Robert L. Millet Blog Posts
Publications Director of BYU Religious Studies Center
POSTED BY: holzapfel
This past month Andrew Lawler published an essay on the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Smithsonian magazine (“Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” [January 2010]: 40–47). The media likes controversy, and Lawler highlights it in this interesting essay.
Since the first discoveries in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls have captured the imagination of the public, including Latter-day Saints. The importance of these textual discoveries on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea can hardly be overestimated. They open an important window onto the past, particularly for the period when the paucity of sources made it frustrating for scholars attempting to reconstruct the Jewish world during the intertestamental period. They also illuminate the world of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, although it is doubtful that either of them spent time at the site where the scrolls were copied.
In the end, some 800 manuscripts were found in eleven caves near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Among them were the oldest copies of the Old Testament, except for the book of Esther. Additionally, numerous unknown texts were discovered at the site, increasing our appreciation for the complex and interesting world of Second Temple Judaism. Most of the manuscripts are written with square Hebrew characters (Aramaic or Assyrian script), but a few manuscripts exhibit what scholars call the Paleo-Hebrew script. The dating of the manuscript range from as early as 300 BC until just before the Romans destroyed the site in AD 68.
From the very beginning, many scholars believed those who collected, copied, and hid the massive library were the Essenes, a first-century Jewish sect known only, until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, by what other people had written about them. Scholars never unanimously accepted the identification, although a majority has done so reasoning that it as the best explanation for the documents and the site.
In the latest installment of the debate, some consensus has been reached. There is almost universal agreement that many of the scrolls found at the Dead Sea were not produced at the Dead Sea site. One of the current theories, highlighted in Lawler’s article, is that Jews fleeing the advancing Roman army during the Jewish War gathered at Qumran, a fort, and brought with them the writings they felt were sacred and important. This proposal suggest that “the scrolls reflect not just the views of a single dissident group [Essenes] . . . but a wider tapestry of Jewish thought” (p. 44).
If anyone ever wanted to get inside the world of academia to see how scholars deal with controversial topics, this essay will surprise and depress you as it highlights the intrigues of one such debate. In the end, the debate concerning who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls will continue to attract attention, but it will most likely never be resolved, leading us to consider the possibilities.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
When Jesus came to Jerusalem on what would be his last visit, he walked from the Mount of Olives to the Holy City. As he did so, “the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen” (Luke 19:37). Luke adds, “And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And [Jesus] answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:39–40).
Stones are everywhere in this rugged land. Not only do people see them everywhere; they walk on them and visit places made out of stone, such as the Garden Tomb or the rock-hewn tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the bedrock where Abraham offered Isaac, now covered by the Dome of the Rock; the rock where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (part of the altar in the Church of All Nations); and the massive Herodian retaining wall of the Temple Mount. I returned this past week from a visit to Jerusalem. Sometimes church bells, the call of the muezzin, and the Jewish Sabbath siren capture our attention—competing sounds floating through the air. But the real story is in the stones.
On my flight to Jerusalem, I read Simon Goldhill’s latest book, Jerusalem: City of Longing (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008). It helped me in my visit, providing some insights that allowed me to tie together a mass of information and years of experiences in Jerusalem. As I thought about the people I met (guides, tourists, cab drivers, and a host of other people), I realized how often most of us want to see the stories about Jerusalem as “black and white.” However, as Goldhill proves in this well-written narrative, “the city has to be viewed from multiple perspectives if it is to be appreciated” (viii), and the stories are “much more complicated and much more interesting than the stereotypes” (ix).
Instead of producing a chronological storyline, the author provides a look at different places (most associated with rock or stone) connected to pivotal points in the story of Jerusalem. As he tells his story, Goldhill provides some of the “competing narratives” (Jewish, Muslim, and Christian—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) providing their own black-and-white versions of the events (282). He adroitly concludes, “The tensions between the three Abrahamic religions [Judaism, Christianity, and Islam] are intently aimed at the holy places, their possession, their guardianship, their symbolic value” (47). In a very real sense, guardianship of each site allows each group to share its own validating narrative.
Goldhill concludes, “Jerusalem has a strange relation to stone” (224). He notes that even “the archaeologists try to make [them] speak” (225). Nevertheless, he acknowledges that there is “the inevitable disappointment of the lost, the fragmentary, the unknowable and shattered past” when relying upon archaeology (225).
Not everyone will agree with the sites and stories Goldhill decided to include, but readers will discover that he “tried to tell this story in as simple and as neutral a way as possible” (281). Whether you have visited Jerusalem in the past, plan to visit Jerusalem in the future, or are only interested in Jerusalem, this book is worth a visit—providing a nuanced approach to a complex city. He concludes, “To be in Jerusalem is always to wander in a city of longing, as one seeks to find one’s own place in the layers of history, imagination, belief, desire, and conflict that make Jerusalem what it is” (332).
POSTED BY: holzapfel
In a remarkable revelation given through Joseph Smith in 1831, the Lord said, “The voice of warning shall be unto all people” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:4). This command may have seemed overwhelming for the fledgling Church of Jesus Christ. Two years later, in 1833, the Lord expanded the Church’s mission, saying, “Every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:11).
Today, it is estimated that there are nearly 7,000 spoken languages in the world, of which some 2,600 have a writing system. However, linguists project that within a century more than 3,000 spoken languages will disappear. The world is indeed getting small, and some languages are expanding their reach, such as English and Chinese.
The Church’s effort to fulfill the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth has been remarkable and continues to be so. Our family simply mirrors what is happening across the planet with so many Latter-day Saints. My son Bailey serves in the Switzerland Zürich Mission, and my daughter Marin enters the Missionary Training Center in Provo on December 4, 2008, to begin her preparations to serve in the Hungary Budapest Mission. They follow in the footsteps of two older brothers—Nathan, who served in the Chile Osorno Mission, and Zac, who served in the Costa Rica San José Mission. I completed my own missionary service in the Italy Milan Mission. My son and daughter will join their cousins, Elders Josh Meacham and Ephraim Taylor, who are serving in the Poland Warsaw and Taiwan Taichung missions.
Equally impressive is the effort to provide translations of the Book of Mormon to the world. Today, the complete Book of Mormon has been translated into seventy-nine languages, and selections are available in another twenty-three languages. This represents 99 percent of the languages spoken by Latter-day Saints. Efforts continue to translate this book into more languages to fulfill the Lord’s command.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was on his first historic visit to Jackson County, Missouri, in August 1831 when he heard the voice of the Lord, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27). In this light, the Religious Studies Center has launched a new Web page to reach a wider audience. Finally, in response to the Lord’s command that each person hear the gospel in his own language, we have translated some of the best articles and books from the RSC’s printed library into Spanish and Portuguese, the two most common languages in the Church outside of English. Additionally, we have just added German and will be publishing a landmark book by Dr. Roger Minert, In Harm’s Way: German Latter-day Saints in World War II. We will expand our outreach by translating other books, providing Church members another way to “seek . . . out of the best books words of wisdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). We invite others to join us in this adventure and spread the word that the RSC Web site is providing valuable articles in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
I enjoy browsing through National Geographic when it arrives in the mail each month. The cover story of the November 2008 issue captured my attention, “The End of Night: Why We Need Darkness.” Before the dawn of the twentieth century, the world had an abundance of three commodities: solitude, silence, and darkness. “In a very real sense,” Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote, “light pollution causes us to lose sight of our true place in the universe, to forget the scale of our being, which is best measured against the dimensions of a deep night with the Milky Way—the edge of our galaxy—arching overhead” (“Our Vanishing Night,” 109).
My own experiences in the Sinai and Negev deserts allow me to imagine the ancient world—a place of vast empty spaces and remarkable and splendid wonder. The night skies are illuminated with intensely bright stars. The canyons, cliffs, craggy mountains, dunes, and mud flats are filled with a deafening silence. It ends up being a place where a person is able to consider the matchless power of the Lord—the Creator of heaven and earth. At the same time, it is a place where humans can contemplate their own dependency on God for life itself.
The ancient world offered abundant opportunities to experience nature and the Lord of Creation. Such experiences provided them perspective of the vast reach of Creation. Moses, who had been raised in the household of Pharaoh, lived in one of the most advanced civilizations of the ancient world. Interestingly, after fleeing into the wilderness of Sinai—where he experienced silence, solitude, and darkness more intensely than he had before—Moses came face to face with the God of Nature. “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10).
Given the reality of modern urban life, where solitude is difficult to find, where silence is almost impossible to experience, and where natural darkness has virtually disappeared, is there anything we can do—something that will provide us the kind of experiences that Abraham and Sarah, Zacharias and Elisabeth, and Joseph and Emma Smith had that allowed them to find God and thereby find their place in the grand cosmos.
We certainly cannot turn back time, but we can turn off the TV, turn off the iPod, turn off the radio, turn off the lights, and take the opportunity to see the natural world that God created. In the rush and hectic pace of life, we need to slow down and spend some time alone. Prophets have given counsel regarding too much organized recreation and sports, too much TV, and too many scheduled activities, both at church and at home.
We can take a vacation to a place like Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, named the first Dark Sky Park, or some other remote wilderness area if possible. Or we can take time to appreciate the magnitude of God’s creations by visiting the temple and experiencing the silence of “the mountain of the Lord’s house” (Isaiah 2:2). I believe these sacred places help us to “be still and know that [he is] God” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:16), renewing ourselves through solitude, silence, and darkness.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
“The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context” this past weekend (24-25 October 2008). It was a beautiful fall weekend in Provo!
Named in honor of Sidney B. Sperry, a well-known and respected BYU Religious Education faculty member who taught from 1932 until 1969, the symposium focuses on the Gospel Doctrine topic for the upcoming year. As a result, this year’s symposium highlighted the Doctrine and Covenants, the “capstone” of the Church. This is one of the strongest volumes in the series and features new insights from the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Elder C. Max Caldwell, released Seventy and former Doctrine and Covenants teacher at BYU, was the keynote speaker on Friday evening. The remaining sessions on Friday and Saturday were held in the Joseph Smith Building (JSB) and the Martin Building (MARB). For those who missed this opportunity this past weekend, we have printed selections from the conference in our newest RSC publication, The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2008).
Andrew H. Hedges, J. Spencer Fluhman, and Alonzo L. Gaskill, the volume editors, provided thoughtful essays—fresh insights to the story behind the revelations and revealing analysis of the doctrinal content of several Joseph Smith revelations. You will not want to miss Robert J. Woodford’s essay, “Discoveries from the Joseph Smith Papers Project: The Early Manuscripts” or Steve Harper’s article, “All Things Are the Lord’s: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants.” Both contributions force us to rethink what we have thought about before on these subjects because the authors have moved the boundaries of knowledge with their meticulous efforts. Personally, I think J. B. Haws’ article, “Joseph Smith, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Section 76,” has provided a definitive response to our critics who have attempted to demonstrate the influence of the eighteenth-century Swedish visionary Emanuel Swedenborg on Joseph Smith. Finally, Grant Underwood’s contribution to the volume, “The Laws of the Church of Christ” is amazing—he gently gets us back to the original setting by providing a detailed analysis of the text, “offering insight into the revelatory process that produced the canonical texts” (p. 135). I will never teach my Doctrine and Covenants classes the same after this symposium.
The Sperry Symposium is always a marvelous opportunity to “teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).
POSTED BY: holzapfel
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a classic as “having lasting significance or worth; enduring” or “a work recognized as definitive in its field.” Until the second half of the twentieth century, anyone interested in building a library of classic books from the past would expect to find them in expensive bookstores. Such books were usually bought by academics, book collectors, or wealthy individuals who could afford not only leather-bound books but also a library to house them.
In 1946, the owner of Penguin Books, Allen Lane, decided to release the first book in a new series, “Penguin Classics.” Translated by E. V. Rieu, the book was truly a classic, Homer’s Odyssey. The series produced modern translations of the classics in paperback editions, making them affordable and readable for a new generation of people. Over the years more than 1,300 titles have become part of the now world-famous series.
The most recent addition to the Penguin Classics series is The Book of Mormon (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), with an introduction by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, a well-known academic observer of Mormonism and associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Penguin Books chose to republish the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon because it “was the last of three revision undertaken by Joseph Smith Jr. . . . before his death in 1844” (vii). This reader-friendly edition replicates the 1840 edition, which had no verses, few chapter divisions, and none of the student helps in modern editions, such as footnotes and chapter summaries. As I began reading it today, I felt like one of the early Saints who read the book in full-page narrative style, which provided a different kind of experience.
Since 1830, the story of the book’s origins, the historical and cultural context of the narrative itself, and the book’s message have become part of a large and rather sophisticated discussion at all levels. Scholars–both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those of other faith traditions–have read it, studied, and written about it.
The BYU Religious Studies Center, established in 1975 by Jeffrey R. Holland, has been involved in that discussion, sponsoring conferences and publishing articles and books on the Book of Mormon that have helped many appreciate in new ways this “marvelous work and a wonder.” I hope you will join us in a journey of discovery as we continue to fulfill Elder Holland’s vision, which he recalled in 1986, “When the Religious Studies Center was established at Brigham Young University in 1975, it was intended to facilitate not only the University’s commitment to religious studies but was also to serve those same interests among the general membership of the Church.”