There are many Nibley-o-philes who harbor an obsession with his extraordinary intellect. He knew lots of languages and was an incredibly creative thinker. He was on the cutting edge for many in his time by paying attention to otherwise obscure texts. All this is quite admirable, but it’s time to move on from this particular fetish.
First, though Nibley was smart, so are lots of people. Lots and lots of people. In fact, the overwhelming majority of really really smart people aren’t Mormons and don’t agree with him. Being brilliant and influential doesn’t mean you’re right. Otherwise, Aristotle would be right, Kant would be right, Heidegger would be right, and al Gazali would be right. Rather, it is okay to disagree with smart people, as long as you provide a smart argument. If you want to defend Nibley, you have to provide a smart argument, not mention that he was smart.
Second, Nibley was a product of his time in two ways. First, he was influenced by mid-century intellectual currents, methodologies, and questions. Second, he was limited by the state of the research in his day. For instance, the Nag Hammadi texts and Dead Sea Scrolls had just been discovered and beginning to be translated. Scholars were just beginning to understand (and still are) and seriously research these materials.These limitations on Nibley’s scholarship do not undermine completely his innovations, but they do require current readers to approach his work critically with an awareness of his place in history, and the history of scholarship.
This responsibility is a great one for those who desire to utilize Nibley in public and online disputations, nevertheless it is a requirement. Whether it be early Christianity, temples, ancient near eastern history, 1960s political liberalism, and even Book of Mormon studies, these conversations have progressed in spite of Nibleys smarts, and so must we.