Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Debunking Jonathan Neville’s fake history of “M2C”

The Heartland theory and the movement behind is based largely on fabrications and exaggerations of history, archaeology, anthropology, and other sciences. Heartlanders regularly make false assertions to support their beliefs; if the facts can’t be distorted, they’ll invent their own facts. (Many examples of this can be seen in the Heartlander-published Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon.)

Among this is Jonathan Neville’s fake history of the development of the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. Since at least 2017, Neville has been making unsubstantiated claims in an attempt to convince his readers that the Mesoamerican geographic theory was adopted by Latter-day Saints from non-members over the objections of Church leaders. (This is not the first time he’s invented history.)

On August 31, 2021, Neville summarized his assertions in the blog post, “Origin of M2C Fantasyland.” His brief summary gives me an opportunity to respond to and expose his fabricated history.

For a reliable (if now somewhat dated) history of theories of Book of Mormon geography, see part 1 of John L. Sorenson’s 1990 book The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book.

I will quote Neville’s blog post in full.
People often ask why our leading LDS [sic] scholars continue to teach students (as well as missionaries and new members) that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.
Once again, Neville quotes from unidentified “people” who are asking him these questions. Who are these people? And how often is “often”?

And again, Neville tries to frame the argument as one of scholars teaching that “the prophets were wrong,” when no Latter-day Saint who believes in a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon has ever used that phrase or even implied anything like it. Continuing to make that assertion, as he has hundreds of times now, is intellectually irresponsible, bordering on libel.
These scholars teach instead that there are “two Cumorahs.” The one in New York, they claim, is a false tradition, while the real Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is somewhere in southern Mexico. This is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

Here’s a short explanation of the intellectual genealogy of M2C.
False is too strong of a word, I would argue; incorrect or misguided are probably more accurate terms. Since there is no revelation on the geography of Book of Mormon events—“the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas”—any comments on specific locations from Church leaders, scholars, and members is just speculation. (And that includes Oliver Cowdery and Letter VII.)

However, I must give Neville credit for the clever image he used in his blog post. He managed to take a jab at the Neville-Neville Land blog without mentioning it by name.
RLDS scholar L.E. Hills decided that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and their successors in the LDS church [sic] were wrong about Cumorah in New York. He rejected Letter VII and the teachings of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, and every other LDS [sic] leader who ever addressed the topic.
There are two significant fabrications in this statement:

  1. Neville provides no evidence of how he knows what Louis Hills’s thoughts and motivations were. Did Hills actually “decide” that Church leaders “were wrong”? Did he “reject Letter VII”? (Was he even aware of Letter VII?) Neville doesn’t tell us how he knows these things, so we can dismiss his claim as nothing more than mind-reading.
  2. Neville begins his “short explanation of the intellectual genealogy of M2C” with Louis Hills’s book Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 B.C. to 421 A.D., but he overlooks—or perhaps purposely ignores—Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geographies that predated Hills’s 1917 work, including:
    • The 1842 and 1843 Times and Seasons articles (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3). Neville insists Joseph Smith had nothing to with these articles, but they at least demonstrate that Latter-day Saints were envisioning Mesoamerica as the setting for the Book of Mormon during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.
    • Apostle Orson Pratt’s article in the June 16, 1866, issue of the Millennial Star. Pratt affirmed a New York Cumorah but placed the remainder of the Book of Mormon in northern South America and Central America.
    • The brief pamphlet, Plain Facts for Students of the Book of Mormon, with a Map of the Promised Land, written and published by a Latter-day Saint in or before 1887:
These three publications, among other statements made by Latter-day Saint leaders in the 1800s, clearly demonstrate that Louis Hills was not the first person to theorize a Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geography. Anthony W. Ivins, who was ordained an apostle in 1907, also apparently supported a Central American setting (Sorenson, p. 17 & 22).

Louis Hills was, as far as we know, the first person to argue in print that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon was in southern Mexico, but let’s go to Neville’s next step before addressing that.
Hills published a map in 1917 showing Cumorah in southern Mexico.

Over the objection of LDS [sic] leaders, LDS [sic] scholars copied the map published by L.E. Hills, moved Cumorah a few miles east, called it their own, and published it everywhere, including on the BYU Studies web page, where you can still see it today.
Neville presents no evidence whatsoever that “LDS [sic] scholars copied” Hills’s map and “called it their own.” Sorenson (pp. 205–206) indicates that the first Latter-day Saint to present a Mesoamerican geography with Cumorah in southern Mexico was Willard Young, who developed his theory “a few years before 1920.” There is no source that indicates Young was aware of Hills’s theory; Neville is taking advantage of the close timing of the two to fallaciously assert that correlation must equal causation.

Neville also asserts that these new geographic theories of Latter-day Saint scholars were published “over the objection of LDS [sic] leaders,” but he cites only one leader who disagreed with a Mesoamerican Cumorah: Joseph Fielding Smith.

As Sorenson explains (pp. 23–24), Elder Smith published an article in the Church Section of the September 10, 1938, issue of the Deseret News in which he affirmed a hemispheric geography of the Book of Mormon (a theory Neville and other Heartlanders reject) and the location of the hill Cumorah in New York (which Neville and other Heartlanders believe). Smith wrote that the theory that the Book of Mormon took place totally within Central America has caused “some members of the Church [to] become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith of the Book of Mormon.” Elder Smith did not explain how or why believing that the Book of Mormon of took place in Central America would cause a person to be “confused and greatly disturbed,” but his unfounded claim has become an unquestionable fact for Jonathan Neville, Rian Nelson, and other Heartlanders. (Joseph Fielding Smith’s article was reprinted in Doctrines of Salvation 3:232–241, so it must be true!)
Church leaders asked the scholars to stop teaching a specific geography, so CES took the BYU Studies map and turned it into a fantasy map, continuing to teach students that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah in New York.
Neville has blithely skipped over nearly one hundred years of history to get to this point. (See Sorenson, pp. 20–31.) He fails to tell us anything about the work of Janne M. Sjödahl, M. Wells Jakeman, Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Milton R. Hunter, John L. Sorenson, David A. Palmer, V. Garth Norman, and many others who advanced Mesoamerican Book of Mormon studies and maps during the twentieth century.

Neville also completely ignores the long history of internal maps of the Book of Mormon. He would have us believe that the “BYU Studies map” (which was really John Sorenson’s map from his 1985 book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon) was “turned…into a a fantasy map” sometime recently. As Sorenson’s book indicates (pp. 22–23), the first internal map of the Book of Mormon was created by Lynn C. Layton and published by the Church in the July 1938 issue of Improvement Era. The following year, Latter-day Saint seminary teachers J. Alvin Washburn and J. Nile Washburn published their own internal map that had a Mesoamerican focus (201–203). Other internal maps created by Latter-day Saints include ones by Kenneth. A. Lauritzen (102–103), Daniel H. Ludlow (120–123), Harold. K. Nielson (124–125), Paul Dean Proctor (147–148), and Thomas L. Tyler (190). Ludlow’s internal map was included in the 1979 Book of Mormon Institute Manual and its second edition in 1981, as well as in the 2012 Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual. (See those maps here.) Neville would have us believe that internal Book of Mormon maps were created because “Church leaders asked the scholars to stop teaching a specific geography,” but that is completely, utterly, and totally false.
Then BYU scholars who work with Book of Mormon Central used computer graphics to make the CES map look more like a real-world setting.
Neville is referring to the Virtual Book of Mormon map created by the BYU Virtual Scriptures Group, headed by Tyler J. Griffin, Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU.

Dr. Griffin explained the Virtual Book of Mormon differently than Jonathan Neville described it: “To not promote anyone’s personal theories regarding exact locations of Book of Mormon events, VirtualScriptures.org includes a geography-neutral Book of Mormon map. It is intentionally not linked to any modern maps of the Americas. Our map is a relational one, based on details found only within the text itself.” (BYU Religious Education Review, Fall 2019, p. 26.)
Book of Mormon Central continues to insist that the only viable and permissible interpretation of the text is M2C. They’ve embedded M2C in their logo by using a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon.
Neville makes a very big deal about Book of Mormon Central’s logo. It really bothers him that they lean toward a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

And yet Book of Mormon Central’s website and publications do not state that Mesoamerica is “the only viable and permissible” location for the Book of Mormon. Neville didn’t get that from Book of Mormon Central; he made it up.
Nevertheless, some people wonder why faith in the Book of Mormon is declining, both among young people who are taught this fantasyland version of the Book of Mormon and among nonmembers contacted by the missionaries (who have been taught M2C).
Again with the “some people” who wonder. Who are these people he’s talking about?

Less than two weeks ago I debunked Jonathan Neville’s baseless claim that “M2C” and “SITH” are affecting the growth of Church membership.

As this blog has demonstrated repeatedly, Jonathan Neville has difficulty telling the truth. His August 31, 2021, blog post is yet another example of how he concocts his own fictitious history to shore up his phony claims about “M2C,” “SITH,” and other subjects.

It’s long past time for him to stop.

—Peter Pan
Postscript: Neville tells us, “I posted some images to prod a goofy anonymous critic who, as I expected, posted his typically goofy responses.” Calling my debunking of his fantasy history “goofy” is not an argument, of course.


  1. Peter Pan, you’re not being accurate about Dr. Sorenson’s “Source Book.” On page 31, Sorenson mentions RLDS member L.E. Hills as the first to come up with the “two Cumorahs” concept and the geography restricted to Mesoamerica. Thus Hills’ false ideas and his maps are being taught today.

    Good Luck on making and loving a M2C lie.
    Stephen Reed

    1. Stephen,

      Since that’s almost exactly what I wrote, above—nearly word for word, in fact—I’ll take that as an indication that you didn’t read my post before commenting.



    2. No Peter Pan, that is not what you wrote above.

      Dr. Sorenson on pages 31-32 enumerated five items that he gave L.E. Hills credit for:

      1) First regionally limited model
      2) Restricted to Mesoamerica
      3) Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the narrow neck
      4) Rio Usumacinta is the River Sidon
      5) First to use secular scholarly literature (Smithsonian reports as noted in Hills’ 1924 book and a separate document in the CofC Library which I obtained).

      Then Sorenson wrote: “The first point involves both the landing of Lehi's party in Central America and the presence of the hill Cumorah of the final Nephite battles in Mexico; actually, then, the concept of "two Cumorahs" goes back at least 75 years.”

      Sorenson wrote that in 1990.

      In other words, RLDS Hills was the first to place the Hill Cumorah in Mesoamerica, Hills created M2C. Joseph Smith has nothing to do with M2C, he was murdered in 1844.

      Peter Pan Dude, if you cannot be honest in your research by hiding facts from the very source you quote from, then stop playing the game!

      Stop promoting error. It’s that simple.

    3. Stephen,

      In your first comment you wrote, “Sorenson mentions RLDS member L.E. Hills as the first to come up with the ‘two Cumorahs’ concept and the geography restricted to Mesoamerica.” I admitted such in my post; the only possible clarification I could offer—the “almost” in my previous comment—is that Hills did, indeed, restrict the 𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘳𝘦𝘵𝘺 of the Book of Mormon to Mesoamerica instead of just 99 percent of it (everything minus Cumorah), as 𝘗𝘭𝘢𝘪𝘯 𝘍𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘴 did in 30 years earlier. If you want to pounce on that 1 percent and call me dishonest, well, it’s a free country I suppose. 🙄

      The larger point, though, is that Neville (along with you and other Heartlanders) has 𝘻𝘦𝘳𝘰 evidence that Hills’s work was known to or used by Latter-day Saints. Just because he came to a similar conclusion around the same time as Willard Young doesn’t mean that Young knew about or copied from Hills (𝘦𝘳𝘨𝘰 𝘩𝘰𝘤 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘱𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘩𝘰𝘤). Please get back to me when you have some actual evidence instead of just wishful assertions.

      “I 𝘥𝘰 believe in fairies” is a statement that only works in Never-Never Land. It doesn’t work in real scholarship.


  2. Hey Peter of Midgley. Do you like my post about the wonderful people of New Zealand? I served a mission to the children of Lehi in Fiji. https://bookofmormonevidence.org/maoris-you-are-some-of-hagoths-people-and-there-is-no-perhaps-about-it/

    1. Sorry, Rian; wrong again. I’m not Louis Midgley (or Dan Peterson, or anyone connected to the old FARMS group).

      But I’m pleased to know that you agree with the Brethren that the people of Polynesia are descendants of Lehi and heirs of the promises of the Book of Mormon.



  3. I always have believed the Children of Lehi are in Polynesia and Mesoamerica and South America and 99% of Heartlanders believe the same. Where have you been hiding? The events of the Book of Mormon had to start someplace and we believe it was the Heartland of the USA, which has nothing to do with where the children of Lehi are now. Of course the children of Lehi traveled all over the Americas after the final battles at NY Cumorah.

    1. You assumed I didn't know, so you shared a link to inform me.

      I read your link and thanked you for the information.

      Then you insult me for not knowing.

      Do you treat everyone this way or just me?


Thoughtful comments are welcome and invited. All comments are moderated.

Popular Posts

Search This Blog