Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Friday, May 17, 2019

Speaking of things the Book of Mormon doesn’t mention…

In his May 16, 2019, blog post, “two volcano movies,” Jonathan Neville gives us an example of his (flawed) “two movies” analogy of Book of Mormon studies:
Everyone can read the text of the Book of Mormon and see it never mentions volcanoes.

In a rational world, everyone would look for an area that fits this description; i.e., a place where people could live for 1,000 years without experiencing or even knowing about an actual volcano, so they never wrote about them.

However, a core belief among M2C* theorists is that the Book of Mormon does mention volcanoes.… They have persuaded themselves that the natural events described in 3 Nephi 8 could only have been produced by volcanic activity.

Those who see a different movie recognize that those same identical events have actually occurred in the Mississippi River valleys as the result of massive earthquakes (mainly the New Madrid fault).
Calling the volcanism explanation for the destructions of 3 Nephi 8 “a core belief” among advocates of a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geography is a bit of a stretch. It is, however, an interesting theory, one that has some solid scholarship behind it, including peer-reviewed articles by Benjamin R. Jordan (Ph.D in Oceanography, University of Rhode Island) and Bart J. Kowallis (Ph.D. in Geology, University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Jonathan Neville—who holds no scholarly degrees and has not done any research in any field related to volcanoes or geology—pooh-poohs these theories. Why? He summarizes his argument against it as:
The text [of the Book of Mormon] doesn’t mention volcanoes, so presumably there were no volcanoes throughout Nephite history.
Bravo, sir—truly an astute refutation of junk science from “M2C intellectuals”!

Outside of the Book of Mormon, there are examples of cataclysmic historical events that likely involved volcanic activity, even though no contemporary records mention anything about volcanoes. The most famous of these may be the Tempest Stele, erected by Ahmose I, a pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. The stele describes a great storm striking the Theban region of Egypt, one that included “a tempest of [rain?]” and “caused darkness in the Western region” that was so thick that “no one [was] able to light the torch anywhere.” The storm destroyed tombs, temples, and pyramids.

Although the stele does not mention anything about volcanoes, some scholars have theorized that the darkness and destruction was caused by the Minoan eruption on the Aegean island of Thera, which took place during the same time period at Ahmose I’s reign. This eruption was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history, rivaling the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora.

(See Karen Plinger Foster, Robert K. Ritner, Benjamin R. Foster, (1996). “Text, Storms and the Thera Eruption,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 55/1 (1996): 1–14; Robert K. Ritner, Nadine Moeller, “The Ahmose ‘Tempest Stela’, Thera and Comparative Chronology,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 73/1 (April 2014): 1–19. These papers, and others, are summarized here.)

So the lack of the word “volcano” in the Book of Mormon does not mean there were no volcanoes around the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations. In fact, Neville is (yet again) employing a double standard here, in that he believes the Book of Mormon took place in Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Ontario, yet it doesn’t make a single mention of snow after Lehi’s party arrives in the Americas.

(Neville has “responded” to the no-snow argument in a bizarre, rambling post in which he repeatedly mocks Jeff Lindsay and FairMormon, but never actually gets around to explaining how the lack of snow in the text of the Book of Mormon figures into his geographic theory.)

Once again we see the striking difference between real scholars and purveyors of the Heartland hoax: Scholars use observations and evidence to construct plausible theories, while Heartlanders like Neville reject their ideas out of hand and press forward with their own poorly-researched pseudoscience, backed by conspiracy theories.

—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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