SANDY — Editing half the volumes in "The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley" gave Shirley Ricks a unusually intimate association and memory of one of Mormonism's most respected scholars, memories she shared in a presentation Thursday as the annual two-day conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) opened at the South Towne Expo Center, in Sandy.
The organization, though not affiliated with the LDS Church, seeks to counter attacks from critics and adversaries of Mormonism, primarily through websites and the annual conference.
Ricks worked on the Nibley volumes with a team at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU.
"My close work in preparing volumes 9-19 of 'The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley' for publication has allowed me to associate with this brilliant but humble man," she said. "I was constantly amazed at his insights and his ability to glean the big picture from thousands of sources he read and remembered."
She said she was particularly attracted to his writings on approaching Zion, his articles on LDS temple worship "and little gems that seemed to resonate with my soul in 'Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri.'"
"It was such a pleasure to interact with someone whose own enthusiasm for the gospel was only bolstered by what he found in his research and studies," she said. "To him, his discoveries meant that a divine hand was directing the happenings in the universe. He and the Lord had a quiet understanding about where he could best serve, and he never sought for positions of power or influence. In fact, he was often astonished at the effect some of his writings had on others."
Despite his brilliance, Nibley had his foibles and eccentricities, Ricks acknowledged in her lecture.
"One charge that has been leveled at Nibley's footnotes, namely that of sloppy, botched or incomplete citations, actually has merit," she said. "Nibley made just about every kind of error possible in those citations: wrong page numbers, wrong years, even wrong authors, incomplete information, lack of article titles, and so forth. But more often than not, when a particularly intractable source was finally located, Nibley's citation made some sense, with typographical errors often bearing the blame."
John W. Welch, general editor of the collected works, said editors were given a team of source checkers to verify Nibley's quotes and footnotes, Ricks said. They became known as "the collected workers of Hugh Nibley" and wore T-shirts emblazoned with that title.
"While Nibley was alive, source-checkers used every avenue possible to solve a citation problem by themselves, but if they still couldn't resolve the issues, they approached Nibley, who begrudgingly, because it took him away from whatever task he was doing, directed them to the source," she said.
Source-checkers were always delighted to find the "infamous Nibley pencil marks" in library books, because it meant they had found the very book Nibley had used and it made it easier to locate and verify quotations, Ricks said. Often the books bore his marginal notations.
"Library patrons would be in big trouble today if they indulged in this habit," she said.
To illustrate Nibley's lack of pretentiousness, Ricks related a story told by the late Truman G. Madsen, another LDS scholar. Madsen edited the volume "Nibley on the Timely and Timeless." But the earlier suggested title was "The Nibley Legacy."
Madsen thought Nibley would be pleased with the title, but Nibley vehemently objected to it, saying, "It sounds like I'm dead and gone. And 'legacy?' What does that mean?"
Madsen told Nibley he'd call the next day and they would brainstorm. During the phone call Madsen said, "Hugh, it's on the spine, the cover, the jacket and every page of the galleys. If we change it now, it will cost $1,100."
Nibley replied, "Change it and take it out of my royalties."
Madsen gasped, "Hugh, do you care that much about a title?"
"No, I care that little about royalties," was the reply.
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