Insights: An Ancient Window
The Newsletter of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies
The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, in collaboration with Brigham Young University and the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation in Jerusalem, has undertaken the production of a comprehensive electronic database of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) and related materials on CD-ROM. The database will greatly increase the availability of essential research materials to scholars and students of the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other related literatures.
When completed, the database will constitute the first major contribution of the LDS community to the larger world of Christian and Jewish scholarship on the Bible and related literatures. It will eventually be linked to a comparable database of Book of Mormon materials for students of the Book of Mormon.
The idea for the database began in discussions between members of the board of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, particularly Truman Madsen of BYU and Weston Fields, executive director of the foundation. They recognized that such a database could aid scholars in the study of the scrolls, and when Madsen pointed out the software development resources at BYU and in Utah County, he was asked to make contacts here to see if such a project could be developed.
The database will eventually contain all the essential materials that scholars will need for DSS research and will make them available instantaneously and in a fully indexed and linked format on screen. The database will improve scholarly access to these materials in two ways. It will give each scholar full access to materials now scattered in many locations and not fully available in any one place. Even more importantly, it will make it possible for scholars to answer questions about these texts almost instantly, and for the entire set of texts. The kinds of searches and comparisons of words and phrases that can take weeks or months when done without a computer can be performed in fractions of a second with the electronic database.
The scholars who have so far published volumes on parts of the scrolls have had to work without access to other scrolls for comparative purposes. When this database becomes available, that isolation will cease to exist.
The database will be built around computerized transcriptions of the scrolls, which are about 80% available now, but will become available in their entirety during the course of the project. Transcribing the scrolls is the most demanding stage of scroll studies because of the deteriorated condition of most of the scrolls.
The three most important components of the database will be the transcriptions of the scrolls, translations, and photographs. The transcriptions will appear on screen line by line, in the same format as the original scrolls. Translations will be linked to the transcriptions, in a line-by-line format, and each column of transcribed text will be linked to the photograph of that section of the scroll, reproduced as a high-quality image on the screen. Thus transcription, translation, and photograph can be displayed simultaneously in separate windows on the same screen, linked together so that as the researcher moves from place to place in any one window, the display moves to the corresponding place in the other two.
In addition to these three primary components, the database may contain Old Testament texts in Greek and Hebrew, the Greek New Testament, the Pseudepigrapha, the Apocrypha, and other related documents from the biblical period (with links later to a similar Book of Mormon database).
It will contain reference works, including lexicons and concordances. It may also contain important commentaries on any of the primary documents. For any of the primary documents, it may also contain alternate versions of transcriptions, translations, or photographs, to the extent these might be helpful to students and scholars. Translation aids can also be made available on screen.
Users will be able to create files of their own notes and comments and link these to lines of text for linked display and revision. Users can also add any texts that they wish to the database and generate the same kinds of concordances and links that the basic database contains.
All the text materials will be fully indexed, allowing user-defined searches for any combination of words or letters in selected ranges of texts or in the entire database.
With the vigorous assistance of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, F.A.R.M.S. is currently negotiating for rights to the various materials that will compose the database. Once it is determined what the precise source for each component will be, the full cast of collaborators can be made public.
The overall management and financial responsibility for this project will rest with F.A.R.M.S., which will distribute the product on a noncommercial basis. Noel B. Reynolds, F.A.R.M.S. president, serves as overall director of the project. Hebrew scholars and F.A.R.M.S. board members Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks serve as technical director and consultant, respectively. Weston Fields, executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, coordinates contacts with Dead Sea Scrolls scholars and others who will contribute to the project in various ways.
Brigham Young University’s participation consists primarily in providing software services and support and campus facilities and services to the database team. The database will use the new Windows version of WordCruncher, a BYU-developed program for the manipulation of texts on screen with capabilities in multiple language scripts. James Rosenvall and Monte Shelley are the principal developers of the software. Daniel Bartholomew and Jason Dzubak are the programmers assigned to this project.
It is projected that the first edition of the database will be available in approximately two years. Progress is contingent on funding, the cooperation of a multitude of key people, and success in resolving any technical problems that may arise. The software package already exists and will only require modifications to fit the particular product.
Weston Fields recently visited F.A.R.M.S. and BYU, where he reviewed the project and presented a public lecture on the scrolls. Stephen Pfann, DSS scholar and director of the Center for the Study of Early Christianity, located in Jerusalem, will make a similar visit in November in connection with his own collaboration with this project. In February, Emanuel Tov, professor of Bible Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Editor-in-chief of the DSS publication project with Oxford University Press, will also visit Provo to review the project and present a F.A.R.M.S.-sponsored lecture (February 21).
Over 300 people gathered on October 30 to enjoy dinner, speeches, and association with friends old and new at the annual F.A.R.M.S. banquet. The featured speaker was Elder Dallin H. Oaks, who gave a major address on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. He described the strong position enjoyed by scholars willing to entertain evidence from both reason and faith, stressing the complexity and consistency of the ancient record. He challenged assertions of biblical criticism and pointed out that even if rational arguments about the historicity of the Book of Mormon should result in a draw (for lack of clear-cut evidence), the result would be satisfactory, since revelation can resolve the deadlock. We plan to make his remarks available soon.
John W. Welch of the board of directors shared personal reflections on 14 years of F.A.R.M.S. projects and activities—and the people and ideas that have made them possible. Noel B. Reynolds, president of the Foundation, reported on current projects, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls database and the Wadi Sayq expedition.
Long unseen by LDS scholars, an 847-page typescript entitled The Truth, The Way, The Life by B. H. Roberts will soon be published by BYU Studies. Roberts worked on this treatise mainly in 1927-1928, but he was still revising it in 1932, so it contains some of his last words written for publication; he died in 1933.
Because this manuscript has long been known only for its few controversial pages on the creation, it comes as an unexpected bonus to learn that it repeatedly asserts the antiquity of the Book of Mormon. While such affirmative statements may seem perfectly unremarkable, it is precisely their routine orthodoxy that makes them so notable. Coming from one of the great intellects of the Church, whose views about the Book of Mormon supposedly became more intellectually sophisticated in his last years, these unequivocal statements will disappoint anyone who has imagined Roberts as a closet doubter or late-in-life skeptic.
These statements should especially tell us how Roberts really felt about the Book of Mormon after he wrote his "Book of Mormon Study" in 1922. That work identified several Book of Mormon problems and called urgently for further study. Some have seen that work as evidence that Roberts had changed his views (see Dialogue (Fall 1993): 77-86), but in light of the newly released manuscript, we now can determine that Roberts did not waver in his belief.
First, in the newly released treatise, Roberts describes the miraculous coming forth of the Book of Mormon in strong, straightforward, traditional terms. For example:
Three years after this first revelation an angel of God named Moroni was sent to the prophet to reveal the existence of an ancient volume of scripture known as the Book of Mormon, a book which gives an account of the hand-dealings of God with the people whom he brought to the continents of America from what we now call the "Old World." (TWL 47-7)
He affirms that "Joseph Smith was commanded to translate, and was given the power and means by which he could translate the unknown language of these ancient American peoples" (47-7).
Second, the manuscript contains several statements that necessarily assume the antiquity and literal truthfulness of this ancient American scripture. For example, he speaks literally of the words that the resurrected Jesus "said to the assembled Nephites to whom he appeared on the Western Continent" (48-7, 8; 39-2, 4). Indeed, Roberts believed that "no incident in the gospel history is more emphatically proven than this great truth, the resurrection of the Son of God" (39-14), and he used as his key witness "the appearance of the resurrected Christ to the Nephites" (39-14).
Third, Roberts often identifies Book of Mormon prophets by the ancient centuries in which they lived. Lehi, he says, lived "before the birth of Christ, early in the fifth (sic) century, B.C." (40-10). He identifies a prophecy in the book of Alma as "one written near the close of the second century B.C." (40-10).
Fourth, Roberts goes out of his way to describe the book’s authors as "ancient." He calls Lehi "an ancient American Prophet" (7-10). He cites "revelations of God to the ancient inhabitants of America" (29-1). He calls the book "the American Volume of Scripture" written by "the old prophets of the ancient American race" (27-3).
Fifth, he treats many of its passages as the unique, authoritative source of revealed knowledge on important topics. He takes joy in drawing attention to doctrines "derived almost wholly from the teachings of the Book of Mormon" (44-15).
He extols it as a masterful work. Of a Book of Mormon reading he exclaims, "how beautifully clear this principle of purity in thought is set forth" (50-6). To Roberts, the four standard works were "all of equal authority, all of them dependable sources of knowledge" (29-2).
In a handwritten note on his third draft of this volume, Roberts penned the following note: "add ‘other sheep I have’ -Christ mission to Western continents. St John 10 ch" (18-13). This note was added as Roberts went through the manuscript for the last time.
Can there be any doubt that the man who wrote such words about the Book of Mormon believed it to be what it claims to be? If he had harbored any doubts, would he have repeatedly written such words in The Truth, The Way, The Life, which he hoped would be his magnum opus? Surely this final treatise from the prolific career of B. H. Roberts should also be the final word on his profound belief in the truth of this "ancient volume of scripture known as the Book of Mormon."
Based on research by John W. Welch
Did the people of the Book of Mormon have temples as we know them? What did their temples mean to them, according to the Book of Mormon account? These and many other questions receive careful treatment in "The Temple in the Book of Mormon: The Temples at the Cities of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful" by John W. Welch, which is available as a preliminary report on the order form in this issue of Insights. In final form, it will be included in Temples in the Ancient World, which will be published by Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S. next spring.
Welch first turns attention to the religious setting out of which Lehi and Nephi came and which provides a necessary background to understanding temples in the Book of Mormon—"the law of Moses, sacrifice, and certain Israelite concepts that Lehi and Nephi would have understood and embraced in terms of their prophetic knowledge of the plan of redemption through the atonement of Christ."
With this background, Welch then discusses the three temples at Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful, with emphasis on texts delivered at the temple or that contain the most sacred teachings of the plan of salvation, conveying "divine powers through ceremonial or symbolic means together with commandments received by sacred oaths that allow the recipient to stand ritually in the presence of God." These texts include 2 Nephi 6-10, Mosiah 1-6, Alma 12-13, and 3 Nephi 11-18.
For a number of years F.A.R.M.S. has devoted attention to an issue of considerable importance for the Book of Mormon: what were the number and nature of contacts between the Old World and the Americas before Columbus? John Sorenson in particular has contributed to the discussion of this issue, most significantly in his publication (with Martin Raish) of the two-volume, annotated bibliography, Pre-Columbian Contacts with the Americas across the Oceans.
Sorenson has brought to our attention a recent issue of the Biblical Archaeological Review that revisits one piece of evidence in this controversy, the Bat Creek stone. The review published an article by J. Huston McCulloch, "Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?" that argues that the stone contains a Hebrew inscription predating Columbus, thus supporting the conclusion that significant contacts between the Old and New Worlds did take place before the seventeenth century. Another article by P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., "Let’s Be Serious about the Bat Creek Stone," argues that the stone is a hoax and that there was not likely any pre-Columbian contact of any significance.
We are making available online a reprint of both articles to bring you up to date on this issue. With the reprint we will send you a brief introduction to the controversy and what it means for an understanding of the Book of Mormon, written by Stephen D. Ricks, and a chapter written by Cyrus H. Gordon, reprinted from By Study and Also by Faith, that also discusses the stone.
The Religious Studies Center at BYU sponsored a conference on Joseph Smith at the dedication of the new Joseph Smith Building on campus. Organized by Susan Easton Black, associate professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, the conference was well attended and well received. Papers delivered at the conference have been published by the center and Bookcraft, and F.A.R.M.S. has arranged to reprint one of the chapters that particularly sheds light on the Book of Mormon.
Larry C. Porter, professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, discusses "The Book of Mormon: Historical Setting for Its Translation and Publication." Porter has consulted numerous primary sources, some contemporaneous with the publishing of the first edition, and his analysis provides many interesting details, especially about events surrounding the publication. This reprint is available on the order form—and, like any scripture-related book from Bookcraft or Deseret Book, the book itself, Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, can also be ordered at a discount from F.A.R.M.S.
If your study of the Doctrine and Covenants in Gospel Doctrine class this year has lead to greater interest in the life and mission of the Prophet Joseph, you will find this essay very useful.
By special arrangement, the most recent issue of BYU Studies is available through F.A.R.M.S. This outstanding publication contains several articles that will be of great interest to F.A.R.M.S. readers.
The lead article, by Dr. Wilfred Griggs and the members of the BYU-Egypt archaeology team, reports for the first time in print their latest findings. From an early Christian cemetery has emerged unique new evidence of violent persecutions of Christians during the late Roman Empire and also well-preserved examples of significant religious burial clothing. Moreover, state-of-the-art techniques for extracting and analyzing DNA from royal mummies have allowed the team to discover valuable information about the identity of these mummies, as well as their familial relationships and genetic characteristics. The article is heavily illustrated with color photographs of artifacts, mummies, and burials. Since reprints of this article will lack the vivid and stunning value of the color prints, you will not want to miss this opportunity to obtain an original copy of the publication.
The second article in this issue of BYU Studies is by Dr. Stephen Jett, Professor of Geography at the University of California at Davis. Also extensively illustrated, this article discusses numerous evidences of transoceanic cultural exchanges between Asia and the Americas before Columbus. Jett also examines the presumptions for and against cultural diffusionism.
Other items in this issue of BYU Studies include articles, poems, book reviews, the 60-page-long 1992 Mormon Bibliography, as well as a neuropathological study of several events reported in scripture, such as the decapitation of Shiz in Ether 15:30-31.
The enclosed order form may be used either to order single copies of this issue or to subscribe for all four issues of 1993, which will include this issue.
In 1982, Erich Robert Paul published an article in BYU Studies entitled "Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library." Essentially Paul shows that, while Joseph had potential access to a wide range of books there, "it is likely that during the 1820s he simply was not a part of the literary culture." This article has long been available as a F.A.R.M.S. Reprint.
Because Joseph Smith spent little time, however, in the Manchester/Palmyra area from 1825 to 1829 (he moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1827 when he and Emma married), the logical extension of Paul’s study is to ask the further question, "But was there a library in Harmony, Pennsylvania?"
Even more significant than the information environment of Palmyra was that of Harmony. If Joseph Smith had wanted to do any kind of research while he was translating the Book of Lehi onto the 116 pages in 1828 or while he was translating the bulk of the Book of Mormon during April and May, 1829, he would have needed to use libraries or information sources in or around Harmony where he was living at the time.
Harmony was a small town on the border between the states of New York and Pennsylvania. The region was very remote and rural. Recently we asked Erich Paul if he had ever explored the possibility that any libraries existed around Harmony in the 1820s which Joseph Smith might have used. He responded:
"In fact, I checked into this possibility only to discover that not only does Harmony and its environs hardly exist anymore, but there is no evidence of a library even existing at the time of Joseph’s work."
Accordingly, those who have considered western New York as the information environment for the Book of Mormon may be 120 miles or more off target. One should think of Joseph translating in the Harmony area and, as far as that goes, in an information vacuum.
Even if Joseph had wanted to pause to check his details against reputable sources, to scrutinize the latest theories, to learn about scholarly biblical interpretations or Jewish customs, or to verify any Book of Mormon claims against the wisdom or theologies of his day—even if he had wanted to go to a library to check such things (something he showed no inclination to do until later)—there simply was no library anywhere nearby for him to use.
While this is only a piece of circumstantial evidence for the Book of Mormon, it is still a piece. Perhaps a significant one.
"The world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experiments, as they did Moses and Elijah."
—Times and Seasons, 3 (September 15, 1842): 922, quoted in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, comp. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 267.
Students and teachers, academics and nonacademics, professional people and retirees—the contributors to the Fall issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies reflect a variety of backgrounds and interests, bound together by their shared commitment to the value of the Book of Mormon and their desire to plumb its depths.
Copies may be obtained using the order form. The table of contents printed below indicates the range of topics considered, including historicity; the theological, ritual, cultural, linguistic, literary, economic, and historical trajectories of the Book of Mormon; the Book of Mormon in the modern Church; and perspectives on the on-going polemic against the book.
In addition to speaking at firesides periodically in the Salt Lake and Provo areas (call for details), scholars associated with F.A.R.M.S. are sometimes invited to travel to more distant locations to conduct firesides for interested friends of the Foundation. In October, Truman Madsen spoke at a successful F.A.R.M.S.-sponsored fireside in San Diego, on which we will report in the future. In the coming weeks, F.A.R.M.S. will sponsor the following firesides:
"It would be hard to imagine two cultures more opposed than our own and that of the Indians." These words summarize a central argument of a new paper by Hugh Nibley. In October 1992 Nibley gave a challenging and insightful address at the Bill of Rights Symposium sponsored by the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU. It has been published as "Promised Lands" in the Clark Memorandum by the Law School and is available as a reprint from F.A.R.M.S.
Focusing on the Hopi Indians as an example, Nibley discusses the "colossal culture gap" that exists between Indian culture and mainstream American culture and illustrates the problems that Indians have experienced—misunderstandings, manipulations, and broken promises. Mormon culture is not exempt from his criticism of the treatment of Indians. He believes that many Indians "no longer consider the Mormons their friends."
Because of their lack of sympathetic treatment of Indians, "the Mormons are regularly given a black eye . . . a black eye they would not deserve if they would only pay a little more attention to their scriptures." This introduces Nibley’s second major argument: "There is one common ground, one common need, between us and them, and it is the Book of Mormon." He discusses Indian beliefs and practices that are closer to the teachings of the Book of Mormon than is American culture, and he argues that we must learn from the Indians ways of thinking and acting more in harmony with those teachings. As he concludes, "If we are to be saved we must move in their direction."