John Alexander Tvedtnes was born 26 January 1941 in Mandan, North Dakota. His earliest years were spent in that state and in Wyoming, Montana, 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’s 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, 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.
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 (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.