Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Jonathan Neville at the gates of confusion

In a pair of bizarre blog posts, Jonathan Neville once again completely misunderstands—or perhaps willfully misrepresents—the purpose and use of BYU’s Virtual Book of Mormon map.

First he wrote:
The Book of Mormon gives us several warnings, such as this one:

“And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity.” (Ether 2:9)

But we’re told by our M2C* scholars that the Book of Mormon took place in an imaginary land.

Maybe people aren’t repenting because there is no downside to being “swept off” a fantasy map?
And he followed up on that by writing (with the emphases in his original):
Portraying the Book of Mormon in a fictional setting hardly inspires confidence that the book Joseph translated is an authentic history.

And yet, all LDS youth today are learning this fictional setting for the Book of Mormon in seminary, institute, and at BYU.

This fictional setting is based on the M2C premise that the prophets are wrong because the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in southern Mexico, not in New York.

The M2C citation cartel has established its own M2C interpretation as the de facto official interpretation of the Book of Mormon. They are imprinting this fictional setting on the minds of LDS students around the world.

This is a slow-moving disaster.
It’s difficult for me to grasp the level of ignorance and/or the single-minded devotion to promulgating deceit that are required for him to make such statements, for the truth of the matter can be found right on the home page of the Virtual Book of Mormon:
The Church and BYU stay neutral in questions of exactly where the Book of Mormon took place. The Lord could have removed all questions regarding the exact locations of these events but he did not. For that reason, our design team has chosen to develop an internal map that shows relational directions and approximate distances that match the approximately 550 geography descriptions in the text as closely as possible. These are artistic renditions.
Relational directions.”

Artistic renditions.”

It’s manifestly clear—bordering on painfully obvious—to any fair-minded reader that the Virtual Book of Mormon is not implying that the events of the Book of Mormon took place in an “imaginary land” or in a “fictional setting.” Rather, because the Church and BYU remain neutral on the question of the real-world setting of the Book of Mormon—remember, “the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas”—BYU’s internal map is intended only to show “relational directions and approximate distances.” To answer the question Neville posed in the title of his first blog post: Those who do not serve God will be swept off of the American continent “when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them,” for, as the Joseph Smith, Ezra Taft Benson, and Mark E. Petersen taught, North and South America with all its nations encompasses the Lord’s land of Zion.

Neville, in his second blog post, would have us belive “there is an alternative” to the Church’s stated viewpoint of geographic neutrality, namely his “Heartland” maps of the Book of Mormon. He calls these “a sound interpretation of the Book of Mormon,” when they are, in fact, a jumbled mess of forced interpretations of scripture and implausible redefinitions of common terms. On point after point, they fail to align with how the text of the Book of Mormon describes Nephite and Lamanite lands.

Jonathan Neville is not unintelligent or uneducated, which is why it’s so perplexing how he could so badly misrepresent the directly stated purposes and objectives of the BYU Virtual Book of Mormon map. I truly wish I could avoid charging him with outright dishonesty, but I see few, if any, alternatives in this case.

—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. Neville used to be OK with internal maps. But then got upset with them because they basically all lead to the inevitable conclusion that Heartland geography does not work.

    In theory, they are exactly what he's asked for. He insists that BYU and BMC should be geographically neutral, like the Church. Well, the ONLY way to do that is to use an internal map. But when we do, we are presenting a "fantasy land." Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    There is only one way to not catch Neville's ire: support the Heartland model.

    1. I would certainly appreciate your evaluation of what Jay Mackley has with his model of Book of Mormon geography. Look at http://theholyscriptures.info/BookOfMormonCovenantLands/

    2. John Lefgren: Looking over Mackley’s model, it’s clear that he’s started with the same false premises as other Heartlanders (e.g., their risible interpretation of D&C 125:3) and that he especially follows Neville’s line of thought with his references to “M2C,” etc.

      Where Mackley diverges from Neville is in placing Bountiful and the narrow neck of land in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This solves the problem of Neville’s east/west alignment of Nephite lands, but it doesn’t solve the problem of the location of Cumorah, which is now southeast of the narrow neck instead of north of it. It also suffers from the same Heartlander problem of the location of the sea west, where Lehi’s party landed; Mackley is still forced to put Lehi’s landing away to the south, while his sea west (Lake Superior) is over 1,100 miles north of that.

      I’m thoroughly unconvinced.

    3. Also, how in the world does this align with Alma 22:27–28?

      “And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided. Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.”


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