Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Monday, February 17, 2020

Jonathan Neville and the uses of propaganda

Jonathan Neville recently visited the “Hanoi Hilton”—the infamous Vietnamese prison where over six hundred American prisoners of war were tortured and brutalized. Prisoners there were subjected to rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement. They were forced to give coerced public statements of their guilt.

During his visit, Neville thought of the prison as an allegory for the Heartland theory of the Book of Mormon. (Isn’t everything?) His takeaway after touring the museum and being fed Vietnamese propaganda about what happened there: “The Hanoi Hilton is a dramatic example of how the same sets of facts can lead to different conclusions.”

Lt. Commander John McCain meeting President Richard Nixon in 1973 after five-and-a-half years of near-daily torture that left McCain permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head. During his time as a POW, McCain learned that “the same sets of facts can lead to different conclusions.”
Neville himself is well acquainted with propaganda and misinformation. He has continually misrepresented the views of those who argue that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica (a theory he calls “M2C”*). In his Hanoi Hilton blog post, he repeated these falsehoods:
We each think our beliefs are “correct.” Otherwise, we’d change them to adopt another belief.

This is why, IMO, it is so foolish for Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, the [sic] Interpreter, and the other M2C advocates to insist that only M2C is a valid option for believers.

I’m still hopeful that the day will come when they will adopt the Church’s policy of neutrality and embrace, or at least accommodate, the beliefs of those members of the Church who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

Maybe they’ll even accommodate the beliefs of those members of the Church who still believe Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon…

Based on my years of experience with the LDS M2C intellectuals, I doubt they will ever embrace neutrality, let alone change their minds.
There are at least three false statements in those five sentences:

  1. None of the organizations Neville lists “insist[s] that only [a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon] is a valid option for believers.” I defy Neville to produce a quote from Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, or Interpreter that says that or anything like that. Of course, many of the people involved with those organizations believe the strongest archaeological and scriptural evidence points to Mesoamerica, but none of them believes that’s the “only valid option for believers.”
  2. Neville continues to imply, wrongly, that “the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah” are based on revelation instead of common interpretation. Neville has collected and published a significant number of statements from Church leaders that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is the same hill in western New York state, but he has yet to produce a single statement that that belief is based on revelation.
  3. Neville has repeatedly claimed that believers in “M2C” don’t “embrace neutrality” about the location of the Book of Mormon, which he claims that the Church’s Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon geography does. His claims are false in several respects: [a] Mesoamerican theorists don’t insist that Mesoamerica is the only “valid option for believers” (see #1, above). [b] Neither the Gospel Topics essay nor any other statement from Church leaders has claimed that the Church is “neutral” on Book of Mormon geography. [c] If anyone has refused to “embrace neutrality” on Book of Mormon geography, it’s Heartlanders like Jonathan Neville who insist that claiming the Book of Mormon took place anywhere but in western New York is “repudiating the teachings of the prophets.” Neville is guilty of doing exactly what he continually accuses his opponents of doing.

It appears that Jonathan Neville is incapable of discerning opinion from fact. His trip to the Vietnamese museum and the lessons he learned from it are one example of this. His insistence on repeatedly making claims that are not true—even after being repeatedly corrected on this blog and by others—is another.

—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. Another (obvious) falsehood in his post is the insinuation that those who believe in a Mesoamerican setting don't believe that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. How he could possibly come to this conclusion is beyond me. I know he doesn't accept the historical documentation that Joseph used a seer stone in addition to the Nephite interpreters, but believing he did use a seer stone to translate doesn't mean he didn't translate... I can't think of a single article, book, or presentation on Joseph's seer stones that argues such a thing. Does Neville genuinely believe that "intellectuals" hold these beliefs, or is he knowingly telling falsehoods?

    1. It’s Neville’s (bizarre) contention that, if Joseph Smith translated by gazing at a stone in a hat while the plates were not in view, therefore he didn’t really “translate.”

      I confess that the purported difference between that and gazing at the plates through the Nephite interpreters (“Urim and Thummim”) is lost on me. Either way, Joseph didn’t “translate” in the way human beings ordinarily translate one language to another; the translation was revealed to him.


Thoughtful comments are welcome and invited. All comments are moderated.

Popular Posts

Search This Blog