Refuting the errors of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland hoax

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Oliver Cowdery and Lehi’s landing site

According to Heartlanders like Jonathan Neville, Oliver Cowdery is the most important general authority in the history of the Church. After all, it was Oliver who wrote the infamous “Letter VII” that (supposedly) confirms that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is in western New York state.

Neville and other Heartlanders have set up a kiosk on Main Street in Palmyra, New York, area, dedicated not to Joseph Smith, nor to Moroni, nor to the Book of Mormon, but as a memorial to Oliver Cowdery. The kiosk (naturally) includes excepts from Letter VII and was erected, according to Neville, to combat the falsehoods taught in the nearby Hill Cumorah Visitors Center operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has succumbed to the evil machinations of “revisionist Church historians who are systematically erasing Church history to accommodate the M2C* intellectuals.” Because of this kiosk, Neville explains, “visitors to Palmyra can at least learn the truth about what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah,” truths they won’t learn from Church missionaries whom Neville asserts are teaching falsehoods.

Neville may even believe that Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII is more reliable than Joseph Smith’s 1838 history, portions of which are canonized as Joseph Smith—History in the Pearl of Great Price. Oliver wrote Letter VII himself, while the 1838 history, according to Neville, “was not written by, and probably not dictated by, Joseph Smith. Instead, it was compiled by his scribes beginning in 1838.” (Neville is mistaken about this, of course.)

Neville is quick to gainsay any teaching, old or new, that he believes is contrary to the teachings of Oliver Cowdery. One example of this is the early Latter-day Saint belief that the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi landed on the coast of modern-day Chile. (Neville teaches that Lehi landed in the Florida panhandle near present-day Tallahassee.) Neville claims that the idea of the Chile landing site originated with a mistaken comment by Frederick G. Williams that was promulgated by Orson Pratt.

The Frederick G. Williams origin theory of the Chile landing site was plausible thirty years ago, but Neville hasn’t kept up with the scholarship. There’s an even earlier claim that Lehi landed in Chile, and it happens to be connected to…[wait for it]…Oliver Cowdery.

On November 18, 1830, the Observer and Telegraph newspaper of Hudson, Ohio, reported about the first Mormon missionaries who were teaching in the area. Oliver Cowdery, Ziba Peterson, Parley P. Pratt, and Peter Whitmer Jr. had stopped in Kirtland, Ohio, on their way to Missouri to preach to the Native Americas (the “Lamanite Mission”—see D&C 28:8; 32:1–5). In October and November 1830, the four missionaries baptized about 130 converts in northeast Ohio.

The Observer and Telegraph article reports that the missionary group was comprised of “four individuals,” but it mentions only Oliver Cowdery by name. The tone of the article is sarcastic and dismissive of the missionaries’ testimony, and it does garble some facts concerning the translation of the Book of Mormon. It does, however, provide a statement so specific that it could only have come from Oliver Cowdery or one of his companions:
According to the narrative given by one of these disciples—Oliver Cowdery—at their late exhibition in Kirtland, this pretended Revelation was written on golden plates, or something resembling golden plates, of the thickness of tin—7 inches in length, 6 inches in breadth, and a pile about 6 inches deep. None among the most learned in the United States could read, and interpret the hand-writing, (save one, and he could decipher but a few lines correctly,) excepting this ignoramus, Joseph Smith, Jr. To him, they say, was given the spirit of interpretation; but he was ignorant of the art of writing, he employed this Oliver Cowdery and others to write, while he read, interpreted, and translated this mighty Revelation.…

This new Revelation, they say is especially designed for the benefit, or rather for the christianizing of the Aborigines of America; who, as they affirm, are a part of the tribe of Manasseh, and whose ancestors landed on the coast of Chili 600 years before the coming of Christ, and from them descended all the Indians of America.
Observer and Telegraph, Hudson, Ohio, November 18, 1830, Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery, Chile
(Images and a transcription of this newspaper article are available in BYU’s archive of 19th-century publications about the Book of Mormon.)

Since Oliver Cowdery’s witness, testimony, and knowledge are so critical to the beliefs of Jonathan Neville and other Heartlanders, I wonder if he would be willing to accept a South American landing site for Lehi, since that teaching is closely connected Oliver’s preaching in Ohio on his way to teach the Lamanites.

Personally, I don’t believe Lehi landed in Chile. I also don’t believe that any revelation has been received that reveals the locations of Book of Mormon sites (including the hill Cumorah). As the Church’s Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon geography affirms:
Since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have expressed numerous opinions about the specific locations of the events discussed in the book.… Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas.
Jonathan Neville, on the other hand, continues to insist—without evidence and contrary to official Church teachings—that Oliver Cowdery had divine knowledge of the location of the hill Cumorah. He insists that anyone who disagrees with him “rejects the teachings of the prophets,” but it is he who is rejecting the teachings of living prophets.

—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. An article that is "dismissive", "sarcastic", and garbles facts? Sounds like one of Neville's own blog posts...

  2. I would appreciate your opinion (with sources, if available) on the landing site of the Nephites.

    1. I donʼt know if Iʼm qualified to give an opinion, to be honest. I only know what Iʼve read from others. The Pacific coast of Guatemala seems reasonable (per Sorenson and others).

      Florida doesn't meet the requirements of Alma 22:28, and sailing up the St. Lawrence River was impossible, so those two theories must be rejected.

  3. There is a website called Nephicode that has done some extensive research on the winds and currents that flow out of Arabia. In there analysis the only credible place Lehi could have landed was at 30 degrees south latitude as reported by FG Williams.

    According to the descendants of Williams, he received the information by revelation at the dedication of the Kirtland temple.

    I think any other location of the landing had no factual basis for a ship that had no ability to tack at 600bc. Nephi said they were blown by the wind and he simply steered the ship. Therefore the ship could not land in any other place other than in Chile at 600bc.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Iterry. Iʼm familiar with Nephicode, and, while I find that siteʼs conclusions implausible, I think there is certainly room for multiple perspectives and a robust debate on Book of Mormon geography.

      At the very least, the people behind Nephicode arenʼt pushing a grand conspiracy theory like Heartlanders are.


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