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Former BYU professor Truman Madsen dies

Published: Friday, May 29 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lost one of its great orators and scholars with the passing of Truman G. Madsen on Thursday.

The emeritus professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University and former director of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies died at his Provo home after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 82.

Mr. Madsen was considered a philosopher, essayist, teacher and biographer. He was also a grandson of Heber J. Grant, seventh president of the LDS Church. He taught at BYU for 37 years.

"I think Truman Madsen was one of the true pioneers in bringing intellectuals of other faiths into dialogue with Mormon thought even as he probed the philosophical richness of Joseph Smith's contributions for an LDS audience," said Terryl L. Givens, a University of Richmond professor of literature and religion. Givens compared him to Hugh Nibley, who also inspired a generation of LDS students to seek a fruitful synthesis of real intellectual rigor with spiritual commitment.

"At a time when Mormonism was still either ignored or considered too odd to take seriously, because of Madsen's personal relationships and the respect in which he was held by his colleagues he was able to really bring Mormonism into the orbit of a lot of religious and intellectual discussions at higher levels than it had been before."

Mr. Madsen had a keen interest in Joseph Smith and helping "millions (to) know Brother Joseph again." In fact, his obituary begins with the words "Oh, Joseph!"

A prolific writer, Mr. Madsen authored numerous books, including "The Temple: Where Heaven Meets Earth" and "Jesus of Nazareth" (four volumes). He also had many powerful and popular audio and video works, including several lectures that became best-selling tapes in church circles, such as "Joseph Smith the Prophet" and "The Life and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph."

"Truman Madsen was one of a kind," Sheri Dew, president and CEO of Deseret Book Co., said. "He not only spoke the language of the scholar, but he had the rare capacity to teach even the most complex concepts in a way that meant something to the rest of us."

James E. Faulconer, current Richard L. Evans Chair in religious studies at BYU, described Mr. Madsen as "very smart and very faithful," one of the few orators left in the LDS Church. "He was a great supporter of being intellectually and philosophically engaged."

"Madsen's lectures were also a wonderful link back to an earlier, more oral Mormonism, one that placed a real premium on powerful preaching," Nathan B. Oman, assistant professor at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., posted on the Web site timesandseasons.org following the death of Mr. Madsen.

Oman said Mr. Madsen provided "two or three generations of BYU students with a role model of a man who remained absolutely committed to the restored gospel while at the same time willing to grapple with the hard questions of philosophy."

Mr. Madsen was the patriarch in Provo's Sharon East Stake at the time of his death, and even members of the younger generation, who may not have been aware of his scholarly accomplishments, were impressed with his charity.

Kevin J Worthen, president of the Sharon East Stake, described him as a spiritual giant who loved people greatly.

"He was just so loving and kind," Worthen said, stressing that many young people in his stake knew nothing of his career and simply knew him as a loving patriarch.

Mr. Madsen was born Dec. 13, 1926, the son of Axel Angus Madsen and Emily Grant.

A graduate of East High School in 1944, he earned bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Utah in philosophy. He did graduate work at both the University of Southern California and Harvard. He earned a doctorate in history and religion from Harvard in 1957.

Mr. Madsen married Ann Nicholls in the Salt Lake Temple on June 16, 1953. The couple had three children and a Navajo foster son.

A memorial service will be Tuesday, June 2, at noon at the Provo Tabernacle, 90 S. University Ave. Friends may call at the Sharon East Stake Center, 2400 E. 1600 East, Provo, on Monday, June 1, 6-8 p.m. Burial will be in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, 200 N St. A podcast of the memorial service will be available at www.thefuneralview.com.

Condolences can also be made at www.sunbergolpinmortuary.com.

Donations are suggested to the LDS Church's Perpetual Education Fund in his memory.

Contributing: Michael De Groote

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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