BYU, Institute Continue Presence at Scholarly Conference
BYU and Institute scholars attended the joint annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature held in Toronto, Ontario, last November. In recent years this scholarly venue has enabled BYU entities specializing in religious scholarship to join ranks in the interest of promoting their recent publications while cultivating professional contacts, staying abreast of developments in the field, and presenting their research findings at conference sessions.
Although BYU researchers did not deliver scholarly papers at the conference as they have in past years, the university continued its customary presence there with its popular exhibit and through other involvement. In addition, several Institute scholars and other personnel responded to invitations to give firesides in the Toronto area or speak at local ward meetings. Reports on a few of those presentations follow.
Conference Participation, Firesides
Institute board member John W. Welch presided at a morning session of the Biblical Law Section in which five papers were summarized and discussed. Topics included cities of refuge, the case of Phineas, and several aspects of purity and incest laws exemplified in the Bible and at the community at Qumran. Addressing a ward gathering two days earlier, Welch discussed effective tools for gospel scholarship and scripture study and presented recent findings illustrating the need to pay close attention to details of scripture that are illuminated by ancient studies.
In a fireside at the Toronto stake center, Institute scholar Kristian Heal discussed the contents of certain Syriac manuscripts residing in the Vatican Library that the Institute was allowed to digitize. He focused on interesting aspects of Joseph of Egypt's account (see Genesis 37-50) as retold in the Syriac tradition. Heal showed that by adding extra narratives to the story, Syriac Christians were able to emphasize that Joseph was a type of Christ and teach more clearly the principles of repentance and forgiveness.
At another fireside, BYU Hebrew professor Donald W. Parry addressed the topic "LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls." He spoke about the discovery and content of the scrolls and their significance as aids for better understanding the Old Testament. He concluded by touching on several prophecies that find fulfillment in Jesus Christ's life, mission, and atoning sacrifice.
In a similar engagement, Brent Hall, director of operations at the Institute, spoke on the Institute's work of producing a documentary film tracing Lehi's trail from Jerusalem to Old World Bountiful. He noted that he and BYU professors S. Kent Brown (ancient scripture) and Arnold H. Green (history) visited key spots along the proposed route to Yemen and that although part of the overall effort occurred during the dire events of 11 September 2001, the research team was ultimately successful in confirming earlier research on the location of Nahom, an ancient placename recorded in the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 16:34).
While in the Toronto area, Daniel C. Peterson, an associate executive director of the Institute, and Institute scholars Morgan Davis, Carl Griffin, and Kristian Heal attended the second annual symposium of the Canadian Society of Syriac Studies.The topic of the conference was Role of the Syriac People in the Translation Movement during the Abbasid Period. Numerous academics and members of the local community attended to hear an impressive collection of speakers.The Institute had strong connections with a number of the presenters through its Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI), including authors from the University of Toronto andThe Catholic University of America and advisers from the University of Hamburg, the University of Columbia, and the University of St. Joseph in Beirut.
The BYU Exhibit
A popular attraction at these conferences is the exhibition area, where publishers from all over the world exhibit their recent titles.The BYU exhibit displayed publications from the Institute and its sister organizations on campus: Ancient Studies, BYU Studies, the Classics department, the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for LDS History, and the Religious Studies Center. Of particular interest to visitors were recent METI publications, including the first volume in the Eastern Christian Text Series, a translation of Yahya ibn 'Adi's 10th-century treatise The Reformation of Morals. Also of interest were the first two volumes in the Institute's Graeco-Arabic Sciences and Philosophy series: Maimonides' On Asthma and Averroës' Middle Commentary on Aristotle's De anima. The exhibit sparked a great deal of interest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Scholars who visited the exhibit appreciated a free publication from BYU Studies and the Religious Studies Center containing materials from The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. In time for the conference, BYU Studies and the Smith Institute released a groundbreaking set of DVDs titled Selected Collections from the Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.The latest book from FARMS, Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, was also featured in the BYU exhibit and was enthusiastically received.
The exhibit was designed and built under the direction of Brent Hall with help from Institute personnel Shane Heath, manager of outreach, and Milton Briggs, distribution manager. Staffed by various people from different BYU departments, it soon became a gathering point for friends of the university and the church.
It is expected that BYU's established presence at the AAR/SBL meetings will continue to encourage the university's religious scholars and related specialists to publish research that will further strengthen the academic footing of Mormon studies while contributing in important ways to religious scholarship in general.