Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Jonathan Neville’s list of “M2C” hoaxes: creatio ex nihilo

On August 21, 2019, Jonathan Neville and his prodigious imagination set forth “a partial list of the hoaxes our intellectuals say you have to believe in, because otherwise, M2C* implodes.”

His list of ten supposed hoaxes is full of misinterpretations and misrepresentations of what other people actually believe and say. Let’s break it down:
1. Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were unreliable witnesses because they taught that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was in New York.
I challenge Neville to quote a single “M2C intellectual” who has ever claimed that Cowdery and Whitmer were “unreliable witnesses.” Neville’s oft-repeated use of this phrase comes completely from his own twisted, distorted version of what he thinks his ideological opponents believe.

The deep, deep irony here—an irony that Neville completely fails to notice due to his usual lack of self-awareness—is that he just wrote a blog post in which he claimed that David Whitmer is an unreliable witness to the translation of the Book of Mormon. (Whitmer was, according to Neville, a “disaffected member of the Church who [had] potential for bias.”)

So, for Neville, David Whitmer is a reliable witness when Whitmer’s testimony confirms Neville’s bias about the location of Cumorah, but Whitmer is an unreliable witness when Whitmer’s testimony conflicts with Neville’s bias about the method of translating the Book of Mormon. Neville’s double standard here is simply appalling, if not sadly unexpected.
2. Joseph Smith passively adopted the false tradition that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York and thereby misled the Church.
Note Neville’s use of loaded terms like passively and misled that frame the argument in a way that benefits his point of view. He wants to (falsely) present the “M2C” position as being one of “Joseph was ignorant” (more on that in a moment); therefore, in Neville’s version of “M2C” beliefs, Joseph must be “passive,” not the take-charge prophet of the Heartlanders who was certain of everything because everything he knew, he knew by revelation.

The truth, of course, is Joseph was neither passive nor omniscient. He received great revelations and much inspiration, but he also had personal beliefs and interpretations. With regard to Book of Mormon geography, Joseph believed that the book’s events took place across North and South America, the same hemispheric view held by all other Latter-day Saints in Joseph’s time. Ironically, Jonathan Neville disagrees with Joseph about this; Neville confines the action of the Book of Mormon to the American Midwest and Northeast. So it seems that even Neville believes that Joseph “misled the Church” about Book of Mormon geography—that, or Neville “rejects the teachings of the prophets.”

This is Neville’s second double standard in a row.
3. It was Moroni who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer in Fayette. We know this because she was wrong when she said the messenger told her his name was Nephi, and David Whitmer was wrong when he said it was the same messenger who took the Harmony plates to Cumorah, a messenger Joseph wrongly identified as one of the Nephites.
Neville has a weird fixation on the identity of the angelic being who appeared to Mary Whitmer and showed her the plates. As Daniel C. Peterson noted yesterday, “[Mary’s] account has only arrived to us via three separate informants at second hand, so I’m prepared to be agnostic on the matter” of the angel’s identity. (Peterson was responding to yet another one of Neville’s bizarre misrepresentations of what Peterson actually said.)

The writers of Saints, volume 1, chose to identify the angelic being as Moroni and not Nephi. As Peterson noted, the documentation for Mary’s experience is late and secondhand. The evidence for it being Nephi comes entirely from Mary’s grandson, John C. Whitmer, who told Church historian Andrew Jenson in 1888 that Mary “was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by an holy angel,whom she always called Brother Nephi.” But John himself immediately followed that statement by noting, parenthetically, “(She undoubtedly refers to Moroni,the angel who had the plates in charge.)” So, even John C. Whitmer, the source of the identification of the angel as Nephi, believed it was actually Moroni. Why does Neville insist that it must, then, be Nephi? Because it confirms his bias about the location of the hill Cumorah.

What any of this has to do with “M2C” is beyond me. To the best of my knowledge, no one who has argued for a Mesoamerican geography of the Book of Mormon has used Mary Whitmer’s experience as evidence of where the book’s events took place. Neville is simply lumping Mary Whitmer’s experience into his M2C Grand Conspiracy Theory.
4. Every Prophet/Apostle who has taught the New York Cumorah misled the Church, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
Once again, Neville deploys the loaded term “misled.” I’ve addressed this claim on this blog; see this post.
5. Anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons that didn’t mention Cumorah nevertheless prove that Cumorah cannot be in New York.
The solid scholarly work by Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, and Atul Nepal has demonstrated that “the evidence is more supportive of a collaborative effort within the Times and Seasons office between Joseph Smith and John Taylor” on the five Central America editorials published in 1842. Neville refuses to accept or engage their research because it conflicts with his biases.

I’ve already refuted Neville’s claim that Mesoamericanists believe those articles have anything to do with Joseph’s belief in the location of Cumorah here.
6. Joseph Smith was an ignorant farm boy who couldn’t possibly translate the ancient Nephite plates, even with the gift and power of God, so he had to read words that appeared on a seer stone in a hat, put there by an “intermediary translator,” creating a “metaphysical teleprompter.”
This is such a gross distortion of what anyone who has published on Joseph’s translation process has written that it’s hard to give Neville the benefit of the doubt that he’s arguing in good faith. (In other words, Neville is straight-up lying here.)

First, he uses loaded terms again; this time it’s “ignorant.” Joseph Smith clearly did not have an advanced education in 1828. Public schools were just getting started in America; Joseph himself was educated in his home with minimal resources. In 1832, only two years after the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph himself wrote that he “was mearly instructtid in reading writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic.” While Joseph was clearly uneducated, no believing Latter-day Saint would call him ignorant.

Neville then claims that “M2C intellectuals” believe that Joseph “couldn’t possibly translate the ancient Nephite plates, even with the gift and power of God.” This is a lie. He cites no evidence that anyone, anywhere who believes the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica has claimed this. He doesn’t cite anyone because he can’t.

Neville believes that Joseph used only the Urim and Thummim (the Nephite Interpreters) to translate the Book of Mormon. Joseph never explained how the Urim and Thummim worked, yet Neville is confident somehow that they didn’t work the way the eyewitnesses to the translation described the translation process. The terms “intermediary translator” and “metaphysical teleprompter” are, from the investigation I’ve done, invented by Neville himself—he put them in quotes, but he wasn’t quoting anyone who used those terms. He made them up himself to disparage his opponents’ views. They don’t accurately reflect the views of those with whom he disagrees. It’s despicable.
7. The Book of Mormon events took place within a limited geography of Mesoamerica.
Neville’s just being lazy with this one. Clearly he doesn’t believe it, but that doesn’t make it a hoax. No points awarded by judges, I’m afraid.
8. The Book of Mormon describes Mesoamerica, but Joseph didn’t know that so he (and/or the teleprompter) used terms that fit North America to describe Mesoamerican (Mayan) structures, animals, and culture.
Without knowing which “structures, animals, and culture” Neville is referring to, I’m left to assume that he means the ancient burial mounds in the Midwest that Heartlanders falsely claim were defensive fortifications, animals like bighorn sheep that lived nowhere near the Midwest (and still don’t), and the loose trading culture of the Hopewell that in no way resembles the complex societies described in the Book of Mormon.

What Joseph knew or didn’t know about Book of Mormon geography during the translation has nothing to do with anything that the text actually says.
9. Oliver Cowdery misled Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others when he said he and Joseph entered the Nephite repository on multiple occasions. At most, Oliver was relating visions of a repository in the “real” hill Cumorah in an unknown location in southern Mexico.
I’ve already demonstrated (twice, actually) that there’s no evidence whatsoever that Brigham Young learned about the account of the cave of plates experience or vision from Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery; rather, the evidence seems to indicate that he received his account from Heber C. Kimball, who received it from W. W. Phelps.

We can’t know if Oliver Cowdery “misled” (there’s that loaded language again!) anyone about this story, because there’s no account of Oliver relating the story to anyone. Neville believes there’s a cave full of plates under the New York hill Cumorah, so he believes that Oliver said there was one, in spite of the total lack of evidence.

What’s ironic about this is that Jonathan Neville continually preaches about the dangers of “confirmation bias, and yet he himself is constantly confirming his own biases by distorting or even making up evidence to support what he already believes. The “cave of plates” story is only one example of this behavior.
10. The modern prophets have hired the intellectuals to guide the Church in all these matters, so criticizing the intellectuals constitutes criticism of the Brethren.
This is a lie. No less than Daniel Peterson himself has refuted Neville’s claim “M2C intellectuals” are telling the Brethren what to think and that they cannot be criticized. (He’s done so at least twice.)
Jonathan Neville persists in telling lies about those he disagrees with, even after he’s been corrected.

Why he does this, I don’t know.

How he can claim, biannually, to be “honest in all his dealings,” I don’t know.

Perhaps one day he’ll examine himself and make some much-needed changes in his approach to how he engages in dialogues with those who don’t accept all of his views and opinions.

God speed that day.

—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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