The Challenge

 The Challenge

 

     Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley used to offer a most interesting challenge to his students at BYU:

Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well educated at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length.  Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history.  Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes [daily activities]; give them names -- hundreds of them -- pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 B.C.; be lavish with cultural and technical details -- manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites, and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years.

Keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials.  Above all, do not ever contradict yourself!  For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment.  You and I know that you are making this all up -- we have our little joke -- but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as fiction or romance, but as a true history!  After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it. . . .

What is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible.  If they seem over-skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim -- they will love that!  Further to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel.  Now go to work and good luck!1 (The Prophetic Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., 221-222)

To this I would like to add an additional challenge, though it shouldn't be hard, living as we do in the computer world of the Internet:

Because your story is supposed to be a religious record, include in your paper over 500 different descriptive titles for deity, all within a proper religious context that will not only explain these titles in relation to what we have in the Bible, but give added meaning and understanding to the text of the Bible and to your own story.  And while you are at it, have most all the proper names of people, places and things have intrinsic and symbolic meaning.  Because this is supposedly an ancient Hebrew record, give hundreds of ancient parallelistic Hebrew literary forms.  In fact, have the whole text written in parallelistic patterns.  Incorporate thousands of phrases from the Bible so that these intertextual usages give added meaning to both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  Make sure that the biblical sources are from all different parts of the Bible, and for that added touch, use some extra-biblical texts.  But don’t limit yourself to just your own patterns of language, or that of the KJV Bible, also use Early Modern English terms that were dated near 1611 when the KJV Bible was first published and became the bible of the masses.  Weave in an underlying theme of covenants with the Lord, both culturally and scripturally using covenant terms and practices used in ancient times.  In fact, it would be a good idea to make every part of your narrative not only covenant-related, but Christ related as well.   

For one final challenge you must dictate your story to a scribe without the aid of a written script.  While you may be allowed to tell your scribe to adjust the spelling of proper names, you must leave your script as you dictate it, and never ask your scribe to tell you where you left off after lunch or the end of a day.  On his own, your scribe can adjust capitalization, punctuation, the spelling of traditional words, and some simple grammar, but that is all.  Dictate parts of your story in non-chronological order, and be sure to credit these parts of your story to different writers, varying your manner of using words so that a distinct separation of language style can be detected.2 (Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes)

Notes


  1. The Prophetic Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., 221-222
  2. Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes