Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Friday, June 17, 2022

Spencer Kraus’s devastating review of Jonathan Neville’s A Man that Can Translate

cover of A Man that Can Translate by Jonathan Neville Jonathan Neville’s 2019 book A Man that Can Translate: Joseph Smith and the Nephite Interpreters (which was revised and updated in 2021) argues that Joseph Smith did not use a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, that Joseph used exclusively the Nephite interpreters to accomplish the translation, and that the plethora of firsthand witnesses who saw Joseph using a seer stone to translate were mistaken because Joseph only did so as a “demonstration” of how the translation process worked.

Today, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship published Spencer Kraus’s sixty-two-page critical review of Neville’s book and his theories under the title “An Unfortunate Approach to Joseph Smith’s Translation of Ancient Scripture.” From the abstract:
[Jonathan] Neville has long argued that Joseph Smith did not use a seer stone during the translation of the Book of Mormon, and he has more recently expanded his historical revisionism to dismiss the multitude of historical sources that include the use of a seer stone. Neville’s “Demonstration Hypothesis” is explored in A Man That Can Translate, arguing that Joseph recited a memorized text from Isaiah rather than translate Isaiah from the Book of Mormon record. This hypothesis, meant to redefine how Joseph Smith used a seer stone during the translation of the Book of Mormon, however, fails to deal with the historical record seriously or faithfully. Neville, in a purported effort to save Joseph Smith’s character, ironically describes Joseph as a liar, reinvigorating old anti-Latter-day Saint claims that Joseph simply recited a memorized text, even to the point that Neville defends hostile sources while targeting Church-published histories and publications. He further attacks the witnesses of the translation in an effort to discredit their testimonies regarding the seer stone, and repeatedly misrepresents these sources. Coming from a Latter-day Saint, such claims are troubling and demand a response.
As someone who has long been disturbed by and disagreed with Neville’s “SITH” theories, I warmly recommend Kraus’s review to all my readers.

—Peter Pan


  1. Peter, I'm curious: do you know _why_ the Heartlanders are so antagonistic to the idea that Joseph used a seerstone? I can't figure out why this seems to drive them so crazy. If this is explained in an earlier post, please feel free to refer me -- thanks!

    1. Rick,

      Well, they weren’t at first. Val Chadwick Bagley published a Heartland children’s cartoon book that showed Joseph Smith placing a brown stone in his hat to translate in Fayette:


      Neville himself also initially accepted that Joseph translated using a seer stone. In an undated page on his main blog, he wrote that Joseph “needed the plates to know the history he was reading off the seer stone was real.”


      It appears to be around 2019 that Neville concluded that Joseph only used the Nephite interpreters and never used a seer stone to translate. That was the year he published the first edition of 𝘈 𝘔𝘢𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘊𝘢𝘯 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘦 and the earliest that Google search results show him pushing back on his main blog against the historicity of the seer stone translation.

      Exactly when and why he came to this conclusion are unknown to me. It may have been rooted in Joseph Fielding Smith’s statement in 𝘋𝘰𝘤𝘵𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘷𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 3:225–226 that he (JFS) didn’t believe the Prophet Joseph used a seer stone to translate and that eyewitness testimony that he did was “hearsay.” Heartlanders have always been slavishly devoted to anything Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, so it may be that Neville felt compelled to come up with an explanation of the translation that was faithful to Joseph Fielding Smith’s (incorrect) opinion.


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

Popular Posts

Search This Blog