I was born to Catholic parents in Mandan, North Dakota, but we went to church only for christenings, marriages, and funerals. Only my maternal grandfather was a practicing Catholic, and he attended mass each week. I had the good fortune to live with my grandparents for a time, while my mother was recuperating from surgery. It was my grandfather who taught me to pray (from the heart, rather than the rote prayers for which the Catholics are known); he also made me promise never to smoke. Later, when he learned that I was studying with LDS missionaries, he sent me my first copy of the Book of Mormon.
Always fascinated by religion and by the Bible, as a child I attended a Bible study class with the Assembly of God for a time. Whenever Jehovah’s Witnesses would come to the door, my mother would say, “I’m not interested, but let me ask my son.” I enjoyed hearing another viewpoint of the Bible. After we moved to Salt Lake City, a man from the Gideon Bible Society came door to door selling Bibles for a dollar. In her usual manner, my mother told him, “I’m not interested, but let me ask my son.” She leaned in from the door and inquired and, of course, I was interested. I spent hours lying on the back seat of the family car reading the Bible and finished it. I was only eight years of age at the time, but my mother, a former school teacher and the first female game warden in North Dakota, had begun teaching me to read and write at age four.
We soon moved to another house in Salt Lake City, where we were visited by both Jehovah’s Witnesses and LDS stake missionaries. My mother again asked if I was interested and I began meeting with local missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had already begun attending weekday Primary at the invitation of new friends, so I had some idea of what the Church was about. It was at this time that my grandfather sent me the copy of the Book of Mormon that missionaries had left at his home in Mandan (but which he, a non-native speaker of English, never read). Like the Bible, it, too, fascinated me. I could see that this marvelous book, along with the Church that used it, taught the same things I had found in the Bible but were missing in other churches. I was baptized just a month short of my ninth birthday. By the time I was twelve, I had added the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price to the list of scriptures I had read.
It was prayer that brought a spiritual witness of both the Book of Mormon and the restored Church. It also brought me much relief during hard times and opened the door to many miracles that have strengthened my testimony over time. In addition to strong impressions, I have been guided by voices (a rare occurrence), prophetic dreams, and other very spiritual experiences. One of these has been posted at mormonwiki.com/A_Mormon_missionary’s_dream.
When, at age sixteen, the bishop interviewed me to become a priest, he also asked if I would care to serve a stake mission. I was so busy with extracurricular activities in high school and elsewhere that I didn’t feel I would have sufficient time to devote to such a calling, so I asked him if he could at least wait until I graduated from high school. He remembered that and, about a month after graduation, I was interviewed by the bishop and stake president and called as a stake missionary. In those days, there were no full-time missionaries in Utah, so we did all the teaching. Halfway through my two years of service, I was ordained an elder and was endowed in the Salt Lake Temple, where my companion and I attended sessions once a week. We were also putting in about 60-65 hours a month in missionary work and managed to convert and baptize several people. Meanwhile, I received my patriarchal blessing, which said that I would “go to the nations of the world and preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.” I had not yet decided to serve a full-time mission, but the blessing got me to thinking about it. When the Church News announced that the French Mission would be split and that Henry D. Moyle was being called to preside over the new mission, I immediately knew he would be my mission president, and I cut out the article, which is still in my possession. I was called to a 2½-year mission in the French East Mission, covering eastern France and western Switzerland. Later, I served several years as a district missionary in Israel, at the same time serving as a counselor in the Jerusalem Branch presidency. So, in line with my patriarchal blessing, I have officially served as a missionary in four countries (USA, France, Switzerland, and Israel) and have taught people from 50 nations, baptizing people from the four lands as well as Australia, Greece, Algeria, and Italy.
My academic career has been inspired by the Lord’s words in D&C 88:78-80: “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.”
One of my professors, Aziz Atiya, counseled me to “fly over the entire forest” before deciding in which grove of trees I wanted to have my “picnic.” Consequently, though I concentrated on the Near/Middle East in most of my coursework, I picked up degrees in four different fields and took many classes in other areas such as geography, history, French, and Arabic. I have long believed that new discoveries are most often made by people who can bridge the gap between different disciplines, and that too much specialization can blind one to new ways of looking at things. I explain some of my thinking in a 5-part series posted on the Meridian Magazine web site, 2005: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.
While still involved in my undergraduate studies, I told the Lord in prayer that if he would help me learn all that I undertook to learn, I would use whatever knowledge I gained to help build up and strengthen his Church. Consequently, I acknowledge the Lord and his Spirit as key to my academic success and pray that I may continue to be of use in his kingdom.
John Alexander Tvedtnes was born 26 January 1941 in Mandan, North Dakota. His earliest years were spent in that state and in Wyoming and Washington, living on the farms of both pairs of grandparents and in several small towns. In 1949, his father obtained employment in Salt Lake City and moved the family there. Though born into a Roman Catholic family, John attended Bible classes with the Assembly of God. His mother, a former school teacher and game warden, taught him to read beginning at age four and he read the Bible when he was eight. Soon afterward, he became acquainted with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was converted by stake missionaries a month short of his ninth birthday, being confirmed on New Year’s Day 1950. Consequently, while the rest of the world was celebrating the new millennium on 1 January 2000, John was commemorating half a century as a member of the restored Church.
John’s high school years included many extracurricular activities, such as various clubs, ROTC teams, the Civil Air Patrol, the Ground Observer Corps, and the Civil Defense Corps. He graduated from high school in 1959 and worked for the Salt Lake City Police Department for more than a year before attending the University of Utah. He served a stake mission from June 1959 until June 1961, then filled a 2½-year mission in France and Switzerland (French East Mission) before returning to the University of Utah and various occupations to support a growing family. Over the years, he has served as counselor and president in elders quorums; as group leader, assistant, and secretary in high priests groups; as a Sunday School teacher (mostly Gospel Doctrine classes); and as first counselor in the Jerusalem Branch Presidency. He also served as a branch/district missionary in Israel.
John received his BA in anthropology in 1969, a graduate certificate in Middle East Studies in 1970, an MA in linguistics (specializing in generative-transformational grammars with a minor in Arabic, also in 1970), and an MA in Middle East studies (Hebrew) with minor in anthropology and archaeology in 1971, all at the University of Utah. Meanwhile, he earned enough credits for a BA in French, a BA in geography, and an MA in history, though he did not take those degrees. He did graduate studies at the University of California (Berkeley) and moved with his family to Israel, where he did graduate studies in Egyptian and Semitic languages and lived from 1971 until 1979.
John taught biblical Hebrew at the University of Utah from 1968 to 1971 and, during 1970/71, also taught several courses in linguistics at the same institution and courses in anthropology at the Brigham Young University Salt Lake Center. During 1972-1979, he taught many courses in the BYU Jerusalem semester-abroad program, including biblical Hebrew, anthropology (peoples of the Middle East), archaeology (of Israel and the Near East, as well as archaeological methodology and field work), history (ancient Near East, history of the Jews), historical geography (ancient Near East and Israel), and led most of the student field trips. He also guided tours for BYU and others. Returning to the United States, he worked in the private sector for a number of years, while teaching part-time at the BYU Salt Lake Center and the University of Utah (one course only), and taught CES courses in the Magna-Hunter region for a number of years. Meanwhile, he taught part-time at two high schools in Israel and served as a substitute teacher for about a year in the Salt Lake City School District. He currently teaches an adult institute of religion course in Bentonville, Arkansas.
In addition to formal university courses, John has lectured at the University of Haifa, the Jacob Hyatt Institute of Brandeis University, and for various other groups (Mensa, Sons of the Utah Pioneers, blind groups, Baptist seminarians, tour groups in Israel, etc.). He has also spoken in many Latter-day Saint church meetings, conferences, and firesides, and even spoke in the Sabbath services of a Seventh-Day Adventist congregation. He has delivered papers at symposia sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture, the World Union of Jewish Studies, the Society of Biblical Literature (Society of Biblical Literature or SBL), the Middle East Center of the University of Utah, the Society for Early Historic Archaeology (SEHA), the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS, now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship), the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF), and the BYU Religious Studies Center.
To date, John has had ten books and more than 300 articles published. Some of his works have been published by such prestigious institutions as the Magnes Press of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Pontifical Biblical Institute, the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, and others.
John has held memberships in such professional societies as the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, the World Union of Jewish Studies, the Society for Early Historic Archaeology (where he served on the board of trustees), and others. In 1995, he began to work full-time for FARMS, which became part of BYU and was incorporated into the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, where he was senior resident scholar. He retired from BYU in January 2007 and he and his wife Carol moved to Bella Vista, Arkansas, several months later. Most of his children and grandchildren still live in Utah.
See John Tvedtnes’s web site at bookofmormonresearch.org. For a comprehensive listing of his published writings, with links to those that have been posted on-line, go to bookofmormonresearch.org/john_tvedtnes_publications.
Posted July 2010