Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Friday, July 3, 2020

Neville compares “M2C” to communist brainwashing of POWs

For Jonathan Neville, those who disagree with him about Church history and Book of Mormon geography aren’t just fellow saints with whom he can discuss and debate; they’re are disloyal conspirators who should be attacked and exposed.

Despite all of his continual protestations of how much he “admires and respects” those who don’t share his views, it’s abundantly obvious that he believes they are destroying the Church from within by “poisoning” its members and lying to Church leaders.

He even believes that Church leaders themselves are misleading the saints.

So it doesn’t come as any surprise to see him, in his latest blog post—“Persuasion by small steps” (July 2, 2020)—comparing the teaching of a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geography and a southern Mexico location for the hill Cumorah to the brainwashing techniques Chinese communists used on American prisoners of war during the Korean conflict.
American prisoners of war in a Chinese POW camp in North Korea
American POWs at a Chinese camp near the Yalu River are forced to read the Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon Geography. B&W; 1951. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Neville’s imagination.)
(I should point out that Neville’s research about POWs and psychological torture consists entirely of a string of tweets from some random Twitter feed.)

Jonathan Neville clearly believes that the subjects about which he obsesses are a battleground for the heart and soul of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—this in spite the fact that no revelation has been given on the location of the hill Cumorah and that living prophets and apostles have explicitly urged the saints “not to advocate those personal theories” about Book of Mormon geography “in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories.”

—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.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

President Wilford Woodruff, SITH intellectual

It’s becoming more and more apparent that Jonathan Neville rejects the teachings of the prophets—an accusation he’s repeatedly leveled at Latter-day Saints who disagree with his iconoclastic beliefs.

According to Neville, Joseph Smith never used a seer stone. He claims that “the peep stone story originated with people who sought to destroy Joseph, the Book of Mormon, and the Church,” and that its origins were with the 1834 anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed.

And yet, as I’ve demonstrated on this blog, many leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have publicly taught that Joseph used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, from President George Q. Cannon in 1888, to Elder B. H. Roberts in 1930, to Elder (now President) Russell M. Nelson in 1993, to President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in 2016.
Wilford Woodruff in 1889
To those testimonies above, we can add President Wilford Woodruff’s. In his journal entry for May 19th, 1888, he wrote:
Wilford Woodruff’s journal entry for May 19, 1888
Before leaving [Manti] I consecrated upon the altar [of the temple] the seer stone that Joseph Smith found by revelation some 30 feet under the earth [and] carried by him throughout life.
At the time he wrote this, Wilford Woodruff was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the de facto head of the Church, President John Taylor having died the previous July.

Wilford Woodruff was a close associate of Joseph Smith. He met the Prophet in 1834 after converting to the restored gospel and coming to Kirtland. He was ordained an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve by Joseph on April 26, 1839, and he and his wife Phebe received their endowments from the Prophet in 1844. This short blog post can’t begin to do justice to his sixty-four years of service, nine as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1889–1898).

Here we have incontrovertible evidence that Wilford Woodruff believed Joseph Smith found his seer stone “by revelation” while digging a well, and that the Prophet carried and used that seer stone “through [his] life.”

Surely even Jonathan Neville wouldn’t dare accuse Wilford Woodruff of being a “revisionist historian” who believed that “scholars are more important than prophets” and that Joseph Smith was “an ignorant speculator,” as he written about “M2C* scholars.”

Surely even he wouldn’t accuse Wilford Woodruff of being a critic of the Church, as he has about anyone who has taught that Joseph Smith used a seer stone.

The sad fact is that everything Jonathan Neville believes about Joseph Smith’s possession and use of a seer stone is wholly and completely untrue. And yet he continues to “condemn others” and “find fault with the Church saying that they are out of the way,” as Wilford Woodruff recorded the Prophet Joseph warning the Twelve in 1839 about those who are on “the high road to apostacy.”

When will it end? And will it end with Neville repenting of his false accusations against the Church, its employees, and scholars of Church history? Or will it end with Neville leaving the Church and forming his own splinter movement?

—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 26, 2020

The Church is Big Brother, or something

It’s plainly evident that Jonathan Neville is a conspiracy theorist of the first order. He believes that “Church employees and departments are censoring information at various levels,” and “they are even depriving Church leaders and members of important information and perspectives.”

What’s surprising to me, though, is the levels to which he takes his rhetoric. By his choice of words and use of quotations, he not-so-subtly implies that Church employees are not simply mistaken but are willfully malicious in they way they use their positions to distort the truth.

Here’s just the latest example from Neville’s BookOfMormonCentralAmerica.com blog:
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

— George Orwell

Despite the Gospel Topics Essay on Translation and the Ensign, there is still at least one page on the Church’s [web] site that claims Joseph [Smith] translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim.

https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/joseph-smith-translates-the-gold-plates?lang=eng

Let’s see how long that stays up.
Good heavens. Let’s break this down, shall we?

1. Neville begins with a quote from George Orwell about the suppression and control of history for propaganda purposes.

Orwell is, of course, best-known as author of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, whose protagonist, Winston Smith, lives in a dystopian, totalitarian state where every individual’s actions are closely monitored and the general populace is fed a steady stream of propaganda and lies from a ruling elite.

Neville’s use of that specific quote from that specific author implies that the same thing is going on today at the headquarters of the Lord’s Church: According to him, Church employees are doing their very best to conceal, cover up, and distort the true history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the teachings of its prophets.

Winston Smith revises Church history in the Ministry of Truth, Salt Lake City, Utah. B&W; 1984.
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Neville’s imagination.)
2. Neville next claims, by use of a negative, that the Gospel Topics essay on the translation of the Book of Mormon and the the Ensign (the Church’s official English-language magazine) do not teach that “Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim.”

Now, perhaps Neville was just not being careful with his wording; if so, I invite him to clarify his statement, for, as it now stands, it’s blatantly false.

The Gospel Topics essay most definitely teaches that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon:
Joseph Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon. According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English. One instrument, called in the Book of Mormon the “interpreters,” is better known to Latter-day Saints today as the “Urim and Thummim.” Joseph found the interpreters buried in the hill with the plates. Those who saw the interpreters described them as a clear pair of stones bound together with a metal rim. The Book of Mormon referred to this instrument, together with its breastplate, as a device “kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord” and “handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages.”
And, in an Ensign article from January of this year—an article that Neville heavily criticized—Elder LeGrand Curtis Jr. wrote:
Joseph [Smith] himself did not elaborate about the process of translation, but Oliver [Cowdery], David [Whitmer], and Emma [Smith] provided some additional information. Oliver said: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from [Joseph’s] mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”

The “interpreters” used by Joseph during the translation process included the “two stones in silver bows” that were deposited by Moroni with the plates. In addition to these two seer stones, Joseph used at least one other seer stone that the Lord had provided.
These two articles, along with other resources published by the Church (like here, here, and here), are clear that Joseph used the Nephite interpreters to translate the Book of Mormon.

Why, then, does Jonathan Neville feel the need to lie by implying that there is just “one page on the Church’s site that claims Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim”?

3. The concluding statement of Neville’s introduction—“Let’s see how long that stays up”—again directly implies that Church history is in the process of being changed right before our eyes, and that the “one page” to which he referred could be taken down at any moment because it doesn’t mention Joseph using a seer stone to translate. And so we’re back, once again, to Neville’s grand conspiracy theory.
Why do Jonathan Neville and many other leading figures in the “Heartland” Book of Mormon movement lean so heavily on conspiracy theories? There’s no one reason, but psychologists have pointed to confirmation bias, belief perseverance, and the human desire to be uniquely knowledgeable as factors that motivate conspiracy theorists. Being an outsider and shouting at the masses to “wake up!” brings one a sense of comfort, certainty, and authority.

What Neville and his Heartlander comrades don’t seem to realize, though, is that their continual appeals to conspiracies to boost their own presumed authority can only impair the authority of called, sustained, and ordained leaders of the Church and the publications they oversee and authorize. Ironically, Neville’s actions will cause those who follow him to lose trust in the teachings of the prophets that he claims to uphold.

For that reason (among many others), Jonathan Neville’s theories should be rejected by believing Latter-day Saints.

—Peter Pan

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

Thursday, June 25, 2020

President George Q. Cannon, SITH intellectual

Jonathan Neville asserts that, until recently, only critics of the restored gospel claimed that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon. He calls this historical teaching SITH, an omninous-sounding ancronym for “stone in the hat.”

He considers this teaching “the latest LDS scholarly fad” and believes that “M2C* scholars and revisionist historians love SITH because it plays into their narrative that scholars are more important than prophets; i.e., Joseph [Smith] was an ignorant speculator.”

“Until recent years,” he wrote earlier this year, “it was only the critics of the Church who promoted SITH.”

He’s even established 2007 as the year when the “SITH” narrative supposedly became the standard narrative in Church settings:
From the beginning of the Restoration until 2007, Church leaders and members embraced the narrative that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery repeatedly set forth; i.e., that Joseph Smith translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.

Now, we’re told that Joseph didn’t really use the plates or the Urim and Thummim. Instead, he just read words that appeared on a seer stone that he found in a well long before he got the plates. He would put the seer stone into a hat and read the words out loud to his scribe.
Neville’s assertion flies in the face the facts, though, for Joseph’s use of a seer stone has been taught by Church leaders and published in Church periodicals long before 2007. On this blog, I’ve mentioned Elder Russell M. Nelson (in 1993), Elder B. H. Roberts (in 1930), and numerous nineteenth- and twentieth-century Church periodicals, including The Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star (e.g., vol. 43, no. 27; vol. 44, no. 6; and vol. 48, no. 25) and the Improvement Era (e.g., vol. 42, no. 10) have taught about Joseph’s use of a seer stone. Many private publications by Latter-day Saint leaders and historians have also discussed this historical fact.

But another, even older source from one of the most prominent leaders in Church history has recently come to my attention.

George Q. Cannon
George Q. Cannon was one of the most important general authorities of the Church in its nearly two hundred-year history. The Church Historian’s Press, publishers of the Joseph Smith Papers, tells us that, “Next to Brigham Young, [he] was arguably the best-known Latter-day Saint in the last half of the nineteenth century.”

Born in 1827 in Liverpool, England, Cannon’s family joined the Church in 1840 and immigrated to the United States. After arriving in Nauvoo in early 1843, Cannon lived with his aunt and uncle, Leonora Taylor and apostle John Taylor. He worked for his uncle in the printing office of the Times and Seasons and the Nauvoo Neighbor, where he became acquainted with the Prophet Joseph Smith.

After the Church’s relocation to the West, George Q. Cannon’s Church service included a mission to Hawaii and presiding over the California and Oregon Mission and, after that, the Eastern States Mission. He was called as an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1860 at age 33. He then presided over the Church’s European Mission, where he edited the Millennial Star. Later he became editor of the Deseret News and founded and edited The Juvenile Instructor magazine for young Latter-day Saints.

Cannon served as a counselor in the First Presidency four times: under Brigham Young (1873–1877), John Taylor (1880–1887), Wilford Woodruff (1889–1898), and Lorenzo Snow (1898–1901). He died six months before President Snow; had Cannon outlived Snow, he would have become the sixth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Cannon was truly one of the most faithful, believing, and devoted leaders of the Lord’s Church in its formative years. In 1882, President John Taylor blessed him that he would be “a mighty instrument to accomplish much good for Israel,” and he certainly fulfilled that blessing.

Among the books Cannon himself wrote was The Life of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, published by the Church’s Juvenile Instructor office in 1888 while Cannon was incarcerated at Utah Penitentiary for “unlawful cohabitation” (practicing plural marriage). This 512-page work is among the earliest biographies of Joseph Smith, written by someone who knew the Prophet personally and loved him deeply. It’s considered one of the classic works of Mormon literature, and is still available today through Deseret Book.

Chapter 8 of The Life of Joseph Smith is Cannon’s history of the Prophet Joseph’s first attempt to translate the Book of Mormon, with Martin Harris acting as his scribe. On pages 56–57, Cannon wrote:
The Life of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, by George Q. Cannon, pp. 56–57
One of Joseph’s aids in searching out the truths of the record [i.e., the plates given to him by Moroni] was a peculiar pebble or rock which he called also a seer stone, and which was sometimes used by him in lieu of the Urim and Thummim. This stone had been discovered to himself and his brother Hyrum at the bottom of a well; and under divine guidance they had brought it forth for use in the work of translation. Martin [Harris] determined to deprive the Prophet of this stone. He obtained a rock resembling a seer-stone in shape and color, and slily substituted it for the Prophet’s real medium of translation. When next they were to begin their labor, Joseph was at first silent; and then he exclaimed: “Martin, what is the matter? All is dark.”

Harris with shame confessed what he had attempted. And when the Prophet demanded a reason for such conduct, Martin replied: “I did it to either prove the utterance or stop the mouths of fools who have said to me that you had learned these sentences which you dictate and that you were merely repeating them from memory.”
When Martin Harris took the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Lehi to show them to his family, Cannon wrote,
Because of Joseph’s wearying applications to God, the Urim and Thummim and seer stone were taken from him. (57)
After Martin lost the 116 pages, Cannon explained,
For his disobedient pertinacity in voicing to the Lord the request of Martin Harris Joseph had been deprived of the Urim and Thummim and seer stone; but this was not his only punishment. … The plates themselves were taken from him by the angel of the record. (58)
If one is to believe Jonathan Neville, President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency, one of the greatest leaders of the Church in its nearly two hundred-year history, was a “revisionist historian” who believed that “scholars are more important than prophets” and that Joseph Smith was “an ignorant speculator.” President Cannon was, according to Neville, a “critic of the Church who promoted SITH” and rejected the testimonies of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Clearly none of the statements in the preceding paragraph apply to George Q. Cannon. The sad truth is that it is Jonathan Neville who is ignorant of Church history and doctrine. It is Jonathan Neville who distorts the facts to suit his personal agenda. It is Jonathan Neville who is a critic of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and who is leading misinformed followers along a path that can only land them in apostasy.

Perhaps, one can only hope, Brother Neville will come to realize the false and dangerous path he is on and repent of his errors before it is too late.

—Peter Pan

ADDENDUM: Two additional copies of President Cannon’s book are on Archive.org, one of which was owned by Wilford Woodruff and the other (interestingly) by Joseph Fielding Smith.

* “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 24, 2020

Jonathan Neville and “the high road to apostacy”

Continuing his longstanding practice of criticizing magazines and Gospel Topics essays published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jonathan Neville has unloaded two new blog posts that attack these Church publications for not preaching his heterodox views: “The Restoration and the July 2020 Ensign” (June 23, 2020) and “Review of Gospel Topics Essay on Translation” (June 24, 2020).

This will not be an extensive review of why Neville’s specific criticisms are wrong; rather, I’d simply like to point out the clear marks of his growing apostasy.

road sign to apostasy
Joseph Smith warned the Twelve Apostles in 1839, “That man who rises up to condemn others & finding fault with the Church saying that they are out of the way while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly that that man is in the high road to apostacy & if he does not repent will apostatize as God live[s].” This statement applies at least as much to Jonathan Neville as it has to any other apostate before he or she broke from the Lord’s Church.

In his first blog post, Neville has created yet another table that compares his beliefs with inaccurate and oversimplified versions of the information published by the Church. Neville’s particular beef this time is with the July 2020 issue of the Ensign. He asks his readers:
We are left wondering what to do. Do we share the Ensign with our nonmember friends? Do we tell them the [Ensign’s] narrative in the left column above?

Or do we tell them the [Heartland] narrative in the right column above and encourage them to study the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets?
“We love our Ensign,” he professes, “but sometimes we wonder what’s going on.” The problem, he continues, is the July 2020 issue “discusses Church history in a manner that undermines the faith of many people and impedes missionary work.” Neville provides no evidence that either of his claims are true, of course, other than his usual vague assertion that current Church teachings undermine the historicity of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s status as a prophet (because “M2C”* and “SITH”).

Having examined the July 2020 Ensign and found it wanting, Neville concludes by repeating:
We ask again, do we share the Ensign with our nonmember friends? Do we tell them the narrative in the left column above?

Or do we tell them the narrative in the right column above and encourage them to study the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets?
It’s fairly clear that Neville would answer his rhetorical question by choosing the latter option—as long as people study through the lens of a Heartlander. He’d prefer that people not read the teachings and counsel of modern, living prophets (more on that in a moment) but instead stick with the interpretations of dead prophets that he and his associates make.

In summary, Jonathan Neville is literally suggesting that we steer investigators and interested nonmembers away from official Church publications because they supposedly teach falsehoods.

He begins his second blog post, by quoting—with no apparent sense of irony whatsoever—President Heber J. Grant’s warning, “If you get on a hobby horse it will ride you right out of the Church.”

Neville is, of course, a textbook example of a gospel hobbyist. He is obsessed with rooting out any teaching that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is not the hill as the one in western New York that goes by the same name. He’s recently adopted a second obsession with insisting that Joseph Smith only used the Nephite interpreters to translate the Book of Mormon and never used a seer stone (despite ample evidence of the latter from many eyewitnesses). That he would claim to having successfully “avoid[ed] getting on a hobby horse” is simply staggering.

In addition to comparing the teaching of Church history in the Gospel Topics essays to Soviet-era propaganda and the works of George Orwell—I am not making this up; read for yourself on his blog—Neville tells us:
In my view, [the Lord has said] plenty regarding the translation and historicity of the Book of Mormon, but certain scholars, along with their employees and their followers, have largely rejected those teachings in favor of their own theories.
Neville completely fails to note that it’s not just scholars and Church employees who believe that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with a seer stone, for modern, living prophets, apostles, and other leaders have also taught this very same thing. These prophets include:


To this list I would add Elder B.H. Roberts, member of the First Council of the Seventy (1888–1933) and Assistant Church Historian (1902–1933), as well as numerous Church publications in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Jonathan Neville envisions a grand conspiracy of scholars and Church employees who are trying to undermine “the teachings of the prophets.” The only way his narrative can work, however, is if he completely ignores the inconvenient fact that living prophets and apostles are teaching the very things he claims are false and harmful to the Church.

“Know assuredly that that man is in the high road to apostacy.”

—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 22, 2020

Nephites ≠ Mayans

The July 2020 issue of The Friend magazine is out, and Jonathan Neville is having a conniption fit over its cover art:
Cover of the July 2020 issue of The Friend magazine
This isn’t the first time, of course, that Mesoamerican-style Book of Mormon art has appeared on the cover of Church magazines. Just last month, the June 2020 issue of The Friend depicted Abish and other Lamanites in Mesoamerican feathered attire:
Cover of the June 2020 issue of The Friend magazine
And the cover art on the February 2016 issue of the Ensign shows Nephites in Bountiful at the time of Christ’s appearance with Mesoamerican styles of dress and hair:
Cover of the June 2020 issue of The Friend magazine
As Neville correctly notes—without understanding the implications behind his statement—the July 2020 cover “is only the latest in a long line of M2C* images that Church magazines have featured over the years.”

“We love our Church magazines,” he declares (without explaining who the we is), “but sometimes we wonder if the right hand knows what the left hand is doing because of the mixed messages.” According to him, the “mixed messages” are, “Some of us thought the entry on Gospel Topics about Book of Mormon geography” (the same one he has tried to downplay and dismiss over 120 times) “meant what it said; i.e., the position of the Church [on Book of Mormon geography] was neutral.”

He wants to have it both ways: When any hint of Mesoamerican geography, architecture, clothing, or culture finds its way into Church magazines, he protests that the position of the Church is supposed to be neutral. At the same time, he insists, “No children or youth in the Church today know what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.” The Church must be neutral, but yet it must also teach Heartlander dogmas!

And, most bizarre of all, he insists that affirming a historial Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon somehow leads people to reject the historicity of the book:
Only 50% of LDS Millennials are confident that the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical account, and the percentage is declining.

[M2C] will insure that this percentage will continue to decline.
How those two things are connected, he doesn’t say.

Finally, in his latest blog post Neville continues to mislead his readers about the arguments his opponents are making. (In other words, he lies.) He tells us:
The same M2C message has been taught for many years by CES and BYU. Despite the Gospel Topics entry, CES and BYU still teach the Nephites = Mayans message through the fantasy maps and references to the M2C citation cartel.

Nephites = Mayans is still being taught by Book of Mormon Central, Fair Mormon, the Interpreter, and the rest of the M2C citation cartel.
This is a distortion of what these groups actually argue, but Neville either hasn’t read their arguments carefully or he’s simply inventing what he wants his readers to believe. Here’s what Book of Mormon Central has directly stated in their own video on this subject:
It would be a mistake to assume that the Jaredites were the Olmec and the Nephites were the Maya. Instead, it is much more likely that the Nephites and Jaredites were groups living within these larger civilizations, with their story unfolding within the broader context of Mesoamerican history.
Skip to 1:37:
Neville’s latest blog post, as usual, is simply yet another criticism of the Church and its leaders and a fallacious distortion of the views of his “M2C” opponents.

—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 20, 2020

Those who live in glass houses, pt. 7

(Part seven of a series.)

This is the masthead of BookOfMormonCentralAmerica.com, one of Jonathan Neville’s seventy-one blogs.

Tell me if you can’t see the unintentional irony here:
Masthead to Jonathan Neville's BookOfMormonCentralAmerica.com blog
Didn’t catch it? Permit me to emphasize it for you:
Masthead to Jonathan Neville's BookOfMormonCentralAmerica.com blog with irony emphasized
Sure thing, Brother Neville: Book of Mormon Central is obsessed, and you aren’t.

That he, unironically and with a straight face, would accuse anyone of being “single-minded” and “contradict[ing] the Church’s policy of neutrality” on geography—a policy that he himself has tried to downplay and dismiss over 120 times—would be astounding were it not so utterly routine for him.

—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 17, 2020

Please define “a lot”

As he did a few weeks ago, Jonathan Neville is once again making claims without any evidence whatsoever to back them up.

In his latest blog post, “Church history: a parody of history,” he asserts:
On my Letter VII blog, I noted that in the process of renaming Church historical sites, the staff did not change the name of the Hill Cumorah to “a hill in New York,” the way Saints, volume 1, refers to it.…

This is important because a lot of people expected them to drop the name Cumorah from that historic site.
[Emphasis added.]

Wait, what? “A lot of people expected” Church staff to “drop the name Cumorah”? Who are these “people,” Brother Neville? How many of them are there? Can you point to any examples of these people making such a claim?

Of course he can’t, because his claim is complete horse hockey (as Colonel Potter used to call it back at the 4077th). The very idea that the Church might change the name of the hill Cumorah in New York state is nothing more than Neville’s obsessive fever-dream.

Neville is, of course, agitated by the fact that Saints, the new official Church history with a foreword by the First Presidency, doesn’t tow the Heartlander line by affirming that the New York Cumorah is the same as the Cumorah in the Book of Mormon. He’s spread so much disinformation about this that Jed Woodworth and Matt Grow, two of the editors of the volume, were forced to respond publicly to his distortions of the truth.

But, Neville being Neville, he dismisses Woodworth and Grow’s reply and continues to bang away at the same, single note on his piano.
The hill Cumorah in western New York state
Still called the hill Cumorah, according to reports from reliable sources
And, of course, he also continues to misrepresent the views of those who disagree with him, accusing them of malicious intent instead of presenting their views charitably and engaging them with persuasive evidence and appealing arguments:
Our M2C* scholars and revisionist historians actually believe and teach that Joseph [Smith] named the hill “Cumorah” because of a false tradition started by unknown early Church members.

They also believe and teach that Oliver Cowdery lied when he wrote that it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place around the “hill in New York.”

They also believe and teach that Brigham Young and others lied about Oliver and Joseph visiting the repository of all the Nephite records in the hill in New York.
Please note his use of the loaded terms false and lied. For Neville, the consummate black-and-white thinker, prophets can never be mistaken, never misinterpret passages of scripture, and never have their own opinions—no! They either knew the location of the hill Cumorah by revelation (Neville’s position) or they lied and misled the saints about a critically important doctrine (Neville’s caricature of his opponents’ position).

And so, Neville continues to press forward with his grand conspiracy theory, undeterred by facts or evidence, seemingly unaware that he’s implying that today’s prophets, seers, and revelators are witless dupes who are unable to see what is taking place throughout the Church.

—Peter Pan

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

Friday, June 12, 2020

Jonathan Neville continues to dismiss the First Presidency’s counsel

It must be deeply frustrating to be Jonathan Neville. Nearly everything produced and published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contradicts his heterodox views, so he has to continually look for ways to dismiss and disregard the teachings of the Church and its leaders.

He’s railed against what he considers to be false teachings in Church-published magazines, the Church’s new official history, and Church lesson manuals, as well as the teachings of Church missionaries at its historic sites.

One particular thorn in his side has been the Church’s Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography. He’s published at least 120 blog posts attacking it, doing everything in power to convince uninformed people that it has no authority, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

In his latest effort—“Rethinking the entry on Book of Mormon Geography” (June 12, 2020)—he tells us that “it hardly qualifies as an essay” because “it omits scripture references and the many quotations from General Authorities on the topic” of Book of Mormon geography. By “many quotations,” he of course is referring his cherry-picked list of quotes that have no revelatory or official standing and represent the views of the leaders who spoke them—even if those views were popular and traditional ones.

He asserts:
The amazing thing is that the New York Cumorah has been consistently and persistently taught by every Church leader who has addressed the topic. It has never been contradicted by Church leaders. It has been contradicted only by scholars, beginning with RLDS scholars in the late 1800s who rejected the teachings of LDS leaders on several topics. Then, in the mid-1900s, LDS scholars began claiming the prophets were wrong because of M2C.* Now, thanks the academic cycle, M2C has spread its influence throughout the Church.
There are numerous falsehoods in this single paragraph:

  • Neville fails to tell us that not one apostle or prophet has stated that the location of Cumorah has been revealed by God, and that some have expressed doubts about the New York location, including apostles John A. Widtsoe and (possibly) Robert D. Hales.
  • Neville here repeats his false narrative that the proposed Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon originated with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in “the late 1800s”, even though there’s no evidence for an RLDS Mesoamerican model before 1917 and a Central American model by an unknown Latter-day Saint exists from 1887. (See John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book [1992], pp. 15–22, 87–89, 135–137.) Louis Edward Hills’s (1917 RLDS) proposed geography (Sorenson, 87–89) bears little resemblance in its details to models published by Latter-day Saints Willard Young (before 1920; Sorenson 205–206) and Jean Russell Driggs (1925; Sorenson, 67–68), let alone to the proposed maps published at Brigham Young University by Professor M. Wells Jakeman in the 1940s (Sorenson, 98–100), Thomas Stuart Ferguson in 1950 (Sorenson, 73–74), and Professor John L. Sorenson in 1955 (Sorenson, 178–182).
  • And, of course, Neville continues to insist that “M2C intellectuals” claim “the prophets were wrong.” In his mind, apparently, all teachings of prophets are authoritative and revealed. In Neville-Neville Land, prophets (at least the prophets he quotes) don’t have opinions and personal beliefs. In the real world, however, prophets are more fallible than that (as many prophets themselves have testified).
Jesus Teaching in the Western Hemisphere (Jesus Christ Visits the Americas) by John Scott, 1969
Jesus Christ Visits the Americas (a.k.a. Jesus Teaching in the Western Hemisphere) by John Scott, 1969
But the most insidious thing about Neville’s latest blog post is the way he disparages the authority of the Gospel Topics Essay by claiming that it omits “quotations from General Authorities,” when, in fact, it contains direct counsel from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.
As I’ve written previously, it’s obvious to anyone with “ears to hear” that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve want Jonathan Neville and other Heartlanders to stop claiming that their theories of Book of Mormon geography are supported by “the teachings of the prophets,” while other theories (including the Mesoamerican geography) “reject the teachings of the prophets.”

That, I believe, is the real reason Jonathan Neville continues to pound away at the Book of Mormon geography Gospel Topics Essay: The Brethren are calling him to repentance, and yet he refuses to hear and hearken to their counsel.

—Peter Pan

(An earlier version of this blog post misread Neville’s date of “the mid-1900s” as “the mid-1990s,” and included a rebuttal to the mistaken, later date. I’ve since removed that section; I apologize for the error.)

* “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 10, 2020

Perhaps Jonathan Neville’s biggest strawman yet

Jonathan Neville frequently employs logical fallacies in his writing. (This blog has documented many examples.)

In his June 10, 2020, blog post, “M2C does not stick to the text of the Book of Mormon,” Neville makes yet another a strawman argument:
Our M2C* friends often justify their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah by claiming they stick to the “text of the Book of Mormon” and that anything the prophets have said beyond that is pure speculation.

Do you see how that is a fundamental logical thinking error?

Nowhere does the text of the Book of Mormon identify the “Western hemisphere,” the “Americas,” or even “America” as Lehi’s land of promise.

There is no basis in the text for looking at any particular part of the world.…

Based on the text alone, Lehi could have landed literally anywhere. He could have landed in Australia, Chile, Guatemala, Florida, or Japan. He could have circumnavigated Africa and ended up in Italy.

Based on the text alone, choosing the “Americas” is as arbitrary as choosing Malaysia or Eritrea or anywhere else on the planet.
I detect nothing in Neville’s post that indicates he’s being sarcastic or using parody. He actually believes that he’s made a good, solid argument against those who argue for a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

A strawman argument is one in which the individual claims that his opponent believes X, when his opponent actually believes X1; X is a caricature of the opponent’s argument, but it’s easier to demolish than X1. (That’s why the fallacy is called a strawman: It’s much easier to attack a scarecrow than it is to attack a living person.)
Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz
What’s the strawman in Neville’s argument? Mesoamericanists have never claimed that only the text of the Book of Mormon informs us about its location, nor have they claimed that anything the prophets have said outside the text is “pure speculation.”

What do “M2C intellectuals,” as Neville calls them, actually believe? Well, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly on this blog (like here, for example), they accept what the Book of Mormon of says about its own geography, along with revealed, authoritative statements from Church leaders on the subject, including this one from Joseph Smith, which is canonized in the Pearl of Great Price:
While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.… He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do.… He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book. (Joseph Smith—History 1:30, 33–35)
In this canonized account of the angel Moroni’s first visit to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823, Moroni indicated that the Book of Mormon is “an account of the former inhabitants of this continent,” meaning the continent on which Joseph Smith lived.

Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines continent as “a great extent of land, not disjoined or interrupted by a sea; a connected tract of land of great extent; as the Eastern and Western continent.” Stephen Smoot has compiled dozens of sources from Joseph Smith’s time of “this continent” referring to what we today call the Western Hemisphere, not just to North America.

The scriptural statement in Joseph Smith—History is accepted by every believer in the Mesoamerican setting of the Book of Mormon. For Neville to argue, therefore, that they suffer from a “fundamental logical thinking error” not just untrue; it is grossly and flagrantly untrue. It represents either a fundamental misunderstanding of the arguments of those whom he criticizes or a malcious attempt to misrepresent their arguments.

This is, of course, not the first time Neville has misrepresented the arguments of believers in a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon setting: Prior to this post, I’ve cataloged fifty-eight other examples of him doing so.

It’s odious, and Jonathan Neville should be ashamed—ashamed enough that he would stop doing it.

But after, now, fifty-nine posts pointing out his obnoxious behavior, I sadly have little confidence that he will change his ways.

—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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