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 Post subject: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 10:00 am 
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All of this talk about censoring the First Vision, as well as what we might term the "Proto-Visions," has reminded me of a little known episode that I didn't see mentioned on the most recent thread but one that I think is relevant. If I have missed it, I can only beg for your indulgent forgiveness.

The claim made by apologists these days, including Daniel Peterson, is that there was no active cover-up on the part of the Church. Of course there was, but it wasn't only the Church pulling wool.

The Mighty Mind of Provo and the mentor to all the great apologists, Hugh Nibley, played his own part in censoring the Joseph Smith story. UTLM has provided an account of it here, but I offer the outlines as I understand them, and some highlights, if only to call your attention to the unastonishing parallel and antecedent he provides for our Dear Friend, Dr. Peterson: what he's been up to is a part of a venerable tradition in Classical Apologetics. The difference now is that the game is all rhetorical, whereas in the past it actually involved hiding documents in safes.

In the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 11 (see here), Nibley dazzles his readers and befuddles his critics with his trademark mastery of languages—in this case, the language of deception:

Hugh Nibley wrote:
The writer’s great-grandfather, a Jew, one day after he had given Joseph Smith a lesson in German and Hebrew in 1844 asked him about certain particulars of the first vision. In reply he was told some remarkable things, which he wrote down in his journal that very day. But in the ensuing forty years of his life, during which he had many children and grandchildren and preached many sermons, Brother Neibaur seems never once to have referred to the wonderful things the Prophet told him—it was quite by accident that the writer discovered them in his journal. Why was the talkative old man so close-lipped on the one thing that could have made him famous? Because it was a sacred and privileged communication; it was never published to the world and never should be.

What you have, then, is another account of the First Vision, so-called, in Hugh Nibley's hands. What hard-nosed, probing skepticism did Neibaur lob at the innocent prophet? What were these tantalizing revelations that this Jewish convert received from the prophet in turn? If Nibley had had his way, no one would ever know. For Nibley himself donated the journal containing this account to the Church Historian's Office, then led by Joseph Fielding Smith, one of the greatest ecclesiastical historians in modern times never to finish high school. And he did so with the full understanding that the contents of the journal would remain secret.

Enriched with less learning than Nibley though certainly with more than Smith (not hard to achieve for anyone who can read) but endowed with a pugnacity equal to both, the Tanners had earlier read a similar claim of Nibley's published in the mid 1950s and republished in the CWHN (see here):

Hugh Nibley wrote:
The writer’s great-grandfather was a Jew, and a very hardheaded and practical man. He tells in his journal, writing on the very day that the event took place, of how he cross-examined Joseph Smith on every minute detail of the First Vision and of how the Prophet satisfied him promptly and completely. From that day he never doubted the calling of the Prophet.

That's somewhat consistent with what Nibley later wrote, although missing is a reference to the "remarkable things" andt the "sacred communications" that he would later claim were contained in the account. In any case, Sandra Tanner wrote to ask about this account in early 1960:

Sandra Tanner wrote:
I am quite interested in your [great] grandfather's diary that you quote in your book, The World And The Prophets, and I wonder if it would be possible to obtain a copy of it? If this is not possible, do you have a copy of his diary that I could read

Nibley replied:

Hugh Nibley wrote:
The day my great-grandfather heard that remarkable account of the First Vision from Joseph Smith he wrote it down in his journal; and for 40 years after he never mentioned it to a soul. Therefore, when I came across the story unexpectedly I handed the book over to Joseph Fielding Smith and it is now where it belongs—in a safe.

There is something curious about this response: "therefore..." Why "therefore"? The account is unknown, and "therefore" it must remain so. Neibaur had long been dead and probably no one at the time would have heard of him, so it must have been not how the account reflected on Neibaur but what the account contained. Later that year, Nibley would claim that the prophet told Neibaur "remarkable things" of such spiritual import that the whole thing had to remain privileged information, more than a century after it was written down. Nibley was perhaps implying here in this letter, in essence, that it contained something personal and private, perhaps "things too sacred to relate." In any event, the contents of the account themselves were such that they "therefore" needed to be kept secret—in a safe.

Remember that Nibley was not just some relief society president in Parowan like yours truly, not some rube (again, your truly) who found an old book that looked important. He was by the far the ablest and most learned mind in the Church, and he knew the early history of Mormonism as well as anything, perhaps better. His first LDS publication ("No Ma'am, That's not History") dealt with the era, as did a string of articles and some books in the 1960s. He knew what he was looking at when he chanced upon this account, and he knew what he was doing when he handed it over to Joseph Fielding Smith. He also knew that this was going to be hidden from view, and to him hiding it was the most natural thing in the world ("therefore...").

And it hidden it was. Nibley himself couldn't access the journal after he'd donated it, except with the special intervention of the president of the Church. Still, he at least knew what it contained, or presented himself in at least two published articles as having knowledge of the contents. So Sandra Tanner asked him again in a letter for information about what the account contained, to which Nibley impatiently replied:

Hugh Nibley wrote:
Dear Mrs. Tanner,

I believe I said in my letter to you that the Neibaur Journal now reposes in a safe in the Church Historians Office, where it belongs.

The reason that Alexander Neibaur told no one of his experience for forty years is that it was strictly confidential and should remain so. I think I should respect his confidence. Actually, the last time I asked permission to see the Journal, I was refused. Any attempt to reproduce it at this time is out of the question.

Yours very sincerely,

Hugh Nibley

Neibaur had been dead for nearly 80 years at that point, so it's hard to imagine what the harm to him could be in revealing the contents of this account. In fact, the 1844 account, finally published in the 1970s and available now in Dan Vogel's fifth volume of Early Mormon Documents, does not match Nibley's claims:

Alexander Neibaur wrote:
Br[other] Joseph tolt us the first call he had a Revival Meeting his Mother & Br[other] & Sist[er] got Religion, he wanted to get Religion too wanted to feel & shout like the Rest but could feel nothing, opened his Bible the first Passage that struck him was if any man lack Wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberality & upraidat not [James 1:5] went into the Wood to pray kneelt himself down his tongue was closet cleavet to his roof—could not utter a word, felt easier after a while—saw a fire towards heaven came near & nearer saw a personage in the fire light complexion blue eyes a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders his right arm bear after a wile a other person came to the side of the first Mr Smith then asked must I join the Methodist Church—No—they are not my People, [they] I have gone astray there is none that doeth good no not one, but this is my Beloved son harken ye him, the fire drew nigher, Rested upon the tree enveloped him

As the Tanners point out, there is nothing here about a "hard-headed" Jew interrogating Joseph Smith about his claims—the meeting isn't even private. Nor do the contents seem "sacred and special," as Nibley erroneously claimed, at least not any more sacred or special than the published 1838 account. Nor are there any particularly intimate details about Alexander Neibaur, except that he couldn't spell as well Joseph Fielding Smith (who was also very cagey when asked about Neibaur's account, though he was less misleading about it than Nibley). But that is hardly the sort of knowledge that needs to be kept hidden in a safe.

I leave it to others to investigate how this deviates from the 1838 account and to argue how this Post-Vision should fit into the general problem of the Proto-Visions and the First Vision. Suffice it to say, Nibley's characterization of the account is not simply bogus but dishonest: he not only misrepresents the account but used his own privileged access to the material to score a series of rhetorical points. That he had it hidden away and gave a false reason to justify doing so is disturbing.

This whole episode gives the lie to the claim that the Church didn't engage in censorship—Joseph Fielding Smith put it in a vault and wouldn't let anyone see it!—but it's not only the Church that has practiced censorship but the purveyors of Classical Apologetics themselves.

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 12:40 pm 
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"The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism...the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances." Hugh Nibley Approaching Zion Vol 9

I agree with Hugh on this quote :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 1:12 pm 
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Symmachus wrote:
His first LDS publication ("No Ma'am, That's not History") dealt with the era, as did a string of articles and some books in the 1960s.

I thought Dr. Nibley was simply repeating the Kool-Aid of that era, rather than practicing to deceive. Having an account of his own great-grandfather that needed to be kept locked away would suggest that he was being dishonest. Good thing that LDS historian Richard Bushman was less apologetic when he affirmed the accuracy of Fawn Brodie's research.

However, it is understandable that someone in Dr. Nibley's position would want to brag on his great-grandfather while at the same time desire to conceal any information which would tend to contradict official Church legend. He had his job, his aspirations, and his access to Reformed Egyptian garb to consider.

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 4:13 pm 
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Excellent post. :cool:

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 7:24 pm 
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Symmachus wrote:
That he had it hidden away and gave a false reason to justify doing so is disturbing.

"Disturbing," or "par for the course?"

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 9:35 pm 
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Maksutov wrote:
Excellent post. :cool:


Thanks, Mak! :wink:

Dr. Shades wrote:
"Disturbing," or "par for the course?"


It could be both, I suppose.

moksha wrote:
However, it is understandable that someone in Dr. Nibley's position would want to brag on his great-grandfather while at the same time desire to conceal any information which would tend to contradict official Church legend. He had his job, his aspirations, and his access to Reformed Egyptian garb to consider.


He could have just said nothing at all, but you're right: this really was a way to impress the Brethren who knew which closets in the temple all the alligator costumes were kept.

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 10:06 pm 
B.H. Roberts Chair of Mopologetic Studies
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Dr. Shades wrote:
Symmachus wrote:
That he had it hidden away and gave a false reason to justify doing so is disturbing.

"Disturbing," or "par for the course?"


It's both. It's disturbing because it's "par for the course." Remember the 2nd Watson Letter? There was also that phantom "memo" related to the infamous Signature Books "kerfuffle." Plus, Juliann's "transcript."*

This is first-rate scholarship, Prof. Symmachus. Indeed, something that occurs to me in reading this is that the Mopologists, in recent years, have backed away from a sub-genre of their work, which was Nibley apologetics. A pretty decent-sized portion of their works was given over to celebrating or defending Nibley. And, sure: you still see the occasional encomium, but it just isn't like it used to be. It makes you wonder if they've decided to dump him overboard. Or, perhaps even more likely, that they now have so many acts of personal dishonesty that they themselves must conceal, that they are shifting priorities to cover those who are still living and "active," as it were.

Well, we will see, won't we? We know that the Mopologists read this message board voraciously, and there can be no doubt that they have their sights trained on your work, my esteemed colleague. If they respond to your criticisms and attempt a serious, published defense, it will show that they still feel "weak" on the topic of Nibley, and that they can be undermined on that front. (And, also, that you dealt them an especially painful blow.) If they do nothing, on the other hand, it will mean that your scholarly work is historic, since it will mark a watershed moment in the history of Mopologetics: the day that the classic-FARMS apologists own lies became so voluminous that they simply had to give up on defending Nibley in order to concentrate on covering up their own infelicities.

Could it be that we will soon see a test case in the form of the upcoming FAIR Conference? Maybe so. Maybe so. (And has anyone looked at the line-up of speakers? Does it seem odd to anyone else that they seem to be grouped--or perhaps "segregated"--by day in a way that seems....well, odd? Or "ideologically motivated"?)



*ETA: also, the Dehlin "hit piece" by Greg Smith.

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 10:57 pm 
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Doctor Scratch wrote:
This is first-rate scholarship, Prof. Symmachus.

You're a fount of generosity, good Doctor. I should specify that this is mostly my summary of what Sandra Tanner's organization wrote years ago (which I linked to). For those apologetic types who might be reading this, let me emphasize that I only quote and discuss 1) Nibley's own words, 2) Sandra Tanner's own words to Nibley, and 3) Neibaur's words. Unfortunately, it is obvious from all of these that Nibley was lying about Neibaur's account and actively tried to suppress it.

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Indeed, something that occurs to me in reading this is that the Mopologists, in recent years, have backed away from a sub-genre of their work, which was Nibley apologetics. A pretty decent-sized portion of their works was given over to celebrating or defending Nibley. And, sure: you still see the occasional encomium, but it just isn't like it used to be. It makes you wonder if they've decided to dump him overboard. Or, perhaps even more likely, that they now have so many acts of personal dishonesty that they themselves must conceal, that they are shifting priorities to cover those who are still living and "active," as it were.

All I see these days is "As Hugh Nibley first argued..." or "Hugh Nibley pointed out that..." Citations like that are a way of bestowing honor—or a sign that one has no ideas and is basically Nibley lite (e.g. Matthew Bowen). To be honest, Dr. Scratch, I think time has now created a distance from Nibley where even his most fervent admirers can see his limitations and maybe even some of the problems with his scholarship. If you look at some of the footnotes in, say, something by Bowen you will likely find that an argument by Nibley is occasionally cited only to be discarded. There is nothing wrong with that, I suppose, and it may be a positive sign.

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Well, we will see, won't we? We know that the Mopologists read this message board voraciously, and there can be no doubt that they have their sights trained on your work, my esteemed colleague. If they respond to your criticisms and attempt a serious, published defense, it will show that they still feel "weak" on the topic of Nibley, and that they can be undermined on that front. (And, also, that you dealt them an especially painful blow.) If they do nothing, on the other hand, it will mean that your scholarly work is historic, since it will mark a watershed moment in the history of Mopologetics: the day that the classic-FARMS apologists own lies became so voluminous that they simply had to give up on defending Nibley in order to concentrate on covering up their own infelicities.

I win either way! Just kidding. :biggrin: I have come to only two solid conclusions since I've been posting here: 1) Sic et Non depends on this place for its traffic and 2) Daniel Peterson always has his pulse on Mormon Discussions (he's got to keep the clicks coming somehow!).

I have to say, it's a pity those people don't participate here. For one thing, people like Kish and Johannes actually have some pretty interesting perspectives on the Book of Mormon (and your humble scribbler aspires to offer some morsels of insight every now and then), even if they're not serious about it in the way the apologists are. I mean, Kish's idea, for example, that the Jaredites never did die off and that this narrative was a colonialist Nephite ploy should be interesting even to a believer.

And then I would love for them to come and debate on some of these topics. I promise not to KO on the first round. Let's start with the apologetic nonsense about Alma ben Yehuda...

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(And has anyone looked at the line-up of speakers? Does it seem odd to anyone else that they seem to be grouped--or perhaps "segregated"--by day in a way that seems....well, odd? Or "ideologically motivated"?)

It does look a little bizarre. At the very least, the traditionalists won't need to bother to take time off of work for the first two days ("a whole day devoted to women?! What about me, too?"). But on the third day, the ____ shall rise. There are some familiar comforts: John Gee will argue (surprise!) that the Book of Abraham is literal and that we are turning our backs on the significant gospel truths for not treating as such (i.e. like those people on the first two days). Happily, Daniel Peterson will say something about the enterprise of apologetics (I mean, it's been almost ten minutes since he's had something to say about that), and if we're luck he'll treat us to the etymology again. But at least we will finally get the long-awaited evidence for horses in pre-Columbian America.

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Mon Jul 09, 2018 11:20 pm 
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Symmachus wrote:
Happily, Daniel Peterson will say something about the enterprise of apologetics (I mean, it's been almost ten minutes since he's had something to say about that), and if we're luck he'll treat us to the etymology again.

I am weeping with laughter.....

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2018 5:13 pm 
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Years ago I sent some letters that Wesley Walters sent to Klaus Baer about Nibley's work on the Book of Abraham. Baer was not impressed. Baer was invited to speak at BYU on the Book of Abraham and Nibley said in a letter to me that they had Baer on the ropes but because he was a guest were more polite. However in a letter i received from Michael Marquardt he gave a different account of the meeting. Nibley also said there were currently several LDS students studying Egyptology. It seem most seem to be end up teaching in the Religion Department of BYU. Possibly joined by Smoot? So Nibley did not give a real picture of the conference.

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2018 6:06 pm 
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aussieguy55 wrote:
Years ago I sent some letters that Wesley Walters sent to Klaus Baer about Nibley's work on the Book of Abraham. Baer was not impressed. Baer was invited to speak at BYU on the Book of Abraham and Nibley said in a letter to me that they had Baer on the ropes but because he was a guest were more polite. However in a letter i received from Michael Marquardt he gave a different account of the meeting. Nibley also said there were currently several LDS students studying Egyptology. It seem most seem to be end up teaching in the Religion Department of BYU. Possibly joined by Smoot? So Nibley did not give a real picture of the conference.


Fascinating! Baer on the ropes?! Guffaws! Matt Roper years ago photocopied dozens and dozens of letters back and forth between the antis, the Egyptologists and Nibley on the Book of Abraham and gave me the whole package. I have had to, for legal reasons, I suppose, just sit on them, but they are jewels! I thought I could use them for apologetic purposes at first, but the slower and more carefully I read, the worse it got. Ritner is Baer's successor, and he has KO'ed every single apologetic argument on the BofA and the facsimiles that the apologists have ever made. PERIOD. And, if Gee is talking about the literalness of the Book of Abraham, there, in a nutshell is the entire problem of it all. The only literal to it is that it is not what apologists wish it was, a genuine ancient account of a genuine historical person.

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 Post subject: Re: Nibley the Censor
PostPosted: Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:54 pm 
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Another high quality contribution by Professor Symmachus. It does make me a little sad to see yet another of Nibley’s stumbles. But we must look at these issues with clear eyes!


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