Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Another stake in the heart of Neville’s SITH hypothesis

Jonathan Neville insists that Joseph Smith used only the Nephite interpreters (the “Urim and Thummim”) to translate the Book of Mormon, that he did not use a seer stone to translate, and that he never placed either instrument into a hat. Instead, Neville insists that Joseph’s use of a stone in a hat was only a “demonstration” of the translation process to satisfy the curiosity of other people.

Neville’s claim is contradicted by the testimony of multiple eyewitnesses to the translation process, including Martin Harris and Emma Smith (who served as Joseph’s scribes during the translation), David Whitmer (one of the Three Witnesses), Joseph Knight Sr. (a close friend of Joseph Smith who supported the Prophet during the translation effort), Elizabeth Ann Whitmer (Oliver Cowdery’s wife), and others. Neville was forced to develop his “demonstration” hypothesis to account for the overwhelming number of witnesses who said Joseph translated by means of a stone that he placed into a hat.

Neville further claims that the “stone-in-the-hat” story was popularized by Eber D. Howe and set forth in Howe’s 1834 anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unvailed. Neville tells us:
According to Mormonism Unvailed, one explanation was that Joseph Smith used a “peep” stone that he found in a well years before he obtained the plates from the hill in New York. Joseph placed the stone into a hat. Words appeared on the stone. He put his face in the hat to block the light and read the words to his scribes (primarily Martin Harris for the 116 pages and Oliver Cowdery for the Book of Mormon we have today).
Some new evidence has recently come to light that destroys Neville’s claim that the “stone-in-the-hat” explanation was developed by anti-Mormons. The evidence comes from Richard McNemar (1770–1839), a Shaker who lived in Ohio and who encountered the Book of Mormon in late 1830. In November 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson spent four weeks in the area of Kirtland, Ohio, preaching and baptizing, before continuing on their mission to the Lamanites in the West. In his diary entry for Saturday, January 29, 1831, McNemar wrote:
Richard McNemar's January 29, 1831 diary entry about the Book of Mormon and Oliver Cowdery Friday & Saturday I spent mostly in reading the book of Mormon which was [handed?] to me by Elder Solomon. It is a duodecimo volume of 590 pages printed at Palmyra in the state of New York a certain Joseph Smith securing the copy right as author & proprietor. It claims its origin from original engravings on plates of brass deposited in a stone box & [buried?] in the earth sometime in the fourth century & showed to the said Smith by an angel & dug up by the said Smith & translated by inspiration the engraving being unintelligible to learned & unlearned. There is said to have been in the box with the plates two transparent stones in the form of spectacles thro[ugh] which the translator looked on the engraving & afterwards put his face into a hat & the interpretation then flowed into his mind, which he uttered to the amanuensis who wrote it down. The said amanuensis by name Oliver Cowdery, was lately at the North lot & gave this account. He & others being on their way Missouri to open this new revelation to the Indians whose genealogy it professes to trace from the line of Joseph & from the line of their first settlement in America at the period of the Babylonish captivity.… There being no intelligible correspondence between the marks on the plates, & the dictates of the pretended interpreter, all his ideas were acquired by looking into a hat, where in all probability the translation appeared quite plainly in our English language. We must therefore conclude that the confabulation was cunningly devised, whether by visibles or invisibles & whether those bright & unsullied plates had been deposited in ancient or modern times. [Emphasis added.]
McNemar spent the remainder of his diary entry explaining why he could not believe the Book of Mormon to be true. What is interesting, however, is the accuracy of his description of the book, how it was found, and how it was translated. Many early non-Mormon sources garble the story of the book’s translation and contents, but McNemar—with the exception of confusing the gold plates of Mormon for the brass plates of Laban—accurately summarized what he had heard Oliver Cowdery preach and what he himself had read in the Book of Mormon.

From McNemar’s contemporary account of what he heard Oliver Cowdery preach, it’s plainly evident that Oliver himself was teaching in late 1830 that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by placing the Nephite interpreters into a hat, and that Joseph received the translation by having it “flow into his mind” by “appear[ing] quite plainly in our English language,” as Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Joseph Knight Sr. also later described.

This single, early account shatters Neville’s claims that (1) Joseph did not translate by using a stone in a hat, (2) that the stone-in-the-hat theory was created by anti-Mormon sources, and (3) that Joseph translated “in the ordinary sense of the word” and only used the Urim and Thummim to confirm that his translation was correct.

—Peter Pan

I am grateful to Dr. Gerrit Dirkmaat’s Standard of Truth podcast and Spencer Kraus’s Latter-day Light and Truth blog for bringing this historical item to my attention.


Post a Comment

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

Popular Posts

Search This Blog