With fall semester under way at Brigham Young University, we look forward to keeping you abreast of another round of Institute-sponsored brown bag lectures. These presentations, which are not open to the general public, enable researchers to share their expertise and findings with their peers in related fields and to receive constructive input. Following are reports of three such presentations from earlier this year.
Mission of BYU's Religious Studies Center
BYU professors of ancient scripture Terry B. Ball and Richard D. Draper discussed the work of BYU's Religious Studies Center. Ball spoke of the RSC's mission of supporting scholarship that teaches and preserves the doctrine and history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also mentioned his botanical research in the Dhofar region of Oman, where some LDS scholars locate the Old World Bountiful. His collection of Arabian Peninsula vegetation, now housed at BYU, is the best herbarium of its kind in the United States, a "valuable research tool for archaeobotanists," he said.
Draper, managing director of the RSC's publications office, said the center occupies a special niche in LDS publishing with its studies on culture, history, scripture, and doctrine that are of "value to the kingdom but of sufficient academic register that commercial publishers are not interested in them." He described how the center has expanded its mission by adding devotional materials to its book list and by producing a newsletter and a journal, the Religious Educator, among other publications.
The Atonement and the Strengthening of Communities
Thomas B. Griffith, legal counsel for BYU, discussed the concept of "at-one-ment" as it relates to building communities founded on the rule of law and on belief in human dignity and worth. Noting the example of Enoch's people, he said the highest form of spirituality is when the effects of the atonement unite people to do good not only in their own families and congregations but also in the larger community. The capstone of Joseph Smith's divine tutoring was his understanding that every church activity must be done with the great worth of souls in mind (D&C 18:10), he said. Joseph learned the true extent of the Savior's personal suffering upon receiving the revelation in D&C 19--the "final, indispensable lesson before he organized the church and the most significant lesson of the gospel," Griffith said. He went on to note that lawyers, whose ideal role is to build communities based on the rule of law, are often "at the forefront of the push for riches," which runs counter to the admonition in Jacob 2:18-19 and to the spirit of Moses 7:18 if that pursuit is not undertaken with the intent to bless others. Such purity of motive should be the mainspring of discipleship, he said.
Herculaneum Papyri Project: Preliminary Findings
Dr. Gianluca Del Mastro, a professor of philosophy at the University of Naples and a visiting professor in BYU's classics department, reviewed progress on interpreting and electronically preserving the Herculaneum papyri using multispectral imaging techniques developed at BYU. Calling the MSI images a revolution in reading the carbonized papyri, he showed examples of how he has been able to discern scroll text that was previously unreadable. For example, the images have made it possible to read text in depressions of wrinkled fragments and to distinguish congealed layers of papyrus from one another and ink strokes from fibers. The images have also enabled scholars to identify individual scribes. One intriguing find was a reference to a previously unknown tragedy by Euripides. In March, Del Mastro matched two fragments from Philodemus's "On Poems." He said that the fragile papyri, which date from 1000 b.c., have deteriorated 10 percent in the past seven years but now are electronically preserved. Del Mastro concluded by noting the discovery in 2000 of seven papyri (15 fragments) from two houses in Herculaneum, one of which (Casa de Bicentenario) appears to have housed the first Christian community in the city. !