Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A prophet is not always a prophet

In one of two blog posts by Jonathan Neville on April 1, 2019—“Fun with M2C on the Internet”—he notes that an online resource he’s recommended no longer exists:
Some time ago I linked to this site for people to see what Joseph Fielding Smith had to say about the “two-Cumorahs” theory. http://emp.byui.edu/marrottr/cumorah-jfes-dofs3.pdf

Now if you go there, you get an error:

HTTP Error 404.0 – Not Found

The resource you are looking for has been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.

But thanks to archive.org’s wayback machine, you can still read Joseph Fielding Smith’s statement: https://web.archive.org/web/20170705230407/http://emp.byui.edu/marrottr/cumorah-jfes-dofs3.pdf
Before Neville can accuse the dastardly “M2C”* conspiracy of removing this link, the reason it was taken down is its owner, Robert L. Marrott, recently stopped teaching at BYU-Idaho. (Marrott earned his master’s degree from BYU in 1976, so he appears to have reached retirement age.)

What’s most interesting to me about this, however, is that it shows the attachment Neville and others who believe in the Heartland hoax have to the writings of Joseph Fielding Smith.

Elder Smith (who briefly served as Church president before his death in 1972) was perhaps the most doctrinaire apostle of the twentieth century. He had strong beliefs on many subjects about which no revelation had been received, and he wrote many books in which he set forth those beliefs. Perhaps his best-known books are Doctrines of Salvation (3 vols., 1954–1956), Answers to Gospel Questions (5 vols., 1957–1966), and Man: His Origin and Destiny (1954).

Elder Smith was deeply fundamentalist in his beliefs, and he frequently disagreed with other apostles on controversial issues, including the age of the earth (he was what we today call a “young earth creationist”), death before the fall, and evolution. (For more on these debates, I recommend Richard Sherlock’s article, “‘We Can See No Advantage to a Continuation of the Discussion:’ The Roberts/Smith/Talmage Affair,” Dialogue 13/3 [Fall 1980]: 63–78.)

Joseph Fielding Smith has been dead for nearly forty-seven years, but his opinions are still cited by Neville and some others who seem to think he was the infallible, final word on any subject on which he wrote or spoke. But just because Elder Smith, in his own personal writings in the 1950s, believed the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon was in New York doesn’t mean what he wrote was correct or revealed by God, let alone unable to be superseded by better research and information.

Joseph Fielding Smith was a great man and a prophet, but a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. His personal writings do not rise to the level of prophetic speech or doctrine.

—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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