Here is one from the archives. We released this episode with Jonathan Neville back on April 8, 2022.
Jonathan Neville is a big-tent proponent when it comes to Book of Mormon beliefs. Part of that likely stems from Heartland being shut out of groups like Book of Mormon Central. But Jonathan is also wants to keep the tent open for people who believe in a non-historical Book of Mormon. Non-Historical Book of Mormon?
Jonathan: But it all comes back to this Mesoamerican thing, because I think once the scholars convince people that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were wrong about the Hill Cumorah, that was like a chink in the armor. They could be wrong about anything else. They said, “If they were wrong about something they said was a fact, then they could be wrong about anything else.” So, they can be wrong about the translation. I don’t know if you know, Skousen recently published a thing in The Interpreter about how now he’s saying that Oliver Cowdery deliberately misled everybody about the translation.
GT 2:56:48 Royal Skousen.
Jonathan 2:56:48 Royal Skousen. And I couldn’t disagree more, but I understand why he says that because the Mesoamerican thing opened the door to questioning everything Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught, and you end up with, what’s left? Everybody just kind of says, “Well, as long as you believe in Christ, that’s all the matters.” But, come on. I mean, when it gets down to it, the only evidence that we have of the restoration of the priesthood is from Oliver Cowdery. Joseph Smith talked about it, but he didn’t talk about the event. Yet, they’re saying Oliver Cowdery was wrong about the Hill Cumorah? So, what I advocate is not anybody agree with anything that I say. I advocate, let’s get all the facts out, and then let’s look at the different interpretations of the facts. You go all the way from Dan Vogel and Tom Murphy, through Jack Welch, John Sorenson and Dan Peterson. Then, over here we have Rod Meldrum, and Wayne May on the geography issue, or me on the translation or whatever. Let’s just put all of them out and let’s get rid of this citation cartel that censors things they don’t like. The Interpreter, to me, is an appalling journal. It shouldn’t even be considered an academic journal.
GT 2:57:20 Yet, you read it.
Jonathan 2:58:06 Well, I have a blog called The Interpreter Peer Reviewed, where once in a while someone will send me an article, “You’ve got to deal with this.” I read it, okay. Then, what I would do is a peer review. I understand it’s more of a peer approval process that it goes through with those guys, because everybody on their peer review process already drinks the Kool Aid. I mean, they don’t consider an outside perspective, and I know, because I’ve talked with them. I know how they are, and you can read it in their journals. They get upset that I even talk about it. Dan Peterson freaks out. In Dan Peterson’s own blog that he does on his Patheos, whatever, he’s referred to me several times and wants everybody read this critical web page. There’s a page that’s critical of me all the time. At first, I thought, “Well, I should respond to that.” But then I read it. It’s so ludicrous. I feel like if people can’t discern fact from sophistry, then that’s on them. I’m not going to spend all my time tamping down all the sophistry going around.
Jonathan 2:59:12 I just feel like people need to present the facts. If The Interpreter–the name Interpreter kind of tells it all, because they feel like they are the credentialed class. They are the ones that have been hired by the prophets to guide the rest of us, that kind of stuff which they’ve said. And the name Interpreter, alone, is a non-starter, because they’re trying to interpret the scriptures for us. I think the scriptures are given to ordinary people that we can understand and interpret for ourselves. We don’t need some scholars interpreting it for us. Having the advantage of using the Bible and Jonathan Edwards to understand the Book of Mormon is helpful, but it’s not essential. But, as soon as we say that we know better than the prophets, the gig is up, in my opinion. That’s why I think so many people are in these faith crises, because they say, “Our BYU teachers are telling us the prophets are wrong about this, but they are right about this and the only way we know when they’re right and when they’re wrong is when our intellectuals tell us.” Think about that. That’s the reality. I think, to me…
GT 3:00:24 Are you saying BYU is too liberal? Is that what you’re saying?
Jonathan 3:00:27 No, I’m saying BYU is, first of all, BYU is not an entity. I mean, there’s a variety of opinions at BYU, but they’re not all expressed, and that’s where my problem is. I think that the Church History Department has been better. Years ago, they said, “All right, you guys can’t teach Mesoamerica anymore,” if you remember that. What’s his name, Dan Peterson’s buddy, Hamblin. Hamblin wrote an article about how outraged he was. They were destroying Book of Mormon studies and all that because they wouldn’t let him teach Mesoamerica. I thought, if they had been actual scholars, speaking of Dan Peterson and Hamblin, they would have welcomed that because it would have welcomed alternative perspectives.
Jonathan 3:01:11 But, instead, they were so mired in Mesoamerica, that’s all they could see. It’s like, one of them down there, I won’t mention his name. He said he can’t unsee Mesoamerica when he reads the Book of Mormon, and that’s because he’ll read a narrow strip of mountainous wilderness in it, or whatever. They don’t read the text, they read their interpretation of the text. So, I think the BYU administration has done the best job they can with trying to level the playing field and say, “Look. We’re not going to impose any private opinions on our students.” But what’s happened is that’s kind of morphed into this abstract map that Tyler Griffin and those guys teach, and it imprints the Mesoamerican thing on the students minds. It’s like you. You can’t unsee the hourglass anymore. You can’t conceive of a different– everybody’s looking for an hour class in Malaysia or whatever, because of what they’ve been taught at BYU. Where I’m saying, “Don’t even say it has to be an hourglass. An hourglass is among the interpretations.”
GT 3:02:13 Because there’s no hourglass in Heartland. (Chuckling)
Jonathan 3:02:16 Well, there is if you look at it, from the way I said, with the land north and land southward, being different times at different places, then there is obviously a narrow neck that leads from one to the other. But it’s not the same all the way through.
GT 3:02:30 Where is it? Where’s the narrow neck?
Jonathan 3:02:31 Well, there’s several of them.
GT 3:02:35 Give me two or three.
Jonathan 3:02:36 Wayne, and I disagree about that, too. But there’s here’s my bottom line and what the prophets have said. They’ve always said Cumorah is in New York, and they’ve always said, “We don’t know where the other events took place.” That is the perfect response, and that’s because some guy did an anthology, he said there are over a million mound settlements in North America. Today, there’s about 100,000 that still exist. If you look at every one of those, they’re potential Book of Mormon sites, and on top of that, you have this idea of the narrow neck of land, just like George Washington had one on the Hudson River. There are literally hundreds of narrow necks of land, if you look at all the river systems, or small necks that connect a land northward to a land southward. So you can’t, that’s why…
GT 3:03:21 There’s not one there’s many.
Jonathan 3:03:23 There’s not one, there’s many. That’s why Wayne and I disagree on a narrow neck that makes sense to us, and I’m fine with that. I’m happy to have alternative ideas. Because I think the only intellectually honest way to approach this is to spell out what the facts are in Church History and what the text actually says. Then develop alternative interpretations, and not say this is the only one that’s right. The reason I say Cumorah is an exception is because that’s one of the historical facts. Oliver Cowdery said it was a fact. The prophets have all said it. No single prophet or apostle has ever disagreed with that. Most of them won’t talk about it anymore. They want to pretend. One of the apostles told us, “There’s no Church Department of Geography.” Stop talking about it, basically. That’s a legitimate point. On the other hand, when the orthodox geography is what they’re teaching at BYU and CES, which is this hourglass shape that’s hypothetical, it’s other-worldly, basically. To me, that’s telling everybody the Book of Mormon is fiction. That’s why I think it’s a serious issue.
GT 3:04:38 I don’t even think Meso looks like an hour glass.
Jonathan 3:04:41 It doesn’t, but that’s why they say that North is east and Sorenson said the directions are based on where they landed, and since they landed here, that became their West and that stuff. I know some of them have more refined details, so they analyzed north and south. That’s all based in Central America because of the Times and Seasons articles. But, I say, let’s stick with what the prophets thought. They were wise in saying we don’t know where other things took place, but we know where Cumorah is. And if your interpretation of Book of Mormon geography puts Cumorah somewhere else, then spell out, “I disagree with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and Wilford Woodruff and Marion G. Romney and everybody else.” Let’s put that up front. So, everybody that reads your stuff knows what your position is. Don’t try to hide it. Don’t try to use this euphemism that, “Well, it was their own opinion and stuff.” Let’s spell out what they taught. That’s why on one of my blogs, I have my BYU packet on Cumorah, which atomizes most of these. I should supplement with all of them. But I don’t care what anybody believes.
Jonathan: In fact, let me end with this, because then it’s probably time [to end.] I don’t even care if people believe the Book of Mormon is a literal history. I don’t think that’s essential to salvation. I think what we have to agree on is Zion is a big tent. There are stakes all over, every stake is different. Every individual is different. What unites us is our devotion to Christ, and our desire to build Zion. And short of that, we can all believe whatever we want. But what I don’t want to have happen, and this happened. I could give you plenty of anecdotes of this. I don’t want people abandoning the ship Zion, because they lose faith either in the Mesoamerican or the abstract map that Tyler Griffin is teaching. And kids do. They look at that they say that Mesoamerica doesn’t make any sense, and the prophets taught this anyway, so, why are we saying they were wrong? They related to that is the translation. If people want to believe…
GT 3:06:45 So, you’d be totally fine with somebody that said, “The Book of Mormon is ahistorical. I love the spiritual message.”
Jonathan 3:06:51 That’s right, that’s fine with me. I’ve talked about this a lot, but I don’t know if my perspective has gotten through. Moroni 10:3-5 talks about, read this ask the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost manifests the truth to you. Everybody interprets that is meaning you have to have a spiritual witness. But, that’s not what Moroni said. The next few verses, he warns us against thinking that. He says, “There’s lots of different ways the Holy Ghost works.” He talks about the gifts of the Spirit, one of those was the gift of wisdom and the gift of knowledge. Those are not the same as a spiritual impression, and those are gifts of the Spirit. Some people have a gift of knowledge, where they can learn things, and that’s how they learn the truth is through this gift of knowledge. Others have a gift of wisdom, which is kind of a nuance, but it’s related to that. Others have a gift of healing or whatever. Someone could experience the gift of healing, like these evangelicals. They could experience a gift of healing. I’ve talked to some that have had miraculous healings, and that’s their testimony to them from the Holy Ghost, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not, you know, I read the Book of Mormon, I get a warm feeling. Some people have that. Moroni says, “Some people have a gift of great faith.” That’s what that weren’t feeling is. But I’ve talked to people, sincere people who’ve read the Book of Mormon, and they do not get that response when they pray about it. That’s because they have a different spiritual gift. And we’re not opening the door to these other spiritual gifts for people who have them. That’s why I think the Heartland is so crucial. Because if you are a person that has the gift of knowledge, you need to have access to the knowledge in order for that gift to become effective. And part of that knowledge is the actual Church History. And what did Joseph and Oliver actually teach? It has to do with the translation and the geography, both.
Jonathan 3:08:46 I’ve been advocating to Book of Mormon Central, the people that run it, for years. “Look. Let’s spell out all the facts, and then have different alternative working hypotheses,” and they just refuse to do it. But you’re doing a good job, because you’re getting all the facts out there. That’s what I love about Gospel Tangents, because you’re doing what I wish our LDS intellectuals would do, and that is letting people judge for themselves and exploring a variety of interpretations. My only bottom line is, if we don’t agree with or accept what the prophets taught, then what are we doing? It doesn’t make any [sense.] Why even talk about the Book of Mormon if we think Joseph and Oliver were wrong? Because we certainly shouldn’t limit…
GT 3:09:34 A person who believes it is ahistorical would believe Joseph and Oliver were wrong.
Jonathan 3:09:37 Yeah, totally.
GT 3:09:38 So, are you condemning them?
Jonathan 3:09:41 No, I’m not. I just said I’m happy with people believing whatever they want. First of all, I don’t condemn, even people who hate the Church. That’s their issue. I’m saying in order for us to be united as a church, the only things that matter is our devotion to Christ and establishing Zion. Everything short of that, people can believe whatever they want.
Jonathan 3:10:01 I mentioned in a blog, recently, I have a friend who has been a mission president twice, who doesn’t believe the Book of Mormon is a real history. And he’s awesome. He’s done a lot for the Church. I mean, he sees miracles, He says, “I can’t explain it all, but I think it was 19th century fiction. But I still believe in the Church and what we’re trying to accomplish.” And he’s still devoted to Christ.
GT 3:10:22 Oh, wow. That’s interesting.
Jonathan 3:10:23 There’s lots of people like that, and I don’t blame them. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the Heartland, I’d probably be in that camp, too. Because the Mesoamerica thing is just preposterous, to me, at this point. That doesn’t mean I condemn anybody who believes that. I’m fine for people to believe it if they want. I talked to a well-known general authority, whose brother left the Church over this because he’s a Mesoamerican expert. He’d written textbooks on Mesoamerica and stuff. He’s an anthropologist. He said, “As long as the Church is teaching that, it can’t be true. Because that there’s nothing in Mayan culture that has anything to do with the Book of Mormon.” When you read what Brant Gardner or John Sorenson and these guys say about the Mayans, the Mayan culture, it’s, I mean, I see where they’re coming from, because they’re trying to confirm their biases. But the things they talk about are ubiquitous to all human civilizations. You know, you could go to China, Africa. You find those similar kinds of things in every human civilization. That’s why it’s in the Book of Mormon. But that doesn’t mean any civilization that has those characteristics is where the Nephites were. It’s just a logical fallacy. It is such a blatant, obvious, logical fallacy. Yet, it just keeps perpetuating itself because their peer reviewers are all like-minded, and they keep saying, “Yeah, you’re confirming our bias. Go!” I’m just hopeful that we get to the point where the intellectuals in the Church are honest enough to spell out all the facts. So, we don’t get a book like the Saints book that just censors Cumorah. We don’t get a lot of these Church materials that are taking a point of view and implicitly condemning alternative points of view. Especially, I’m opposed to points of view that try to tell us the prophets were wrong. So, I don’t know what more I can say.
Jonathan 3:11:41 All right. Well, we’ve definitely talked a lot.
Jonathan 3:12:20 Yeah, probably too much.
GT 3:12:21 No, that’s good. So, we just have to have another conversation in a few months.
Jonathan 3:12:26 Yeah, the translation is a fascinating topic. But I’m really sincere. I’ve had Heartlanders complained to me that I’m too nice to the Mesoamerican people.
GT 3:12:35 (Chuckling)
Jonathan 3:12:36 Seriously, they email me, tell me in person. I say, “Look, they are our brothers and sisters in the gospel.” I even did a graphic where I showed people going into the temple at one of these open houses. It had a little thing above it. I said, “These guys believe Meso. These guys believe Heartland. These guys believe it’s fiction, and they’re all going to the temple. They’re all brothers and sisters dressed the same.” That’s how I see it. So, you can believe anything you want. I don’t care. I’m just saying for people like me, who look for knowledge. I like the knowledge side of it. I like to trust but verify. Obviously, I have lots of spiritual experiences, too.
Jonathan 3:13:11 But, people in other religions also have spiritual experiences. So, to me, the spiritual confirmation is not that meaningful, frankly. I think it has to be accompanied. That’s why Joseph Smith talked about evidence of his divine authenticity. I’ve talked. I’ve lived around the world. I’ve talked to people in all different religions. They can all give you examples of how God intervened in their life or directed them or gave them confirmation of their beliefs. I mean, that’s a ubiquitous thing for anybody who desires to know God. So, to me it’s not evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon by itself. It is, if that’s the gift you have. But I think there also is this other, the linguistics and the geography, anthropology. That’s also part of it for some people, like me, it’s important. So, that’s why I don’t condemn anybody. I don’t. Dan Vogel’s great, you know, whatever. The only one, I think, the one that, if I had to condemn someone.
GT 3:14:12 The Meso guys. (Chuckling)
Jonathan 3:14:14 I’m not going to condemn anybody. But there are some critics, speaking of John Dehlin, in particular, who are doing nothing to improve society and establish Zion. The fallacy of his whole point is, this list of facts. He’s taking one interpretation, and saying this is the only interpretation you should accept. I think that’s just, it’s a goofy approach. But it’s also kind of sinister, because people who don’t know all the facts, fall for that. I’m fine with someone who wants to interpret the way John does. But, I think, if they’re intellectually honest, they should interpret or at least be aware of all the alternative interpretations, and then you look at the fruits.
Jonathan 3:14:55 Christ said, “By their fruits, you shall know them.” What are the fruits of the gospel, of the Church today? You’ve got the Pathway program. I’m a Pathway missionary right now. So, all around the world, people are getting an education through Pathway. You have the whole self-reliance program that’s improving people’s lives all around the world. I could go on and on. I have a whole blog about Zion. It’s establishing Zion that’s the most important thing going on in the world right now. That’s part of the gathering of Israel is to establish Zion. People like John Dehlin aren’t helping out at all. They’re tearing it down. He’s very clever, because he’s taking common human questions and weaknesses and failures and attributing them to the Church, where it has nothing to do with the Church. It has to do with human nature and our failures and faults and the gap between our aspirations and reality and all that stuff. He’s manipulating that to blame the Church for it. But you could go to any society in the world and find those same problems. I have a little bit of an agenda with him, that I think he’s really kind of, maybe he started off with good intentions or whatever. Maybe he’s trying to justify his excommunication. I don’t know. But people who fall for what he’s doing are the ones that are uneducated. I really think that the intellectuals in the Church owe it to the Church members, to lay out all the facts and not adhere to one interpretation.
GT 3:16:29 Well, great. Jonathan Neville, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Jonathan 3:16:34 Hopefully, you can edit out most of that. (Chuckling)
GT 3:16:36 (Chuckling) Alright, well, I appreciate you being here on Gospel Tangents.
Jonathan 3:16:41 It was fun talking with you.
GT 3:16:43 Thanks a lot.
Jonathan 3:16:45 Thanks! See you next time.
Jonathan says people who believe in non-historical Book of Mormon should participate in worship.
Don’t miss our previous conversations with Jonathan!
Allow Multiple Views, Even non-Historical
Jonathan Edwards Influence on Book of Mormon
“Evidence of Composition is Evidence of Translation”
Explaining Mormon DNA-Archeology
The Final Battle
Pros & Cons of Vague Geography
Why Limited Geography is Wrong?
Lehi’s Atlantic Crossing?
M2C Citation Cartel
Was Joseph Really Editor?
Neville’s Church History Background
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