Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Monday, May 6, 2019

Neville’s “any stick with which to beat them” approach backfires

If you’re a Gospel Doctrine instructor, it must be a treat to have Jonathan Neville in your class. For him, every scripture can somehow be applied to the way “M2C intellectuals”* are supposedly “teaching people to disbelieve the prophets.”

Today he blogged about attending Sunday School in Palmyra, New York and reading John 7:15, in which the Jews in Jerusalem marveled about Jesus’ teachings, exclaiming, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” Neville, as is his wont, wrested this passage to apply to those who don’t agree with him about the location of the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon:
The Jews taught their law and tradition in celebrated schools. As Jesus had not been instructed in those schools, they were amazed at his learning.

In our day, the M2C intellectuals who teach people to disbelieve the prophets make a similar argument. It goes like this:

How could Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery know the location of the Hill Cumorah, having never learned from scholars about all the “correspondences” between Mesoamerica and the M2C interpretation of text?
Neville appears to be completely oblivious to the irony of his statement. You see, Joseph Smith did eventually learn about all the correspondences between Mesoamerica and the civilizations described in the Book of Mormon.

In 1841 Joseph received a gift from Dr. John Milton Bernhisel. Bernhisel, a physician in New York City, had been baptized in November 1840 and ordained a bishop in April 1841. When he discovered the recently-published two-volume work by John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, he purchased a set and sent it the Prophet in Nauvoo.

Title page of volume 1 of Stephens and Catherwood, 'Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan' (1841)
Title page of Incidents of Travel, volume 1 (Click to enlarge.)

Joseph read the books with great enthusiasm, as they provided hime with scholarly evidence that the civilizations in the Book of Mormon actually did exist anciently on the American continent. On November 16, 1841, Joseph dictated a letter to Bernhisel, expressing his gratitude for the gift and what he learned from it. He wrote:
I received your kind present…& feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumnes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive.
Joseph concluded the letter, “I remain your affectionate Brother in the bonds of the Everlasting Covenant,” and signed his name at the bottom.

Joseph Smith’s letter to John M. Bernhisel. (Click to see the letter and read the transcript at the Joseph Smith Papers website.)

Jonathan Neville insists:
These M2C intellectuals expect “ordinary” members of the Church to defer to their expertise.

They insist people have to be “trained in the ministry” to understand the Book of Mormon.

They resort to intellectual bullying by creating the M2C citation cartel that censors what the prophets have taught about Cumorah.

They seem determined to wrestle the Book of Mormon out of the hands of the “common people” and make everyone dependent on them, the experts, to understand the text.

But we are not beholden to these intellectuals.
Not only are all of his claims absurdly false—as Captain Hook and I have repeatedly demonstrated on this blog—they contradict what Joseph Smith himself wrote about how good scholarship “supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon.”

“Ordinary” members of the Church do not need to “defer” to scholars, but good scholarship (as opposed to the kind of hoaxes and pseudoscience that Neville and his colleagues peddle to the saints) can help illuminate the Book of Mormon and demonstrate how it is an authentic history of a real people who lived 2,000 years ago.

—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.

1 comment:

  1. "But what about Zelph?" they may ask. IMO, "Zelph" was Joseph's fatigued sense of humor coming out. As if he were saying "geez, I gotta identify random bones now?"


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