In multi-cultural Los Angeles, an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls from Brigham Young University’s Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) has brought visitors from around the globe to the Los Angeles Temple Visitors Center during the months of February and March. Muslims, Christians and Jews have mingled in the enthusiastic crowds, seemingly oblivious to the present-day world political climate.
Articles announcing the exhibit have appeared in the Jewish Journal and The Beirut Times, as well as The Los Angeles Times, The Church News, and The Latter-day Trumpet. A proclamation was issued by Ambassador Yuval Rotem, Consul General of the Israeli Consulate, thanking the Visitors Center for “such a public example of appreciation of Jewish culture.” Many Muslims, Christians and Jews were in the VIP crowd when the proclamation was presented to Elder Norman N. White, director of the Los Angeles Temple Visitors’ Center.
Elder White and his wife, Kay, from Provo, Utah, arrived in California as the new directors of the Visitors’ Center only two weeks ahead of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. With the help of California Los Angeles Mission President Michael J. Partridge and his wife, Patricia, Elder Carl and Sister Mary Wagner, visitor center missionaries from Sandy, Utah, and Public Affairs missionaries Jack and Carolyn Allen, of Huntington Beach, California, they had a “Temple Hill Summit” meeting to plan ways to maximize the exhibit’s visit to Los Angeles.
“We were fortunate that the Allens and the Wagners had already been brainstorming before we arrived. We hit the ground running,” said Elder White. “We created quite a media blitz.”
Utilizing the 160 missionaries in the Los Angeles Mission, flyers in English and Spanish were passed out in areas around the Los Angeles Temple. Information packets were also sent to eight other mission presidents in Southern California. Stakes and wards were notified through the multi-stake Public Affairs network, students were informed through the Institutes and various Hillel Centers (the Jewish equivalent to LDS college Institutes). Information was given to local libraries and schools, besides the local newspapers. Adding to the interest of the exhibit, several FARMS’ scholars were brought to Los Angeles for speaking engagements. The firesides and lectures proved quite successful, bringing overflow crowds to many of the events.
Dr. Donald W. Parry, an associate professor of Hebrew language and literature at BYU and one of only eight Americans on the Dead Sea Scrolls translation team of 65 scholars, came in February. He spoke at a VIP open house, gave an in-depth fireside on the LDS viewpoint to a crowd of 350 at a local LDS chapel, and spoke to a smaller, more intimate group of 50 members of the American Jewish Committee of Los Angeles on the Jewish perspective.
“Dr. Parry was well received in all three settings,” said Elder White. “He spoke to LDS and non-LDS with ease, impressing everyone with his knowledge and experience.”
After Dr. Parry’s lecture for the American Jewish Committee, dessert was served while attendees toured the exhibit and visited with the LDS missionary couples. One visitor remarked as she was leaving, “I’m not sure what I enjoyed most, Dr. Parry and the exhibit, or the wonderful hospitality of the LDS people.”
The Los Angeles Public Affairs office has worked to build a relationship with the AJC for several years. A virtual “who’s who” of prominent individuals from the local Los Angeles Jewish community, the AJC is a leading organization committed to strengthening understanding and communications across religious lines. A contingent of the Board of Directors of the AJC traveled to Salt Lake City last year for a three-day VIP tour hosted by the Church that culminated in a one-hour visit with President Gordon B. Hinckley.
After touring Salt Lake City, the AJC reciprocated with an invitation to the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve to visit Los Angeles. Arrangements were made for Elder Jeffrey R. Holland to stop over as he and his wife, Patricia, traveled from Chile to General Conference at the end of September in 2003. Elder Holland spoke before the AJC Board of Directors with about 50 people in attendance.
Following Dr. Parry’s seminar in Los Angeles, a thank you note from Rabbi Michael Perelmuter, Director of Inter-religious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said, “I look forward to the continuation of our wonderful dialogue.”
On another weekend in March, Dr. Noel B. Reynolds, former president of FARMS and current executive director of the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (ISPART), and Dr. Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University spoke one night on the LDS perspective of the Dead Sea Scrolls to an LDS audience of about 350 people. Knowing Dr. Peterson’s expertise in Islamic studies, the Southern California Public Affairs Council made arrangements for him to speak specifically to the Muslim community on Sunday evening. With the help of Ingrid Tate, the Consular Relations specialist on the Southern California Public Affairs Council, several Muslim Consuls General were invited as well as Muslims from many mosques in the greater Los Angeles area. Nearly 150 people, more than half of them Muslim, heard Dr. Peterson lecture on the Islamic Translation Series and Middle Eastern Texts Initiative.
In the enthusiastic crowd were the Malaysian Consul General, The Honorable Zulkephli Mohd Noor, and his wife, Dr. Noor Hasima. Dr. Noor said, “When some people learn we are Muslim, they say bad things about us. It is nice to know there are people like Dr. Peterson who know that we are a wonderful people.” Dr. Noor, who has a doctorate in Immunology, is on leave from her teaching responsibilities at the University of Malaya. She was so impressed with Dr. Peterson’s work that she is trying to find a way to make his books available to the Islamic Studies Faculty at the University.
Also in attendance were two Imams, (high religious leaders) Ashraf Carrim, with his wife, Athia, and Dr. Yahia Abdul-Rahman.
Dr. Peterson told the attentive crowd, “We shouldn’t impose our modern-day political situation on the culture patterns of the past.” He spoke of a time when Muslims, Christians and Jews got along without problems and freely shared academic ideas. Many of the intellectual and scientific achievements of the modern world are built upon foundations inherited from this “Islamic age of enlightenment,” Dr. Peterson said. “Think of doing long division in Roman numerals. Mathematics is just one very obvious example of an area in our modern lives that is blessed by Islamic wisdom.”
But, he explained, the importance of the Islamic influence is often forgotten or undervalued because of linguistic and other barriers. The Islamic Translation Series was established to promote a greater awareness of and scholarly access to the rich tradition of Islamic philosophy and science.
Besides the Islamic Translation Series, Dr. Peterson spoke of the Graeco-Arabic Sciences and Philosophy Series and the Eastern Christian Texts Series that includes the Complete Medical Works of Moses Maimonides, a renowned Jewish scholar. To date, in conjunction with Chicago University Press, BYU has translated and published ten books in the three series of which Dr. Peterson is now Editor-in-Chief.
At the conclusion of the lecture, Dr.
Rahman, who is the retired chairman of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California representing 57 Islamic Centers and 500,000 Muslims, stood and said, “On behalf of the Muslim community, my children and my grandchildren, I want to thank you, Dr. Peterson, for your great work in making these important writings available because they (his children and grandchildren) don’t read Arabic.” The audience laughed and applauded.
“This was a most enlightening evening,” Dr. Omar Alfi, a geneticist from nearby Glendale told Dr. Peterson. “I enjoyed your lecture very much.”
“When will you have more lectures like this?” asked Mohamed Elsisy of the Walnut Islamic Center, about 45 miles east of Los Angeles. “I would be very interested in driving this far again.”
Dr. Nur Amersi, Chairperson of Communications and Publications of the Shia Ismaili Muslim Council for the Western United States had 18 people attend. She said everyone was very enthused. “Dr. Peterson is so knowledgeable, he has amazing content and his delivery is astounding,” she said. “He speaks from his heart and is very sincere. He doesn’t need to ‘airbrush’ anything he says.”
Refreshments favored by Muslims including Baklava and Sharbot (a clear orange- flavored drink) were served with the help of Parvin Jeinchi, a Persian friend, who assisted the Visitors Center missionaries in hosting the evening.
Hosting the March meeting of the Women’s Inter-Religious Committee on Temple Hill, the Public Affairs Council arranged for the group of 20 women to tour the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit following the business meeting.
“It is a fascinating exhibit,” said Simran Khalsa, president of the WIRC. “I want to come back and go through it again—there is so much to learn.”
A final weekend March 26 and 27 will feature Dr. Stephen D. Ricks, BYU professor in Near Eastern Religions. He will speak at 7:30 p.m., Friday night at the Los Angeles Visitors Center about “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Mormon.” On Saturday evening, he will be joined by a prominent rabbi from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom. Starting at 7:30 p.m., Dr. Ricks will speak first on “The LDS Perspective of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” followed by Rabbi Etshalom speaking on “The Jewish Perspective of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Anyone wishing more information may call the Visitors Center at 310-474-1549.
When the exhibit closes March 31, it will be packed for shipment to England where it will begin a tour of the British Isles before going on to Europe. Accompanying it in Europe will be a recently called missionary couple, Wayne and Janet (Lee) Chamberlain.