Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Monday, June 22, 2020

Nephites ≠ Mayans

The July 2020 issue of The Friend magazine is out, and Jonathan Neville is having a conniption fit over its cover art:
Cover of the July 2020 issue of The Friend magazine
This isn’t the first time, of course, that Mesoamerican-style Book of Mormon art has appeared on the cover of Church magazines. Just last month, the June 2020 issue of The Friend depicted Abish and other Lamanites in Mesoamerican feathered attire:
Cover of the June 2020 issue of The Friend magazine
And the cover art on the February 2016 issue of the Ensign shows Nephites in Bountiful at the time of Christ’s appearance with Mesoamerican styles of dress and hair:
Cover of the June 2020 issue of The Friend magazine
As Neville correctly notes—without understanding the implications behind his statement—the July 2020 cover “is only the latest in a long line of M2C* images that Church magazines have featured over the years.”

“We love our Church magazines,” he declares (without explaining who the we is), “but sometimes we wonder if the right hand knows what the left hand is doing because of the mixed messages.” According to him, the “mixed messages” are, “Some of us thought the entry on Gospel Topics about Book of Mormon geography” (the same one he has tried to downplay and dismiss over 120 times) “meant what it said; i.e., the position of the Church [on Book of Mormon geography] was neutral.”

He wants to have it both ways: When any hint of Mesoamerican geography, architecture, clothing, or culture finds its way into Church magazines, he protests that the position of the Church is supposed to be neutral. At the same time, he insists, “No children or youth in the Church today know what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.” The Church must be neutral, but yet it must also teach Heartlander dogmas!

And, most bizarre of all, he insists that affirming a historial Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon somehow leads people to reject the historicity of the book:
Only 50% of LDS Millennials are confident that the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical account, and the percentage is declining.

[M2C] will insure that this percentage will continue to decline.
How those two things are connected, he doesn’t say.

Finally, in his latest blog post Neville continues to mislead his readers about the arguments his opponents are making. (In other words, he lies.) He tells us:
The same M2C message has been taught for many years by CES and BYU. Despite the Gospel Topics entry, CES and BYU still teach the Nephites = Mayans message through the fantasy maps and references to the M2C citation cartel.

Nephites = Mayans is still being taught by Book of Mormon Central, Fair Mormon, the Interpreter, and the rest of the M2C citation cartel.
This is a distortion of what these groups actually argue, but Neville either hasn’t read their arguments carefully or he’s simply inventing what he wants his readers to believe. Here’s what Book of Mormon Central has directly stated in their own video on this subject:
It would be a mistake to assume that the Jaredites were the Olmec and the Nephites were the Maya. Instead, it is much more likely that the Nephites and Jaredites were groups living within these larger civilizations, with their story unfolding within the broader context of Mesoamerican history.
Skip to 1:37:
Neville’s latest blog post, as usual, is simply yet another criticism of the Church and its leaders and a fallacious distortion of the views of his “M2C” opponents.

—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. I wonder (no, I don't) how he feels about the Church film "The Testaments", and I cant' imagine the conniption he must have over the classic 1969 painting, "Jesus Christ Visits the Americas" by John Scott, clearly showing Maya-inspired architecture and landscape. Many Arnold Friberg paintings feature quetzal feathers to denote royalty (e.g., Abinadi before Noah), when will he rail against those?

    Maybe instead of complaining about 'neutrality', he or one of his followers could start painting alternatives? They can't publish illustrations that haven't been made.

    John Scott painting - https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/exhibit/-christ-in-the-americas-exhibit?lang=eng#mv5

    1. Kieth Merrill, the director of "Testaments," has become a Heartlander since he made the movie. He’s publicly stated that if he could remake it, he’d shoot it in Ohio and set it among the moundbuilders. The Heartlanders consider him one of their most prominent converts (like Tom Cruise is to Scientology).


      And the Heartlanders do have quite a bit of their own alternative artwork. Ken Corbett is probably their most prominent artist. He’s painted the Book of Mormon in Heartland settings and Joseph Smith receiving a revelation about Zelph (of course).


    2. There is more Heartlander artwork than I realized! Why do you think it is not used more (if at all) in Church publications? Is it a question of accuracy, the artwork not being well-known among most people, or something else (or some combination of factors)? As an aside, I know that in the Come Follow Me manual for 2020, there are a few pictures that depict a more North American setting for the Book of Mormon, including at least one that has a southwestern, red rock look (depicting the Waters of Mormon). So it isn't as if the Church only uses Mesoamerican settings in their artwork, anyway. I'm not sure what Neville and other Heartlanders are getting so upset about. I guess it's just a matter of the double standard at work, as usual.

    3. What's also interesting to me is Corbett's constant use if the Michigan relic symbols, especially with Zelph. While I'm still learning Hebrew, I have not ever heard of any Jew shortening the name YHWH to YHW like the symbol points to (because the vowels would make it sound practically identical). Only YH. Of course, if anyone has additional knowledge about if they did I would appreciate it. But even then, the name YHWH was sacred to the Nephites. It only appears twice in the Book of Mormon, and one of them is a quote from Isaiah. The second is in the last verse ever before Moroni seals the record up to the Lord to cone forth in His power at some future day. The name was not something to be thrown around like they portray it in their art.

    4. Not to mention that the Michigan Relics are fraudulent and James E. Talmage even said so in the Church’s official magazine at the time, after having examined them.


    5. And yet Neville and his friends still hold them up on a silver pedestal along with other fraudulent artifacts. I just can't comprehend their fascination with them other than it feeds their pet theories.

    6. Either they can't comprehend how these artifacts could be fraudulent, and thus can't recognize correct research, science, etc., or they know they are fraudulent, but continue to use them anyway, intentionally lying to get people to believe their theories. Either way, it doesn't inspire great confidence in their "research".


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