“Elvis Has Left the Library”

“Elvis Has Left the Library” June 15, 2024


Gothenburg, Sweden, on a map of Sweden
A map of Sweden, showing the location of Göteborg
(Wikimedia Commons)

A new, 54-minute-long episode of the series A Marvelous Work — an episode that, shockingly, includes me — has been posted on the website of Scripture Central.  Watch it at your own risk:   “Who Actually Saw the Gold Plates? | A Marvelous Work Episode 5”

FAIR Göteborg poster
The poster for today’s FAIR conference in Göteborg or Gothenburg, Sweden

The final gathering in the series of European FAIR conferences for 2024 drew a respectable audience today, largely filling one of the local Göteborg-area chapels.  And, of course, it was recorded (and it may have been streamed and certainly will be streamed).

A couple of the speakers today — Jeffrey Thayne and DeLayna Beck — were joining us for the first time.  (See the program above.)  I was really pleased that Per Herrey was there for the morning session, though he was obliged to leave just before the lunch break by some sort of family health issue; just before he left, he sat down to the piano and he and his brother Louis sang a song that he had written.  It bears testimony of the Savior.  I quite liked it.

My involvement with the FAIR programs here in Europe is now done.  Scott Gordon will be doing solo presentations in Düsseldorf, Germany, and in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Ben Spackman is scheduled for a presentation in Paris, but tonight’s gathering of the presenters and their spouses (or, in one case, a daughter) for dinner brought the conferences to a close.  It’s been interesting, and I think that the programs have been reasonably — not spectacularly, but reasonably — successful.

The Moon, with Jupiter
A waxing half moon over Brofjorden, as seen from Sandvik, Lysekil Municipality, Sweden. In addition to the mångata (“moon street”) there is a reflection of the moon right at the mouth of the fjord. A bright planet to the left of the moon — most likely Jupiter — is also creating a reflection in the water.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image). I didn’t see this myself, but it’s beautiful nonetheless, and it’s Swedish.

With each successive iteration of these conferences — in Rome, and then in Salzburg, and, finally, here in Göteborg — attendance has grown substantially better.  Even Rome, though, was far from the worst attendance that I’ve ever experienced.  Two experiences from early in my academic career:

Shortly after joining the faculty at Brigham Young University, I saw notices for a meeting of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Studies Association (RMMRSA), to be held (rather oddly) at Grand Canyon Village in Grand Canyon National Park on the canyon’s south rim in northern Arizona.  For having spent most of my American life in either Southern California or Utah, I’ve only had three or four occasions to visit the Grand Canyon (although I’ve flown over it multiple times, traveling between Salt Lake City and Phoenix), so I thought the RMMRSA meeting there a good chance to check out a new and potentially congenial organization and, at the same time, to enjoy one of North America’s most spectacular landscapes.

I proposed a paper about the early eleventh-century Fatimid ruler of Egypt who, by destroying the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, had provoked the Crusades.  It was entitled “Was al-Hakim a Machiavel, a Madman, or a Messiah?” and it was accepted.  Accordingly, when the time came, we packed our young children up and drove down.  My parents joined us there from California, my wife’s parents joined us from Colorado, and we had a good multigenerational family vacation.

As academic conferences go, though, it wasn’t exactly a success for me.  I found very few papers on the program that were of particular interest to me, and mine was the only Islam-related paper at the entire conference.  For my session, only three of us were present:  The chair of the session was there to call it to order, I was there, and the author of the session’s other paper was there, as well, to give his presentation.  Outside, through the plate-glass window of our conference room, I saw scores of conference attendees strolling back and forth, looking over the Canyon, and talking pictures.  I’ve never since attended a meeting of the RMMRSA.

A year or two later, I received a note from my friend Bill Hamblin, who had not yet joined the faculty at BYU (whereby hangs a tale!) but was either still working as an analyst at the Department of Defense or perhaps newly teaching at the University of Southern Mississippi.  (I think the latter.)  He had been approached by a friend who was involved with the American Research Center in Egypt, which was holding its annual meeting that year in, appropriately enough, Memphis, Tennessee.  They had always been heavily focused on Egyptology, the study of ancient Egypt, but had decided that they wanted to foster work on medieval Islamic Egypt, as well.  Could Bill suggest a person or two who might be willing to join them in Memphis?  So Bill reached out to me.

When the time came, a stoic session chairman was in attendance, plainly wishing rather to be in the next room.  And there was Bill, who formed the entirety of my audience.  Next door, a large assembly of Egyptologists was laughing repeatedly and with great gusto in a session that — I’m not making this up — was devoted to the consideration of reflexive verbs in Middle Egyptian.  (Comedic gold, right?)  Bill and I decided to release the session chair so that he could join the grammatical revelry next door.  Bill had driven to the conference and he wanted to visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland.  So I read my paper to him in the car as he drove.

When we arrived, though, he thought the entry fee too high, so I’ve still not actually been to Graceland.  Which is fine, because I’ve really never been much of an Elvis fan.  (As in, I’m not at all an Elvis fan.). Instead, though, we spent some time in an establishment near Graceland’s entrance that claimed — rightly, I expect — to be the world’s largest store dedicated to Elvis memorabilia.  I bought nothing.

(Incidentally, part of Keith Erekson’s presentation at these conferences has been about . . .   Elvis Presley.  Really.  And — trust me — it actually fits quite nicely into his Church-related theme.  (See his BYU Studies article “Elvis Has Left the Library: Identifying Forged Annotations in a Book of Mormon.”)  Though I suspect that none of the chapels in which we’ve spoken have resounded very often to the sound of “All Shook Up.”

Posted from Göteborg, Sweden



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