John was born to a Roman Catholic family on 26 January 1941 in Mandan, North Dakota. Introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when his family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, he was baptized on 29 December 1949.
He had already, even at that early age, developed an intense interest in the Bible and the world of the scriptures, an interest that remained with him and that, to a very considerable degree, shaped the rest of his life.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at the University of Utah in 1969, John received a graduate certificate in Middle East area studies and a master’s degree in linguistics, with a minor in Arabic. Then, in 1971, he received a second master’s degree in Middle East studies, focused on Hebrew but accompanied by a graduate minor in anthropology. He took further courses at the University of California (Berkeley) and, during eight years of residence in Israel, did extensive graduate work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he studied Egyptian and Semitic languages.
I still distinctly remember the first time that I met him, when he gave an evening lecture at the since-demolished Vienna Hotel in East Jerusalem. It was January 1978, and I was a newly arrived student in BYU’s Jerusalem study abroad program. John taught a wide range of classes for that program, including Hebrew, anthropology, ancient Near Eastern history and archaeology, and the historical geography of Israel and the Near East. For six years, he served as a counselor in the presidency of the Jerusalem Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Years later, John accepted appointment as Associate Director of Research at the old Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and then as Senior Research Associate and Senior Resident Scholar at its successor, BYU’s Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship). His affiliation with FARMS and its immediate successor-organization opened the door to John’s most academically productive period. By my count, he published eighty-eight (88) book chapters and articles with FARMS and the Institute.
An ever-flowing fountain of ideas and insights, John also published work with, among others, the University of Utah, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and the Journal of Near Eastern Studies. When he was able, he was a prolific author, producing such books as The Church of the Old Testament (1967), The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: ‘Out of Darkness Unto Light’ (2000), Organize My Kingdom: A History of Restored Priesthood (2000), Testaments: Links Between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible (with David Bokovoy, 2003), The Most Correct Book (2004), Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham (co-edited with Brian Hauglid and John Gee, 2005), and Defining the Word: Understanding the History and Language of the Bible (2006).
Upon retirement from BYU, John moved with his second wife, Carol, to Bella Vista, Arkansas. Unfortunately, he was seriously incapacitated in his latter years by several debilitating strokes. Still, when the Interpreter Foundation was launched, he signed on as a contributing editor and published three articles with us. He left a number of intriguing articles behind unpublished, articles that we hope will eventually see the light of day as part of his lasting legacy.
John is survived by his wife, his children David, Philip, Eric (Amy), Linda (Craig) Adams, Michael (Jana), and Michelle (Stewart) Anderson, as well as fifteen of his sixteen grandchildren.
We will miss John very much. We will miss his friendship, his sense of humor, his dedicated faith, and his irreplaceable insights. Still, we take comfort in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which promises the coming of a time when “the night is gone, and with the morn those angel faces smile, which [we] have loved long since, and lost awhile!”
12 June 2018