Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Internal Book of Mormon maps

Jonathan Neville has a very singular goal: To prove that “Church leaders have taught that an important place in the [Book of Mormon]—the Hill Cumorah—was in western New York, at the same hill where Joseph [Smith] found the plates.” (This quote is from his February 13, 2019, blog entry, “Historicity is key,” to which this post responds.)

This is a perfectly legitimate argument, one that he has the right to make and to defend. What he does not have the right to do is to misrepresent the arguments of the other side and go unchallenged.

It’s entirely possible, of course, that Brother Neville believes that he is telling the truth. I trust and hope this is the case. If so, then he should be open to correction and retraction of his erroneous statements. Let this blog post stand as a correction, then. (Hopefully, his retraction with be forthcoming.)

Neville writes:
Instead of teaching the New York Cumorah as fact, in our day employees at CES and BYU teach their students about the Book of Mormon using M2C-inspired,* computer-generated fantasy maps that are tantamount to teaching the Book of Mormon is fiction.
This is a gross distortion of the intent and purpose of BYU’s Virtual Book of Mormon map, as the home page of the map itself explains:
The Church and BYU stay neutral in questions of exactly where the Book of Mormon took place. The Lord could have removed all questions regarding the exact locations of these events but he did not. For that reason, our design team has chosen to develop an internal map that shows relational directions and approximate distances that match the approximately 550 geography descriptions in the text as closely as possible. These are artistic renditions.
[Emphasis mine.]

There is a long history of readers of the Book of Mormon creating internal maps of its locations, detached from any “real world” connections.

For four decades, the Church itself has published internal maps of the Book of Mormon. One developed by Daniel Ludlow in 1976 was published in the 1979 Book of Mormon Institute manual (p. 286 in the 1981 second edition):

Click to enlarge.

Ludlow’s map was virtually unchanged for its inclusion in the 2012 Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual (p. 579):

Click to enlarge.

The 2012 map was updated for the 2017 Seminary Teacher Manual to one that looks a lot like the BYU map:

Click to enlarge.

BYU’s Virtual Book of Mormon map is just the latest attempt to give readers a sense of place and distance in the text:

Click to enlarge.

The Book of Mormon is remarkably consistent in its descriptions of the spatial relationships of the places it names, and having a map based on internal references is helpful for readers.

By derisively calling it a “fantasy map,” Jonathan Neville is ridiculing other similar maps, including ones published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continuously for forty years.


* “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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