Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Jonathan Neville’s continued distortions

Jonathan Neville is continually misleading his readers into believing a false narrative by repeating the same misinformation over and over again, as seen in his March 19, 2019, blog post “M2C is a hoax – Part 1.”

In this post he claims:
The foundation for M2C* is the premise that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.
This has long been his main talking point. It is, however, a complete distortion.

One need only read John Sorenson’s foundational 1985 book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon to see how this is not true. The Mesoamerican theory Sorenson champions is based on a close reading of the text of the Book of Mormon and the absence of any revelation from God on the location of any Book of Mormon places—including the Hill Cumorah. It is certainly not based on the premise that “the prophets are wrong.”

Rather, Sorenson’s book says the prophets are no more or less authoritative than any other commenter to speak about Book of Mormon geography because there is no revelation on Book of Mormon geography. Accordingly, the text of the Book of Mormon takes priority in attempting to determine where in the New World the events it describes happened, not the non-binding, non-revelatory views of the book’s readers (including ones held by Church leaders).

So there’s nothing really for the prophets to be “wrong”—they’re not contradicting divinely revealed gospel truth because there is no revealed truth on this matter to contradict.

This has been made very clear by Latter-day Saints who have followed and developed Sorenson’s geography model. Neville should know better if he is going to profess to be some kind of expert or authority on this matter. The fact that he’s still repeating misinformation about “M2C” is evidence that he’s not interested in accurately representing the views of those who disagree with him and that he’s simply a propagandist. 

Here's another example: Neville quotes Lucy Mack Smith who reported that her son Joseph Smith called the New York hill “Cumorah” in the 1820s. For Neville, any member of the “M2C citation cartel” who does not acknowledge this is guilty of censorship and historical revisionism. He imputes nefarious motives onto those who disagree with him in order to perpetuate his claim that “M2C intellectuals” are part of a conspiracy to suppress the truth.

Once again, you need only read the actual words of Latter-day Saint historians to see what’s really happening here. The reason historians don’t give Lucy Mack Smith as much credit in this particular issue as Neville demands is not because they’re involved in a conspiracy but because good historical scholarship recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of historical sources and tries to analyze them critically.

In the portion of Lucy’s history that Neville uses, she quoted Joseph from nearly twenty years earlier and used the name that the hill came to be called around the mid-1830s. Lucy’s quote of Joseph certainly wasn’t verbatim, despite what Neville says. She didn’t have a tape recorder. She didn’t even write it down at the time. (To demonstrate the point here, I invite Neville to recall the exact words spoken by President Gordon B. Hinckley in the April 1999 general conference. Does he even remember what President Hinckley spoke about? Could he quote him verbatim, without looking at a transcript?)

This explains the statement from the scholars at the Church History Department on Saints and Book of Mormon geography:
The preface to Saints explains that the book is a narrative history. Narrative histories are governed by rules, and one of the rules implemented by our writing team is that characters are to live in the “narrative present” and not be burdened by the understanding of later time periods. Our rule states: “The whole story as we understand it will be told, but readers will be following that story scene-by-scene, or even volume-by-volume, as the narrative progresses. If readers desire a broader view of the story or want additional information, extensive footnotes are included, and other in-depth material is available online, including links to essays, videos, and other sources.”

Thus, as Saints tells it, Joseph Smith walks into the “woods,” not the Sacred Grove, in 1820. There he has a “vision” of God and Christ, not the First Vision. In the same way, Joseph walks to a “hill” not far from his father’s home, not to the Hill Cumorah. The reason for omitting “Cumorah” is not that the writers wanted to expunge it in order to promote a geographical theory. The reason is that there is no historical evidence that Moroni called the hill “Cumorah” in 1823.

Of course, early Latter-day Saints, including Joseph Smith, later called the hill Cumorah, but the best research on the subject puts the term into common circulation no earlier than the mid-1830s. The main historical source concerning events at the hill between 1823 and 1827 comes from the history Joseph Smith began in 1838. There Joseph uses the term “hill,” never “Hill Cumorah.” Saints follows Joseph’s lead.
Careful historians recognize that historical sources need to be carefully weighed and critically engaged. Neville, not being a careful historian, demands we take any historical source that confirms his pet theory about the Hill Cumorah at face value. Neville can make that argument if he likes; it’s just too bad that he feels the need to repeat misinformation ad nauseam in order to get his readers accept falsehoods.

—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.

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