Hugh Nibley’s Funeral

March 2, 2005

Hugh Nibley’s funeral today was absolutely wonderful. Professor Nibley boasted two Apostles and four BYU Presidents in attendance. The Spirit was very strong and all the words spoken were very uplifting.

The program was as follows:

Opening Hymn, Congregation: All Creatures of Our God and King

Opening Prayer: Boyd Jay Petersen

Utah Baroque Ensemble, accompanied by Jerri Bearce: Come Sweet Death, Johann Sebastian Bach


Zina Nibley Petersen:

  • She knew HN would want her to put the “fun” back in funeral, so she pulled out his crumpled hat and put it on.
  • As she and her family left the Nibley home last Thursday, the day HN died, they came across a disturbance on 1350 E. in Provo. A group of mule deer were running across the front lawns of houses facing the street. Zina counted nine deer and reflected on HN’s own nine “dears” (eight living children and one dead son).

Rebecca Nibley:

  • When she graduated with an advanced degree from BYU, HN attended the commencement with her, even though he didn’t really go for that kind of thing. Afterwards, he offered to take her picture for her on her big day. Later on, she discovered that he had forgotten to take the lense cap off.
  • HN gave her two things: (1) her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Book of Mormon, and her resulting certainty of the Atonement; (2) her love of nature and her place in nature.

Charles Alexander Nibley:

  • He recited the last few lines of HN’s poem, written at age 16, entitled “Of Birthdays“:

The air is purple now the wind is waiting
A long sigh from the west.
* * * * *
Forgive me, Sun,
I did forget the glory of thy setting!

  • Although HN wrote this for his grandmother, this applied wonderfully to the glory of HN’s final years, months, and days. In his final years, HN once suffered the complete inability to speak for a period of time. He was lucid and knew what he wanted to say, but only gibberish would come out. When Charles visited him in the hospital, HN had great difficulty because of this. He finally was able to make out three words: “you are beautiful.”
  • HN lost faculties one at a time such that by his last few months, he was totally dependent for the basic functions of life. It was amazing to see his patience with this process.

Michael Draper Nibley:

  • He was living on the east coast and communicated with his father through Birthday and Christmas cards, almost exclusively through quotes from ancient writers, in the original languages. At one point, as HN was aging, he was frustrated with his waning years. MDN responded with a quote from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, from the Wife of Bath’s Tale (lines 475-479):

But Lord Christ! When I do remember me
Upon my youth and on my jollity,
It tickles me about my heart’s deep root.
To this day does my heart sing in salute
That I have had my world in my own time.

  • MDN firmly believed that HN was one of the few people of whom it can truly be said that he has had his world in his own time. He led a productive and happy life, doing what he loved to do, and helping people all the while.

Thomas Hugh Nibley:

  • THN reflected on the Book of Abraham and the council of prophets in the pre-mortal existence and conveyed his firm belief that HN was given the assignment to function prophetically through scholarship and that he did so consecrating his life to that calling and has now returned to his Father to receive further callings for our benefit.

Christina Nibley Mincek:

  • She recalled one special occasion when she got to go camping in southern Utah along with HN. She awoke with a start in the morning to find his sleeping bag empty. But HN came running to her and scooped her up in his arms to take her to enjoy the view with him. Later on, she saw a picture he had taken of the arch with her, only a little dot, in her sleeping bag under the arch. It taught her about his love for nature and for her, as part of nature.

Paul Sloan Nibley:

  • He offered his final gift to his father–the coffin in which HN was put to rest. He related HN’s deep love for the woods, going back to his youth in the woods of northern California. He told of the different woods used in the coffin: of the integration of an exotic hardwood that grew on the edge of the Sahara; of a wood called “purple heart” in honor of his service in WWII; and many other aspects of this, PSN’s final gift to HN.

Piano Solo by Reid Nibley (HN’s brother): Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, Johann Sebastian Bach


John W. Welch:

Violin Solo by Kelly Clark Parkinson, accompanied by Reid Nibley: Vocalise, Sergei Rachmaninoff

Presentation of a Letter from the First Presidency to Sister Nibley and the Family: Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

  • HN was the first “eccentric” that DHO ever knew–he took HN’s 1954 Winter semester class “The Rise of the Western Church to 600 A.D.”
  • DHO knew HN for more than 50 years and was in the same stake with him in Chicago when HN was studying at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute in the 1960s and was in the same ward during the nine years that DHO was the President of BYU from 1971 to 1980.
  • DHO said that HN was gifted and unique, but not “complete.” That is, even though he forged the path, he was laying foundation upon which numerous later talented LDS scholars would build through FARMS, which they have done so well. By laying this foundation, HN did a great service for the Church. Many have benefited from HN’s work who will never know.

Closing Hymn, Utah Baroque Ensemble (Congregation joined in chorus): The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning, W.W. Phelps

Closing Prayer: Otto Draper (HN’s brother-in-law)

The program was truly wonderful. The closing hymn was powerful as I thought about the life and work of HN. Particularly the last verse struck me:

How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion
Shall lie down together without any ire;
And Ephraim be crown’d with his blessing in Zion,
As Jesus descends with his chariots of fire!

As the congregation sang the chorus after this verse, the Spirit was powerfully present:

We’ll sing & we’ll shout with the armies of heaven:
Hosanna, hosanna, to God and the Lamb!
Let glory to them in the highest be given,
Henceforth and forever: amen and amen.

I looked around the crowd in the Provo Tabernacle as we all added our voices to this chorus. Everyone was singing with conviction. For some reason I focused on a random young man dressed in a suit singing the chorus with gusto. A wave of gratitude for Hugh Nibley’s life came over me. More importantly, a wave of gratitude for the Gospel that he spent his life defending came over me. I felt extremely thankful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.