Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Monday, March 4, 2019

But Peter, how do we get to Neville Land?

In this post we’re going to take a look at one of the more astounding claims in Jonathan Neville’s March 3, 2019, blog entry, “The 3 Cumorahs.”

Neville writes:
The trend toward M2C* accelerated into the present (2019) [has been] accompanied by three developments.

1. CES and BYU stopped teaching students what the prophets have taught about Cumorah [being the hill in New York].

2. CES and BYU taught people about M2C, which was also supported by Church media, visitors centers, etc.

2. [sic] CES and BYU began teaching the Book of Mormon using computer-generated “abstract maps” that depicted Book of Mormon events in a fictional fantasy setting.

By now, most youth and young adults have been taught with these fantasy maps.

Going forward, it seems likely that the fantasy maps will become even more widespread, with the consequence that more members of the Church will naturally conclude that Cumorah is entirely fictional.
By “fantasy maps,” Neville means internal maps that use descriptions in the book itself to reconstruct Mormon’s understanding of the world of the Nephites. Since we don’t know exactly where the Book of Mormon took place, internal maps—like the ones published by the Church for over forty years—can help the reader get a sense of place and distance in the text.

Neville believes that using internal maps leads to a loss of faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. What evidence does he have that this supposed trend is taking place?

He doesn’t have any, so he made some up.

I am not joking. Look at this chart he created:

Neville’s fantasy chart, depicting data from his imagination

According to Neville’s made-up chart, since the 1920s one in five Latter-day Saints has believed that the hill Cumorah is not in New York and, since 2001, an increasing number of Saints (now close to 25%) believe in a “Cumorah fantasy map.”

Does Neville have any survey or polling data to back up his chart? He doesn’t say so, so we’re forced to conclude that he doesn’t. He believes it, so he made up a chart that shows what he believes is happening.

He completely ignores the fact that Latter-day Saints have been using internal Book of Mormon maps long before 2001. This map was published by the Church in 1979 in the widely-used Book of Mormon Institute manual:

Click to enlarge.

So why the sudden LDS belief in what Neville calls a “Book of Mormon fantasy map,” beginning only in 2001? Neville doesn’t tell us. Why? Not even he knows, because his data are completely fabricated. (Neville even has the temerity to project his fictional Latter-day Saint views twenty years into the future!)

This is a prime example of Heartlander claims in general and the claims of Jonathan Neville in particular: If there’s no evidence to back up a claim, then make it up. Don’t like Joseph Smith’s editorials about Book of Mormon lands in Central America? Claim that Benjamin Winchester conspired to harm the Prophet and his teachings! Concerned that there’s no way a sea west fits into a Heartland Book of Mormon geography? Claim that the Nephites called the Mississippi River a “sea”! (Even if that river was east of Zarahemla, not west.) And on and on.

This is how to get to Neville Land, Wendy: make up evidence that supports what you believe is true.


* “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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