The Ancient and the Academic Hugh Nibley’s Teachings, Dealings and Understanding of the Hopi

The Ancient and the Academic

Hugh Nibley’s Teachings, Dealings and Understanding of the Hopi


By Jody Livingston


As an avid researcher of the indigenous inhabitants of the American southwest, specifically with a focus on the Hopi and Ancestral Pueblo, I was recently in a conversation with some fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and followers of the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum in regards to Hugh Nibley’s teachings, dealings and understanding of the Hopi.  It was proposed that someone look into this relationship and possibly put together a research paper on the topic.  Since I’m somewhat familiar with Hugh Nibley’s teachings and dealings on the Hopi I was intrigued with the idea and I unwisely accepted at the opportunity.  I say “unwisely” because when dealing with anything “Nibley” you will always be involved with deep intellectual layers, more than you can digest in a lifetime.  I must admit that it was through some of the writings of Hugh Nibley that I first became interested in studying the Hopi and their possible relationship to the Book of Mormon.  I was first exposed to this idea through Jerry Ainsworth’s book, “The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni”. In this book Ainsworth proposes the idea of the Hopi (or some of their clans) being possible ancestors (descendants?)of the People of Ammon as a peaceful people. Hopi means “The peaceful little ones”.  In looking for this connection I found a handful of LDS authors who gave some insight on the relationship between the Hopi and the populations found in the Book of Mormon.  I was instantly consumed with the need to learn more.  I delved into Nibleys’ dealings with the Hopi, and his comparisons in order to gain a fuller appreciation and understanding of the significant correlations between the Hopi culture, the Book of Mormon and Mormonism as a whole.


Nibley seemed to integrate the Hopi into almost any subject he was teaching, from the Book of Mormon to the Facsimiles of the Pearl of Great Price, to his views on the environment, war, politics, and more.   He held an interesting position in his relationship with the Hopi.  He was considered a trusted individual and was able to have opportunities that the average tourist to the Hopi mesas in northeastern Arizona wouldn’t have enjoyed.  It is through these opportunities that make his teachings even more insightful to the student.   So I would like to touch on a few areas with the Nibley insights that I have been able to collect to gain a better understanding of Dr. Nibley’s relationship to the Hopi, as well as a better understanding of the Book of Mormon through these parallels.


Experiences among the Hopi


I would like to start off with a few interesting instances of Nibley’s relationships and visits among the Hopi.  His first experience among the Hopi can be found in his son-in-law Boyd Petersen’s article, “The Home Dance: Hugh Nibley among the Hopi”, which states:


When I first came to Provo shortly after World War II, I was approached by Brother Virgil Bushman, who had been called to revive the mission to the Hopi Indians after it had languished during the war.  He urged me to go with him and promised me that I would see an ancient world probably much like the kind I would like to have found in the ancient Near East.  I eagerly complied, and on a cold, bleak morning in March we approached the Third Mesa from the west.[1]


Here, on a high, bleak rock, surrounded by nothing but what we would call total desolation in all directions, was a full-scale drama in progress in the grand manner of the Ancients. …I told Brother Bushman that there should be fifty-two dancers, and that is exactly what there were.  Fifty-two was not only a sacred number of the Asiatics and the Aztecs, but it was also the set number of dancers in the archaic Greek chorus.  The dancing place was the bare plot which the Greeks called the Konistra, the sand patch where this world came in contact with the other, at the crucial periods of the year.  That was the time when the orcus mundi was open-mundus patet; that is, when the mouth of the other world was open and the spirits of the ancestors attended the rites.  By the altar, of course, was the sipapuni, the mouth of the lower world, the orcus mundi, at which the spirits from above and below could meet with their relatives upon the earth.  This was the essential year-rite, found throughout the world from the earliest times.  On either side of the altar was a small evergreen, adorned like a Christmas tree with prayer feathers, for as in countless ancient societies these dramas were sacred.  …Suffice it to say, it was a miracle of survival, commonly recognized as the only surviving instance of the fully celebrated year-cycle. [2]


Nibley gave a further description into other events that transpired during his first visit among the Hopi as well as interesting parallels with their beliefs.


I’m going to tell you another series of connected stories.  I first went down to the Hopis in the 40’s with Brother Virgil Bushman who had lived his life among them.  They are renewing the mission to the Hopis, which are the oldest civilization settled in America, the Southwest Indians.  They are Pueblo Indians and they have lived in their cities for well over a thousand years there.  Old Tom Kuyushva was the first member who rejoined the Church.  It’s a very interesting thing.  Brother Bushman went down and gave a sermon on the Book of Mormon.  Tom was the grand old man; he was the leader.  It’s in Hotevilla there, the most pious of the communities.  They have five kivas, and he is the one that is always dressed with the ceremonial turquoise, etc., always with the proper accoutrements, the knots and all the rest of it.  He always had the place of honor at the dances, etc.  He was at the meeting.  At the end of the meeting, he came up and said, “Brother Bushman, I want to be baptized.” (He didn’t know English.)


Brother Bushman said, “But you don’t know anything about it; you’ve just heard it.  He said, “But I know it’s true; its true in here.”  So he did become an elder and he became very important.  When I went back later with Brother Bushman, he told the story of how the Hopis settled there.  They came up from the South.  The Great Red City of the South was destroyed because they were wicked people, and they killed the prophets.  They migrated at that time; they came up from the Great Red City of the South that was destroyed.  When they came up they came to First Mesa, the oldest Mesa.  That’s old Oraibi (actually this is third Mesa).  It was the springtime, a beautiful period.  The grass was green and waving in the wind.  It was a beautiful spring day, which you don’t often get there.  The leader walked up the hill, and they saw a tall, handsome man standing at the top of the hill there.  He went up to him and said, “Who are you?”


He said, “I am Mashovi.”  The two names given are Mashow (Messiah) and Mashovi.  He said, “I am Mashovi, and I rule all this land that you can see.  It all belongs to me as far as you can see.  If you want to settle here, you must pay tithes to me.”  The leader put out his hand for the nakwatch; that’s the sacred grip to identify himself.  The tall, handsome man put out his hand.  The leader gave a strong jerk on it and pulled off his mask (remember, the people always wear masks for ceremonies), and it was a death head.  It was Satan masquerading as the Messiah.  Nevertheless, they still continue to pay their tithes to him, because after all he is the ruler of this world.  He is the one who possesses the land.  They will pay their tithes in the Church, but they will also pay their ten percent to Mashovi.  The interesting thing is that the same story is told in Tha>lab, whom I failed to bring today, about when David went up to the mount of the temple in Jerusalem.  He wanted to build a temple there.  He was met by the tall, handsome stranger who was Satan and had to have a fight with him.  It’s a very interesting thing the way these tie up.  This name Messiah is the name they would use for Christ.  The Moshihi what they call themselves, and in our language it’s Christian.[3]


Nibley made many visits throughout the years to the mesas.  Intrigued by these ancient Hopi rites and comfortable in that atmosphere he had the amazing opportunity to view and handle the four sacred Hopi stone tablets on a couple of occasions.   The Hopi stones are sacred stones tied to a covenant and are rarely shown to Pahana (white people).  Many Hopi themselves have never viewed them.  Nibley was fortunate enough to view them and even offered a loose translation as follows,


Some years ago I was in Cedar City visiting President Palmer who was a great Indian man.  He was a member of the Paiute tribe, who had been initiated, etc.  He went out to the place where he had been initiated and told me about the rites, and we went out to the various stations of the place where they do these things, etc.  He told me some very interesting things about what happened, the legend and the like.  Then, just a week later, I was visiting the Hopis, and they showed me the Hopi Stone.  Very few people have seen the Hopi Stone.  I was standing out in the dusk.  Mina Lansa was in charge.  See, they have a matriarchy, and she is in charge of keeping the sacred records, especially the Hopi stones.  There are four of them, and this is the big one.  She started saying “Come here, come here, come here,” and it was dark.  I thought, what have I done now?  These people are very touchy, and I may have offended someone somehow.  I went into her house.  It was the northernmost house in old Oraibi there, on the mesa.  All the elders were sitting around the room, and there was a little kitchen table in the center with an oil lamp on it.  She said, “Sit down here.”  So I sat down at the table.  She went into the other room and came back with something wrapped in a blanket.  She unwrapped it, and that was the Hopi Stone that very few people get to see.  It was beautiful, red porphyry-heavy, so big, and an inch and a half thick, highly polished, covered completely with characters on both sides. 


I recognized immediately what the main theme was, and I started to talk to them about it.  It showed the people holding hands.  I had learned this from President Palmer just a week before; this helped me out.  The people were wicked, and there was a great destruction, a great earthquake, and terrible things happened.  The people were frightened, and they were totally in the dark.  They didn’t know what to do, so a voice came and told them all to hold hands.  So they all held hands, and then they heard a voice above them.  They looked up to heaven and they saw a little point of light coming.  It got brighter and brighter and brighter, and a man came down.  It was Mashiach, the Messiah.  I started to tell them this, and Mina Lansa grabbed the rock out of my hands.  She said “You’re a smart man.  You know a lot, but you don’t know everything.”  She wrapped it up and took it out.  She wasn’t going to hear any more.  But they recognized it, and it caused a great hum to go on, etc.  So they have this legend about the Savior who came from above (the Southwest Indians still have it) and he descended while the people were waiting in the blackness.  They could see him, and he came down and taught them.


They saw a man descending in a white robe.  Isn’t this an amazing thing? This is the time really to pull out all the stops and put on a tremendous show-close encounters of the fourth or fifth kind, etc.  But it has none of that at all.  Here are a few easily understood things he told them.  He said, this is what I want you to do.  If you do them, we can work together in this.  Here’s what you must do; this is what you’ve been waiting for.  This is why you’ve gone down in this stage of existence.  This is going to start things rolling again.  The world is in a bad way.  Then he established an order of things which was going to exist for 200 years and produce this magnificent society that followed.[4]


Nibley was quick to share these intimate experiences among the Hopi with others.   Numerous times he took friends and family to observe the Hopi.  On one occasion he shared the following:


And when I had taken professors from Israel to visit the Hopi’s they were simply bowled over.  Whats his name? Professor Shinar (Pessah Shinar Professor Emeritus of Islamic Studies) who teaches Hebrew at Hebrew University at which he is Arabic at Hebrew University, paid us a visit and I took him too, with the Raphi brothers [actually the Patai brothers Raphael (was Hungarian-Jewish ethnographer, historian, orientalist and anthropologist) and Saul Patai (Organic chemist) both from Hebrew University] who are Israeli and he saw a woman who was making something and he said, “What’s that?” and I said, “well, that’s a shawl, a prayer shawl”.  He says, “Well, we have the same kind” and said, “Well, what do they call it?” I said, “a shesh” (Hebrew for white fine linen) and he nearly fainted and said, “that’s what we call it”.  And Raphi, well some little boys were beating some drums on a mound and Raphi stopped and said, “That’s a song, we used to sing that in my village”.  How permanent is this stuff? It gives you the creeps.”[5]


To sum it up in Nibley’s own words he stated, “My own connections with the Hopi…are exhilarating, puzzling, and faith-promoting.”[6]



The Hopi and the Book of Mormon


Through this amazing opportunity and many others it is quite compelling to see some of the correlations between the Hopi traditional teachings and those of the Book of Mormon.  Hugh was able to make many ties between the Hopi culture and those that are seen in the Book of Mormon that may help the average reader or even the most astute students of the Book of Mormon to gain a better comprehension of the setting and teachings.  Some of the most thought-provoking mergers he was able to point out are at the same time bits of information that Dr. Nibley wanted us to ponder upon and research for ourselves.  Some in particular are as follows:


In dealing with the abducted daughters of the Lamanites in Mosiah 19-20 he states,


“Now there was a place in Shemlon where the daughters of the Lamanites did gather themselves together to sing, and to dance, and to make themselves merry.” Now this reminds us of all sorts of things.  Notice, there was a particular place to sing and dance and to make themselves merry.  At the end of the year, after all the formal dances have taken place, then the girls among the Hopis have three dances.  These are fun dances.  They are for relaxation more than anything, but they are still very ritually conditioned.  They go out to the desert alone by themselves to celebrate.  They go to a big black rock that has a lot of bumps in it, and these bumps are supposed to have significance.  The Lakon and the Marawu are the most important.  The Owaglt is the basket dance that comes at the end.  In each of these three dances the preceding rites are most important.  They divide into four groups under four maidens.  Each one has a different color, and they represent different directions.  They have competitions, they run races among themselves, and things like that.  All the rites and ordinances have to do with two things here.  This is play, this is just for fun.  The whole tribe doesn’t enter into this.  As it says here, the girls go out to a particular place to make themselves merry. That’s exactly what they’re doing......In the first dance, the Lakon, they make a big cloud pattern on the ground with meal, and then they throw little corn images wrapped in cornhusks at it.  They try to hit it, and this represents both rain coming from the clouds and the wind.  They get things going.  In all of them they scatter things.  In the basket dance they give away baskets free. But in between them they give away food.  Everything has to do with rain, weather, and food….It’s the same thing whether it’s the Hopis or Greeks way back there-it makes no difference….All of these contests are very ancient.  But here [among the Hopis] they are competing to choose the queen for the year, while the big rites are to be held later.  They do the same thing.  They [the rites] have to do with the sowing and with the weather and all that sort of thing.  They sing these songs.” [7]


This is an interesting insight because the text of the Book of Mormon doesn’t really provide a firm reason for these Lamanite daughters being gathered together by themselves.  When put into the Hopi context or other ancient contexts these scenario’s are much more rational and give purpose to the activities of the Lamanite daughters.   Since these were specifically timed rituals, this explains why the priests of wicked King Noah would know exactly when and where to expect the daughters of the Lamanites.  

Another story line that takes a different shape in the Book of Mormon when viewed in the correct context is that of Ammon at the waters of Sebus (Alma 17).  A general reading of this chapter would have Ammon saving the king’s flocks and slaying his enemies at the waters of Sebus. But Dr. Nibley advises us that these were native games of chivalry and would have been common practice among the Lamanites.  This is confirmed in Alma 18:7 which states:


“Now it was the practice of these Lamanites to stand by the waters of Sebus to scatter the flocks of the people, that thereby they might drive away many that were scattered unto their own land, it being a practice of plunder among them.”


  Nibley then gave a handful of examples of other ancient games of chivalry many of which required human sacrifice including the infamous Mesoamerican ball courts.  Another one that required sacrifice was that of the Hopi Wa-Wa rite which he described as such:


“Equally horrendous was the Wa-Wa rite of the Hopis and some of the other pueblos.  It is still celebrated in Guatemala at the spring equinox (this is the Palo Volador and does not require human sacrifice). There is a tall pole, and they swing [people] around it head down.  When the Hopis did it, up until 1900 the pole protruded over the edge of the mesa and the drop was 300-400 feet.  The pole was cut half-way through and was supposed to break.  Human sacrifice was expected, and that satisfied the necessary killing for the year.[8]


The above insight allows us to put the awkward scenario into a context and gain further clarification on the actions of the Lamanites at the waters of Sebus.  If indeed the Lamanites were engaging in a game of chivalry regularly practiced at this location it would explain their outrage that Ammon would use his sling and sword to defend the flocks while the Lamanites had only their “ceremonial clubs”, as Nibley put it.  Ammon’s actions would have been something not regularly practiced in these ceremonial games of flock scattering.




There has been an ongoing debate about Dr. Nibley’s stance on Book of Mormon geography; does he think the Book of Mormon events took place in North America, Central America or in North, Central and South America?  He appears quick to reference Mesoamerican connections as well as North American connections to indigenous groups (Mayan and Olmec Mesoamerican cultures and the Hopewell and Adena Mississippian cultures).  I have been able to find quotes where Professor Nibley states that he is not concerned with that issue or that it is not his primary focus.  With that said Dr. Nibley gave some speculative insights that seem to present themselves as a leaning towards a Mesoamerican setting.  One of these more basic insights that deal with the Hopi but lend to the setting of Mesoamerica deals with the use of “fine twined-linen” and “costly apparel”.  These phrases are used in Alma 4-5 to which Nibley states:


“They had all these fine things like fine-twined linen, and it’s a very interesting thing:  In the Central American collections we have here and among things in the Mexico Museum, there is superb metal work, but [they were] especially strong on woven stuff.  The ancients were awfully good at weaving, and that’s what their wealth was…..As you know, they call the Indians “primitive,” but the one thing they can do is weave.  They make magnificent baskets and woven wear.  The Hopis have very fine stuff; we can’t do it as well as they do.  So they are great at weaving, etc.


And they had “costly apparel.” Notice they never call it “beautiful apparel.”  It’s just costly.  Usually it looks quite ugly, I suppose, but it’s costly.  They overdo it.  As you know if you’ve seen the vase paintings and the murals from Central America, Mexico, etc.  They are all horribly overdressed; they look like walking Christmas trees-these grandees being carried around.” [9]


Comparisons like these tend to show where Nibley was gathering his research and the geography that seemed most compatible for the scenario in the Book of Mormon as well as his humor in dealing with these issues.


One of the areas that Dr. Nibley speculated on that I found most interesting was how the Hopi may have fit into a Book of Mormon text with their migrations.  He added some insights between the Nephite capital of Zarahemla and the great “Red City” of the south from the Hopi traditional migration stories.  In his teachings on the Book of Mormon lecture series when teaching about Zarahemla he taught:


“It always got me because there’s an important trading center in the middle of the Sahara that goes by the name of Dar al-Hamra which means red city.  Of course, it depends on the dialect.  Zarahemla means red city, but what attracts me about this is that the Hopis say that their people came from the “great Red City of the South when it was destroyed because of the wickedness of the people.”  They were led by prophets and came north.  They call it “the great Red City of the South”.  [10]


In speaking of this southern connection he used the Hopi ceremonial costume as a tie and continued in reference the great red city when he stated,


 “They have a high old time, and it’s a very solemn affair with those costumes.  There can be nothing bought, nothing artificial, nothing cheap.  The colors all have to come from berries and minerals.  The macaw feathers have to come from Guatemala (very interesting).  Why are the Hopis getting their macaw feathers from Guatemala?  They are forbidden because of psittacosis from crossing the border, but they go down and get them.  That’s another story; you’d be surprised at the connections here, showing where they came from…….They came up from the south.  They tell how they came form the south, but that’s another thing.  This is another thing about getting lost.  The story of their wanderings is very important.  They kept a record of their wanderings.  They came up from the ‘great red city of the south’ when it was destroyed because of wickedness.  Zarahemla means ‘red city,’ as you know, Dar Ahmar.  Ahmar is red.  Feminine is hamra’, and dar or zar is settlement, a colony, or a community.  If you say Zarahamra, it means a red city.  That’s a coincidence.  I don’t know if there’s anything to it or not, but it’s good clean fun to engage in these things.   They say they came up from the south along the Little Colorado.  They tell about their wanderings, etc.  They kept the record, and thereon hangs a tale.” [11]


The Hopi migrations speak of many Hopi clans coming from a great Red City in the south known as Palatkwapi, as given by the late Chief Tawakwaptiwa several years before his death in 1960, according to Frank Waters “Book of the Hopi”.[12]  There have been opinions given that the great Red City was Palenque and others say it was Teotihuacan.  It was common practice among the Mayans to paint their great pyramids and walls red, and many examples of this are still in existence.  There is no way to know where Palatkwapi actually existed but Nibley’s insights connecting it to a Zarahemla in Mesoamerica certainly make for interesting thought.


These have been just a few examples of Hugh Nibley seeing parallels between the Hopi culture and the culture of those in the Book of Mormon.  I would like to end the Book of Mormon comparisons on this final story by Dr. Nibley:


“The day after that first dance was Easter Sunday.  I was met in New Oraibi by a delegation of Hopi men who announced that they had just been in a session with Mennonite, Baptist, and Methodist missionaries who had explained to them exactly why our Book of Mormon tells very much the same story as their own traditions.  The explanation was this: When the great chief Tuba (for whom Tuba City was named) became a Mormon, he went to Salt Lake City to marry his wives in the temple there.  While he was there, Joseph Smith got hold of him and pumped him for all the secrets of the Hopi.  Then he sat down and wrote it all down in what became the Book of Mormon.  It was not hard for me to set them straight simply by throwing out a few dates.  The point of this story is the promise of common ground that we have with this strange people-the Book of Mormon is their story.” [13]


Hopi Rites and Modern Ceremonies


Another aspect of the Hopi that interested Dr. Nibley was the Hopi ceremonial rituals.  He saw them as parallels to ancient patterns throughout the world.

One in particular had to do with the Hopi tradition of 1540 when Pedro de Tovar and his men were introduced into Oraibi.  They were met by all the clan chiefs at Tawtoma, as prescribed by prophecy, where four lines of sacred meal were drawn.  The Bear Clan leader stepped up to the barrier and extended his hand, palm up, to the leader of the white men.  If he was indeed the true Pahana, (lost white brother) the Hopis knew he would extend his own hand, palm down, and clasp the Bear Clan leader’s hand to form the nakwach, the ancient symbol of brotherhood.  Instead Tovar, curtly commanded one of his men to drop a gift into the Bear chief’s hand, believing that the Indian wanted a present of some kind.  Instantly all the Hopi chiefs knew that Pahana had forgotten the ancient agreement made between their peoples at the time of their separation. [14]


Hugh Nibley interpreted the story in his own way:


In 1540 when Pedro de Tovar came up to the Bear Chief, who was standing to greet him on the rise at Old Oraibi, the chief reached out his hand to establish the visitors identity by offering him the sacred handclasp, the nachwach-was he really the promised White Brother?  Naturally, the Spaniard, who had come looking for gold and nothing else, thought he was asking for money and placed a gold coin in his hand.  Have you any signs or tokens?  asked the chief. Yes, I have money, replied the visitor.  From that moment the Hopis knew it was not the one they were looking for, and to this day they have never been converted to Christianity.[15]


Hugh Nibley’s son in law Boyd Petersen spoke of an interesting experience he had when he accompanied his father in law to Hotevilla in 1996.  That experience offers a connection between Hopi ceremonies and those of modern Mormonism and is as follows:


Of course, what amazed us were the parallels between Mormon rituals and those of the Hopi. In addition to those Nibley showed us were others called to our attention by Robert C. Bennion, an emeritus BYU professor of psychology, who accompanied us. Bob had served his mission among the Hopi and Navajo, and is a long-time friend of the Nibley family. He told us about witnessing the initiation ritual of a young woman in which the Hopi priest touched each of her sense organs with a feather dipped in corn meal, blessing them that they would function properly. Parallels appear between the language of the Mormon temple ceremony and the Hopi myth of origin in Frank Water’s Book of the Hopi. Responding to someone who asked about similarities between the Mormon temple endowment and the Masonic ceremony, Nibley wrote that the parallels between the Mormon endowment and the rites of the Hopi “come closest of all as far as I have been able to discover – and where did they get theirs?”[16]


Dr, Nibley didn’t go into too much detail on the similarities between the Hopi and LDS temple ceremonies just that the Hopi’s ceremonial rites were the closest to the LDS temple ceremonies that he had seen. In reading much of the research work by Frank Waters, H.R. Voth, Mischa Titiev, and many others who have studied and documented the logistics of the Hopi ceremonies, I can say that from my perspective Hugh Nibley is exactly right in his comparisons between the two.


The Hopi and the Environment


As a youth, Hugh Nibley experienced what he classified as a “complete waste among the great redwood trees”, when working for a lumber company in California, in 1925.  He speaks of this in his biographic film “Faith of an Observer”. This may have set the foundation for his environmental awareness.  Through this awareness he was able to see eye to eye with the Hopi traditionalists or those who preferred to follow the old ways as opposed to the progressives who sought to bring the ways of the white man with their technologies and the need to extract the land of all its natural gases, oil, uranium, coal and water up to the Hopi mesas.  It was this understanding that allowed him to be very critical to the Church and its members in their questionable dealings with the Hopi.  This is evident in the following quote:


“The ancient doctrine of the Two Ways is a lively one with the Hopis.  A thing is either Hopi or Ka-Hopi.  When I first went there they spoke of three ways, those of the Hopi, the Pahana, and the Momona-the Mormons, which in the early days were manifestly not typically Pahana, who in fact were constantly denouncing them to the Indians.  But one of the best Indian men I know told me very recently that the Indians no longer consider the Mormons their friends. And it is not hard to understand why.  There is a bitter joke among the Navaho today: “What is Peabody Corporation? Answer, “A bunch of Mormon lawyers getting rich…..Is all this for the Indians’ own good? When the Navajos asked for an increase in the royalties they were receiving for their coal from $.15 a ton to $1.50 a ton, they were roundly denounced, according to the New York Times, by Mormon lawyers, so specified, for jeopardizing the sanctity of a contract-had they no shame?


With increasing interest in the Indians and considerable growing literature on the subject, the Mormons are regularly given a black eye in books and articles-a black eye which they would not deserve if they would only pay a little more attention to their scriptures.  There is one common ground, one common need, between us and them, and it is the Book of Mormon”[17]


Nibley was against the idea of big businesses attempt to bully the indigenous Hopi to exploit their lands for their natural resources.  This was obvious when he asked, “Should the sacred Blue Canyon of the Hopis be strip-mined to light millions of bulbs glorifying the gambling dives of Las Vegas?”[18]


As noted by Boyd Petersen, Nibley, “represents a model of one who has moved in their direction, for not only does he take their world seriously, he sees our world in the same way they do.”[19]


It is because of his uncanny ability to see through the eyes of other cultures it allows Dr. Nibley to better understand the Hopi culture and their environmental needs.  He sees the sacredness of their rites and how those rites are all tied to the land.  He perceives that to the Hopi everything ties to their religion.  If you speak of their farming or environment, you are speaking of their religion.  If you speak of their families or clans, you are speaking of their religion.  If you speak of day to day life, you are speaking of day to day religion.  It all ties into their religion.  




In closing there are so many different experiences and teachings of Hugh Nibley that I originally wanted to share in this paper but due to space constraints I have not been able to. His expansive teachings on the Book of Mormon include ties to sacred relics such as the Liahona, the Sword of Laban, the Hopi Topiny as a sacred treasure, temple connections to the kiva, society/clan migrations, Hopi, Tewa languages and dialects compared to the loss of languages of the Mulekites and much, much more.   Hopefully the quotes I have shared with you will trigger an urge to perform further research in the teachings of Hugh Nibley, and the practices and traditions of the Hopi.   I can guarantee that with those efforts we can obtain a better understanding of our beloved Book of Mormon. 


I believe that Hugh Nibley saw the Hopi as an extension of those Nephites and Lamanites who migrated northward throughout the history of the book of Mormon, particularly those found in Helaman chapter 3.  This has been concluded by Kirk Magleby, close friend and associate of Hugh Nibley, on his last visit to Hugh when he stated:


“My last visit with Hugh was with Jack Welch 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.”[20]


Hugh Nibley viewed the Hopi community as a living witness and evidence for the Book of Mormon. The culmination of this teaching was taught not only by Nibley but by the Hopi as well,


“Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? [He does.]  Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another [now, this is interesting-the gospel will be given as far as they will take it; we are going to see how it goes].  And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.”  Of course, this is the test, as the Indians say.  This is the same one that the Arabs use, too.  I can remember telling John Wilson, the Egyptologist, about this.  He was quite surprised because the Egyptians have the same idea of running side by side.  It means the same thing, and there’s a hieroglyph for it.  I’ll think of it in a second.  When two run side by side, they go this way, so they say. “Mormons and Hopis like this.”[21]


[1] (Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 13 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Farms, 1994), 76.


[2] (Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 13 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Farms, 1994), 77-78.


[3] (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 60:Alma 46)


[4] (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 83:3 Nephi 8-11)

[5] (Hugh Nibley, Hugh Nibley Speaks on Temples: Temples Everywhere. Track 7 [audio cd])

[6] (Boyd J. Petersen. "The Home Dance: Hugh Nibley among the Hopi" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 31.1 (1998): 27)

[7] (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture, 37: Mosiah 19-20)

[8] (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 51: Alma 19-19)

[9] (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 45: Alma 4-5)

[10] (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 26: Enos; Jarom; Omni)

[11] (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 31: Mosiah 7)

[12] (Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi, 1963. pg.68 * footnote)

[13] (Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol. 13 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Farms, 1994) Chp.4 Promised Lands.

[14] Frank Waters. Book of the Hopi. 1963 , pg 307-309.

[15] (Hugh Nibley. Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints. Pg 98-99)

[16] (Boyd Jay Petersen.  Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life. 282)

[17] (Hugh Nibley. Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints. Chp. 4)

[18] (Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints: Chp 3.  Stewardship of the Air)

[19] (Boyd J. Petersen. "The Home Dance: Hugh Nibley among the Hopi" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 31.1 (1998): 34)

[20] (Kirk Magleby, Hugh Nibley and Book of Mormon Geography)

[21] (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon. Lecture 22: 2Nephi 29-31)


Livingston, Jody