Beck Pt 1
February 10, 2005

Many of you have heard about Martha Beck's recent book largely about her father, Hugh Nibley. Needless to say it is a controversial book due to the explosive charge of incest. Last weekend there were brief reviews of it by the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune. Most blogs have been very hesitant to say much about it. Both because the book isn't out and few people have copies as well as the problem of how to respond to the very nature of the charges. Child abuse is generally considered if not the worst of all crimes, pretty close to the worst. Further nearly everyone recognizes that just because someone seems righteous, appears religious, or even is someone you know, it doesn't mean that the charges are not true. We are as a culture very loath to not give the benefit of doubt to the accuser. That's partially due to the seriousness of the charges and partially, I think, because we as a civilization hid the problem for so long. Up until the last few decades the charges often seemed so incredible that few would give them the credence they deserved. So many victims were victimized again by society who doubted them or outright blamed them. So by instinct, I think most Americans try not to do that. Having said that though the charges in this case seem more problematic. First off because they rely on recovered memories. Secondly because so many of the tangental accusations in the book appear so exaggerated, distorted or outright fabricated. Further the author appears to have intentionally left out many facts that seem pertinent for readers to know about.

Still most bloggers have taken a view that perhaps we ought hold back somewhat in our responses. The Millennial Star, a religious group blog I contribute to, suggested making the controversy a matter of prayer. By Common Consent a more liberal oriented LDS group blog tried to change the topic to what effect the book would have rather than the content of the book. Times and Seasons, the largest LDS group blog has largely remained silent on the issue. The only other blog I know speaking on the topic is A Bird's Eye View which definitely takes the view that the book is a horrible personal attack on an innocent man. My inclination is to that position as well. I should hasten to add, unlike most people commenting on this controversy, I've actually read the book in question.

I've actually had the book for more than two weeks now. I've started to write a response numerous times. I've thought long and hard about it. I've even commented on several of the discussions of the book. But I've not posted anything here. I suspect that I simply don't know what to write.

My initial thoughts on hearing the news of the book was outrage. I'll fully admit I was quite angry. Yet, in a discussion a few weeks ago over at AML a few people made the obvious point that we simply can't know what happened. Further we don't want to be in the position of simply doubting because we like the person. And that's definitely true. I simply don't know what happened. The charge is that it transpired decades ago and was only recalled by Beck about ten years ago. While I'll fully admit I doubt the charges, I simply think it inappropriate for me to comment on them. I wasn't there. I'm not the family. I'll note that all the rest of the family deny the charges, including the "evidence" Beck presents. But I'll leave that discussion for others. I simply can't rationally say much there.

What I do think is in a few posts, I'll give a few thoughts both on the book and on the controversy.

Since I know there are a fair number of non-LDS readers I probably ought mention who Hugh Nibley is. He was a scholar of ancient history who did a lot of respected scholarship back in the 40 through the 60's. He's best known by Mormons for launching some of the initial sophisticated apologetics of Mormonism. The man is by any measure a genius. He knows dozens of languages and seems to have an amazing number of texts memorized. I recall once in class him quoting ancient Egyptian poetry by memory. His apologetics definitely haven't always stood the test of time. Further as striking as they often were in the big picture, they sometimes were weak in the small details. Still, he blazed a trail which later scholars took up, often mounting sophisticated defenses of various Mormon beliefs. Further it is constantly amazing how often points he made decades ago still are relevant. More importantly, for Mormons, I think he was crucial for getting Mormons to pay more attention to our unique scriptures like the Book of Mormon. While it may be somewhat shocking to non-Mormons, Mormons didn't actually use or study those scriptures as much as they did the Bible until recent decades.

As to what Nibley was like - the best comparison is probably to Indiana Jones' father in the Raiders of the Lost Ark series. Indeed I recall how many people joked the character was based on Nibley. (Sean Connery's character is a driven workaholic scholar of antiquity who lives in Utah) About the only difference is that where Connery's drive was the Holy Grail, Nibley's grail was the Book of Abraham and various Egyptian texts. He came late to the game. I believe he was already in his late 40's when he started studying Egyptian. The University of Chicago had discovered some Egyptian papyri long thought destroyed. They were parts of the papyri Joseph Smith had purchased and possibly from which he had claimed to translate the Book of Abraham. The problem was that the papyri appeared to be standard funerary texts unrelated to Abraham. The church appealed to Hugh Nibley to answer critics who claimed this falsified the LDS faith.

I'll not address the details of Nibley's efforts since they are so wrapped up with Beck's attacks on the church. (She blames the church's request for what she believes transpired) I'll get to them an other day. I will simply point out that the battle over the text rages to this day, with LDS Egyptologists still publishing on the topic.

The point is that Nibley is a beloved figure among Mormons. (Although not really that well known by the laity, despite what intellectually oriented Mormons might initially think. My wife didn't know who he was, for instance. I personally think that his more ethical and political writings were far more impressive than his apologetics - often calling Mormons to repentance for not living up to their ideals.

He was a bit of an oddity. Nearly a pacificist, mostly a socialist, as well as probably best being described as a Platonist. Strange positions for someone living in the most Republican congressional district in the nation at a University known for strong anti-socialist stands (especially during the upheavals of the 60's). He preached equality and communitarianism, feeling that it was unrighteous for one person to have more than an other. And he largely lived his principles, often giving in secret to people in need. I recall one story where a family in the ward he went to who rather disliked the Nibleys were on church welfare. (Basically the church paid their bills) Unbeknownst to this family Nibley was actually paying all these bills via the Bishop. That' was the type of person he was although I'd imaging such economic views made his family life difficult at times.

I'll not go further than that for know, precisely because it is here that we get to the claims of Beck's book. I'll have a second part later.


I may be posting on this topic from time to time. Especially a controversies pop up. Although to be honest, now that some time has passed since I've read it, the controversy of it all seems much less that I thought it would. It truly seems like a woman with mental problems that perhaps a publisher has taken a bit of advantage of so as to earn some money through the controversy. The more I think about it, the sadder I am for Beck. In any case I've put up a single page that'll include links to all the stories I do on the book.


Posted By: Dave | February 11, 2005 01:18 AM

Okay, apart from the fact that MNB has a PhD and is the daughter of a famous LDS scholar and apologist, what distinguishes Leaving the Saints from Secret Ceremonies? I haven't had the benefit of reading it (and may never get around to it, there being so many other worthwhile books), but it seems like the standard carefully tailored kiss and tell, making scandalous accusations but doing so only in veiled or indirect terms when it comes to actual living people (i.e., those who might be in a position to sue for libel). Does it even amount to a coherent autobiography?

Posted By: Clark | February 11, 2005 01:42 AM

It makes a lot more Danite accusations. I'll probably get to those later. I've quoted a few of them. She basically insinuates she'll be killed for writing the book. While she doesn't come out and say it is a death squad, she certainly ties it to the church with many rhetorical flourishes.

I've read parts of it a second time now, and she really does come off as rather unhinged. Of course Beck isn't making veiled accusations of everyone. She's rather explicit about her family. And I suppose that does put her in a position for libel. The crucial evidence will be some supposed scarring that supposedly brought the memories to her. Yet her now ex-husband apparently denies that. It's a rather key factor in the book.

As for it being an autobiography. It really isn't. It is written extremely well. She shifts between most of a chapter on sarcastic asides and "look how weird and evil Mormons are" type comment to a more serious confrontation with her father. The confrontation is told bit by bit, usually at the end of each chapter. Initially it was a little off putting, but it does work quite well. As I've said elsewhere, if you weren't already quite familiar with life in Utah county it'd scare you and be quite believable. But living here, so many things she says are just plain weird or wrong with so many lies and distortions, that it makes one question the more serious charges that you can't know about beyond her word. So if she was looking for people to believe her, all the hyperbole and exaggeration are counterproductive. But only if you are familiar with Utah life or have someone you know who is familiar with it.

The other problem with the book is one I mentioned about her last book. (Also excellently written) She doesn't disclose crucial information that seems rather crucial for understanding the context. She doesn't mention for instance that she was homosexual in a conservative family in a religious town. She doesn't mention that her husband was as well. While I don't think being gay has any bearing on the kind of charges she makes, it does suggest that her earlier problems of extreme depression, eating disorders and other such things might have other causes. Likewise it provides some reason to think that she was under a lot of stress.

For someone raised, as she claims, in a very literalistic conservative Biblical home, what would that guilt do to a person? (I'm not suggesting the guilt was deserved - merely pointing out that it would be an amazingly difficult situation to be in) Combine this with the birth of a Downs Syndrome child, her anger at particular forms of feminist critique not being accepted at BYU, and she was under a lot of stress. (Just from her book, ignoring the stressing of two gay people trying to have an ideal marriage)

It is rather significant as are some other things. She did the same sort of thing in her last book. There she said she was basically a pure rationalist who didn't believe in God but wrote about how the birth of her Downs Syndrom child brought her to a belief in God. Note that she never mentions in the book she is Mormon, let alone the daughter of a prominent Mormon scholar. She doesn't mention she worked at a religious school. She doesn't mention she wrote an earlier book about how faith can allow one to overcome homosexuality. (Using case studies that appear to actually be her and her husband an not an actual sociological study as she portrays it)

So she definitely has a habit of leaving out important information.

Posted By: Ivan Wolfe | February 11, 2005 11:20 AM

In regards to Nibley, I find his ethical and religous living writings the best - his stuff on Abraham and Enoch I often found to be a bit rambling and above my head. But, "Approaching Zion" and "Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbals" are the best two books in the the Nibley corpus, IMHO. "Zion" actually changed my entire world view when I read it at age 17. I'm still (overall) conservative, but partly because of Nibley I became less conservative [or more liberal] on enviormental and economic issues.

However, I have to wonder why so many LDS academics focus on his liberal politics and ignore his religous orthodoxy - for example, when Boyd Peterson was interviewed on Radio West (when his bio on Nibley came out), the interview bugged me because it mostly focused on Peterson condeming the Utah saints for not being liberal like Nibley, and very little focus on Nibley as apologist. It was a bit too one-sided. That interview is the main reason I still haven't read Peterson's bio - I'm not interested in having Nibley used as a hammer to hit politically conservative saints with.

Posted By: Clark | February 11, 2005 12:54 PM

I've long thought Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbals to be by far his worse. I think he avoids many historical issues and focuses in almost entirely on rhetoric. So it is really arguing beside the point. It's extremely well written. I remember someone telling me that he used his familiarity with Roman satire to do something quite similar. But it really isn't that great in terms of finding answers.

I'd agree Approaching Zion is the best, as is Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints.

Regarding politics, I'd not that I don't think there was a political - religious divide. Further, looking at 19th century history I think Nibley's on good ground. His argument is that our communitarian principles were never revoked. It simply was that after the US government stopped their political expression we should have started doing it on our own. (The libertarian approach) However few did. To the degree that the Federal government will allow communitarian principles to be enacted, we ought support it.

In a way its not that different from the social conservative approach to government. He denies the strong church/state divide that some see. Social conservatives want it expressed in terms of marriage and sexual issues. Nibley sees it in economic issues. (i.e. health care, welfare, etc.)

I think his condemanation of the average LDS on economic grounds is well argued. But it's hard to separate out the political and religious issues. (Especially in terms of Brigham Young's worries about what temptations would plague Utah)

I do agree though that he's primarily considered an apologist. But I think his most valuable place is in getting Mormons to pay attention to aspects of our religion we like to ignore.

Posted By: Ivan Wolfe | February 11, 2005 02:20 PM

Well, being a rhetoric person, I found the approach in Sounding Brass while not conclusive, at least a valid one. Plus it's aimed more at the anti-mormon rhetoric of the time, and so hasn't aged very well.

Posted By: Geoff Johnston | February 11, 2005 04:55 PM

I do agree though that he's primarily considered an apologist. But I think his most valuable place is in getting Mormons to pay attention to aspects of our religion we like to ignore.

I agree. In the long run his works like Approaching Zion will far over shadow apologetic works like Lehi in the Desert or The World and the Prophets.

I suspect that only 2-3% of the church has ever read any of his books or essays (only slightly lower than the number of us who've actually read all of the standard works) so most don't consider him anything at all. But since his name is often brought up as the father of modern Mormon apologetics I reckon you are right -- he probably would get more apologists votes if an actual church-wide poll was taken.

I agree that Approaching Zion is the best and most life-changing of his collected works I've read. I am struggling to finish Lehi in the Desert right now. My problem is that the stuff there is sort of old-hat now. I find myself thinking: Yes, I realize there is a lot of evidence that BoM names have near Eastern roots... When will this get over so I can read the Brigham book?

BTW -- I love that quote about him by the Dean of the Harvard School of Divinity: It's obscene that one man should know that much. I believe that can be found in the Truman Madsen intro to Since Cumorah.

Posted By: Clark | February 11, 2005 08:25 PM

Some of the comments by Mircea Eliadi about him were quite interesting as well. Especially since his overall methodology certainly parallels a lot of the myth studies of the mid 20th century. The difference was that Campbell, Eliadi and others saw the basis of myth in common mental structures. Nibley was definitely a diffusionist. Too much so I think. If he has a flaw it is assuming common features have a common historical root rather than a common environmental or psychological root. Although to be fair he does accept that later a bit, although obviously with a radically different conception of its significance than the more psychological mythic studies.

Posted By: Clark | February 12, 2005 11:09 AM

For those interested, Robert Kirby has a rather humorous take on all the controversy in today's Tribune.

Posted By: john fowles | February 13, 2005 06:04 PM

Clark, your review seems to overlook the adage of American law that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Thus, it is no condemnation on American society that it has doubted the accusations of abuse victims in the past. The onus lies on the victim to make a case that the accused is in fact guilty. The standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, a jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt that HN did this horrible deed, and that is after a full case has been put on in which the prosecution has this burden of proof and the burden of persuasion. Why should the American public give the accuser any more credence than this?

Posted By: Ivan Wolfe | February 13, 2005 07:36 PM

john -

just take a look at the many late 80s/early 90s sex abuse trials (such as the Amiraults) where clearly innocent people were jailed merely on coached accusations and "recovered memories" - all very ably detailed in Dorothy Rabinowitz's book "No Crueler Tyrannies."

We might like to think we're above that sort of thing now, but really, there are all sorts of things that come with an assumption of guilt.

For example, there are some feminist academics I know who argue that it is impossible to have a false rape charge. They say that no woman would ever willingly make a false rape charge. If the police decide the accusation was false, it must due to chauvanism in the system. Society still seems to have this nagging thought in that back of its head that any accusation of child abuse must be real, because who would make that stuff up?

Posted By: Clark | February 13, 2005 08:14 PM

Just for the record Beck does claim in the book physical evidence. Indeed the physical evidence, according to her story, is part of what bring about the memories. However my understanding is that this evidence is disputed by the family. As I said in the initial comments, I'll leave such matters which I simply have nothing positive to say about one way or the other alone. I'll stick to such matters that I can speak about such as life in Provo, which she gets quite amazingly wrong.

Posted By: john fowles | February 14, 2005 11:30 AM


You might have misunderstood my comment. I was referring to Hugh Nibley as the accused and saying that he is innocent until proven guilty.

Posted By: Ivan Wolfe | February 14, 2005 03:05 PM

john -

I was just saying, that when this "gets out" (so to speak), it is very probable that most people who know very little or nothing of Hugh will automatically presume him to be guilty.

Posted By: john fowles | February 14, 2005 04:52 PM

Ivan, I fully agree with you and that is why I have elected not to remain silent on this as have many others in the Bloggernacle. I was just confused why you took an argumentative tone towards my comment if we are saying the same thing.

Posted By: Geoff Johnston | February 14, 2005 08:33 PM

Clark said: Nibley was definitely a diffusionist. Too much so I think. If he has a flaw it is assuming common features have a common historical root rather than a common environmental or psychological root.

If this is the case he seems to be following Joseph Smith's lead. In By the Hand of Mormon Givens shows that Joseph and the early Saints went to great lengths to paint the Book of Mormon as a historical record first. Nibley seems to take that approach with the PoGP as well. The rest of his approach naturally follows, I think.

Posted By: Clark | February 14, 2005 10:20 PM

Geoff, I'm not quite following you. How does thinking a text is historically accurate entail that you think parallels tend to imply a common source of diffusing?

My belief is that Nibley far too often neglects structural parallels. Consider all the rebirth myths around the world. We could say that they all come from some original tale of the coming of Jesus Christ. Or we could recognize that in nature we have death, sleep, and rebirth in the seasons. Thus the same myth could independently arise. Likewise the common fear of death all people have would lead to the hope that there was an other life, an other world.

Now that's not to say that the diffusing argument is always wrong. But I think that it is frequently made a little to rapidly at times.

Posted By: Ivan Wolfe | February 15, 2005 07:23 AM

john -

ah, sorry I sounded argumentative - it wasn't meant that way. I did misunderstand you, though. I thought you were saying that most people would give Nibley the presumption of doubt (innocent till proven guilty) when, it seems, you were making an entirely different (but related) argument. My bad.

Posted By: Geoff Johnston | February 15, 2005 10:34 AM

Thanks for the clarification, Clark. The example you gave helps me understand what you meant. I am enamored with the idea of patternism and that is one of the things that draws me to Nibley's work. It sounds like you are saying there are patterns out there that are larger than single ancient events -- but Nibley sometimes attributes them to single historical events anyway, right? I can buy that. In fact I'll watch more closely for it in his work in the future.

Posted By: john fowles | February 15, 2005 12:33 PM

Nibley gets under a lot of people's skin, apparently and surprisingly Clark's as well, because he sets progress and evolution on its head. In many of his works, he seems to proceed from the foundational premise that things have been devolving from the more complex and complete to more fragmented and incomplete. That is why he finds such parallels where Clark, for example, doubts that they could exist.

Posted By: Clark | February 15, 2005 12:51 PM

I don't think he gets under my skin. I just think that one has to be careful with many of his arguments. Further I don't doubt in the least that parallels could exist. I simply doubt the argument that is often given. It's really no different than doubting the arguments that many naturalistic critics give - that parallels in ideas in the 19th century reflect transmission of ideas.

The notion of corruption and transmission isn't in doubt. What one has to keep in mind is that there is more than one cause for parallels. The same flaw pops up, as I said, in Eliadi, Campbell and others. Yet I don't think anyone suggests that they aren't good, important scholars.

Posted By: john fowles | February 15, 2005 02:56 PM

Tolkien, as well, is very convinced in both his academic work and its expression in his fiction of this same principle: that our language has devolved as we become more and more abstract.

Posted By: Clark | February 15, 2005 04:37 PM

I've mentioned it a lot, but Umberto Eco's The Search for the Perfect Language is probably the best example of an analysis of this phenomena in history. There were from fairly early on two views of language. Both views held that we had a flawed imperfect language. The imperfection was viewed in one of two ways. Either language was too vague and metaphoric (i.e. it didn't refer unambiguously) or else it wasn't open and metaphoric enough. The difference was over the direction the figured looked for perfection. One saw our language as devolving from some original perfect language. That might be Adam's lanugage or some language in Egypt. Others looked forward to a created, man-made language. (Often leading to advances in categories as well as artificial languages and logic)

Those who looked backwards were frequently tied to the notion of Hermeticism, especially during and immediately after the Renaissance. (A topic Eco's written a lot on) I think Nibley probably fits into this view. You can see it when he brings up the legends of Enoch as well. There's that idea that this strain of perfect knowledge was passed down and everything else are corruptions that are imperfect images of this perfect knowledge.

While I think there are some elements of truth in this, they are somewhat limited and I think that Nibley definitely pushes it too far. Further I think he downplays far too much human innovation and creativity. Of course I do think that Nibley is a bit of a Platonist and I think many of his assumptions make sense in that world view. However I don't buy a lot of it. Further I think as important Nibley is in blazing trails for Mormon apologists, he has also created some unfortuante roadblocks along the way.

Posted By: john fowles | February 15, 2005 04:49 PM

Further I think as important Nibley is in blazing trails for Mormon apologists, he has also created some unfortuante roadblocks along the way.

This is something you've come back to repeatedly around the blogs for some time and it's always interested me to hear what you mean by this. Even if you don't agree philosophically with his conclusions, the point still remains that his scholarship is sound and his publications enlightening. The real roadblock is that detractors from the faith rarely address Nibley's work head-on; often they ignore it completely, when in truth, his work creates substantial roadblocks for them.

Posted By: Clark | February 15, 2005 05:02 PM

I think it is important to realize that scholarship is a moving target. One can recognize that someone did good work yet simultaneously consider it dated and questionable. For instance in the sciences we frequently recognize that old work has become dated in the sense that others have found errors, new data has invalidated assumptions, and the conclusions no longer hold. We'd not want to say, for instance, that Newton wasn't a genius in physics simply because science has moved on. Nor would we necessarily want to say that Descartes or Leibniz were poor scientists, simply because they didn't get mechanics right.

I think there is an assumption that everything Nibley said answers modern critics. In my experience it simply doesn't. That's not to detract from the excellent work he's done. Nor does it invalidate the points that have stood up. It is merely to acknowledge that Nibley wrote early on in the process and generally knowledge comes about by refining earlier ideas. Much of what Nibley's written is dated. (IMO)

Posted By: Grant | February 19, 2005 11:44 PM

Clark You said, "Much of what Nibley's written is dated. (IMO)"

Not sure how this is news to anyone or why it would be disputed by anyone, since Nibley says frequently that all conclusions, even his own, must remain forever tentative. Thus, the anti's who accuse him of being outdated miss his own admission that this is inevitable and the mormons who are disappointed that some of his work is outdated are simply too lazy to find the scholarship that Nibley said would some along and outdate him.

Posted By: Grant | February 19, 2005 11:47 PM

PS. my point in the previous comment was that Nibley never claimed to be the final word in anything and denounced the very idea of a final word.

His only unwavering statements were about his faith in the Savior and the truthfulness of this gospel.

Posted By: Clark | February 20, 2005 01:47 AM

I certainly agree Grant. Nibley recognizes the nature of scholarship. Unfortunately many on both sides of the debate forget it at times.

Posted By: bob mccue | February 27, 2005 12:03 PM

I am on the fence regarding the accuracy of Martha Beck's allegations of abuse. I too have carefully read the book, and was disappointed with what from my point of view are numerous over-the-top characterizations of Mormon life (unrealistically negative and positive with little in between) as well as life in Boston (unrealistically negative). I think Martha had the chance to do something much more constructive with her story than she choose to do.

I should state by way of background (and so as to disclose my prejudices) that I am a former LDS bishop (among other things) who several years ago decided that I no longer wished to live with the mental and social pretzels Mormon life required of me. I hence resigned my Mormon membership, and am thrilled with the life I now live. I practice Canadian tax law for a living.

My contribution to this discussion is as follows.

For some interesting background regarding the recovered memory issue Martha raises, see the posts of "Langdon" and "Punky's Dilemma" at I know both Langdon and Punky. Langdon is a statistician who holds a senior position with a large US government department. Punky is a practicing clinical psychologist. Both have graduate degrees in their fields.

In my post near the top of the thread just indicated I summarize the position Hugh's biography takes regarding both the abuse issue and recovered memory issues. I also think that the background regarding Hugh's intense study of the JS Papyprii, and in particular the symbology of Min in that regard, presents an interesting backdrop to this discussion. The same should be said for Hugh's self proclaimed literalist thinking during the period of time in question, as noted in the letter to Sterling McMurrin included in his biography. See my post on the RFM thread noted above for an excerpt from that.

Hugh Nibley was in emotionally twisting territory during much of the 1960s and 70s as he fought what I am now prepared to acknowledge was an impossible and losing battle on behalf of Mormonism with regard to the legitimacy of the Book of Abraham.

While I am one the fence as to the details of what happened between Hugh and his daughter, what seems relatively clear is that Hugh's home life was deeply troubled. His biography politely hints in this direction, as would be expected. This does not surprise me. My father did his PhD in history at BYU during the late 1960s and I have been treated to many stories regarding Hugh's eccentricities over the years.

Martha's book is a tragedy for the Nibley family. However, I respect Martha's right to speak publicly about deeply held convictions regarding what her father did to her. Libel law suits are the force in our society that constrains such talk. It would be foolish to assume that Martha's editors and publishers did not carefully consider that risk before publishing her book. Large book publishers are experts when it comes to dealing with the risk of libel suits.

A libel law suit would not disclose the "truth" of the matter, but would it would stress test the important evidence and given the nature of that evidence (see for a reasonable summary) would in my view likely increase in a significant way the prospect of determining what happened on a probabilistic basis, which is the best we can hope for. Having published her book, Martha has volunteered for that painful process. Again, I can't imagine her doing this without carefully weighing the prospect of a libel suit and how that would play out.

I for one hope that her family is prepared to go through with a law suit, but doubt that they will. There will be lots of saber rattling, but I doubt very much that real action will result. If it does, then Martha and her publisher misjudged this risk since the money to be made from this book will not go far toward defending a large defamation suit let alone paying damages.

And, there is another factor that will weigh heavily on the faithful who have been invited to fund this lawsuit on a website the Nibley family has set up. A libel suit will bring Hugh Nibley's role in the development of the Mormon apologetic position regarding the Book of Abraham under the litigation microscope with Mormon funding on one side and a huge publisher on the other. In matters of this type, lots of money means lots of information. It would be astonishing if a vast amount of previously unpublished data did not surface during the course of that process. Give Hugh's foundational role in the Mormon apologetic enterprise relative to the Book of Abraham (the controversy related to which most Mormons have either forgotten about or never heard of), the data produced will likely go to the root of that process. For example, how did Hugh get his "good" copy of those papyprii in 1965, and why was he aware of it at least as early as 1962 while the Church feigned surprise at its "discovery" in 1966?

What was the symbolic connection between the Egyptian fertility god Min and his incestuous behavior and Abraham?

My bet is that there is a host of interesting data to be had in this and other regards. My bet is also that when the powers that be in SLC think about this (as I bet they already carefully have) they will want to take a pass on it and that word will be discretely passed around to those with faithful pockets deep enough to fund this kind of exercise.

Were a lawsuit to proceed, it would be a shame that Hugh is not be available to take the witness stand and both give his evidence and see it tested by cross examination. As things stand, some of the most important evidence is likely to come from Hugh's widow, Phyllis. Martha alleges that her mother guessed at Hugh's abuse without prompting and acted as if she expected it as a result of his bizarre behavior during the period of time in question. Having Phyllis Nibley and Martha's siblings tell their story in this regard and seeing it tested under cross examination would paint a fascinating picture. Evidence would also likely be required from Klaus Baer (sp) of the U of Chicago who collaborated to an extent with Hugh re the BofA. I do not know who at BYU or elsewhere worked with him on this project, but their evidence as to Hugh's mental state and what he was spending his time on during the relevant period would all be germane.

However, the Nibley family would pay a very high price as they go through the trial process. That is a tragedy. And if a small percentage of what Martha says about her family life is accurate, they are well acquainted with tragedy already. One tragedy begets another.

If reasonable factual certainty could be achieved through a trial, a healing process would occur. That would be a good thing in my view. And, as I noted above, the information produced by the process has the likelihood of opening what will feel like wounds for other people, which will facilitate a healing process of another kind. This, in the end, is the issue that in my view will trump the other factors and so truncate this process.

All the best,


Posted By: Jake | February 27, 2005 12:37 PM

(Note: I moved Jake's message here from the main page with the list of posts on Beck's book so as to keep all comments in one of the actual discussion threads. I've rearranged that initial page so it no longer has comments)

I doubt the purpose of Ms. Beck's book is to "wreck the church," to use the language of an earlier poster on this site. The church is much to large and powerful to be "wrecked" by a single book written by one woman anyway. Once Martha Beck's book hits the stands, the Mormon church and its supporters will fight back with a vengeance, using all of the media tools at their disposal, to attack Martha's character and highlight (and likely overstate) any flaws and contradictions in the book, no matter how insignificant.

Regardless, Martha Beck's book will strike a chord with members who have been suspicious of various church doctrines. And for some, the book may be the final motivation to leave the church.

The Mormon church is filled with members who are quietly suspicious about the church and its leaders, but suppress those suspicions out of fear of criticism from other members, and fear of the unknown. The church is very effective at creating a baseline of groupthink among its members- sure, the church likes to think of itself as promoting education and independent thought, but NEVER let those thoughts get to the point where you actually question the "truthfulness of the gospel" or the judgment of the church's highest leaders. Those, of course, are absolute truths that can NEVER be questioned. And for members raised in the religion, it is difficult to imagine what life would be like outside the church. The church and Mormon culture foster this fear by promoting stories of the sadness and hopelessness of inactive and ex members. I heard of many such stories before deciding to leave. Interestingly, my years away from the church are far happier than those while I was practicing.

No book is perfect. And I admit that I haven't read Martha Beck's book yet. But, based on what I have read about the book, and about Martha, I believe that efforts by the church and its supporters to destroy Martha's character (i.e.- calling her unstable, highlighting her homosexuality and past eating disorders, etc.) will appear desperate and will anger a large segment of potential readers. Martha is an extremely well educated professor who has taught at the top international business school in the country. She is beloved by Opera, who calls Martha one of the "smarted people she knows." And Martha sits on the board of directors of the Special Olympics, having raised her own son with down syndrome. Nothing about her current life appears in any way to be unstable.

If Martha is like most ex and inactive Mormons that I know, the joy in writing a book like this is not to destroy the church, but to find common ground and connect with others who have quietly shared similar experiences and feelings about the Mormon church. Taking a risk to reach below the surface of Mormon groupthink to discover that "I'm not the only one with these thoughts and feelings" is quite a rewarding experience, one that I have felt numerous times since leaving the church several years ago.

Posted By: Clark | February 27, 2005 11:14 PM

Jake, I rather doubt the book will wreck the church in the least. As I mentioned in one of the current threads, there was a statistic that anti-Mormon materials increased baptisms where there were sufficient Mormons to actually demonstrate what we are really like. While I do think Beck's book will have a negative impact on some views towards the church, I think she is so over the top in some places that the the book will how an opposite effect. The sad thing is that if it has a major effect it may be to make some distrust real abuse when it happens.

Regarding members with "suspicions of various Church doctrines" I don't see how Beck's book will affect that. Becks characterization of LDS theology is so skewed and bizarre that I can't see how any actual member would be affected by the book.

Regarding "efforts by the church and its supporters to destroy Martha's character" - I must confess I don't know what you're talking about. Everyone I know has attempted to be careful and cautious with regards to the book. The fact is that the book is filled with demonstrable lies, exaggerations and distortions. The fact is that several key things were excluded from the book - such as the nature of her therapist, the scientific view of recovered memories, her past abuse at the hands of a neighbor, along with other things. That's not destroying her character but bringing to light facts without which one can't make a fair judgment about the book. Surely, after all, the fact she was sexually assaulted at 9 will have bearing on how we view the sole "evidence" for her claims?

As for the homosexuality, the only reason that was brought up is because someone who was a homosexual and married to an other homosexual in an extremely conservative religious town will obviously have issues because of it. The homosexuality has nothing to do with it. However if you are a young woman in the 1970's going to Provo High, trying to fit into Mormon culture and you're really trying to repress your homosexuality, surely that affects how you'll view the culture, your parents, and the Church. I don't think the homosexuality as homosexuality is relevant in the least except to provide some reasons for why Beck might say the things she does. The fact she wrote a book on how homosexuality could be cured (secretly being autobiographical) suggests there was a lot going on psychologically. I personally don't think for most people homosexuality is "chosen" as such. So I can truly understand that must have evoked a lot of trauma.

Same with the eating disorders. The only reasons these are brought up is because it is quite clear Beck has emotional problems. But that's not a shock since the book itself spends its time going over her emotional problems.

If you think this is not about attacking the church but just sharing views, well, I'm afraid I'll have to differ. If that was all it was about then she would have written the book in a very different way.

Posted By: Clark | February 27, 2005 11:36 PM

Bob, just a few comments on your post. First off, I'm not sure Nibley's "literalism" can be discussed unless we are able to understand what it means. From my reading of Nibley's earlier works, I don't think he means literalism the way say an Evangelical means it. In any case, I honestly don't see how that is relevant.

Your insinuation is that you believe Beck is correct in the following. Nibley in reading through Egyptian texts he didn't think were Christian or Mormon in any way, but was looking for general mythic patterns, decided instead to take Egyptian texts literally the way a Biblical fundamentalist did. He then decided to recreate an act from Egyptian mythology, combining it in some bizarre way with the Abraham story.

That's simply so hard to buy, and so incredibly unbelievable on the surface of it, that I think that anyone claiming this ought to have some evidence for it. Same with the claim that Nibley was emotionally distraught because he thought the story of Abraham was illegitmate.

Beck's argument (and apparently yours) is that (1) The Book of Abraham is false. (2) Nibley knew it was false. (3) Nibley had a nervous breakdown because of it. (4) Nibley's "literalism" entailed taking Egyptian myth literal the way a Biblical literalist does. (5) This led to recreating the story of Min in contradiction to all the LDS ethical teachings about sexuality.

Here's the problem. Outside of memories that appear in part of have developed from self-hypnosis under the guidance of a very controversial therapist, there is no evidence for any of this. Further the sole source for the claim is found in a book filled with distortions, demonstrable lies, and questionable aims.

There is a big difference between eccentricities of a professor who clearly liked to play up that role and between taking some bizarre Egyptian myth not only literally but as something one ought perform.

With regards to any libel case. (I don't know if there actually will be one or not) I don't quite see what relevance apologetics has. For instance, can you explain how the exact date of when Nibley found out about the papyri relates to the abuse? It seems beyond irrelevant. Certainly Beck is making use of the Egyptian myths in her memories. I'm even willing to be kind and grant that Beck probably didn't consciously make the whole thing up. But the issue isn't whether Nibley studied Egyptology. He clearly was studying under Egyptologists. The issue is whether he raped his daughter while suffering mental insanity. The trappings are relevant only in that Beck claims he made use of them. But I don't think the fact Nibley studied Egyptian is even in question.

Now I do think that people who dislike strongly Mormon apologetics and Nibley in particular hope that this will all affect LDS apologetics. But I really don't see that the two are related.

BTW - Klaus Baer is dead.

Posted By: Clark | February 28, 2005 12:08 AM

As an aid to those reading Bob McCue's comments, here's the letter excerpt he quotes. (I'm quoting from McCue's post to the ex-Mormon list since they don't appear keep the posts online long - otherwise I might quote some of the things said back in the beginning of February that I read regarding Nibley there)

"Note: On 31 July 1967, Sterling McMurrin wrote Hugh about plans for "a piece on Mormon philosophy" that he was working on that would feature the views of Orson Pratt, W.H. Chamberlin, B.H. Roberts, E.E. Erickson, Hugh Nibley and W".P. Read. McMurrin invited Hugh to list "those writing which you regard as most effectively representing your position with respect to philosophy matters in general and in particular the philosophy of religion" or to "jot down a few paragraphs that epitomize" his position. So far as I know, McMurrin's essay was never completed, but this letter was Hugh's response." (p. 427)

"My present religious mood is an all, out literalism. If the history of Christianity has been one long undignified retreat, one continual process of accommodation to the science of the hour (Whitehead), the time has come to reverse the process, since the science of the hour has brought us to a most dismal slough in which it is no delight to dwell (Kozyrez). If the discussion is to be kept alive, it must move away from its old perennial game of de-mythologizing and de-eschatologizing, in the opposite direction, which I call de-rhetoricizing. So today, just for kicks, I read the Scriptures AS IF everything in them was meant to be taken in the most literal sense, as if no such thing as a symbol, allegory, or type even existed. And in doing that I find that there begins to build up within my personal computer a mass of data that has a totally different power and thrust from anything I have know before. Granted that the new deposit in its naive literalism will in time need radical correction, still I'm convinced that the correction will not have to be nearly so radical as that required by the opposite view - that of the doctors of the church, who insisted in reading the scriptures as if nothing in them was to be taken literally, and instructed their students never to give a literal interpretation to a passage if any other interpretation was possible."

I think Bob plays down that "as if" comment along with Nibley's comments that he doesn't take the naive literalism as something correct - merely as a strategy of seeing things that the de-mythologizing trends miss. (I suspect he's thinking of many attempts at de-mythologizing the NT that were popular at the time and fairly controversial) Further, once again, the issue is how to take Nibley's comments. The way Bob takes them is rather difficult for me to swallow. Especially since it involves neglecting rather straightforward LDS scriptures in preference to Egyptian texts Nibley does not feel are scripture.

Posted By: Jake | February 28, 2005 12:44 PM


I'd like to see your statistic that "anti-Mormon materials increased baptisms where there were sufficient Mormons to actually demonstrate what we are really like." Growing up in the church, I always heard the same thing. But I've never seen any actual "statistics" on the issue.

Again, admittedly, I can't comment on the book's content, because I haven't read it yet. But, I've recently read quite a few things about Martha Beck and her history. Thus far, I see no reason to doubt her credibility. The character issues that you and others have raised hardly speak to Ms. Beck's stability as an adult. Many well-adjusted female adults endured an eating disorder as a child. And while a closeted homosexual growing up in conservative Mormon Provo will undoubtedly suffer emotional problems, a confident, open, adult homosexual, who is no longer ashamed of her sexual identity, and who lives and works in a tolerant environment, is not likely to experience the same problems. My absolute favorite professor, who was also loved by the students, was a homosexual who was extraordinarily well-adjusted in her relationships with other students. Moreover, the effect of Martha's single incident of sexual abuse as a child, by another child, in which penetration never occurred, likely pales in comparison to the allegations of sustained abuse against Hugh Nibley. And how in the world does this incident have anything to do with Martha's decision to "leave the saints?"

Quite frankly, asserting unproven vague references to alleged emotional problems by Ms. Beck as part of an attempt to attack her credibility is unfair, considering that, to at least some extent, MOST Americans have suffered emotional problems during their lifetime. Ironically, according to one recent statistic, Utah has a higher per-capita rate of anti-depressant use than any other state in the country. (

You refer to "Beck's characterization of LDS theology" as "skewed and bizarre." I'm interested in reading exactly what she has to say. I grew up in the church in a family whose Mormon roots, on both sides, extend back to the 1800s. I have ancestors who were secretly married in polygamous unions by church leaders down in Mexico AFTER the Church announced that it was no longer performing such marriages. Much of LDS theology is "bizarre." I've read other books by former members that provide substantially accurate descriptions of LDS theology and culture, based on my own experiences, family history, and research. Like Ms. Beck's book, those books were also criticized by the Church and its supporters as falsely portraying the Church's teachings. When I was on my mission, investigators often questioned me about the Church's more "bizarre" teachings that didn't surprise me, because I learned about them growing up. I understand how the church sets out to sugarcoat, misrepresent, or under the principle of not "casting pearls before swine," conceal some of the more bizarre teachings and cultural aspects of Mormonism from investigators. So I'll comment on Ms. Beck's characterization of Mormon doctrine after having read the book.

Regarding your claim that the book "attacks" the church, I don't doubt that, in the process of telling her story, the book raises serious issues regarding the church's teachings as well as its prominent leaders (especially her father). But attacking a religious institution, its belief system, and its leaders, in and of itself, is not wrong. My view is that the Mormon church, just like all other organized religious organizations, is a man-made institution. And NO man-made institution is above reproach. Historical and doctrinal inconsistencies within the most powerful institution in Utah that has a wealth of media, political, and financial resources SHOULD be attacked.

I don't care whether or not the net effect of Martha Beck's book is a gain or loss in membership. But, for those members like myself who grew up questioning the church and its doctrines and leaders, and who ultimate reached an unbearable state of cognitive dissonance involving their own TRUE feelings and beliefs vs. those promoted by the church, it helps to know that other members have made the same discoveries.

Posted By: Clark | February 28, 2005 02:05 PM

Jake, Beck's book documents many of the emotional issues she faced. She claims in the book it was due to the abuse which she "recalled." My point is simply that these issues have other possible explanations, such as a strongly repressed homosexuality and her documented abuse by neighbor while 9. It seems rather relevant to judging the book and hardly the character attack you assert. Further the family asserts that Beck was frequently hospitalized for effects due to emotional distress.

I think it a fair criticism to bring up points that the author brings up in the very book under discussion.

I think the one thing most people on both sides of the issue can agree upon is that Beck is not the well adjuster person you suggest she might be.

With regards to LDS theology, I can but say that I have read the book and listed many mistakes. There are numerous more I could have listed. The issue isn't whether non-members find LDS beliefs odd. Any religion will seem odd to people outside the religion. That's as true of Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Evangelicals, or Unitarianism as it is of Mormonism. The issue is whether people fairly represent the religion. I don't mind people who disagree with my beliefs or find things odd. It's that misrepresentation that bothers me. I think when someone who was actually a member intentionally misrepresents the beliefs it is even more unfair. At least non-members have some basis for misunderstanding the faith. I listed several egregious mistakes and distortions Beck made here. If you disagree with my characterizations you're more than welcome to respond there after you read the book.

For the record, Nibley isn't an LDS leader. He's a significant scholar and apologist who is Mormon. But so far as I know he's never even held a leadership position at the local level. He's definitely well respected. But that's an other issue entirely.

Posted By: marion | March 01, 2005 05:09 PM

Interesting reading..being a member of 40 yrs and a convert,I thoroughly enjoy Nibleys writings,interlect and wanting of more knowledge.and will miss knowing there wiil be no more.

Most households have some form of disfunctal families,so why not Nibleys? With a large family of my own grown, all are different all see their growing up life diferently.what amazes me is is there some truth to church histories being hushed up in writings/truth?...there are some things that I dont believe such as the reason for excomminication of George P Lee.but I dont live in Utah.People bringing guns to church..this amazes me.

but within my soul I know the Gospel of jesus Christ is restored and that is was by way of Joseph Smith

Posted By: bob mccue | March 01, 2005 06:51 PM

Clark, one of the reasons I was prepared to post to your site is that you have evidenced the ability in the past to discuss potentially emotional topics without becoming overly emotional in response. Since we have made it thus far in a civil tone, I will continue.

You and I don't disagree as to our definition of literalism. I do not allege that Hugh was as literalist as some fundamentalists are. And I fully appreciated the meaning of the words "as if", as well as his later indication that he did not think people have to use anywhere near as much metaphor as they think to get the pendulum between literalism and realism back to where it should be from the pure literalism with which he read the scriptures as his starting place.

As to why this is relevant, I note the following. Hugh was charged with the task of defending the Mormon interest while the first real translations of the JS papyrii were being done. While I can't site chapter and verse for you here, I recall that he came up with a variety of bizarre arguments in favour of the BofA that were based on its text (including some kind of a hidden code in the hieroglyphs) and then he eventually retreated to a position that said that JS was "inspired" by the funerary text he was looking at and received revelation related to Abraham as a result. Hugh, to my knowledge, has never taken the position that the story of Abraham as JS delivered it in the BofA is a metaphor. As far as Hugh is concerned, the whole thing really did happen, although he eventually abandoned his position that the JS papyrii had anything to do with Abraham other than being an inspirational aid.

The question then becomes, why did God choose to use pictures of Min, among other things, to inspire JS about Abraham by depicting events that Abraham actually experienced in Egypt? And why did God choose Min to represent Abraham? Did that representation mean something beyond what JS told us in the BofA? JS may not have known who Min was, but God did (or so Hugh believed). I think it fair to assume that someone of Hugh's intellect would have wrestled with these issues.

So, who was Min and what did he stand for? What is there in the pattern of Min's symbology and mythic behaviour that might evoke Abraham? This leads quickly into the well-trod path relating sexual acts and death. Martha obliquely alluded to this without referencing either Min or her father's literalist phase. This is such fruitful territory for her that I have to assume she was unaware of the things I am putting on the table.

It is easy to find rich parallels between Min's incestuous "sacrifices" of his family members and Abraham's almost sacrifice of Isaac. And what of Abraham's deceptive indication that Sariah was his sister instead of his wife? Hints of incest there. For a master pattern recognizer such as Hugh Nibley, there is a lot of material to work with here.

On the basis of the record I have reviewed, I can't say that Hugh Nibley went down this path. I am prepared to say that it is highly probable that he did, in my view. And I would love to see his private papers on this point. That is what lawsuits are for.

The next question is how was Hugh affected by the task he had been give to defend the LDS position on the BofA? At a minimum, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems to me that we must admit that he was the man at the wheel when the air was let out of that Mormon myth. I do not say that the BofA was "falsified" from a Mormon point of view. I mean the Mormon myth regarding the BofA was radically changed for the few Mormons who paid attention to this saga. I am using the term "myth" here in its technical sense.

JS did not translation the JS papyri in any ordinary sense of that word. That much is clear. As an aside I note that his use of the word "translate" with regard to both the BofA and BofMormon is interesting in light of the data produced by a number of academic disciplines relative to the BofM.

In any event, the results of the expert translations of the JS papyrii were far from "proving" JS to be a prophet, seer and revelator (ie. Translator of ancient records) as many Mormons anticipated would be the case when word that the JS papyrii were "found" in 1966 got out. Hugh was the damage control guy. His task was to "spin" the information that he probably knew not later than 1962 was going to come from that academic community with regard to the BofA so that it did as little damage as possible.

I am well acquainted with the mental process that occurs as we work ourselves from the position we assumed would prevail on some important issue, or were told must prevail, to the best position we can credibly defend based on the evidence before us. I go through that on a regular basis as a lawyer who is assigned his position by his clients. The more important the issue, the more mental stress is caused as the evidence grinds away at the "reality" we have been told to defend. I think it is fair to assume that this was a brutally difficult period of time for Hugh as a result of the degree of his belief in Mormonism, which I do not for a second doubt. He was not a pretender.

In sum, based on what I have just said and Martha's evidence, I do not find her story far fetched. To be clear, that means that it is not in the realm of alien abductions or the most bizarre of the satanic ritual abuse cases. In a libel case, I would expect a court to listen to her story and then look in the direction of the other side with some anticipation to see how that story would be countered. This is a serious case, and its success will depend entirely on how well Martha can corroborate her story with real evidence.

I don't understand where you got the following from what I said in my initial post:

Your insinuation is that you believe Beck is correct in the following. Nibley in reading through Egyptian texts he didn't think were Christian or Mormon in any way, but was looking for general mythic patterns, decided instead to take Egyptian texts literally the way a Biblical fundamentalist did. He then decided to recreate an act from Egyptian mythology, combining it in some bizarre way with the Abraham story.

I agree that such a position would be hard to buy. Hugh Nibley was trying to rationalize the BofA in the manner I indicated above. That was his assignment given by the Mormon leadership. I do not have evidence that he was distraught as a result of this process. That is a critical element of Martha's case, and hence she will be enabled by the legal process while defending a libel suit to gather whatever evidence she can in that regard. If her family, presumably on behalf of Hugh's estate, launches this case, they open up all of Hugh's records for scrutiny by doing so as well as inviting all those who worked with him to provide testimony under oath.

I don't think you characterize Beck's argument (or mine) very well. You appear to wish to create a straw man. You say:

Beck's argument (and apparently yours) is that (1) The Book of Abraham is false. (2) Nibley knew it was false. (3) Nibley had a nervous breakdown because of it. (4) Nibley's "literalism" entailed taking Egyptian myth literal the way a Biblical literalist does. (5) This led to recreating the story of Min in contradiction to all the LDS ethical teachings about sexuality.

I would recharacterized the argument as follows:

(1) The Book of Abraham is not a translation in any ordinary sense of that term of the JS papyri.

(2) This was at odds with the prevailing LDS belief during the 1960s, and amazingly still is.

(3) Nibley was charged with the responsibility of defending Mormonism's interests as the academic community pronounced its views regarding the BofA in light of its reading of the JS papyri.

(4) Nibley knew that the BofA was not a translation of the JS papyri, and had to find alternative explanations for it.

(5) Nibley came to believe that God inspired JS to write the BofA and that it records real events in the life of a real person, Abraham.

(6) Nibley believed that God used well understood aspects of Egyptian mythology, including the incestuous god of fertility Min, to inspire JS in this regard and that Min was somehow linked symbolically to Abraham since God used Min to represent Abraham.

(7) Nibley was unstable as a result of stressful experiences as a war veteran.

(8) Nibley was further destabilized as a result of the stress caused by his defence of the Mormon faith during the BofA debacle.

(9) Nibley was psychologically predisposed to sexual dysfunction as a result of having abused sexually by his own mother, another bizarre Min-like connection.

(10) Nibley stopped having sex with his wife after his youngest child Zina was born, over a year before the alleged abuse began.

(11) Nibley had displayed dissociative behaviour on many occasions, and particularly during the early morning hours when much of the abuse is alleged to have occurred.

(12) Nibley went into a dissassociative state during which he was influenced both by the bizarre material related to Egyptian mythology in which he was immersed and the other forces noted above to abuse his daughter Martha. No conscious act on his part is required.

(13) As a result of the foregoing, we should take seriously Martha Beck's allegation that her father abused her.

The only evidence for any of this at this point is Martha's word. If a lawsuit proceeds, she will be provided with the opportunity to collect such evidence as is available to support her case. That is what lawsuits do force people to collect evidence to back up their claims. If don't want to have evidence collected, you don't start a lawsuit.

I agree with you that Beck's book displays many examples of hyperbole. I am prepared to assume that this tendency is carried into the claims related to the sexual abuse. That is one of the reasons for which a lawsuit would be particularly interesting.

I hope what I have just written illustrates why the nature of the intellectual terrain over which Hugh as walking is of critical relevance to a libel suit. I do not doubt that it would be considered relevant by a court.

I am sorry to hear that Baer is dead for a variety of reasons. His papers would, however, be available for a critical review.

As to the nature of recovered memories, you did not characterize that at all as Martha did. You seem to have ignored her story entirely in favour of the way her siblings have told it. Martha's story (as per the book) is that she recovered this memory as a result of attending a group therapy session that her husband John was running. She was an academic observer, not a participant. The stories of abuse she heard there knocked her out literally. She does not mention self-hypnosis. She does not name her therapist. All of this is relevant, and would be fleshed out by a lawsuit.

A lot has been written about unreliable recovered memories are. The leading expert in this area is Elizabeth Loftus. Her website is at In addition to showing how unreliable such memories are, such has also showed that in some cases recovered memories should be taken seriously. Here is some of the text produced by the clinical psychologist to whom I referred above.

"Elizabeth Loftus is the pioneering cognitive psychologist responsible for studying memory, and especially memory implantation. Her work in this area is the standard of the field, is of exceptionally high quality, and is extensive. You'll hear about her in introductory psych. classes, and if you took a cognition class, you'd end up studying her work extensively. She is the person who developed a laboratory model for inducing false memory and showed how EXTREMELY easy it is to induce many types of false memory, especially memories for which a person already has a likely cognitive script or "schema" to rely upon for constructing a false memory. She also showed that, in terms of implanting the memory of an anal enema, she could not falsely implant that memory in A SINGLE subject. Not all memories are equally implantable. However, it is ethically irresponsible to implant memories of sexual abuse (the anal enema study was meant to be the ethical approximation, and is the only empiric attempt to directly address that question), so that is an empiric question that will remain unanswered.

"In terms of ethical therapeutic behaviors you are correct. We are TRAINED to never push for memory recovery, b/c of risk of false memory implantation. B/c, whether or not the memory is false, if you remember being abused it hurts you, and it is a therapist's responsibility to "do no harm." There are a small number of irresponsible social crusaders out there, masking as therapists. I am not one of them.

"In general, any memories that are spontaneously recovered are statistically as likely to be accurate to the same degree as any other memory, which is to say, only somewhat accurate. However, memories of traumatic events usually have an accuracy that exceeds that of other memories. Memories of trauma are also more enduring than other memories. And there are certain aspects of traumatic memories that have been empirically shown to have nearly perfect accuracy, such as a "weapon focus" in a memory. This speaks to a smaller percentage of false positives [memories of things that did not happen, or "FPs"] in memories of sexual trauma, albeit indirectly.

"There is a lot of very accessible empirical literature regarding this issue, and I encourage people to read it, as it sheds light on this debate.

"In the end, when all the literature on the issue of recovered memories of sexual abuse is taken into consideration it is likely that there are thousands of [true positives recovered memories of things that did occur or "TPs'] for every one FP, and that the general public's perception of this ratio is highly skewed. In general, it has been empirically demonstrated that people have a tendency to believe that a particular case involves a FP rather than a TP, due to cognitive bias toward victim blaming, in an attempt to feel safer about their personal worlds. This bias has led to many social and legal barriers for victims of abuse. While you are mathematically correct in stating that it is a given that there is a non-zero quantity for FPs in abuse memory recovery, the FP is VERY low when compared to FPs in many other disciplines. The fact that we place such emphasis on the existence of FPs in the instance of sexual abuse memories, and not on, say, FPs in memories of burglary (which are alarmingly more common, and empirically well demonstrated, again refer to Loftus for more on this) is more indicative of social bias, and social dysfunction than on the real statistical occurrence and social impact of FPs in sexual abuse memories.

When we compare the statistical likelihood of FP memories of sexual abuse, with the statistical likelihood of TP memory being disbelieved, I think it is clear that, as a society, we are worrying about error in the wrong direction. I would propose another matrix. On one axis, we have TPs and FPs. On the other axis we would have whether the person was believed or disbelieved. How would your mathematical analysis speak to that?"

Here are a few other quotes from this psychologist that are worth considering.

"And, having worked with a client or two who repressed memories of abuse, I want to throw in my two cents on this issue. I NEVER push clients to "recover" their memories. Memories like that are repressed for a reason. Uncovering them b/f a client is ready to remember on his or her own can retraumatize and victimize the client. Maybe I suspect that a client has a hx of abuse, but if he/she doesn't indicate it, then I don't push for it. However, I've seen it emerge unexpectedly a couple of times. It's terrifying for the client, and I've never seen such instances result in accusations or persecution/prosecution of the abuser.

"There seems to be this perception in our society that there are a significant body of crazy women running around pointing fingers at innocent men, accusing them of sexual abuse. This attitude suggests that men are extremely vulnerable and are the frequent victims of false accusation.

"In fact, 1 in 3 to 1 in 4 women are victims of sexual abuse by the time they reach college age. If a women claims to have been abused, even though statistically there is EVERY reason to believe she is telling the truth, she will be placed under intense social scrutiny and sanction. Overwhelmingly, women DO NOT make false reports of sexual abuse, b/c there is NOTHING that a victim really gets out of a report except harassment. It is rare to hear of cases where the report was definitively false. So rare there are only a few well-documented cases of this to examine.

"It is, however, EXTREMELY common for the abusers to deny the abuse. They ALMOST ALWAYS do. And, consider that few reports are ever made (1-2% of abuses are reported), and of those reports only a small percentage result in prosecutions (like 1-2%) and of those cases prosecuted only 1-2% result in convictions. Trust me, it is much more the case that, as a society, we are protecting the abusers, and not that we are believing false accusations.

"And even if a person is med compliant, delusional thinking will still occur to some degree in most people suffering from psychotic D/Os. That why psycho educational oriented therapy is usually indicated. While I appreciate skepticism, I tend to like my skeptics better informed.

"Hx of sexual abuse is hardly the root of the most of the problems for which people enter counselling. It's just REALLY common so I (and any therapist with training in an APA accredited program will verify this) can count on about 25-40% of my female clients have a hx of sex abuse. And about 10-20% of my male clients will have a hx of sexual abuse. It's just REALLY common, and that has NOTHING to do with my personal biases.

"In a study conducted at my university (not by me, but by one of my cohorts), all male introductory psychology students were surveyed regarding whether or not they had engaged in behaviors that are defined as rape/sexual abuse. Of about 1000 students surveyed, about 200 indicated they had sexually victimized another person, and about 100 of those student participated in further research in that area. Amazingly (or not, if you are familiar with this area), not a single student believed he had committed an act of sexual abuse, although he reported committing an act that would be defined that way. And SEVERAL students in that population reported that they were "falsely" accused of sexual abuse/assault, even though by their own admission they had committed such an act.

Not a single student in the initial survey who did not report committing an act that could be defined as rape, reported being falsely accused of it.

Just food for thought. The study will be published in a journal in the next year or so."

End of quoted material.

All the best,


Posted By: Clark | March 01, 2005 07:52 PM

Bob, it seems the fundamental issue is what literalism means. If, by literal, you simply mean "largely historical" then that's fine. That's how I take scripture as well and I suspect that is what Nibley believed. However when you take the next step to "why did God use pictures of Min" then you've made a huge leap. First, why do you assume anyone including Nibley thinks God did this? Why is the archetype or character of Min somehow inspired? I don't see how that follows, even in Nibley's texts. It seems Nibley's argument is more that such figures are more akin to how we use arbitrary signs in any linguistic system. Thus to make the assertion that God chose the Min symbol rather than a human chose the Min symbol requires additional argument. Arguments you've not provided. Instead you've simply gone with the symbol and presented negative connotations. Further you are now mind reading Nibley. As you say, "I can't say that Hugh Nibley went down this path." However you do say it is highly probable. But what is the basis for this mind reading?

That's the problem. You assume how you read these things is how others read these things. When an ex-Mormon applies the oft abused term "cognitive dissonance" for instance, what it typically means is that because they can't reconcile two ideas they assume no one else does. In effect it is mind reading by looking at ones self. That is not a very charitable way to interpret. (And is why most appeals to psychology ought not be trusted in these matters)

With respect to the Egyptians, certainly there are incestuous myths in Egyptian mythology. That's partially why I suspect Beck brought up the idea. She had, after all, done the illustrations for one of Nibley's books and undoubtedly picked up some of the mythology. The problem is that you have to establish what Nibley believed, not how one can via a strained series of circumstantial steps arrive at some idea. You've not even established that Nibley considered the Egyptian texts "correct" let alone binding on him religiously. Indeed if you read much Nibley you'll note that he's familiar with many texts from the near east. The problem for Beck and your theory is that he considered them apostate. What you have to establish is that Nibley thought as you do - that he didn't think of them as apostate.

Outside of Beck's dubious claims, can you provide any textual evidence for this? No, and you admit it. You simply believe it for personal reasons. Which is fine. Keeping to my principles of not mind reading I'll not speculate as to why you believe it. I'll simply hope that you aren't believing this wild reasoning because you want it to be true.

With respect to Nibley in the late 60's you are once again engaging in mind reading. What evidence do you have that it was a problem for Nibley? Certainly what you outline and what you later attribute to Beck is possible, in the loose sense. But is it probable? Is there evidence for it beyond Beck's claims? From his writings there don't appear to be any. For all their flaws, many of his theories are still embraced today by apologists. What I suspect is going on again is that you are judging events by how you would think and extending these beliefs to Nibley by extension. In effect, Bob McCue's or Beck's personal beliefs become the standard to judge others. But is that fair? Ought claims about the beliefs of an other person be so interpreted?

This is why, when examining such things we have to discuss evidence.

With regards to not finding Beck's claims far fetched, I can but wonder what you will think after you read the book. It seems to me that any book that engages in extensive falsehoods, exaggerations, and misleading presentations and then makes a controversial claim, that the claim is inherently suspect. Now it certainly is possible that an emotionally unstable person due to abuse would engage in such behavior. But we can't justify Beck's failings on the basis of what her book attempts to establish. On the face of it the claims have to be interpreted on the basis of the evidence she puts forth. And her presentations are so out of line, that it is simply difficult to take them seriously even without knowing what others say about the events.

Certainly those who can't understand how a Mormon could rationally believe what they do will read attacks on Mormons differently than those either believing Mormons or people with fewer preconceptions. Just as I've noticed people who have been abused instinctively assume Beck is correct, simply because it resonates with how they view the world. And, to be fair, there will be many Mormons who irrationally cast the claims out of hand simply because they don't want them to be true. However I think we can apply reason in a fashion that doesn't simply engage in assuming our conclusions or reading our own assumptions into an other.

With regards to your other claims, as you know your (1) is controversial because you don't acknowledge the vagueness in the term "JS papyri." What papyri? Do we have it all? More importantly to the discussion at hand, what did Nibley believe? There are different apologetic views here. You err in not acknowledging the range of beliefs (presumably interpreting LDS beliefs in terms of your own). I don't want to get into a debate of the Book of Abraham and papyri as it is rather tangental to the discussion. The point is that your assumption can't be held with respect to Nibley's mind.

With regards to (3-5) I should note that Klaus Baer provided Nibley with the obvious logical choice - that rather than purely focusing in on the papyri whose connection to the Book of Abraham was not obvious one should focus on the internal nature of the Book of Abraham. While not neglecting the papyri, Nibley clearly did this from an early point and found numerous unexpected positive parallels for the Book of Abraham. So where was the stress?

With regards to (5) I don't think that is clear at all. I don't recall Nibley ever claiming that the papyri was merely a catalyst to a new revelation with the Book of Abraham having no connection to the papyri. Far from it. You'll have to back that up. Once again the issue isn't whether Nibley was correct in his beliefs but what his beliefs were.

With regards to (6) I noted the problem earlier. The problem is that you misunderstand the function of signs in any sign system.

With regards to (7,8,9,10,11) while they are key to Beck's argument, there are compelling reasons to find them false. As you say, the only evidence for all this is Beck's word. There is, however, considerable evidence against it. (Not to mention the purely fantastic nature of it all) The fact is that (1-11) are problematic when we start examining the public evidence. When we consider that the only support for them is someone who makes numerous false statements throughout her book, why should we take her word for it?

With regards to Beck's claim of how memories came back, you are right that I am including the families claims as well.

With regards to false memories, you might wish to also read my comments here.

Getting back to your beliefs, I suppose the issue is why you think this probable? Is it because it fits your preconceptions of how Mormons deal with what you believe about Mormon beliefs and texts? Or is there something else?

Posted By: bob mccue | March 02, 2005 11:18 AM

Clark, we have probably taken this discussion as far as it can be profitably taken. I am not trying to change your mind, and by the time I have finished this post I think you will have heard my entire position. Yours is set out fully above. So let me make a few concluding points.

You must have missed my opening comment that I too have carefully read the book. I have had it for about a month.

You seem to have missed my indication that I too was put off by Martha's use of hyperbole, both positive and negative. Her description of how wonderful her ward in Provo was when she and John moved back there was as unrealistically positive as her assessment of life in Boston was unrealistically negative. I am prepared to accept her as one of those people who perceives best (or perhaps only) the brightest, most dominant colors and currents in her environment and has everything she perceived coloured by that. I note that a friend with a lot of clinical counselling experience emailed me yesterday the message that survivors of childhood sexual abuse often display this very characteristic. Nonetheless, I accept that Martha's writing suffers from a skewed perspective, and hence should not be swallowed whole. That is not, however, a justification to dismiss her story. But it is reason to pay close attention as the evidence comes in that may either support or not what she has to say.

You seem also to have missed the point I made several times that for now, Martha's statements form a theory (which I outlined in my second post above), and the sole evidence supporting that theory is contained in her statements. Much of this does amount to speculation as to the state of Hugh's mind. To what extent was he stressed by the BofA defence? To what extent was he stressed by his war experiences? To what extent was he stressed by his literalist beliefs (and what were those beliefs)? To what extent was he stressed by his view that sex was for the purpose of procreation and the fact that he and his wife had finished procreating (and hence finished having sex?) over a year before his alleged abuse of Martha started?

Some of the evidence, however, does not relate to Hugh. Where did Martha's vaginal scarring come from? Did a doctor at Harvard think she was not a virgin at age 17? Did Martha's mother guess without prompting from Martha that Hugh sexually abused Martha? Did Martha's mother regularly speak about Hugh's probable sexual abuse at the hands of his mother? Did other people infer the same thing about Hugh and his mother? There are a host of facts to be pinned down, and many potentially relevant sources of information. And it is my experience with law suits that when one really starts to dig, all kinds of unexpected information (both pro and con any given position) pops up. For anyone interested in Mormon apologetics, a Nibley Beck libel lawsuit is likely to produce a treasure trove of information.

Once the degree of Hugh's mental dysfunction related to factors such as those outlined above is pinned down to the extent possible, the next question is how (if at all) these factors contributed to the bizarre behaviour Martha alleges he displayed (putting the sexual abuse allegation for the moment). Did he in fact have regular dissociative episodes at about 5 am? Did he have many dissociative episodes related to his war experience? Did Martha's mother share her concern with other people about Hugh's sexual abuse at the hands of his own mother with the frequency Martha alleges? etc.

A lot of data would have to be gathered to assess the merits of Martha's claims, and the merits of her family's dismissal of them. Much of that data will be in Hugh's private papers and the heads of his family members and those who worked with him on the BofA project.

A consideration of the cognitive dissonance research is relevant to this discussion for many of the same reasons it is relevant to Mormonism at large. You seem to understand that this phenomenon exists, since you had a Hegel quote at the top of your site when I signed on for the first time the other day. I think it went, "We do not want a thing because we reason; we find reasons for a thing because we want it. Mind invents logic for the whims of the will." Hegel's observation is borne out by the recent study of cog dis.

Martha's family has a huge investment in their father, emotionally abusive though he seems to have been. It is well known that the most vigorous defenders of abusive husbands are the wives they abuse, until a point of critical mental mass is reached and the women in question become able to understand what has happened to them. Until this happens, they are not able objectively process their own experience. The recovery of repressed memories is a common almost routine part of a woman (or child) getting into emotion and psychological space that permits the reality of certain experiences to be processed. Our minds are set up to protect our sanity by simply blocking certain things from understanding. The literature on sexual and other forms of abuse within families is replete with data that supports this position. However, if required under oath to probe their memories the Hugh's family may well produce objective data that other, less biased, observers will interpret quite differently than they do.

Mormonism has a huge investment in Hugh Nibley. The faithful Mormons who worked with him are in a position similar to his family members, and under the probing of a good lawyer may well also produce objective data that outsiders will interpret quite differently than would the faithful.

If a lawsuit comes of this, it will be an interesting microcosm of the overall Mormon debate. With regard to Mormonism in general, the same objective data regarding the BofA, BofMormon, JS's history of deception etc. is put on the table before both Mormons and non-Mormons. Almost all faithful Mormons dismiss all of this information that conflicts with the version of early Mormon history in which they believe, which is radically different from the objective facts laid out in a probabilistic fashion to the extent the best historians can so lay them out. A small percentage of faithful Mormons actually take the historians story seriously and wrestle with it, and most of them accept the Mormon apologists' positions (like the JS papyrii inspired JS to receive revelation from God as to the real story of Abraham in Egypt). And, a small percentage of the faithful to encounter the objective facts regarding JS, the BofA, etc. decide that Mormonism has been falsified to their satisfaction, and move on with their lives. Precisely the same pattern of behaviour is observed with many other conservative religious groups, such as the FLDS, JWs, Seventh Day Adventists, Moonies, etc.

And how do non-Mormons respond to the Mormon story, as the historians tell it? I am not aware of a single non-Mormon who when presented with the entire story has accepted it as "true" and joined the Mormon Church. There are likely a few somewhere who have done this, but for every one of them there are at least thousands who dismiss the story as ridiculous. Mormons make themselves feel better about this by speaking about the lack of faith; the sinful nature; etc. of those who cannot understand the "truth" of Mormonism. But when one looks at the big picture pattern of religious belief and related behaviour, it becomes clear for most people (me included) that Mormonism is nothing special. Just another little religion that was started by a charismatic, smart guy and then used by those who came after him for their own purposes. Those who are sufficiently socially conditioned believe the story their social group tells, and almost everyone else gives the whole thing an eye roll or nervous laugh. This story is as old and as common as dirt.

Faithful Mormons who are trying to assess Martha Beck's story would do well to remember two things related to what I just wrote. First, they have such a huge investment in Hugh Nibley that they are as likely to objectively assess Martha's story about him as they are to objectively assess Joseph Smith's story. That is, this is a matter of faith for them, not a matter of finding out what really happened. Your emotional response, Clark, to Martha's story is in my view indicative of the cognitive dissonance that you are likely dealing with related to Mormonism.

And most importantly, the jury at a libel trial related to Martha Beck's allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of Hugh Nibley will not be faithful Mormons. They will not wear the magic worldview glasses that cause most Mormons to either believe that it is impossible that JS was a deceiver of the first order or that if he was a deceiver, it was because God told him to deceive. That is as far as the vast majority of non-Mormons get with this story. There is a big eye roll at this point, and it is "game over".

The jury at any Beck-Nibley libel trial that occurs will be neither Mormon nor anti-Mormon. The jury selection process will be drawn out as both parties try to find people acceptable to the other and hence not obviously biased one way or the other. A jury so composed will likely find Martha's theory fascinating, and if she is able to bring evidence to support a reasonable part of her theory as I have outlined it, there is a very good chance that jury will find that it is more likely than not that she was sexually abused by he father and so her defence will be successful. The jury will not be incapable of conceiving that Hugh abused Martha as are most Mormons for the same reason that most Mormons are incapable of conceiving that JS may have been just have another con man made good whose power base was then taken over by other people who have used it for their own purposes.

Joseph Smith became an icon; a myth; used for the purposes icons and myths are always used to attract, retain and harness the energy of people who need meaning and social stability to make sense out of life. Hugh Nibley has become an integral part of that mythmaking process, which is ironic given his many writing that have attempted to tar others with this brush (see "The Mythmakers", for example).

I, for one, would love to see how the myth of Hugh Nibley would fare under the bright lights of a well-funded lawsuit. And, because of the intimate connection between Hugh Nibley (the ancient records expert) and Joseph Smith (the translator of ancient records), the myth of Joseph Smith would receive a prominent second billing at a Nibley Beck libel lawsuit. That I also think would be healthy.

How did Rueben Clark put it? Something like "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed."

All the best,


Posted By: Clark | March 02, 2005 04:05 PM

My apologies for not realizing you'd read the book. I'll confess that you're the first person I've encountered who has read the book and not found Beck's trustworthiness questionable. Certainly I found the book believable on a first reading until I started going through all the claims and exaggerations. (Several other people, such as Tania Lyons had similar experiences)

The issue isn't just hyperbole. A little hyperbole I could handle. However I think the claims Beck makes goes well beyond hyperbole. I did catch your comments on that, but I think you missed the problem that her entire trustworthiness is in question. Certainly one might say, well if she was abused then she might be unable to write rationally. I'd buy that except that the book is so well written. One would think that the author of a controversial book would recognize she'd be taken to task on such matters. But if we justify the falsehoods on the basis of claimed abuse, then how are we to determine if their was abuse? It seems that we are caught in a circular trap. Anything that undermines Beck's claims can be cast aside because of Beck's claims.

Regarding Beck's theory and her claims being the sole evidence for that theory. I did agree with you there. However I think we must then take the next step and examine the theory for internal consistency, consistency with known facts, as well as the claims of other purported witnesses. That's what I'm doing. And Beck's claims, already made problematic purely from within the book, become even more dubious when one examines the public evidence.

Regarding some of the actual external evidence Beck claims. I agree that the vaginal scarring is key. The problem is that Beck left out her earlier rape by a neighbor. That affects how we view that evidence (and seems a key fact that ought to have been revealed to the reader). Second Beck's husband disputes this. He was at the examination and says, on the record, "Martha never claimed the doctor saw scars. He just asked what kind of contraception she'd been using up to that point. When she said she wasn't having sex, he gave her a disbelieving look." (Peterson, 17) He further said that in a later exam in Provo the doctor didn't notice any scars. So the husband who was present disputes Martha's claims.

The other points you raise, such as whether Nibley himself was abused, are of course disputed. The problem is that all we have are claims by Beck while the claims we can check out don't check out. At what point does Beck become untrustworthy as a witness? Further, given Beck's age during the period of the time she claims Nibley had the breakdown, how is she a witness at all? i.e. on what basis is she making the claims about Nibley's mental state in the 1960's? Especially since she gets so many facts there demonstrably wrong. (i.e. the ability of Nibley to get a job being a pressure)

With regards to the claim that the church has a large investment in Nibley. I don't think that accurate. Let's be honest. Nibley wasn't a leader. He was a scholar. Even if all the things Beck writes are true, it doesn't affect the church much beyond allowing anti's to use ad homen criticisms to try and reject Nibley's arguments regarding LDS scripture. Even there, however, most apologists have moved on beyond Nibley. The arguments further fall or stand on their own weight. So this is quite different from say a significant LDS leader. Further few Mormons have even read Nibley. It seems like Nibley is very important to people caught up in apologetics or critics, but realistically it isn't much of an issue. Heavens, my wife had no idea who Nibley even was.

Many people in the church like Nibley. But that's really a very different situation than what you assert.

I should also add since some readers might not be aware, that several of Nibley's children aren't Mormon. Beck's husband is no longer Mormon either. So they don't have this bias to support the church. Beck's husband in particular is a rather telling witness given how much he disputes of Beck.

You write, "your emotional response, Clark, to Martha's story is in my view indicative of the cognitive dissonance that you are likely dealing with related to Mormonism."

Bob, no offense, but this is exactly the kind of mind reading I took exception to in your earlier posts. You look at the data in terms of how you see it and assume others see it the same way. Thus what might for you be "cognitive dissonance" you assume must apply to all others. This is the greatest weakness in your perspective and, I think, underlies your own view of Beck. Because you believe there is this notion of cognitive dissonance underlying all Mormons aware of the data, you honestly believe that all intellectual Mormons already are suffering a kind of emotional disturbance or even mental illness.

For the record, my emotional perspective on all this is grave sadness for Beck. It sounds like she actually is suffering emotional problems. I wish she hadn't lashed out in this fashion. While I am angry at the events I am far from angry at Beck. I feel very sorry for her. That's why I'm refrained from writing a lot that I could have. What I've written I've primarily written because Beck's book will have an effect on others. It has already hurt her family tremendously. It's disruptive to people who respect Nibley, but that's really less of an issue, in my mind. But it does bother me when someone can put this many demonstrable falsehood in a book and a publisher not care. (It seems very hard to see that the publisher did any fact checking at all)

And most importantly, the jury at a libel trial related to Martha Beck's allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of Hugh Nibley will not be faithful Mormons. They will not wear the magic worldview glasses that cause most Mormons to either believe that it is impossible that JS was a deceiver of the first order or that if he was a deceiver, it was because God told him to deceive.

Bob, while I understand as an anti-Mormon all things come back to Joseph Smith on this, in any libel trial Joseph Smith won't be the topic at all. The topic will be Beck and her claims about Nibley. Joseph Smith doesn't appear to have anything to do with this. I'm not sure why you even bring it up. I recognize that your views on LDS theology tend to make you think we're all suffering mental illness, but we're not. Further, just as any jury won't be Mormons who presume de facto truthfulness of LDS religious claims, neither will they be angry ex-Mormons who think Mormons are all confused, emotionally damaged dupes, and instinctively assume apologists are deceivers. Rather any trial (if there in fact is one) will be conducted on evidence and argument. And thus far Beck doesn't have much by way of evidence while the family appears to have a lot.

As to a jury finding Beck's theory fascinating, I think any jury would not have the presumption of mental illness in Mormons. Thus to them, the theory you and Beck present would seem like something out of the X-Files. Beck's consistent lying and exaggeration will further make her a disreputable witness. I'm sure the comments on the record towards her by the judge in Arizona will come up as well, where he basically accused her of dishonesty.

While I'm sure that you wish Joseph Smith to "receive a prominent second billing" the fact is that Joseph Smith is very irrelevant to all but anti-Mormons who bring all things to their conception of what Mormonism is. Certainly I agree that truth can't be harmed by investigation. It appears, however, that thus far you don't want to examine the claims of Beck. Rather you wish to stay with an unexamined model in which intellectual Mormons all suffer "cognitive dissonance."

Posted By: Anna | March 02, 2005 05:20 PM


At the risk of sounding like I'm trying to read your mind (which I, too, attempt to avoid), I think you seem very interested in the mere possibility of a lawsuit. For instance, you state that "Having Phyllis Nibley and Martha's siblings tell their story in this regard and seeing it tested under cross examination would paint a fascinating picture" (comment on Feb. 27) and that you "would love to see how the myth of Hugh Nibley would fare under the bright lights of a well-funded lawsuit" (comment on Mar. 2). However, as you acknowledge in your first post, this situation is a tragedy, and I hope that you will always keep that in mind as you contemplate a lawsuit. These are real people. It might be fascinating for you to hear more about these allegations and their family and religious context, but it will be painful for this family. Indeed, it already has been extremely painful for them. Clark has rightly pointed out that this is not primarily about Joseph Smith, Mormon apologetics, or the Book of Abraham. No, this is about a family dealing with grief, a father who sorrowed over a child he loved, and a daughter bearing great emotional burdens. This is a tragedy through and through.

Posted By: Jenn | March 11, 2005 03:34 AM

Good call Anna. We should not forget that this deals with real people who have real heartaches over these matters.

As much as I am also curious to see if there will be a lawsuit or not and how it will come out, I must say that it really is not my personal business whether Hugh Nibley abused Martha or not. If he did, it was wrong. If he didn't, I hope his good name gets cleared.

I hope that Martha and her family members can get through this tough time with as little pain as possible on both sides and if they all want to avoid a lawsuit then I hope that they can work things out in some way that they won't have to go to court.

Honestly, that issue is not for bystanders like me to decide--but since the book has been published and released to the public, I feel that whether or not the general public believes Martha's inaccurate depictions of LDS members and culture can personally affect a lot of people.

Regardless of whether anyone outside the church agrees with any of the church's teachings, it would be nice if they could learn that we are not any crazier than any other group of rational people who practice a specific religion because they believe in it. Anyone in the church who does not think and decide for themself what they can believe is not taking the advice that church leaders (and yes, missionaries--I was one and I know what they are told to teach people) repeatedly give: to learn, then consider, then pray about whether church doctrines are true.

Contrary to what some people (even some in the church) believe, the LDS church does not want members who blindly follow without thinking for themselves. The church wants members to follow teachings as a result of personal conviction of truth. It is about the spiritual progression of each individual that really only comes with sincere application of truths that are accepted by conscious choice and a desire to truly understand.

Posted By: Joe | May 28, 2005 06:34 PM

As far as we know through Martha Beck's book, her father commited just that one insane act. If I'm to believe it happened, I sure would like to have had her recount many others. Sure, I suppose it's possible that one can commit just one act of madness, and never do anything so crazy again, but how likely is it? How could one be so consumed with religious zealotry one moment, then apparently just snap right out of it?

Posted By: Joe | May 29, 2005 02:40 PM

A follow-up to my previous post:

Did Martha Beck allege she was molested by her father more than once?

Another point: toward the end of the book, I recall her writing that the thing she fears most is not being believed. If that's so, I would think that she would go to extraordinary lengths to strenghten her case. Why, then, hasn't she allowed a doctor to affirm that the scars are really there?

Posted By: Clark | May 29, 2005 10:59 PM

I'd have to check to be sure, but by memory I seem to think she indicated it went on for a few years. As I recall this was one reason the family objected, given the nature of the house. As for the latter, I believe her husband rejects Beck's account of the meeting with the doctor. But as for not allowing a doctor to affirm the scars are there - that is more than a little invasive. I can certainly understand her position there. I should also add that she asserts that the assault by the neighbor did not involve actions that could have produced scarring. Presumably the police account would deal with that, but once again I can fully understand that being too invasive.

Posted By: denise | June 04, 2005 01:01 AM

as one who is has experienced what Martha claims to have, (mine was a foster brother) and is a practicing LDS member- I question her motives. Why wait to release this information publicly, AFTER the death of her father, when he can not defend himself? What a rape victim wants is validation, and I think she is doing this to gain public sympathy for her accusations, because she certainly isn't getting it from her family. And as for the scarring, I went to two different OBGyn's to verify; so, I am hesitant to believe anyone that has not been COMPLETELY thorough before slinging accusations that could destroy someone's credibility....

Posted By: Joe | June 04, 2005 01:16 PM

Clark, I agree that doctor's examination can be invasive, but Martha Beck didn't say that what she feared most was invasion of her privacy. She said what she feared most was not being believed. If that's true, than that fear would trump her fear of losing some of her privacy. It's nearly impossible to believe that Martha would willingly expose herself and her large family to this type of negative publicity and humiliation, but yet not be willing to have a doctor confirm the scarring. It just doesn't compute.

After reading the book, I was about 95% convinced that her father had abused her. After reading some of the comments in this, and other, forums, my mind has been changed.

Posted By: Lindsay | October 14, 2005 05:10 PM

I am disgusted at how much credit the Mormon church gives men before women. Haven't you swept enough trash under the ever rising Mormon Historical Rug? I see no empathy in these postings whatsoever- the writing in Beck's book was as open and raw as the wounds her father inflicted on her. And when she turns to heal those sufferings to what she knows best, The Mormon Church, look at what you do. Deny, deny, deny and place guilt, guilt, guilt. My, the Mormon system has been perfected. May the Lord bless you Martha Beck, we need more strong women in the Mormon Chruch.

Intelligence is not a measure of a man, but how well he raises his family. *oh and just a note, just because a man has sexual dysfunction doesn't mean he can't physically sexually abuse his victims.

Posted By: ray | December 12, 2005 09:41 PM

Just finished reading MNB's book "Leaving the Saints", along with the above comments, with particular attention to "Clark" and "Bob McCue" and others. My background is as a non-Mormon who loves Utah geographically (NPS and USFS for five seasons at GCNRA and Ashley NF), dated a Mormon girl in good standing for a while, loves much of the goodness in the peoples of Utah, but can't quite buy the whole religious thing (no playing favorites here. I gave up being Baptist as well). I am also one who in his professional life has been exposed to the gray zone of recovered memories and False Memory Syndrome (as a physician) oft times with no clear resolution, as I suspect I will once again not have in this case. I always err on the side of belief in the abuse because of the possibility of harm in trauma repetition of the "non-belief" of authority figures.

Being a "gentile",I certainly had more leeway to enjoy reading the book and found much to be coherent with my own experience. However, my bodily response when I hit the "revelation" of the nature of sexual abuse was one of sadness, a sinking feeling inside, a kind of murkiness that I have experienced before when trying to parse the "truth" from the possible distortion of recovered memories. The thoughtful observations of Ms. Lyon in her Sunstone book review were noticed by me on first reading and still are bothersome.

An incoherency that I have not seen mentioned yet is MNB"s clearness of the recovered memory contrasted with the total lack of recall of her father's anger at her which her siblings recall quite clearly (Ch 19, p. 125 ".....I never remember seeing my father angry. That in itself is strange, because my siblings have told me that he always had a violent temper, and that I was one of his favorite targets........ I do remember that my father broke my little sister's collarbone in a fit of pique when she was about two years old,.....") This statement for me is a red flag as it is so dissonant, certainly not one that I would expect a trained Harvard sociologist to make.

The theory of repressed memories lies in the assumption that the person must do so to maintain some sense of psychic functioning when no other option seems available to them. NOT to repress would lead to such internal chaos as to shatter the individual into an irretrievable psychosis. Thus, repression is an adaptive phenomenon allowing a young being with limited capabilities to survive the unsurvivable. The question that then naturally arises for me comes from the following reasoning. By MNB's own acknowledgement, her awareness of her father's anger is still "repressed" despite her having witnessed him breaking her younger sister's clavicle. As such, there still must be a strong intrapsychic threat to the remembrance of his anger. In fact, one interpretation would suggest that remembering the anger is actually a greater threat than that of remembering the actual sexual trauma. And I wonder what that threat of remembering her father's anger might be?

I find much of MNB's life story to be inspiring. That she has suffered from some sort of trauma and deserves compassion is not to be doubted. Whether the remembrance is utterly true or distorted by severe emotional pain, both scenarios shout of suffering. I find my response to be similar to when I first read "The Man Who Listens to Horses" by Monty Roberts, an incredibly moving tale presented as truth by a very talented horseman known to the international horseworld. The book actually had to be reclassified as fiction by the publisher when the facts were checked, including, interestingly enough,the "fact" of a very abusive father. A relative even wrote a rebuttal book, similar to MNB's family.

Because I am not overly concerned with the details of religious doctrine (all religions have their dogma)and I feel, like Martha, that God is God no matter how we as humans interpret "him"), I will hold close to my heart that which I feel to be "divinely" inspired or experienced. That which does not "burn within my bosom" I will chalk up to the human psyche's incredible capacity for creativity in surviving an often contradictory and crazy world.

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