Since 1995 FARMS representatives have attended the joint annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). AAR and SBL are long-standing learned societies with members from colleges, universities, seminaries, and other academic institutions in the U.S. and abroad. Each year they jointly hold their annual meetings, which constitute the largest gathering of religion scholars in the world, offering sessions on subjects ranging from the history of Christianity and the study of Islam to biblical texts and their ancient contexts.
During these meetings, nearly 200 publishers and related organizationsmajor university presses, commercial publishers, and smaller, more specialized publishersfrom all parts of the world exhibit and sell thousands of publications dealing with all aspects of religion and biblical studies. Each year FARMS operates a booth in the exhibitors' area.
The FARMS exhibit initially focused on the Dead Sea Scrolls database. Each year, in addition to demonstrating this database, we added more FARMS publications that would be of interest to non-LDS scholars and others who attend those meetings. In 1997 and 1998, following formation of the FARMS Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART), our display featured the work of both CPART and FARMS.
In 1999, which marked the 20th anniversary of FARMS and was also the year FARMS officially became part of Brigham Young University, several other organizations on campusthe Religious Studies Center, BYU Studies, and the Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint Historyjoined forces with FARMS at its exhibit. Publications from each of these university units, along with CPART's Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library, now marketed by E. J. Brill, were prominently displayed and sold, as were copies of the Book of Mormon. LDS literature supplied to us by the church was distributed free of charge. No doubt due to the prominence and familiarity of the name Brigham Young University, an estimated five times as many people stopped by the booth in 1999 as at the FARMS booth in 1998. This amounted to several hundred inquiries.
At the 1999 meetings, John W. Welch, Robert K. Thomas Professor of Law at BYU and a member of the FARMS board of trustees, delivered a paper entitled "The Sermon on the Mount and Ritual Theory." The paper, growing out of Welch's recent FARMS publication Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and Sermon on the Mount, was part of the "Social Scientific Criticism of the New Testament" section of the SBL meetings.
Welch's paper was well received. He described his presentation as "one of the more challenging and rewarding experiences of my academic career," and he is planning to work with other scholars, many of whom are not LDS, in developing his views on the subject further. For this audience, he supported his thesis solely out of biblical and Old World sources, analyzed in terms of modern ritual theory. He hopes that the presentation will "open further doors and reflect well on biblical scholarship at BYU."
In his paper, Welch proposed that the Sermon on the Mount can be seen through the lens of ritual studies. He discussed nine characteristics of ritual functions that are apparent in the Sermon on the Mount. For example, a rite inverts an exisiting social or religious order, introducing a new order as it sets the old aside. In the Sermon on the Mount, enemies become beloved, deeds done in secret will be rewarded in the open, and mortals become finished as the Father in heaven is perfect.
Another correlation between ritual and the Sermon on the Mount is that ritual texts tell believers how to respond to specific situations and how to believe the ritual itself. The Sermon on the Mount gives guidance on interpreting law, responding to enemies and false prophets, trusting in God, and giving to those in need.
Welch concluded that a ritual reading of the Sermon on the Mount has important implications. Such a reading allows us to reconstruct part of the religious experience of the early Christians in Jerusalem. It also indicates that the Sermon on the Mount is a pre-Matthean source. Such a reading solves the puzzle of the Sermon on the Mount: things that otherwise seem out of place are right at home in a ritual context.
The AAR and SBL meetings provide an opportunity for LDS scholars to visit and exchange views with colleagues, develop new contacts, and learn about the latest developments in scholarship on the Bible and related subjects. They also afford ideal opportunities for others to learn more about BYU, FARMS, and related organizations on campus, as well as show the distinctive contributions Latter-day Saint scholars are making on a variety of fronts.
During the AAR/SBL meetings, scholars associated with FARMS and BYU were invited by local and area authorities to present several firesides in the greater Boston area. S. Kent Brown, John Gee, Daniel C. Peterson, Noel B. Reynolds, Stephen E. Robinson, Stephen D. Ricks, and John W. Welch offered firesides on such topics as the Savior, evidences for the Book of Mormon, personalities in the Book of Mormon, and the parable of the good Samaritan.
FARMS is grateful for the opportunity to have worked with other campus entities at the AAR/SBL meetings and looks forward to expanding this collaboration next year.