Insights: An Ancient Window
The Newsletter of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies
One of the best ways to learn more about Nephite society and better appreciate the richness of the gospel in the Book of Mormon is to study the speech of King Benjamin. "Benjamin's Speech: The Ninth Annual FARMS Symposium on the Book of Mormon" will feature papers on this marvelous sermon from six knowledgeable and notable LDS speakers. The symposium is scheduled for 13 April 1996 in the BYU Joseph Smith Building auditorium, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Afterwards an open house will be held in the new FARMS offices at 551 East 870 North (maps will be provided at the symposium).
"Except only the words of the resurrected Christ, no text had greater influence upon the Nephite world than did King Benjamin's speech," says John W. Welch, BYU professor of law and one of the organizers of this year's symposium. "If the Book of Mormon is one of the world's most influential books, that makes Benjamin's speech one of the world's most important religious texts."
The keynote address, entitled "King Benjamin's Sermon: A Manual for Discipleship," will be given by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Other presenters will include Stephen D. Ricks, M. Catherine Thomas, Hugh W. Nibley, Terrence L. Szink, and John W. Welch.
"It has taken modern readers over 150 years to appreciate the depth and profundity of this masterful discourse. We still feel like we are only scratching the surface," says Welch. "Benjamin's speech captured the spirit of his civilization and charted the course for all its subsequent ideals. No text is more thoroughly Nephite than Benjamin's speech. It is the paragon of Nephite religion and sacred literature."
"The coronation of kings was the ideal time for covenant renewal in Israel, and Benjamin took the coronation of his son as the opportunity of a lifetime to infuse truth and righteousness into the souls of his people," says Stephen D. Ricks, professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and associate dean of General and Honors Education at BYU, who also helped organize this year's symposium.
We invite you to enjoy this day feasting on the words of Christ as delivered by King Benjamin.
The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies is in the last stages of negotiating an agreement with Oxford University Press and E. J. Brill (in the Netherlands) to jointly publish The Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library. The FARMS Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Database, currently under development with technical assistance from BYU, will be published as volume 2 in the series. Volume 1, a collection on disk of high resolution digitized images of some of the nonbiblical scrolls and scroll fragments that Oxford has been working on for some time, is scheduled for demonstration at the "International Symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Texts and Technology," a conference jointly sponsored by BYU and FARMS, to be held in Provo this summer. A beta (or test) version of volume 2, which will contain low resolution, enhanced images, transcriptions, translations, and supporting reference materials, tied together with search and retrieval software, will also be demonstrated to the scholars attending the symposium.
Representatives from FARMS—Noel B. Reynolds, President, and M. Gerald Bradford, Director of Research—traveled to Leiden, the Netherlands, in late February to meet with representatives of E. J. Brill and then to Oxford, England, to meet with representatives of Oxford University Press to work out the agreement.
Each of the co-publishers brings valuable materials and services to the joint venture. Oxford contributes, among other things, transcriptions and translations it has published (and will publish) in the official scroll publication series, Discoveries in the Judean Desert, as well as in other titles they have published on the subject. Brill, which has also published many titles on the scrolls, adds some important scroll images, transcriptions, translations, and other reference materials. Both Oxford and Brill will assume primary responsibility for distribution of the reference library.
FARMS brings, among other things, the right to scan all the images of the scrolls presently in the collection of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center, in Claremont, California (now being scanned at FARMS). It also contributes interim transcriptions of scrolls expressly prepared for FARMS by Stephen Pfann of the Center for the Study of Early Christianity in Jerusalem, permissions from publishers (other than Brill and Oxford) and authors to use other scroll transcriptions, and the search and retrieval software. That software is a version of WordCruncher® that is licensed and being adapted by BYU for the special needs of volume 2 of the reference library.
The two-volume electronic reference library will be an indispensable tool for scholars and students of the scrolls and related subjects, giving them easy access to research techniques that were very difficult or impossible before, such as comparisons between scrolls and counts of how frequently words and phrases are used in individual scrolls or all scrolls.
In explaining the atonement of Jesus Christ, King Benjamin pointedly states that in addition to atoning for the fall of Adam, "his blood atoneth for the sins of those . . . who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned" (Mosiah 3:11). For modern readers, the notion of sinning unintentionally may seem illogical. Isn't sin a conscious violation of a commandment of God? If someone transgresses a law of God in ignorance, is there any guilt or culpability that calls for repentance?
Although the modern mind tends to see sin essentially as a bad choice or an evil intent, the ancient mind included many other dimensions in its concept of sin, such as defilement, accident, error, or misjudgment. Impurity could result, for example, from any direct or indirect contact with a corpse, even if the person was unaware of the contact (Num. 19:14). Likewise, mistakenly touching the ark of the covenant was erroneous, even if the person had good intentions (2 Sam. 6:6–7). In Old Testament times, the concept of sin embraced many nuances of erring, disobeying, missing the mark, bending, rebelling, straying, wandering, or otherwise being at fault, whether consciously or unconsciously.1
In Numbers 15:27–29, the law of Moses prescribes what should be done "if any soul sin through ignorance." The transgressor must bring a goat for a sin offering and "the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly" (v. 28). By way of contrast, if a person who "despised the word of the Lord" sins "presumptuously," that person shall be cut off (Num. 15:30–31). Indeed, inadvertence was "a key criterion in all expiatory sacrifice, [for] a deliberate brazen sinner is barred from the sanctuary."2
With this background, we may better understand why Benjamin so expressly stated that the atonement of Jesus Christ would atone for the sins of those who "ignorantly sinned." Benjamin's people would naturally have wondered, as he described the workings of the promised atonement, whether its efficacy would cover all categories of sin or only certain types of transgressions. They were told that Christ's atonement would automatically cover the fall of Adam and sins committed in ignorance. Although modern theologies would think of inadvertent sins as being only marginally significant, they stood at the crux of the concept of expiation and atonement in the ancient system of sacrifices. At the same time, Benjamin also pronounced a resounding eternal wo upon the unrepentant who transgress the law of God knowingly, who come out "in open rebellion against God" (Mosiah 2:33, 37; 3:12). Forgiveness for intentional misconduct depends on a full change of heart.
Moreover, Mosiah 3 recognizes two types of ignorant sins: (1) some people live and die unaware of the will of God concerning them (v. 11) as revealed in the written law of Moses (v. 14) and thereby transgress the law, while (2) other people presumably know the law of God in some form but still commit sins accidentally or in ignorance of the law's true meaning or application.
Interestingly, other ancient people similarly spoke of various types of ignorant sins. The Dead Sea Scrolls punished "a single inadvertent sin" by a small fine (1QS 9:1–2); repeated error was apparently not tolerated. Inadvertence could be due to carelessness or misjudgment, but it could also come from ignorance of the "hidden matters" embedded in the law of Moses known only to the Qumran sect. Of course, one who openly "rebels" against the revealed portions of the law obvious to everyone was very stringently punished (1QS 8:17–18; 4Q159 2–3).3
Unintentional sin was of much greater concern to ancient people than it is to us today. Although we worry very little about such sins, this is only because we know that Christ's infinite sacrifice has atoned for them. Even though we are now less concerned with unintentional sins, Benjamin's words remind us that we should not remain ignorant of or ungrateful for this aspect of Christ's atonement.
3. See Gary A. Anderson, "Intentional and Unintentional Sin in the Dead Sea Scrolls," in Pomegranates and Golden Bells, edited by D. Wright, D. Freedman, and A. Hurvitz (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 55.
Based on research by John W. Welch
Learn about ancient scapegoat rituals on the Day of Atonement; legends of South American Indians originating from the house of Israel; linguistic findings that link Old and New World languages; precedents for Benjamin's speech from atop a tower; a comparison between King Benjamin's tower and Old Testament pillars; and how revelation comes through the Urim and Thummim. It's all in the six FARMS Updates published in Insights in 1995. The collection gathers summaries of the latest Book of Mormon research together for quick reference. It is a great way to introduce your friends to FARMS and to recent developments in scriptural studies. See the online catalog to obtain copies.
On February 23 and 24, the BYU Religious Studies Center sponsored a "Symposium on Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures." Critics raise questions regularly about whether the scriptures are actually historical documents or are instead either frauds or some form of faith-promoting fiction. This symposium, organized by Paul Y. Hoskisson, associate professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, brought together a dozen LDS scholars to discuss the nature of the evidence that supports the historicity of the scriptures.
The papers presented at the symposium are now being prepared for publication. Future issues of Insights will give further information about that volume when it becomes available.
Professor Antonio Loprieno lectured on "Mystery and Initiation in Ancient Egypt" at BYU on 8 February 1996. Loprieno, professor of Egyptology and chair of the department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles, discussed ancient Egyptian initiation rites described in religious writings such as the Pyramid Texts, the Coffin Texts, the Book of the Dead, and a group of texts designated as Netherworld Books. His lectures captured the interest of many BYU faculty members and more than 200 students and other members of the community.
Egyptians believed these rites helped the initiate to progress through several stages in the afterlife that lead to ultimate divinity. Part of this progress, they believed, included passing through doorways after correctly answering questions asked by guardians who stood at those doors.
In the earliest stages of Egyptian history, these rites were limited to the king; later they were gradually extended to the nobility and eventually became more widely available. Loprieno explained that there is good evidence that these rites were not only thought of as taking place after death, but seem to have been acted out by the living as well.
Loprieno also gave a lecture to the linguistics faculty on his book, Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction, published by Cambridge University Press in 1995. The book represents the latest development in understanding the ancient Egyptian language. Its pragmatic, or functional, approach seems to describe the characteristics of Egyptian grammar in a clear and concise manner consistent with current linguistic practices.
Loprieno's visit was cosponsored by BYU Religious Education, the Near Eastern Studies program of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at BYU, and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies.
FARMS is now providing some public libraries and video rental stores with copies of videos, audiotapes, and transcripts of Hugh Nibley's Teachings of the Book of Mormon course videos and the FARMS Book of Mormon Lecture Series, as part of its mission to make Book of Mormon research findings available widely, promptly, and economically.
During four semesters from 1988 to 1990, FARMS helped film Hugh Nibley, emeritus professor of Religious Education at Brigham Young University and one of today's most respected LDS scholar, as he taught an Honors Book of Mormon class at BYU.
The FARMS Book of Mormon Lecture Series, begun in 1995, is a collection of hour-long lectures on the presenters' favorite chapters or subjects in the Book of Mormon. The lectures contain some of the latest research on the Book of Mormon and related topics. Some of the presenters are Richard L. Anderson, Susan Easton Black, Larry E. Dahl, James E. Faulconer, Robert L. Millet, M. Catherine Thomas, several members of the FARMS board of directors, and a number of researchers associated with FARMS.
To date, only Utah libraries and rental stores have been contacted. Check your local business for information and availability.
If you are interested in having one or both of these lecture sets available in your local public library or video rental store, or if you have questions about this service, please contact Janelle or Brent at FARMS (1-800-327-6715).
FARMS has formed two new committees to give the Foundation guidance on nonprint forms of distribution. As opportunities grow to disseminate faithful scholarship on the Book of Mormon and related subjects through new means, the Foundation wants to be ready to respond appropriately.
An audiovisual committee was established to formulate policies to guide the creation and distribution of audiovisual products and to review the materials produced. David Rolph Seely, assistant professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU and a member of the FARMS board of directors, was appointed chair of the committee; the other members of the committee are M. Gerald Bradford, FARMS Director of Research and a member of the board, and Daniel Oswald, the volunteer Director of Public Communications for FARMS.
An electronic publishing committee was also established to perform similar functions with regard to opportunities to distribute FARMS materials electronically—online or on computer disk or CD-ROM. William J. Hamblin, associate professor of History at BYU and a member of the FARMS board, was appointed chair of the electronic publishing committee. The other members are Douglas M. Chabries, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dean of the College of Engineering and Technology at BYU and a member of the FARMS board; Brent Hall, Director of Operations and Development for FARMS and a member of the board; and Steven Booras, Electronic Projects Specialist for FARMS.
Please note the following broadcasts of FARMS presentations:
"Benjamin's Speech: The Ninth Annual FARMS Symposium on the Book of Mormon" will be repeated in Oakland, California, on 20 April 1996, a week after its original presentation in Provo. Sponsored by the Saratoga Stake, this version of the symposium will feature most of the same lectures as the original (see details on page 1), most of them live and some on videotape.
We wish to thank FARMS volunteers Robert Cook, Mark Gringeri, and Bud Alexander who have coordinated the arrangements for this special event. This second Benjamin conference will be held at the Tri-stake Center at Temple Hill in Oakland, California, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bring a sack lunch and arrive early because parking is limited.
Since 1830, millions of people have read the Book of Mormon and have been convinced that Joseph Smith's account of its origins is correct—that it is an ancient document given to him for a season by a divine messenger to translate by the gift and power of God. Critics, however, have argued that the book must be a fraud.
The Book of Mormon describes a people, their culture, a thousand years of history, and lands largely unknown to the nineteenth-century world. But today we enjoy a relative wealth of information about those times and peoples, providing a background against which the Book of Mormon's claims of ancient origin can be tested. In 1982 the BYU Religious Studies Center published a collection of efforts to mount such tests—Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds.
The book has been out of print for several years, but not because the essays have been outdated or refuted by subsequent studies. The evidence and conclusions they put forward are just as persuasive today as when they were first published. This lasting quality has persuaded FARMS to reprint the book. This FARMS Reprint Edition makes available to a new generation of students of the Book of Mormon nine diverse essays that were very important when first published; it will also be a companion to a further collection of studies on the same general issue of authorship to be published by FARMS later this year. See the online catalog for details.
FARMS invites volunteers to help identify and contact significant public or university libraries in cities where there is an interest in Book of Mormon research and where material about the LDS Church would be beneficial. If the libraries do not have the budget to acquire FARMS materials, a donation could be arranged. Contact Janelle at 1-800-327-6715.
The latest lectures in video series on "The Prophets of the Book of Mormon and Their Messages" (part of the FARMS Book of Mormon Lecture Series) deal with the prophets of the brass plates (1 lecture), King Benjamin (2 lectures), and Alma the Younger (2 lectures). The lectures are available on video and audiotape and as transcripts. See the order form for details.
Robert L. Millet, professor of Ancient Scripture and dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, offers a lecture on the brass plates prophets, focusing on the teachings of Zenock, Zenos, Neum, and Ezias. These teachings can be gleaned from the prophets' writings as well as from the writings of some Bible prophets. We would miss several important doctrinal teachings if Nephi and his brothers had not returned to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates from Laban, because the plates contain teachings that have been removed or are missing from the Bible.
Millet also gives two lectures on Benjamin. In "King Benjamin: King, Prophet, Theologian," Millet covers six main points from Benjamin's sermons: (1) "There is no end to the amount of good that can be accomplished by one righteous man," says Millet, speaking of Benjamin's righteous example; (2) we serve God by serving each other; (3) no matter what we do, we are forever indebted to God; (4) to sin against light is to rebel against God and become an enemy to all righteousness; (5) Christ's condescension meant he suffered more than man will ever suffer; (6) and the Atonement was the greatest act of mercy and grace in all eternity.
Millet's second lecture on Benjamin begins with a discussion of the Atonement and how that gift affects our salvation, stressing the redemption of children. Because a perfect man was "subjected not only to an ignominious death, but to suffering beyond our understanding," we stand forever in debt to him and therefore must become his disciples. Christ's true disciples commit to him, take on his name, and start to serve others, Millet teaches. Millet also discusses human weaknesses, the doctrine of repentance, and the principle of rebirth.
In "Alma the Younger," M. Catherine Thomas, assistant professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, presents a thoughtful and reassuring lecture on the events of the premortal world and the choices and covenants we made there, and on our struggles and responsibilities to labor diligently to save souls in this life. The prophets teach that we received missions to perform saving work in this life, to be extensions of God's power. Thomas believes that redemption of families is the great work of the gods, the sole reason why worlds without number were created. If Alma the Elder had not labored to bring his son back to the fold, we would not have the great teachings of Alma the Younger, which Thomas discusses in the next lecture.
In her second lecture on Alma the Younger, Thomas states: "Alma teaches a series of truths that are mysterious to the natural man pertaining to the Fall and to man's relationship to the Holy Spirit and to the Evil Spirit." Thomas discusses these truths and provides enlightenment on the mysteries therein. Alma teaches about the hunger of the fallen spirit, a spiritual bondage that is only satisfied by the Holy Ghost, not by the vain things of the world. Thomas teaches that "the knowledge to get the Spirit is the most valuable knowledge that can be offered to a person, or that he can implement to affect his total well-being. Thus man is moving either toward exaltation or toward captivity and eventual destruction by the devil," of whose cunning we should beware.
Two outstanding Brown Bag lectures were presented in February. Louis C. Midgley, professor of Political Science at BYU, discussed "The Authorship Debate: Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?" This lecture was based on a paper Midgley has submitted for publication in a new FARMS collection of essays on the authorship issue. Midgley gave a history of attempts to dismiss Joseph Smith's explanation for the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In his paper, Midgley writes: "Those who fashion . . . naturalistic explanations (of the Book of Mormon's origin) are faced with, among other challenges, the task of uncovering in Joseph Smith's immediate environment or in the workings of his psyche or both all the sources for the book's style, cast of characters, intricate narrative structure into which is woven subtle and coherent prophetic teachings, and so forth. They have essentially failed to do so." Midgley classified the arguments into categories and discussed their flaws.
Stephen Houston (of BYU's Anthropology Department), Steve Booras (Electronic Projects Specialist at FARMS), and Gene A. Ware (of BYU's department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) reported on the success of their efforts to photograph Mayan murals at Bonampak, Mexico. Their work was part of a project sponsored by Yale University and the National Geographic Society, with support from FARMS. Using infrared photography and digital imaging technology, they were able to capture details in the murals that are no longer visible.
Their photographs confirm evidence that the Maya were not as peace-loving as previously thought and show that the murals' artists were most likely part of a conquering group, likely from the nearby Yaxchilan area.
The group hopes to return to Mexico to finish their work, but for now they will concentrate on digitizing their images and merging them into composites, hoping to reveal more of a "lost Mayan masterpiece."
Davis Bitton, Historical Dictionary of Mormonism, paperback reprint edition. Bitton, professor of history at the University of Utah and former assistant Church historian, describes the religious precepts and practices of Mormonism, along with its social, economic, and cultural activities around the world, today and in the past. Includes a chronology and bibliography. Originally published by Scarecrow Press in New Jersey. Available in April.
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 5, number 1. Articles reflecting the latest research on the Book of Mormon. Available in April.
John L. Sorenson and Martin H. Raish, Pre-Columbian Contacts with the Americas across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography, second edition, revised. The first edition of this large bibliography has received praise from anthropologists and bibliographers alike. This new edition contains many new entries plus updated and expanded annotations—more than one-third of the work is new. Available in April.
James E. Faulconer, editor, Aid to Scriptural Word Studies. Available in May.
John L. Sorenson, Paperback reprint of An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. This popular and influential book, briefly out of print, is being reprinted in paperback by Deseret Book and FARMS. Sorenson, emeritus professor of Anthropology at BYU, offers a thorough and clear presentation of a plausible geography for the events of the Book of Mormon in ancient America, plus information about Mesoamerican peoples. Everything from the original edition is reprinted, including the excellent maps and photographs.
Alison Coutts has joined the FARMS editorial staff as an assistant editor. Originally from the Isle of Wight, Coutts received a business diploma from Holborn College and worked for businesses in France and Germany for a number of years, most recently as vice president of administration for a large insurance firm. She left the business world and came to BYU to renew her educational pursuits (she is finishing a degree in English) as part of a decision "to stop worrying about making money and to start helping people." In that spirit she volunteered to help at FARMS, first using her fluency in French and German to proofread translated materials and then using her growing skills to help with editorial tasks. Later she was hired to work part-time and then, after some months, she was hired as a full-time staff member. She also continues to do volunteer work, acting as an interpreter for French and German speaking missionaries at the MTC in Provo. When asked if she feels her career change was the right thing to do, she answered yes, but added with a laugh, "Sometimes I miss the Porsche I used to drive."
E. Jan Wilson has joined the FARMS research staff to work on the Dead Sea Scrolls database. He is working with the Hebrew texts that need to be prepared for insertion into the database. His Ph.D. is in Hebraic and Cognate Studies from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. He also did graduate work at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He spent the last two years in Israel translating Sumerian texts for the Bible Lands Museum. Before his graduate studies in semitic languages he pursued a private practice in opthalmology in Dayton, Ohio, and before that, he says, "I was an Ohio farm boy.