Hugh Nibley’s Funeral

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.

15 Responses to Hugh Nibley’s Funeral

  1. Peter D. says:

    Thank you John, for the great summary. I wish I could have been there. Any Martha Beck sightings?

  2. VeritasLiberat says:

    Thank you john_fowles. That’s one of the most beautiful posts I’ve ever read.

  3. Heather P. says:

    Thanks for sharing, john. How beautiful.

  4. lyle says:

    thanks john.

  5. Justin B. says:

    Thank you, John. Very touching post.

  6. Dave says:

    Nice writeup, John. The Bloggernacle needs more of these moving firsthand accounts.

  7. I was also at Hugh’s funeral and sat with John Tvedtnes and Matt Roper. It truly was a stunning and beautiful funeral, the finest I have ever witnessed. What a treasure in my heart not only to have read everything Bro. Nibley has published (and much he never published), but now to have attended his funeral and say my good-byes. There was not a dry eye in the funeral as we all sang that powerful last hymn together…….

    Kerry A. Shirts

  8. Matt Evans says:

    Thanks, John, I’m happy you wrote this and that I read it.

  9. John,

    Easily the most touching blog posting I’ve ever read, and I often don’t even agree with you. I appreciate the time you took to summarize this for those of us that could not be there.

  10. Jason says:

    John, I watched the funeral from BYU campus. What did you make of the “council of the prophets” message from Tom? I didn’t recognize much direct language taken from Abraham, but would be really curious to know anything you have heard on this topic specifically (aside from general pre-existence scripture and doctrine, which I see as a much broader doctrine than that of a pre-mortal council of the prophets).

  11. Deborah says:

    I was also at the funeral and wanted to share one part of Paul Nibley’s talk that was left out of your summary that I feel is important to include. Many years ago,HN brought a gift to Paul from (Japan?) — a wooden box that one has to shift many different panels in a certain order in order for the box to open. The ancients used these like a combination locked safe to store their most prized possessions. Paul eventually took his box all apart to see how it worked. But HN had his own box purchased when he purchased Paul’s, and HN kept his own box until his death, with a few prized possessions in it, including a platinum watch that didn’t work, and some amber crystals he’d found near Delta. The thing that I think is important to record is that HN’s son Paul made Hugh Nibley’s coffin and he made it based on the design of this locked box, an Egyptian box found in an Egyptian tomb, so the coffin has to be opened by shifting certain panels in a certain order — and here Paul burst into tears “because he was my most prized possession”. During the funeral, I sat next to the woman who said her son assisted Paul in building HN’s coffin.

    I feel fortunate to have sat in HN’s religion classes for years … after the first time I only audited the class (didn’t want to risk my GPA on another of those final essays that were the entire basis of one’s grade for the semester). HN said in one of those classes that the only worth of a teacher is to save his students time. In other words, to impart knowledge so we all don’t have to spend the time he spent learning all those languages and all those hours of research. I cannot find words to express how grateful I am for the 80-85 years worth of his knowledge of history, gospel knowledge and personal insight I learned from him, which is about what his age was when I sat in his classes. I was thrilled that he always tried to teach something that we didn’t already know, which he accomplished with me. He’s been my hero, my only hero, since I first sat in his class. With his passing, I grieve for the loss of his further light and knowledge to us in mortality, even though I know he is enjoying himself tremendously where he now is. He said on the other side, one has only to think a question and the answer is absorbed into your understanding instantaneously. He said he had a taste of this when he visited the other side during a near death experience he had during his appendectomy. Deborah, graduated BYU 1990.

  12. john f. says:

    Jason, I thought the “council of the prophets” but was quite sketchy, to be honest. It was very exaggerated.

  13. john f. says:

    Er, that should be the “council of the prophets” bitDeborah, thanks for sharing that. I think that it was topaz chrystals that Paul mentioned him keeping, not amber. That was, indeed, very touching. I didn’t take notes during the funeral so the summary just came from things that I could remember off the top of my head from the experience.

  14. Anonymous says:

    This is my first blog experience.
    My wife and I were at Br. Nibley’s funeral.
    Tom’s mention of the Council of the Prophets was only a scratch on the surface. A specific mission was given to Br. Nibley in the pre-earth life, and it was at this Council in which he was given this mission. I suppose that the deeper meaning can be given by Tom, should he desire to give it.

    Posted by David

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