Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Picking cherries with Jonathan Neville

picking a cherry
Jonathan Neville has begun posting a weekly series of blog entries that parallel the Church’s Come, Follow Me schedule for studying the Book of Mormon.

If his first post on 1 Nephi 1–7 is indicative of what the rest of the year has in store, we can look forward to him pushing weird Heartlander theories that have very little connection to each week’s reading.

For example, in this week’s post he doesn’t tell us anything useful or inspiring about 1 Nephi 1–7; instead, he pitches his odd “two sets of plates” theory and repeats his assertion that Joseph Smith only used the Nephite interpreters and never used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon.

As usual, there are historical and logical problems with what Neville claims. One of the biggest problems is the way he uses (or rather abuses) Lucy Mack Smith for his own purposes. Neville writes:
[In Harmony, in the spring of 1829] Joseph received a commandment through the Urim and Thummim to contact David Whitmer, a man he had never met, and ask him to come to Harmony to take Joseph and Oliver to Fayette where they could finish the translation at the Whitmer home.

His mother related the account here:

In the mean time Joseph was 150 miles distant and knew naught of the matter e[x]cept an intimation that was given through the urim and thumim for as he one morning applied the<​m​> to his eyes to look upon the record instead of the words of the book being given him he was commanded to write a letter to one David Whitmore [Whitmer] this man Joseph had never seen but he was instructed to say him that he must come with his team immediately in order to convey Joseph and ​Oliver [Cowdery]​ back to his house which was 135 miles
Last week we mentioned the translation. Here we see that as he neared the end of translating the original plates in Harmony, Joseph was still applying the Urim and Thummim to his eyes to look upon the plates.

Notice, Lucy did not say “as he one morning looked into a stone he place in a hat.”
Here we see Neville engaging in cherry-picking: presenting evidence that supports his position and withholding evidence that contradicts it.

According to Lucy Mack Smith’s 1844 reminiscence, Joseph translated by looking upon the open plates through the Urim and Thummim [the Nephite interpreters]. But how did she know this? Lucy Mack Smith never came to Harmony, Pennsylvania; she was not and could not have been an eyewitness to the translation of the Book of Mormon there. Her statement is, at best, a secondhand account.

With all due respect to Mother Smith, her secondhand account of the translation method conflicts with the firsthand, eyewitness accounts left by Martin Harris and Emma Smith, both of whom served as Joseph’s scribes in Harmony:
“Martin Harris…said that the Prophet [Joseph Smith] possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone. Martin explained the translation as follows: By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, ‘Written,’ and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected.” — Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 44/6, pp. 86–87

Emma Smith: “I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by [Joseph], he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.” — The Saints’ Herald 26/19, p. 289
Now, it’s entirely possible that Joseph did use the Nephite interpreters while in Harmony, both to translate the Book of Mormon and to receive revelations. As Martin Harris indicated in the quote above, Joseph used both the interpreters (or Urim and Thummim) and a seer stone. But Neville’s claim that Joseph didn’t use a seer stone because Lucy Mack Smith said he used the Urim and Thummim ignores important eyewitness testimony that contradicts his theory.

—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. Sounds like his Come Follow Me blog will have as much to do with Come Follow Me as his "review" of Mormon's Codex had to do with Mormon's Codex.

  2. Can you please elucidate Mr Neville's "Two sets of plates" theory?

    As near as I can tell from the text, there were several sets of plates involved. At the end of the Nephite period, I still see two sets: Mormon's library, which he buried in the actual Book of Mormon hill Cumorah, and Mormon's abridgement, which he gave to his son Moroni, who subsequently buried then in the hill near Joseph's home, and which Latter-day Saints traditionally also call Cumorah. Does Mr Neville propose something different than this? Does he imagine Joseph as having two distinct sets of plates?

    1. Yes, his theory is different. He believes that Joseph Smith was given two distinct sets of plates: (1) Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi, received September 1827, from which he translated the 116-page “Book of Lehi” that was lost by Martin Harris and the material in Mosiah through Moroni. Neville calls these “the Harmony plates.” (2) The small plates of Nephi, which were given to Joseph on the way to Fayette (Neville calls them “the Fayette plates”), from which he translated 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon.

      See the discussion in the comments section of this post:


    2. Hi love your work. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about Neviles recent blog post attacking Royal Skousen.

    3. I’ve been very busy this last week or so with work and other obligations. I’m hoping to write something this weekend about Brother Neville’s recent blog posts.


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