BoAbr  >  History of Interpretation

Essay history ...

Hugh Winder Nibley's
Book of Abraham Legacy

Brent Lee Metcalfe

[V]ery few scientists actually plunge into the murky waters of testing or challenging borderline or pseudo-scientific beliefs. The chance of finding out something really interesting—except about human nature—seems small, and the amount of time required seems large. I believe that scientists should spend more time in discussing these issues, but the fact that a given contention lacks vigorous scientific opposition in no way implies that scientists think it reasonable.
—Carl Sagan

Hugh Winder Nibley is Mormonism's quintessential apologist whose prolific pen has influenced countless students—including me. Adulation for Nibley's expansive knowledge has come from both Mormons and non-Mormons.

Nibley is a witty social commentator and clever historical generalist. For some, Nibley has supplied the apologetic club that true believers can bludgeon critics with. For others, Nibley's luster has been tarnished by his misuse of sources and tortuous interpretations. Early in my spiritual odyssey Nibley's BoAbr analyses led me toward the former group. Later while still a believer in the divine origin of the BoAbr—being concerned with those pesky little things called "facts"—my examination of Nibley's sources catapulted me into the latter camp.

This essay is a collaborative (thus my role as essay editor), ongoing study of scholars' encounters with Nibley's problematic BoAbr apologetics. The official MSS e-newsletter Irenics (forthcoming) will notify subscribers of updates to this essay. This dynamic compilation is a resource for students of Mormonism who wish to evaluate Nibley's arguments for BoAbr antiquity.


(hAcKed & rEndeReD by bReNt LeE mEtcALfe! Copyright © 2000–2003 Brent Lee Metcalfe for Mormon Scripture Studies: An E-Journal of Critical Thought. All rights reserved.)

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[Bio] Brent Lee Metcalfe is managing editor and Web engineer/designer for Mormon Scripture Studies: An E-Journal of Critical Thought, and is founder and owner of im@go w3 design—a Web technologies consulting venue. He is also a technical editor in the gaming industry. Brent is editor of the provocative tome New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), and co-editor with Dan Vogel of American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002). His musings on Web design are published on EarthWeb's and on c|net's here and there.

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Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (New York: Ballantine Books, 1979), 69.

Essay history ...

  • 08.27.01—Added reference in hypernote 1 to Douglas F. Salmon's critique of Nibley's "parallelomaniac" methodology.

  • 02.27.00—Original posting.

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In a spat between evangelicals over Nibley's credentials, Paul Owen countered John Weldon:

[A]s Mr. Mosser and I demonstrated in our paper, Dr. Nibley is widely acknowledged both within and outwith [sic] the LDS Church as a top rate scholar. On top of the evidence we documented in our paper, I have personally asked two internationally known scholars what they thought of Dr. Hugh Nibley. Dr. James H. Charlesworth, of Princeton Theological Seminary, told me he regards Nibley as a 'linguistic genius.' Dr. David F. Wright, one of the world's top church historians, and professor of church history at the University of Edinburgh, commented to me after reading some of Nibley's materials: 'It's clear that he (Dr. Nibley) has a thorough knowledge of the Church Fathers.' Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., professor emeritus of biblical studies at the Catholic University of America, remarked to Carl Mosser and myself when we were speaking at a dinner engagement that Dr. Nibley was a very capable scholar [Paul Owen, "A Reply To Brother Weldon" (parentheses originally brackets)].

Still, scholars of Mormonism are left to dispel Nibley's apologetic miasmas. For instance, Kent P. Jackson, BYU associate professor of ancient scripture, questioned the propriety of publishing a compilation memorializing Nibley's Old Testament studies when "such material ... is now completely out-of-date and was not even quality work when first published" (Review of Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 1, eds. John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don Norton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1986], BYU Studies 28.4 [Fall 1988]: 118). Although Jackson expresses "admiration for [Nibley's] life of scholarship consecrated to the highest cause" (115), his review is nothing short of scathing (see 114-19). A more recent review of Nibley's penchant for assembling disparate parallels to construct an illusive whole "illustrate[s] the wide variety of problems attendant in the parallel questing that is typified in the works of Hugh Nibley and his followers" (Douglas F. Salmon, "Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or Collective Unconscious?" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33.2 [Summer 2000]: 154, and passim).