Bountiful Harvest

Brigham Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship has released a new book entitled Bountiful Harvest: Essays in Honor of S. Kent Brown:

Professor Brown, now retired from Brigham Young University (on behalf of which he also served over many years as a teacher, associate director, and director of BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies), has been a friend to me and my wife for roughly thirty-five years.

I first went to the Near East with Kent, when he led a Jerusalem study abroad program in the first half of 1978.  By the time I had gone home to get married and then returned to the Middle East, he and his family had moved from Jerusalem to Cairo for a year of research at the Coptic Museum.

As I think back on those days, I marvel at the sheer foolhardiness of it.  My wife and I, newlyweds, arrived in Cairo without any idea of where we were going to stay or of what, exactly, I was going to do.  (I’ll tell that story sometime.)  Communications between Egypt and the United States were very difficult in those days, and the Cairo Airport was chaotic and confusing.

But — pleasant surprise! — Kent was there, waiting for us.  And he and Gayle put us up in their family’s Ma‘adi apartment until we could find a place of our own.

It was life-saving.

He may also be responsible for my having a job at BYU:

My wife and I stayed on in Egypt for three years after Kent and his family had gone home.  During our last year there, I received a note from Kent indicating that Robert Matthews, the dean of Religious Education at BYU, and Richard Cracroft, the University’s dean of Humanities, were going to be coming through Egypt as part of a trip to evaluate BYU’s study abroad program in Jerusalem.  Whatever else I might be doing, he suggested, I should drop it and be their tour guide.  It would be helpful, he remarked, when and if I sought a job at BYU.  So I did it.  And, sure enough, a few years later, it was Richard Cracroft who approved my hiring at the University. 

(Deans Cracroft and Matthews had dinner at our little apartment one night, where, among other things, the road out in front was unpaved, we had no car, the toilet could only be flushed by pouring buckets of water into it, and, before our rice could be eaten, diners had to pick the small rocks out.  When Dean Cracroft introduced me to his associate dean, Garold Davis, he remarked that the best thing about me was that they could get me “cheap.”  “I’ve seen how he lived in Egypt,” he explained.)

Anyway, I was delighted to contribute to Bountiful Harvest, a festchrift in honor of Kent Brown.  (The title reflects the effort he has put into studying the likely route of Lehi’s party through Arabia, including Old World Bountiful, which is beautifully illustrated in his film production Journey of Faith.)

The table of contents of Bountiful Harvest can be found here, on the website of the University of Chicago Press, which is also distributing it.  My own piece, entitled “Exploratory Notes on the Futuwwa and Its Several Incarnations,” concerns a very slippery, obscure, and hard-to-pin-down group of religious fighters that, in my opinion, provides a good analogy to the Gadianton Robbers of the Book of Mormon.  It’s the latest in a small series of pieces that I’ve written on the topic, partially designed to counter claims (made by writers ranging from Fawn Brodie to Dan Vogel) that the Gadianton Robbers are simply thinly-disguised and fictionalized Freemasons drawn right out of Joseph Smith’s early nineteenth-century.  I intend to write at least one more essay on the subject.

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