Attacking Hugh Nibley’s Work
As if going after the present-day apologists in their current awful circumstances is not enough, yes, those apologists alive today that can actually still defend themselves against spurious arguments, some have now turned their attention to one of the Church’s most beloved apologists, the late Hugh W. Nibley (1910-2005). See “Fundanibleists and Fauxpologetics,” at Faith Promoting Rumor. It should be well noted that those bloggers are members of the Church.
Oudenos argues that the “Nibley approach to apologetics and its reception have, in part, had long term and still expanding negative effects on church members” [emphasis mine]. I completely disagree with Oudenos, and his arguments, some of which he presented but somehow failed to explain why they are “negative”. Hugh Nibley has been profoundly influential in charting the course of LDS scholarship in the 20th and 21st centuries, taking it up to a whole new level unthought of before, and giving members bountiful evidences for the truth of the gospel, from dozens of cultures and time periods worldwide, which has helped strengthen the faith and testimony of countless people, inside and outside the Church. Indeed, many have joined the Church after reading Nibley’s work, and then receiving a witness of the truth of the gospel. Daniel Peterson’s own father had a conversion experience like this.
So this was my comment, with a few minor edits, addressing each of his seven points:
My comments, as founder of TempleStudy.com, a blog dedicated to the work of Hugh Nibley:
1) [Nibley’s writings] are authoritative (with a lower case “a”) if you consider what even priesthood Authorities (capital “A”) have said about him and his work. Nibley was incredibly smart, educated, and knowledgeable about an almost endless number of subjects and languages. He had a tremendous amount to say and teach, even being personally invited to teach the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve within the Salt Lake Temple. I know of no other scholars who have done that. I believe President Kimball once cleaned the dust off of his shoes, for what it’s worth [see Boyd J. Peterson, Hugh Nibley, A Consecrated Life]. All these things lead one to become authoritative in some degree; in Nibley’s case, it made him very authoritative in the subjects he addressed.
2) Nibley’s work is elevated, no doubt, but I would not say it is dense and impenetrable. I’ve poked some at it, and I have a degree in Industrial Design (i.e. nothing related to ANE studies, ancient languages, Near Eastern cultures, history, or the like). He has taught me worlds. His book Approaching Zion completely changed my life, teaching me unlike any other that this life is our time to prepare to meet God, and that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important thing in this life. By the way, there is more being uncovered that Nibley first discovered all the time. He opened the door to many rooms which we have now just begun to enter into. His work will be updated (see also #6).
3) Why is finding ancient parallels and sources for modern LDS temple ritual a bad thing? Just because ancient things may not always equal genuine or divine has nothing to do with it. It does mean that these things have had their counterparts in history, even before Joseph Smith. Hugh Nibley once wrote, “Latter-day Saints believe that their temple ordinances are as old as the human race and represent a primordial revealed religion that has passed through alternate phases of apostasy and restoration which have left the world littered with the scattered fragments of the original structure, some more and some less recognizable, but all badly damaged and out of proper context…” (Intro in Hugh Nibley, The Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment).
4) Again, why is looking into non-biblical records for that which shines light on Joseph Smith’s work a bad thing? I would see it as a vindication of the Prophet. These “nuggets” are especially interesting to Latter-day Saints, in the sense of apologia. But I would hardly call Hugh Nibley’s work a disregard for everything else those texts had to offer. Remember, Nibley published in many academic journals and periodicals about his findings, which were all peer reviewed and valuable to scholars everywhere.
5) Again, why is [searching for pre-Joseph Smith “nuggets”] bad? Please explain your arguments, and why this is “negative.” If something truly ancient and archaic that was not known at the time of Joseph Smith crops up in Church doctrine, ritual, or scripture, could that not be interesting evidence for the divine calling of the Prophet, revealing things he himself could not have known except by revelation? Even Harold Bloom was amazed by the Prophet’s ability to do this: “I can only attribute to his genius or daemons his uncanny recovery of elements in ancient Jewish theurgy that had ceased to be available either to Judaism or to Christianity, and that had survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched Smith directly” (Harold Bloom, The American Religion, 101).
6) I’ve noted on TempleStudy.com recently that Nibley and his contemporary LDS scholars hardly made absolutist claims about Abraham, Egypt, or anything else. Nibley quipped that he couldn’t be held responsible for anything he said three years ago, because things were constantly changing in scholarship and knowledge. John Gee noted where Nibley was mistaken in the second edition of An Egyptian Endowment, and carefully pointed where new information was now available. I do not believe I’m always accurate in what I say on my blog, but I try my best. The absolute truth and nothing but the truth will come later (see my recent post on alethiology).
7) Drive by blog it? Really?
For valuing so much of what Nibley wrote, and changing your life, you do him and his work a true disservice here, sir. You dishonor his name, his work, and his life.
I think it’s quite odd the way these members of the Church will write such critical things, but quickly follow them up with affectionate words, for example, “I value much of what Nibley wrote. His writings inspired a younger version of me and altered my life trajectory.” Sometimes the flowers come out before the criticisms, like “I have nothing against Daniel Peterson.” Really? Then what are you doing calling his work “violent“? Perhaps this is to help soften the blow? Or is it a kind of Trojan Horse, to hook unsuspecting members or others? There’s a disingenuousness to it all.