons who have broken free of the “mental prisons” and “Loserthink” that plagues the majority of the Saints. Heartlanders, he asserts, have the spiritual “gift of knowledge” based on evidence, while those who haven’t heard of the Heartland theory or who have rejected it is have only the “gift of great faith,” absent any knowledge-based evidence. (I’m not kidding; he actually believes that.)

Although I’ve been hesitant to turn the tables and psychoanlyze Neville in return, I believe I’ve found a possible reason why he, an otherwise intelligent person, believes what he does: Because he holds extreme views, he has trouble “thinking about his own thinking.”

From an article recently published in Popular Science (emphasis mine):
A new study from researchers at University College London offers some insight into one characteristic of those who hold extreme beliefs—their metacognition, or ability to evaluate whether or not they might be wrong.

“It’s been known for some time now that in studies of people holding radical beliefs, that they tend to…express higher confidence in their beliefs than others,” says Steve Fleming, a UCL cognitive neuroscientist and one of the paper’s authors. “But it was unknown whether this was just a general sense of confidence in everything they believe, or whether it was reflective of a change in metacognition.”

He and his colleagues set out to find the answer by removing partisanship from the equation: they presented study participants with a question that had an objective answer, rather than one rooted in personal values.

They studied two different groups of people—381 in the first sample and 417 in a second batch to try to replicate their results. They gave the first sample a survey that tested how conservative or liberal their political beliefs were. Radicalism exists on both ends of the spectrum; the people at the furthest extremes of left and right are considered “radical.”

After taking the questionnaire, the first group did a simple test: they looked at two different clusters of dots and quickly identified which group had more dots. Then they rated how confident they were in their choice.

People with radical political opinions completed this exercise with pretty much the same accuracy as moderate participants. But “after incorrect decisions, the radicals were less likely to decrease their confidence,” Fleming says.

Unlike political beliefs, which often have no right or wrong answer per se, one group of dots was unquestionably more numerous than the other. But regardless of whether or not there was an objective answer, the radicals were more likely to trust their opinion was correct than to question whether they might have gotten it wrong.

This finding—which the team replicated with tests on the second group of participants—suggests that the metacognition of radicals plays a part in shaping their beliefs. In other words, they actually can’t question their own ideas the same way more moderate individuals can.
While the UCL study looked at political beliefs, it could also be applied to religious beliefs, which are also based on subjective, philosophical worldviews.

Jonathan Neville is an extremist—an individual who believes this his unusual views, which are held by only a fraction of like-minded persons, are “the truth,” while the vast majority of people who disagree with him are blinded by error. Because he is an extremist, he is unable to question whether his own views are actually correct.

From a historical perspective, that kind of rigid fundamentalism has led inexorably toward apostasy. The insistence that “I am right and the rest of the Saints have all got it wrong” has resulted in thousands of individuals breaking from the Church of Jesus Christ and starting their own dissident movements—from Sidney Rigdon and William Law in the 1840s, to William Godbe and his followers in the 1860s, to polygamous “fundamentalists” who broke with the Church in the 1920s, to the recent apostate cults that have sprung up around Denver Snuffer, John Dehlin, and Jeremy Runnells.

The clock is ticking on the Heartland movement. Will its leaders and followers begin to moderate their views and accept the teachings of modern Church leaders, or will they continue to entrench and eventually split off to become their own religious movement? If the UCL study is a true indicator of the extremist brain, the latter result sadly appears to be the inevitable one.

—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.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

January 2020 is a bad month to be Jonathan Neville

Jonathan Neville has three main gospel hobbyhorses that he rides:

  1. His insistence that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is the same hill as the one in New York state near Palmyra.
  2. His insistence that Joseph Smith received not one but two separate sets of plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon.
  3. His insistence that Joseph Smith used only the Nephite interpreters to translate the Book of Mormon of Mormon, that the interpreters were the only items called “Urim and Thummim,” and that Joseph did not also use a seer stone to translate.

All three of these claims run counter to what is taught by modern Church leaders and in modern Church publications. Neville instead relies on selected quotes from long-dead prophets and believes their statements were based on revelation, rather than on common belief and understanding.

The Book of Mormon is the Church’s Come, Follow Me course of study for 2020. In preparation for the coming year, the Ensign—the Church’s magazine for English-speaking adults—has published a series of resources on the Book of Mormon in the January 2020 issue. These resources directly contradict two of Neville’s pet theories.

The first is the infographic “Which Plates Did the Book of Mormon Come From?” (p. 34):
Which Plates Did the Book of Mormon Come From? Ensign January 2020 p. 34
According to the Church-published graphic, Mormon inserted the small plates of Nephi directly into his own plates of Mormon. This comports with Mormon’s comment in Words of Mormon 1:6, in which he declared that he would “take these plates,” refering to the small plates of Nephi, “and put them with the remainder of my record,” meaning the plates of Mormon.

There is no evidence from the scriptures, from Joseph Smith, or from the eyewitnesses to Joseph’s work that he had more than one set of plates. The Church’s infographic (and all the similar ones that it has previously produced, like this one) therefore show one set of plates. By insisting on the New York Cumorah, Jonathan Neville has painted himself into a corner and has been forced to come up with the singular, unconventional theory that Joseph had two sets of plates.

The second resource published in the January 2020 Ensign is the article “The Translation of the Book of Mormon: A Marvel and a Wonder,” by Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.

Elder Curtis has been a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy since April 2011 and currently serves on the Scriptures Committee and as Church Historian and Recorder and as the Executive Director of the Church History Department. Jonathan Neville believes that the Church History Department is part of the “M2C* citation cartel” conspiracy that purposely acts to “deprive members of the Church of ‘good information’ solely to promote their particular agendas.” I’m not certain if Neville believes that Elder Curtis—whom Neville likely sustains as one of the general authorities of the Church—is part of the “M2C citation cartel,” but Elder Curtis directly repudiates Neville’s rejection of Joseph Smith’s use of a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon on page 40 of his article:
The Translation of the Book of Mormon: A Marvel and a Wonder Ensign January 2020 p. 40
The “interpreters” used by Joseph during the translation process included the “two stones in silver bows” that were deposited by Moroni with the plates (see Joseph Smith—History 1:35). In addition to these two seer stones, Joseph used at least one other seer stone that the Lord had provided.

David Whitmer, whose family provided a place for Joseph and Oliver to complete the work of translation, provided this additional information: “Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.”

All of us who have tried to read illuminated words on a screen can understand why Joseph would have used a hat or something else to screen out extraneous light when he was reading the words on the seer stone.
LeGrand Curtis, Church Historian and Recorder and as the Executive Director of the Church History Department, accepts David Whitmer’s eyewitness testimony that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon.

Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the living prophet, also accepts David Whitmer’s eyewitness testimony that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon.

David Whitmer’s testimony has been reprinted in numerous Church publications and used in Church visitors centers and museums to describe the translation process of the Book of Mormon.

Who doesn’t accept David Whitmer’s eyewitness testimony? Jonathan Neville, a retired attorney and author of numerous self-published books and blogs with offbeat and outlandish theories about Church history and doctrine.

Who’s the one who is out of step here?

—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, December 20, 2019

Disagree with Neville? You’re a “disloyal” teacher of “poisonous thoughts”

Jonathan Neville claims that Church instructors who teach that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon may not be the hill in New York are “disloyal” to the prophets and are putting “poisonous thoughts” into the minds of those they teach.
Joffrey Baratheon dies of poison
The late King Joffrey Baratheon, First of his Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm, felled by the treacherous poison of “M2C.”*

Neville’s October 9, 2017, blog post was republished on December 17, 2019, on Rian Nelson’s site as “Debunking the Two-Cumorah Theory” (even though the post doesn’t do what Nelson’s title claims it does). In this post, Neville attempts to turn the tables on FairMormon’s use of a 1966 quote by Elder Harold B. Lee.

After his usual disingenuous disclaimer about admiring and respecting Latter-day Saint scholars and educators who disagree with him, not intending any of what he writes to be personal, etc., etc., Neville then abuses Elder Lee’s address to accuse those who believe that the hill Cumorah may be in Mesoamerica of the most heinous crimes. Elder Lee told Church educators:
Remember that the very worst enemies that we’ve had are those that are within the Church. It was a Judas that betrayed the Master. It was a William Marks. It was a Frederick G. Williams and Sidney Ridgon, to some extent, and others who thought about the accusations that resulted in the death of the Prophet Joseph. Today it’s the same. The greatest and worst enemies we have in the Church today are those within our ranks whom we haven’t caught up with yet.

Now I sat in with one of our teachers who was rebelling. He’d written a text to be used in the Institutes and when it was turned down and was not acceptable because it was not correct, he just campaigned and he now has such a rank apostate attitude that he declares that he doesn’t believe the Church was organized as Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants says it was. He doesn’t believe that Joseph Smith had the vision as he testified he had. He thinks the Book of Mormon was written by somebody, but he doesn’t know who. He is irritated by things that go on in the temple and the temple endowments and so on. Now all the spleen and the ugliness of his soul comes out when he’s not longer sustained as a teacher, but while he was there, how many minds he poisoned.

Better that a millstone be tied about your neck and you be drowned in the depths of the ocean than to offend one of our Father’s little ones. You’re an ideal, you’re a trained teacher. And if you’re disloyal in your teaching, and if you lead them astray and put poisonous thoughts in their minds, it may be the thing that will keep them from ever attaining the high place in the kingdom.

Brother Berrett had done well to have our attention called to this subject of loyalty. Time doesn’t permit, of course, to elaborate on these, and much more might be said.… I am sure that if you will open your minds and your hearts, remember these prime principles that we are talking about on the subject of loyalty, you’ll avoid many of the pitfalls that some who have preceded you have not been able to avoid.
Neville himself put portions of Elder Lee’s quote in boldface type, and I replicated his formatting in the preceding quote. He wants to draw attention to those portions because he believes that they apply to those who teach that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon, where the Nephites fought their final battle, is not in New York state.

In other words, if you’re an instructor in the Church and you disagree with Neville’s interpretation of the Book of Mormon and the teachings of (selected) prophets, then you are disloyal, are among “the greatest and worst enemies we have in the Church today,” are like Judas who betrayed Christ, and should be drowned by a large, heavy stone. Neville writes:
In my view, the question of [the true location of] Cumorah is a question of whether we are loyal to the prophets and apostles, starting with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Can you think of a more poisonous thought than the teaching that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were “mistaken” about Cumorah being in New York? More precisely, this poisonous thought portrays them as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah.

Yet that is what professors at BYU are currently teaching.
Three thoughts about Neville’s position here:

  • His relentless, single-minded obsession about the New York hill being the hill Cumorah surpasses a mere “gospel hobby.” For him, it has become the paramount doctrine of the Church, greater than any other message of or in the Book of Mormon. It is his First Article of Faith.
  • His extremism has led him to charge those who dare to hold a different view of being “disloyal” to Joseph Smith and other prophets and apostles, of spreading “poison” among the body of the Church. Those who disagree with him are, therefore, apostates.
  • The ironic thing is that it is Neville and his fellows who peddle the Heartland hoax who are the ones who are claiming that the Church is out order and needs to be corrected. (Who’s flirting with apostasy here?)

In response to Neville’s rhetorical question, “Can you think of a more poisonous thought than the teaching that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ‘mistaken’ about Cumorah being in New York?” I would say that it’s far more poisonous to repeatedly publicly imply that the living prophet is teaching falsehoods and that none of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles know that they’re (supposedly) being duped by crafty and designing Church employees.

That kind of teaching is truly disloyal.

—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, December 4, 2019

Jonathan Neville’s broken scriptural allegory

Following up on his implied claim that Latter-day Saints who disagree with him are followers of Satan, in a December 2, 2019, blog post, “Voice of the people,” Jonathan Neville accused those who don’t believe that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is in western New York of rejecting the Lord.

Let that sink in for a moment before reading further.

Here’s what he wrote:
For over 150 years, the prophets and apostles have consistently taught that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 (the one and only Hill Cumorah) is in western New York. This includes not only Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (Letter VII) and their contemporaries, but members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, such as President Romney’s detailed address.
Neville continues to beg the question by not addressing his unspoken presumption that all these statements were based on revelation instead of common belief that became tradition. There is no revelation from the Lord on the location of any Book of Mormon lands, so Neville has elevated the statements and writings of prophets and apostles (at least the ones he agrees with) to infallible scripture. (And Letter VII is not nearly as strong of a piece of evidence as he assets, as Stephen Smoot has explained.)
No prophet or apostle has ever repudiated the teachings of his predecessors about the New York Cumorah.
Church leaders rarely, if ever, “repudiate” the incorrect statements of their predecessors, probably out of respect for great men who erred but are no longer around to correct what they said or wrote. Instead, the historical precedent has been for Church leaders to simply stop teaching incorrect principles and replace them with correct ones. (See, for example, how Church leaders have handled statements made prior to 1978 about black men and the priesthood.)
But many scholars and their followers have rejected those teachings.
How many times does this blog have to demonstrate that claim is false before Neville stops repeating it? It’s becoming his equivalent of the große Lüge.
M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorah’s [sic] theory) is based on the claim that the prophets are wrong because the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is actually somewhere in southern Mexico.
Actually, as stated here repeatedly, it’s based on the claim that the description of the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon doesn’t match the characteristics and features of the hill in western New York and that the area in southern Mexico is a better match geographically and culturally. It in no way claims that “the prophets are wrong” because, as stated here repeatedly, the location of the hill Cumorah hasn’t been revealed by the Lord to any modern prophet.

And then comes Neville’s shocking accusation:
There are indications that many, if not most, members of the Church are following the M2C scholars instead of the teachings of the prophets.

How can we explain this?

This is hardly the first time the people have preferred intellectuals over the prophets. Here’s one example to consider:

6 ¶ But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.
7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
(1 Samuel 8:6–7)

The Lord told Samuel to do what the people wanted because the people had rejected Him in favor of their desire for a king.

In our day, the M2C intellectuals have rejected the teachings of the prophets on this topic.
Here’s why Neville’s scriptural allegory doesn’t work:

In the time of 1 Samuel chapter 8, Samuel was the living prophet of the Lord. Samuel received the Lord’s word and interceded with the Lord on behalf of the people of Israel. The Lord had given Samuel strict counsel regarding a king, but the people rejected that counsel, which “displeased Samuel.”

In our day we have a living prophet—Russell M. Nelson. He receives the Lord’s word and intercedes with the Lord on behalf of the Saints. The Lord has said nothing to Russell M. Nelson—or any other modern prophet—about the location of the hill Cumorah, let alone made correct belief in its location an article of faith.

If any scriptural example applies here, it’s this one from the time when King David of Israel brought the ark of the covenant from Gibeah to Jerusalem. Along the way:
David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:5–7)
Jonathan Neville steadies the ark of God Jonathan Neville is an ark-steadier. He continually claims that he knows what the prophets meant and what’s important for today’s Latter-day Saints to believe regarding Cumorah—despite the fact that none of today’s prophets and apostles are teaching what he claims is so important to believe and profess and even though President Nelson himself has recently taught publicly what Neville asserts is falsehoods cooked up by a conspiracy of intellectuals within the Church.

—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, November 27, 2019

Jonathan Neville’s Rameumptom

Here in the United States, the 2019 Thanksgiving Day holiday is nearly upon us. Jonathan Neville has published a blog post in recognition of this, giving “gratitude for the prophets.”

And, of course, his list of things for which he is grateful are all the usual cudgels he uses to pummel his “M2C”* opponents:
Together [Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery] wrote the first history of the Church, the eight essays that were published as letters in 1834-5. (This includes Letter VII, of course.)

Together they testified that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim, thereby producing the Book of Mormon.

Together they testified of its divine authenticity, including the site of the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, right in western New York.

All of their faithful contemporaries and successors have reaffirmed their testimony about these topics.
Canonization of Letter VII, rejection of Joseph’s use of seer stones, New York Cumorah—is it possible for him to post anything about the Book of Mormon that’s insightful, inspiring, or new? Something that’s not a self-serving proof-text?
Jonathan Neville on the Rameumptom

I expect Neville’s next Heartlander-themed Thanksgiving blog post will be something like this:
We also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of [M2C], which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God. And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people.
I, for one, am thankful for modern prophets—not because they teach things that I agree with, but because they remind me of the importance of repentance and the continual need to be a better follower of Jesus Christ.

Happy Thanksgiving,

—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.

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