Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Jonathan Neville defames people he admires and wins arguments in the shower

Captain Hook and I have been busy in our personal lives this week; as a result, we’ve let several blog posts by Jonathan Neville slip by without a response. In this summary post, I’ll note just a few of the fallacious arguments he’s made recently.

In his criticism of Book of Mormon Central’s KnoWhy #520, “Did Jesus Bleed from Every Pore?”…

(Has anyone else noticed that Neville has finally stopped referring to these articles as “No-Wise”? We’ve criticized him about that on this blog; good for him for dropping the childish name-calling.)

…Neville informs us that Book of Mormon Central’s scholars “are unaware of important sources Joseph drew upon.” He tells us about one of these supposed sources:
As near as I can determine, the first Christian writer to claim that Christ sweat actual blood from every pore was James Hervey, published in 1764 and subsequent editions.…

Why is Hervey important? Because his books were on sale in Palmyra in 1819, and Joseph donated a Hervey book to the Nauvoo Library in 1844. Hervey was a significant influence on Joseph’s vocabulary, as I’m showing in an upcoming book.
This is an exceptionally unusual claim for Neville to make, because it sounds an awful lot like the one he himself argued against in his previous blog post: “Critics claim Joseph and/or co-conspirators wrote the entire [Book of Mormon], drawing from their experiences and sources available to them. The language [of the Book of Mormon] is that of Joseph and/or his co-conspirators.” Yet here we have Neville claiming (perhaps unconsciously) that a book on sale in Palmyra in 1819 is the source Joseph drew upon for the idea and specific language that Jesus bled from every pore. (I thought it was supposed to be the “M2C”* that’s causing people two disbelieve in the historicity of the Book of Mormon!)

It will be interesting to see how Neville threads this needle in his upcoming book.

Speaking of his previous post (“M2C impact on Church history,” June 20, 2019), in addition to Neville again preaching his bizarre “two sets of plates” theory, there are two things he does in it that caught my eye:

First, Neville rejects the testimonies of David Whitmer and Martin Harris that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon using a seer stone that he placed into a hat. He, instead, prefers to the statements of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery from the early 1830s that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim (a.k.a. the Nephite interpreters) and dismisses arguments that Joseph and Oliver were, by that time, referring to any seer stone as “Urim and Thummim.” So here we see Neville rejecting first-hand testimony of two of the Book of Mormon Witnesses because it is late—yet he himself freely accepts third-hand, late testimony about the “cave of plates” in the New York hill Cumorah. (I’m quite sure Neville would agree with Emerson on the senselessness of consistency.)

Second, Neville makes this sweeping claim without (as usual) any support or evidence:
Because the stone-in-the-hat scenario [of Book of Mormon translation] has been embraced in today’s Church, the concept of translation has evolved to the point where most LDS intellectuals now think Joseph merely transmitted (transcribed) words that appeared on the stone. They claim the language is not Joseph Smith’s because he was unschooled and didn’t know big words, the grammar of Early Modern English, etc. [In other words], our LDS scholars now teach that Joseph didn’t really translate the text. He simply read out loud the words that appeared on the stone in the hat.
Setting aside Neville’s nonsensical claim that a translation isn’t really a translation (!), he appears to be completely ignorant of the debate between those who side with Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack in arguing that the words Joseph dictated were, word for word, what he saw in vision (a so-called “tight” translation), and those who side with Brant Gardner and Jack Welch and argue that the Book of Mormon contains words and phrases drawn from Joseph Smith’s own vocabulary and understanding of whatever he saw in vision (a “loose” translation).

Instead, Neville wants to fallaciously frame the debate so that it’s between the “M2C” scholars who argue for a tight translation and Neville’s loose translation theory (publication pending). To do so, he has to ignore the long, rich history of the (friendly) debate between Book of Mormon scholars, all of whom he would include in the “M2C” category. For Jonathan Neville, the debate hasn’t begun until he has spoken on the subject!

Next, with regard to his June 21, 2019, blog post, “Dan, BMC, and deferring to scholars”:

Neville is continually stating in his blogs that he “admires and respects” the “fine young scholars” involved with what he (pejoratively) calls the “M2C citation cartel,” yet his complete and total lack of respect is evident from statements like these:

  • “We love all the people at [Book of Mormon Central], but seriously, they’re the last ones people should listen to regarding the [Book of Mormon] witnesses.”
  • “[Book of Mormon Central and the Interpreter Foundation] are the least credible organizations imaginable to support the testimonies of the Book of Mormon witnesses.”
  • “The strongest attacks on the credibility of the Three Witnesses come directly from within the Church—from the M2C citation cartel, including Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, FairMormon, and the rest.”
  • “[Book of Mormon Central] has zero credibility when it comes to supporting the testimony of the Three Witnesses. Why does anyone pay them any attention at all?”

And Neville concludes with this absolutely mind-boggling statement:
I’m told Dan Peterson—a wonderful, faithful, smart, and all-around great guy— has been complaining about my criticism of the Interpreter. Maybe someday I’ll read what he has to say, but it doesn’t matter because he has had emotional reactions like this for decades, from the FARMS days through the present. He’s taken what he perceives to be a lot of arrows for what he perceives to be his defense of the Church. If he has a problem, I’m always available for a meeting. I’ve never turned down an invitation to meet with any of the M2C intellectuals, but Dan has declined my invitation to meet. Now he’s producing the Witnesses film through the Interpreter Foundation. We can be confident he’s not going to allow viewers to know what the witnesses said about the New York Cumorah.

Then we have Book of Mormon Central, which is pretty much the same story. I’m told one of their employees is also complaining about my criticism of M2C, but that doesn’t matter, either. He’s just another employee doing a job. His bosses insist the witnesses and the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah because of M2C, so he’s doing everything he can to support M2C. I have no problem with that.
I would argue that the scope and scale of Neville’s chutzpah has never been demonstrated as clearly as this. These two paragraphs feature the following:

  • A thoroughly disingenuous compliment directed toward Daniel C. Peterson.
  • An acknowledgment that Peterson has responded to Neville’s criticism of Interpreter, but a refusal to read what Peterson has written so that Neville can perhaps revise or explain what he wrote about it.
  • A dismissal of Peterson’s response as an “emotional reaction,” similar to other “emotional reactions like this” that Peterson has supposedly had “for decades.”
  • A claim that the calumny and defamation that has repeatedly been heaped upon Peterson by critics of the Church (within and without) is just Peterson’s “perception”—in other words, it’s all in his mind.
  • Neville’s willingness to defame Peterson publicly, but only to actually engage with him privately.
  • A dismissal of Stephen Smoot as “just another employee doing a job.” (Smoot doesn’t really believe the things he’s written about the Heartland hoax, you see—he’s only paid to write them!)
  • A faux indifference to Smoot’s criticisms, because he has “no problem” with him “doing everything he can to support” what “his bosses” tell him to do.

Brother Neville, it’s completely acceptable for you to believe that the Interpreter Foundation, Book of Mormon Central, and FairMormon represent some kind of “fifth column” of conspirators who operate inside the Church to promote heresies and suppress the truth as you understand it. You’re welcome to that opinion (although I and many others would, of course, argue against it). What’s really weird, though, is your constant refrain about how much you “respect” and “admire” these people who are, in your view, trying to “censor” the historical record so that members of the Church don’t learn about what you consider to be revealed and inspired teachings on the location of the hill Cumorah. So, please drop the pretense. You clearly don’t respect and admire them because you think they’re damaging testimonies and causing a decline in Church membership growth. The two paragraphs in the preceding quote demonstrate how you truly feel much louder than any dishonest claims of admiration.

Another item from his June 20th post that I found curious:
[Book of Mormon Central] expressly rejects Oliver Cowdery’s statements that he and Joseph visited the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah on multiple occasions.
Which “statements” made by Oliver Cowdery would those be, Brother Neville? The third-hand ones that don’t appear anywhere in the historical record until twenty-five years after the event supposedly took place (and five years after Oliver Cowdery’s death)? And how can you claim that Book of Mormon Central “expressly rejects” these statements when their own KnoWhy on the sword of Laban concludes that the “cave of plates” account was either “a somewhat symbolic vision, [or] a vision of a real location with real items, or an actual cave which [Joseph and Oliver] visited in upstate New York”—three options, none of which rejects that something actually did happen?

Finally, in his June 23, 2019, post, “Working with M2C believers,” Neville gives his readers another example of how to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with the Heartland theory of Book of Mormon geography:
If you know any believers in M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory), ask them one question:

I accept the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah. Can you help me understand why you disagree?

CAUTION: Usually, they will become defensive. If they work for the M2C citation cartel, they will become angry. You will see their response boils down to [“because the New York Cumorah doesn’t fit my interpretation of the text”], but they resist this reality as long as they can.
Neville’s post should be an entry in the multivolume series Hypothetical Arguments I’ve Won in the Shower. It’s a textbook example of the Strawman Fallacy in action.

First, what evidence does he have that someone who believes in a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geography will “usually…become defensive” or even “angry” at this question? Neville doesn’t give us a shred of evidence that that is the “usual” reaction, and there’s no reason to believe that he has any.

Second, notice how he again not-so-subtly defames Book of Mormon Central, Interpreter, etc.? They don’t just get defensive, “they will become angry”! (This is, of course, because they’re paid to promote “M2C”.)

Third, there’s absolutely no reason to get defensive or angry when asked this question by a Heartlander, because the answer is simple: There is no revealed declaration that the New York hill is the hill Cumorah. Certainly, many prophets and apostles (including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery) have called the New York hill “Cumorah,” and some (including Oliver Cowdery, in Letter VII) have directly stated that the final battles described in the Book of Mormon took place there. But assertion is not revelation.

As I wrote in a blog post just over a week ago, most believers in a Mesoamerican geography would respond this way:

“I reject the premise of your query because you are simply begging the question: You presume that statements made by prophets about the hill Cumorah being the hill in New York are based on revelation, rather than on commonly-held belief. If you can point to a statement about the location of the hill Cumorah that has been presented to the Church as a revelation, then we can have a discussion on your terms. Until then, I prefer to follow the published statements of living prophets and apostles who have affirmed that ‘the Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas’—a statement that includes the location of the hill Cumorah.”

Defaming people he asserts that he admires and claiming to win hypothetical arguments that misstate what his opponents would actually say are both indications that Jonathan Neville is disconnected from reality in some way. In his mind he’s fighting a battle for the soul of the restored gospel, when in reality he’s simply demonstrating his preference for the teachings of dead prophets he agrees with over the living prophets he disagrees with.

—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. Can you indulge my laziness (I don't want to comb through his dull prose to find out for myself) and give me a TL;dr on why Neville claims there are two sets of plates?

    1. The short version is that Martin Harris said that only the Three Witnesses saw the plates; he apparently forgot about the Eight Witnesses, so Neville (who believes Martin must be infallible, I guess) claims Martin was only talking about one of the sets of plates. It also comes from varying accounts of the size of the plates Joseph had and comments from the Witnesses about encounters with heavenly messengers. It’s also tied closed into Neville’s insistence that the “cave of plates” story was a physical experience that happened under the New York hill—one set of plates came from the stone box on the surface of the hill; the other came from the cave.

      It’s a very intricate theory. You can read a one-page, mostly-painless summary of his view here.



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