Hugh Nibley

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Hugh Nibley
Hugh Nibley.jpg
Born Hugh Winder Nibley
(1910-03-27)March 27, 1910
Portland, Oregon
Died February 24, 2005(2005-02-24) (aged 94)
Provo, Utah[1]
Cause of death Natural causes
Nationality American
Alma mater University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Berkeley
Occupation Scholar, historian, author, professor
Home town Portland, Oregon
Political party Democrat
Religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Spouse(s) Phyllis Nibley
Children 8

Hugh Winder Nibley (March 27, 1910 – February 24, 2005) was an American author, Mormon apologist, and professor at Brigham Young University (BYU). His apologist works are highly regarded within the LDS community, though they are not official positions of the LDS general authorities, and mainly attempt to support the archaeological, linguistic, and historical claims of Joseph Smith.

A prolific author and professor of Biblical and Mormon scripture at BYU, he was considered a polyglot.[2] Nibley wrote and lectured on LDS scripture and doctrinal topics, publishing many articles in LDS Church magazines.


Hugh Nibley was born in Portland, Oregon, son of Alexander Nibley and Agnes Sloan. Among their other sons were Sloan Nibley, Richard Nibley, and Reid N. Nibley.[3] Their father Alexander was the son of Charles W. Nibley, Presiding Bishop of the church and later member of the First Presidency. Alexander's mother, wife of Charles, was Rebecca Neibaur.[4] Rebecca was the daughter of Alexander Neibaur, a Jewish native of Alsace who had moved to England and converted to Mormonism. She later joined the LDS church and emigrated to America.[5] Alexander Nibley served as mission president of the Netherlands in 1906 and 1907.

At 17, Nibley served an LDS mission in Germany for two-and-a-half years, from 1927[6] to 1930.[7] Nibley's memoirs, edited by his son, state as he departed for his mission, LDS Apostle Melvin Ballard told the missionaries to warn the Germans to repent or they would be burnt by fire.[8] A woman in Karlsruhe was so angry at hearing this prophecy from Nibley that she chased him with a butcher's cleaver. When Nibley returned in 1945, he found many German cities had been destroyed, including the butcher's shop.[9]

Nibley enrolled at University of California, Los Angeles, and earned a doctorate as a University Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley in 1938, graduating summa cum laude.[10]

Enlisting in the United States Army for World War II, he eventually became a Master Sergeant working in military intelligence for the 101st Airborne Division of the famed "Screaming Eagles." Part of the Utah Beach division during the D-Day invasion, he landed by glider at Eindhoven as part of Operation Market Garden, and witnessed the aftermath of Nazi concentration camps. A fellow sergeant remarked, "Everything happens to Nibley, but nothing happens to him." He was fortunate in the war, as he was never captured, killed or wounded.[11]

After his return from war, he married Phyllis Draper in September 1946, and eventually the couple had eight children.

At the request of Apostle John A. Widtsoe, he became a professor at Brigham Young University in 1946, teaching history, foreign language, and religion. Retiring from a staff position in 1975, he continued working as a professor emeritus until 1994. He maintained a small office in the Harold B. Lee Library, working on his magnum opus, titled One Eternal Round, focusing on the hypocephalus ("Facsimile 2") in the Book of Abraham. Late in life, Nibley gave authorization to have his biography written, published in 2003.[12]

Bedridden by illness for the last two years of his life, Nibley died on 24 February 2005 in his home in Provo, Utah at the age of 94.[1] His son Alex Nibley later edited his World War II memoirs, published in 2006. He gave the materials for his final book to FARMS in the fall of 2002, which was published in March 2010 as commemoration for what would have been his 100th birthday.[13] Nibley's daughter Martha Beck published Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith in 2005, describing her departure from the LDS Church, and claiming in 1990 she had recovered repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse by her father.[14] The allegations received national publicity.[15] Nibley had long been aware of the allegations and denied them.[16] Beck's seven siblings responded saying the accusations were false.[17][18] Boyd Petersen, Nibley's biographer and son-in-law, also rejected Beck's claims.[19][20]

Social and political viewpoints[edit]

Nibley was an active Democrat and an ardent conservationist, often criticizing Republican policies. He was strongly opposed to the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War.[21] He authored Approaching Zion, critiquing capitalism and socialism, and endorsing the law of consecration.

Nibley was also bothered by a perceived culture the unthinking, sometimes dogmatic application of the Brigham Young University's honor code, particularly the hairstyle and dress standards.[22][23][24][25]

Nibley further criticized LDS culture for a supposed acceptance of kitsch art over high art, for sermons favoring containing jingle-like phrases over doctrine, and for demolishing pioneer-era structures for new construction.[26]


Nibley, along with B. H. Roberts, is one of the most influential apologists within Mormonism, praised by Evangelical scholars Mosser and Owen.[27] Nibley's research included Egyptian, Hebrew, and early Christian histories. Often taking notes in Gregg shorthand and other languages. Nibley "insisted on reading the relevant primary and secondary sources in the original and could read Arabic, Coptic, Dutch, Egyptian, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Old Norse, Russian and other languages at sight." William J. Hamblin, a colleague at BYU, said, "Nibley's methodology consists more of comparative literature than history."[28] Douglas F. Salmon has examined in depth Nibley's comparative method, focusing on his work on Enoch.[29]

Nibley also wrote about LDS Temples, the historical Enoch, similarities between Christian Gnostic and Latter-day Saint beliefs, and what he believed to be anti-Mormon works. He wrote a brief and somewhat emotional response to Fawn M. Brodie's No Man Knows My History, titled No Ma'am, That's Not History.[30] He wrote many scholarly articles, including a widely referenced study of the Roman sparsiones.[31] His Berkeley dissertation was on Roman Festival Games. He has been published in Classical Journal, Western Political Quarterly, Western Speech, Jewish Quarterly Review, Church History, Revue de Qumran, Vigililae Christianae, The Historian, The American Political Science Review, and the Encyclopaedia Judaica. Possibly his most contentious essay was "The Passing of the Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme," from 1961.[32] He shifted from scholarly to LDS publications in the mid-sixties. He researched new translations of some significant Arabic and Egyptian words.[33][34][35]

Scholarly criticism[edit]

Kent P. Jackson and Ronald V. Huggins have criticized Nibley for misusing or misrepresenting sources, and poor citation,[36][37] though Shirley S. Ricks has defended Nibley on these points.[38] However, Jackson also complimented "his ability to see the big picture," and others who reviewed his works similarly stated that Nibley "does very well" in use of sources.[39]

Nibley has also been criticized for his use of evidence drawn from widely disparate cultures and time periods without proper justification.[40] Specifically, Douglas F. Salmon accuses him of "parallelomania" in his effort to connect the Book of Mormon to various ancient texts, noting:

The number of parallels that Nibley has been able to uncover from amazingly disparate and arcane sources is truly staggering. Unfortunately, there seems to be a neglect of any methodological reflection or articulation in this endeavor.[41]


Notable students of Nibley include, Krešimir Ćosić, Avraham Gileadi, John Gee, and Benjamin Urrutia.


  1. Old Testament and Related Studies; ISBN 0-87579-032-1 (Hardcover, 1986)
  2. Enoch the Prophet; ISBN 0-87579-047-X (Hardcover, 1986)
  3. The World and the Prophets; ISBN 0-87579-078-X (Hardcover, 1987)
  4. Mormonism and Early Christianity; ISBN 0-87579-127-1 (Hardcover, 1987)
  5. Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites; ISBN 0-87579-132-8 (Hardcover, 1988)
  6. An Approach to the Book of Mormon; ISBN 0-87579-138-7 (Hardcover, 1988)
  7. Since Cumorah; ISBN 0-87579-139-5 (Hardcover, 1988)
  8. The Prophetic Book of Mormon; ISBN 0-87579-179-4 (Hardcover, 1989)
  9. Approaching Zion; ISBN 0-87579-252-9 (Hardcover, 1989)
  10. Ancient State: The Rulers & the Ruled; ISBN 0-87579-375-4 (Hardcover, 1991)
  11. Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young; ISBN 0-87579-516-1 (Hardcover, 1991) (includes No, Ma'am, That's Not History)
  12. Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present; ISBN 0-87579-523-4 (Hardcover, 1992)
  13. Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints; ISBN 0-87579-818-7 (Hardcover, 1994)
  14. Abraham in Egypt; ISBN 1-57345-527-X (Hardcover, 2000)
  15. Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity; ISBN 1-59038-389-3 (Hardcover, 2005)
  16. The Message of Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment; ISBN 1-59038-539-X (Hardcover, 2006)
  17. Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple; ISBN 1-60641-003-2 (Hardcover, 2008)
  18. An Approach to the Book of Abraham; ISBN 1-60641-054-7 (Hardcover, 2009)
  19. One Eternal Round; ISBN 1-60641-237-X (Hardcover, 2010)

Books about Nibley[edit]

  • Sergeant Nibley, Ph.D.: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle. A memoir of Nibley's World War II experiences, published in the fall of 2006 by Deseret Book. It is bylined "Hugh Nibley and Alex Nibley," and reflects Nibley's experiences, written and redacted by his son Alex.
  • Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life - The Authorized Biography of Hugh Nibley. Written by Hugh's son-in-law, Boyd Jay Petersen, and published in 2002 by Kofford Books ISBN 1-58958-020-6. This is the only full-length biography of Hugh Nibley to date, and is the only one he personally authorized.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Moore, Carrie A. (February 26, 2005). "Revered LDS scholar Hugh Nibley dies at 94". Deseret Morning News. Retrieved 2010-03-30. 
  2. ^ Moore, Carrie A. (2005-02-25). "Revered LDS scholar Hugh Nibley dies at 94". Retrieved 2016-10-15. 
  3. ^ "Obituary: Hugh W. Nibley". Deseret News. February 28, 2005. Retrieved 2014-08-28. 
  4. ^ Jenson, Andrew. LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol 4, p. 355
  5. ^ Cornwall, J. Spencer. Stories of Our Mormon Hymns, p. 246-247
  6. ^ Petersen, Boyd (1997–1998). "Youth and Beauty: The Correspondence of Hugh Nibley". BYU Studies. 37 (2): 8, 19, 20. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  7. ^ Petersen, Boyd (2002). Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books. ISBN 1-58958-020-6. 
  8. ^ Sergeant Nibley Ph.D. by Hugh and Alex Nibley, ISBN 978-1-57345-845-0 -page 7,8,9.
  9. ^ Sergeant Nibley, Ph. D. Pages 276-279.
  10. ^ Hugh Nibley and Alex Nibley, Sergeant Nibley PhD.: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle, Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2006, p 12.
  11. ^ Sergeant Nibley, Ph.D. -pages 194, 224. ISBN 978-1-57345-845-0.
  12. ^ Nibley, Alex, "Sergeant Nibley PhD: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle". Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2006. ISBN 1-57345-845-7.
  13. ^ "Contributions Sought for Completion of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley" Insights, Volume 27, Issue 2. Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute
  14. ^ Wyatt, Edward (2005-02-24). "A Mormon Daughter's Book Stirs a Storm". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-02-04. 
  15. ^ "Daughter's Denunciation of Historian Roils Mormon Church". The Washington Post. 2005-05-09. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
    "Memoir details alleged sex abuse in Mormon home". Daily Herald (Utah). 2005-03-12. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
    "Saint Misbehavin'". Phoenix New Times. 2005-04-21. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  16. ^ "Rebel Mormon's memoir ignites a furor". The Salt Lake Tribune. 2005-02-05. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  17. ^ "Nibley Family's Response to Martha Beck's Leaving the Saints". Brigham Young University. 2005. Archived from the original on December 15, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  18. ^ Lythgoe, Dennis (2005-02-05). "Nibley siblings outraged over sister's book". Deseret News. Retrieved 2007-04-24.  (Reactions of individual siblings)
  19. ^ Petersen, Boyd (2005), Response to Leaving the Saints, Maxwell Institute of Religion 
  20. ^ Petersen, Boyd (2002). Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life. Greg Kofford Books. pp. 400–401. 
  21. ^ Peterson, Boyd Jay. Hugh Nibley, A Consecrated Life: The Authorized Biography of Hugh Nibley. Salt Lake City: Kofford Books. 2002. ISBN 1-58958-020-6. See also for excerpts from the book.
  22. ^ Waterman, Brian and Kagel, Brian Kagel. The Lord’s University: Freedom and Authority at BYU. Signature Books. 1998. ISBN 1-56085-117-1[page needed]
  23. ^ Hugh Nibley Approaching Zion. The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol 9. Deseret Book Co. 1998. ISBN 0875792529. Page 54, 57.
  24. ^ Hugh Nibley What is Zion? A Distant View.
  25. ^ Hugh Nibley Approaching Zion. The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol 9. Deseret Book Co. 1998. ISBN 0875792529. Page 54, 57.
  26. ^ Nibley, Hugh (1983-08-19). "Leaders and Managers". Speeches. Brigham Young University. Archived from the original on October 10, 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-14. If the management does not go for Bach, very well, there will be no Bach in the meeting; if management favors vile, sentimental doggerel verse extolling the qualities that make for success, young people everywhere will be spouting long trade-journal jingles from the stand; if the management's taste in art is what will sell—trite, insipid, folksy kitsch—that is what we will get; if management finds maudlin, saccharine commercials appealing, that is what the public will get; if management must reflect the corporate image in tasteless, trendy new buildings, down come the fine old pioneer monuments. 
  27. ^ "FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999)". Retrieved 2016-10-15. 
  28. ^ Hamblin, William J. (1990) "Time Vindicates Hugh Nibley". FARMS Review of Books. Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute. Volume 2, Issue 1, pp. 119-127.
  29. ^ Salmon, Douglas F. "Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Salt Lake City, Utah. Summer 2000. Volume 33, Number 2, pp. 129-156.
  30. ^ Nibley, Hugh W., No, Ma'am, That's Not History, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute 
  31. ^ Nibley, Hugh, "Sparsiones," The Classical Journal 40.9 (Jun., 1945), 515-543
  32. ^ Louis Midgley, "Hugh Winder Nibley: Bibliography and Register," in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 1:xv—lxxxvii.
  33. ^ Dr. Hugh Nibley, class lecture notes, Brigham Young University, 1969–72.[unreliable source?]
  34. ^ Since Cumorah (1988), ISBN 0-87579-139-5 - page 214
  35. ^ Benjamin Urrutia, “The Name Connection,” New Era, June 1983, 39
  36. ^ Kent P. Jackson, "Review of Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies," BYU Studies 28 no. 4 (1988): 115-17
  37. ^ Ronald V. Huggins, "Hugh Nibley's Footnotes," Salt Lake City Messenger no. 110 (May 2008): 9-21.
  38. ^ Riks, Shirley. "A Sure Foundation". Retrieved 11 Jan 2016. 
  39. ^ "Hugh Nibley/Footnotes". FairMormon. Retrieved 11 January 2016. 
  40. ^ Olson's review of Nibley's Abraham in Egypt in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15.4 (1982), 123-125.
  41. ^ Salmon, Douglas F., "Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Saint Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Volume 33, Number 2, Summer 2000, pg. 129, 131.

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