A Priesthood Manual for Backward Ten-Year-Olds

A toddler Hugh Nibley smiling

Hugh Nibley about one century ago

Happy Birthday Hugh Nibley, born March 27, 1910

No, we haven’t forgotten or given up. Sidetracked a little by other activities. But we have some new and, we hope, interesting postings coming up. Thank you to those of you have ever so gently prodded us to continue these posts.

Excerpt from a letter to Paul Springer

March 28, 1956

I have run into difficulties on the present [Melchizedek priesthood] lesson-manual: the committee wants something for backward ten-year-olds and they have a perfect right to it, only I keep telling them that I am not the guy to do it.* Accordingly I may get let out of this assignment, and instead of going to the Coast this spring take the usual time in the summer. Only I don’t know yet. Meantime I am working my head off on a dozen projects…

Our household as it grows larger is becoming ever more and more of an enclave, a foreign colony, in the midst of Provo. For one thing the lack of TV marks us as queer to the point of defiance; the program of serious literature** which has kept the kids amused all winter, and the wild informal “jaunts” we take whenever the weather allows  have set people to wondering if we are quite all right. My religious rantings serve to balance the books, but still people are disturbed and someday there may be some sort of showdown. Abdera without Aristotle, that is Provo. 

Thank God for Phyllis, who thinks exactly as I do on all essentials. Perhaps what should worry us is not that the world is going to pot, but that it may take too long in doing so. Well let’s make the most of things, after all, we have eternity to go and endless surprises ahead. I’ll let you know what the committee decides.

Nur Geduld.

[*The priesthood manual HN mentions here was, chapter by chapter, rejected by the publication committee with the comment that it was “over the heads” of the priesthood holders. The rejections were subsequently overruled by President David O. McKay, reportedly with the comment, “If it’s over their heads, let them reach for it.” That manual became An Approach to the Book of Mormon, still read today almost six decades after HN expected to be fired from the job of writing it.

**Don’t let him fool you. The program of “serious literature” to which HN refers here consisted largely of Mad Magazine, Nancy Drew and Edgar Rice Burroughs. ]


About Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley, 1910-2005, was simultaneously the LDS Church's greatest intellectual defender from attack from the outside and Mormon culture's strongest critic from the inside. This blog is composed mainly from Nibley's unpublished writings, letters, interviews and conversations, with occasional posts from associates who had personal interactions with him.
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3 Responses to A Priesthood Manual for Backward Ten-Year-Olds

  1. Tom Nibley says:

    Mad Mag., Nancy Drew and Edgar Rice Burroughs? I recall reading all those on my own in the sixties, but when Dad read to us at about that time (1955-56, I believe the manual was for 1957, I was then between five and six years old) what I recall was Hamlet and The Tempest being read to us with considerable dramatic flourishes as we draped ourselves (four of us old enough to join in the festivities and Alex in Mom’s arms after his birth in Jan. ’56) over and around Dad and the couch. Pogo Possum was also introduced about then, and just how serious Walt Kelly’s work was I leave for the reader to decide. Before that I remember The Odyssey as Dad translated from the Greek to his nestlings (we named the cat Circe).

    Dad may have broken loose with Mad and Tarzan after I was in high school and too busy for the home literary scene, but Nancy Drew? Not that I ever heard of. I do recall the healthy doses of Asterix, in french, with classic HN footnoting, that Martha and Zina were immersed in preparatory to becoming world travelers.

    So the seriosity of the literature may have declined somewhat over time, it was always eclectic and intended to edify.

  2. John F Ackerson says:

    Just before being graduated by BYU, in early 1975, probably March, …served as a “one visit” HTer to Nibley Family. After prayer and some small talk, …attempted to read some paragraphs from a monograph published in “American Anthropology” by Foster on “Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good”. Phyllis, seated next to her young daughter (maybe Zina), reacted by standing and strongly telling me “Not to lecture the professor!!”. I apologized and offered a brief summation. Dr. Nibley then politely commented on some of his experience in Germany with “peasant culture”. Upon leaving their home, I strongly felt like telling and did tell my HT companion that he should know that the Russian word for elephant is “slon” and that its plural form is “sloni”. Suddenly reflecting on what I had “blurted out”, I again felt very embarrassed for presenting even more irrelevance along with a rather pompous display of my university major. Years later, I surprisedly discovered some relevance after reading “H. N.

  3. Phyllis says:

    Loved this, Deila. I was wondering about the “backward 10-year-olds” part. Very, very interesting. And, of course, “Thank God for Phyllis.” *LOL* Okay, so that was a self-aggrandizement. hahahaha Keep the posts coming, Deila. Somehow I knew you’d been dabbling in Nibley again as per my last commentary post in Eve Out of the Garden. Now I have my proof!

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