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Students Win Award at Bible Conference

Gerardo Andres Juarez and Ally Huffmire utilize the College’s language program in their research.

Undergraduate students Gerardo Andres Juarez (Ancient Near Eastern Studies ’24) and Ally Huffmire (Ancient Near Eastern Studies ’24) recently made history as the first undergrads to win the Student Paper Award at the Religion and Bible Society of the Rocky Mountain-Great Plains Region. The region includes scholars from Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Kansas. The two-day conference highlights research on ancient and modern religious studies from about 150 scholars, faculty, and even students.

Juarez and Huffmire greatly enhanced their niche topics with their College of Humanities language courses. Not only did these classes enhance their award-winning papers, but also their overall study of the Middle East—both now and in their future endeavors.

Gerardo Andres Juarez

At the conference, Juarez presented on “The Scribal Curriculum for the Elephantine Scribes.” His paper examined how a small, Jewish colony known as the Elephantine, learned to speak, read, and write in Aramaic. Juarez researched the topic for four months in his capstone course.

Juarez dug deep into his study of Aramaic, researching in the Ancient Studies room of the library. He noted that his favorite part about learning languages in the College is seeing the world differently. “I personally believe that language is a reflection of one’s not only ideological views, but just plain worldview. When you are able to understand tiny idioms or the ways that people say things, that gives you insight into how they view the world,” he says.

In the future, Juarez hopes to go to grad school to research scribalism, or the study of scribes and the history of writing. His interest primarily lies in understanding how people learned to read and write when the Bible was written. “We don’t know how the Bible came about. We know that it’s a product of scribes because it’s written, but that’s about all we know.”

Ally Huffmire

Huffmire’s paper was titled “The Material Life of Judean Slaves: Spatial Theory in the Palatial Mansion at Jerusalem,” and she researched for it in her seminar course.

Her research contextualized the patterns and routines of slaves in an elite, urban, Judean household, asking questions about how they would serve individuals in the home. In her paper, she answered questions such as “How would they move from the kitchen to the banquet room? What paths would they take and what obstacles would they face?”

Ally Huffmire is presented with the Student Paper Award at the Religion and Bible Society of the Rocky Mountain-Great Plains Region.

For Huffmire, learning Hebrew has been a rewarding but challenging opportunity to experience something new. “BYU has an amazing language program,” she says. She also enjoys enhancing her Hebrew learning with a personal study of the language. Her favorite part of the Ancient Near Eastern Studies program are the many opportunities and extracurriculars available to students. Winning the award “wouldn’t have been possible without those kinds of relationships that I’ve been able to forge in this department.”

Her plans for after graduation are still up in the air, but she hopes to apply to grad programs next fall to pursue a PhD in Biblical studies.

Juarez and Huffmire noted that learning languages enhanced their experience in the major and helped them gain a greater understanding of the Near Eastern languages and cultures. Associate Professor Cecilia Peek (Hellenistic and Roman History) agrees with the students, stating that “The languages are vitally important to this major because most of their credit hours come from the language.”

Dive deep into Middle Eastern languages by checking out the Asian & Near Eastern Languages Department for a full list of courses.