Over on the Peterson Obsession Board, one or two of the usual suspects are wondering exactly who it is that pays for all my traveling.
One of them declares, as if he actually has the faintest idea of what he is talking about, that my travels are paid for by The Church — cue lightning, thunder, and the terrified neighing of horses — because, of course, I earned lots and lots of cash as a highly-compensated apologist. (His claim is untrue, of course, and is probably a conscious but entirely casual lie of the kind that is favored and indeed celebrated there. I earned my salary for decades as a full-time professor of Islamic studies and Arabic, and I have never earned a dime of salary as an apologist.)
I can help these poor souls, if they want to be helped. However, it should be noted that I’ve explained this all before, to no avail, so there’s no guarantee that this attempt will be any more successful than the previous efforts have been. When one is determined to misunderstand something, accurately understanding it becomes much more difficult.
My wife and I like to travel. We knew that about ourselves even before we were married. Our wedding occurred shortly after my return from six months in Israel, for example. And we spent our first four married years living in Egypt, where our first child was born, and we traveled from there to Russia and Kenya and Cyprus and, multiple times on the way to and from Cairo, in Europe. I retired last year from teaching at BYU, and one of the elements of our planning for retirement was to allocate a substantial chunk of our savings to . . . travel. Moreover, we have family located in various places not only in the United States but abroad, and we like to see them from time to time. (If that irritates my critics, well, they’ll just have to go on being irritated.)
So we travel a fair amount on our own dime.
But we also accompany tour groups. Why? Partially because, as explained above, we like to travel. And partially because people have asked us to do so.
That’s why we’re here in Israel at the moment. We arrived a day early, because I always prefer to be at least slightly less jet-lagged than those I’m leading — they’re free to fall asleep on the bus; I’m not — but the rest of our group will be arriving here this afternoon. We have an orientation meeting planned for after dinner tonight and the festivities get fully underway fairly early tomorrow morning.
Why would a company ask us to accompany a tour like this? Not because The Church — cue lightning, thunder, and the terrified neighing of horses — has ordered them to do so. At least, I’m aware of nothing to suggest that. No, the reason is more likely this: The company calculates, whether correctly or not, that having me accompany a tour will attract people to sign up for that tour, thus enhancing the company’s financial bottom line. It’s as simple as that.
What are my duties? I’ll use Israel as an example: I speak at every site, giving historical background for it, including Islamic and modern political background, and connecting it (where applicable) to the scriptures. I also speak on the bus while we’re traveling from one site to another. I’m available to talk with members of the group at every meal. On at least one night during the tour, I give a fireside. And I speak while we’re out in a boat on Lake Kinnereth, in the Galilee.
What do I get for doing this? In order to persuade me to accompany their tour group, the company pays travel, lodging, and food expenses for me and my wife. (Actually, they never pay quite enough to fully cover all of our expenses, but what they cover gives us a pretty substantial discount for such trips.) Some who accompany tours are also paid a sum in addition to their expenses. I never have been. Perhaps I’m simply stupid. And perhaps that may change, now that I’ve retired. But this hasn’t proven a particularly good path to wealth for me.
Is what I’m doing uncommon? Not even close. Plenty of LDS-oriented travel companies do the same thing. Is it peculiar to Latter-day Saints? Hardly. If you look in issues of the Biblical Archaeology Review, for example, you’ll see advertisements for dozens of tours to be accompanied by Professor X of Such-and-Such University or Dr. Y of This-or-That College. You’ll also see analogous tours advertised in the alumni magazines of Harvard and Stanford and UCLA, and such magazines as Scientific American advertise accompanied tours to such places as Tierra del Fuego and the Galapagos Islands.
The critics of my travels don’t seem to get out much.
Why did I decide to study Arabic? Nobody in particular has been asking that question, but one of the functions of this blog for me is to serve as a sort of repository for autobiographical fragments. Someday, for example, my kids may find such things interesting. Or, at least, some psychiatrist might care.
So, again, why did I decide to study Arabic?
Well, for one thing I was fascinated by the Middle East, throughout its history — and the dominant language of most of the Middle East is Arabic, and has been for many centuries. And there weren’t many Latter-day Saints looking seriously at things Arabic and Islamic back then.
But another thing that caught my attention, perhaps rather oddly, was the sheer elegant beauty of the Arabic script, long before I could read it or even sound it out. And I’m not really talking about calligraphy. No, it was the ordinary printed look of ordinary Arabic that captivated me. I hadn’t yet really seen artistic adaptations of the script.
Once I got into the study of the language, though, I became impressed by other aspects of it. One of the aspects that intrigued me, and still intrigues me, was the brilliance of the triconsonantal root system on which Arabic is based.
The vast majority of Arabic words are constructed from a body of three-consonant roots that convey a basic meaning.
The root j-l-s, for example, relates to the idea of “sitting.”
Thus, jalasa means “he sat.” A jalsa is a “session” (a “seating”) of a legislature or a committee, or some such thing. The word jilsa refers to a manner of sitting. A majlis is a gathering or a conference room. Or a legislative body. A jaliis is a table companion, a person who sits with another at some sort of party. A jaliisa is a feminine table companion. And so forth.
Likewise, the root k-t-b connotes the concept of “writing.”
So, kataba (“he wrote”), kattaba (“to cause/order someone to write something”), kaataba (“to carry on a correspondence”), aktaba (“to dictate”), takaataba (“to write to each other”), iktataba (“to make a copy of something”), and istaktaba (“to have a copy made by someone”). Likewise, kaatib (“writer,” “scribe”), kitaab (“book”), kutayyib (“booklet”), kitaaba (a “system of writing”), kitaabi (“literary” or “scriptural”), maktuub (“written”), maktab (a place where writing is done, e.g. a “desk” or an “office”), maktaba (“library” or “bookstore”), miktaab (“typewriter”), mukaataba (“exchange of letters”), mukaatib (“correspondent,” “reporter”), and etc.
It’s an ingenious system.
And, of course, Arabic is related to Hebrew. For example, the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament) is often known among Jews as the TaNaKh, which is an acronym derived from the names of its three traditional divisions: the Torah (Instruction, or Law, also called the Pentateuch), the Neviʾim (the Prophets, cognate with Arabic nabi, “prophet”), and the Ketuvim (the “Writings,” recognizably from the same Semitic k-t-b root mentioned just above).