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Cougar Query: "I am a big advocate of exegesis"

Name: Eric Huntsman

BYU employee since: 1994

My job at BYU is… I am a professor of ancient scripture, focusing on the New Testament. I am also the coordinator of the Ancient Near Eastern Studies program in the Kennedy Center. This is an interdisciplinary program drawing upon faculty from Greek, Hebrew, ancient scripture, history and anthropology that helps students do in-depth study of the languages, history, literature and culture of ancient civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Although we have some students interested in Egyptology or the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, most of our students are interested in the serious study of the Bible, and to that end we have two majors, one focusing on the Hebrew Bible and the other the Greek New Testament. I taught at the BYU Jerusalem Center in 2011–2012, and I will be taking my family back there in 2020–22 when I will be serving as the academic director of the program there.

Currently I’m working on… I have just completed a book entitled Becoming the Beloved Disciple: Coming to Christ through the Gospel of John, which uses the different characters in John as types of different kinds of members of the Church today. This book endeavors to bring biblical scholarship and my own readings of John to a broad LDS audience. I am now moving to a more serious commentary of the Gospel of John for the BYU New Testament Commentary series.

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I get most excited about my work when students in my classes and those who attend my Education Week, Women’s Conference or Time Out for Women presentations are both intellectually and spiritually inspired by the texts or topics I am treating. I am a big advocate of exegesis, which is the serious, systematic study of scripture that tries to understand its meaning to its original audience before it applies it to ourselves. This allows scripture, and the gospel more generally, to serve as both a window into the ancient world and a mirror to our current experience, which makes it more interesting.

When I tell people I work for BYU, they often say they are not particularly surprised.

My advice to incoming freshman is to develop good priorities and study habits. A social life is important, of course, but this is an important period of a person’s life to be educated and prepared for a productive vocation.

Students don’t think I notice when they are surfing the web, texting or otherwise not paying attention. Yeah, teachers notice.

My favorite BYU tradition is graduation. It reminds me of my own excitement when I graduated in 1990, and the robes, processions, convocations and family gatherings that accompany it connect us with extremely old academic traditions. All this underscores how important and valuable a university education is.

On Thursday nights and Sunday mornings I can be found at Temple Square, where I have been singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir since 2003.

I’m most looking forward to my next assignment in Jerusalem. To me, taking students and others to sites to talk about history, archaeology and scripture is one of the best teaching experience I have had. So many of the things I love come together in that kind of setting. I often tell my students – and adult groups that I also periodically take to the Holy Land – that we do not go to these sites as tourists or even just students. We are pilgrims, seeking to have a spiritual experience and connect with the Lord and his apostles and prophets by singing and praying as well as learning.

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The biggest challenge I’ve faced was my only son’s diagnosis with autism. It not only changed the course of his life and what our expectations were for it, it changed our lives too. My wife, daughter and I have needed to adjust much of what we do as a family to accommodate Samuel and help him have the best experiences he can. He has been mainstreamed in the public schools and just finished his first year of high school. In many ways he has been successful, but there are still many, many heart-breaking moments. Still, the miracles, small and great, that we have experienced with him (see for instance, this video or this essay) have drawn us closer to the Lord. I have had some particularly sweet experiences with him this last year doing home study seminary with him. Four nights a week we have very slowly and very carefully been working through the Book of Mormon, and I look forward to three more years of this kind of gospel study with him.

Three things that are always found in my refrigerator are yogurt, protein shakes and sports supplements.

My favorite quote is “And this is life eternal, that they may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3).

I’m currently reading Fleming Stroud’s The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ and James Dunn’s The Theology of Paul the Apostle. I guess these represent recreational reading when I am not reading about the Gospel of John!

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