Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

“Oliver said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Jonathan Neville’s blog posts are like Mexican food: The same handful of ingredients, just prepared in different forms. He continually repeats the same talking points over and over (and over) again, perhaps in the belief that repetition will convince his readers that what he writes is true.

The most recent example of this is his 1,367-word blog post “It’s not my theory,” in which he yet again defends his postion that the hill Cumorah must be the hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon. This time, he garnishes his combo meal with the claim that what he believes is fact, while what other people believe are theories.

He could have saved himself 1,358 words and a couple of hours if he’d simply written, “Oliver said it. I believe it. That settles it.

Like other fundamentalists, Neville thinks that there is only one legitimate way to read source documents—his way. For him, the writings of prophets and apostles have plain meaning that don’t require context or interpretation; interpretation is what other people do:
Our current revisionist LDS historians have done everything they can to accommodate their M2C* colleagues, but facts are facts. We can all read Letter VII, Lucy Mack Smith’s history, David Whitmer’s statements, Brigham Young’s explanations, etc. Every one of Joseph [Smith]’s contemporaries and successors in Church leadership who has addressed the issue publicly has reaffirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught about the New York Cumorah.…

It’s funny to me that some of my critics resort to falsely representing my position to criticize me. They miss the basic point that as far as I’m concerned, everything other than Cumorah is a theory. Such theories are open for further study, discussion, and even revelation. Settings other than Cumorah involve probabilities and interpretations, but mostly bias confirmation.

[Emphasis in Neville’s original blog post.]
Neville’s beliefs are facts. “M2C” and other views are theories.

(Latter-day Saint scholar Ben Spackman has recently written about how apostle Joseph Fielding Smith displayed this sort of thinking in his disagreements with other apostles and church leaders about the age of the earth and biological evolution.)

What Neville fails to perceive—or to admit—is that texts don’t interpret themselves. When Oliver Cowdery wrote in 1834, referring to the landscape between Palmyra and Manchester, New York, “When one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed,” the reader must ask himself why Oliver wrote it was a “fact” and how he knew it to be a fact.

Jonathan Neville—who is ever wont to accuse others of falling victim to “bias confirmation” but rarely willing to admit his own biases—refuses to ask the important why and how questions. For him, Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII is simply to be taken as theopneustos (“God-breathed”) and therefore unquestionable.

The bitter pill that Heartlanders like Neville refuse to swallow is that Oliver Cowdery’s series of historical letters (of which Letter VII is just one) contain factual errors. As Stephen Smoot has explained:
A problem with the Cowdery letters that Heartlanders routinely ignore or downplay is the fact that they contain glaring errors and embellishments. The most obvious example of this is that Oliver was completely silent about the First Vision. The way Oliver tells the story in Letters III and IV, in the year 1823 (!) Joseph Smith was confused by the religious sects and denominations fighting for converts around him and so retired to his bedroom, prayed, and was visited by the angel Moroni, which event kicked off the Restoration. This version of events contradicts Joseph Smith’s own official history, his 1832 journal entry (written in his own hand), and his private retellings of the First Vision, in which he placed the religious excitement in the years 1818–1820 and was visited by God the Father, Jesus Christ, and a host of angels—not a solitary visit from Moroni. The reason Cowdery didn’t mention of the First Vision is unknown.
Letter VII, written by Oliver CowderyIf Neville is going to assert that it’s a “fact” that the hill in New York is the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon because Oliver Cowdery called it a “fact” in Letter VII, then consistency demands that he also affirm that Joseph Smith’s confusion about religious disagreements in the 15th or 17th year of his life led, not to the First Vision, but to the visit of Moroni in 1823, as Oliver claimed in Letter III and Letter IV.

The extent of Neville’s biases are revealed in his further claim that Joseph Smith’s 1838 history, “was not written by, and probably not dictated by, Joseph Smith. Instead, it was compiled by his scribes.” So, according to him, Oliver Cowdery’s error-prone 1834 history is the authoritative source for the location of the hill Cumorah, but Joseph Smith’s canonized 1838 history—the primary source for our understanding of the First Vision—is untrustworthy.

Witness the folly that Heartlanderism hath wrought.

—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 just noticed this as well. Neville says anything other than Cumorah is a theory and open to study and even revelation. What if the Lord does send the prophet a revelation that says Cumorah is actually in Alaska or Mesoamerica or...? (You get the point). Neville clearly seems to hold to a NY Cumorah not just as a simple statement of geography, but as a tenet of faith itself ever more clearly than he has in the past, and if anyone, perhaps even an apostle, disagrees with him, then clearly they are not led by the spirit whereas he most certainly is.

    That is extremely dangerous thinking that leads to a situation not unlike other fundamentalists, I am afraid.

  2. In defense of Oliver Cowdery, for which Peter Pan and the quoted Stephen Smoot have none other than to criticize him, President Olivery Cowdery, the Assistant President of The Church who was called to that position by the Angel and Resurrected John The Baptist - Oliver Cowdery an Apostle of The Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Elder of the Church, one of the Three Witnesses to the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon to whom all holders of the Holy Priesthood can trace their priestnood line of authority to The Lord himself, declared in his introduction to his Eight Letters:

    “That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. Smith Jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensible. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.”

    But don’t expect Peter Pan and Stephen Smoot to be impressed. A narrow neck of land in Mesoamerica is more important.

    1. TCF,

      I'm inclined to just ignore and delete your comments, but I'll allow this one because it demonstrates the difference between honoring and respecting Oliver Cowdery and worshipping him for the sole reason that he made one off-hand remark that can be easily abused.

      If Letter VII had never been written, Heartlanders wouldn't give a rodent's bum about Oliver Cowdery. He's simply a means to an end for Jonathan Neville and his cult.


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