The Endowment for Biblical Research, Boston celebrates a historic milestone

By
  • Kelly Byquist
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Mary Beecher Longyear in 1922. Photograph, P5606, Longyear Museum collection.

Mary Beecher Longyear always loved the Bible.

From a young age, her mother’s “God-loving element” impressed upon Mary and her siblings the need for daily prayer and regular Bible study.1 But while little Mary was deeply attentive whenever her mother read aloud from the Scriptures, she was equally curious and often asked her mother questions about what she was reading. The answers, though well-meaning, were never satisfying.2

When Mary became a district schoolteacher at age 16, she taught her students to commit to memory chapters in the Bible, which they recited at morning exercises. And when she had children of her own, the first lessons she taught them were from Bible stories.3

When her third child suddenly passed on, Mrs. Longyear turned to the Bible for comfort and began earnestly searching for “a living God.” She also read books on philosophy and homeopathy, but once again, the answers they offered her did not satisfy.4

Some years later, Mary met Sue Ella Bradshaw, a Christian Science practitioner who was a student of Mary Baker Eddy’s. Miss Bradshaw healed Mrs. Longyear’s baby son and shared her own healing through Christian Science. The meeting was life changing. “That convinced me,” Mrs. Longyear later wrote, “that there was a healing power based on understanding the Bible.”5

Over time, as Mary Longyear’s appreciation and understanding of Christian Science strengthened, so did her grasp of the Bible and she found herself more and more involved in projects related to these two great interests. “The history of Christian Science must prove the Bible true,” she wrote in her diary many years later.6

Mary Longyear outside the Garden Tomb (left) and wearing a wide-brimmed sunhat at the Western Wall (right) in Jerusalem in 1924. Photographs, LMDB-12064, Longyear Museum collection.

In 1910, Mrs. Longyear received a gift from the Christian Science Board of Directors of Mrs. Eddy’s grandmother’s spinning wheel, which launched her collection. In 1920, in need of an organization in which to house, catalog, order, and professionalize this collection, Mrs. Longyear took another bold step: She established the Zion Research Foundation – known today as the Endowment for Biblical Research – which is celebrating its centennial this year.7

The foundation’s mission was to “facilitate and advance research into the origin of the Hebrew religion, and to promote the more general study of that subject and its application to human needs.”8 To that end, it was tasked with collecting  books and manuscripts related to the Scriptures, translating literature, financing individuals and institutions engaged in archaeology and research, and publishing, selling, and distributing periodic literature.

Mrs. Longyear converted and remodeled the bowling alley in the basement of her home on Fisher Hill in Brookline, Massachusetts, into the Zion Research Library. Left: Bowling alley before renovation. Photograph, LMDB-12071, Longyear Museum collection. Right: Pencil sketch of Zion Research Library from an early advertisement. Longyear Museum collection.

Mrs. Longyear was never quite able to recall exactly what it was that gave her the idea to create the Zion Research Foundation, “unless it sprang from a seed of desire planted in my heart when a young woman while reading a novel called Arius the Libyan.” The novel, based on the true story of Arius the presbyter (256-336 A.D.), who opposed Christendom on the nature of Christ and the Trinity at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., must have stirred its reader.9

“The tribes of Judah and Benjamin and the ten lost tribes of Israel must according to prophecy gather at Jerusalem in Zion in the ‘latter days,’” Mrs. Longyear also later recalled. “So I accepted the name that came to my thought without question, ‘Zion Research Library.’”10

Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge, Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, at his desk in the British Museum, London. Photograph courtesy ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

One objective of the Zion Research Foundation was to make literature available not only to scholars, but also to the average reader and seeker. “It is for the use of advanced students and interested searchers for the history of Truth,” noted Marguerite Smith, librarian of the organization from 1921-1955.11

“Not how large, but how choice,” was Mrs. Longyear’s motto as she carefully selected books to grace the shelves of her library, which eventually grew to some 13,500 volumes.12

During the budding stages of the organization, Mrs. Longyear sought advice from professors at Harvard, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania.13 She also consulted Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge, the long-standing curator of Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities at the British Museum, who was an early enthusiast of her plans.14

In April 1920, Mrs. Longyear traveled to England and Scotland in search of books for her fledgling library. While in London, she met with Dr. Budge. He encouraged her efforts, suggesting titles that she might acquire and introducing her to rare book dealers.

“I know of nothing like it in the world,” he remarked about her library, “and I congratulate America on having the prospect of one. America must lead the world. Surely any nation that has ‘In God we trust’ on her copper pennies will succeed.”15

Advertisement in the Boston Globe, March 1, 1923.

Meanwhile, the foundation was making steady strides in the fields of archaeology and translations. In the spring of 1919, Mrs. Longyear donated $10,000 to the University of Michigan for an expedition to Sinai and over the next five years financed the first printing of the Bible into Braille.16

Mrs. Longyear became a member of the distinguished Society of Biblical Literature in 1922. Zion Research Foundation was introduced at the organization’s annual meeting, held that year at the Yale Divinity School in New Haven.17 Two months later, the Zion Research Library officially opened its doors to the public.18

In 1925, Mrs. Longyear again attended the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, where she gave a report on her foundation’s activities. That same year, she hosted the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, as well as the Special Libraries Association of Boston, in her Brookline home.19 Clearly, the Zion Research Foundation was becoming a name in religious and library circles.

The Longyear mansion (above left) in Brookline, Massachusetts, which originally housed the Zion Research Library. Boston Globe, December 9, 1951.

Since that time, the foundation has continued to thrive. In the early 1950s, the library hosted the first public Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in America (it later acquired a Dead Sea Scroll jar, one of only four in the United States) and in the late 1980s launched a public lecture series given each year at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and throughout major cities in the United States. In 1976, the Zion Research Foundation changed its name to the Endowment for Biblical Research (EBR), whose mission is “to advance scholarly research into, and the general study of, biblical origins, shedding greater light on the meaning of the scriptural texts in the time they were first written and heard.”20

Currently, EBR is helping to fund an online research tool called the “Contexticon of New Testament Language.” Contexticon brings to light fresh possibilities for understanding Biblical terms and texts and examines how New Testament authors used words and phrases in comparison with usages found in other literature of the time.21

Portrait of Mary Beecher Longyear by Ruth Colman, daughter of Janet and Erwin Colman, two early Christian Science pioneers. Oil painting, AW0036, Longyear Museum collection.

“Religion is the most vital subject to all mankind,” wrote librarian Marguerite Smith in an unpublished editorial for The Christian Science Monitor in 1933. “It is the study of the history of this interpretation as expressed in the Bible and by the Christian Church that the Zion Research Library promotes. . . . In point of time the subject is beyond comprehension and in point of breadth and diversion it is endless.”22

The steps taken on this “most vital subject” during the first century of Mrs. Longyear’s biblical foundation are admirable. The next century awaits!

To learn more about the Endowment for Biblical Research, visit www.ebrboston.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes


  1. Mary Beecher Longyear, “Autobiography,” Longyear Museum collection, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, hereafter referenced as LMC. Mary’s mother, Caroline, diligently took her children to Sunday School at local Methodist and Presbyterian churches and made sure that each day began with prayer. Mary was very active in church work throughout her life. Ibid.
  2. “I was always deeply interested in hearing my mother read from the Holy Bible,” Mrs. Longyear recalled, “and I asked her many questions about God and Jesus and Heaven, but never received any satisfying replies. For instance, I could not understand the doctrine of the Trinity. The combination of Three Persons in One baffled my understanding! The doctrine at that time impressed upon Sunday School scholars,—that  one could feel sure of going to Heaven if he only believed that Jesus was the Son of God—seemed also inexplicable.” Mary Beecher Longyear, “For Public Inspection Until August 18, 1924,” 1, LMC. However, reading Josephus was very helpful to young Mary: “When I was a little child I longed to have the proof that the Bible was true. When I read Josephus I was satisfied.” Mary Beecher Longyear, Historical Diary #1, March 9, 1918, LMC.
  3. “For Public Inspection,” 1, LMC.
  4. Questions about the Bible continued to stump Mrs. Longyear during these years. No minister she spoke to or theological book she consulted gave her satisfying answers. Ibid., 1-2.
  5. Ibid. Longyear Museum Quarterly News 8, no. 3 (Autumn 1971).
  6. Historical Diary #1, July 16, 1918, LMC.
  7. The Zion Research Foundation was established March 19, 1920. The original Trustees were Mrs. Longyear; her husband John Munro Longyear; her nephew Frederick P. Burrall; John V. Dittemore, and Allan A. Beauchamp. The Board of Visitors included three Longyear children: J. M. Longyear, Jr., Helen Longyear Paul, and Robert Longyear. Initially, both Bible-related and Christian Science history-related items were gathered, collected, and preserved under the umbrella of the foundation, but in 1923 a separate organization—eventually known as Longyear Foundation—was established to preserve the latter. See Historical Diary #4, February 9, 1921, LMC; Historical Diary #5, July 28, 1921, LMC; November 3, 1921 Board Minute Book, 17, LMC; Thompson, Spring & Mears, Counsellors at Law to Marguerite Smith, November 15, 1927, LMC. As early as August 1918, Mrs. Longyear had begun thinking about founding a Biblical research library. The following year, she confided her “primitive idea of a chronological Library for the use of the average investigator” to Sir Ernest Wallis Budge, distinguished director of the division of Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities of the British Museum, for his opinion and input. He heartily approved of the plan–a vote of confidence and support that helped set her library in motion a few years later. Historical Diary #1, August 7, 1918, LMC; Mary Beecher Longyear to Ernest Wallis Budge, December 17, 1919, LMC.
  8. Assignment and Declaration of Trust for Zion Research Foundation, LMC.
  9. “For Public Inspection,” 2-4, LMC. Reading books such as this one, about contentions in the early Christian church, motivated Mrs. Longyear to found a library where one could research and investigate the origins and essence of Christianity.
  10. Mrs. Longyear continues, “The House of Judah and the House of Israel must unite in brotherly love and together come to Zion—the higher understanding of Good—with joy and thanksgiving.” Ibid., 5-6. Marguerite Smith, librarian of the Zion Research Foundation from 1921 to 1955 and a Trustee of Longyear Foundation for a time, wrote: “Mrs. Longyear gave the name Zion to her library because of the Biblical sense of the word. Zion was the focal point of the Hebrew religion when the nation was united under one king and it continued to be the seat of God to Judah until the conquest. In the temple of Mt. Zion God spoke to his people. Here they found Him. Just so Mrs. Longyear hoped that mankind would find in the Zion Research Library testimony of God, Truth. She hoped that here man would search the Scriptures and know God. . . .” Marguerite Smith, “First Part of Librarian’s Report for Quarter January 1-March 31, 1933,” 5, LMC. See also Marguerite Smith to Mary Beecher Longyear, December 10, 1928, LMC; Marguerite Smith, unpublished article sent to the Editorial Board of The Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 1933, 2-3, LMC; Marguerite Smith, note written in 1931 for the Library staff, LMC.
  11. Marguerite Smith, “Wishes of the Founder of The Zion Research Library,” July 16, 1924, 1-2, LMC. Elsewhere, she recounted: “It was the desire of the founder to provide a library for the student as well as the scholar.” Marguerite Smith, unpublished article sent to The Christian Science Monitor, 3, LMC. See also “Librarian’s Report,” 6, LMC. Designing a library for students and seekers is the main reason why Mrs. Longyear was interested in translating foreign literature into English and why the library’s books would be made available for reference both locally and throughout the world (they were circulated free of charge).
  12. John Dittemore to Mary Beecher Longyear, August 26, 1921, LMC. “Mrs. Longyear often spoke of ‘choice books,’ books of beauty and of unusual interest, books that could not be found in a public library and that would not be available to the public in other special libraries,” Marguerite Smith recalled. “It was not quantity but quality which she desired.” “Librarian’s Report,” 7-8, LMC. See also Marguerite Smith to Mary Beecher Longyear, December 10, 1928, LMC; Marguerite Smith, written after the passing of Mary Beecher Longyear, April 11, 1931, LMC; Marguerite Smith, written for the National Biographical Dictionary, July 19, 1932, LMC. Over time, the library grew to include thousands of volumes. The vast collection included for a time the first English translation of the Wycliff and Tyndall Bibles and many other rare Bibles and artifacts. The Library officially opened in 1923; it began circulating books in 1925. By 1951, the book collection had grown to over 13,500 volumes. “Boston Has Historic Old Bibles,” Boston Globe, December 9, 1951.
  13. Mrs. Longyear was in touch with Henry Cadbury, a Harvard University professor who helped complete a translation of the New Testament known as the Revised Standard Version; her brother-in-law, Dana C. Munro, a professor of Medieval History at Princeton; as well as professors of Princeton’s theological school, professor F. W. Kelsey of Ann Arbor, and professors George E. Barton and Morris Jestrow of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Longyear had described these men as “friendly advisors and enthusiastic endorsers.” “For Public Inspection,” 7, LMC; “Librarian’s Report,” 1-2, LMC; Historical Diary #4, February 23 and 26, 1921, LMC.
  14. Dr. Budge worked at the British Museum from 1883 to 1924, serving as curator for 30 years. He collected cuneiform tablets, Egyptian papyri, and Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Syriac, and Ethiopic manuscripts and made many trips to Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Sudan, while working for the museum.
  15. “For Public Inspection,” 7, LMC.
  16. “Proceedings of the Board of Regents (1917-1920),” 578-579, University of Michigan collection; “Librarian’s Report,” 2-3, LMC. $10,000 in 1919 equates to over $150,000 in 2020. Mr. and Mrs. Longyear donated roughly $30,000 between 1919 and 1924 to help establish the Universal Braille Press (renamed Braille Institute of America, Inc., in 1929), close to $400,000 in today’s dollars. Headed by J. Robert Atkinson, in 1924 the organization produced the first Braille translation of the King James Version of the Bible. Edwin J. Westrate, Beacon in the Night, 154-157, 170-172.
  17. Historical Diary #5, January 3, 1923, LMC. “Proceedings, December 1922,” Journal of Biblical Literature 42, no. 3/4 (1923): i-ii, xii. Accessed July 22, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/3259093. Founded in 1880, the Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest society devoted to the investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines.
  18. On opening day (February 23, 1923), some one hundred people gathered to celebrate the occasion. In retrospect, Marguerite Smith recalled how advanced the library was for the time: “This was a new venture. A library in a private home, open to the public, consisting of a collection of books brought together by one woman.” “Librarian’s Report,” LMC.
  19. Mary Beecher Longyear Diary, January 1, 1925 – December 31, 1925, entry for December 28, 1925, LMC. “Proceedings, December 1925,” Journal of Biblical Literature 45, no. 3/4 (1926): i-ii. Accessed July 22, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/3260092. Mrs. Longyear welcomed between 75 and 100 guests from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Mary Beecher Longyear Diary, January 1, 1925 – December 31, 1925, entry for May 17, 1925, LMC. The subject of the libraries meeting dealt with the collections of theological and religious material in and around Boston. In addition to being hostess, Mrs. Longyear shared her library with the Association. “Special Libraries Association Meets: Mrs. Longyear, Brookline, Is Hostess,” Boston Globe, April 28, 1925.
  20. The name was changed June 23, 1976, due to political overtones associated with the term “Zionism.” June 26, 1976 Board Minutes, Endowment for Biblical Research institutional archives. A few notable Trustees of EBR include Emma C. Shipman, C.S.B.; Patience C. Canham; Robert Peel; David L. Anable; and Stephen R. Howard.
  21. Visit www.contexticon.com to explore Contexticon.
  22. Marguerite Smith, unpublished article sent to The Christian Science Monitor, 4, LMC.