Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Heartlander David Hocking calls Church-approved artwork “pornography”

David Hocking is a noted figure in the Heartland movement who has self-published his own annotated editions of the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, the Book of Jasher, and the Old Testament book of Isaiah. His Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon, which he co-edited with Rodney Meldrum, contains forgeries and unprovenanced artifacts, misrepresentations of historical sources and DNA science, and unsubstantiated claims and arguments. His editions of the New Testament, Jasher, and Isaiah are texts in the public domain—usually translations that are well over one hundred years old.

Hocking was recently interviewed for the Gospel Tangents podcast, which bills itself as “the best source for Mormon history, science, and theology.” Among the eyebrow-raising things he said in this interview was that Church-authorized artwork depicting the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica is “visual pornography.”
The pertinent part of the interview begins at 1:04:13. Podcaster Rick Bennett noted that there may be “people who admire the work you’ve done,” but who are going to be “turned off with the Heartland theory stuff.” Bennett then asked:
Rick Bennett: Would you consider creating an edition [of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon] that was more geography…

David Hocking: Neutral.

Bennett: …neutral, yeah.

Hocking: Yeah. And, actually, the Church should be doing that, but they’re not. Every—everything that they talk about—they have never been neutral—

Bennett [crosstalk]: That’s so weird about [unintelligible]

Hocking: But, yeah, they want us to be neutral, but they’re not. They have never shown anything in Central—uh, in North America; they always show it as in Mesoamerica. Although the background has mountains in it, it’s got palm trees, it’s got Chichen Itza-type/style temples that have nothing to do with the law of Moses, but that’s their choice. All the artwork—now I’m going to be very bold here; people are going to hear this from Dave Hocking—we hear a lot about pornography in the Church. You know, we have a problem with pornography and what is [unintelligible]? It’s a visual image that you can’t get out of your brain, and it desecrates the human body. These images of the temple that are in our church buildings, that’s in our church material, to me is visual pornography. Why? Because those are not temples after the order of Solomon. You don’t do the law-of-Moses types of sacrifices in these models that they show as images, and you can’t get it out of your mind, and it desecrates the law of Moses. So, for me, that’s visual pornography.

Bennett: Hmm. Wow, that’s pretty bold.

Hocking: It is very bold, but to me that’s what it is, because you cannot get that out of your brain. And if they [Church leaders?] attempt to do that [remove or change the artwork?], there’s going to be a huge backlash. Like, you’ve been given this all this time—you know, image after image after image, iterations after iterations —and now we’ve got new videos that we’re going to show you, and it’s going to be the same image, and I think that’s not right. If they’re going to be truly neutral, they need to remove that kind of image and make it more Hebrew, not some other weird religion that has stone steps with a little square box [at the top]. I’ve never been to a Mormon temple or go to Hebrew [sic] when you go to the temple after the manner of Solomon that has multiple steps with a little square box at the top. They’re all rectangular, and they have different compartments, and you go through these different—and you’ll never see that as part of the depiction of where the Savior came. You see them in a Chichen Itza-style temple with these stone—and, you know, you read the book of Mormon, they never built out of stone.
Hocking is probably referring to Church-commissioned or Church-approved artwork like “And He Healed Them All Every One” by Gary Kapp, “Christ Asks for the Records” by Robert T. Barrett, and “Jesus Christ Visits the Americas” by John Scott. These paintings are published in Church manuals and magazines and approved by Church leaders for use in meetinghouses. (John Scott’s painting hangs in the high council room in my stake center. I confess that I’ve never felt especially turned on when looking at it during stake meetings.)

Strictly speaking, the “Chichen Itza-style temples” in Latter-day Saint depictions of the Book of Mormon are anachronistic. The city of Chichen Itza didn’t become prominent until after 600 A.D., and the Temple of Kukulcán—the building with “multiple steps with a little square box at the top”—didn’t reach its final form until after 900 A.D., hundreds of years after the fall of the Nephite civilization near the end of the 4th century. Art often uses anachronistic elements. (For example, consider the Italian Renaissance setting of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.) The use of Mayan-style architecture in Book of Mormon paintings is intended to represent a Mesoamerican setting without actually claiming that the Mayans were the people of the Book of Mormon. (They weren’t.) Hocking is protesting the use of artistic license; no one who knows Mesoamerican history is arguing that the Temple of Kukulcán was a Nephite temple.

But Hocking’s claim that Church artwork is “visually pornographic” goes well beyond mere disagreement over artistic style. He’s implicitly accusing Church leaders, including the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, of defiling Latter-day Saint temples and meetinghouses because they’ve approved artwork for them that depicts the Savior in a setting that Hocking disagrees with.

How captivated does he have to be with his own theories to claim that Church artwork is pornographic? It’s beyond bizarre, bordering on obsessive madness.

(Also, his claim that the Nephites “never built out of stone” is manifestly false. Alma 48:8 tells us that they built “walls of stone” as defenses against Lamanite attacks. No passage in the Book of Mormon so much as implies that they didn’t use stone in constructing buildings and other structures.)

—Peter Pan


  1. Speaking of anachronisms, he's going to have a conniption when he finds Lorenzo di Medici embedded in the Procession of the Maggi, to say nothing of its taking place in Tuscany... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Medici#/media/File:Gozzoli_magi.jpg
    Does that make this instance of Heartlander outrage the equivalent of Savonarola's puritanical anger?

    Seriously, we have to put up with ingorant commentary about art from avowed critics of the Church who can't seem to understand artistic license, or painting what you (think you) know. Now we have to deal with this kind of nonsense from within, too?

    1. That’s what make Hocking and his allies so dangerous—they have the appearance of being faithful members of the Church, so unsuspecting Saints are more likely to fall for their arguments.

    2. The "paintings are wrong!" nonsense is perhaps the most wearisome of all weak arguments. Plenty of people were scandalized by Picasso and others, but that doesn’t say anything about their work, only about those scandalized. I'm sure scenes like John Singer Sargent's "Gassed" (see below) did happen in The Great War, even if not *precisely* as depicted. It doesn't make the painting true or false, nor Sargent a liar nor a truth-teller. Among other things, 'art represents history but doesn't record it' - paraphrasing The History Guy on YouTube, whose channel I really enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0nq6lKNTUU

    3. I’ve been subscribed to The History Guy’s YouTube channel for years. Great stuff.

  2. I also could not help but laugh when, in the interview, Hocking said he felt like/hoped that Joseph Smith (or Hugh Nibley? I wasn't sure who the "he" was referring to) would tell him that he (Hocking) was "the Hugh Nibley heir apparent" for his annotated Book of Enoch. If he truly was the Nibley heir apparent, he wouldn't be relying on old and outdated public domain translations of Jasher and 1 Enoch, but rather offer new translations. His commentary in his Annotated Book of Enoch and Jasher (which he seriously mispronounces because he does not know Hebrew, and falsely claims it predates the Masoretic text even though the oldest source makes it clear it is a Medieval Midrash) also draws almost exclusively from public domain sources or Wikipedia. That is far from the extensive and comprehensive Nibley had to offer on anything. In short, calling Hocking a scholar as he does is a serious stretch of the word and, frankly, if anyone is the Nibley heir apparent based on their work dealing with Enoch, I would say it is Jeff Bradshaw, hands down.


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