Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Friday, May 22, 2020

Those who live in glass houses, pt. 6

(Part six of a series.)

As an opponent of all things “M2C,”* Jonathan Neville does not care for the research and conclusions of Kirk Magleby, the executive director of Book of Mormon Central who has spent decades doing on-site research on connections between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica. Since 2011, Magleby has published nearly 350 posts on his blog, “Book of Mormon Resources,” that set forth his conclusions about specific sites in southern Mexico and Guatemala that may correspond to Book of Mormon locations.

Neville is, of course, free to disagree with Magleby, and he did so in a May 21, 2020, blog post that criticizes Magleby’s assertion that the description of Cumorah being “among many waters” (Mosiah 8:8) means that it was surrounded by bodies of salt water.

Many of Neville’s criticisms of Magleby’s claim are legitimate and fair. I, myself, am not overly convinced by Magleby’s arguments on the meaning of “among many waters,” and I think Neville brings up some reasonable questions to which Magleby should respond.

What is less honest, however, is Neville’s characterization of those who hold a Mesoamerican view of Book of Mormon geography and the way they interpret words and phrases used in the book. Regarding Magleby’s interpretation of the word surrounded, Neville writes:
This is the type of analysis we find throughout the M2C literature. They change definitions and expect everyone to salute and agree. But just because the fine young scholars they hire talk themselves into buying off on this approach doesn’t mean anyone else has to.

In M2C-speak, “Surrounded” doesn’t mean encircled, but only sort of bordering on two sides.
In M2C-speak, a “horse” is really a “tapir.”
In M2C-speak, “wood and cement” really means “cut stone and cement”
In M2C-speak, “tower” is really a “massive stone pyramid.”
In M2C-speak, “translate” really means “read words off a seer stone that were put there by someone from the 16th century.”
And so forth.
And lest we forget, in M2C-speak, “north” means “west” and “south” means “east.”
Some of the points in Neville’s list are distortions of Mesoamericanists’ arguments, and others (such as Joseph Smith’s use of a seer stone) have nothing to do with “M2C” at all. But what’s worse is that it’s acutely hypocritical of Neville to roll his eyes and scoff at Mesoamericanists’ interpretations of words when he himself is at least as guilty of doing exactly the same thing.

Consider the following proposed Book of Mormon map from Neville’s book, Moroni’s America – Maps Edition:
Moroni's America - Maps Edition, map 3 Lands of the Book of Mormon
If Neville is going to take his “M2C” opponents to task for creative interpretations of words, then Neville himself should also have to explain his own peculiar definitions:

  • In Neville-speak, “sea west” really means two different seas, one in the north and one in the south, both of which are east of the Nephite capital city of Zarahemla.
  • In Neville-speak, “sea east” really means two different seas, one to the north and one to the south.
  • In Neville-speak, “sea south” really means the sea that’s north of almost all Book of Mormon lands.
  • In Neville-speak, “wilderness” really means river (as we’ve discussed before).
  • In Neville-speak, “on the west…in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance” (where Lehi’s family landed) really means on the south of all other Book of Mormon lands, on the Gulf of Mexico.
  • In Neville-speak, “land northward” (where Cumorah was) really means land eastward, for, according to Neville’s map, Cumorah is 750 miles nearly due east (78°) from Zarahemla.

Neville’s proposed Book of Mormon is case study in distorting the facts to fit a predetermined conclusion. Neville is as guilty or more of doing everything that he accuses “M2C scholars” of doing.

—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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