Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Friday, July 19, 2019

How much does Jonathan Neville really believe the prophets?

If there’s one thing Jonathan Neville blogs about most, it’s how much he believes and sustains the prophets. Unlike the censorious “M2C citation cartel”* that suppresses the teachings of the prophets and sponsor the teaching of false Book of Mormon geography theories within the Church, Neville accepts what the prophets have taught about Book of Mormon geography.

The other thing he wants everyone to know is that Joseph Smith had absolutely nothing to do with the editorials that appeared in the Times and Seasons in 1842 (while he was editor of the paper) that situated Book of Mormon events in Central America. Instead, Neville has proposed an elaborate conspiracy theory about how those editorials were actually written by Latter-day Saint dissident Benjamin Winchester. The only reason the Times and Seasons editorials continue to be attributed to Joseph Smith, Neville argues, is because of psychologically-conditioned groupthink, a dogmatic unwillingness among “M2C intellectuals” to surrender their position because their pride and vanity won’t permit them to admit they were mistaken.

(If this conspiracy theory sounds crazy, that’s because it is.)

Well, here’s a way to see how consistent Neville is in his claims of faith and confidence in the prophets:

In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith published Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which he had edited. This volume has been a Latter-day Saint classic. It is still in print today and has been published in multiple editions. Elder Smith prefaced his compilation of Joseph Smith’s teachings with the following:
Many faithful members of the Church have expressed the desire that a more extensive work [making Joseph Smith’s teachings accessible] be published. The members of the Church quite generally desire to know what the Prophet Joseph Smith may have said on important subjects, for they look upon his utterances as coming through divine inspiration.… In accordance with the many calls that have been made that there be a more extensive compilation of these discourses and sayings, the matter was taken up in the [Church] Historian’s Office and such a compilation has been prepared, submitted to the First Presidency and passed by them for publication.… It is felt that this volume will meet a need and promote faith among the members of the Church. With this intent it is sent out on its mission as another testimony of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

(Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1976], 3.)
Within the book, Elder Smith republished the September 15, 1842, Times and Seasons editorial that Neville believes has been falsely attributed to Joseph Smith by an evil conspiracy of prideful, psychologically-unstable conspirators—and he attributed it to Joseph Smith.

Greatness of the Jaredites and Nephites
From an extract from “Stephen’s Incidents of Travel in Central America,” it will be seen that the proof of the Nephites and Lamanites dwelling on this continent, according to the account in the Book of Mormon, is developing itself in a more satisfactory way than the most sanguine believer in that revelation could have anticipated. It certainly affords us a gratification that the world of mankind does not enjoy, to give publicity to such important developments of the remains and ruins of those mighty people.

When we read in the Book of Mormon that Jared and his brother came on to this continent from the confusion and scattering at the Tower, and lived here more than a thousand years, and covered the whole continent from sea to sea, with towns and cities; and that Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land, and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien, and improved the country according to the word of the Lord, as a branch of the house of Israel, and then read such a goodly traditionary account as the one below, we can not but think the Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people. The extract below, comes as near the real fact, as the four Evangelists do to the crucifixion of Jesus.—Surely “facts are stubborn things.” It will be as it ever has been, the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experiments, as they did Moses and Elijah. Now read Stephen’s story:

“According to Fuentes, the chronicler of the kingdom of Guatemala, the kings of Quiche and Cachiquel were descended from the Toltecan Indians, who, when they came into this country, found it already inhabited by people of different nations. According to the manuscripts of Don Juan Torres, the grandson of the last king of the Quiches, which was in the possession of the lieutenant general appointed by Pedro de Alvarado, and which Fuentes says he obtained by means of Father Francis Vasques, the historian of the order of San Francis, the Toltecas themselves descended from the house of Israel, who were released by Moses from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and after crossing the Read Sea, fell into idolatry. To avoid the reproofs of Moses, or from fear of his inflicting upon them some chastisement, they separated from him and his brethren, and under the guidance of Tanub, their chief, passed from one continent to the other, to a place which they called the seven caverns, a part of the kingdom of Mexico, where they founded the celebrated city of Tula.” (Sept. 15, 1842.) T. & S. 3:921–922.

(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 266–67.)
Like other proponents of the Heartland hoax, Jonathan Neville is quick to trumpet Joseph Fielding Smith’s views on the location of the Hill Cumorah in New York, and he is simply aghast whenever an “M2C intellectual” dares suggest that perhaps Elder Smith was simply conveying his own opinion, and not propounding revealed doctrine.

But here Elder Smith accepted Joseph Smith as the author of one of the Times and Seasons editorials that favorably cited the work of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in establishing the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

So what’s it going to be, Brother Neville?

  • Was Joseph Fielding Smith part of the “M2C citation cartel”?
  • Was he duped by conspiring proto-“M2C intellectuals” of his day?
  • Was he not smart enough to realize that the Times and Seasons editorial was actually written by Benjamin Winchester, the nefarious conspirator against Joseph Smith?
  • Or was Elder Smith simply wrong to attribute this to Joseph Smith—an innocent mistake, a lapse in judgment? If that’s the case, then why couldn’t he also have simply made an innocent mistake about the location of the Hill Cumorah?

Maybe Neville would respond that Joseph Fielding Smith was right about the Hill Cumorah being in New York but wrong about the authorship of the editorial. If so, that would be awfully convenient. He’d be claiming, “Whenever prophets teach something placing the Book of Mormon in Central America, they’re wrong, or just giving their opinion. Whenever they teach something placing the Book of Mormon in the ‘Heartland,’ they’re right, and it’s revealed doctrine you must accept!”

So, is Brother Neville going to be consistent and throw Joseph Fielding Smith under the bus along with the rest of the “M2C intellectuals” who attribute the authorship of this editorial to Joseph Smith? (So much for “believing the prophets”!) Or is he going to make a special exception for Elder Smith and thereby reveal that the entire premise of his absurd conspiracy theory is based on a selective, self-serving double standard?

I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

—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.


  1. I have read Joseph Fielding Smiths statement strongly warning against teaching a Central American setting for The Book of Mormon and now I read what you have posted here and there seems to be a serious contradiction in the two statements. I don't know how Jonathan Neville would respond, but I would like to know your thoughts on what seem to be contradictory statements by Elder Smith.

  2. Eric,

    Which comments by Elder Smith "warning against teaching a Central American setting for the Book of Mormon" do you have in mind? I would need some specific quotes before I know how to best answer your questions or concerns.

    Captain Hook

  3. "Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."



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