2014 Annual Report

04.30.2015 | M. Gerald Bradford

“For a disciple of Jesus Christ, academic scholarship is a form of worship…For the disciple-scholar, the first and second great commandments frame and prioritize life. How else could one worship God with all one’s heart, might, mind, and strength?”. —Elder Neal A. Maxwell

During 2014 the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship made strides in furthering its goal to “engage the larger academic community, enhance the academic rigor of [the Institute’s] research and publications, while fostering faithful discourse.” Our focus is the study of sacred texts of the Restoration as well as religious texts important to people of other faiths. Our aim is to make lasting contributions to scholarship within the broad field of religious studies and within the narrower area of Mormon studies.

Our work is geared towards scholars and general readers (both Latter-day Saints and people of other faiths) who have a common interest in, even a love for, the study of religious texts. We utilize our website, and our various important subsites, to call attention to the work and publications of our research fellows. The results of their broad-based research initiatives are highlighted below. We also make digital versions of our current and past publications available to readers worldwide (a brief listing of publications from 2014 is included below).

Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies (Willes Center)

In 2014 the Willes Center partnered with the Mormon Theology Seminar group in hosting its first annual event entitled “A Dream, a Rock, and a Pillar of Fire: Reading 1 Nephi 1.” It was held in London with nine participants. The first week entailed a close reading and discussion of 1 Nephi 1. In the second week participants wrote and discussed their papers at a special event held at the Hyde Park Chapel. The papers are currently being reviewed for publication in an edited volume by the Maxwell Institute. Participants also wrote blog posts describing the benefits of the Mormon Theology Seminar.

The Center also sponsored a faculty colloquium entitled “Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects,” modeled after the first Book of Mormon Think Tank, held in 2013. The colloquium several scholars who presented papers and engaged in informal discussions about various projects in Smith’s translation career, primarily the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, and his translation of the Bible. The proceedings, tentatively entitled “Creating Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects and the Making of Mormonism,” are being considered by a major university publisher.

Last fall, volume 23 of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies was published under the auspices of the Willes Center. Having undergone a significant revision, this journal now an annual reflects a more academic focus aimed at scholars and others who study the Book of Mormon. Dr. Brian M. Hauglid is the new editor; he is joined by associate editors Mark Wright (BYU) and Joseph Spencer (University of New Mexico) and by book review editor Jared Tamez (University of Texas, El Paso). They work with a newly formed editorial advisory board of scholars from BYU and other universities around the country (see “Publications” below).

Dr. Hauglid, senior research fellow and professor of ancient scripture at BYU, directs the Willes Center. He has a number of articles slated for publication, one of which deals with the Book of Abraham and associated Egyptian manuscripts. It will be included in Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Critical Studies of Major Sources in Early Mormon History, edited by Robin Jensen and Mark Ashurst-McGee and forthcoming from Oxford University Press. He is also working on several book projects, including (with Robin Jensen) A Complete Edition of the the Abraham and Egyptian Manuscript Collection, forthcoming in the Church History Department’s Joseph Smith Papers series.

Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART)

Several major CPART projects were completed and others launched in 2014. In virtually all of them the Bible and biblical manuscripts and texts are featured prominently. The Center collaborated with the Vatican Library to publish Eighty Vatican Syriac manuscripts. They were selected in collaboration with the project’s advisory board, were digitized by the Vatican Library, and were added to its online collections with the help of Daniel Becerra and Luke Drake, graduate students and current Nibley Fellows. As a result, these manuscripts can now be freshly catalogued and freely studied and enjoyed by scholars and Syriac Christians around the world. A conference on the Vatican Syriac manuscripts collection is planned for 2016.

The Center also published two other important collections of manuscripts: the Syriac and Garshuni collections from the library of the St. Thomas Syrian Catholic Church in Mosul, Iraq; and the collection of Slavonic manuscripts from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. It also added additional digital facsimiles of Arabic, Coptic, Syriac, and Garshuni manuscripts from BYU’s Brown Collection, with the help of several student assistants. One of these students, Bert Fuller, played a particularly important role in CPART’s Genesis Rewritten project. This new resource aims to track the ways that the book of Genesis was rewritten in Late Antiquity, beginning with the Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, tradition. The first section of this new resource guides the reader through the fascinating highways and byways of how the book of Genesis appears and reappears during this period.

CPART completed the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library—Biblical Scrolls database project.  It will be published in E. J. Brill’s online collection (making it available to a wide range of scholars through library subscription). It will also be available through the WordCruncher store in 2015. As with other publications in this series, the database is freely available to BYU faculty and students.

Work is under way on an Old Latin New Testament web portal that will become an online resource for the study of manuscripts containing the earliest (non-Vulgate) Latin versions of the New Testament.

Dr. Kristian Heal, assistant research fellow, directs CPART and pursues a research agenda focusing on early Syriac Christian texts and manuscripts. In 2014 he published two edited volumes: Breaking the Mind: New Studies in the Syriac Book of Steps (with Robert A. Kitchen), published by The Catholic University of American Press, and Foundations for Syriac Lexicography IV: Colloquia of the International Syriac Language Project (with Alison G. Salvesen), published by Gorgias Press. He also co-organized a workshop on ancient traditions about Joseph of Egypt at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr. Heal was invited to join the Steering Committee of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Syriac Literature and Interpretations of Sacred Texts section and he also was invited to give the 2015 David J. Lane Memorial Lecture by the Canadian Society of Syriac Studies.

Dr. Carl Griffin, assistant research fellow, is associate director of CPART. He oversees work on several CPART projects, edits our annual journal Studies in the Bible and Antiquity (see “Publications” below), is series editor (with others) of the Syriac Studies Library, and is working on two major book projects based on his dissertation.    

Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI)

METI produces of four major publications series, featuring bilingual translations of important texts from the classical period of Islamic civilization forward. The Islamic Translation Series, edited by Dr. D. Morgan Davis, deals with important works by Muslim authors, principally in the areas of philosophy, theology, and mysticism. The first title in this series was published in 1997; the series presently has twelve titles. In 2014 the most recent title was published: Mullā Sadrā, The Book of Metaphysical Penetrations, translated by the eminent philosopher and theologian Sayyed Hossein Nasr (George Washington University) and edited by Ibrahim Kalin (Georgetown University). Several other titles are in various stages of development and production.

The Eastern Christian Texts series, edited by Dr. Heal, has published four volumes, with more in development and production. In 2014 the first of twelve Armenian Synaxarion volumes was published: On This Day: The Armenian Church Synaxarion—January, translated and edited by Edward G. Mathews Jr. The second title (for the month of February) is in production for 2015.

The Medical Works of Moses Maimonides is a series edited by Gerrit Bos, emeritus professor of Medieval studies (University of Cologne). With eight titles published to date, the series will eventually include all of Maimonides’s known medical works—some sixteen titles in all. In 2014 the first bilingual edition of On Rules Regarding the Practical Part of the Medical Art, edited by Gerrit Bos and Y. Tzvi Langermann (Bar Ilan University, Israel), was published. This edition was based on a newly identified manuscript that has never before been published.

During the year, METI announced a fourth series: The Library of Judeo-Arabic Literature. It will be edited by James Robinson (University of Chicago) and David Sklare (Ben-Zvi Institute, Israel) and will include works written by Jewish authors living in the Islamic world of the Middle Ages. Texts will be selected from across the entire range of genres represented in Judeo-Arabic literature. One of the first planned titles is the result of an agreement reached with the University of Chicago Press to produce an updated, bilingual edition of the very popular Shlomo Pines translation of Maimonides’s Guide of the Perplexed. One completed manuscript, Dawud al-Muqammas’s Twenty Chapters, edited and translated by Sarah Stroumsa (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) has been submitted and approved for production. Additional titles are in development.

METI, together with BYU’s London Centre, sponsored an international colloquium entitled “Avicenna and Avicennisms” at the School for African and Oriental Studies in London in June.  Eleven presentations were featured in the two-day event, which was organized and conducted by Ayman Shihadeh (SOAS, University of London) and Sajjad Rizvi (University of Exeter) both members of the editorial advisory board for the Islamic Translation Series. A web page featuring the audio recordings of most of the papers is available on the METI subsite.

METI titles were prominently displayed in a book exhibit at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and Society for Biblical Literature, held in November in San Diego.

Dr. Davis, assistant research fellow, directs METI. During the year, he made presentations to several visiting dignitaries on campus, introducing them to the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. He published a review of Sidney Griffith’s The Bible in Arabic in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity. Dr. Davis also began research and writing on metaphor and other poetic forms in the Qurʾan and other religious texts.

Publications

During 2014 the Maxwell Institute continued publication of its three periodicals:

Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

The Journal transitioned from a heavily illustrated, magazine look to a more scholarly format befitting its intended audience. Volume 23 boasts a newly designed interior and cover. It features important papers from several scholars (included people from other faiths) who explore the Book of Mormon from a variety of academic disciplines. The issue also includes book reviews and brief research notes. Representative of the articles are David Bokovoy’s examination of Alma 32’s use of creation narratives from the book of Genesis and Heather Hardy’s look at eschatological fulfillment in 3 Nephi.

Studies in the Bible and Antiquity

Volume 6 of Studies appeared with a newly designed interior and cover, along with a greater variety of content. It includes articles on the Renaissance Jewish author Joseph ben Samuel Sarfati (d. 1527), a reconsideration of scholarship on Paul’s famous reference to Christians baptizing for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29), and a roundtable of responses to the first two volumes of the BYU New Testament Commentary series, along with reviews of two books on the medieval reception of the Bible.  Carl Griffin is the editor and is now joined by two associate editors, Cory Crawford (Ohio University) and Matthew Grey (BYU). Dr. Heal joined the Studies editorial team as the book review editor.  They all work with a newly formed editorial advisory board of scholars who specialize in the Bible and who are based at BYU or at other universities in this country and abroad.

Mormon Studies Review

Volume 2 of the Review includes a special forum on, “Teaching Mormon Studies” featuring six scholars, both Latter-day Saints scholars and those of other faiths, reflecting on their experiences teaching about Mormonism in an academic environment. Essays on Mormon literary studies, anti-Mormonism, interreligious discussions, and the Joseph Smith Papers project preceded thirteen book reviews rounding out a strong second volume.

These publications now share the same design template created to expedite typesetting and page makeup, resulting in significant savings in production costs.

Books

In 2014 our capable editorial team led by Joseph Bonyata (director of publications) edited and produced the following titles:

METI Titles:

On Rules Regarding the Practical Part of the Medical Art, Gerrit Bos and Y. Tzvi Langermann

On This Day: The Armenian Church Synaxarion—January, Edward G. Mathews Jr.

Mormon Studies Titles:

The Book of Mormon Made Harder, James E. Faulconer

The Doctrine and Covenants Made Harder, James E. Faulconer

The Old Testament Made Harder, James E. Faulconer

The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel, Samuel M. Brown

An Experiment on the Word: Reading Alma 32, Adam S. Miller

2014 year was our most productive book publishing year in over a decade. One of our 6 books, Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon become our best-selling title ever (aside from the works of Hugh Nibley). Owing to an agreement with Deseret Book, ebook editions of all the titles in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley will soon be available through Deseret Book distribution channels.

Public Communications

In an effort to keep the Institute’s donors and supporters up-to-date and to introduce our work to a broader, general audience, we began production of a short introductory film. It features over twenty scholars, representing a number of related disciplines and academic backgrounds, talking about their work in collaboration with our research fellows. We are hoping to release it in 2015.

The Institute’s new website continued to expand and to be improved throughout 2014, thanks to the good work of Jeremy King, who oversees all of our day-to-day operations.

We added a new “FARMS Preliminary Reports” section where readers can download more than two hundred papers, study aids, transcripts, and other documents produced by FARMS between its founding and 1999, most of which never having been made digitally available before. The Maxwell Institute Podcast began broadcasting a series of interviews with prominent contributors to Princeton University Press’s “Lives of Great Religious Books” series. Twelve episodes were produced in 2014, along with ninety blog posts that reported on Institute news, book notices and reviews, interviews with scholars, and other useful content. We also began offering affordable digital subscriptions to all three of our periodicals for the first time. Readers can access our website at mi.byu.edu.

Near the end of the year, James E. Faulconer (professor of philosophy at BYU) delivered the eighth annual Neal A. Maxwell Lecture, entitled “A Philosophy of Marriage.”

Blair Dee Hodges, our public communications specialist, worked with Jeremy King on the content and maintenance of our website. He collaborated with our research fellows and others in preparing all of our blog posts. He also produced and edited all podcast episodes. In 2014 he became acquisitions and development editor for our Mormon studies book titles. He was awarded the “Best Master’s Thesis” prize from the Mormon History Association. He was also invited to join the Steering Committee of the American Academy of Religion’s Religion and Disability Studies section.

Financial Update and Ongoing Support

The Institute ended 2014 in a solid financial position. We continue to rely on the generous support of donors while doing all we can to reduce operating expenses so as to bring our fixed operating expenses in line with established sources of income.

As a result of introducing digital subscriptions, we have seen our new subscriber numbers increase dramatically during the year. We have also seen an increase in small-dollar/grassroots donations, particularly at year’s end as we introduced our “Friends of the Institute” program.

We are grateful for the ongoing support provided by Brigham Young University, by our donors and our subscribers, and by all of the scholars who donate their expertise, time, and effort in working with us to make lasting contributions to religious scholarship.

M. Gerald Bradford
Executive Director