Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jonathan Neville rejects the teachings of the prophets and apostles regarding Columbus

Note: The day after I posted this, I was notified by a friend that Neal Rappleye published similar comments on his own blog. I think what Brother Rappleye wrote is clearer and more comprehensive that my post, below, so I also recommend his article to my readers.

I’ve been terribly busy the last few weeks and unable to respond to the overwhelming volume of blog posts that Jonathan Neville has been churning out recently. Most of his posts so far this year have contained his usual claims, just repackaged in different words; since those fallacious arguments have already been rebutted here at Neville Neville-Land, I don’t feel too badly about my recent lack of time and attention.

However, something interesting did pop up at the very end of Neville’s January 25, 2020, post on his Come, Follow Me blog. Regarding the Church’s lesson manual for 1 Nephi 11–15, he wrote:
The lesson also refers to Columbus. In my view, John Cabot is a better fit, but I’m fine with what anyone wants to believe.
The verses in question are 1 Nephi 13:10–14, which are part of Nephi’s prophetic vision that runs from chapters 11 to 14. 1 Nephi 13:12 specifically refers to “a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.”

Jonathan Neville believes that this “man among the Gentiles” was likely John Cabot (or Giovanni Caboto), an Italian explorer who, under commission from British king Henry VII, crossed the northern Atlantic Ocean and landed in Newfoundland in 1497. In early 1498, Cabot set out on a second voyage to the Americas, but no one knows what became that expedition; he was presumed lost at sea.

Neville’s preference for Cabot is set forth in a blog post he published four-and-a-half years ago. It’s based on the belief that Cabot purportedly made a voyage in 1470 to eastern Canada or Maine. Unsurprisingly, Neville’s evidence (or lack thereof, I should say) for this supposed 1470 expedition is based on the thinnest of claims: It involves work done by a Dr. Alwyn Ruddock, who claimed to have found evidence that would “revolutionise” the understanding of European contacts with North America. The problem is that Ruddock never published her findings and, upon her death in 2005, she ordered all of her work destroyed. So, Neville’s Cabot interpretation has nothing to go on except unsubstantiated claims—which, of course, fits perfectly the usual kind of “evidence” that Heartlanders rely on so heavily.

But here’s the delicious part:

Neville’s rejection of Columbus as “man among the Gentiles” contradicts what every prophet and apostle who has ever spoken publicly on the subject has said. This is astonishingly hypocritical of Neville, who has spent many years writing thousands of pages, publishing hundreds of blog posts, and recording dozens of videos accusing those don’t believe the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is in New York of “rejecting the teachings of the prophets.”

There are dozens of talks I could quote in which prophets and apostles have testified that “the man among the Gentiles” of 1 Nephi 13:12 was Christopher Columbus. Here are just three examples that I was able to come up with quickly:
President Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference, October 1992 (speaking on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World):

“I have read and reread one important and prophetic verse from the Book of Mormon, and also a very long biography of Christopher Columbus.

“That verse from Nephi’s vision states: [quoted 1 Nephi 13:12]

We interpret that to refer to Columbus. It is interesting to note that the Spirit of God wrought upon him. After reading that long biography, a Pulitzer winner of forty years ago, titled Admiral of the Ocean Sea—I have no doubt that Christopher Columbus was a man of faith, as well as a man of indomitable determination.”

Elder Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference, April 1962:

“Ancient American prophets six hundred years before Christ foresaw the coming of Columbus and those who followed. These prophets saw the establishment of the colonies, the war for independence, and predicted the outcome. These prophecies are contained in a volume of scripture called the Book of Mormon.”

Elder Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference, October 1961:

“At the proper time, God inspired Columbus to overcome almost insurmountable odds to discover America and bring this rich new land to the attention of the gentiles in Europe.” [The inline reference cites “1 Nephi 13:12; Admiral of the Ocean Sea, by Dr. Samuel Eliot Morison, pp. 46–47.”]

Now, it doesn’t matter to me what you believe, Brother Neville. You can believe whatever you want. If you want to interpret “the man among the Gentiles” of Nephi’s prophecy to refer to John Cabot, that’s your prerogative.

But, just to be clear, your interpretation repudiates the teachings of the prophets. —Peter Pan


  1. On one level, the common, obvious Columbus interpretation is right - and endorsed. But, since visions are full of symbolic imagery and language, I feel free to say that on another, less obvious level, that the Columbus/American Revolution interpretation is only part of the answer. On another board, I said the following about this:

    I told my kids that the Columbus explanation, while the most obvious (to an American steeped in a tradition of manifest destiny) is *an* interpretation, not *the* interpretation, ET Benson and manuals notwithstanding. The ‘gentile’ spoken of can be any of a number of the explorers of that era, a symbol to represent the whole. My Canadian neighbor will say it’s John Cabot, just to ruffle some Wasatch Front feathers.

    And by extension, the American Revolution explanation, while also ‘obvious’, ignores ~300 years of Spanish dominance [not forgetting Portugal either] in the western hemisphere, and the Latin American wars of independence in the early nineteenth century (which, if one subscribes to the Meso-American model, makes the ‘Grito de Dolores’ far more relevant to Nephi’s descendants than the Boston Tea Party). It’s important to remember that the Book of Mormon is not a book about “‘Murica!”.

    1. For what it’s worth, I agree with you completely, Eric—the symbols in Nephi’s vision are often meant to be understood generally, not specifically, and there are key passages that fit much better in the context of the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica than the British colonization of New England.

      My point in the original post wasn’t to argue for a specific interpretation, but rather to point out that Jonathan Neville is inconsistent in how he insists the rest of us interpret the Book of Mormon. :-)


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