Seventh-century BC symposium to bring ancient learning to life

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The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies will host an afternoon of lectures on writings in seventh-century BC on Friday Aug. 31, from 1:30-5:30pm  in the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium.

The Willes Center for Book of Mormon studies has sponsored two symposiums since its beginning in 2007. In 2008, it focused on the importance of understanding and applying sacred ancient symbols. This year, the center invited four prominent scholars from around the world to speak.

John Gee, Associate Research Professor of Egyptology at the Willes Center, emphasized that each speaker is among the most prominent of seventh-century scholars in the world.

“We have a really, really good selection of speakers. It is not unusual to bring in a good speaker to BYU, but it is unusual to get this many at once,” Gee said. “If you want to know about what it was like to get an education in the learning of the Jews, this is the time to find out.”

Paul Hoskisson, the director of the Willes Center of Book of Mormon Studies since 2008 and a professor of Ancient Scripture, said the topics covered in this symposium deal with pivotal issues of writing during the seventh century BC. They will help listeners gain knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages we have now in general learning and teaching.

“If history is defined as those times when humans wrote things down, then the half way point of history to date would be about 550 BC,” Hoskisson said. “Therefore, it can be said that the seventh century closes out the first half of all history.”

John Gee believes that the seventh century is a very key century in both world history and biblical history.

“It saw both the height and the demise of the Assyrian empire and saw the first spread of the Greeks,” Gee said. “For the Bible, most of the prophetic books come from that time period, stretching from Isaiah to Jeremiah.”

During this period of the probable formation of the early biblical books, the Aramaic alphabet, a precursor of our own alphabet, was also broadly used. That alphabet has proven very valuable in present-day writing.

Another similarity to our own day includes writing on tablets. “Not on tablet computers,” Gee said, “but on wooden tablets.”

Professor Marvin Sweeney from Claremont Lincoln University, Calif., whose topic is “Seventh-century Judean Historiography,” will discuss writings of Jewish history in seventh-century BC.

Professor K. Lawson Younger from Trinity International University, Ill., whose topic is “The Role of Aramaic in the Neo-Assyrian Empire,” will talk about the various languages used during the Pax Assyriaca.

Speaking on “The State of Literacy in the Levant of the Seventh Century BC,” Professor Christopher Rollston of Emmanuel Christian Seminary of Tennessee, will discuss what is known about the range of literacy during the seventh century, and Professor Stefan Wimmer of the University of Munich, Germany, will expound on what little is known about the use of an Egyptian script among the Jews in his lecture “Palestinian Hieratic.”

“This is something to be excited about,” Gee said. “If students can possibly find the time, they should flood the lecture hall.”

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