Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Claiming victory without engaging in battle

In a brief blog post published on June 18, 2019, Jonathan Neville tells us:
In April [2019] I did a series of posts on the M2C* hoax and the Illusion of Scholarship – Mormon’s Codex.
I feel compelled to mention that, in that series of posts, he also completely failed to address a single claim made by John L. Sorenson in his book. Instead, Neville’s five posts covered a single (misinterpreted) quote from the foreword, a blurb from the book jacket, an attack on Sorenson’s work in general, an attack on Book of Mormon Central, and an attack on an article published in Interpreter.

Neville was literally zero-for-five in his “review” of Mormon’s Codex, yet he seems to think that he actually accomplished something.

Disappointing, yet hardly unexpected.

—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, June 17, 2019

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Jonathan Neville has recently hit upon a new idea that he’s been repeating in the hopes that it will gain traction. The idea goes like this:

A: The growth rate of Church membership is declining.

B₁: An increasing number of members of the Church believe that the Book of Mormon is fictional, not historical.

B₂: The teaching that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica has been widespread in the Church since the 1980s.

C: Therefore, B₁ and B₂ are the cause of A.

This is most recently seen in Neville’s June 17, 2019, blog post, “The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be.” In it, he comes to the following conclusion:
We have leading intellectuals in the Church pushing M2C* in the hope that, by convincing people the prophets are wrong about Cumorah, they will persuade everyone that the Book of Mormon is a real history, set in Mesoamerica. They don’t see the irony that by undermining faith in the prophets, M2C undermines faith in the Book of Mormon, too.

These same intellectuals are raising millions of dollars from Church members and then hiring fine young scholars to push these narratives out through social media.

The future is definitely not what it used to be.

Who knows? Maybe once the intellectuals manage to persuade everyone that the Book of Mormon is “pious fiction” the Church will grow faster than ever.

I find that unlikely, but the future is by its nature unpredictable.
Neville here displays his singular talent for packing the maximum number of blatant falsehoods and logical fallacies into the fewest number of sentences. Captain Hook and I have responded numerous times to every claim in that quote, but let’s recap briefly anyway:

  • Those who believe in a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon do not “hope [to] convince people the prophets are wrong about Cumorah” because Neville and his associates have not provided a shred of evidence that the location of Cumorah has been revealed by the Lord.
  • Those who believe in a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon are not “undermining faith in the prophets” because they loudly affirm that the Book of Mormon is history, that Joseph Smith translated it by the gift and power of God, and that the prophetic authority Joseph restored resides today in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church leaders direct members with questions to Book of Mormon Central, The Interpreter Foundation, and FairMormon because they “provide insights to doctrinal, historical, and social questions”—not something one would expect if these organizations were “undermining faith in the prophets.”
  • In a sudden and bizarre turn, Neville switches from claiming that “leading intellectuals in the Church pushing M2C in the hope that…they will persuade everyone that the Book of Mormon is a real history, set in Mesoamerica” to claiming that “the intellectuals [are trying to] to persuade everyone that the Book of Mormon is ‘pious fiction.’” So which one is it, Brother Neville? Are “the intellectuals” persuading people that the Book of Mormon is a “real history” or a “pious fiction”? It can’t be both; you have to choose one.

Circling lazily over Neville’s entire thesis, like a vulture waiting for an injured rodent to die, is the logical fallacy behind Neville’s unsubstantiated claim that teaching a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon leads to loss of faith in the Book of Mormon and therefore is the cause of declining Church growth rates.

This is the logical fallacy of the Questionable Cause, also known by its Latin name, post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”). An example of this fallacy could be the following: “The sun comes up each morning. Roosters crow before the sun comes up. Therefore the sound of roosters crowing causes the sun to come up.”

Neville believes “teaching Mesoamerican Book of Mormon leads to loss of faith and declining Church growth rates.” He sees A and he sees B₁ and B₂ and he erroneously concludes that B₁ and B₂ are the cause of A—without presenting any evidence whatsoever that there is any connection between those things.

Since the Heartland hoax is, itself, an evidence-free zone, it’s not surprising that Neville would make this claim. And, since he has dismissed this blog with a snide remark and a wave of his hand, I’m not expecting that he’ll provide any evidence in the near future to back it up. Hopefully, he proves me wrong on this point.

—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, June 14, 2019

Jonathan Neville contentiously tells us how to avoid contention

In a pair of blog posts unleashed on June 14, 2019, Jonathan Neville informs us that “there is no need to contend about any of” the theories of Book of Mormon geography and offers a “guide to avoid contention” about differences over these issues. As he explains in the first:
As it says above the title of every post, “This is a friendly discussion among brothers and sisters who all love the Book of Mormon and believe it is actual history. We seek unity on how to interpret the text and Church history. This blog focuses on the North American setting as the simplest and best explanation of Book of Mormon geography, with Cumorah in New York, but we recognize other settings are meaningful for other people.”
The personal warmth and generosity of this disclaimer is belied, however, by the content of his writings. In both blog posts, Neville hypocritically ignores his own advice by engaging in name-calling, misrepresenting his opponents’ arguments, and implying that those who disagree with him are apostates.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

In his first post (“Gospel Topics Essay reposted”) he begins with an appeal to the most-favorite prophet of the Heartlanders:
Many years ago, President Joseph Fielding Smith denounced M2C* by stating that “Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.”

That prophetic warning has never been more important than it is now.
Neville considers then-Elder Joseph Fielding Smith’s statement “prophetic,” of course, because it supports Neville’s particular views. But Elder Smith’s personal views were not and are not the official positions of the Church. Elder Smith (who later served as Church president from January 1970 to July 1972) is certainly worthy of respect and honor, but his opinions were just that—opinions. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson has taught and the Church has publicly proclaimed, his views do not establish doctrine.

But, as has been demonstrated before on this blog, Heartlanders like Jonathan Neville prefer dead prophets over living ones. (Pay close attention, because this will come up again later.)

Despite his emphatic counsel to “avoid contention” over the issue of the location of the hill Cumorah, Neville informs us:
I’m only addressing those who are still developing their biases and those few who have an open mind about this topic. I fully realize that M2C has been imprinted on the minds of most members of the Church; I, too, believed it for decades.

I especially don’t expect M2C intellectuals, their followers or their employees, to do anything but confirm their biases [about Book of Mormon geography].
Those who agree with Neville have “open mind[s],” while those who disagree with him are “confirm[ing] their biases.” There’s no contention in that statement at all, of course.

In this first post he next turns his attention to the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography. He explains:
I’m told the essay was written by a committee, which is why it is anonymous.
Later on he asks:
[This] leads to the question, what is a “Gospel Topics Essay”[?] Is it scripture? Does it supersede the scriptures and all prior teachings of the prophets?

Some say yes (especially the M2C intellectuals, their followers and employees).

I’m just asking, and I’m not alone in wondering about this.
The anonymous person who purportedly told him that the essay is anonymous is wrong. The essay does not have a byline because it represents the position of the Church, and not any one individual or any committee. The introduction to the Gospel Topics Essays explains:
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 [the Church’s website], where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties.

[emphasis added]
(I find it telling that the introduction makes reference to “questionable and often inaccurate sources”—what better way is there to describe the Heartland hoax and those who promulgate it?)

There is the answer to Jonathan Neville’s question: The essays—including the one on Book of Mormon geography—“have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.” They represent the official position of the Church, as led by living prophets and apostles. But Neville doesn’t seem to accept this:
The [Gospel Topics] essay says, “the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas.”

This is a distinct change from the 1990 letter from the Office of the First Presidency, personally approved by President Ezra Taft Benson and his counselors, Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson, which reads:

“The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.”

The anonymous essay stands for itself, of course. But it has been changed once, and it can be changed again.
Once again, Neville appears to prefer dead prophets he agrees with over living prophets he disagrees with. He agrees with an approves of the First Presidency’s letter from nearly thirty years ago, but rejects the statement approved by today’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve that he disagree with.

Neville also fails to mention that the First Presidency’s secretary in the early 1990s issued a clarification to the 1990 statement, explaining “While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations [regarding Book of Mormon geography] because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.” The issue is much more nuanced than Neville would have us believe.

Neville also fails to understand the directive from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve included in the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography:
[The essay] seems to be saying that everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, so long as they don’t claim prophetic or Church support.

That’s a sound approach, consistent with Articles of Faith 9 and 11.

There’s an enormous difference between claiming prophetic or Church support, and seeking to support the prophets and the Church.
“Seeking to support the prophets and the Church” does not mean insisting that your interpretation of a specific issue is correct and that prophets you agree with have all spoken by inspiration. If one wishes to “support the prophets and the Church,” one does that by following living prophets who lead today’s Church, not dead ones with whom one happens to agree.

Continuing to push the Heartland hoax in Church settings is in direct violation of the counsel of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve “not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories.” Jonathan Neville is not excluded from that counsel just because he believes that he’s “seeking to support the prophets” and those who disagree with him on the location of Cumorah are not.

There are so many other errors in Neville’s first blog post; to avoid taking advantage the reader’s time and patience I’ll note just one other passage before moving on to his other post:
The [Gospel Topics] essay does not address Letter VII, which declares it is a fact that the final battles took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. Letter VII also declares that the depository of Nephite records was inside the same hill.
Yes, Oliver Cowdery wrote Letter VII. Yes, he believed it was “a fact” that the Book of Mormon’s final battles took place in western New York. He believed it because that was how he interpreted the Book of Mormon. But, absent any revelation on this issue, his claim remains his opinion. Simply calling something “a fact” doesn’t make it so, any more than believing the personal statements of prophets to be revelation makes them revelation.

In his second post of the day (ironically titled “Guide to avoid contention”), Neville offers us “a guide to discussing the question of Cumorah with your friends.” He begins with a disgusting simultaneous display of unfounded hubris and misrepresentation:
Those of us who accept the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are happy and confident. We see the consistency between what the prophets have taught, the descriptions in the text of the Book of Mormon, and relevant anthropology, archaeology, geology, etc. The more we learn, the more we see that the prophets were right all along.

We understand the text better because it all makes sense in this setting. We don’t have to rely on experts who tell us Joseph didn’t translate it correctly, or didn’t translate it at all, that he was an ignorant speculator, etc. We’re puzzled by BYU professors who don’t believe the Book of Mormon is a real history and by BYU professors who teach the Book of Mormon by using a fantasy map.
Those who follow Heartlanderism are, according to Neville, “happy and confident” (unlike the supposedly unhappy and uncertain followers of “M2C,”, apparently) because they know the truth! They believe the prophets! They’re smart! They “understand the text better”!

(Pardon me for a moment while I wipe Neville’s condescension from my computer monitor.)

His bonkers claim that those who don’t agree with him about the location of the hill Cumorah believe “Joseph didn’t translate [the Book of Mormon] correctly, or didn’t translate it at all, that he was an ignorant speculator,” is completely, totally, and utterly false. It’s a lie, one that Neville repeats over and over and over again either because he believes it or because he believes that telling it often enough will cause more people to believe it.

I submit that is is the worst possible start to anything that has ever claimed to be a “guide to avoid[ing] contention.”

Without a shred of self-awareness or sense of irony, Neville then tells us that, for Heartlanders, “everything is awesome, and it gets better all the time.” Neville is (purposely) quoting from the opening song to The Lego Movie; he even includes a screenshot of the film’s protagonist, Emmet Brickowski, with the slogan “Everything Is Awesome!” emblazoned over Emmet’s head:


Has Neville seen The Lego Movie? Apparently not, because if he had he would know that saying and its song is a lie designed to cover up the truth about the reality in which the characters in the Lego world live. Emmet and all the other characters sing it as a way of convincing themselves that everything is wonderful when it in fact is not.

Ironically, nothing could better describe the Heartland hoax that Neville shills for: They claim that they are “happy and confident” because they’ve correctly interpreted “the teachings of the prophets.” In reality, however, they have been deluded by a false (but extremely profitable) theory that’s based on selective quotes from dead prophets and a rejection of the counsel of living prophets.

“Everything is awesome!” Neville triumphantly declares while standing on his foundation made of sand.

Neville encourages his readers:
Don’t expect anyone else to believe something just because you do. If you try to change someone else’s opinion, you will become frustrated or even angry. Just look at how the M2C employees are acting on the Internet.
Once again, without a shred of evidence, he’s claiming that those who disagree with him are “frustrated” and “angry,” and this is evident from how they are “acting on the Internet.”

It’s not frustration, Brother Neville. It’s not anger, either. It’s a sad but necessary duty to correct the lies you tell about those who disagree with you and to explain why the Heartland hoax is wrong and leading people astray. If anyone is “acting [badly] on the Internet,” it’s you, for telling untruths, misrepresenting your opponents, and continually resorting to childish name-calling.

Neville suggests a “a question to ask when we discuss the Hill Cumorah with our M2C friends”:
How many times do the prophets have to reaffirm the New York Cumorah before you will accept what they teach?

For most M2C intellectuals and their employees, the answer in their mind is this: “I’ll never accept that. The prophets don’t know. Our experts have interpreted the Book of Mormon for us and they say Cumorah can only be in Mesoamerica.‘

But they won’t say that. Instead, they’ll get angry and refuse to talk about it.
This is the first of many, many fallacious strawman arguments Neville makes in this post.

The answer that “most M2C intellectuals and their employees” would actually make would be more along the lines of this:

“I reject the premise of your query because you are simply begging the question: You presume that statements made by prophets about the hill Cumorah being the hill in New York are based on revelation, rather than on commonly-held belief. If you can point to a statement about the location of the hill Cumorah that has been presented to the Church as a revelation, then we can have a discussion on your terms. Until then, I prefer to follow the published statements of living prophets and apostles who have affirmed that ‘the Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas’—a statement that includes the location of the hill Cumorah.”

Neville continues a bit with his hypothetical strawman “conversation,” then he declares:
[In my opinion], so long as our leading intellectuals in the Church claim (and teach) that we need the modern prophets to reaffirm the New York Cumorah “one more time” before they’ll accept it, there is no reason for the prophets to teach it yet again.

These intellectuals (and their followers) have rejected the teachings of all the prior prophets and apostles on this topic. We have no reason to believe they would accept the New York Cumorah even if President Nelson taught it tomorrow.
My dear benighted Brother Neville, we don’t “need the modern prophets to reaffirm the New York Cumorah ‘one more time’” because they’ve never affirmed it by revelation in the first place. You claim that we “have rejected the teachings of all the prior prophets and apostles on this topic,” when the fact is that you have rejected the teachings of living prophets and apostles on this topic. President Nelson isn’t going to “teach [the New York Cumorah] tomorrow” because he and the other Brethren have already spoken on this subject—you just reject what they’ve declared.

Neville continues on a bit with more eye-rolling “dialogue” between an imaginary Heartlander and an imaginary “M2C” believer, all of it leading inexorably to his view winning the imaginary argument. (Please pass the Pepto-Bismol.)

Captain Hook and I have been blogging here for just over four months, and in that time it’s become depressingly clear to me that Jonathan Neville’s blog posts aren’t improving, but rather are getting worse. It seems to me that he’s becoming more strident and less clear-headed in his thinking. He’s committed to his bias and is continually doubling down on it. His refusal to engage with or respond to any criticisms of his views while blithely misrepresenting the views of those he disagrees with is accelerating at a breakneck pace.

The uncomfortable truth that Jonathan Neville refuses to confront is that it’s readily apparent to the unbiased reader that the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography was written specifically to address the spread of the “Heartland” theory of Book of Mormon geography. Will Neville continue to follow the teachings of dead prophets whose words he prefers to those of livings ones?

—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.

The façade drops…

Jonathan Neville has often insisted that he has no hard feelings or personal animosity towards “M2C intellectuals”* or those who are part of the (entirely imaginary) “M2C citation cartel.” The only issue, he claims, is just about eradicating the supposed censorship of about the real location of the hill Cumorah, as supposedly taught by the prophets.

Typically, after one of his characteristically conspiracy-mongering and slanderous blog posts that speak all sorts of calumnies about employees at Book of Mormon Central, employees of the Church History Department, or volunteers at FairMormon and The Interpreter Foundation, Neville will conclude with something along the lines of, “These are all wonderful, intelligent, sincere people who have just been brainwashed by M2C. Some of them I even consider my friends. I just think they need to stop censoring the words of the prophets.”

Well, his façade of hollow, insincere flatteries has finally dropped.

In his June 13, 2019, blog post “Naval and Church history in the Biblical style,” Neville has this to say about his “friends” at Book of Mormon Central who espouse “M2C”:
If you want to see who rules over you, see who you’re not allowed to criticize. Try criticizing the M2C citation cartel and see what happens. People who are easily outraged tend to be the stupidest and less [sic] educated people on social media. They’re foot soldiers for a mob, and mob mentality rules their behavior. No independent thinking, just blind mob rule. The outrage from the employees of Book of Mormon Central says it all.
Jonathan Neville actually believes that “outraged” Book of Mormon Central employees are “foot soldiers for a mob.” As members of this supposed outrage mob, they “tend to be the stupidest and less educated people on social media.”

And as a cherry on top, he concludes his post with a “fun summary of Church history, written in biblical style” that includes scholars literally “persecut[ing] Joseph and Oliver, and [seeking] to belittle them.”

His words speak volumes.

Shame on you, Brother Neville, for not only lying about your fellow saints, but also for continuing to publicly slander them.

Your insults, duplicity, and insincerity will not refute the significant criticisms of the preposterous Heartland hoax (like this recent review by Stephen Smoot), no matter how often you frantically protest and defame those who disagree with you.

—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, June 12, 2019

Jonathan Neville, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up

In addition to taking a dig at The Interpreter Foundation by attributing statements to its directors that they have not made (otherwise known as bearing false witness, a.k.a. lying), I believe Jonathan Neville has finally acknowledged the existence of this blog.

In his blog post, “Catching up” (June 12, 2019), Neville accuses the good folks at Interpreter of being modern-day “scribes and pharisees [sic]” who supposedly claim “the right to interpret the scriptures for everyone.” As usual, he does not document this claim to demonstrate where anyone connected with the foundation has actually said or written anything remotely like that. (Like much of what he writes, it’s all in his mind and not based in any objective, verifiable reality.)

He then goes further with this gross misrepresentation:
Those involved with the Interpreter (and their interlocking affiliates FairMormon and Book of Mormon Central)…even claim they are above criticism because they have been hired by the prophets to guide the Church. They brag about their “close relationships” with the Brethren, their financial support, and their overall influence over employees at BYU, CES, and COB (Church Office Building).
Neville provides not a link, not a citation, not a single shred of evidence that this is true. It’s his fantasy world—his “Neville-Neville Land,” as it were.

He next informs us that “many of the articles in the Interpreter are pure propaganda,” but confesses in the very next paragraph, “I’ve reviewed only a few of their articles.” If he’s only reviewed a few articles, how can he know that “many” of the articles Interpreter publishes are “pure propaganda”? How is it possible that a presumably sane individual could contradict himself so badly in virtually the same breath?

Changing subjects, I’m thrilled to know that Neville is aware of this humble blog and that he would take the time and effort to insult us in his usual childish manner:
Anonymous juveniles on the Internet. Apparently there are some kids playing on keyboards who write nonsense about some of my blogs and the North American setting (which I call Moroni’s America for short). I trust readers to recognize the logical and factual fallacies.
I truly wish he would give us some examples of our supposed “logical and factual fallacies,” but, as he so often does, Neville doesn’t provide a single illustration for us. This is our sixty-seventh blog post, and the only response Captain Hook and I have received from him is two sentences without a single mention (let alone refutation) of anything we’ve published.

J.M. Barrie was right: “All children, except one, grow up.”

—Peter Pan

Follow-up: Daniel C. Peterson of The Interpreter Foundation has responded on his own blog to Neville’s claims.

 

A shameless misrepresentation of Kirk Magleby’s words

Kirk Magleby, executive director of Book of Mormon Central, maintains a private blog about Book of Mormon geography. In a post dated June 9, 2019, Magleby discussed a new tool he’s developed to audit various geographical theories to see how closely they align to the text.

He concluded his blog post by describing the urgency of using this tool:
The first [Book of Mormon geography] model was audited last night, June 6, 2019. With a robust audit procedure in place, I now predict rapid progress. There is no time to waste. Many BYU professors, even on the religion faculty, do not believe the Book of Mormon is historical.
In his own blog post, dated June 10, 2019, Jonathan Neville has seized on Magleby’s final sentence, distorted it, and used it as a club with which to beat Book of Mormon Central. He writes:
Kirk says, “many BYU professors, even on the religion faculty, do not believe the Book of Mormon is historical.”

Trust me on this: Kirk would know.

He has BYU professors working with him at Book of Mormon Central.
Perhaps Neville’s statement is inartfully worded—if so, I hope he would clarify it because, as it stands, it appears that Neville is claiming that BYU professors who work with Book of Mormon Central do not believe the Book of Mormon is historical.

It is quite obvious to anyone who has read anything Book of Mormon Central has produced that the organization and its officers and employees believe the Book of Mormon to be an actual history of an actual people who lived in the Americas. The BYU professors and staff associated with Book of Mormon Central—including Jack Welch, Taylor Halverson, and Tyler J. Griffin—all believe in a historical Book of Mormon.

As he has repeatedly claimed for years, Neville believes that the teaching that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica—what he derisively calls “M2C”*—is the root cause for a supposed spreading belief within the Church that the Book of Mormon is not historical:
Why would many BYU professors disbelieve in the historicity of the Book of Mormon?

It’s simple.

They believed M2C.

By definition M2C is based on the premise that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah. Such a teaching is a sandy foundation that will, eventually, collapse.…

Being built on a foundation of sand, M2C is destined to implode. Already, for many people, M2C has imploded, and when it does, if there are no alternative explanations for the setting of the Book of Mormon, people naturally lose faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
Neville’s claim is completely bonkers. Mesoamericanists like John Sorenson, Brant Gardner, and others have done more to ground the Book of Mormon in an actual, historical setting than anyone else. (Gardner has even written an excellent book subtitled The Book of Mormon as History.) What is truly primed to “implode” is the Heartland hoax—the theory pushed by Jonathan Neville, Rod Meldrum, and other amateur researchers. The truly appalling false claims and misrepresentations in Heartlander Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon are only going to destroy the testimonies of those who believe them and then come to realize that they’ve been misled.

Jonathan Neville should be embarrassed and ashamed at the way he’s abused Kirk Magleby’s legitimate words of concern.

—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, June 11, 2019

The small plates of Nephi are an abridgment, Brother Neville

On June 10, 2019, Jonathan Neville published a blog post critical of Book of Mormon Central’s KnoWhy #519, “Why Is the Book of Mormon Called an ‘Abridgment’?

The Title Page of the Book of Mormon states that the work is “an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites,” as well as “an abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also.” There were two primary records included in the plates of Mormon:

  • Mormon²’s abridgment of the history of the Nephites, from the time of king Benjamin down to his own time, followed by the writings of his son, Moroni² and Moroni’s abridgment of the record of the Jaredites.
  • The small plates of Nephi, which were written by Nephi¹, Jacob¹, and Jacob’s descendants down the time of king Benjamin. Mormon was inspired by the Holy Spirit to take the small plates and “put them with the remainder of [his] record” (Words of Mormon 1:3–7).

Despite Mormon’s clear statement, Jonathan Neville doesn’t believe the small plates were with Mormon’s set of plates when Joseph Smith received the completed record from the angel Moroni. Instead, he believes that
[the] small plates of Nephi were not in Moroni’s stone box. Joseph got those later, as we know from D&C 9 and 10. Accounts in Church history show us that the messenger to whom Joseph gave the Harmony plates took those plates to Cumorah. From the depository of Nephite records in Cumorah, the messenger found the small plates of Nephi and took them to Fayette.
This is a very unusual theory that no one besides Neville has ever suggested—including Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, or any of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. (Neville continually criticizes his opponents for “censoring the teachings of the prophets,” yet here we have an example of him inventing things that no prophet has ever taught.) “You won’t know about” his two-sets-of-plates theory “if you only read material published by the M2C* citation cartel and the revisionist historians” (or literally anyone else, I should add); you can only find it in Neville’s writings.

Based on his theory, Neville criticizes the Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy, which claims that both sets of plates, together, were “abridgments.” He argues:
The Title Page [of the Book of Mormon] refers to all its contents as abridgments. BMC wants people to believe the original, unabridged plates of Nephi were in the stone box because they reject Oliver Cowdery’s testimony that he and Joseph and others had entered the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah.
Actually, Book of Mormon claims that plates of Nephi were in the stone box because there is no testimony—zero, nada, zilch—from Joseph Smith or anyone connected with him that Joseph had two different sets of plates. But Neville is a die-hard believer in the late, third-hand accounts of the “cave of plates,” which for him prove that the hill in New York is the same hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon. (That there is no contempory account of “Oliver Cowdery’s testimony” of this cave doesn’t phase him, let alone stop him from making the false claim that such a testimony exists.)

His two-sets-of-plates theory in hand, Neville argues that the small plates of Nephi couldn’t be an abridgment, as stated on the Title Page, even though Nephi “referred to a portion of his writings as ‘an abridgment of the record of my father.’” (1 Nephi 1:17). Why?
If you read the whole verse [1 Nephi 1:17] in context, Nephi tells us he’s writing his own original account, starting with an abridgment of his father’s record to explain how the events in his father’s record affected him, Nephi, personally. This “abridgment” consists mainly of his father’s dream. The rest of his account includes his journeys to Jerusalem (which could not have been part of his father’s record unless his father wrote what Nephi told him), his building a ship, sailing to America, separating from his brothers, etc.
What Neville overlooks, however, is that Nephi and Jacob both declared that the writings on the small plates were an abridgment of the more comprehensive history on the large plates of Nephi. They explained:

  • “And now, as I have spoken concerning these [small] plates, behold they are not the [large] plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people; for the [large] plates upon which I make a full account of my people I have given the name of Nephi; wherefore, they are called the plates of Nephi, after mine own name; and these [small] plates also are called the plates of Nephi.” (1 Nephi 9:2; emphasis added)
  • “For I, Nephi, was constrained to speak unto them [Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael], according to his [Lehi’s] word; for I had spoken many things unto them, and also my father, before his death; many of which sayings are written upon mine other [large] plates; for a more history part are written upon mine other [large] plates.” (2 Nephi 4:14; emphasis added)
  • “Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these [small] plates upon which I have engraven these things. And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God. And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these [small] plates. And if my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other [large] plates.” (2 Nephi 5:31–33; emphasis added)
  • “And he [Nephi] gave me, Jacob, a commandment that I should write upon these [small] plates a few of the things which I considered to be most precious; that I should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of this people which are called the people of Nephi. For he said that the history of his people should be engraven upon his other [large] plates, and that I should preserve these [small] plates and hand them down unto my seed, from generation to generation.” (Jacob 1:2–3; emphasis added)

Neville himself defines an abridgment as “a shortened version of a text, which means that the abridgments found in the Book of Mormon are only summaries of larger recorded histories.” That is exactly what the small plates of Nephi were—a shortened version of the longer history on the large plates, a summary of “the more particular part of the history” of Nephi’s people.

When the Title Page of the Book of Mormon claims that the text is “an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi,” Moroni wasn’t just referring to his father’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi from the time of king Benjamin, he was also referring to the abridgment of the early history of the Nephites on the small plates—the small plates which Mormon “put…with the remainder of [his] record” and which, together, were given to Joseph Smith by the resurrected Moroni on September 21, 1827.

Joseph Smith did not receive two separate sets of plates. Jonathan Neville’s theory that he did is simply a creative version of Church history that supports his obsessive belief in the New York location of the hill Cumorah.

—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, June 8, 2019

A typical Jonathan Neville blog post

A friend of mine created a programming script that can extract common word combinations from long texts and produce sentences that group together the author’s most commonly-used phrases. (He explains how this works at the bottom of this post.) He ran it on the last six months of posts at Jonathan Neville’s Book of Mormon Wars blog and it produced the following.

Dear readers, I present to you the typical Jonathan Neville blog post:
Rather than placing an exclamation mark after the words of the prophets, they claim superiority over those teachings.

We don’t yet know for sure where the events of the Book of Mormon is among the most significant. The Book of Mormon is an actual history.

FairMormon, a member of the M2C citation cartel of Book of Mormon Central, all these people were wrong.

Fortunately, efforts to censor the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

If, some day, members of the Church unite behind the teachings of the prophets and apostles about Cumorah in New York.

The Hill Cumorah is the keystone of our religion, but intellectuals in the Church have cast out these prophets, one after the other.

1909: LDS President Joseph F. Smith published Letter VII in the 1899 Improvement Era here:

It also explains why the M2C citation cartel of Book of Mormon Central uses for censoring other ideas, for example.

Most members who accept M2C don’t know what the prophets have taught, the youth of the Church.

This is not to say that we expect the M2C citation cartel is so corrosive and, ultimately, counterproductive.

The Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon took place. The essay is consistent with that.

Second, the explicit endorsement of M2C by a General Authority does more than merely imply Church support.
(I must admit that “The Hill Cumorah is the keystone of our religion” just about perfectly nails Neville’s theology!)

All joking aside, what’s most interesting to me about this is that Neville’s derogatory phrase “M2C citation cartel”* appeared in 25% of the reconstructed sentences. This shows, I believe, how often he uses this epithet to describe those who disagree with him about Book of Mormon geography.

Neville is unwilling or unable to grant that honest, intelligent people, acting in good faith, can come to different conclusions than he can over the location of Cumorah and the nature of the statements of prophets and apostles who have spoken about it. Because “the other side,” as he sees it, is fundamentally dishonest, they must be purposely misleading the Brethren and members of the Church. Hence, virtually every one of his blog posts implies that there is a vast conspiracy at all levels of the Church.

As someone who reads his posts daily, I’ve long since grown weary of it. Perhaps one day someone will convince him to stop it. One can only hope.


Here’s how my friend described his computer script:
One common way to make text-prediction software (like the word suggestions you see when you’re typing on your smartphone) is to gather a large amount of text from a user—text messages, Facebook posts, literally anything they type—and pay attention to which words typically go together. If user input data shows that they type “Trump” 80% of the time after typing the word “president” and they type “Nelson” the other 20%, then you can write code that will randomly predict either “Nelson” or “Trump” after the word "President" using those percentages rather than making it an even coin flip. This is called Markov Chain modeling.

I copied and pasted all of Neville’s blog posts [from bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com] for the last six months into a text document and had a Markov Chain program in Python compute transition probabilities for every word and make a model. Then I had it generate random sentences based on that model.
My thanks to him for providing me with his results!

—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, June 5, 2019

Jonathan Neville’s damnable lies

The title of this post is rather strong, but I believe it’s appropriate.

You see, Jonathan Neville’s primary method of operation is to try to frame the debate in such a way that it appears that he and his Heartlander compatriots are a righteous, persecuted minority struggling against an evil, entrenched opposition who “censors” Heartlander views. In other words, Neville teaches that there is a vast conspiracy, operating at all levels of the Church, to suppress what he considers to be “the teachings of the prophets” on the New York location of the hill Cumorah. He does this in an attempt to gain followers and build sympathy for his cause.

His tactic is thoroughly reprehensible. It is, in fact, a lie—a damnable one.

(Those who have read the Book of Mormon know what it has to say about lies and those who repeat them. See here, here, and here, for example.)

Some of the clearest examples of these lies come from Neville’s brief blog post, ironically titled “Diamond truth from Joseph Smith” (June 5, 2019). The first lie is:
Our M2C* intellectuals, including the employees of Book of Mormon Central, portray Joseph Smith and the other prophets as confused speculators who misled the Church by teaching that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York.
There are actually two lies here:

The first is that those who teach a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon “portray Joseph Smith and the other prophets as confused speculators.” No one who argues for a Mesoamerican Cumorah teaches anything of the sort. Joseph Smith and other prophets who have claimed that the New York hill is the hill Cumorah were not “confused”—they read the Book of Mormon and assumed, intelligently and in good faith, that the hill where Joseph received the gold plates was the same hill described in Mormon 6:6. That’s an easy assumption to make. That the hill doesn’t fit the descriptions left by Mormon and Moroni is something that they simply didn’t consider and that later readers would point out. This doesn’t make them “confused,” though.

The second lie is that those who teach a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon believe Joseph and other prophets have “misled the Church.” Misleading the Church is a loaded phrase that does not come close to accurately representing what Mesoamericanists believe. To mislead the Church, a prophet or other Church leader would have to be teach something that led members away from salvation and exaltation instead of closer to it.

For example, it would be “misleading the Church” for a leader to teach that temple ordinances are no longer necessary for exaltation (unless, of course, the Lord had given a revelation stating so to the prophet that was sustained by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve). Such a teaching would jeopardize the exaltation of the Latter-day Saints. It would lead them away from exaltation, not toward it.

A counter-example: It would not be “misleading the Church” for a leader to teach that two men or two women in a homosexual marriage were in apostasy. That very teaching was, in fact, implemented by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve in late 2015…and then later rescinded in early 2019. Upon further reflection, the Brethren decided that the policy was not in the best interests of the Church and its members. Were they “misleading the Church” for those three and half years? Of course not—most Church members were not personally affected by the policy, and the few who were can have any action taken against them during that period reversed.

Knowing the true location of the hill Cumorah has no bearing whatsoever on anyone’s salvation or exaltation. Those who believe it is the hill in New York are equally likely to be saved and exalted as those who believe it is in Mesoamerica. Therefore, a prophet or apostle who has taught—by way of testimony or because it’s a common belief—that the New York hill is the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon cannot be “misleading the Church” if they are wrong about this.

No prophet or apostle could be classified as a “confused speculator” who “misled the Church” about the hill Cumorah. Jonathan Neville’s claim is false—it is a lie, whether he believes it or not.

Neville’s second lie is:
[“M2C intellectuals”] say Joseph changed his mind about the Hill Cumorah when he read a popular Mesoamerican travel book in 1841, even though he specifically linked it to New York in 1842 (D&C 128:20).
No Mesoamerican Book of Mormon believer thinks that Joseph Smith “changed his mind about [the location of] the hill Cumorah” after reading John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood’s Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Joseph clearly believed that the hill Cumorah was in New York. What he did perhaps change his mind about was the location of the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla (as indicated in the anonymous Times and Seasons article from October 1, 1842, that Joseph either wrote, helped write, or approved of as editor of the paper).

Joseph Smith’s view of Book of Mormon geography was, like all other early Latter-day Saints’, a hemispheric view: South America was the “land southward,” North America was the “land northward,” and Central America was the “narrow neck of land.” After reading Stephens and Catherwood, he may have shifted his view of the Nephite core northward to Mesoamerica, but all available evidence indicates that he still believed the action described in the Book of Mormon took place on a continent-wide scale and that the final battles between the Nephites and the Lamanites were fought in western New York.

It’s important to note the Heartlanders like Jonathan Neville disagree with the Prophet Joseph Smith about Book of Mormon geography. They assert that the entire Book of Mormon took place in what is now the eastern half of the United States (with Jaredite lands being in southern Canada), while Joseph believed it took place across North and South America.

Returning to the main point, Neville’s claim that Mesoamericanists believe “Joseph changed his mind about [location of the] the Hill Cumorah” is false—it is a lie, whether he believes it or not.

Neville’s third lie is:
[“M2C intellectuals”] say Joseph made errors in the Wentworth letter that were so serious (because they contradicted M2C), that they had to censor that part of the letter in the chapter on the Wentworth letter in the Joseph Smith manual.
Neville provided no evidence for any of the claims he made above, and he didn’t provide any for this one. I know of no believer in a Mesoamerican location for the Book of Mormon who has stated that “Joseph made errors in the Wentworth letter” that required the Church’s curriculum writers to “censor” the parts of the letter that mention the Book of Mormon.

Jonathan Neville has literally made this claim up from his own imagination. Remember, he believes in a a vast conspiracy that operates at all levels of the Church, so it stands to reason that he would invent such a wild-eyed theory. However, his claim is false—it is a lie, whether he believes it or not.

It’s both disappointing and frustrating to me that Jonathan Neville apparently feels compelled to lie about those with whom he disagrees, especially considering that the the location of the hill Cumorah is an inconsequential argument when it comes to salvation and exaltation. I truly hope that, someday soon, he makes an assessment of his behavior and the claims he makes almost daily on his blog(s) and decides to act more honestly.

—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, June 4, 2019

A hobby key vs. a full keyboard

In October 1971 general conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer—who had been sustained as an apostle only one year earlier—gave a talk in which he addressed a worrisome proclivity seen in many churches of Christianity. He said:
The gospel might be likened to the keyboard of a piano—a full keyboard with a selection of keys on which one who is trained can play a variety without limits; a ballad to express love, a march to rally, a melody to soothe, and a hymn to inspire; an endless variety to suit every mood and satisfy every need.…
Worn piano keys

How shortsighted it is, then, to choose a single key and endlessly tap out the monotony of a single note, or even two or three notes, when the full keyboard of limitless harmony can be played.…

For instance, one taps on the key of faith healing, to the neglect of many principles that would bring greater strength than faith healing itself. Another taps on an obscure key relating to the observance of the Sabbath—a key that would sound different indeed, played in harmony with the essential notes on the keyboard. A key used like that can get completely out of tune. Another repeats endlessly the key that relates to the mode of baptism and taps one or two other keys as though there were not a full keyboard. And again, the very key he uses, essential as it is, just doesn’t sound complete when played alone to the neglect of the others.
In June 1992, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Twelve gave a devotional address at Brigham Young University in which he quoted Elder Packer and applied his metaphor of the piano to some members of the Church:
In a memorable message given at the 1971 October conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer likened the fulness of the gospel to a piano keyboard. He reminded us that a person could be “attracted by a single key,” such as a doctrine they want to hear “played over and over again”.…

We could say of such persons, as the Lord said of the members of the Shaker sect in a revelation given in 1831, “Behold, I say unto you, that they desire to know the truth in part, but not all” (D&C 49:2). And so, I say, beware of a hobby key.
Later in his address, Elder Oaks commented:
A desire to follow a prophet is surely a great and appropriate strength, but even this has its potentially dangerous manifestations. I have heard of more than one group who are so intent on following the words of a dead prophet that they have rejected the teachings and counsel of the living ones.…

Following the prophet is a great strength, but it needs to be consistent and current lest it lead to the spiritual downfall that comes from rejecting continuous revelation. Under that principle, the most important difference between dead prophets and living ones is that those who are dead are not here to receive and declare the Lord’s latest words to his people. If they were, there would be no differences among the messages of the prophets.
Sadly, the counsel of Elders Packer and Oaks seems lost on Jonathan Neville. For at least five years he has blogged almost daily about a single subject—the location of the hill Cumorah in western New York. In nearly every blog post he insists that it is the “teachings of the prophets and the apostles”—he uses the plural teachings to describe a single teaching that he exalts, by his writings, above all others. Those who do not agree with him on this singular point are, he insists, leading the leaders, members, and youth of the Church astray; they are “rejecting the prophets.”

Certainly there must be other prophetic teachings—ones that are backed by actual revelation that has been presented to the saints—that are more important than this one specific issue about which Brother Neville is clearly obsessed. He claims that he doesn’t “spend a lot of time” on Book of Mormon geography, but his written record clearly says otherwise.

Let’s hope that he can find something else of worth to focus on. Soon.

—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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