Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Hugh Nibley classic: Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites

The Book of Mormon includes travel narratives from two ancient groups who crossed the ocean from the Old World to the Americas. The Nephites, who are the principal subject of the book, came from Jerusalem in 600 BC and the Jaredites came from the scene of the Tower of Babel thousands of years earlier. In 1952, Mormon scholar extraordinaire Hugh Nibley presented Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites, which compares the Book of Mormon details about these travels with what scholars know about the ancient Middle East and Asia.

Nibley's grasp of fine detail in both historical works and The Book of Mormon is astounding. He examines words, place names, traveling style, family relationships, and warfare of the Nephites and Jaredites, showing repeatedly how these align with things we know about the Mideast and Asia at the same time period.

Nibley's intent is to show that The Book of Mormon is a real work of ancient history. A repeated theme is that Joseph Smith, or anyone else in 1830, could not have produced such a historically accurate narrative. Nibley invites the reader to give this some thought:

"...let the reader make a simple test. Let him sit down to write a history of life, let us say, in Tibet in the middle of the eleventh century A.D. Let him construct his story wholly on the basis of what he happens to know right now about Tibet in the eleventh century--that will fairly represent what was known about ancient Arabis in 1830, i.e. that there was such a place and that it was very mysterious and romantic. In composing your Tibetan fantasy you will enjoy one great advantage: since the canvas is an absolute blank, you are free to fill it with anything that strikes your fancy. So you should have no trouble in getting 'smoothly launched into your narrative'--which Mrs. Brodie seems to think was the only obstacle confronting the author of the Book of Mormon. But there will be other obstacles, for in your chronicle of old Tibet we must insist that you scrupulously observe a number of annoying conditions: (1) you must never make any absurd, impossible, or contradictory statement; (2) when you are finished, you must make no changes in the text--the first edition must stand forever; (3) you must give out that your 'smooth narrative' is not fiction but true, nay, sacred history; (4) you must invite the ablest orientalists to examine the text with care, and strive diligently to see that your book gets into the hands of all those most eager and most competent to expose every flaw in it. The "author" of the Book of Mormon observes all these terrifying rules most scrupulously." (Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites, p. 133 - 134)

Nibley does not attempt to "prove" the Book of Mormon's authenticity with any one piece of evidence; instead he submits a mountain of examples that, when considered together, make it impossible that any charlatan could have authored the book. Nibley continues:

"In your Tibetan epic you might get something right by happy accident once in a while but don't expect it. "

An original edition of Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites was a steal on eBay for under $10.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Interesting post Sterling... while my testimony of the Book of Mormon is based on the simple and basic principles found in the Book of Mormon, I enjoy the fine examinations of its pages that magnify its authenticity & add to my testimony of its truth developed through study and prayer. Hugh Nibley's book seems like a wholesome read.