Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

When the facts don’t fit your narrative, change the facts

Jonathan Neville has spent years crafting and promoting a narrative. His narrative is based on his fundamentalist beliefs about the Book of Mormon, Church history, and Joseph Smith. It is also wholly dependent upon the existence of a massive conspiracy to subvert what he believes is the truth.

The problem with his narrative is that it often runs face-first into the facts of history.

When one’s narrative doesn’t fit the facts, an honest and competent scholar will alter his narrative to better align with the facts. Jonathan Neville is not an honest nor a competent scholar, so he instead alters the facts to fit his narrative.

An example of this appears in his August 18, 2020, blog post “Moroni and Nephi,” in which he points out that Joseph Smith’s 1838 history originally called the angel who appeared to him in September 1823 Nephi instead of Moroni. (See Joseph Smith—History 1:33; FairMormon has a good explanation of how this error came about.) This portion of Joseph’s history—including the error—was first published in the April 15, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Neville explains:
There’s no doubt the 1842 publication in the Times and Seasons was an error. Joseph had identified the messenger as Moroni in the Elders’ Journal in 1838. Oliver Cowdery had done the same in 1835.
Fine so far—Neville is correct. He then asks, “How can we account for such an obvious error in the 1842 Times and Seasons?” It’s here that he goes off the rails:
First, the publication of the error is evidence that Joseph Smith, who was the named editor of the newspaper at the time, was merely the nominal editor (i.e., in name only). He didn’t review the paper closely, or at all, prior to publication.
This theory is very important to Neville: He must prove that Joseph Smith had little or nothing to do with the Times and Seasons when he was its editor in 1842. If he can’t, then its articles claiming that the Book of Mormon was set in Mesoamerica, printed in the summer and fall of 1842, were published under Joseph’s editorship, and that would destroy Neville’s core assertion that Joseph Smith knew (by revelation) that the Book of Mormon took place in the “Heartland” of the American Midwest.

And so Neville asserts that the Nephi/Moroni error is evidence that Joseph had little or nothing to do with the Times and Seasons in 1842, despite Joseph’s declaration in print, “This paper”—the March 15, 1842 issue—“commences my editorial career, I alone stand responsible for it.”
Manuscript History of the Church A-1, page 5
Manuscript History of the Church A–1, p. 5, with “Nephi” circled in red.
Neville continues:
Second, the history published in the 1842 Times and Seasons was not written by, and probably not dictated by, Joseph Smith. Instead, it was compiled by his scribes beginning in 1838.
This is an astounding claim. It’s not enough for Neville to assert that the Nephi/Moroni error appeared in the April 15, 1842, Times and Seasons was because Joseph Smith wasn’t editing the paper; he seems to feel the need to disclaim Joseph’s involvement with the manuscript history itself.

Neville is attempting to alter the facts to fit the narrative, but his assertion is manifestly false. As the introduction to Joseph’s 1838 history prepared for the Joseph Smith Papers project explains:
J[oseph] S[mith] dictated or supplied information for much of [manuscript history book] A–1, and he personally corrected the first forty-two pages before his death.
The Nephi error is on page 5 of A–1, so Joseph personally corrected that page.

Joseph’s journal includes numerous entries in which he mentions dictating his history to James Mulholland in the spring of 1838 and the summer of 1839:
April 30, 1838—Monday

Monday, the This day was spent by the first Presidency, in writing the history of the Church; and in resitation of grammer lessions, which ressitations is attended to, each morning previous to writing.

May 1, 1838—Tuesday

Tuesday 1st May 1838, This day was also spent in writing Church History, by the first Presidency

May 2, 1838—Wednesday

Wednersday 2nd This day was also spent in writing history….

June 10, 1839—Monday

Monday 10th began to study & prepare to dictate history—

June 11, 1839—Tuesday

Tuesday commenced to dictate and I to write history
Joseph dictated his history in 1838. He edited the issues of the Times and Seasons in which his history was printed. These historical facts are plainly evident. That Jonathan Neville can assert that Joseph didn’t do these things is a disturbing window into the mind of a man who effortlessly distorts the truth to fit his preferred narrative.

—Peter Pan


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