Oriental Research in Beirut and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1931–32).
He had done what no one else had in the first century
of the Church’s organization. From an academic stand point, Brother Sperry’s professors were some of the most “learned men who ever lived,” according to Hugh Nibley.7 “Each of them was a giant endowed far beyond the normal run of men with independence of mind, imagination, curiosity, insight, energy, and integrity.” The University of Chicago’s theological faculty surpassed any other faculty in the country by the sheer volume of works it produced the year Brother Sperry entered the University.8 He never regretted choosing Chicago, as he recognized the caliber of professors instructing him.9 Professors that made up the theological faculty at the University of Chicago stood unequaled in transforming American Christian thought, especially modern thought, according to Noll.10 Even so, they lacked the priesthood and the gift of the Spirit, but Brother Sperry had both of those qualifications and took everything the secular world of scholarship could offer and sought to use it to the Church’s benefit. As his postdoctoral work in the Holy Land came to a close, he Sidney B. Sperry in the late 1920s.
considered that he might have the largest impact by being a Latter-day Saint scholar out in the world. He “seriously
Brother Sperry felt he could contribute to the Church
considered staying somewhere in the east, at a larger, more
in a significant way by becoming a scholar who knew the
prestigious center of learning” instead of coming to BYU.11
history and languages of the prophets of old. After joining
The Lord had other ideas.
the system in 1922, he had numerous conversations with Elder James E. Talmage about his idea to obtain a PhD in biblical studies. Elder Talmage said it was time to have someone in the Church take the lead and become a fully trained theologian. Other General Authorities shared Elder Talmage’s feelings. He told Brother Sperry that in his mind, he would do a great service to the Church
Brother Sperry felt he could contribute to the Church in a significant way by becoming a scholar who knew the history and languages of the prophets of old.
by taking up the task of learning the ancient languages, especially those that could shed light on the scriptures.
Elder Talmage’s thoughts were personal, not official. The
in the Holy Land, he had a dream. Karl G. Maeser and
Church was in no way sponsoring Brother Sperry (as it did
Alfred Kelly had seen similar visions about BYU, but Dr.
semiformally for a number of prospective biblical scholars
Sperry’s vision was singular in that the vision was more
after Sperry had finished).
expansive and far-reaching than the previous two.13 He
saw a veritable Mecca of learning—multistory buildings,
Brother Sperry received a master’s degree (1926) and
One night in 1932,12 as his studies were wrapping up
his PhD (1931) in Old Testament languages and literature
tens of thousands of students, world-class professors and
from the University of Chicago. In 1929 he taught his first
facilities. The buildings were tall and light colored, and
two Old Testament courses at BYU. He also did postdoc
appeared white. He saw concourses of students from all
toral work as a university fellow at the American School of
over the world. In his own words:
W INTE R 2 0 0 9 11
Published on Feb 26, 2009
Published on Feb 26, 2009
BYU Religious Education Review magazine provides readers with information about BYU’s college of Religious Education, the Religious Studies...