Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

More of Jonathan Neville’s careless research

Jonathan Neville holds himself out as a qualified researcher or teacher of Latter-day Saint history. He’s written several books and hundreds of blog posts (on his, at latest count, seventy-one blogs) claiming to reveal the truths about Church history that actual, qualified historians are supposedly suppressing.

In his latest blog post—“Willard Richards and Cumorah” (May 20, 2020)—he implies that early apostle Willard Richards believing something in 1841 that every other Latter-day Saint also believed is evidence that that belief was based on revelation. He doesn’t address the possibility that Richards’s belief was conventional wisdom, but that’s the sort of “evidence” we commonly see from Neville, so no big deal there.

More interesting, however, is this statement from him regarding the “cave of plates” story that we’ve discussed before on this blog. In response to the fact that there is no mention from Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery of this supposed event or vision, Neville writes:
Joseph Smith recorded very little. He didn’t even record the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood or his receipt of the keys in the Kirtland temple. Does that mean those events did not happen? We have more accounts of the cave in Cumorah than we do of the restoration of the priesthood and the temple keys.
Oh, dear Brother Neville. Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?*

Joseph Smith recorded the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood in his summer 1832 history:
An account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand ​<firstly​> he receiving the testamony from on high[,] seccondly the ministering of Angels[,] thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of—Aangels to adminster the letter of the Law <​Gospel—​> <​—the Law and commandments as they were given unto him—​> and in <​the​> ordinenc[e]s, fo[u]rthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God power and ordinence from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit the Kees of the Kingdom of God confered upon him and the continuation of the blessings of God to him &c——
The first part of this quotation was dictated by Joseph and written by Frederick G. Williams, who was called as Joseph’s clerk and scribe in July 1832. The portion of the quote in blue text was written in Joseph’s own hand.

Extract from Joseph Smith's summer 1832 history, page 1

The description in Joseph’s history of “confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God” (in boldface type, above) is an unmistakable reference to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood at the hands of Peter, James, and John, whom Joseph specifically named in his 1838 dictated history (which is now Joseph Smith History 1:72).

Joseph “didn’t even record the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood”? Most certainly he did, Brother Neville.

More bizarre than that, however, is Neville’s claim that Joseph “didn’t even record…his receipt of the keys in the Kirtland temple.” This is truly astounding, because Warren Cowdery recorded what is now D&C 110 in Joseph Smith’s journal in the 3 April 1836 entry! (See Journal, 1835–1836, pp. 191–93; cf. Manuscript History of the Church, vol. B–1, p. 728.)

As the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers note:
The account of the 3 April vision of Jesus Christ…reports details and a long direct quotation that only the two participants—J[oseph] S[mith] and Warren [Cowdery]’s younger brother Oliver Cowdery—could have known. For this material, Warren Cowdery must have relied on another original text—no longer extant—or on oral reports from either or both of the participants.
Now, Neville could respond to this by claiming that he meant that Joseph didn’t write of these events in his own hand. If he were to claim this, however, that would be a red herring, for Joseph wrote very little in his own hand and relied almost entirely on scribes to record his revelations, his history, his letters, and his other documents. As Neville himself wrote, “Joseph Smith recorded very little”—but he did cause his scribes to record much!

Finally, Neville’s claim that “We have more accounts of the cave in Cumorah than we do of the restoration of the priesthood and the temple keys” is simply a distraction, for—as has been documented on this very blog (Hello? Is thing on?)—there are no contemporary, first- or second-hand accounts of the “cave of plates” experience. The first recorded account of that story is a January 1855 diary entry by William Horne Dame, in which he recounted hearing the story from W.W. Phelps, who said he (Phelps) heard it from Hyrum Smith. This third-hand account came ten-and-a-half years after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and at least twenty-five years after the supposed event. All the other retellings of the story—from Heber C. Kimball, Brigham Young, and David Whitmer—come after Dane’s, and there is no evidence that any of these men heard it directly from Joseph Smith or anyone else involved in the experience or vision.

The number of late, third-hand accounts of the Cumorah cave do not even begin to compare to Joseph Smith’s own dictated testimonies of the reception of the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God and the keys of that priesthood in the Kirtland Temple.

Why anyone trusts Jonathan Neville to accurately explain Church history is simply beyond me.

—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. If Johnathan Neville is so convinced the "cave of plates" exists in the New York Hill Cumorah, why doesn't he or his fellow Heartlanders rent some ground penetrating radar equipment and go find the cave? That drumlin isn't that big. That would be good solid evidence for their claims. But I doubt they will ever organize such and expedition. They are all hat and no cattle.

    1. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve tried to do just that but been denied permission by the Church (which owns the hill Cumorah). There are lots of downsides and almost no upsides for the Church if they were to let enthusiastic amateurs conduct such a survey; it would likely end up like Wayne May’s failed excavation of a Nephite temple across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo:


    2. I hadn't considered that. The Heartland theory is just such nonsense. The word "theory" shouldn't even be attached. Heartland jibberish is a better descriptor. There is one hardcore Heartlander in my ward. He tried to get me into a discussion of where the Book of Mormon took place. I told him one of the main reasons I think it is in Mesoamerica is that the Mesoamericans are the only ones that had a written language. He looked at me in stunned silence and walked away.


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