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William J. Hamblin (1954-2019)

William J. Hamblin (1954–2019)

It is with great shock and sadness that we note the sudden and unexpected passing, on Tuesday, 10 December 2019, of our friend and colleague William J. Hamblin, who played a pivotal role in the establishment of The Interpreter Foundation.

Bill earned a doctorate in the history of the Middle East from the University of Michigan following studies at Brigham Young University and at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad in Cairo. (The title of his doctoral dissertation was The Fatimid Army During the Early Crusades.) Prior to 1989, when he joined the faculty of BYU’s Department of History, he served as a Middle East intelligence analyst for the United States Department of Defense, an instructor at Campbell University in North Carolina, and an assistant professor of History at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Bill’s principal research interests, enriched by lengthy teaching assignments at BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, were in ancient and medieval military history, including the Fatimids and Mamluks of Egypt and the Crusades, and in the global history of religion. In the latter area, he was especially taken with anything related to temples and temple worship. His range of interests is visible in such works as:

  • Holy Warriors: A Module of Faith, Intrigue and Death During the Crusades (TimeLine Ltd, 1985)
  • With Jay P. Anglin, HarperCollins College Outline World History to 1648 (HarperCollins, 1993).
  • Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History (Routledge, 2006).
  • Solomon’s Temple: Myth and History (Thames and Hudson, 2007), with David Seely.

For almost precisely eight years until his death, Bill co-wrote a regular bi-weekly column on world religions for the Deseret News with Daniel C. Peterson.

He even co-authored a historical novel: The Book of Malchus (Deseret Book, 2010), with Neil K. Newell.

From the time he joined the faculty at BYU, Bill was deeply involved in apologetics and in writing on subjects related to the claims of the Restoration. Among many other contributions, he served for several years on the board of the old Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). A complete bibliography of his work during the period of his FARMS involvement would be desirable, but here are two representative examples:

  • Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), edited with Stephen D. Ricks.
  • “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti- Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1.

When a newly appointed leader of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship—organizationally speaking, the successor to FARMS—chose to take that group in a dramatically different direction in 2012, Bill’s was one of the most energetic voices advocating the immediate establishment of a new organization to pick up the torch of apologetics and of explicitly faithful scholarship. Thus, he was present at the creation of The Interpreter Foundation; that is to say, he was among a small handful of people who met for lunch at Provo’s Olive Garden restaurant to discuss whether or not we should try to launch a new group to assume the role of the old FARMS and Maxwell Institute. We decided to do so, and 2.5 weeks later, the second article that we published was one of his: “‘I Have Revealed Your Name’: The Hidden Temple in John 17,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 1 (2012): 61-89.

His contributions were vital to Interpreter’s early success, including initial work on our still-continuing series of scripture roundtable discussions, two additional articles, the convening of a conference, and a resulting book:

  • “The SÔD of YWHH and the Endowment,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4 (2013): 147-54.
  • “Vindicating Josiah,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4 (2013): 165-76.
  • Edited with David R. Seely, Temple Insights: Proceedings of the Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference “The Temple on Mount Zion,” 22 September 2012 (Eborn Books and The Interpreter Foundation, 2014).

We already miss him enormously. Not only as a learned colleague and fellow-laborer, but as a friend and as a genuinely unique and often very funny personality. We pray for his family and for all those who love him.

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