I have been through quite a range of emotions the last few weeks. I’ve felt utter despair, grief, and sorrow, as well as bitterness, confusion, and great disappointment. Through it all I’ve been blessed with comfort from our Heavenly Father beyond measure, and by experiences too sacred to share. It’s been a roller coaster of a time with everything that has happened at the Maxwell Institute. I make no bones about it—FARMS had an immense impact on my life, most particularly as it relates to my testimony and faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Recently one of our dear readers asked me what so inspired me about Hugh Nibley, what so captivated me emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually about his scholarship and writings? Here was my response:
What captivated me about Nibley is that he gave a reason for the restored gospel to be (1 Peter 3:15). In the words of Austin Farrer:
“Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”
By reading Nibley, the gospel became a very real thing to me, and gave a climate in which my faith grew and flourished beyond what I thought was possible. It was like seeing the words on a page suddenly spring to life. The gospel became not only a spiritual mode of living, or a moral code, but Nibley gave a real place for it in the larger worldview of history, literature, economics, culture, languages, peoples, religions, morality, and theology. He brought everything together, and made connections no one else had. He gave a much deeper purpose and meaning to the gospel which I hadn’t found elsewhere, teaching me in ways I hadn’t encountered before of the true reasons for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and His gospel. Nibley heightened my awareness of myself, and gave me grander views of life, what it means to seek after true joy, and the purposes for which we’re all here. In a sense, Nibley brought me out of Plato’s cave.
FARMS became synonymous with Hugh Nibley throughout the 80’s and 90’s. I remember on my mission in El Salvador hearing through the grapevine about a book by none other than one Hugh Nibley entitled something like The Egyptian Endowment, and some of what it contained, and it absolutely fascinated me. I was floored that such a book could even be written! Did the Egyptians have a ceremony and ritual similar to our modern day temple rites? And if so, what an amazing vindication of the prophet Joseph Smith! These ordinances really are “as old as the human race”! It peaked my interest for along time, since I did not have access to such materials on my mission, and oh how I longed for the day when I would be able to read it when I returned home.
Indeed, when I returned home from my mission, I went immediately to work tracking down that book. It was out of print, and I’m sure I could have picked it up somewhere for a few hundred dollars, but I heard rumors that the Second Edition of the book was being prepared for publication by the Maxwell Institute (at that time it was known as ISPART, for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts). So the waiting began anew! I waited for three more long years until the The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (2nd edition) was published by Deseret Book. It was Christmas morning for me (which is quite accurate since it was published on December 30, 2005), and I was a schoolboy all over again.
I devoured that book. Well, let me rephrase that. I placed my pinky toe into the deep end, and did my best to pick it apart. I was excited beyond belief to read about the rituals of the Egyptians, about their coronation rituals, their mummification rituals, their cleansing and purifying rituals, and afterlife rituals. It opened up my understanding of the temple to levels I thought not possible. I still return quite frequently to that book, and glean amazing insights and knowledge from its pages. And I still haven’t finished reading it!
Of course, along with all my excitement about the Egyptian Endowment, I began looking into this prodigious figure by the name of Hugh Nibley down at “the BYU.” I found that he had become one of the Church’s most prolific scholars and defenders of the gospel. I started picking up his other books and writings, such as Brother Brigham Young Challenges the Saints, and I ate it up. This was a whole new world of scholarship and becoming acutely aware of and understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Even before I got my hands on The Egyptian Endowment, my in-laws gifted me Approaching Zion for my 24th birthday in May 2005. All I can say is, “Wow!” That book has done more for me, save the scriptures only, than any other book. It is one of the best books I’ve ever had the opportunity to lay my eyes on. It fundamentally shifted my worldview, my goals in life, and my understanding of why we are here. What is it all for? Why did our Father put us here in the first place? What are we supposed to be doing? What is consecration? What is our duty to God, to ourselves, and to each other? Through that book I learned this sublime lesson, which I had not found anywhere else, or if I had I did not understand it — there is more to life than going to work every day for the man. There’s more to life than building up capitalism and worrying about the daily riffraff of politics. We’re here for more than just making money, buying a bigger house, or owning a better car. This is our – mortal – life, and we only get one chance at it. What can we do, in our limited sojourn here, as Brigham Young said, “to be useful while we live”? Indeed, we are divine sons and daughters of an eternal God, and as such we should live every day as if that is precisely who we are. Nibley once taught:
…above all the two things we can be good at, and no two other things can we do: We can forgive and we can repent. It’s the gospel of repentance. We’re told that the angels envy men their ability both to forgive and to repent because they can’t do either, you see. But nobody’s very clever, nobody’s very brave, nobody’s very strong, nobody’s very wise. We’re all pretty stupid, you see. Nobody’s very anything. We’re not tested on those things; but the things the angels envy us for, we can forgive and we can repent. So three cheers, let’s start repenting as of now. (“Faith of an Observer,” film documentary.)
I believe I remember reading in his biography (and this is from memory) that Hugh Nibley once broke into a fit of laughter while doing his research at BYU, and someone stepped in to his office to ask what he was up to. “I just found an error in the Book of Mormon!” he shouted. Feeling a bit concerned at the gravity of the situation, the visitor cautiously replied, “Oh really, what’s that?” Hugh quipped back, “The prophets speak of man being carnal, sensual, and devilish. But they forgot stupid!”
I love that man. I love him. As deeply as I love my best friends. And I never had the chance to tell him so, I never had it. I bemoan that to this very day. The closest I ever came to him was attending his funeral in the de Jong Concert Hall, with video broadcast from the Provo Tabernacle. With heartfelt emotion, I look forward to the day when I can walk up to Hugh Winder Nibley, shake his hand and give him a hug, and with tears in my eyes thank him for everything he has done, for me, in facilitating my lifelong conversion to our Savior Jesus Christ, and His eternal gospel and the kingdom of God on the earth. “And if it so be that you should labor all your days… and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15). What a celebration that will be!
My emotions have been very close to the surface these last few weeks with everything that happened to the FARMS component of the Maxwell Institute. It ripped me at my core to see this organization dry up and vanish, forcefully so, seemingly in an instant. It shocked me to think that some thought the Church didn’t have a need for this kind of scholarship, which had done so much for me, and so many others. Where would I have been without FARMS and Hugh Nibley? I honestly don’t know, and I fear just thinking of the vision. There have been several times over the past few weeks when I’ve honestly wept tears of sorrow over what’s happened. A couple of those times, as silly as it might sound, were when I heard a couple songs on the radio, and my emotion spilled over. Go ahead and laugh. I did!
When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There’s so much they hold
And just like them old stars
I see that you’ve come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?
I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up
And when you’re needing your space
To do some navigating
I’ll be here patiently waiting
To see what you find
‘Cause even the stars they burn
Some even fall to the earth
We’ve got a lot to learn
God knows we’re worth it
No, I won’t give up
I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make
Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use
The tools and gifts we got yeah, we got a lot at stake
And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend
For us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn
We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in
I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not
And who I am
I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up
Still looking up.
I won’t give up on us (no I’m not giving up)
God knows I’m tough enough (I am tough, I am loved)
We’ve got a lot to learn (we’re alive, we are loved)
God knows we’re worth it (and we’re worth it)
I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up
(Jason Mraz, “I Won’t Give Up.”)
Of course, a friend and I didn’t just want to sit around, we wanted to do something about it, and hence we started the Restore FARMS support movement, with a website at RestoreFARMS.com. We wanted to show our support, and gather others who also showed their support for traditional FARMS. What is likely to be profound for some is that we are young; I’m in my early thirties, and I believe Tevya Washburn is too. We have young families. We are Generation Y, born of baby boomers. We did not grow up with Nibley, per se, or were involved in the golden days of FARMS in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet we were fundamentally moved by the work it produced, when we discovered it at a later date, and desired deeply to see it continue on in some form.
And now for the reason you’re reading this post in the first place, if I’ve teased you long enough. Early last week I was approached by William Hamblin (whom I’m friends with) and Daniel Peterson (who I haven’t met personally before) early last week. They wanted to do something too. I couldn’t have been happier to hear it. Once more, they wanted my help to make it happen. Me. Disbelief. Can I just say that I’m unsure I’ve ever received a greater honor in my lifetime. These great scholars, who have dedicated the better portion of their lifetimes sustaining and defending the Church and its gospel, and whom I’ve privately admired from a distance as filling the vacuum and vacancy left by Nibley’s passing, were coming to me, looking for my help, to help an organization that I dearly loved and wanted to live on. Words can’t express the thoughts and emotions. I was deeply, fundamentally moved, and still am.
They asked for my help to put together a website and the technological solutions for a new journal that would serve much the same purposes that the FARMS Review had in the past, and the Mormon Studies Review in more recent days. And they wanted to do it fast too. Since Br. Peterson had just returned from his trip out of the country and things hadn’t been moving forward on any fronts elsewhere, they wanted to see if it could be ready to go by the 2012 FAIR Conference, on August 3rd, if possible. That conference, if my scheduling this blog post goes as planned (since I’m writing this on Wednesday evening, August 1st), is just now coming to an end, and Daniel C. Peterson has just concluded his remarks as the final speaker. At the end of his remarks it was his opportunity, as former editor of the FARMS Review for 23 years, to take the center stage and announce this new venture, as a new age in Mormon apologetics is revealed, and we move forward into the 21st century of technology and scholarship in the Church. How exquisitely humbled I am that I had the opportunity to be a part of this historic occasion.
Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture is a nonprofit educational journal focused on the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Bible, Doctrine and Covenants, and related subjects. All publications are peer-reviewed and are made available as free internet downloads or through at-cost print-on-demand services.
Our goal is to increase understanding of scripture through careful scholarly investigation and analysis of the insights provided by a wide range of ancillary disciplines, including language, history, archaeology, literature, culture, ethnohistory, art, geography, law, politics, philosophy, etc. We hope to illuminate, by study and faith, the eternal spiritual message of the scriptures—that Jesus is the Christ.
Although the editors of the journal fully support the goals and teachings of the Church, the journal is an independent entity with no affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nor with Brigham Young University. The Board of Editors is alone responsible for its contents.
I had quite a task before me, to understate. I was asked to build the mechanism that would help serve this great mission. I do find it providential the circumstances that have come together in recent years, months, and days to bring me to this point where I could be in a position to help in this way. I was invited to come to a meeting last week, on Thursday, July 26th, to meet with the Board of Editors. The hyperbole is probably becoming excessive by now, but what an opportunity! Here I was, an amateur, sitting with seasoned veterans, people I’ve admired for a long time, and who have written dozens of books, with alphabets suffixed to their names, and I counseled with them about the best way to go about launching this new publication. I’ll never forget it.
I went to work that same day, last Thursday, July 26th, to begin building what would become MormonInterpreter.com. What you see today, August 3rd, are the results of that eight day effort, with some amazing guidance and collaboration and work by many on the entire Board of the new journal (which I was invited early on to join), including Alison Coutts who worked tirelessly to edit and typeset the inaugural paper by David Bokovoy. My brother also worked, sometimes into the early morning hours, on the website server and hosting technologies behind the scenes.
We actually had a significant server bug which was a severe technological problem that we didn’t solve until late Monday night, July 30th, and into the early morning hours of Tuesday. This problem prevented many of the most important development on the site until it could be resolved, which I credit wholly to my fantastic and beloved brother, Brad Haymond, for finally finding the solution after many hours of picking through source code line by line and talking with technical support reps. Thank you, Brad, for being patient with me.
Because of this troubling hangup, which very well could be attributed to an antagonist from the unseen world trying to put the brakes on this work, I wasn’t able to get to the majority of the work until about 1:00am Tuesday morning, July 31st. I’ve worked almost nonstop since that very time on the clock, almost 43 hours ago, to finalize the Interpreter website and technologies by this morning, Wednesday, August 1st. I haven’t gone to sleep, at all, of my own free will and choice. I have consecrated my everything to help this be the absolute best it could possibly be by today’s announcement. And I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. I have been immensely blessed and sustained in body and spirit these last couple days to finish this, for which I am supremely grateful to our Father in Heaven (D&C 84:33; D&C 89:18-21). You could say we had our own “First Vision” experience, when the mists of darkness suddenly cleared, and we saw the light. Providence prevailed, as it always does in the end (D&C 18:5).
Here are some of the features of the new Interpreter journal website. It is unique among anything that has been done in the past:
- Great lengths were taken to make the text on the website mirror the look of the printed journal as much as possible, up to and including the fonts used. This was to keep the professional feel throughout, and consistency between mediums.
- We have short biographies and photographs of all the Board of Editors, on which I have also been invited to be a part. Take a look.
- We’ve applied a Creative Commons license to the website and the journal, with no derivative works, nor commercial use allowed. But the materials can be shared as widely and freely as possible with attribution. This is known as a CC BY-NC-ND license.
- There are 9 different ways of subscribing to our publications (see along the top edge of the site). This is more than I’ve seen at most other websites, and should give readers and supporters plenty of opportunity to “follow” us in whatever venue suits them best, including email, RSS, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Audio podcast, PDF podcast, ePub podcast, and printed copy feeds (for easy ordering of a hard copies).
- The three podcast feeds will soon be listed in Apple’s iTunes podcast directory, for ease of access on your Apple iDevices.
- The journal will also soon be available for access and reading from Amazon’s electronic Kindle Store, under “Kindle blogs.”
- We also have 7 different formats of offering the scholarly papers for download – HTML (what you see on the site, which can be easily printed from your browser), PDF format, ePub format (works on most e-readers including iPad, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, etc.), Amazon’s Kindle .mobi format, and MP3 audio reading (thanks to my brother Brad, again, for offering his great voice). A How-To page on the site describes the best ways of using these formats and feeds. If you’d like to print out a copy, you can do that directly from the webpage, and it will print out a cleanly formatted copy from your printer. We are also including an option for ordering a bound printed copy, for those who don’t like to read on screens, directly from an innovative service called MagCloud. Think of it as printing “in the cloud.” This service from Hewlett-Packard takes care of all inventory, printing, binding, shipping addresses, ordering, processing, taking payments (for cost of printing), and shipping worldwide, so we don’t have to! This will help tremendously to keep costs associated with our operations to a minimum. MagCloud will print as few as just 1 copy at a time, and ship it direct to your doorstep. Each of the journal’s papers will be available for about $4-5/each (including shipping), covering cost only (we are a nonprofit). Later, once we have accumulated several papers, we will make it available in a bound volume too, which will be available for ordering the same way.
- The footnotes are all hyperlinked in the papers, so you can click on the superscript number, and it will jump directly to that footnote. Then you can click on the return arrow at the end of the footnote, and it will return you right back where you left off in the paper. Don’t you love technology?! Where was this back in the days we read Nibley?
- Because we are a nonprofit organization, yet we have operations that cost money, we have provided the option of making donations simply through PayPal. We are preparing for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, which we hope to achieve at a later date. Donations now are non-tax deductible.
- All the biographies of our editors and authors will be linked to lists of the papers written by those scholars.
- The website is completely mobile-ready, and displays very nicely on iPads, iPhones, Androids, and other smartphones and tablets, for reading on-the-go.
- We will be able to track in a very precise way all the traffic that the website gets, down to the number of times each format is downloaded, and the number of subscribers we have on each feed, to better fine-tune our offerings.
- There is a News page that will include site announcements, news, blog posts, etc. that are separate from the scholarly papers that are front and center on the homepage.
- There is full search capability throughout the site, accessible from the navigation bar, on the right edge.
- We also have the InterpreterJournal.com domain name, which just redirects to MormonInterpreter.com, but just in case it’s easier for some to remember.
This has been a chance of a lifetime to work with these scholars in putting this together, and a work that is some of the finest I’ve ever accomplished. No, I consider it the finest work of my professional career thus far, all done without any pay. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. My best work, I’ve found, is done by consecration.
The entire Board of Editors is very excited for this launch, and we are really looking forward to what we will be able to do going forward. It’s going to be a whole new world, a new stage in life, appropriately given a “new name,” which I think Hugh Nibley would appreciate, if he were here today.
At this point, I’d like to take special note that David Bokovoy’s inaugural article about 1 Nephi 11 is 100% related to the temple. In all my formatting, and exporting, and tweaking, and wrangling of the text, I haven’t actually been able to sit down and read it thoroughly yet, but I believe we will find some very good insights in there from a temple perspective. Thank you David! Perhaps a future post will be a review of this article, and some things that stood out to me.
That’s all for now. Thank you again, my colleagues on the Interpreter Board of Editors, William Hamblin, and Daniel Peterson, for this one-of-a-kind opportunity to be a part. I am also, once again and forever, thankful to our Father in Heaven, for the confidence He has in me. I now need to go home to my wife, who has been so patient with me through this time of tremendous focus, eat dinner, relax while watching our U.S. Olympic swimmers win some gold medals, and finally get a good night’s sleep.
All is well, brothers and sisters. All is well!