During March and April, BYU's Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts sponsored three brown bag lectures addressing topics on the Middle East, the FARMS Dead Sea Scrolls Database, and the Book of Mormon.
LDS Branches in the Islamic Middle East
On 28 March 2001 James A. Toronto, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at BYU, gave a slide presentation during which he reported on branches of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Islamic Middle East. He noted areas of historical interest, such as Turkey, the first Muslim area where LDS missionaries proselytized (beginning in 1884), and Aleppo, in northern Syria, where he has been engaged in restoring the grave sites of two missionaries, Emil Huber (d. 1908) and Turkish Mission president Joseph Wilford Booth (d. 1928). Toronto noted that although the church does not proselytize in the Middle East today, it has organized branches in several Gulf countries and in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey. He concluded by discussing the status of the church's legal recognition in various Middle Eastern countries.
Improving the FARMS Dead Sea Scrolls Database
On 4 April 2001 Elisha Qimron, professor of Hebrew literature at Israel's Ben-Gurion University, discussed his work of improving the accuracy of the FARMS Dead Sea Scrolls database. Though the database is a great achievement, he said, the transcriptions of the scroll texts it contains are being updated as new information comes to light. Some of the transcriptions were prepared as early as the 1950s by scholars who did not have (1) access to all of the scroll fragments relevant to their particular study or (2) the image-enhancing capabilities of modern computer technology.
Qimron is providing better reconstructions of lacunae (missing text) and more accurate renderings of existing passages by comparing them, for example, with parallel passages in scroll fragments from different copies of the same scrolls. He is also preparing additional information about the scroll texts that will appear in footnotes in his transcriptions, which will supplement the official transcriptions contained in the database. Although reconstructing the scroll texts still entails some guesswork, Qimron and his colleagues hope to keep it to a minimum through intensive study of all related scroll texts.
Teaching Logic with the Book of Mormon
On 11 April 2001 BYU philosophy professor Dennis Packard discussed how he teaches students in his introductory logic class to apply syllogistic reasoning to passages in the Book of Mormon. Using the tools of logical analysis, his students mine the scriptures for deeper understanding. They ask "how" and "why" questions and test assumptions about the meaning of certain passages. They glean insights, improve their exegetical skills, learn the value of close reading, and come to appreciate the doctrinal depth and integrity of the Book of Mormon. Packard noted that his students grasp the principles of logic better and find the class more stimulating when they apply their newfound skills to the scriptures.