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One Eternal Round
by Hugh Nibley
Reviewed by Old Coot
8/17/2010 10:25:56 AM
In the summer/fall of 1969, I was asked to attend BYU Education Days
held at the Washington, D.C. Stake Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. I
was a new member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and
eager to learn all I could of my new faith. One of the evening
presenters was a fellow I had never heard of, Professor Hugh W. Nibley.
I do not recall what Nibley's scheduled topic was but he didn't address
it at all. Instead, he ripped apart an article published by the the
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now the
Community of Christ) in regards to the recently rediscovered portions of
Joseph Smith's Abraham scroll. I must admit I had no idea what he was
talking about, but was impressed by Nibley's passion and humor. I recall
asking my companions who this person was, and getting the reply on the
order of, “Oh, isn't he a character?” I take it they didn't understand
him either.

I soon began receiving the Improvement Era, and started reading articles
by Hugh Nibley. I found them difficult, and sometimes monotonous. It
seemed he made the same point over and over from many different
directions. I kept reading.

Eventually, I became Elder's Quorum President. One of the members of my
quorum was a young student studying Egyptology at Johns Hopkins
University named Mike Rhodes. I was impressed with Mike's intellect, as
well as his humility. A very kind man, he even attempted to teach me
German, but it didn't take. Over the years, his name would pop up, and
we reconnected (sort of) after he joined the faculty at Brigham Young
University. I recall reading Mike's translation of Facsimile 2 from the
Book of Abraham, and thought his work exceptional. When I later heard he
would organize One Eternal Round after Nibley's death, I could not have
been more pleased.

One Eternal Round is the 19th and final volume (I'm told) in the
Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, a marvelous series published by Deseret
Book and The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. I will
state here that I have enjoyed each volume immensely, and the current
work is no exception. If I were to summarize the book in a few words, I
would say it is “a study of the Hypocephalus, commonly known as
'Facsimile No. 2' found in the Book of Abraham, part of the Pearl of
Great Price, a volume of scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints.” While that is an accurate statement, anyone who has
read Nibley knows it is not sufficient.

Nibley studied the Book of Abraham for decades, and several of the
volumes in the series cover his findings. One Eternal Round is the
result of several decades of work and revisions. Although he desired to
publish before his death, his mind kept exploring and expanding on
themes. This resulted in “over thirty boxes of papers, notes, and
pictures. There were also over 450 computer files containing sometimes
as many as twenty different versions of a given chapter.” Obviously,
Michael Rhodes had his hands full when he accepted the assignment of
making sense of it all. He has done a yeoman's job in completing his
assignment.

The book is marvelously complex, and a through review of the work is
beyond the scope of this offering. Instead, the Table of Contents will
give the reader an idea of the scope of Nibley's research.

Chapter 1. The Critics, Chapter 2. What are the Problems?, Chapter 3.
Dispensations and Axial Times, Chapter 4. Myth, Ritual, and History,
Chapter 5. Abraham and the Great Year-Rite, Chapter 6. What is a
Hypocephalus?, Chapter 7. Reading the Hypocephalus: Part 1, Figures 1-4,
22-23, Chapter 8, Reading the Hypocephalus: Part 2, Figures 5-21,
Chapter 9. The Ascension Dramas, Chapter 10. Jewel of Discernment,
Chapter 11. Joseph Smith, Hermetic Tradition, and the Hypocephalus,
Chapter 12. The Kabbala, Chapter 13. Alexander the Great, Chapter 14.
Nimrod, and Chapter 15. Geometry.

There are also seven helpful appendixes. Mention must also be made of
the wonderful illustrations directed by Michael D. Lyons, and of the
eight full color plates included. The total work is a feast for both the
eye and the intellect. As indicated earlier, I sometimes found Nibley
tedious when I began studying his writings. Tedium is simply not present
in One Eternal Round. Instead, one savors the layers of knowledge
unfolding on each page.

Critics have been around ever since Joseph Smith revealed the Book of
Abraham, and many will, I suppose, find fault with Nibley, and dismiss
him simply as an “apologist” with little standing outside the Church. I
have often wondered how the Egyptians themselves regard Joseph's work.
In a lecture at Brigham Young University, 1 April 2010, C. Wilfred
Griggs lectured on “Nibley as Mentor.” He had returned from Egypt
earlier that day. Those familiar with Griggs knows he has supervised
archaeological digs in Egypt for many years. He has to secure a permit
each year from the Egyptian government in order to continue his work in
that country. He has worked with the same official for a long time, but
once things were different. Griggs arrived for his appointment on
schedule. (I will now paraphrase what happened. I state the following
based on memory, but believe the gist of the story is correct.)

The first thing he noticed was his contact was not present. However, an
elderly man was seated across the room. Will waited a considerable time
for his contact to show up, but to no avail. Finally, he stood to leave,
and the man across the room asked, “What are you doing here?” Griggs
explained his purpose, and the older gentleman responded, “I know your
contact is not here, I told him to stay away.” He then asked Wilfred to
join him, and, as he was crossing the room, the older man removed a book
covered in a cloth that normally reserved for sacred texts such as the
Koran. After Griggs accepted the invitation to sit, the man opened his
book which revealed itself as “The Pearl of Great Price.” The official
obviously held the book in great regard. Griggs stated the man was
familiar with Nibley's work, and asked questions about “The Book of
Abraham.” Griggs also said he has not met a high Egyptian government
official who did not own a copy of “The Book of Abraham.” So, although
Nibley and Joseph's work may be ridiculed by some, Egyptians take
another view.

If One Eternal Round is, in fact, the last book in the series, it
saddens me. I have been inspired and challenged by Nibley's writings. It
was my privilege to have discussions with him over the years, and I
always appreciated the fact that he treated everyone as a equal, both
personally and intellectually. Although, like many others, I miss him,
he lives on through his works. Please consider purchasing this book, as
well as the rest of the “Collected Works.”