Hugh Nibley writings that changed the church

Hugh Nibley writings that changed the church

By Michael De Groote, Deseret News

Published: Thursday, March 11 2010 12:18 a.m. MST
Hugh Nibley was an editor’s dream. He was an editor’s nightmare as well.

PROVO, Utah — Hugh Nibley was an editor’s dream.”He worked incredibly

rapidly and spoke spontaneously and elegantly on timely issues,” John

W. Welch said.

Hugh Nibley was an editor’s nightmare as well.”Using unusual sources

and dozens of languages, his footnotes were amazingly correct — but

very difficult to source check,” Welch said.

Around 1985, Nibley told Welch that LDS Church President Spencer W.

Kimball had promised Nibley that he would not die until his work here

on this earth was finished. “I decided that I wasn’t going to push Hugh

to finish this book (‘One Eternal Round’) any sooner than he wanted.

Because then his work on Earth would have been finished,” Welch said,

tongue in cheek, “and I didn’t want to contribute to a premature


Welch, the Robert K. Thomas Professor of Law at BYU and the current

editor in chief of BYU Studies, spoke on Wednesday, March 10, at the

opening session of the BYU Studies Jubilee Symposium which continues

March 12-13 at BYU.

“I see Nibley’s works as a great river of ideas constantly flowing into

the fountain of all righteousness, to which I hope we all

may become tributaries,” Welch said.

For 26 years Welch was the general editor of “The Collected Works of

Hugh Nibley,” a series of volumes that ended this month with the

publication of volume 19, “One Eternal Round,”

considered Nibley’s masterwork. It arrives just in time for what would

have been the late Nibley’s 100th birthday on March 27.

“I see his influence as being more needed today than ever before,”

Welch said. That influence is found to a great extent in the writings

of Nibley. At the BYU Studies Symposium, it isn’t surprising that Welch

would recommend exploring Nibley through that publication.

“If you want a good point of entry — to get into Hugh Nibley — the

mass of his works can be very daunting,” Welch said. “But the articles

in BYU Studies are a good place to start. They are accessible,

readable, interesting and cover the whole range of most of the things

he was interested in.”

1965 — The Expanding Gospel

Nibley’s first article to appear in BYU Studies. “Here in

1965 he spoke about the big picture of the plan of salvation,” Welch said.

1968 — Prolegomena to Any Study of the Book of Abraham

Getting Ready to Begin, an editorial

As Things Stand at the Moment

The 1967 discovery of some of the Joseph Smith papyri “jumpstarted

Nibley’s career-changing track moving off the Book of Mormon and onto

the Book of Abraham,” Welch said. “Nibley had begun studying Egyptian

almost a decade early, wondering, himself, ‘Why?’ Now he knew why.”

1969 — How to Have a Quiet Campus, Antique Style

Spiro T. Agnew spoke at BYU while vice president of the United States under President Richard M.

Nixon. Nibley responded with what Welch called a “bluntly truthful

satirical masterpiece.” Using coded language, Nibley criticized the ancient Greek practice of focusing education

pursuits on careers and using dress and grooming codes to reign in

student dissent. “Only Hugh could entertain us so well, while being so

deadly serious,” Welch said.

1970 — Educating the Saints — A Brigham Young Mosaic

Welch said this “should be required reading for all LDS scholars,

students and educators.” Nibley warns against ulterior motives in

seeking an education.

1971 — What is “The Book of Breathings?”

The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers

Nibley saw a pattern of education in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. “A

pattern that we must all follow in seeking greater light and

knowledge,” Welch said.

1973 — Review Essay of “Bar-Kochba” by Yigael Yadin

Nibley points out in this essay how the Book of Mormon name Alma is

found in ancient Israel — proving that it was a Jewish name from

ancient times.

1974 — Beyond Politics

This article was not included in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley at

Nibley’s request, according to Welch. It wasn’t polished enough for

Nibley’s tastes. But in it, Welch sees a “harbinger of things to come”

in later Nibley essays.

1975 — The Passing of the Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme

This was a reprint of an early article Nibley had written for a non-Mormon audience about the Great Apostacy.

1978 — The Early Christian Prayer Circle

“This brilliant piece, showing that in the obscure texts the apostles

and their wives indeed gathered in circles to pray together with

Jesus,” Welch said. It shows the ideas of Joseph Smith about temples

was not strange to the early Christians.

1985 — Scriptural Perspectives on How to Survive the Calamities of the Last Days

“Could there be any subject still more relevant?” Welch asked.

“In all of this we have been changed,” Welch said. “Since Hugh Nibley,

we as a people are not the same. We are fed, but we must still plough.”


Michael De Groote



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