Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Cumorah and the Bicentennial Proclamation to the World

This weekend’s 190th Annual General Conference of the Church was deeply moving and inspirational. My family and I watched all five sessions, and we rejoiced in the knowledge that we have a living prophet whom the Lord has sustained well into his ninth decade so that He might carry out His divine purposes. The announcement of temples to be constructed in Dubai and Shanghai was especially amazing; the restored gospel is truly going forth across the world!

That makes writing this blog post more difficult, because I don’t want to detract from the spiritual “high” that I—and I’m sure many of you—are still riding. But there’s an important point to be made, and I must make it. The point is this:

At the Sunday morning session of the conference, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a proclamation to the world. The Church’s website explains:
Titled “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World,” this document outlines core Latter-day Saint beliefs. These include the supremacy of Jesus Christ in salvation, the divinity of Joseph Smith’s revelations and the Book of Mormon, the unique mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the ongoing nature of the Restoration that began with Joseph Smith’s First Vision of Deity in 1820. The proclamation invites people everywhere to know for themselves that God speaks and that this Restoration of truth is occurring to help them prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
For years now, Jonathan Neville has been publishing in print and online his argument that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is the same hill in western New York where Moroni buried the gold plates and Joseph Smith unearthed them. This is a core doctrine for him—the only one, he asserts, that aligns with “the teachings of the prophets.”

On the day before this April’s General Conference began, Neville even published a blog post with his thoughts on how the Church should “retool the missionary program” in a way that “happens to corroborate the prophets” instead of “repudiat[ing] the prophets.” (The latter is, by implication, what he believes the current missionary program does.) He believes that his approach will “generate more interest and bring more people to Christ” by affirming as “a definite fact that Cumorah, the scene of the final battles, was in New York.”

This doctrine is of vital importance to Jonathan Neville and to his fellow travelers in the Heartland movement, including Rod Meldrum, Wayne May, Rian Johnson, and David Hocking. It is the basis behind everything they publish, everything they offer for sale, and every conference they hold. One of Rod Meldrum’s series of video lectures is titled “Joseph Knew,” meaning that Joseph Smith knew, by revelation, that the Book of Mormon took place within the boundaries of the modern United States.

In their proclamation to the world, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had a singular opportunity to affirm that what Jonathan Neville and his associates teach is true. So how did they describe the role of the Book of Mormon in the restoration of the gospel?
The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
We further witness that Joseph Smith was given the gift and power of God to translate an ancient record: the Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Pages of this sacred text include an account of the personal ministry of Jesus Christ among people in the Western Hemisphere soon after His Resurrection. It teaches of life’s purpose and explains the doctrine of Christ, which is central to that purpose. As a companion scripture to the Bible, the Book of Mormon testifies that all human beings are sons and daughters of a loving Father in Heaven, that He has a divine plan for our lives, and that His Son, Jesus Christ, speaks today as well as in days of old.
Jonathan Neville and other Heartlanders had an opportunity to have living prophets and apostles back up their assertions. And yet they got nothing—the word Cumorah isn’t even mentioned in the proclamation, and, instead of affirming that the people of the Book of Mormon lived in the area of the United States, the First Presidency and the Twelve simply stated that they lived “in the Western Hemisphere.”

Neville may be asking himself, “Why don’t the living prophets and apostles declare the teachings of the prophets and the apostles?”

Perhaps he has his own way of resolving his cognitive dissonance on this matter. Perhaps his resolution even explains how the living prophet, Russell M. Nelson, can publicly teach the saints that the peoples of the Book of Mormon lived in Central and South America, and how Jesus ministered to the people of South America. Perhaps his resolution also explains how living apostles, including President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Quentin L. Cook, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson can publicly teach that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon (something Neville emphatically rejects).

This historic conference is a unique opportunity for Jonathan Neville, Rod Meldrum, and their compatriots to reassess their beliefs in the light of the bicentennial proclamation and the public teachings of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. It’s not too late for them to align themselves with the teachings of the prophets and the apostles.

—Peter Pan

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Jonathan Neville’s woven, tangled web

In preparation for a historic General Conference, Jonathan Neville has begun setting forth his criticisms of “the M2C* triumvirate,” which is what he collectively calls John L. Sorenson, John W. Welch, and Kirk Magleby. His most recent post is a long, rambling word salad–slash–Neville Mad Libs that repeats most of his stock claims that have been repeatedly falsified on this humble blog (and somehow also manages to drag sexual purity, of all things, into the conversation).

The first of two brief examples of his prevarication is in this statement:
A key point: facts don’t matter. If you have ever tried to persuade people to change their minds by presenting facts, you know it doesn’t work. That’s why we are not trying to persuade anyone of anything. We seek only to help people discover “good information” and detect “bad information” so they can make their own informed decisions.

People believe they have their own facts that are better than yours. If they realize their facts fall short, they change the subject. Hundreds of thousands of LDS missionaries have experienced this directly.

That’s why the critical dynamic is your starting point. Whatever your initial premise, you can find facts that support it. If you support the prophets, you find facts that corroborate their teachings. If you disregard the prophets in favor of scholars, you find facts that corroborate the scholarly theories.

It’s really that simple.
His claims about one’s “starting point” have some merit, but he’s apparently unable to see that this applies as much to him and his Heartlander comrades as it does those who disagree with them. No matter the number of times critics of the Heartland movement have pointed out its broken geography, its reliance on discredited and fraudulent artifacts, and its canonization of the personal writings and theories of Church leaders, they simply “stop their ears, that they should not hear.”

Worse than this, though, is Neville’s continual and continuous repetition of the same blatant lie that those who believe that the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is not the same hill as the one in New York are “disregarding the prophets in favor of scholars.”

For the umpteenth time, Brother Neville: There is no revealed location of the hill Cumorah. Your claim that you and other Heartlanders “support the prophets” rings hollow because you support certain statements made by certain prophets, and you disregard the teachings of other Church leaders, including certain living prophets.

Neville continues in this vein later in the same blog post:
[Book of Mormon Central] is managed by the founders of FARMS. They convinced themselves decades ago that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah and that M2C is the only viable explanation for the Book of Mormon.
Once again, this is a bald-faced lie. Based on my decades-long reading of their works, no one associated with FARMS (which Neville furthermore falsely claims was “abolished in 2010”) nor with Book of Mormon Central believes that “the prophets were wrong” about anything. They do, however, agree with living prophets—namely, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—who have urged “members not to advocate those personal theories ” concerning “Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken…in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories.”

That prophetic counsel is something that Neville and his Heartlander comrades stubbornly refuse to abide by. Neville continues to insist that the Heartland view is the only one that “supports the teachings of the prophets.”

In his same blog post, Neville also continues to call the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography “anonymous.” He does this because it suits his need to downplay its authoritative nature as an official statement by the Brethren. And yet it contains explicit instructions from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which demonstrates their involvement in the writing and posting of that very essay. So much for “supporting the prophets.”

And so, Jonathan Neville’s poisonous rhetoric continues to divide and accuse, while he blithely dismisses any concerns and insists that he’s just “presenting facts” and “not trying to persuade anyone of anything.”

I trust that informed, alert Latter-day Saints can see through his bombastic smokescreen.

—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.
O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive

Monday, March 30, 2020

Jonathan Neville won’t like the April 2020 issue of the New Era

Cover of the April 2020 issue of the New Era magazine published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Jonathan Neville insists that the Ensign, the New Era, and other magazines published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not represent the views of Church leaders, but rather the views of Church employees. He calls these views “the new narrative.”

If one is to accept Neville’s theory, one must believe that (a) Church employees are deliberately trying to undermine the “teachings of the prophets,” and (b) Church leaders know what the “teachings of the prophets” are but either don’t read Church magazines or don’t care enough to correct the (supposed) errors published within their pages.

Read that last paragraph again. Do you see how nonsensical Neville’s claim is?

The April 2020 issue of the New Era—“the monthly youth magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”—contains two articles that directly contradict Jonathan Neville’s claims about structure of the gold plates translated by Joseph Smith and how Joseph translated those plates.

The Plates within the Plates article from the April 2020 issue of the New Era magazine published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints The first article, “The Plates within the Plates,” (pp. 34–35), is a diagram and explanation of the structure of the plates of Mormon that Joseph Smith translated.

The diagram shows the small plates of Nephi as part of a single set of plates compiled by the prophet Mormon. The accompanying text explains:
Amaleki was the last person to write on the small plates of Nephi. He then passed them on to King Benjamin (see Omni 1:25), who put them with the large plates (see Words of Mormon 1:10).…

[In the Words of Mormon] Mormon added a note connecting the small plates of Nephi with Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi. He explained his decision to add the small plates and explained the historical gap between the small plates and the abridged large plates.
So, according to the Church’s official magazine for youth, Mormon added the small plates of Nephi to his own plates of Mormon to create one unified set of plates. This directly contradicts Neville’s assertion that “Joseph actually translated two separate sets of plates.”

How Did Joseph Smith Translate the Book of Mormon? article from the April 2020 issue of the New Era magazine published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints The second article, “How did Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon?” (p. 45), includes this description of Joseph’s method of translation:
Joseph Smith dictated the words of the translation to scribes, mostly Oliver Cowdery. Because Joseph was translating a completely unknown language, he needed to rely on the Lord. One way the Lord helped was to provide physical instruments to aid Joseph in translating. Witnesses said Joseph looked into the instruments and that words appeared to him in English. The translation instruments included the “interpreters” or “Urim and Thummim”—two clear stones fastened in a metal rim so that Joseph could look through them. These had been given to Joseph along with the plates. Another instrument Joseph used was a “seer stone” that he would look into, often by placing it in a hat. Joseph had found this stone earlier and had used it to find hidden or lost things. He used both the interpreters and the seer stone as he translated, always relying on the inspiration of heaven.
The article then recommends readers look up the Gospel Topics Essay about “Book of Mormon Translation” on the Church’s website.

So, according to the Church’s official magazine for youth, Joseph Smith used the Nephite interpreters and a seer stone that he placed into a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. This directly contradicts Neville’s assertion that the many eyewitness accounts of Joseph translating with a seer stone were untrue, because “Joseph merely demonstrated the process [of translation] to satisfy their curiosity.” (Neville has recently begun calling the Church’s version of the translation process the SITH theory—“stone in the hat.”)

Once more we see Jonathan Neville’s version of events conflicting with the teachings published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Neville is continuing to lead his unsuspecting followers away from the Church and replacing the Church’s teachings with his own, because he supposedly knows better than duplicitous Church employees and oblivious Church leaders.

I trust that everyone reading this understands the dangers inherent in Neville’s actions.

—Peter Pan

Thursday, March 19, 2020

All quiet on the Heartland front

It’s been unusually quiet around these parts lately. This is partly because Jonathan Neville hasn’t posted anything of note for several weeks, and also because (of course) of the sudden change in the lives of most people because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ll return with new commentary on the spread of the Heartland virus once there’s something to comment on. In the meantime, everyone stay safe and stay healthy!

The Heartland theory of the Book of Mormon is like a virus

Saturday, February 29, 2020

When Heartlanders are unintentionally hilarious

Jonathan Neville is, apparently, still on an extended trip through southeast Asia and Oceania, so he hasn’t posted much for me to blog about recently. Here are a few things I discovered this week that I thought were quite funny, albeit unintentionally so.

First, Rodney Meldrum, the de facto leader of the “Heartland” Book of Mormon movement, has a regular video podcast where he and one or more guests discuss the current Come, Follow Me lessons. In the podcast posted February 27, 2020, he discussed 2 Nephi 26–30 with noted Heartland authors James and Hannah Stoddard (who, like Neville, are opponents of the historical claims that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon).

Meldrum’s opening comments demonstrate the caliber of thought (or lack thereof) that he and his guests bring to the discussion of the Book of Mormon. (My transcript is from the original audio. For clarity and brevity, I’ve cut out Meldrum’s many ums and uhs, you knows, and repeated words.)
This is 2 Nephi chapters 31 through 33. Kind of give just a quick overview of where we’re at, again: So, basically, a lot of things have happened through, the family has gone through the desert and so forth; they’re now here in America. Basically, we have—Nephi has gone through the tree of life and gone through all of that information, and this is kind of like some of his closing words here. They are his closing words. These were not in the main set of plates that were in the stone box; these are part of the small plates of Nephi, so this is where we’re getting this pure material right from Nephi, and, it’s not even being filtered through Mormon and Moroni, at this point in time. So, I love this. This is—this is kind of, if you want to say, his, opus…um…what do you call it? What do you call that? Opus…grandiosis or whatever? [laughs] His magnum opus! That’s what it is! A magnum opus!
Now, heaven knows that I’ve had what I like to call “brain farts” like this myself. Most people, in fact, have had this happen. And Meldrum laughed at himself and the Stoddards also laughed with him. Fine. But what’s most interesting is how both James and Hannah Stoddard just sat there as Meldrum struggled for the word, James with a look of confusion on his face and Hannah with doe-eyed vacancy.
Rodney Meldrum, Hannah Stoddard, James Stoddard
The takeaway from this is, if you’re going to lead a talk or podcast with something profound, prepare what you’re going to say in advance so you don’t look like an idiot.

The second amusing thing is what Meldrum said immediately after that:
So this is basically where [Nephi]’s just kind of laying it all out at the end of his book. So, to begin with, he basically says, “I, Nephi.” Again, he’s doing this introduction, kind of like Native Americans do, they—talking about, making sure we know who it is who’s talking.

Now, I’ve been accused by many people of using insensitive stereotypes of Native Americans. I mean, the song “What Made the Red Man Red” was not one of the more culturally enlightened moments of my career, I’ll admit.
But Meldrum actually believes the 1950s movie stereotype of the American Indian who introduces himself as “I, Tonto” (or whatever) was (a) a real thing and (b) handed down from Book of Mormon peoples.

I don’t know whether to laugh or just stand here with my jaw hanging open. This is the supposed “scholarship” of the “Heartland” movement.

Finally, perhaps the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time came from a blog post that Neville published on February 28, 2020:
I embrace improvements and corrections; I’m thrilled when someone finds an error in what I’ve written so I can correct it. I’m continually updating my books and other materials based on reader feedback.
Now that is truly hilarious!

For over a year Captain Hook and I have, on this blog, demonstrated many, many errors and absurdities in Jonathan Neville’s writings. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t corrected a single erroneous thing he’s written that we’ve pointed out.

If he’s going to lie, I’m at least grateful that he decided to do it in such a bald-faced and openly obvious way.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Jonathan Neville, the Church, and the dark side of the Force

Jonathan Neville is now using the acronym SITH to refer to the eyewitness accounts of the “stone in the hat” translation of the Book of Mormon.

“Sith,” for the non-nerds in my readership, is a Star Wars reference. The Sith were “an ancient religious order of Force-wielders devoted to the dark side of the Force. Driven by their emotions, including hate, anger, and greed, the Sith were deceptive and obsessed with gaining power no matter the cost.”

Real subtle, there, Brother Neville.

This is, of course, just a part of Neville’s bizarre view that there’s a massive conspiracy operating in the Church to suppress the teaching that Joseph Smith only used the Nephite interpreters (or “Urim and Thummim”) to translate the Book of Mormon. If Neville’s statements are taken at face value, this conspiracy includes teachers at BYU and Church historians, the general authority in charge of the Church History Department, and even President Russell M. Nelson himself.

This supposed conspiracy now runs so deep that Neville believes it’s affecting the public teachings of Church leaders to the members of the Church:
Since 2007, the testimony of Joseph [Smith] and Oliver [Cowdery] about the Urim and Thummim has never been reaffirmed in General Conference.
And so, according to Jonathan Neville, the Church continues its long spiral in apostasy from the truth (as he believes it).

When are you going to declare yourself a prophet and lead your righteous “wheat” out of the “tares” that have infested the Church, Brother Neville?

—Peter Pan

Darth Vader choking Book of Mormon Heartland

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

FIRM Foundation accuses the Church of deceiving the elect

The Foundation for Indigenous Research and Mormonism Foundation (or “FIRM Foundation”) was formed by Rodney Meldum in 2008. It is the leading organization in the “Heartland” Book of Mormon movement.

Jonathan Neville is a frequent contributor to the FIRM Foundation’s website and frequent speaker at their conferences. He’s also collaborated with Rod Meldrum on Heartland publications, including their Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon. Neville isn’t responsible for things done by the FIRM Foundation, but he is an important individual within that circle.

On February 17, 2020, the FIRM Foundation posted the following on their Facebook page:
FIRM Foundation Facebook post from February 17, 2020
(Note: The date of Ezra Taft Benson’s BYU address was October 25, 1966, not 1996.)

Here we see yet another example of Heartlanders accusing the Church and its leaders of being fallen or in apostasy and needing correction. According to Rodney Meldrum’s FIRM Foundation, the Church today is teaching “things that do not square with the truth” because the devil is “trying to deceive the very elect.” That, according to them, is why Church publications include statements about Joseph Smith engaging in supposedly “occultic” practices like using seer stones. The Heartlanders are, of course, “the wheat,” while everyone else who believes these supposedly false teachings—including President Russell M. Nelson himself—are “the tares.”

This has been a significant step taken by all apostate groups before they split from the main body of the Church: Accuse its leaders of being “out of the way” and not teaching true principles. The leaders and followers of such groups, of course, believe that they are teaching the truth and that the leaders of the Church need to come into alignment with them.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles condemned such talk in an address he gave in October 2006 General Conference:
Over the years some sources have suggested that the Brethren are out of touch in their declarations, that they don’t know the issues, that some of their policies and practices are out-of-date, not relevant to our times.

As the least of those who have been sustained by you to witness the guidance of this Church firsthand, I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth. I bear personal witness of how thoroughly good they are, of how hard they work, and how humbly they live. It is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world, and it shines from these proceedings.
And, in a revelation given to Joseph Smith while he was imprisoned in Liberty Jail, the Lord warned:
Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them. But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves.

And those who swear falsely against my servants, that they might bring them into bondage and death—wo unto them; because they have offended my little ones they shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house. Their basket shall not be full, their houses and their barns shall perish, and they themselves shall be despised by those that flattered them. They shall not have right to the priesthood, nor their posterity after them from generation to generation. It had been better for them that a millstone had been hanged about their necks, and they drowned in the depth of the sea.

(D&C 121:16–23)
—Peter Pan

Monday, February 17, 2020

Jonathan Neville and the uses of propaganda

Jonathan Neville recently visited the “Hanoi Hilton”—the infamous Vietnamese prison where over six hundred American prisoners of war were tortured and brutalized. Prisoners there were subjected to rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement. They were forced to give coerced public statements of their guilt.

During his visit, Neville thought of the prison as an allegory for the Heartland theory of the Book of Mormon. (Isn’t everything?) His takeaway after touring the museum and being fed Vietnamese propaganda about what happened there: “The Hanoi Hilton is a dramatic example of how the same sets of facts can lead to different conclusions.”

Lt. Commander John McCain meeting President Richard Nixon in 1973 after five-and-a-half years of near-daily torture that left McCain permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head. During his time as a POW, McCain learned that “the same sets of facts can lead to different conclusions.”
Neville himself is well acquainted with propaganda and misinformation. He has continually misrepresented the views of those who argue that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica (a theory he calls “M2C”*). In his Hanoi Hilton blog post, he repeated these falsehoods:
We each think our beliefs are “correct.” Otherwise, we’d change them to adopt another belief.

This is why, IMO, it is so foolish for Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, the [sic] Interpreter, and the other M2C advocates to insist that only M2C is a valid option for believers.

I’m still hopeful that the day will come when they will adopt the Church’s policy of neutrality and embrace, or at least accommodate, the beliefs of those members of the Church who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

Maybe they’ll even accommodate the beliefs of those members of the Church who still believe Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon…

Based on my years of experience with the LDS M2C intellectuals, I doubt they will ever embrace neutrality, let alone change their minds.
There are at least three false statements in those five sentences:

  1. None of the organizations Neville lists “insist[s] that only [a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon] is a valid option for believers.” I defy Neville to produce a quote from Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, or Interpreter that says that or anything like that. Of course, many of the people involved with those organizations believe the strongest archaeological and scriptural evidence points to Mesoamerica, but none of them believes that’s the “only valid option for believers.”
  2. Neville continues to imply, wrongly, that “the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah” are based on revelation instead of common interpretation. Neville has collected and published a significant number of statements from Church leaders that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is the same hill in western New York state, but he has yet to produce a single statement that that belief is based on revelation.
  3. Neville has repeatedly claimed that believers in “M2C” don’t “embrace neutrality” about the location of the Book of Mormon, which he claims that the Church’s Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon geography does. His claims are false in several respects: [a] Mesoamerican theorists don’t insist that Mesoamerica is the only “valid option for believers” (see #1, above). [b] Neither the Gospel Topics essay nor any other statement from Church leaders has claimed that the Church is “neutral” on Book of Mormon geography. [c] If anyone has refused to “embrace neutrality” on Book of Mormon geography, it’s Heartlanders like Jonathan Neville who insist that claiming the Book of Mormon took place anywhere but in western New York is “repudiating the teachings of the prophets.” Neville is guilty of doing exactly what he continually accuses his opponents of doing.

It appears that Jonathan Neville is incapable of discerning opinion from fact. His trip to the Vietnamese museum and the lessons he learned from it are one example of this. His insistence on repeatedly making claims that are not true—even after being repeatedly corrected on this blog and by others—is another.

—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, February 12, 2020

Joseph Knight Sr., witness to the translation of the Book of Mormon

Jonathan Neville rejects the eyewitness accounts of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon via a seer stone or Urim and Thummim in a hat. His belief runs counter to that of virtually every Church historian, Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. (the general authority Seventy who heads the Church History Department), and President Russell M. Nelson, as well as to statements made in the Ensign (the Church’s official magazine for English-speaking adults).

Neville claims that
William E. McLellin [taught that] Joseph [Smith] didn’t translate the plates; he just read words that appeared on a peep stone in a hat. This was also taught by David Whitmer and others who left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with revisionist Church historians, the Saints book, the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation, Anthony Sweat’s artwork, etc.
(Apparently, President Nelson is a “revisionist Church historian.” Who knew?)

One important eyewitness who claimed Joseph Smith used a hat to translate the Book of Mormon—one who didn’t leave the Church—was Joseph Knight Sr.

Brother Knight was a resident of Colesville, New York, who hired Joseph Smith as a laborer in 1826. Joseph Smith told the Knight family about the visit of Moroni and the promise that he would receive the gold plates. The Knights became some of Joseph Smith’s strongest early supporters. Joseph Knight was present at the Smith family farm when Joseph Smith retrieved the plates in September 1827, and he supplied the Prophet Joseph with money, paper, and provisions during the translation of the Book of Mormon. Knight was baptized in June 1830, and he and his family moved with the Saints from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, then to Nauvoo. In February 1847, he died in full faith and fellowship in Iowa while making the trek west under Brigham Young.

Reflecting on his faithful friends and brethren, Joseph Smith dictated for his journal on August 23, 1842:
While I contemplate the virtues and the good qualifications and characterestics [sic] of the faithful few…of such as have stood by me in every hour of peril, for these fifteen long years past; say for instance; my aged and beloved brother Joseph Knights Senr, who was among the number of the first to administer to my necessities, while I was laboring, in the commencement of the bringing forth of the work of the Lord, and of laying the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: for fifteen years has he been faithful and true, and even handed, and exemplary and virtuous, and kind; never deviating to the right hand nor to the left. Behold he is a righteous man. May God Almighty lengthen out the old mans days; and may his trembling, tortured and broken body be renewed, and the vigor of health turn upon him; if it can be thy will, consistently, O God; and it shall be said of him by the sons of Zion, while there is one of them remaining; that this man, was a faithful man in Israel; therefore his name shall never be forgotten.
Joseph Knight Sr. was always faithful to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Prophet loved him with his whole soul.

So it’s not a light or trivial fact that, when he went to write his personal history, Joseph Knight Sr. testified that Joseph Smith used seer stones and his hat to translate the Book of Mormon.

Knight’s history is kept in the Church Archives. It’s a brief document—only five pages—written in his own hand on 8-by-10-inch sheets of paper. The date of the document is uncertain, but it was composed sometime after Knight departed Jackson County, Missouri, in November 1833 (and, of course, before his death in 1847).

In his history, Brother Knight wrote of how Joseph Smith translated the plates of the Book of Mormon:
Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkned his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would appe[a]r in Brite Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it. Then that would go away the next sentance would Come and so on. But if it was not Spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite, so we see it was marvelous. Thus was the [w]hol[e] translated.
Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17/1 (Fall 1976): 35; original spelling and punctuation retained.

Joseph Knight Sr.
Notice how closely Joseph Knight’s testimony matches the testimony given by David Whitmer in 1887 (which Jonathan Neville completely rejects):
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.
David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (1887); cited in Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., “The Translation of the Book of Mormon: A Marvel and a Wonder,” Ensign, January 2020, 40.
Brother Knight wrote his testimony long before David Whitmer or any other eyewitness to the stone-in-the-hat method wrote theirs. There’s no way Knight could have been influenced by Whitmer, Martin Harris, Emma Smith, or any other witness who affirmed that Joseph Smith translated by using a stone in a hat.

Joseph Knight’s testimony is strong evidence that Jonathan Neville is desperately grasping at straws when he claims that the only people who believe Joseph Smith translated by using a stone in a hat were “David Whitmer and others who left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with revisionist Church historians.” Rather, it is Neville who is the revisionist.

—Peter Pan

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, witness to the translation of the Book of Mormon

Jonathan Neville rejects David Whitmer’s eyewitness testimony of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon by means of a seer stone Joseph placed into a hat. Neville believes that Whitmer’s belief that Joseph was a fallen prophet somehow discredits Whitmer’s firsthand witness of the translation process. He claims—without any evidence whatsoever—that “David Whitmer was relating his experience with a demonstration that Joseph conducted.”

But David Whitmer wasn’t the only witness to the Book of Mormon translation by means of a seer stone. I’ve previously mentioned the testimonies of Martin Harris and Emma Smith that affirm Whitmer’s. And there are others as well.

Another witness who left her testimony was Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, David’s sister and wife of Oliver Cowdery. (She married Oliver in December 1832 and was widowed at his death in March 1850.) Elizabeth lived in the Whitmer home at Fayette, New York, when Joseph and Oliver were completing the translation of the Book of Mormon in June 1829. She witnessed the translation process.

In early 1870, William McLellin visited Sister Cowdery at her home in Richmond, Missouri. She gave him a certificate with her testimony of what she witnessed at the Whitmer home as a teenager:
Richmond, Ray Co., Mo. Feb 15, 1870⸻I cheerfully certify that I was familiar with the manner of Joseph Smith’s translating the book of Mormon. He translated the most of it at my Father’s house. And I often sat by and saw and heard them translate and write for hours together. Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe while he was translating. He would place the director in his hat, and then place his face in his hat, so as to exclude the light, and then [read the words?] as they appeared before him.
(Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness [Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1991], 233–34; cited in John W. Welch, ed., Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844 [Provo, UT: BYU Press / Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 165.)
Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery
Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery
Notice that Elizabeth clearly stated that she “saw and heard [Joseph and Oliver] translate and write for hours together.” There is no rational way to claim that she only saw Joseph “demonstrating” the method of translation with a seer stone. Neville’s assertion that Joseph only used the stone in a hat as a public display but never actually translated that way is absurd.

Elizabeth’s eyewitness testimony is also significant in another way: Neville asserts that Oliver’s testimony of Joseph using the Nephite interpreters (or “Urim and Thummim”) cannot be reconciled with claims that he translated using a seer stone, that Joseph only used the interpreters, and that those who believe the seer stone accounts think Joseph and Oliver weren’t “telling the truth.” But Elizabeth Ann Whitmer was married to Oliver Cowdery for over seventeen years and affirmed, twenty years after her husband’s death, that the Book of Mormon was translated by the power of God. Clearly she saw no conflict between her late husband’s testimony and what she saw in her family’s home in 1829.

To believe Jonathan Neville’s version of events, one must dismiss every witness of the translation of the Book of Mormon and read Joseph and Oliver’s testimonies only in the most narrow way possible. Such a reading is not only unnecessary, it also shows contemptuous disrespect for those who saw, firsthand, the work of God unfolding at the mouth of Joseph Smith and the pen of Oliver Cowdery.

—Peter Pan

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