Question: Did LDS scholar Hugh Nibley support the "Heartland model" of Book of Mormon geography?

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Question: Did LDS scholar Hugh Nibley support the "Heartland model" of Book of Mormon geography?

Heartland advocates often cite Nibley selectively, and do not provide a full inventory of his statements

Advocates of the "Heartland" geographical model claim that LDS scholar Hugh Nibley supported their view. Heartland advocates often cite Nibley selectively, and do not provide a full inventory of his statements. Nibley's writings suggest that he was partial to a Mesoamerican model, with later infiltration of some ideas northward. For example, in his 1946 reply to Fawn Brodie, Nibley rejected the idea that the moundbuilders of the eastern United States—used by the Heartland theory as evidence of Book of Mormon geography--had anything to do with the Book of Mormon:

"The Moundbuilders actually resemble the Book of Mormon people not at all. Who said they did? The Book of Mormon tells of a people ages removed from the Mound-builders and very far away." [1]

He would later say:

"All this took place in Central America, the perennial arena of the Big People versus the Little People."[2]

Whether Nibley agrees with an idea does not mean that it is true or false—each idea must be evaluated by the strength of the evidence. In this case, however, Heartland advocates attempt to trade on Nibley's prestige and authority to reinforce their position, by giving the false impression that he agrees with him.

This is not honest scholarship.

Nibley repeatedly mentioned a variety of geographical theories, including Central America

  • "Book of Mormon geography is a waste of time. I wouldn't touch it with a forty-foot pole. Never have; it's not necessary."[3]
  • "What of the mighty ruins of Central America? It is for those who know them to speak of them... It is our conviction that proof of the Book of Mormon does lie in Central America."[4]
  • “Write on anything you want, because that is where you give yourself away. Joseph Smith could write anything at all; no one knew about Central America in those times long ago.”[5]
  • “For example, the book describes in considerable detail what is supposed to be a major earthquake somewhere in Central America, and another time it sets forth the particulars of ancient olive culture. Here are things we can check up on; but to do so we must go to sources made available by scholars long since the days of Joseph Smith. Where he could have learned all about major Central American earthquakes or the fine points of Mediterranean olive culture remains a question.”[6]
  • In the summer of 1971, Hugh traveled to Mexico and Guatemala. He wrote about his trip in his article. In his article, he alludes to Teotihuacan outside Mexico City as one of the great temple centers of antiquity and describes the imposing architecture of El Castillo and El Caracol at Chichen Itza. Nibley then summarizes by saying, “The great monuments do not represent what the Nephites stood for; rather, they stand for what their descendants, ‘mixed with the blood of their brethren,’ descended to.”[7]
  • Kirk Magleby wrote: "My last visit with Hugh was with Jack Welch [of FARMS] in 2003. We met in the Nibley home on Seventh North in Provo. We talked about the many trips Hugh had made to the Hopi villages in northern Arizona. He reiterated his belief that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica with echoes and remnants filtering up into the native cultures of the continental United States."[8]
  • “Hopewell cultural centers “are now believed to be definitely related to corresponding centers in Mesoamerica.”[7]
  • Nibley states that evidence is “more hospitable ... to the activities on one tragically short lived religious civilization that once flourished in Mesoamerica and then vanished towards the Northeast in the course of a series of confused tribal wars that was one long, drawn out retreat into oblivion.”[9]
  • "John Sorenson's book 'Images of America' must remain the indispensable handbook for students of the Book of Mormon. The only book of its kind — enlightening and convincing. Who else will ever bring such diligence, knowledge and honesty to the task?"[10]


Notes

  1. Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), "No Ma'am, That's Not History. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct link
  2. BYU Commencement Ceremony, 19 August 1983; cited in Hugh Nibley, "Leaders to Managers: The Fatal Shift," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16 no. 4 (Winter 1983), 12-21.
  3. Hugh W. Nibley, "Lecture 18: 2 Nephi 3-8," in Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Transcripts of lectures presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University 1988-1990, Vol. 1, (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1993). ISBN 1591565715.
  4. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 378.
  5. “The Book of Mormon: True or False?” Millennial Star 124 (November 1962): 276.
  6. Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 231. ISBN 0875791395.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hugh Nibley, "Ancient Temples: What Do They Signify?," Ensign (September 1972).
  8. [citation needed]
  9. Hugh W. Nibley, Nibley on the Timely and Timeless (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; 1978), 150.
  10. Nibley to John Sorenson, 14 January 1999).

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here