Approaching Nibley

February 23, 2005 | 142 comments
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Yesterday the postman delivered the latest installment in the collected works of Hugh Nibley, volume 15, Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity. At a modest 254 pages, the volume has quite a bit to say about church history, record keeping, authority, change and apostasy. It may have even more to say about the life-cycle of Mormon Studies.

The book, which comprises Nibley’s lecture notes from a 1954 BYU course on the same topic, argues that “the office of the apostle was one of general jurisdiction, whereas the office of the bishop was local in nature; accordingly, bishops could not be the automatic successors of the apostles when that office was lost from the church” (xiii). The specifics of Nibley’s arguments are of interest to specialists, certainly, and may stimulate LDS scholars to further research on the historical conditions of apostasy–one foundation of LDS theology into which, it seems to me, very little historical awareness has made general inroads. But Nibley’s method and hypotheses are frankly out of date, fifty years later: some of his references have proved impossible to verify, some of his claims based on documents which have later been deemed spurious, some of his assumptions based on discredited (or at least out-of-fashion) models.

The real subject of the book, it seems to me–and the reason for its publication all these years later–is Hugh Nibley himself. As a founder and the biggest superstar of Mormon studies, Nibley’s career and personal intellectual history are objects of interest in their own right, and this volume casts an interesting early light on those objects. Nibley’s lecture notes were typed out in astonishing word-for-word detail, for example, virtual transcripts of his lectures: the BYU lecture hall in 1954, it seems, witnessed none of the discussion or group work that characterizes today’s classrooms. Furthermore, it appears that Nibley was able to parlay his teaching responsibilities directly into professional output, in a way that specialization has made nearly impossible for professors today: his lectures engaged a remarkable breadth of primary sources and original research. And this view into Nibley’s intellectual landscape in 1954, seven years into his BYU career, helps contextualize (and psychologize) his later, more well-known work.

It is a mark of a certain disciplinary maturity, I think, when a foundational figure in a discipline becomes an object of study in his or her own right, and this disciplinary maturing often follows the life-cycle of those figures themselves: the recent death of Ernst Mayr, pioneer of evolutionary biology, represents something like this for his field. It is fitting, perhaps, that this volume most recent volume in Nibley’s collected works–a volume about him, essentially–should appear during his waning years, in time to witness the formal disciplinary birth of Mormon Studies.

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142 Responses to Approaching Nibley

  1. Nate Oman on February 23, 2005 at 1:12 pm

    It seems that there has been a simultanous interest in Fawn Brodie, Dale Morgan, and other pioneers of the disaffected Mormon intellectual persona. It seems to me that Mormon history is still the only aspect of Mormon studies that has reached any sort of maturity. It may be that the nature of Mormon thought or the institutional organization of the academy means that only Mormon history will ever fully mature (I hope not), but I don’t see a mature Mormon legal thought, and Mature study of Mormon philosophy and theology. Mormon scripture study may be inching in this direction, but even it seems to still be going through a brawling adolescence.

  2. Jed on February 23, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    Uh, oh, a can of worms. Let’s send Rosalynde’s post to Oprah.

  3. Kevin Barney on February 23, 2005 at 1:21 pm

    Great insight, Rosalynde. I consider myself a Nibleyophile, but it has been a long time since I read any Nibley for the substance of the subject matter (for which I would use more up-to-date sources today). These days my interest in Nibley is more in the remarkable man himself, as you suggest. I am more likely to reread the Peterson biography than something like _An Approach to the BoM_.

  4. Jonathan Green on February 23, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    Rosalynde, my question concerns the book’s presentation. Does it contain any editorial notes similar to what you wrote in your post–that the evidence, hypotheses, methodology, and conclusions are no longer current? Any sign that it’s more important for understanding Nibley’s intellectual development than for understanding the ancience Near East? Or is that only your informed reading of it?

  5. Christian Cardall on February 23, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Interesting to me about Nibley historically was his acceptability within the Church as an intellectual. The book Kevin mentions—An Approach to the BoM—was a lesson manual, which is unimaginable today. (Today’s manuals are focused on the text proper of the scriptures and carefully selected teachings of the prophets, and their introductions explicitly discourage outside materials; I get the sense even bringing FARMS materials into a lesson would be frowned upon.)

    He was also untouchable personally, even when he could be somewhat critical. Today the label “intellectual” is about as discredited as “liberal”. (I’m a Republican by birth and culture, so the tarnishing of “liberal” doesn’t bother me so much personally. There’s a Giuliani/Schwarzenegger wing of the Republican party, but I don’t know if there’s a comparable “wing” of the Church. ;) ) I remember answering a query from the institute director at UCSD about what I would be interested in from the institute; when I used the word “intellectual” in my response, he replied it had been made very clear from on high that anything “intellectual” is not welcome in CES. The incorporation of FARMS into BYU might be seen as an embrace of the intellectual, but on the flip side it can be seen cynically as a preemptive move at coopting and managing it, making sure that in years to come it never `takes strength unto itself.’ (I’m reminded of the LDS-Gems news mailing list, which picked up all kinds of interesting stuff from the news; after it was subsumed into the news at the Church’s web site any controversial (but interesting) news stories were gone.)

    It could be pointed out that there are some “intellectuals” in the Twelve, but these are mostly in law and business. Is this because they are “safer” subject areas (Nibley would not have thought so), or because there is a widespread correlation (even outside the Church) between these subjects and high-level university administration? I wonder if the “intellectual” in the Church can be rehabilitated, and if we’ll ever see another Talmage in the Twelve.

  6. John T. on February 23, 2005 at 4:45 pm

    I don’t think you’ll find a “mature” Mormon botany, biology, astronomy, metallurgy, geography or geology anytime soon, either. But, I could be wrong. :)

  7. Eric Soderlund on February 23, 2005 at 4:47 pm

    “if we’ll ever see another Talmage in the Twelve.”
    I’d settle for a Clark or even a McKay…but would love to see either of the Pratts ;-)

  8. Nate Oman on February 23, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    As I recall, Talmadge had a degree in geology from a small technical school in Pennsylvania. Holland has a Ph.D from Yale. Oaks has a JD from Chicago and was a dean at the law school.

  9. Geoff Johnston on February 23, 2005 at 5:28 pm

    Interesting points, Christian. I think part of the reason that Nibley thrived in the Church (and appeared, as you noted, untouchable) is that his astonishing intellect was seemingly matched by his faith. Finding someone with one of those two is not easy but having both made him even rarer. Based on his temperament and penchant for brutal honesty, Nibley was apparently not ever the type to be called to high positions in the church — but those in high position recognized his greatness anyway. I’m told that the First Presidency and Twelve used to invite him in to their meetings on occasion for Q&A sessions that would last for hours. Being a teacher to apostles and prophets is quite an eternal resume stuffer.

    As the church has grown the type of skills needed at the top have changed. I doubt we will ever see another Talmage in the Twelve. While some of the men in the Twelve are probably as brilliant, they also have the skill of teaching at a level accessible to the “weakest of the saints”. (Judging from the comments of many saints I know, Talmage lacked this.) Joseph Smith was said to have had the same skill. Truman Madsen observed that Joseph had a wonderful skill of teaching complex ideas in simple and easily understandable language. Perhaps the aversion in CES to the word “intellectual” is that it sometimes implies teaching complex things with complex and inaccessible language; or worse – teaching simple things with complex and inaccessible language. (Though I realize it need not mean those things.)

  10. Christian Cardall on February 23, 2005 at 6:40 pm

    Nate, yes, Elder Holland’s Ph.D. is in American Studies, and I think this just about makes him the lone Arts & Sciences denizen of the Twelve. Elder Packer has a Ph.D. in Education Administration from BYU (not sure why it’s not an Ed.D.). I think Elders Eyring and Bednar have Ph.D.s in business. How about an evolutionary biologist, or feminist? ;)

    Dollars to doughnuts all of them would eschew the title “intellectual.”

    As for scientists in the Twelve, I unaccountably forgot to mention Widstoe.

  11. Christian Cardall on February 23, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    Geoff, I agree with your comments. Nibley is rare in having, in addition to an exceptional intellect, a curious mixture of both obvious unalloyed loyalty to the Church and obvious independence of mind. (The instigator of this thread is another such rare creature. I also happen to think she’d make a great apostle; it’s the Church’s loss it won’t happen unless something drastic happens.) I myself have not been able to simultaneously project unalloyed loyalty to the Church and obvious independence of mind; in me they seem to come out in inverse proportion, like complementary observables subject to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

    “teaching simple things with complex and inaccessible language”—LOL, because it’s all too true. To some, fancy words are too beautiful and fun to pass up.

  12. Arturo Toscanini on February 23, 2005 at 10:02 pm

    It seems to me that Nibley doesn’t age well because Nibley is thoroughly second rate. There are basically two components to his thought; viz., that which is thoroughly repudiated and that which is thoroughly irrelevant. Moreover, I think that there is reasonable evidence that he is intellectually dishonest to boot; i.e., I don’t even think that he believes all the stuff he puts forth. He got away with saying an awful lot, because at the time nobody was interested in actually checking up on him.

    Thanks to a broadening field and increased specialization, Mormon Studies has managed to escape the legacy of Nibley’s approach. If he’s a celebrity, it’s only because we heard our parents mention him so frequently as though he were the most brilliant man on earth. Even now, it’s odd to see people so sympathetic to his mediocrity.

  13. Stephen M (ethesis) on February 23, 2005 at 10:02 pm

    Rosalynde, my question concerns the book’s presentation. Does it contain any editorial notes similar to what you wrote in your post–that the evidence, hypotheses, methodology, and conclusions are no longer current? Any sign that it’s more important for understanding Nibley’s intellectual development than for understanding the ancience Near East? Or is that only your informed reading of it?

    I’m only a week into it, but I can state “endless numbers of notes” about things that are no longer current or sources that they couldn’t find, and all the ones that they could find.

  14. Stephen M (ethesis) on February 23, 2005 at 10:08 pm

    Arturo Toscanini

    Gee, Nibley’s lectures from the 1950s aged surprisingly well, much better than your post 12 probably will age. Might I ask what prompted such an outpouring of bile? Much of what I was able to check, checked out well.

    Point out to me what part of Brother Brigham (one of his more recent books) is thoroughly repudiated or irrelevant. Easy enough for a start.

    I obviously think you are completely wrong, but I’ve picked an easy example, where the sources are easy to find, for you to respond to.

  15. Stephen M (ethesis) on February 23, 2005 at 10:13 pm

    BTW, just FYI on the handle of the poster: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arturo_Toscanini

    Best quote:

    Arturo Toscanini Quotes. After I die I shall return to earth as the doorkeeper of a bordello and I won’t let a one of you in.

  16. Jack on February 23, 2005 at 10:22 pm

    “It seems to me that Nibley doesn’t age well because Nibley is thoroughly second rate”

    Well, I guess we can say the same thing about, well, everyone in most other fields–medicine, psychology, archaeology, astronomy(!) or what have you.

    I think one of the greatest gifts that Nibley has given us is the sense of cosmology that now pervades our religious studies.

  17. Geoff Johnston on February 23, 2005 at 10:28 pm

    Rosalynde as an apostle, huh Christian? (#11) Well I know she gives a humdinger of a sacrament meeting talk. As for loyalty versus independent mind issues — we all have that problem at times I think.

    Concerning Arturo’s bashing of Nibley — I’m with Stephen and Jack on this one. What scholar doesn’t have some research get outdated over 50+ years? I think it is impressive how much of his work does hold up today considering the incredible advances in knowledge that have been made since the 1950s and 60s. Besides, Nibley’s best work is not the apologetic stuff, but rather his preaching from the scriptures (my favorites are the essays in The Prophetic Book of Mormon and Approaching Zion).

  18. Jed on February 23, 2005 at 10:32 pm

    Arturo says: “It seems to me that Nibley doesn’t age well because Nibley is thoroughly second rate. There are basically two components to his thought; viz., that which is thoroughly repudiated and that which is thoroughly irrelevant.”

    Oh, Artulo, we labor all the day long together and now you have to go out and throw bombs on the innocent? After yesterday’s skirmishes, I am not interested in controntation, but I have to ask: Have you read _Approaching Zion_ or _Temple and Cosmos_? The most relevant books of Mormon scholarship around. As for Nibley being repudiated, I don’t know anyone who is actively doing that. Tell us about these people, Arturo. “No Ma’am That’s Not History” has been repudiated in some ways, though inadvertantly, and arguments about JS and money digging in _Tinkling Symbols and Sounding Brass_ have likewise fallen by the wayside. But “repudiated”?

  19. Jed on February 23, 2005 at 10:43 pm

    I think one of Nibley’s greatest legacies is his inspiration to a host of junior colleagues who thrilled to his writings and followed his footsteps into ancient studies. Nibley was Richard Lloyd Anderson’s Greek teacher, and think of how much scholarship Anderson has produced. FARMS was built on Nibley’s back. And the Islamic Translation series was built on the back of FARMS. Perhaps even the Jerusalem Center came about in part due to Nibley putting Mormon fascination with the Holy Land into scholarly words. So the legacy is large and signicant.

  20. Arturo Toscanini on February 23, 2005 at 11:10 pm

    Stephen M (ethesis): Gee, Nibley’s lectures from the 1950s aged surprisingly well, much better than your post 12 probably will age.

    What can I say, except: Brilliant! Really, I mean it. Rhetorically, it’s beautiful. I’ll be chuckling about it for days. You’re one of my favorite commenters here, Stephen M. (ethesis). Keep it up!

    Sorry guys. I don’t mean to be such a jerk about Nibley, but I really do have a hard time reading him without rolling my eyes. In this sense I’m much more effective that Nibley: I can make you guys roll you eyes at my opinions using substantially less verbiage than it took Nibley to make me roll my eyes at his.

  21. Jonathan Green on February 24, 2005 at 10:03 am

    Arturo, the adjectives you used in #12 are pretty crude instruments: “thoroughly second rate, repudiated, irrelevant, intellectually dishonest.” I don’t think that kind of language is appropriate in a considered and considerate discussion of a scholar’s lifetime achievement even if it were true because a serious estimation of his achievement should be expressed precisely. Moreover, as you note, they make you look like a jerk.

    Also, it distracts from your more palatable formulation in #20. The last time I read Nibley I rolled my eyes a lot, too. I once had boundless enthusiasm for Nibley, then became more skeptical, and Nibley veneration can seem a bit thick at times. But today I’m more appreciative of what Nibley accomplished and attempted.

    Steven M: Could you clarify? Are the footnotes you refer to more like case i or case ii?

    i) This is clearly demonstrated by the Donation of Constantine [and Rosalynde and Steven M. say to themselves: "Hmm, a bit out of date there, Hugh"].
    ii) Ed. note: Nibley is referring here to the Donation of Constantine, which was shown to be a forgery in the 15th century by Lorenzo Valla.

  22. Ivan Wolfe on February 24, 2005 at 10:25 am

    Even the stuff that has been repudiated of Nibley’s have never been fully repudiated. Many parts of “No Ma’am, That’s Not History” are still valuable critiques of Brodie’s work, and even though much anti-mormonism has moved beyond what Nibley was attacking in “Sounding Brass” – it’s still (overall) a good source when confronted with older anti-mormon material (the essay ‘How to Write an Anti-Mormon book” is still funny and dead-on for the times, even if most anti-mormon books are no longer written that way).

    Much of it was timely instead of timeless, but I think most of us would be considered VERY successful if we could write 10% of what he did and have it be worthwhile for nearly 50 years before finally becoming out of date.

  23. Jason Johnson on February 24, 2005 at 1:15 pm

    Christian: “Dollars to doughnuts all of them would eschew the title “intellectual.â€?”

    Indeed. Myself, I don’t trust anyone that self-identifies as an intellectual. I have the same attitude towards war heroes (probably why John Kerry’s reporting for duty line at the Democratic convention fell on the floor with such a resounding clunk).

    Slightly off-topic. I just checked into the forum to see if anyone had noticed that Nibley’s daughter had her book reviewed in the NYT.

  24. Just_an_Onlooker on February 24, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    Hugh Nibley has passed away.

  25. Christian Cardall on February 24, 2005 at 1:49 pm

    Jason, if your point is one of modesty, as your example of self-identification as a war hero suggests, then I agree.

    But aside from status, self-identification with a label often carries connotations of worldview and accepted methodology, and it is in this sense that I think the members of the Twelve would eschew the title “intellectual.” For example, I don’t think modesty would lead them to complain if someone introducing them labeled them “a disciple of Christ” or “a respected judge.” But if someone introduced them as “an intellectual,” I think they would balk not out of modesty, but because of the baggage (in terms of implied outlook) that the term carries in the Church nowadays.

  26. Clark Goble on February 24, 2005 at 2:24 pm

    One problem with the FARMS Collected Works of Hugh Nibley is precisely that everything is simply printed without commentary. Unfortunately this means that loosely prepared firesides are given the same weight as more careful scholarly works. Clearly it is all not the same. I think having a bit of commentary in the books would be nice. They do that frequently with many collected works volumes – especially when the works in question are somewhat dated.

    What I worry about is that because some things are dated (hardly all by any means) people might come away disenchanted with Nibley and miss exactly how he was a trailblazer. Further some, who appeal to Nibley as an “authority” (something Nibley would hate, IMO) are apt to be disappointed. Many books (Tinkling Cymbals, for instance) aren’t really of value as apologetics anymore. (Meaning the book as a whole) Scholarship and understanding has moved on. That’s not to say many arguments aren’t still as valid today as when they were written. Just that scholarship is essentially always a work in progress. To promote some of Nibley’s books as if they were a good set of answers for modern anti-Mormonism can be counter-productive.

    Of course let’s be honest. Most purchased copies of Nibley’s books remain unread on many members shelves. Sad, but true. Yet I also think the Nibley really is to be credited for getting us to think about many neglected elements of our religion. In a way, I think his work on the Book of Mormon set the stage for Pres. Benson’s comments on how the church wasn’t taking it seriously.

    He has done a lot for the church.

  27. Christian Cardall on February 24, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    Clark, FARMS Review would be one venue where such updating commentary could be done (and may well have been done, judging from my skimming of tables of contents. ;) )

  28. Jed on February 24, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    John Fowles reminds me that Nibley was Jack Welch’s teacher, too. He belongs next to Anderson at post #19. Without Welch, FARMS probably wouldn’t be.

    Ivan (#22). Good point about “How to Write an Anti-Mormon Book.” Nibley was the first one to poke fun at anti-Mormons, wasn’t he? Before him we either ignored the literature or countered with strong arms and glum faces. His humor disarmed the antis for us all. They suddenly became smaller and much more managable, not to be taken so seriously, though serious enough to publish against. I think that playful (some might say condescending) tone has been adopted by the FARMS Review people. The attempts at witticism have been passed down, as well as the impulse to counter the antis. The Review is the modern incarnation of “No Ma’am.”

    Clark (#26). Collected Works series are always a mixed bag. Readers should consider the nature of the series before they venture in, but of course many do not. I think one of the values of the Nibley series, even in the outdated work, is to lay the issues on the table. So much of the FARMS work takes off from ideas Nibley first brought to LDS attention. Whole books have resulted. I am thinking here of the Ricks/Welch book on Benjamin and ancient coronation.

  29. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 26, 2005 at 12:24 am

    John Fowles reminds me that Nibley was Jack Welch’s teacher, too. He belongs next to Anderson at post #19. Without Welch, FARMS probably wouldn’t be.

    A kernal of what became the rank and file worker bees at FARMS (the Don Nortons and the like) were people who were collecting Nibley essays and keeping them available as photocopies and reading lists.

    Steven M: Could you clarify? Are the footnotes you refer to more like case i or case ii?

    i) This is clearly demonstrated by the Donation of Constantine [and Rosalynde and Steven M. say to themselves: “Hmm, a bit out of date there, Hugh"].
    ii) Ed. note: Nibley is referring here to the Donation of Constantine, which was shown to be a forgery in the 15th century by Lorenzo Valla.

    I’ll assume that is addressed to me (even if’m Stephen M) …

    I was more thinking of the clear references to Bird Island and the clear exigenesis there (when it is like Bird Island, it is spelled “exigenesis”).

    Oh, you meant seriously. But you aren’t addressing the Much of what I was able to check, checked out well which refers more ot the case i, though of course without editorializing — that is, he addresses the point consistently with what he is using the source for.

    Compare him to Joseph Campbell (http://www.jcf.org/), who addresses the Ishtar/Tammuz cycle in a predictive way and gets it completely wrong. She does not go down to hell to rescue him, she goes down to conquer the place and when she fails, sacrifices him in her place. I admit, I read my first Campbell only after I had finished The Sacred Marriage a book driven my the discovery of the complete cycle, but anyone who read Gilgamesh ought to have guessed. (see my poem on the subject at http://adrr.com/living/goddess.htm ).

    Or Eliade. I’ve even picked up some of Eliade’s autobiography and enjoyed his books in the late 70s/early 80s. Still do (just reread him). I would say that Nibley ages as well as Eliade.

    Many books (Tinkling Cymbals, for instance) were decribed by Hugh Nibley as he wrote them as pretty useless. He found anti-mormon work such tripe that he had a hard time writing in response to it. Not to mention, he knew some of the modern players (how do you really address Fawn B. who kept calling her home teachers for priesthood blessings in her last years? What do you say about or in response to someone like that?) and that colored his thoughts.

    Nibley, like Eliade, considered his works incomplete by the time they were finished and in need of updates and revisions before they got off the press. He always described his conclusions as tentative and dated.

    Interesting was his reluctance to form a school of thought or to find successors or to raise them up. Things came very close to leaving a void.

    Well, I’m glad someone can say I’ll be chuckling about it for days. Maybe I should have rolled my eyes at Arturo Toscanini, but I have enjoyed Nibley and still do. He makes nice comfort reading when I don’t have the energy for serious work such as reading the scriptures.

    Peace.

  30. annegb on February 26, 2005 at 11:08 am

    Arturo, do you ever say anything nice about anybody? Or anything?

  31. Arturo Toscanini on February 26, 2005 at 12:21 pm

    Jonathan Green: Arturo, the adjectives you used in #12 are pretty crude instruments.… Moreover, as you note, they make you look like a jerk.

    Look Jonathan Green, I don’t know what you’re trying to imply here, but I don’t need adjectives or instruments in order to look like a jerk.

    Jonathan Green: Also, it distracts from your more palatable formulation in #20. The last time I read Nibley I rolled my eyes a lot, too.

    This roll-your-eyes factor is the first reason (of three) why I consider Nibley to be second rate. Juanita Brooks may not be up to date, but one doesn’t roll ones’s eyes reading The Mountain Meadows Massacre.

    But you’re comment about palatability of criticism touches on an interesting point. Specifically, when someone is more than mildly critical of Nibley, he’s treated as though he’s rooting against the home team. And this kind of embodies the two other reasons I find Nibley to be second rate.

    Whatever remains of Nibley that is relevant and un-repudiated, it is stuff like what Russell quotes in his thread “Nibley the Prophet.” And to be blunt, this type of stuff makes him a prolific and interesting essayist of the type one might read in a Mormon Atlantic Monthly, but it doesn’t make him a real scholar. And though interesting essays are a key part of Mormon Studies, I believe that there’s more to it than this. My hope is that at it’s core, it’s actually about Mormon scholarship. This requires a refusal to conflate the pat answers of tradition or authority with the truth; it embodies a relentless search for truth using the world’s scholarly standards for intellectual honesty. Nibley does not fit the bill here—that’s why he could never have written something as honest as The Mountain Meadows Massacre. And it’s the second reason I consider his scholarship second rate.

    Lastly, there’s a small minded defensiveness that sometimes goes along with Mormon Studies, and Nibley tended to embody the worst of this. Take Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History: I have yet to meet a non-member who does not find it to be a generally sympathetic treatment—they don’t think he’s a prophet to start with, so what Mormon’s find to be the “negative” parts never even register with them. Brodie portrays a resourceful, courageous, charismatic man who dared and succeeded where so many others failed. Before Brodie, there was no very good Joseph Smith scholarship in or out of the church. Bushman said in his 1984 bio of Joseph that the Joseph Smith, Sr. family is the most studied 19th century American family. Almost all of this research has occurred since No Man Knows My History, and one can scarcely imagine that amount of research occurring without it. But Nibley (and other small-minded, defensive Mormons) never saw past the fact that she denied Joseph’s prophetic mission—that’s why the passage of time has been so much kinder to her works than to his. And it’s the third reason I find his scholarship to be second rate.

  32. Arturo Toscanini on February 26, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    annegb Arturo, do you ever say anything nice about anybody? Or anything?

    You’re a real sweetheart, annegb.

  33. annegb on February 26, 2005 at 1:45 pm

    Ah, now, that’s not fair. That takes all the wind out of my sails. Ahh…

    Although…the last person to call me sweetheart was my second husband, the bum. (Speaking of never saying anything nice). :)

    David King L…Arturo’s looking to take your place in our hearts. Although, you will always come first with me. After my husband, CS Lewis, Chris Rock, and Robert Millett, and George W, that is. Well, and Maxwell, the wonder child.

    Hey, let’s get Robert Millett on here. He thinks I’m a stalker. (like Kaimi and Bryce).

  34. Arturo Toscanini on February 26, 2005 at 2:18 pm

    My goodness, annedb. DKL? Mr. persona sorta’ grata? Is he yet living?

    At any rate, I don’t know whether to take that as a back-handed complement or a forthright insult. What are you trying to imply? That I belong in blog jail?

  35. Jonathan Green on February 26, 2005 at 2:22 pm

    Arturo, you’re repeating yourself. So far you haven’t gotten farther than stating and restating your opinion on Nibley: that he’s dishonest, irrelevant, repudiated, not a real scholar (that’s how you’re using “second rate”). Since you haven’t established any objective reason for holding those opinions–eye rolling is entirely in the eye of the beholder–you sound like a jerk spouting off just to get a reaction. The T&S quota of spouting jerks is a bit full right now; could you try back in a month? Better yet, why not try a different approach?

    I am not disagreeing with you out of reflexive desire to defend Nibley. Please, give people some credit for not being complete tools. I disagree with your use of rash language because it weakens your own argument and stirs people up needlessly.

    It sounds to me like you have a naive idea of what constitutes scholarship and scholarly legacy. Spending a lifetime pursuing ideas that are later discredited is not the mark of a fraud; it is rather almost the essence of scholarship. In any case, it doesn’t differentiate the “real scholars” from the pretenders. And irrelevant? See Newton’s theological writings and Tycho Brahe’s horoscopes. The current relevance of Nibley’s scholarship is irrelevant to whether he deserves to be called a scholar, and his scholarly legacy is not a question of relevance but of influence. You’re quick to tar Nibley as dishonest because his scholarship was harnessed to Mormonism. Sorry, but you’re laboring under the notion that “real scholars” are totally objective and independent of all but the demands of their discipline. As much as objectivity and independence are to be praised, they too are criteria that do not differentiate between real and pseudo-scholars. Scholar’s lives influence their scholarship.

    If you want to argue that Nibley’s scholarly accomplishments are actually less than his reputation suggests–notice how easily the temperate language goes down?–try a factual argument. How much of his work appeared in the scholarly journals and presses of his era? How does that accomplishment compare with his contemporaries? What was his reputation like among contemporary scholars in the field? Facts in context go much farther than eye-rolling, even if I’m sympathetic to your position, and especially if I’m not.

    You’ve got the beginnings of an argument in your last paragraph (although your concern about Mormon small-mindedness is off the mark: “Stop being small-minded and give me an honest critique of the play, Mrs. Lincoln!”). Who was the greater scholar: Hugh Nibley or Fawn Brodie? Now there’s an interesting question, one that people can marshall evidence for or against. Mormon studies is not my schtick, so we’ll have to see if anyone feels like responding. They will be more likely to respond to an argument if it uses respectful language than if they feel like they’re wasting time on a jerk who casually tosses about charges of second-rateness and dishonesty.

  36. Christian Cardall on February 26, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    I think someone should do a wordprint analysis on DKL and Arturo. Or better yet, an IP address check. :)

  37. annegb on February 26, 2005 at 2:57 pm

    Hmmm…I was thinking he sounded a lot like DKL, too. Sorry to speak of you in the third person, Art.

    I guess I meant to imply that you’re sort of onery, not unlike myself. Although not strange, as Orson Scott Card admits to, also not unlike myself.

  38. annegb on February 26, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Skipping from post #11, Christian, I love your description, because I think it also describes me, I am loyal, but also independent in thought. I can’t believe I’ve missed Hugh Nibley all these years. I like, so far, his open-eyed approach, he doesn’t look through rose colored glasses. Although my study is quite preliminary, I intend to obsess about him for awhile.

    This is what I love about Times and Seasons, well, these blogs in general. They stretch me.

  39. Rosalynde Welch on February 26, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    I’ve been away from the computer for a few days, and I’m sorry I’ve not been able to participate in the discussion to this point–a discussion that has assumed a new dimension since Nibley’s death (the timing was a little uncanny), but needn’t be reduced to hagiography (although there’s an important place for that, ongoing in the other Nibley threads). A few responses:

    Nate (#1): I agree fully that Mormon Studies hasn’t yet reached a flowering maturity, but I think it’s approaching a budding stage, if you’ll forgive the horticulture. Why do you feel that history may be the only discipline to mature? It’s my sense that you would like to see Mormonism not only as the object of study but also as a source for novel disciplinary methodologies, as well: a Mormon Studies not only in topic but in theory. Is this what you require before acknowledging discilinary “maturity”?

    Jonathan (#4): I assure you that my (cursory) reading of the volume was woefully ill-informed! The brief introduction does acknowledge–though certainly doesn’t advertise–that certain aspects are outdated, and contains a muted note of apology/defense for having published the volume at all. John Welch and John Hall did a nice job of editing the work, I think, taking a low-key and largely hands-off (except for the source-checking) approach.

    Christian (#5): With all due respect to dear Br. B at UCSD, he’s not typical (in my experience) of the CES institute approach. My mother teaches institute at UCLA and USC, and she incorporates a wide variety of outside (even non-LDS) historical and academic commentaries and sources into her lessons–though, for obvious reasons, she doesn’t foreground highly critical approaches. (I wouldn’t expect CES to be the agency to promote this kind of work, frankly–there would be something a little insitutionally schizophrenic about that–although I do wish that critically-minded work originating elsewhere weren’t marginalized). I don’t think that the word “intellectual” will ever be fully culturally rehabilitated, to be honest, but I don’t think that need suppress tough-minded, truth-seeking but fundamentally loyal scholarly work. Words are powerful but not omnipotent.

    Christian (#10 & #11): Ah, flattery! I’d also love to see more arts and sciences types in the Quorum–for the very selfish reason that Elder Holland’s are the only GC talk that I find rhetorically exciting, and, as everyone knows, GC should be designed to meet my own personal rhetorical preferences! I don’t know. Maybe there’s something fundamentally inimical about a critical-thinking paradigm to the faith-minded approach needed among the apostles. For what it’s worth, I’d bet the proportion of arts/sciences academics in the Quorum of the Twelve–1 in 12– beats the proportion in the church at large–and in American society generally, too!

    Jed (throughout): right on. I like your approach.

    Arturo: I actually think it’s healthy for the young guns to take aim at the hoary pillars: sons have always killed their disciplinary fathers (and daughters are no better to their mothers). It’s what Bloom calls “the anxiety of influence,” it’s an organic part of the development of a field or a genre–and it generally improves the quality of the tradition. The foundational figures of any field or discipline suffer at the hands of the next generation–or, more often, the third generation. Of course your critiques, Arturo, are still at the level of the first year grad student reading Foucault in translation and dismissing him with grandiloquent swipes of Google–but, given that this is a blog and not a scholarly journal, I probably shouldn’t expect anything else. (I certainly don’t research or document my blogging!). What matters most is not how many questions Nibley answered correctly, it’s how many questions he made possible. We’re still answering those questions, and he’s still asking more.

  40. Steve L on February 26, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    I think targeting Nibley because he didn’t prolifically publish in the leading journals of his time is a little unfair. I think for him it was more a question of priorities than ability or opportunity. It seems to me he avoided making a name for himself outside of our fair valley when he could have, not that that makes him a great scholar, but it doesn’t neccesarily make him a slouch.

    With all of the earlier talk of “intellectuals” and a dearth of serious academics/philosophers/big heads in leading circles I was disappointed to see that the arts were completely unmentioned (although perhaps that’s a discussion for another day, another posting). The funniness of the church’s relationship with intellectuals and intellectualism certainly is mirrored in its relationship with artists and the arts (and perhaps in the arts there has been even more needless trouble). On that note, I would like to say that Toscanini is a poor man’s Karajan (maybe I’m just bitter at Tosc. for outshining Mahler during their mutual time at the Met). But for all his focus on “Werktreu” he takes some surprising liberties (check out his Beethoven 2 and 4).

    I think several have been trying to pound into Toscanini’s skull the following: Nibley didn’t take himself as seriously as you take him.

  41. Steve L on February 26, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    Amen Rosalynde to your note on Tosc.

  42. Arturo Toscanini on February 26, 2005 at 7:08 pm

    Rosalynde Welch: Of course your critiques, Arturo, are still at the level of the first year grad student reading Foucault in translation and dismissing him with grandiloquent swipes.…

    Nice! Bonus points if you can guess which graduate school. But seriously, Rosalynde Welch, you make me feel so young.

    Steve L: I would like to say that Toscanini is a poor man’s Karajan

    OK, Steve L., whatever floats your boat. I’ll just point out that your conducting idol was a Nazi—a real and enthusiastic, card carrying Nazi. He got his first career break because he was a Nazi, and he was still snubbing jews for decades after official de-Nazification.

  43. Arturo Toscanini on February 26, 2005 at 7:24 pm

    Jonathan Green (Re: #35). You seem to have misread the purpose of my post #34, which fleshes out three reasons why I find Nibley to be a second rate scholar (by which I mean that he’s not a first rate scholar). Perhaps you’re giving me too much credit, because I don’t see these reasons fleshed out in any of my preceding posts. This type of forum doesn’t afford the space to make arguments of that type in any detail, and thus I’ve offered no arguments whatever (though you claim to have found some?). If, however, you feel that Nibley was honest enough to write something of the magnitude of The Mountain Meadows Massacre, then I’m not sure that we have a lot to talk about.

  44. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 26, 2005 at 8:05 pm

    Arturo, I’d like to see you compare Nibley to Eliade and Campbell. I would say that he easily overmatches either.

    Post #34 reads as follows:

    #

    My goodness, annedb. DKL? Mr. persona sorta’ grata? Is he yet living?

    At any rate, I don’t know whether to take that as a back-handed complement or a forthright insult. What are you trying to imply? That I belong in blog jail?

    Comment by Arturo Toscanini — 2/26/2005 : 2:18 pm

    Enough time wasted feeding the trolls.

  45. Jed on February 26, 2005 at 10:29 pm

    Since we are talking about apologists here, I want to be an apologist for Arturo for a minute. I think he has some important things to say in post #31.

    Even if most us disagree with Arturo’s characterization of Nibley as “second rate” or not a “real scholar,” I find his post worthy of discussion. Of course those are politicized terms, and to make his points Artuto has to undersell Nibley’s accomplishments. A man who writes his dissertation in classics in just three weeks, and graduates summa cum laude from UC-Berkeley, is not second rate. Neither is anyone who has enough command of fourteen languages to be seen in print using them. As for Nibley’s scholarship, his book The Ancient State is filled with essays published early in his career in reputable journals of classical antiquity and jewish studies. He is apparently as real as the next scholar. He might have continued in that early course, had he wanted, and we should not underestimate the degree to which his later research agenda was shaped at the requests of higher councils. But I hope you can see that I am defining “first rate” and “real scholar” in my own way just as Arturo is in his. This is why Artuo should be read on his own terms.

    Artuo’s first argument about the rolling of eyes is a little enigmatic, but I think I see his point. He says Nibley’s tone is different from Brooks’s, and I agree. Reading Brooks, I am not so sure where she will end up; there is surprise along the way; the church may get a little tarnished in spots; church members may get a little tarnished. She does not leave everything neat and tidy. I do not get that in Nibley. I always know where he will end up, and the church will always look spotless. The surprise is not how the story turns out, or who gets tarnished along the way. The surprise is what ancient source he will dig up to validate the modern claims of the church. These are the “oohh” and “ahh” documents that make the church’s claims look very old. But because I already believe these claims to be true, the surprise is minimal.

    Arturo’s second argument is that Nibley confuses tradition or authority with truth. It is not clear to me that this point is different from Arturo’s first. I am also quite skeptical of claims that say they are finding truth while others are “merely” working in tradition. Claims to to unalloyed truth work within tradition as well, so the division is false for me. But if we tie Arturo’s wording back to the first point, the implication here, once again, seems to be that Nibley does not follow the truth wherever it leads but instead, wherever he wants it to lead. I see some of that in Nibley. His article on the early Christian prayer circle seems to cast the net too wide in my view. He dredges up anything that looks remotely like the prayer circle and tosses it into the manuscript. Others have criticized him for taking documents produced hundreds of years and many miles apart and saying, in essence, they mean the same thing. He feels more like a sociologist of religion than a historian in places. There is a looseness in some of Nibley’s work that peer review would have corrected. Apology cannot take the place of peer review.

  46. Jed on February 26, 2005 at 10:32 pm

    Arturo’s third point (at #31), I think, has great merit in my mind. I do think Mormons have lagged behind in the historical scholarship. It is true that Mormons had not gone digging into Joseph Smith’s life before Brodie came along. People like Wilford Poulsen had collected documents here and there, but for many, many years Mormons sat content with the hagiographic portraits passed down in familiar form (George Q. Cannon’s biography being the shining example). Brodie sent our scholars scurrying about to track down her sources. The result was countless articles and books that attempted to refute her (or parts of her) but really ended up compromising with her. Today we have a much more complex picture of Joseph than we once did, much coming at Brodie’s prompt. Did Nibley show us Joseph Smith’s complexity? I think he did he showed the complexity of Joseph’s texts, but as for the man himself, well, I think Arturo has a point.

  47. Arturo Toscanini on February 26, 2005 at 11:35 pm

    Stephen M. (Ethesis): Arturo, I’d like to see you compare Nibley to Eliade and Campbell. I would say that he easily overmatches either.

    I’m afraid you’ve undone me, Stephen. I know very little about Eliade or Campbell. I’d say Nibley is a popularizer who compares favorably Isaac Asimov (without the Science Fiction). Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he is like a Mormon Will Durant.

  48. Arturo Toscanini on February 26, 2005 at 11:38 pm

    Just to clarify, I never said that Nibley was not a real scholar. I said that being an essayist doesn’t make one a real scholar; thus, none of the stirring quotes on Russell’s “Nibley the Prophet” thread are evidence of Nibley’s scholarship. I have, however, said that Nibley is a second rate scholar (by which I mean simply that he is not a first rate scholar).

    Jed, thanks for endeavoring to sympathetically explicate my positions. You’ve saved me from having to run off and finally read something written by Foucault—it mystifies me that he always comes up in conversations I have with other Mormons (and never otherwise). You’re right that my first reason overlaps somewhat with my second. But I do believe that they are logically independent; i.e., Nibley could be guilty of the 2nd and not the 1st, and vice versa. At any rate, I’m not just taking pot shots at Nibley. I think it’s something of a category mistake to say things like “What matters most is not how many questions Nibley answered correctly, it’s how many questions he made possible” (not to pick on Rosalynde Welch—commenters have said this again and again). It seems to me that Nibley did little to create a framework for asking or answering questions, but that he wrote to validate the pat answers of his day.

    I don’t know enough about early Nibley to comment on whether he had the makings of a first rate scholar. From what you describe, he seems to have traded this portion of his birthright for something else. I’ve already described what I think this something else is, so I’ll leave it at that.

  49. Clark on February 27, 2005 at 1:45 am

    Others have made my points, I’d just second Stephen in bringing up Eliade and Campbell who came from the same basic period as Nibley and write in a surprisingly similar style. Nibley has flaws, but his flaws are the flaws of that entire genre of scholarship. Others gave the examples, but I think one needn’t read far into Eliadi, Campbell, Otto Rank, Lord Raglan, or Alan Dundes. That view of looking at the big patterns that was very popular in the early 50’s through the 60’s seems a bit too interpretive today. Further it was, I think, tainted especially in its secular form by Freud, Jung, and other early psychoanalysts. Because of that much of it seems quaint to us today. Further I agree with the criticism that these figures (and I could name more) come up with patterns and then fit their proof for the patterns into the patterns, often distorting them somewhat in the process. Campbell in particular does this a lot. The point is that Nibley was educated when this was the process of scholarship. If it isn’t how we do it today, well that simply says something about what is, or isn’t popular. (Although all the figures I mentioned still sell very well in Barnes and Noble)

    Considering that Nibley graduated in the 40’s and did most of his significant scholarly work in the 50’s I think it unfair to judge it by the standard of the last 10 years. According the the standard of the day it was extremely well done.

    Certainly being a good essayist doesn’t make one a good scholar. Nibley probably achieved more as an essayist than as a scholar. So I don’t think that an unfair comment. (Although even there one might quibble – few have embraced his political or ethical views while many have taken an improved his scholarly ideas) I’d also agree Nibley wasn’t a first rate scholar in that he never achieved the stature of Eliadi. However if by first or second rate we mean capability rather than recognition, I think we must consider him first rate. He was very well regarded by his non-Mormon peers. Calling him a Mormon Will Durant is probably a fair description though – although I think Nibley was very innovative and investigative in ways Durant never was. (At least not in any of the books Durant is known for)

  50. Steve L on February 27, 2005 at 2:56 am

    Arturo, you are certainly a master of polemicizing. I’m sure it’s obvious to you that Karajan being a Nazi does not make him a poor conductor, nor does it make Toscanini a master (you must have heard his 2nd and 4th Beethoven symphonies). Maybe we need a great conductors thread and MY polemicizing will seduce you into taking a Teutonic handle.

    Clark and all the others– I think what you say is very perceptive. I also think what is now objectionable in Campbell, Nibley, et al. is precisely what makes them so appealing to many (some?) religious/spiritual folk. I don’t think anybody EVER read Nibley to get a pulse on contemporary scholarship (not that he was behind the times), but rather to plumb the depths of his interpretations. For those who do enjoy the work regardless of whether or not it is dated, the question is not about whether he conjures up connections that did not previously exist or see trends and patterns where there were none, but whether his insight is clear and strikes at the heart of the matter, which may not be a question of scholarship. I believe you are right, Clark, to point a finger at Jung, but while it is fashionable now to discount him and his now much-decried (at least in some contemporary academic circles) predecessor, I think it is not right to fault them for not being methodical, scientific, or scholarly enough. I think that’s not what it’s really about for those who respect their work, and this begs the question of what really constitutes scholarship. Would Nibley even think of himself as a scholar in the traditional sense? Were these men all scholars or merely poets who described the human condition? How would they describe themselves? And, most important, what were their objectives? Did they achieve them? I’d be very interested to know everyone’s thoughts on these questions, even if I’m asking the wrong ones (or if the answers are obvious to everyone but me).

  51. Geoff Johnston on February 27, 2005 at 3:06 am

    I can’t sleep tonight so here I am…

    Clark: few have embraced his political or ethical views

    That’s because he was right most of the time and “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

    Arturo: As usual you make some good points (though I must say this persona is less funny and more bitter/angry than your other one has been… Lighten up — I miss the humor). I personally think you might focus too much on the Nibley vs. Brodie deal. I know you are a fan of her book and think it gets a bad rap and you probably have a point (I haven’t read it yet, but I will one of these days). And it sounds like Brother Nibley did act as a bit of a shill for the church at the time with his response. But can’t the guy be forgiven for that? He wasn’t a church historian; he was a professor of Ancient scripture after all.

    Clearly he was interested in using his formidable intellectual skills to bring evidence to light that supported the personal revelation he had received concerning the Church and the restored gospel. I guess by your definition that made him a second-rate scholar (presumably because he had an end in mind and would not necessarily follow the evidence no matter where it would lead him, right?) Perhaps as a pure scholar he was hamstrung by his faith. Do you know of any good examples of truly faithful Latter Day Saints that are not similarly hamstrung by their faith? Which LDS scholars do you consider first rate?

  52. David Reed on February 27, 2005 at 4:01 am

    Not to speak too ill of the dead but I have never been impressed by Fawn Brodie’s scholarship. It really irritates me how she she was always making comments about what the people she was writing about were thinking at a particular time and place. I think she really had an ax to grind with important successful men. I read her biography on Jefferson after finishing Malone’s biography of Jefferson and her lack of knowledge was only exceeded by her lack scholarship. Though it would have been fun to read a Brodie biography on Bill Clinton.

  53. Russell Arben Fox on February 27, 2005 at 9:32 am

    Clark,

    “Certainly being a good essayist doesn’t make one a good scholar. Nibley probably achieved more as an essayist than as a scholar. So I don’t think that an unfair comment. (Although even there one might quibble – few have embraced his political or ethical views while many have taken an improved his scholarly ideas.)”

    Influence is certainly one measurement of excellence, but not a very useful one, I’d warrant. Martin Luther King’s critiques of modern American society had wide influence; Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s have had little, if any, impact. Does that mean King is a finer, or more “truthful” essayist than Solzhenitsyn? Hardly. Yes, Nibley failed to convert Utah Valley to his environmentally sensitive, economically consecrated, communal model. But that failure is not, I think, a good way to judge the rightness of his ideas. If effectiveness is how one should assess prophecy, then all prophets have been “useless,” not just Nibley.

  54. Rosalynde Welch on February 27, 2005 at 10:03 am

    Arturo, no need to read Foucault, in translation or otherwise! I just brought him up because he was the celebrity figure in my graduate department whose work was always getting trashed in the first-year theory series. His work is unrelated to Mormon studies, and to this conversation.

    As for my claim about Nibley’s asking and answering questions (and pick on me if you like, by the way), I stand by it, for now. To invoke another foundational contemporary of Nibley’s, and at the risk of bastardizing his theory in yet another ill-conceived misapplication, I think Thomas Kuhn’s vocabulary of “paradigm shift” and “normal science” is instructive here: Nibley changed the basic assumptions and aims of our approaches to the Book of Mormon and LDS restorationist claims by drawing on the ancient world to contextualize those texts and claims, a scope and breadth of contextualization that was novel within the LDS community–however similar to the kind of work ongoing in Nibley’s academic milieu. Since then, FARMS and much of the BYU religion department has been carrying on the “normal science” of ancient contextualization that was made possible by Nibley’s “paradigm shift.” (Again, I realize Kuhn’s language is misapplied here; I think the basic structure holds, though.)

  55. annegb on February 27, 2005 at 10:16 am

    While his writing is clear (he doesn’t use too many words that I don’t understand) he does talk all around a subject. I don’t find him concise or succinct. He makes good points, but I have to search for them.

    Completely objective observation.

  56. annegb on February 27, 2005 at 10:48 am

    …although you can pick it up and open it anywhere and read something interesting.

    I loved his first sentence, as he describes his “last lecture” “inurred (sp?) to the boredom by the life-long habit of talking to myself.” I do that, too!

  57. Christian Cardall on February 27, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    Rosalynde, obviously Bro. B. was awesome, the nicest and coolest surfer-dude Institute director one could possibly hope for at a seaside university. The timing of my use of the word “intellectual” with him may have been unfortunate; this introductory conversation was upon my arrival in September 1993, the month of the “September Six.” At the time I was unaware of (or at least unsympathetic to) the situation, and also I think I was naive and innocent with regard to the baggage “intellectual” carries. I would not have expected critical perspectives to be given equal time at the institute. What I longed for was something like the seminar run in the Physics Department at BYU I took my senior year. This was an inoculation exercise where guests from many departments led discussions about things thinking members might come to have some concerns about. The first semester was all science, as I recall: a few speakers on evolution (including one from the religion department), Kent Harrison on cosmology, a geologist on the 3 Nephi destruction, a chemist on Nibley’s (fallacious) argument from the 2nd law of thermodynamics, etc. The second semester broadened out into non-science topics: Susan Easton Black on masonry, Jim F. on postmodernism (thanks Jim, lessons from that single hour have stuck with me!), and so forth. In retrospect it was, of course, ridiculous of me to hope for comparable experiences from an isolated cliffside institute. But, being young and eager, when he asked me what I wanted, this is what I wished for and started to say so—but didn’t get past a single sentence in conveying it, because I had innocently used the “i” word, and that line of the conversation abruptly ended.

    On the manuals and view towards outside materials, I was talking more about Gospel Doctrine and Priesthood/Relief Society than Institute. Your mother’s classes are delightful, I’m sure!

    Pointing out that 1 in 12 Arts & Sciences isn’t bad compared to the general population is rhetorically clever, and appropriately reminds us to be grateful for the distillation of talent resident in the Twelve. The more germane question, however, would be whether the relative proportion in the Twelve of JDs and MBAs relative to Arts & Sciences types is similar to that in the pool of all advanced degree recipients in the general population (maybe it is).

    Also, I forgot to mention that Elder Scott is a nuclear engineer (master’s?), though engineering is normally its own college separate from the sciences. And Elder Maxwell was in political science (master’s?). I suppose Elder Nelson, as an innovative, researching M.D., may presently be the closest to a “scientist.”

  58. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 27, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    Clark:

    I’d just second Stephen in bringing up Eliade and Campbell who came from the same basic period as Nibley and write in a surprisingly similar style. Nibley has flaws, but his flaws are the flaws of that entire genre of scholarship.

    You’ve hit it cleanly. Eliade and Campbell are both accepted as world class. No one guesses where they are ending up (what kind of criteria is that — are we talking scholarship or mystery novels here). Heck, read Volokh’s first class article on slippery slopes — clear as a bell where he is going and it is the best out there on that topic.

    Brodie’s scholarship, on the other hand, is often on the level of “Arturo’s interest and work in bordellos is a prime facet of his being” sort of thing drawn from the name of his avatar and an infamous quote (of the avatars). Footnote checking for her is a minefield of embarassment. Consider her willing use of stories she knew to be false (which she footnoted as good examples anyway, and then deleted the footnote acknowledgements that she was using false stories in later editions — while keeping the stories).

    A simple example of clear error. Answer me, would it really be accurate to state that only Melchizedek and Christ had held the Melchizedek priesthood, as is claimed on page 111 of her book? Come on. To quote another reviewer of her work, as I have done before she is “intricately wrong by deep study and long effort.

    Nibley is otherwise a delight and I am enjoying his book on Bishops. Too bad he did not type up more lectures.

  59. annegb on February 27, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    what’s the name of the book on bishops?

  60. Arturo Toscanini on February 27, 2005 at 7:14 pm

    Geoff Johnston: I must say this persona is less funny and more bitter/angry than your other one has been… Lighten up – I miss the humor

    Yes, but my career as a humorist is very poorly documented.… And that enigmatic phrase you use: “this persona.” Whatever might you mean by this?

    Geoff Johnston: Do you know of any good examples of truly faithful Latter Day Saints that are not similarly hamstrung by their faith? Which LDS scholars do you consider first rate?

    There are several. The best example (and, I think, the model) is Juanita Brooks. (I’ve actually steered clear of saying that Brodie is a first rate scholar, because I feel like I’ve ignited enough controversy in this thread.) Frankly, I find it interesting that the response I get from this thread’s feminist founder (since Rosalynde has announced, “pick on me if you like”) is something like “patricide is healthy,” rather than “of course women have courageously shaped Mormon studies!”—but that’s part of what I find all-too-predictably tired about feminism.

    Incidentally, I’m happy to hear that your boy is doing well. He was in my prayers.

  61. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 27, 2005 at 9:58 pm

    Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity. Copyright 2005.

    See, above Yesterday the postman delivered the latest installment in the collected works of Hugh Nibley, volume 15, Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity. At a modest 254 pages,

    I got mine as a Valentine’s Day present from my wife.

    As to … (I’ve actually steered clear of saying that Brodie is a first rate scholar, because I feel like I’ve ignited enough controversy in this thread.)

    I suppose our resident troll was given the priesthood when he was eight years old, believes that there were three divisions in the war in heaven (a third being neutral), etc.

    For an easy link on the web:
    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=373
    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=377

    That does show give the right perspective to the claim that as to Brodie and those who read her footnotes, those who read really ended up compromising with her.

    True, Louis Midgley does seem a bit irritable some times in dealing with people, but it is those who worship at the alter of Brodie and similar lightweights who have set him off. Ever wonder what would have happened if people could have just been honest that Brodie lacked any substantial honesty or skill? Perhaps Midgely could have been spared a great deal of irritation. At least looking around in response to this post did cause me to read some of Midgely who I’ve previously skipped (other than SHEILDS).

    And of course, Brodie destroyed all of her notes for her seminal anti-LDS work. Guess that is required of first rate scholars?

    In the initial printing of No Man Knows, Brodie reports that the Lehi colony started their journey to America in A.D.> Top notch first class scholarship there.

    I had not suspected in 1979, when I first published on Brodie, that any non-LDS historians had been critical of No Man Knows. But when I examined her papers, I discovered that Hill was mistaken on this point and, with a few exceptions, that the historians who reviewed No Man Knows had not been entirely laudatory. And I was also not aware that, with one or two exceptions, the praise she received for No Man Knows came from writers who did not appear qualified to judge the scholarly merits of her book Indeed.

    http://farms.byu.edu/results.php?q=brodie&ul=http%3A%2F%2Ffarms.byu.edu%2F&wf=00F8 if you want to select your own essays. I haven’t picked the strongest or best, just ones that attacted my fancy, given the earlier comments on Midgley and my own ignorance of his writing.

    A nice summary is http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=227

    For what I assume is your take, http://content.lib.utah.edu/cgi-bin/docviewer.exe?CISOROOT=/dialogue&CISOPTR=575&CISOSHOW=532

    Marvin S. Hill, “Brodie Revisted: A Reappraisal,” Dialogue, Vol. 7:4 (Winter 1972). One mere needs to ignore the fact that her footnotes are grossly out of tune with the work she wrote.

    The FARMS material is much more footnote review intensive, over and over and over agains showing outright fraud and intentional deceit.

    Ah well. Maybe now is the time to roll eyes.

  62. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 27, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    and, for nice flippant discussion (Kerry Shirts has moved his website again, but he has added things I missed, so what the heck)

    http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/lijjick.htm

    http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/3750/Brodie.html

  63. Jonathan Green on February 27, 2005 at 10:29 pm

    Stephen, Arturo is not a troll. Arturo is merely at Stage 4 in his relationship to Hugh Nibley.

    Stage 1: “Some guy in Elders Quorum said that Nibley proved the Book of Mormon is true, so that’s that!”
    Stage 2: “Fawn Brodie said mean things about Joseph Smith, but I read Nibley’s book about her, and now I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet at Brodie is Satan’s handmaiden. I think I’ll punch the next anti-Mormon protester I see in the mouth.”
    Stage 3: “The anti-Mormons raise some interesting questions, and Nibley answers them all. The end.”
    Stage 4: “Wait a second! Nibley’s account of the development of the alphabet is totally full of it! His sources are bunkum! He’s been lying to us all along!”

    Arturo may yet progress to…
    Stage 5: “Ah, I see now that Nibley was not writing truth. Rather, Truth was writing him. His grand narrative is flawed, but no less grand for it.”
    Stage 6: “In a footnote to Temple and Cosmos, I have heard the sound of one hand clapping. If cymbals tinkle in the forest and no one hears it, does the brass make a sound?”

  64. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 27, 2005 at 11:04 pm

    Ah, Jonathan, I can sleep now.

    Peace,

    Stephen ;)

  65. Jonathan Green on February 27, 2005 at 11:17 pm

    Arturo,
    Have you considered joining the discussion as a real person? Think about it. Claim your real name, stand up for your biography, bring credit to your family! Most participants here are connected or connectible to real lives. For what follows, I’ll take at face value your reply to Rosalynde that you’re early in a grad program somewhere. Maybe I’ll end up looking foolish for it (the real me, Ph.D. in German and a couple years teaching full time, google me, I’m not hard to find). It wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last.

    1. What did your mother say when you called someone a poo-poo head? She told you that you had a small vocabulary. “Repudiated” and “dishonest” are the academic equivalents of “poo-poo head,” saved for the true scoundrels. Academia prefers to express subtle gradations with a fairly restricted palette, so that even scathing opinions sound generally flattering to the casual observer.

    2. Some may question the standing of a beginning grad student to offer sweeping judgments on the worth of a respected scholar’s work. But put the right way, you can say almost the same things. For example, who am I, simple Germanic medievalist that I am, to question the accomplishment of Joseph Campbell, and how can I presume to discern whether he was a first-rate or third-rate scholar? And yet I am quite comfortable saying: while Campbell remains popular with the general public, scholarship has moved on considerably; when I was preparing a class on him, I found his grasp of the primary texts I know best to be questionable, and his interpretation of them strained.

    3. You’re way too hung up on whether Nibley was second-rate or not. Everyone acknowledges that Nibley belonged to another generation of scholarship. Isn’t the point, like, moot? Let go of your anger. Or at least, explain why it’s relevant. I’m guessing that the explanation is more about you than it is about Nibley, but I’d bet it’s interesting nonetheless.

    4. I find that having a couple minor articles in print with my name on them functions as an effective momento mori when it comes to criticizing others’ scholarship. You might find yourself wishing you had worded your thesis or dissertation a bit differently about 10 minutes after depositing it. You may even become more circumspect in your opinion of Nibley.

    5. But do remember: 90% of all statements delivered in the “someday you’ll understand” tone of voice are pure BS. Good luck and keep us posted.

  66. Jim F. on February 27, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    Jonathan Green, what you say about publishing turning out always to be a humbling experience certainly reflects my experience. I understand well why some people keep writing but never publish. It is truly frightening to allow what you say to become permanent. My only hope is that, unlike Nibley, what I write will be difficult for people to find.

    And thanks for pointing out that Arturo Toscanini is not a troll. He has disagreed strongly with several, but he has generally been civil.

  67. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 28, 2005 at 8:41 am

    My only hope is that, unlike Nibley, what I write will be difficult for people to find

    Actually, warts and all, you will find that people are generally quite kind to even roughly edited work.

    That has been my experience.

    Tell you what, even though it got mangled somehow, I’ll post a link to my vitae if Arturo will post a link to his.

    http://www.adrr.com/smu/ — and just click on the picture. I need to update the picture, that was taken when I first started with USA&M, but color my hair a lot whiter and it still looks like me.

    Jim F. — you may be right. I was judging his comments along the lines that fit academics, where what he was saying was that Nibley was completely corrupt, the academic equivilent of a son of perdition. That would be trolling.

  68. annegb on February 28, 2005 at 10:15 am

    I would be at stage minus 1: who’s Hugh Nibley?

  69. Arturo Toscanini on February 28, 2005 at 10:17 am

    I apologize if I mislead you, Jonathan Green, but a graduate school quip and a Mack Gordon lyric were all I could muster as a good natured response to being told I was sophomoric. That said, I most certainly am not a first year graduate student.

    As far as my standing and my presumption to offer criticism, I freely express my opinion about a great many things (e.g., novels, movies, plays, museums, art) though I’ve no talent or interest in creating them. Moreover, this is an onymous blog, don’t you know. Opinions flow like water, and I might as well ask who you are to question me.

    Stephen M (Ethesis), you’ll have to excuse me for my lack of outrage at the lovely Ms. Brodie, but coming at her after having read Donna Hill’s Joseph Smith: The First Mormon, I found Brodie to be pretty mild fare. Even so, your “who’s the troll now” rant about Brodie is entirely beside the point, and I frankly don’t see that it disagrees with anything I’ve said.

    Stephen M (Ethesis) and Jonathan Green: It’s unfortunate (and a little crass) that you’ve brought up credentials. Perhaps you’d also like to compare paychecks? At any rate, as you mature you will both become more comfortable with yourselves, and you won’t need to needlessly brandish your degrees.

  70. Jed on February 28, 2005 at 10:36 am

    Clark (#49) says: “Nibley has flaws, but his flaws are the flaws of that entire genre of scholarship. Others gave the examples, but I think one needn’t read far into Eliadi, Campbell, Otto Rank, Lord Raglan, or Alan Dundes. That view of looking at the big patterns that was very popular in the early 50’s through the 60’s.”

    Yes. Nibley was essentially a structuralist looking for deep patterns across culture. He quoted Jung approvingly on occasion, and he read the anthropologists in the Levi-Straus tradition. That way of looking at the world has fallen by the wayside for the search of local contexts and narrow historical antecedents. But cross cultural studies are on the rise, and there is more scepticism about the search for historical causality than in years past. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nibley’s work doesn’t look even better in a few years.

    Clark (#49) says: “Considering that Nibley graduated in the 40’s and did most of his significant scholarly work in the 50’s I think it unfair to judge it by the standard of the last 10 years. According the the standard of the day it was extremely well done.”

    I agree with appraisal, though I think Nibley finished his schooling in 1938, if I am not mistaken.

    Rosalynde (#54) says: “Nibley changed the basic assumptions and aims of our approaches to the Book of Mormon and LDS restorationist claims by drawing on the ancient world to contextualize those texts and claims.”

    Rosalynde probably has Nibley’s legacy pinned in her depiction of him as a revolutionary. Brodie was looking for the BofM in New York. No one was looking in Arabia before Nibley came along. It remains to be seen whether anyone but Mormons will find the ancient context compelling, however.

  71. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 28, 2005 at 1:58 pm

    but a graduate school quip and a Mack Gordon lyric were all I could muster as a good natured response to being told I was sophomoric. That said, I most certainly am not a first year graduate student

    My apologies for taking that seriously.

    BTW, on this board having a J.D. isn’t anything anyone brandishes (though a few blush over them), and as for paychecks, I make a lot less than most here. I’m one of the guys asked to step down off the FAIR board so they could bring on people who made real money and who could offer real financial support.

    Sorry you felt offended, though the as you matureM/i> line was funny. I though you did miss the point about my discussion of Brodie, unless you agree that Brodie is definitely not a first rate scholar and that Nibley is or your intent is to use the word “rant” to both insult me and avoid discussion.

    annegb

    Nibley is the scholar this thread is about. He did some great work and was an amazing man.

  72. Jonathan Green on February 28, 2005 at 3:35 pm

    Arturo, you misread me. Take a walk around the block, or go fishing, or watch birds for an hour, or whatever you do to unwind. Repeat as necessary, then come back and re-read what I’ve written. It’s all meant to be helpful. What you read as credential-waving is not; it’s a shorthand way of stating who I am. Disagreement between people who may actually agree on many things is sad.

    “Perhaps you’d also like to compare paychecks?” ‘Turo, you’ve got to work on your delivery. I presume you looked me up, so you know I work for a public institution. The books are open. In fact, you can check the salaries of everyone who works here online, at least above a certain cut-off point. So go find the site, make a note of that cut-off point, and then pull out your last payckeck. Stare at it fondly for a while. Smile and remind yourself what a great guy you are and what a rewarding career you have. All better now? Great.

    Also, look up ‘onymous’. It may not mean what you think it means.

  73. Geoff Johnston on February 28, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    Arturo: I’m happy to hear that your boy is doing well. He was in my prayers.

    Thank you. Every prayer helped. Obviously the Lord paid attention.

    It appears Arturo’s identity is not as obvious others as it is to me, but I like the man behind the mask. He has a nasty habit of goading people incessantly, but occasionally reveals that the emperor indeed has no clothes in the process. There are good reasons for his mask here though but I’ll let him describe them if he wants to.

    So “Arturo”: I haven’t read Juanita’s book yet either but I know she is most well known for her integrity in publishing just the facts. (As someone wisely stated here at T&S, church history is just a hobby anyway). My only problem with her as an example is that Nibley is not a Church historian so his “No M’am” work is not a test of his quality as a scholar. (I wonder if your beef with him stems too much from that one book…) Do you consider him a second-rate scholar when writing about ancient scripture and documents as well? If so is that because he has an end in mind when writing and is trying to connect the evidence to that end? And do you have an example of a “first-rate” scholar in his specific field(s) that is also a truly faithful member of the church? (I’m wondering if the standard you have can even be attained)

  74. Arturo Toscanini on February 28, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    Jonathan Green: Arturo, you misread me.

    Likewise, I’m sure.

    Jonathan Green: Take a walk around the block, or go fishing, or watch birds for an hour, or whatever you do to unwind.

    LOL. Incidentally, I do happen to know that onymous is a back formation from anonymous. I was aiming for a kind of wacky sarcastic tone to add humor and keep my response from sounding caustic (did you really think I was serious when I referred to Stephen M (Ethesis)’s comment as a “who’s the troll now” rant?). Either it was lost on you or I’m not the humorist Geoff Johnston takes me to be (or both). In either case, I think I’m going to start calling you the nutty professor.

    Stephen M (Ethesis), so you’re sorry you took me seriously, eh? So are a lot of people.

    Stephen M (Ethesis): the as you mature line was funny

    As long as we’re both enjoying ourselves, then I’m happy

    As far as the Brodie thing, for the purposes of my point, it doesn’t much matter how good of a scholar she was. I know Brodie’s history is full of gaffes and broken details. For my part, I find her unqualified recital of Governor Ford’s explanation of the 8 witnesses a bit silly (and I could go on). But I contend that this is all beside the point. If a Mormon scholar had made similar mistakes, Mormons wouldn’t be nearly so hung up about them. Mormon’s want to focus on these weaknesses because Brodie denies Joseph’s prophetic mission. And focussing on these is defensive and small minded.

    Before No Man Knows My History, non-Mormons scholars generally had the following general idea about Mormon history: Joseph plagiarized the Spaulding manuscript to create the Book of Mormon and was a complete idiot. The growth of church was due to Sydney Rigdon’s genius, he being the Karl Rove to Joseph’s George W. Bush. Things got out of hand in Nauvoo, Joseph got what he deserved when a mob finally shot him, Brigham took over, and the Mormon’s went to Salt Lake and had an orgy. Even Mormons generally viewed Mormon History as a western affair, and the most influential Mormon historians (e.g., Arrington) were basically western historians.

    Brodie torpedoed the Spaulding theory in a manner that non-Mormon’s finally took seriously, and her discussion remains the definitive refutation of that theory to this day. Brodie convinced the non-Mormon public that Joseph Smith (not Sydney Rigdon) was the brains behind Mormonism. And at a time when Mormons themselves were still doing Utah-centric history, she put the spotlight firmly on the pre-1844 era. In short, it was Brodie who first began convincing people that Joseph was an American religious leader of historical importance. And this is more than a stadium full of Nibley’s could ever have accomplished.

    This is what makes Brodie’s book such a landmark work. Standing squarely among the small minded, Nibley was more interesting in re-enforcing church’s self serving portrayal of Joseph than actually shedding any real light on his life.

  75. Jonathan Green on February 28, 2005 at 8:39 pm

    Actually, Arturo, we’ve had funnier around here before. But since Geoff Johnston knows you, I’ll let him explain it to you, or you can explain it to him. Best wishes either way,

  76. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 28, 2005 at 8:47 pm

    I’d say that Nibley provided a shift in views and a broad canvas in LDS studies much like Eliade did for religious history or Campbell did for mythology.

    And I think you really need to read Bird Island, the story of the Jaradite zipper and other important finds in modern LDS scholarship. Remember, it was a Nibley influenced FARMS that debunked the Lehi cave, for example.

  77. Geoff Johnston on February 28, 2005 at 8:55 pm

    Thanks for the vote of confidence Jonathan. Just because I know who he is and like him doesn’t mean others around here particularly like him. Let me add that I think he is dead wrong on this issue and has asked for every rebuke he gets on this thread… I am waiting for him to finally answer my question before I decide if he is totally full of it or if he has something to back up his rather annoying “small minded” epithets beyond his disdain for Nibley’s “No M’am” book .

  78. Arturo Toscanini on February 28, 2005 at 9:11 pm

    Jonathan Green: Actually, Arturo, we’ve had funnier around here before. But since Geoff Johnston knows you, I’ll let him explain it to you, or you can explain it to him.

    Well Geoff Johnston, is it true what Jonathan Green says about me? That I’m not as funny as I used to be when I was more forthrightly jovial and didn’t scrupulously purge my posts for objectionable humor?

    Geoff Johnston: And do you have an example of a “first-rate” scholar in his specific field(s) that is also a truly faithful member of the church? (I’m wondering if the standard you have can even be attained)

    This is a very good question. For my part, I’m quite sympathetic to the position that Kaimi expresses about evangelicals, and there’s a lot more wrong with the Bible than there is with the Book of Mormon. For my part, I quickly tire of the search for the historical Christ, because it seems to me that anyone with a reasonable knowledge of New Testament scholarship has to realize that one is no more able to deduce facts about the historical Jesus from reading the New Testament than one is to deduce facts about the historical Achilles by reading The Illiad. This probably makes me something of a marginal Mormon. If I actually bothered to publish something like this in a scholarly journal (not that I have the training or credentials to do so), I’m not sure how it would be greeted by the Strengthening the Saints Committee. My attitude is that we’re Christian because Christ appeared to Joseph. If Allah had appeared to Joseph, then we’d be Muslim. So, although I believe in the atonement, am I a “truly faithful member”?

  79. Nate Oman on February 28, 2005 at 9:44 pm

    Arturo: First, the Stengthening the Members Committee probably doesn’t care about you or give a fig about what you write.

    Second, I think that you have Brodie’s influence a bit messed up. To the extent that there was academic interest in Mormonism, it had rejected the Spaulding theory by the 1940s and was focusing in on Brodie’s thesis of Joseph Smith as nutcase. There were some doctrinal dissertations that had laid out many of the main arguments before her work. As a researcher, Brodies was basically derivative. She was taking advantage of Dale Morgan’s work. Morgan, alas, seems to have been incabable of finishing his major projects. Furthermore, Brodie did little to burnish Joseph’s image as a major religious thinker, since her basic thesis was that he was a light weight charlatan, capable of virtuoso improvising but not leaving anything of lasting religious significance. There may be something to your claim that she focused attention on the pre-1844 period, but I am skeptical. Mormon historians — such as B.H. Roberts — had lavished a great deal of attention on the period, and the real impetus for the rise of the New Mormon History was less Brodie than Arrington. Brodie produced few followers, while Arrington had them in scads.

    Look, there are valid criticisms to be made of Nibley, but they have little or nothing to do with the deification of Brodie.

  80. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 28, 2005 at 9:52 pm

    I will say that Arturo did prompt some interesting discussion. Appreciate Nate’s comments, I learn a good deal from his posts.

  81. annegb on February 28, 2005 at 9:52 pm

    Yeah, Steve, I figured it out. I’ve got a couple of his books from the library, which bother me because of the long paragraphs, you gotta look for the nuggets, but I’m finding them. Sort of like Teresa of Avila, but not really.

  82. Arturo Toscanini on February 28, 2005 at 10:18 pm

    Fawn Brodie: Arturo: First, the Strengthening the Members Committee probably doesn’t care about you or give a fig about what you write.

    Thanks Nate, I’m glad that’s finally clarified. Not only will I sleep peacefully tonight, but tomorrow I’ll finally write all those things I’ve always wanted to publish. But really, you don’t have to write stuff like this; I’m going to loath myself anyway.

    At any rate, you have an amazing propensity to make unwarranted assumptions about your argumentative opponents, to swiftly burn straw men instead of asking serious questions, and then to blame your opponents for not having been clearer.

    This time, I’m curious what it is that makes you believe that (a) that Brodie wrote anything original about Smith (on the contrary, I carefully phrased my summation of her influence so that originality was not entailed), and (b) that I have deified her (on the contrary, I point out a sloppy flaw in her scholarship and indicate my awareness of many more). Moreover, your view that her thesis was that he was “a light weight charlatan” is simply mistaken and is refuted in the opening pages. And if I didn’t find your intellect so vastly outstripped by your eagerness to prove a point, I may actually accord some weight to your skepticism regarding the pre-1844 focus.

  83. Arturo Toscanini on February 28, 2005 at 10:22 pm

    The above attribution should read (of course) Nate Oman: instead of Fawn Brodie:, but I seem to have copied and pasted the wrong bit of text.

  84. Christian Y. Cardall on February 28, 2005 at 10:51 pm

    Arturo: This probably makes me something of a marginal Mormon.

    Yes.

    Arturo: So, although I believe in the atonement, am I a “truly faithful member”?

    Yes.

    Like the quoting style. Who did I first see do that?

    I find it interesting that posting under one’s full name in the service of “responsibility” can lead to the posting of things some find bothersome (but ultimately trivial), that get edited by the powers that be; while the use of a pseudonym seems to lead to comments that are more self-restrained in this respect, but carry a more honest and weighty heterodoxy that goes untouched.

    Also, did you find the experiment with the faux accent too tiring? Reminds me of Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, who tried to sound English for about his first three lines!

  85. Jonathan Green on February 28, 2005 at 11:33 pm

    “For my part, I quickly tire of the search for the historical Christ, because it seems to me that anyone with a reasonable knowledge of New Testament scholarship has to realize that one is no more able to deduce facts about the historical Jesus from reading the New Testament than one is to deduce facts about the historical Achilles by reading The Illiad. This probably makes me something of a marginal Mormon.”

    No, AT, it makes you a prototypical Mormon. We’re not dependent on the New Testament or Palestinian history for our understanding of the gospel. You’re not the first to figure it out. But it’s still an interesting observation, even if it isn’t all about you.

  86. Jed on March 1, 2005 at 12:34 am

    Nate and Arturo,

    The two of you are talking past each other. I hear Arturo arguing for (#31 and 74) Brodie’s influence among non-Mormons. I hear Nate arguing against (#79) Brodie’s influence among Mormons.

    I think you are both right. If Brodie’s and Nibley’s influence among Mormons is compared, Nibley would have the greater influence by far, which Nate implies by arguing against Brodie’s influence (though without reference to Nibley). But if we compare their influence among non-Mormons, Brodie probably has the greater influence, for the simple reason that non-Mormons do not read Nibley while Brodie is still in print after all these years. Non-Mormon Americanists pick up Brodie before they pick up, say, Donna Hill. Even though Brodie has nothing at all to say about JS’s religion making, as Nate points out, the non-Mormons still read her for the story line. She remains the first choice until this fall.

    I think Nibley’s decision to write primarily for an LDS audience makes the comparison with Brodie somewhat stilted. In some ways they are on different playing fields. If you publish with Bookcraft, you know you are writing primarily to Mormons; if you publish with Knopf, you know you are writing primarily to non-Mormons. The prose is shaped for the audience.

  87. Geoff Johnston on March 1, 2005 at 2:41 am

    Arturo: Well Geoff Johnston, is it true what Jonathan Green says about me?

    In this post, yes. You are most funny when you say irreverent, occasionally over-the-top and out of left field (but painfully true) things at times when people are taking trivial matters too seriously. (And your wife is funny when she posts too…).

    It is not at all funny when you accuse Hugh Nibley of being “thoroughly second rate… thoroughly repudiated… thoroughly irrelevant… intellectually dishonest… mediocre… and small minded” and offer as the sum of your evidence:
    1). That you roll your eyes when reading Nibley;
    2). A claim that the only un-repudiated work he has done is his essay-type writing;
    3). Your opinion that Nibley is small minded based apparently solely on his response to the Brodie book.

    Being playful in later responses does not make amends for that. If you are going to say Nibley is “a second rate scholar (by which I mean that he’s not a first rate scholar)” you need more evidence to back up your claim than those three things. Your lack of evidence is disappointing to me because I had come to respect your opinions when you posted under your real name. But I will address the three feeble reasons you did bring up.

    1.) You roll your eyes when you read him. First, who cares? Second, when you read what? I get the impression you occasionally pick up No M’am that’s Not History to renew you distaste for the Nibley. But do you roll your eyes at his work on Enoch documents? How about his Abraham work? What about the work on ancient temple ceremonies? What about all the rest of it?
    2.) It has all been repudiated. This is just false. You are aware of this. Yes, some has been repudiated over the last 50+ years but are you claiming that much more of his work has been repudiated than other first rate scholars of his generation? How do you defend this comment?
    3.) He is small minded Again, you seem to point only to the Brodie response to support this mean-spirited comment. What about the library-worth of other work he did on ancient scriptures and documents? Was he small minded in all of that too? Do you have evidence to support this claim?

    If you want to amend your claim that Nibley was a second rate biographer of Joseph Smith I think you could defend that. I hope you will make some kind of amendment to your serious yet unfounded accusations of the man because they are making you look like the “small minded, intellectually dishonest, and thoroughly repudiated” one here. There is no need for a smart saint like you to be those things.

    Please either support your claims or amend them.

  88. Arturo Toscanini on March 1, 2005 at 10:30 am

    Jed: Non-Mormon Americanists pick up Brodie before they pick up, say, Donna Hill.…

    By the way, Donna Hill was first published by Doubleday (I have a signed first edition—it’s a nice book). She’s substantially more detailed than Brodie, she leverages much of the information that had come to light in the 30 years since Brodie published, and she studiously refrains from editorializing and drawing conclusions about Joseph’s prophetic mission. But she’s difficult going at times, and she lines up essentially the same facts as Brodie.

    You’re correct that I’m emphasizing Brodie’s influence among non-members, but this only impacts Nate’s point about followers and the New Mormon History. In remains true that Nate is (a) incorrect in his assumptions about my position, and (b) incorrect in his assessment of Brodie.

  89. Jack on March 1, 2005 at 10:47 am

    “You are most funny when you say irreverent, occasionally over-the-top and out of left field (but painfully true) things at times when people are taking trivial matters too seriously”

    …or when people are taking serious matters too seriously.

    Tell me A.T., was your last gig conducting the Turtles when they recorded the theme song for the Care Bears? (an inside jab)

    Speaking of waving a baton; you don’t have to slash Nibley with it. We have it on good authority that he’s already dead.

  90. annegb on March 1, 2005 at 11:05 am

    I mentioned to my intellectual friend that I was reading Hugh Nibley and finding it a bit tedious and she said, “there’s that, also he was a Democrat.” That’s a pretty big criticism for her.

    He doesn’t sound very liberal. Just sort of discombobulated.

  91. Jack on March 1, 2005 at 11:25 am

    annegb,

    Read Nibley’s “Approaching Zion”. You’ll learn real quick that Nibley was liberal. I have a hard time with some of his social views–though I didn’t mind to much when he would wax Buckminster Fuller like…

  92. Arturo Toscanini on March 1, 2005 at 11:28 am

    Geoff Johnston: It is not at all funny when you accuse Hugh Nibley of being “thoroughly second rate… thoroughly repudiated… thoroughly irrelevant… intellectually dishonest… mediocre… and small minded”

    I thought that it was understood that I’d backed away from this by the time that Jonathan Green started calling me repetitive. (This would have been my comment #31, where I actually staked out the position I’ve been trying to support). But just so that there’s no misunderstanding: I concede that not everything Nibley says has been repudiated. That would be a bit like proving that every phone number in the phone book was incorrect.

    I think that your impression of my posts has been unduly influenced by the Brodie strain that has dominated the past 40 or so comments (and I’m more comfortable in this area, since I’m much more current on Joseph Smith biographical issues). I am admittedly dealing in generalities with Nibley, because it’s been 14 years since I have read him. If, however, I may amend your summation of my reasoning, I’d say the following:

    1. The eye-rolling factor is rather large in Nibley, and this seems to have been conceded by at least one other Nibley proponent and implied by the tone of the inaugural post of this thread. But there’s not much room for argument here: you pretty much either roll your eyes or you don’t. If you’re one of those that doesn’t, that’s fine by me.

    2. Although Jed attributed the most strength to my point about Brodie, I prefer my comparison to Juanita Brooks. I see Nibley as having willfully constrained himself to the assumptions of his day—there’s a reason why he was considered so unfailingly loyal, you know. I am reminded of something Bertrand Russell once said:

    I should make it my object to teach thinking—not orthodoxy, or even heterodoxy. And I should absolutely never sacrifice knowledge to the supposed interest of morals.

    You bring up Nibley’s work on Abraham, which tries to show that the Book of Abraham is ancient based on internal evidence and correlations to ancient traditions. I simply don’t find Nibley to be very insightful compared to (say) Bruce Metzger’s work on the New Testament. (Bruce Metzger is a first rate scholar, but he could never be a truly faithful Mormon.) And besides, Nibley would come to the same conclusion no matter what the ancient record said about Abraham.

    3. I offer my comparison with Brodie to show an important reason why his work hasn’t aged well. I believe it typifies part of what’s wrong with his whole approach. It’s not that he was the first person doing what he was doing (he wasn’t, and Thucydides reads quite well after 2+ millennia). It’s that he’s too caught up in proving the pat assumptions of his day, and that the discussion has moved past him.

    Others in this thread have talked about some specifics in support of my points, but this is all I have to offer. I’m dealing in generalities here. But this is, after all, an onymous blog—I’m not trying to be funny, and I’m not even trying to be a first rate scholar. But I do think that I’ve made some passably good points.

    Geoff Johnston: You are most funny when you say irreverent, occasionally over-the-top and out of left field (but painfully true) things at times when people are taking trivial matters too seriously. (And your wife is funny when she posts too…).

    Thanks for the kind words. And you bring up a good point. From here on out, I’ll try to be less conventionally misanthropic. I’ll just need to steer clear of the awful state of sinners in the hands of angry blog-administering gods.

  93. Nate Oman on March 1, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    “At any rate, you have an amazing propensity to make unwarranted assumptions about your argumentative opponents, to swiftly burn straw men instead of asking serious questions, and then to blame your opponents for not having been clearer.”

    A skill carefully honed with many years of practice.

    Here is what the statements of Mr. T that I was trying to respond to:

    “Brodie torpedoed the Spaulding theory in a manner that non-Mormon’s finally took seriously, and her discussion remains the definitive refutation of that theory to this day. Brodie convinced the non-Mormon public that Joseph Smith (not Sydney Rigdon) was the brains behind Mormonism. And at a time when Mormons themselves were still doing Utah-centric history, she put the spotlight firmly on the pre-1844 era. In short, it was Brodie who first began convincing people that Joseph was an American religious leader of historical importance. And this is more than a stadium full of Nibley’s could ever have accomplished.”

    It seems to me that we have core claims here:

    1. Brodie put to bed the Spalding theory.
    2. Brodie showed that JS rather than SR was the brains of the operation.
    3. Brodie convinced non-Mormons that JS was an important religious leader.

    My understanding is that serious non-Mormon scholars of Mormonism (of which there were only a tiny handful) had rejected the spalding theory several decades before No Man Knows My History appeared. I suppose that 2 and 3 are intertwined, and perhaps Mr. T is right about this. I am skeptical. Furthermore, I don’t think that NMKMH convinced people that JS was an important religious leader. It is no doubt correct, however, that Brodie had more influence than Nibley on non-Mormon audiences, as Jed points out. I don’t see that this makes her a first rate scholar and makes Nibley into a second-rate one. Brodie is an excellent writer, she provides a solid chronology for Joseph Smith, and she gives them an interpetive frame work for Joseph that avoids the inspired of God or Satan dynamic. She does, I think, ultimately conclude that he was a charlatan, although at times a sincere one. Her psychologizing is a bit silly, but she was writing in the 1940s when one could still take much of pyscho-biography seriously with a straight face. My only point is that I simply don’t see Brodie as this towering scholar making huge intellectual breakthroughs.

    “And if I didn’t find your intellect so vastly outstripped by your eagerness to prove a point, I may actually accord some weight to your skepticism regarding the pre-1844 focus.”

    Nice turn of phrase. I am feeling horribly chastened and cut down to size. No wait a minute. I am not.

  94. Christian Cardall on March 1, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    Here is what the statements of Mr. T that I was trying to respond to

    LOL imagining Mr. T (of Rocky and A-Team fame) discussing Nibley and Brodie—and also playing, composing, and conducting classical music.

    I don’t know if Mr. T shared Mr. Toscanini’s aforementioned putative affinity for bordellos, but perhaps the angry brutal efficiency with which they carried out their respective enterprises (definitive conflict resolution, and music) was something they did have in common:

    [Toscanini's] outbreaks of rage remain well-known but also his passionate strict method of conducting. As an operatic conductor he particularly set unachievable standards in interpretations of the operas by Giuseppe Verdi, and his performance in the field of symphonies was no less.

    Unachievable by Nibley, at least.

  95. Kaimi on March 1, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    Christian,

    I pity the fool that tries to mess with Nate Oman. . .

  96. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 1, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    Nice turn of phrase. I am feeling horribly chastened and cut down to size. No wait a minute. I am not.

    ;)

    I think we’ve flogged this to death. Brodie was a second rate popular writer who couldn’t spot an honest footnote.

    In regards to Brodie’s book, Nibley had a hard time discussing it because it was just so rotten and distasteful to him. Once you get to Nibley’s other works (and have read them more recently than fifteen years ago) they are impressive, especially if you read them in context.

    On the other hand, in regards to numerous other writings, Nibley provided a foundation much like the one Eliade provided in his sphere, except Nibley ages better and wrote with greater depth (though the fire that consumed Eliade’s updated notes was tragic in that Eliade had brought most of his work up-to-date and would have had the notes available for publication on his death, but for the fire).

    Nibley also did not shy away from challenging present orthodoxies, whether it be in writing about pre-adamic man (which he believed in), Bird Island and the state of pre-FARMS apologetics, or calls to repentance, he had a boldness that is often missing, and a humility that is frightening.

    There is a reason Nibley was respected by first rank scholars in a number of fields (perplexed as they were about his faith and his choice of venues) and was able to bring them into conferences and topics they would otherwise not have attended. And a reason none of those men were willing to confront him face-to-face or to challenge him (especially after the brief incident with variations on Nibley’s favorite stretch of Homer).

  97. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 1, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    But I’m biased. When I asked Nibley what he thought of my grandfather (George E. Mylonas) he said he was under rated and under appreciated. I decided I might start paying attention to him (grandfather) after all …

  98. Arturo Toscanini on March 1, 2005 at 9:23 pm

    Jack, lately it seems like I’m stuck with the bear from the Snuggle fabric softener ads.

    Christian, I love that quoting style. I’d also love to take credit for it, but I first saw it being used by Clark Goble. And as long as Jack is reminiscing: Clark used it during my first online shouting match (though Clark was kind enough not to ban me). It was with Blake Ostler on the never ending thread about Positivism on Clark’s Mormon Metaphysics blog (you can find it in the archives). It begins on page 4 and takes up most of page 5. I re-read it sometimes just for fun.

    Stephen M (Ethesis), I have a long day at work and get back from MIA to find that you’re trying to shut down the thread? Where’s the justice in that? (I know, I know. The thought of me as a role model for kids at MIA makes most people recoil in terror, but the kids are a really good influence on me.)

    Anyway, the way you describe No Man Knows My History makes it sound like an altogether different book from the one that I read. I don’t know about calling Brodie rotten and distasteful, but it makes me cringe when people scoff or scorn at those willing receive home teachers and request priesthood blessings, even when they’re heretics.

  99. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 1, 2005 at 9:34 pm

    http://www.bloggernacle.org/2005/02/nibley_in_his_o.html#more is a nice thread.

    BTW, Arturo, I said that the book was “rotten and distasteful” to Nibley in terms of being asked to review and reply to it, not that Brodie was and not that either the book or the person was to me, though the book is not one that I would add to my collection at home.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the kids at MIA. I wasn’t trying to shut down the thread, instead I was trying to move it back to the thread topic, which was Nibley.

    I should note that every time Brodie went into remission, her husband would mock the Church and her fraility in calling upon it when she was in extremis, but regardless, even in the dead of winter, her home teachers would respond. A sad chapter, all in all.

    Sorry to have made you cringe.

  100. Arturo Toscanini on March 1, 2005 at 10:19 pm

    Nate, I’m gladdened by your appreciation for my nifty rhetorical barbs.

    You still need to work a bit on your straw man reflex. You keep saying things like, “I don’t see that [her influence among non-Mormons] makes her a first rate scholar and makes Nibley into a second-rate one” and “My only point is that I simply don’t see Brodie as this towering scholar making huge intellectual breakthroughs” as though these contradict anything I’ve had to say here.

    Nate Oman: My understanding is that serious non-Mormon scholars
    of Mormonism (of which there were only a tiny handful) had rejected the
    Spaulding theory several decades before
    No Man Knows My History
    appeared.

    Definitive arguments against the Spaulding theory had been around for decades before No Man Knows My History. If being a serious scholar meant rejecting the Spaulding theory, then there were indeed only a handful of them. The Spaulding theory was the dominant theory in academia and elsewhere until Brodie came along. You seem to find this earth shattering, but it’s quite well accepted. Dan Vogel (who’s own recent biography on Joseph Smith has some real merit) in Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon stated that Fawn Brodie “delivered the fatal blow to the Spaulding theory.…” Jan Schipps wrote in her 1974 essay “The Prophet Puzzle” that, “In 1945 Fawn Brodie completely demolished the Spaulding manuscript myth.” Lester Bush in “The Spalding Theory Then and Now” (Dialogue #10, p57) wrote:

    In 1945, Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History was published, a book viewed by most Mormon scholars as transitional between the old “anti-Mormon” school of Mormon History and the new Mormon History.…

    Since 1945 serious students of Mormonism have treated the Spalding theory as little more than a historical curiosity.

    Bushman called Bush’s essay “the most definitive discussion” of the Spaulding theory.

    And the Spaulding theory stipulates that Smith got the Spaulding manuscript from Rigdon. If one buys this, then he must only take a small step to arrive at the conclusion prevalent among non-Mormons before Brodie: That Joseph was a bit player in the founding of Mormonism—basically, Rigdon’s front man. Brodie demonstrates that Joseph was the brains of the operaton, and people listened.

    Nate Oman: Brodie is an excellent writer, she provides a solid chronology for Joseph Smith, and she gives them an interpretive frame work for Joseph that avoids the inspired of God or Satan dynamic. She does, I think, ultimately conclude that he was a charlatan, although at times a sincere one. Her psychologizing is a bit silly, but she was writing in the 1940s when one could still take much of pyscho-biography seriously with a straight face.

    I find this assessment to be basically accurate. I’d add that I find her work to be generally quite sympathetic to Joseph, in spite of the fact that she denies his prophetic mission. She does conclude that he was not a prophet (and therefore a fraud), but by no means a “lightweight” or a “nutcase.” In a nutshell, I’d say that No Man Knows My History is a pretty decent biography. I’d also say it is a landmark work, and a real breakthrough for the standing of Mormon history in academia and of Joseph Smith in general.

  101. Where's danithew when you need him? on March 1, 2005 at 10:25 pm

    I’m thinking this thread could sure use a “chupacabra” about now . . .

  102. where is Bryce when you need him? on March 1, 2005 at 10:49 pm

    You called?! LOL. (This is danithew)

    I have not been following this thread at all and I’m not inclined to read it right now because I saw someone in there mentioned Foucalt and I don’t know anything about Foucalt. The mention of that name means I’m not qualified (at least not yet) to participate. :)

    But from the tone of your comment I’m guessing this thread needs Bryce I, the other member of the “Westchester Mafia.” I think by now everyone knows that Bryce is the unofficial and usually impartial ‘Nacle referee who can tell someone in a gracious and reasonable fashion that it is time to stop being a jerk already. Maybe that’s why T&S hasn’t co-opted him yet? I’ll never figure that one out.

    Anyway, Bryce is your mid-thread referee. I only show up after the corpses have been kicked around for 200+ comments or have gone cold and already been scavenged. Then, if someone tries to yet resurrect the thread again, the chupacabras will visit. Or was that chupacabrim? [I kind of like the combination of chupacabra and seraphim ... a sort of Hebrew-language plural suffix just to mix things up.]

  103. Steve Evans on March 1, 2005 at 10:58 pm

    Hey, wait a sec…. since when does Danithew get Chupacabra glory? I patented that sucker, guys!

    I believe the plural is “chupacabron.” But I could be mistaken.

  104. Kaimi on March 1, 2005 at 11:06 pm

    Danithew,

    I think that it’s a generally accepted truism that having read no Foucault makes one _more_, not _less_, qualified to opine on any given thread. That stuff kills brain cells. The fact that you haven’t touched any of it means you’re the single most qualified person to comment on any thread around.

    :P

  105. danithew on March 1, 2005 at 11:18 pm

    Kaimi, your comment sounds very nice and kind but I know you just wrote that to emphasize how I misspelled Foucault’s name. That is just so mean. I’m so ashamed. (runs away in tears)

    Actually, from what little I read/heard of Foucault (I think his name was dropped in some articles I read a long long time ago) I knew he was only going to be trouble. And thus the avoidance. From now on I wear this badge of ignorance proudly.

  106. danithew on March 1, 2005 at 11:19 pm

    LOL. Those darn electronic cookies. Can I swear now?

  107. Arturo Toscanini on March 2, 2005 at 12:32 am

    Is the aim of the type of commenting reflected in this latest flurry to disrupt the continuity of the commenting and thereby discourage additional participation?

  108. annegb on March 2, 2005 at 12:48 am

    Hey, “where is Bryce” I misspell stuff all the time. What’s a misspelled word among friends?

    I used to spell better when I was younger. You know, you young whipper-snappers just wait till all this intellect doesn’t come as easily as it does now. It has a way of humbling you.

    Trust me, you did not earn intellect or intelligence, it’s a gift from God–no matter how hard you worked. I didn’t used to know that, I thought it was all me. Never take it for granted. Also your bowels, your hearing, your eyesight, your firm young skin, and your perhaps-taken-for-granted shiny brown hair. Brown in a good color when you realize that no amount of highlighting can fix dull gray.

    I think I’ll come up to BYU, trudge up the hill wearing an old hat and cardigan and give talks without paragraphs about life. Maybe when I’m 90. I’m getting punch drunk, shutting up and going to bed now.

  109. Clark on March 2, 2005 at 1:12 am

    Speaking of Nibley and Brodie, I seem to recall that his review was actually done in a rhetorical style from some of the classic Roman satirists. i.e. that he was plying his scholarship of the rhetoric of late antiquity. I can distinctly recall a paper on this while at BYU. Being ignorant of most technical points of late antiquity rhetoric, I’ve wondered what others thought. I’ve tried to find what I read ever since, but never have. Anyone else hear this?

    I’ve long thought that the writings reprinted in the Tinkling Cymbals book from FARMS are his worst stuff in terms of content, but rather interesting from a literary point of view. Thoughts?

  110. Christian Y. Cardall on March 2, 2005 at 7:02 am

    Clark, I also absorbed that idea somewhere, that his anti-anti-Mormon works were purposefully heavy on rhetorical technique and light on substance. This might be because (1) he saw the anti-Mormon material as heavy on rhetorical technique and light on substance, and responding in kind was a means of high-level mockery and studied disdain; (2) for those he’s supposed to be helping—those who were bothered by the rhetoric of the antis—deployment of the same technique would be the most effective way to reach them; and (3) it was a quick and easy way of dispensing with an assigned chore, which annoyingly distracted him from more interesting work.

  111. Christian Y. Cardall on March 2, 2005 at 7:08 am

    On the demise of the Spaulding theory, I seem to recall that the first non-Mormon to put a serious dent in it was some Ph.D. student in psychology around the turn of the century, who wanted to advance a psychological theory of Joseph Smith as an alternative.

    Speculating as to where we imbibed this notion of Nibley’s anti-anti-Mormon technique: Maybe a FARMS review of the Tinkling Cymbals Collected Workds volume? Or maybe just hearing someone like Don Norton talk about it?

  112. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 2, 2005 at 8:56 am

    annegb

    Enjoyed your post.

    BTW, to all: for that cuddly little goat eater:

    https://www.poserproducts.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=57&products_id=159

    scroll to the bottom.

  113. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 2, 2005 at 9:08 am

    The book, which comprises Nibley’s lecture notes from a 1954 BYU course on the same topic, argues that “the office of the apostle was one of general jurisdiction, whereas the office of the bishop was local in nature; accordingly, bishops could not be the automatic successors of the apostles when that office was lost from the church” (xiii). The specifics of Nibley’s arguments are of interest to specialists, certainly, and may stimulate LDS scholars to further research on the historical conditions of apostasy–one foundation of LDS theology into which, it seems to me, very little historical awareness has made general inroads. But Nibley’s method and hypotheses are frankly out of date, fifty years later: some of his references have proved impossible to verify, some of his claims based on documents which have later been deemed spurious, some of his assumptions based on discredited (or at least out-of-fashion) models.

    I would say that it holds up well compared to a contemporary physics text or a book by Budge of the same era.

    I guess that part of the problem I have when I look at Nibley is that I am comparing him to Budge or Frazier or Eliade or Cambell. He does well in comparison. Very few of the citations are to spurious documents (less than one in a hundred would be my guess at about half-way through the book), the models are out-of-fashion rather than discredited and he, himself, would have stated that the book is out of date by about fifty years.

    On the other hand, there is a great deal of interesting material in the book and it fills what is still a bit of a hole.

    I would make a note about Nibley’s use of sources. He sometimes cites to a source to say “here, this is exactly what the source says and means.” Other times, he takes the broad brush approach that his contemporaries used, which is to say “this source can be read in a manner consistent with” or “this source shows the survival or influence of” the idea he is promulgating. If one reads a type 2 citation as a type 1 citation (especially since in most recent scholarship, the “narrow brush” approach, all citations are type 1), they will be disappointed — and miss the point of the discussion while they are at it.

    Yet, if you’ve read the contemporaries of Nibley, the type 2 citation approach when doing broad brush work is an accepted staple.

    I’d also note that Nibley sometimes cites for a narrower purpose.

    Consider Deaconesses and the Apostalic Constitution. Combined with the New Testament, it is proof that in the early Church there appears to be a consistent thread of women with an office of the Priesthood.

    Nibley has cited it for that purpose. Yet, if you are looking for some sort of full egalitarian model, you would be vastly dissappointed and feel that the citation is inaccurate as it does not support the concept that a feminist would take from “women with the priesthood” as the deaconess in the AC appears to function as a visiting teacher sort of position, and women do not speak to anyone but a deaconess, who speaks to a deacon, who passes the message up the chain. As if in the modern Church, women spoke only to visiting teachers who passed womens words on to the home teachers, women not being allowed in ward correlation meeting or to hold any other position.

    In both the broad brush and the narrow item, the citation works well. For any other use, it founders. But in listening to him and reading him, I’ve only seen him use it the way I refer to it, though I’ve seen others not happy to discover that his citation did not fit a wider reading or agenda.

    Interesting stuff, though.

  114. Arturo Toscanini on March 2, 2005 at 9:20 am

    Christian Y. Cardall: On the demise of the Spaulding theory, I seem to recall that the first non-Mormon to put a serious dent in it was some Ph.D. student in psychology around the turn of the century, who wanted to advance a psychological theory of Joseph Smith as an alternative.

    According to Lester Bush’s article in “The Spaulding Manuscript: Then and Now” in Dialogue #10, the first major dent was placed in the theory when L.L. Rice discovered in 1884 that the actual Spaulding manuscript was among the papers that he bought from Eber D. Howe earlier in the century (1839). Rice sent it to James Fairchild, who published an analysis, concluding, “the Spaulding theory will have to relinquished.” (“Solomon Spaulding and the Book of Mormon,” Bibliotheca Sacra 60:173-174). For decades, however, all that really changed was that a few writers put the story forward (uncritically) as a theory rather than fact, taking what Lester Bush called “a noncommittal approach to the debate.” However, Bush states that “In practice, the rediscovery of Spaulding’s story had very little impact on the established arguments, or the frequency or confidence with which they were advanced.” The Spaulding story remained firmly entrenched, and most authors continued to advocate it as undisputed fact until No Man Knows My History.

  115. Ivan Wolfe on March 2, 2005 at 9:24 am

    Clark –

    As far as Tinkling Cymbals goes, it depends on how you look at it. As far as “straight facts” and reseach goes, it hasn’t aged well, as some of his historical proofs haven’t aged well.

    But what he does well (and very well, in the case of Brodie) is when he does, essentially, a rhetorical analysis/close reading of the works in question and shows how they flatly contradict themselves in a thousand ways, and how their claims of “objectivity” or “truth” are merely masks for rabid partisanship.

    But people tend to focus on” “Oh, but document X that Nibley cites is no longer considered a reliable source …..” rather than “NIbley just showed how Brodie manipulates facts and claims sources where none exist in order to make a tenuous conclusion that she presents as an ultimate truth.”

    But most anti-mormon stuff has gone beyond what Nibley criticized. The New Mormon Challange while not really “anti-mormon” in the classic sense, wouldn’t even be stung by anything in Tinkling Cymbals.

  116. Jed on March 2, 2005 at 9:44 am

    Christian (#111): Actually the demise of the Spaulding theory began in the nineteenth century, back in 1884, when his manuscript was found in trunk in Hawaii (prior to this time, the manuscript was only alleged; it got lost after Spaulding’s death). Once the two documents could be compared, scholars could easily poke holes in the Spaulding theory: it was obvious 116 pages of Indian romance did not accout for 533 of religious text. In his review of the Sp manuscript published that year, James Fairchild, the president of Oberlin College, argued against Spaulding as the source for the B of M. The tenuousness of the theory meant that I. Woodbridge Riley, the academic you are thinking of, had to look elsewhere for his account of the Book of Mormon in his 1902 Yale dissertation (published the next year as The Founder of Mormonism). He condemned the Spaulding theory and returned to the earliest theory of B of M origins, namely, that Joseph wrote it himself without outside help. Brodie adopted Riley’s general approach but rejected his theory that epilepsy accounted for JS’s extradordinary creativity. So, yes, Brodie has been falsely credited with the demise of Spaulding. She argues so strongly against him, we can understand why the misattribution.

  117. Nate Oman on March 2, 2005 at 10:07 am

    Clark: I have always found Nibley’s essay on rhetoric — “The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else” — to be one of his more facinating pieces, if for no other reason than that I am a lawyer, Nibley was clearly taking pot shots at lawyers, and find the whole subject of advocacy and rhetoric facinating. As you point out, however, there is a wonderful irony in Nibley’s screeds against rhetoric, namely that he was a master of precisely what he was condemning.

  118. Jed on March 2, 2005 at 10:10 am

    Nate: There is a wonderful irony in FARMS being founded by a lawyer, or in BYU, during most of Nibley’s faculty tenure, being run by a lawyer. His popularization was made by lawyers.

  119. Nate Oman on March 2, 2005 at 10:15 am

    Jed: The other irony is that although Nibley mercilessly castigated the legal profession, there is not much evidence that he actually knew what it is that most lawyers did most of the time.

  120. Arturo Toscanini on March 2, 2005 at 10:26 am

    Jed: So, yes, Brodie has been falsely credited with the demise of Spaulding. She argues so strongly against him, we can understand why the misattribution.

    It’s no misattribution. Nobody has claimed that Brodie invented the arguments she wielded against the Spaulding theory. In fact, I quote Fairchild myself in comment #114. I. Woodbridge Riley was one of a few who paid attention to Fairchild’s conclusions (others included Eduard Myer and Walter F. Prince).

    From this, your conclusion that she has been falsely credited with its demise does not follow. The fact is that almost nobody listened to Fairchild, Rily, Myer, or Prince. Almost everybody continued to put forth the Spaulding theory as unvarnished and undisputed fact. After Fairchild, there was Gregg’s The Prophet of Palmyra (1890), William Linn’s The Story of the Mormons, Schroeder’s The Origin of the Book of Mormon tract (1906) (upon which the modern Spaulding theory is based), Charles Shook’s The True Origin of the Book of Mormon, Martins’ The Mystery of Mormonism (1920), Harry Beardsley’s Joseph Smith and his Mormon Empire (1931), Arbaugh’s Revelation in Mormonism: It’s Changing Form (1932), Tyler’s Freedom’s Ferment (1944).

    Everybody listened to Brodie. After No Man Knows My History, nobody refers to the Spaulding theory as undisputed fact, and even people only casually interested in Mormonism know that it’s pseudo-history. That’s progress, and that’s why she rightfully gets attribution for the demise of Spaulding from credible historians.

  121. Kaimi on March 2, 2005 at 10:29 am

    116 pages? Yikes! Maybe the Spaulding Manuscript is really the lost book of Lehi! :P

    But seriously, it sounds like Nate and Arty are talking cirlces around each other. Let’s see:

    1. Spaulding theory was discredited in academic cirlces pre-Brodie.
    2. Brodie popularized to the masses the idea that Spaulding was discredited.
    3. Arty thinks that that mass dissemination of the idea that Spaulding was wrong is important. Nate doesn’t.
    4. (Anyway, Brodie just replaced Joseph-Smith-as-Spaulding-influenced-moron in the popular consciousness with Joseph-Smith-as-self-deluded-very-smart-fraud, which isn’t all that much of an improvement, from a member’s point of view).
    5. It’s possible to disagree on the extent to which Brodie ignited the New Mormon History. Yes, she’s undoubtedly important. (She barely missed the cut in Greg’s first assessment of the five most important Mormon Studies texts, remember?). Can the development of the field be laid at her feet? There’s room for disagreement.

  122. Jed on March 2, 2005 at 10:45 am

    Arturo (#120) says: “Everybody listened to Brodie. After No Man Knows My History, nobody refers to the Spaulding theory as undisputed fact, and even people only casually interested in Mormonism know that it’s pseudo-history.”

    In my experience, Arturo, anti-Mormon theories never die, they just ebb and flow. If the Spaulding theory were dead, why would BYU’s Religious Studies center go to the trouble of publishing a critical edition in the 1990s? You make a good point about no one referring to Spaulding as “undisputed fact” anymore, but this could be said of just about any idea, couldn’t it. Few theories indeed ever enter the realm of “undisputed fact.” Brodie buried Spaulding for scholars, but the ghost of Spaulding is still to be found in anti-Mormon lit of non-scholars.

    I think it fair to say that Brodie diverted scholars away from Spaulding into Ethan Smith. She thought View of the Hebrews had more source material for the B of M than Manuscript Found. The environmentalists are still working within that paradigm, another evidence of Brodie’s impact.

  123. Nate Oman on March 2, 2005 at 10:47 am

    Kaimi: I think that Brodie had a huge influence on the NMH, but it was complicated. First, She seems to have sort of gotten Mormonism out of her system with NMKMH and thereafter spent most of her time on other projects — biography of Richard Burton, biography of Thomas Jefferson, etc. Furthermore, she seems to have had few disciples among later academic historians of Mormonism. No one went off to study under Brodie, and her students did not come to dominate the field. That honor clearly goes to Leonard Arrington. His students and research assistants went on to populate the New Mormon History. (Indeed, if rumors be true, at least some of the works with Arrington’s name on them were largely ghost written by students.) These were the folks that created the professional journals (BYU Studies, JMH, Dialogue, etc.) and the professional association (MHA) that created Mormon history as a subdiscipline.

    The other thing that makes Brodie’s influence complicated is that most of her research, so I understand, came from Dale Morgan rather than from her own work. So in a sense, I think that her work of Mormonism was exhausted when she had more or less written the book that Morgan researched and planned but never completed. It is not as though Brodie was out doing research of Mormonism and churning out new articles, finds, etc.

    Ultimately, I think that Brodie’s influence comes in three ways. First, she spurred a lot of interest. Second, because — for better and for worse — her biography was the most detailed treatment of Joseph Smith’s life for a long time it was the inevitable starting place for many studies. Finally, I suppose that Brodie’s influence may also be found in the fact that she set up a certain narrative and persona that has dogged Mormon studies ever since. She is the original inside-outsider post-Mormon intellectual fighting it out with a hierarchy suspicious of her work. This is certanly an intellectual morality play that has been played out many times in Mormon studies. Although on this, I think that there are others that in whose footsteps she was clearly walking, e.g. the Stenhouses, etc. She was, I think, the first to play out this drama in the context of modern academia, which didn’t really exist in the 1870s when the Stenhouses penned their tell-all histories.

  124. Jed on March 2, 2005 at 11:27 am

    Kaimi (#121): Good points. I led you astray with 116 pages. It is 171 pages. I just looked at Artuo’s link to the Lester Bush article.

    Nate (#123): I concur with your assessment of three areas of Brodie’s influence, and would add a fourth. I see her as the beginning of the JS as genius school. She didn’t call him that, but by turning away from Rigdon and Spaulding, she acknowledged the role of JS’s own creativity in producing the B fo M. Her Mormon upbringing helped her to appreciate the complexity of the BofM, a complexity she knew View of the Hebrews and esp Manuscript Found could not entirely account for. She went back to the Alexander Cambell idea of cobbling without his claim of JS as ignoramus. She admired JS’s mind, memory, and work ethic; she thinks he worked hard to write the B of M. The apogee of this restless and endless search for environmental sources (as opposed to settling for single source), can be found in Quinn, Magic Worldview, and Vogel’s The Making of a Prophet, two of your insider-outsiders, as well as John Brooke, Refiner’s Fire. The genius school, of course, comes down to us through Bloom and Bushman and, to some degree, Brooke.

  125. Christian Y. Cardall on March 2, 2005 at 11:28 am

    My recollection of Riley came from Bushman, who in a footnote on p. 231 of J.S. and the Beginnings… says “Riley was the first non-Mormon to publish a refutation of the Spalding hypothesis” in his 1902 Yale dissertation. Bushman credits Brodie with “further arguments” and Bush for “the definitive discussion.” The question here is whether Bushman did not read Bush carefully enough to give Fairchild the credit, or if Bushman thought Fairchild’s presentation cursory in comparison with Riley’s detailed, convincing arguments.

    In this connection, Bushman’s assessment of Riley and subsequent developments is interesting for other aspects of the present discussion (p. 191-192):

    The beginning of the modern non-Mormon view dates from I. Woodbridge Riley’s Yale Ph.D. dissertation in history…the most original and important non-Mormon work of the twentieth century. Riley’s greatest achievement was to break with the Spalding theory…which he analyzed at length and destroyed. He revived Alexander Campbell’s short-lived belief that contemporary cultural influences accounted for the Book of Mormon…Riley was the first to suggest Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews (1823) and Josiah Priest’s Wonders of Nature and Providence (1825) as sources for the Book of Mormon. He also saw that the emerging science of psychology might throw light on Joseph Smith…

    As notable for its journalistic brilliance as for its scholarship, [Brodie's NMKMH] presented Riley’s arguments and findings in a form more palatable to twentieth-century tastes…a more straightforward [that Riley's] view of Joseph Smith as a myth-maker, absorbing ideas from his cultural environment…

    [Mention of some other Mormon and non-Mormon work Bushman finds to have some theoretical significance; Arrington not mentioned.]

    The most imaginative innovation of recent years is found in the work of Jan Shipps…Shipp’s work breaks the deadlock between believers and skeptics…[and] may provide a meeting ground for those Mormon and non-Mormon scholars who are willing to accept her broad view of world religion and world culture.

    Perhaps when it comes to history at least, instead of arguing about Brodie and Nibley we could be praising Shipps (who hasn’t been mentioned yet), and also—especially for believers interested in engaging the academy at large—Bushman and Givens.

  126. Arturo Toscanini on March 2, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    Kaimi: it sounds like Nate and Arty are talking circles around each other…. Spaulding… was discredited in academic circles pre-Brodie.

    Actually, I am not just talking about non-Academic opinion. Statements such as yours about Spaulding’s pre-Brodie sway in academia are demonstrably false. This was one of my main points, and I believe it is established by my citations. The Spaulding theory did indeed dominate academia before Brodie, which is to say that Nate’s estimation of Brodie in comments #79 and #93 is altogether incorrect.

    Kaimi: Anyway, Brodie just replaced Joseph-Smith-as-Spaulding-influenced-moron in the popular consciousness with Joseph-Smith-as-self-deluded-very-smart-fraud, which isn’t all that much of an improvement, from a member’s point of view

    I beg to differ: It is a tremendous improvement. Indeed, it’s about as much as we can reasonably expect from most non-believers. And Mormon’s know this. They are generally quite willing to bask in Bloom’s characterization of Joseph as a religious genius, although Bloom is no believer. It’s just that many Mormons remain hung up and defensive (I’ve stopped saying small minded, since Geoff has convinced me that this is unduly mean) about Brodie, and they can’t seem to see the forest for the trees. This may well be due to the insider-outsider thing that Nate talks about.

    Christian Y. Cardall: Perhaps when it comes to history at least, instead of arguing about Brodie and Nibley we could be praising Shipps (who hasn’t been mentioned yet), and also–specially for believers interested in engaging the academy at large–Bushman and Givens.

    More than mention, I actually quote Shipps in my comment #100, though I appear to have done the same violence to her name that danithew did to Foucault’s. And thanks for the Bushman quote. I’d like to have sited that myself to bolster my argument, but alas, I checked Bushman’s book out of (and returned it to) a public library.

  127. Arturo Toscanini on March 2, 2005 at 8:39 pm

    Jed: In my experience, Arturo, anti-Mormon theories never die, they just ebb and flow.

    If we’re going to quibble over words, let’s at least quibble over mine. ;) These were, “Brodie torpedoed the Spaulding theory in a manner that non-Mormons finally took seriously…” I believe that you introduced the language of death and extinction, which (by the way) I’m happy to use so long as you don’t hold it against me. But I do believe that my own formulation accommodates the lingering ghost of the Spaulding theory that you rightly identify.

    Jed: Few theories indeed ever enter the realm of “undisputed fact.”

    I think that perhaps this point relies trivially on the meaning of the term theory. Before Brodie, writers put forth the basics of Spaulding as undisputed facts just as they now put forth Joseph’s money digging activities. Specifically, historians don’t generally refer to the idea that Joseph dug for treasure as “The Money Digging Theory;” they simply say that Joseph dug for treasure. Likewise, before Brodie authors simply wrote (without qualification) that Joseph plagiarized the Book of Mormon from the Spaulding Manuscript that Rigdon gave him. This is all I mean when I say it was an undisputed fact.

    Lastly, I agree with your assessment that Brodie represents the dawn of the genius school of thought, and I agree with Nate’s analysis of her influence on New Mormon History. And I, too, go further. N Oman Knows My History embodied the hallmark qualities of the New Mormon History. Brodie was the first to examine Joseph in a reasonably dispassionate manner, giving full due to both strengths and weaknesses; and (whatever mistakes she makes) she’s not focussing on one and merely making token admissions of the other.

  128. Nate Oman on March 2, 2005 at 9:23 pm

    One way in which Brodie’s work differs from the NMH is in her interpretive ambition. As I have remarked elsewhere on this blog, most NMHistorians have been rather tenative about linking up their accounts of Mormon history to any broader theory of explanation. Brodie had the ambition to offer a strong thesis about pyschological explanation. In this sense she both shows the limits and the virtues of the NMH theoretical caution.

    I think that AT is right that Joseph Smith as genius is the best that Mormons can hope for in terms of non-Mormon accounts of Joseph. I also think that while Mormons appreciate the improvement over Joseph Smith as light-weight fraud, they are never really going to be completely comfortable with this way of discussing things. The gap, I think, is ultimately unbridgeable which is as Mormons should want it. If their understanding of their prophet were completely accessible to non-believers their faith wouldn’t amount to a great deal.

  129. Arturo Toscanini on March 2, 2005 at 9:56 pm

    Good point about the gap between non-Mormon accounts and Mormon accounts of Joseph being ultimately unbridgable.

  130. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 2, 2005 at 10:09 pm

    Just finished Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity and much to my surprise, after the initial footnote to a discredited source (as one of many footnotes supporting a point) the number of sources he used that have faded out of the cannon is surprisingly few. In fact, the book holds up much better than advertised in the preface, a nice example of underpromishing and over delivering.

    Rather narrow, and it plows a lot of ground that the Eastern Church considers its own (i.e. that Rome has no continuity or special claim to fame), but in a scholar’s way.

    A nice tribute (bringing the thread back to Nibley and away from Brodie).

    BTW, Bloom seems to bridge things between non-Mormon and Mormon accounts with his general gnostic belief that there is a layer of gnostic truth that springs forth from time to time and that Joseph Smith tapped into it (as have many others). I’m waiting for the humanistic version of Bloom’s approach.

  131. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 2, 2005 at 10:42 pm

    BTW Arturo, come by my blog and make a comment or two, with or without the chupacabra.

    Steve

  132. Arturo Toscanini on March 2, 2005 at 11:14 pm

    Count me in, Stephen M (Ethesis)–though I’m not sure if you’ve made a dare or an invitation ;)

  133. Christian on March 2, 2005 at 11:37 pm

    Arturo, sorry I neglected your mention of Shipps. And you had also pointed out Bushman’s characterization of Bush’s article.

    There is a gap between Religious Genius and True Prophet, but if it were only that it could be amicable enough. The plates are what ultimately make the gap unbridgeable on a gut level, as they force a decision between (possibly benign) Fraud and True Prophet.

    I’d feel a lot better if the plates were either not part of the matter at all, or were still available (if not to everybody, at least to witnesses in every generation). Their tantalizingly brief and limited appearance of empirical evidence is simply maddening.

  134. Jack on March 3, 2005 at 12:25 am

    Comment # 127, Arturo says: “N Oman Knows My History…”

    The anima is sending subliminal impulses to the ego which are intercepted by the shadow…

  135. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 3, 2005 at 8:15 pm

    Count me in, Stephen M (Ethesis)–though I’m not sure if you’ve made a dare or an invitation

    An invitation, an invitation, anima, penumbra, shadow and all.

  136. annegb on March 15, 2005 at 11:55 am

    I can now honestly say I’ve read something of Hugh Nibley’s. But I am underwhelmed. He goes into a topic without context, without proper paragraphing, and lectures, or commences a diatribe, essentially telling me what to think.

    I assume that being in his classes is a different experience. Perhaps one would be more educated and not need context. I appreciate the common sense found in this book and the sticking up for the church, but it’s almost a mass of confusion. You gotta look hard to find the nuggets. A lecturer, thinkier, he may be, but a writer he is not. So far. Although he doesn’t use too many big words, so technically I should understand him.

    I just find myself resenting him telling me what to think without presenting all the facts. It reminds me of The Naked Capitalist.

  137. Clark Goble on March 15, 2005 at 12:29 pm

    What text, Anne?

  138. annegb on March 15, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass. I got it from the library. I really think I would benefit from a class with a teacher’s guidance. It’s not that I’m not enjoying them, just finding them difficult to navigate without context.

    For instance, I read a oh what would you call it, a response to Martha Beck’s book by her brother-in-law and he gives context for his arguments. Perhaps I’m just uneducated.

  139. Clark Goble on March 15, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    That’s without a doubt his worst text, and I agree with his assessment. Really, the one you ought read are Approaching Zion or Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints. I kind of like Ancient State as well.

  140. Clark Goble on March 15, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    Whoops… That was suppose to read “and I agree with your assessment.” Although I have heard that Nibley didn’t like that book too much either.

  141. annegb on March 15, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks, Clark, I feel better. I’m going to finish this, but not give it too much weight. He is waxing poetic about some wife of Brigham Young. Personally, I think Brigham was a real softie with his wives and kids.

    I really think I would have enjoyed his classes, though.

  142. Clark Goble on March 15, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    Transcripts of his last class on the Book of Mormon are available for a reasonable price. I think its $25 per semester. (You can even read me ask some dumb questions, although I’m sure they won’t include his pretending to machine gun me the day I forgot my scriptures)