If you have not been able to tell, one of my top role models and mentors is Dr. Hugh Winder Nibley, former BYU professor and highly esteemed LDS scholar. He was and is still considered the foremost LDS scholar and apologist of this century, and perhaps of all time. And he was a genius. Once at a Biblical Society meeting the Jesuit scholar George MacRae, former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, heard Hugh expound lengthily on a Greek text without notes including sporadically quoting thirty lines of the original, for which MacRae covered his face and confessed – “It is obscene for a man to know that much”1. Hugh Nibley passed away in 2005 at the age of 94.
A a couple decades ago a film documentary was produced about Hugh. Son-in-law Boyd Petersen notes:
During the early stages of FARMS, Jack Welch began to consider producing a documentary about Hugh’s life and work. Jack felt that a good production could be done for the modest sum of about five thousand dollars. The idea took on a life of its own, led to hundreds of hours of personal interviews with Hugh, his family, friends, associates, and consumed a budget of a quarter-million dollars. Welch approached Hugh’s son, Alex, who had studied at the American Conservatory Theater and was working at Sundance on what would later ecome the Sundance Film Institute. Alex liked the idea and talked it over with his supervisor at Sundance, Sterling Van Wagenen. Soon they added a cinematographer named Brian Capener to the team. As they began to plan the film, Alex hoped it would show the more conversational side of his father. “I wanted to show the public part of what I saw in private,” stated Alex.
Although Alex had informed Hugh about the project, Hugh didn’t fully appreciate that the project would actually become a reality until Paul Springer wrote him giving “broad hints and well-justified jibes.” Needless to say, Hugh was furious: “What in hell is going on? Charles (Alex) is being maddeningly uncommunicative. Here I was, sinking into the grateful obscurity of a somewhat benign old age, and this thing breaks loose. I must put a stop to whatever Charles is up to. I did not settle in and for the suffocating obscurity of Provo to attract public notice.”2
But cooperate he did, and the documentary became a profound success. I think far too many people inside the Church and out have ignored the weighty contributions of the scholarship and faithful example of Hugh Nibley.
You can watch the full documentary “Faith of an Observer” by clicking this link.
Also, Nibley’s newest book Eloquent Witness is said to have a transcript of this video.Notes:
- Truman Madsen in Hugh Nibley, On the Timely and the Timeless, x-xi. [↩]
- Boyd Petersen, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, 374-375. [↩]