BYU and Institute scholars gave presentations at all five sessions of the Rocky
Mountain-Great Plains regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion
and the Society of Biblical Literature on 26-27 March 2004. Because several
sessions took place on the BYU campus for the first time, and because one-third
of the 51 presenters were BYU-affiliated scholars (8 of them closely associated
with the Institute), the event was an ideal opportunity for the university to
showcase its contributions to religious scholarship.
According to Thomas Wayment, a BYU assistant professor of ancient scripture
who chaired the event, many AAR/SBL officers at the national level (such as
the current president and director of SBL) come from the Rocky Mountain-Great
Plains region. "In this regard, it was an important move on our part to
bring the regional meeting here--so that leading scholars from around the
nation could have the opportunity to see the type of work that is going on here
at BYU," Wayment said. "To say it mildly, they were very impressed
with what is being done here on campus."
The Institute's work of digitally imaging ancient manuscripts was one
of two BYU projects that caught the attention of participants. "One attendee
(a national officer) was so impressed that she promised to promote the work
of BYU at the national level," said Wayment, who added that the informative
presentation further solidified BYU's already-strong position in that
field. The other project that attracted attention was the Joseph Smith Papers
Project of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History.
This research intrigued non-Latter-day Saint scholars in attendance because
of the potential they see in it for "affecting scholarship on Mormons
and Mormonism in general," Wayment said.
Brief reports of the presentations by BYU scholars and other specialists working
on Institute-sponsored projects follow. Titles of presentations appear in quotation
marks, and the order of the reports is chronological.
- Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Islamic studies and Arabic and director
of METI; topic: "Yahya b. >Adi and The Reformation of Morals." Yahya,
a 10th-century Arab Christian author, discusses in his book (published in
English translation in 2002 in BYU's Eastern Christian Texts series) specific
social virtues and vices and offers sage practical advice on how to cultivate
moral perfection. He echoes earlier Hellenistic notions of the philosophical
or reasonable way of life, setting forth a nondenominational or ecumenical
view of human virtue. Presumably, Yahya hoped to appeal to both Christians
and Muslims in the imperial capital of Baghdad where he taught and worked,
and found in Hellenistic thinking possible common ground for ethics in a religiously
- Brian M. Hauglid, assistant professor of ancient scripture, co-principal
investigator with John Gee on FARMS's Book of Abraham Research and Publication
Project; topic: "The Biblical Muhammad and the Islamic Abraham." Muslims
in the ninth through eleventh centuries did a two-fold (overlapping) creative
process of Islamization of early texts. One creative process composed the
biography of Muhammad in such a way that it biblicized his life story, placing
him within the context of biblical prophets. Examples of biblical themes include
his birth and childhood, his call and preaching, the persecution he endured,
and his eventual triumph in Mecca. Another creative process rewrote the stories
of biblical prophets (Abraham was Hauglid's focus) in order to support the
Islamic message (monotheism vs. idolatry). In these ways, Muhammad, the Qur'an,
and the rise of Islam reinforce the conception of Islam as the rightful successor
to Judaism and Christianity.
- Steven W. Booras, Institute technical operations manager; Roger T.
Macfarlane, associate professor, chair of the Department of Humanities, Classics,
and Comparative Literature; and Kristian Heal, director of CPART; topic: "At
the Nexus of Technology and Scholarship: How Technology Is Changing the Way
We Can Work." The Institute is succeeding in its efforts to bring scholars
in closer contact with manuscript resources for the study of the ancient world.
One example is the Dead Sea Scrolls database, which allows scholars to search,
for example, for technical terms and to verify the standard transcription
of the scrolls by checking photographs directly. Another example is the Institute's
recent copublication of a DVD containing complete electronic facsimiles of
33 Syriac manuscripts totaling more than 14,000 pages of text. (Syriac is
the Aramaic dialect spoken and written by Christians in the Middle East before
the rise of Islam.) This publication is the result of a joint BYU-Vatican
Apostolic Library initiative to facilitate greater access to the Library's
considerable manuscript treasures.
- John Gee, William "Bill" Gay Assistant Research Professor of Egyptology;
topic: "Initiation and the Egyptian Temple." The daily temple liturgy
from Karnak, Egypt, distinguishes between rituals that can be performed by
a priest (w>b) and others that must be performed by a prophet (Óm-n®r).
The distinction demarcates which areas of the temple may be entered by which
grade of priest. Records of initiation from the same time and place and whose
phraseology interlocks with the temple liturgy and with passages in the Book
of the Dead relating to initiation enable scholars to reconstruct something
of the temple initiation and its practical importance to everyday life in
- John A. Tvedtnes, Institute senior resident scholar; topic: "The Reforms
of Tiglath-pileser III and Their Influence on Ancient Israel." In 737
bc, the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III, seeking to strengthen his growing
empire, initiated a series of reforms that have proved to be enduring. These
included creating a standing army, placing Assyrian officials in capital cities,
establishing a postal and spy network, bringing royal offspring of vassal
kings to the Assyrian capital for enculturation, replacing deceased vassal
kings with loyal princes, and sending prisoners of war to settle distant lands,
thus breaking their ties with their homeland and the local deities. Tiglath-pileser's
reforms remained in place with his successors and with the kingdoms of Babylon
and Persia that came to rule the region after the Assyrians. Thus we find
the Babylonians taking Jewish kings and princes as hostages (e.g., Daniel
and his friends) and replacing Jewish kings at will. People from Israel and
Judah were deported to other parts of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires,
leading to the Diaspora. The taking of hostages still occurs in the Middle
East, and Tiglath-pileser's standing army, postal system, and spy network
remain part of modern civilization.
- John W. Welch, Robert K. Thomas Professor of Law; topic: "The Bible
in American Law." For centuries, the Bible was considered an integral
part of the law, and therefore its foundational influence was systemic and
organic. To a degree that may be surprising to some people, many biblical
concepts concerning law, ethics, civil liberties, judicial procedures, government,
and society continue to provide significant ingredients in the American images
of justice, mercy, rights, duties, and the common law. For example, the right
against self-incrimination found in the Fifth Amendment grew out of Roman,
Canon, and Jewish law, but William Tyndale can be credited for launching its
adoption into English law. His English translation of the Bible (1525) and
exposition on "swear not" in Matthew 5-7 (1530) boldly asserted that scripture
rejects the idea of compelling a person to bear witness against himself. The
case of the adulteress in John 8 was also influential in showing that Jesus
did not require her to testify for or against herself. From such developments,
the right against self-incrimination found its way into the American Constitution.
Biblical provisions do not, and in many cases should not, control American
law, but neither can nor should they be eliminated from the realities of American
Besides turning a spotlight on religious studies at BYU and providing faculty
and Institute scholars with opportunities to develop professional contacts and
keep abreast of research in their fields, the regional meeting may yet yield
more tangible benefits. "One of the nice things about the regional meetings
is that they are small enough to encourage discussions after the presentations,"
Wayment said. "As a result, several publication opportunities were made
available to BYU faculty who presented at the meeting."