Truman Review Summer 2000 - Index

Summer 2000
Vol. 4. No. 4

A Cultural Exchange
Finding A Hidden Story

Around the Quad
Faculty / Student Profiles
Foundation News
Alumni News

Class Notes*

*The Class Notes section for this issue is no longer available online. To request a copy of Class Notes for this issue, e-mail

Contact Us


Truman Review Summer 2000 - Finding a Hidden Story

Finding A Hidden Story

For the past 11 years, Truman professor Mark Appold has taken a group of students on study-abroad tours to the Mideast where they have the opportunity to work on the Bethsaida Excavation Project.

Arial view of the Bethsaida excavation siteFor well over a millennium, the site of Bethsaida, a biblical city on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, remained a mystery. Frequently cited in the New Testament, Bethsaida was known to be the scene of important religious and historical events during the first century C.E. The literary references to Bethsaida indicate that it had been a fishing village. Although several sites had been suggested, it wasn't until the late 1980s that the current site, located more than a mile away from the Sea of Galilee, was targeted. This caused some scholars to question why a fishing village would be placed so far from the water.

The puzzle was finally solved in the early 1900s. Investiga-tions revealed that, due to earthquakes and the rerouting of the River Jordan in the area over the last two millennia, the landscape had changed dramatically. As a result, the Sea of Galilee, a harp-shaped lake in the Jordan Valley, had diminished in size. By the 20th century, the site of Bethsaida, once a seaside village, was more than a mile away from the Sea of Galilee. Once the site was officially recognized as Bethsaida, an excavation project was initiated and archaeologists discovered something not normally found on an excavation site. Because the city of Bethsaida had not been rebuilt after it was destroyed or abandoned during the Roman invasion and the devastating earthquakes of the first part of the second century C.E., it provided a first-hand look at life almost 2,000 years ago.

A member of the Truman faculty, Dr. Mark Appold, associate professor of philosophy/religion and language/literature, had a rare opportunity to join the first archaeological expedition to the Bethsaida site in 1989 when it was still a brand new dig. Since that time, Appold has made an annual pilgrimage back to the site located in the northern part of Israel. And now, when he returns to the excavation site each summer, Truman students accompany him as part of a study-abroad course that offers students six credit hours in humanities or other approved areas. Not only does the Bethsaida archaeological dig and Mideast study-abroad course provide students with an opportunity to participate on the Bethsaida archaeological dig, it also allows them the chance to explore the historical Mideastern lands of Syria, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, and Egypt.

The Bethsaida Excavation Site
Two students at the excavation site
Archaeological work on the excavation site at Bethsaida is at the center of the study-abroad course. Appold says the Bethsaida site is especially unique because as far as he knows, it is the only major site of an ancient city in Israel that was not built over time and time again. At some sites, archaeologists must go through a minimum of 30 levels representing different periods of time and work with stratification hypotheses to determine the original level. At the Bethsaida dig, they had to work through only three significant levels. "You just go down a couple of feet and you are at pay dirt, so to speak," says Appold. The site is significant because of its Bronze and Iron Age history, as well as its prominence in the early New Testament era. "The Bronze Age level takes us back some 5,000 years, the Iron Age level takes us back some 3,000 years, and the Greco Roman level takes us back to New Testament biblical times," says Appold.

The Bethsaida site had been abandoned following the Jewish Revolt of 66/67 C.E. and the earthquakes of 115 C.E., opening up the city to mass plundering. "During the second and third centuries, and indeed throughout the whole medieval period, the site was basically robbed of anything that people could put their hands on," says Appold. "All of our dress stones or any carved work was removed and used as building material for other places."

Even though the city was not left completely intact, the site has already yielded several important finds, including what is believed to be the largest Iron Age gate in all of Israel. In addition, the excavation project has discovered the remains of enormous walls surrounding the city. Originally, the walls rose 56 feet into the air and were 20 or 23 feet thick. This massive fortification system has few parallels in the military architecture of the period.

The site is worked four months out of the year in April, May, June, and July, with different groups coming at different times. Because each detail must be documented, archaeological work is excruciatingly slow, but Appold notes there are advantages to prolonging the process, "One of the reasons we are not anxious to complete the excavation of the site now is because in five or 10 years, there may be new technology that could significantly change the way archaeology is done." Over the last 11 years, only about 10 percent of the site has been excavated.

An Intense Course
Although a central focus of the five-week-long study-abroad course takes place at the Bethsaida excavation site, the class is not limited to future archaeologists. As evidenced by those who have participated in past trips, students from all areas of Artifacts found at Bethsaida include a figurine of a goddess, an iron hook, a key to the fisherman's house, an iron spearhead, and an ancient are attracted to this course. In addition to the obvious appeal for those studying archaeology, aspects of the trip also relate to art, history, ancient politics, culture, religious practices, and languages. Each student can decide which aspect of the course he or she would like to highlight. Provisions can also be made for people who are not currently attending Truman but who would like to participate in the study-abroad tour.

The trip this summer involved a significant amount of preparation that began during the spring semester. "Some reading was required before we left, so that students didn't come over totally out of the loop on where they were and what some of the larger movements of history have been for the area," says Appold. After arriving in the Mideast in May, the group immediately began making the most of their 38-day stay. The first week was spent in Syria and Jordan visiting museums, cultural locations of contemporary significance, and archaeological sites of antiquity.

For the next two weeks, the group worked at the Bethsaida site where they were trained in basic archaeological skills. Another week was spent in Jerusalem in a convent in the Muslim quarter of the Old City and in the Palestinian West Bank. Here the students studied the current political conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Social justice concerns were studied, and at Gaza, they talked to residents in the refugee camps and dialogued with representatives from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Members of the group also volunteered to work on a farm and a visit was made to the Palestinian university in Bethlehem where the American college students met up with their Palestinian counterparts to compare notes.

The trip concluded with a week-long tour of Cairo, Gizeh, Memphis, Sakkara, and Luxor. While in Egypt, the primary focus was on ancient sites, however, it also offered exposure to modern Mideastern culture. "In Cairo, we were right in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world - you can't help but learn from what you see there as part of the modern and ancient world that makes up contemporary Cairo," says Appold. Throughout the trip, the students took copious notes, wrote a travel log, conducted interviews, and gathered data for his or her specific project.

John Halski, a senior philosophy/religion major from St. Louis, was one of the 17 Truman students who took part in the study-abroad tour this summer. "Seeing the Valley of the Kings and Queens and the Western Wall in Jerusalem certainly struck me," says Halski. "I definitely appreciated being there to see a place so significant, not just in human history as a whole, but also in the contemporary global scene." Between the terrorist image of the Arab and the romanticized image of 'the Promised Land,' Halski feels the average American gets a blurred picture of the situation. "The role of the American in the fate of these people is as undeniable as it is difficult to grasp in the States," says Halski. "Economically and politically, we control more than I wager even most Washington, D.C., politicians know what to do with."

A Day at the Dig
A major part of the trip was the two weeks the students spent at the Bethsaida excavation site. While working on the excavation project, the group took up residence at a kibbutz, or communal community, at Ginnosar. The kibbutz was located in a picturesque setting on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Housing was provided in a dormitory-style building with sleeping rooms, and the students ate lunch and dinner in a common cafeteria they shared with the local residents.

Because the temperature often reached the high 90s or above during the day, the group took advantage of the cooler part of the day to work at the excavation site. On work days, they were regularly up early and on their way to the dig site by 5:30 a.m. A 30-minute bus ride took them to the Bethsaida excavation site where, on a typical day, they worked for about three hours, then stopped to have breakfast. By the time they had put in another two hours, they were looking forward to the next break when they usually stopped working to have popsicles.

The students excavated by hand and filled buckets with their finds. "The problem in archaeology is that once you dismantle something and dig it up, you can't put it back together again, so you have to record everything as you go along," says Appold. Although the work area was covered with netting for some protection from the sun, the group usually broke camp for the day around noon due to the heat.

Around 4 p.m., they gathered once again for their daily pottery meetings to analyze their finds from the previous day. "If you have a rim, a handle or a spout, you can almost always reconstruct the pot," says Appold. "If you have just pieces from the body, then it is very difficult and, generally, we discarded those pieces." By the time they had completed their work at the dig, the students had gained some proficiency in the basic mechanisms of field archaeology coupled with a growing understanding of the area. "They no longer looked at a pile of rocks as a tourist," says Appold. "They now saw what was once a wall or an entryway or an oven."

Picture of Dr Appold, Ryan McNally and Rami AravTruman alumna Sarah (Hartmann) Burkemper ('92), a Lincoln County public administrator from Troy, Mo., took the Mideast tour in 1992 when the excavation of the site was just getting under way. Eight years later, Burkemper vividly recalls the two weeks she spent working on the site followed by another week touring other Mideastern regions. "The dig exposed me to concepts completely different from those I learned in accounting and business classes," says Burkemper, who feels her international experiences at Truman greatly enhanced her career opportunities. "My education taught me that my learning had only started on the campus of Truman and would continue throughout my lifetime."

From left to right: Dr. Mark Appold, Ryan McNally ('95), and Rami Arav, the director of excavations, entering data into the computer during one of the pottery meetings at the kibbutz.



Truman State University and Bethsaida

Picture of Pope John Paul IITruman professor Mark Appold and Truman students were not the only representatives from the University who visited the Bethsaida site this year. In March, President Jack Magruder made a trip to Israel and had the honor of presenting Pope John Paul II with two books published by the Truman State University Press. The first two volumes of Bethsaida: A City by the North Shore of the Sea of Galilee were presented to the Pope by Magruder and a delegation of eight others at Tabgha in a Benedictine church commemorating the feeding of the multitudes. Tabgha is about six miles southwest of the Bethsaida excavation site. The books are the first half of a planned four-volume set that reports the findings of the Bethsaida Excavation Project.

Along with Truman State University, there are 17 academic institutions worldwide that participate in a consortium for the Bethsaida Excavation Project. According to Appold, archaeology is a unique type of work, and in Israel, it is financed by the people who come to the digs to work. Appold notes that the advantage of the consortium is that each one of the participating institutions contributes financially, as does Truman, to the maintenance of the project so that funding is available to pay the lead archaeologist.

Richard Freund and Jack MagruderAssistance is also provided by the state of Israel for the establishment of roads to the Bethsaida site, as well as rest-room facilities. Each year, some two million tourists visit Israel, and the Bethsaida site is well on its way to becoming a popular tourist attraction. Although the site is more than 6,000 miles from Kirksville, people visiting the site will find out about Truman State University. Each visitor to the site will pass by a sign that indicates Truman State University's participation in the Bethsaida Excavation Project.

Richard Freund (left), the Bethsaida Project director, and President Jack Magruder (right) standing next to the sign listing the universities involved with the Bethsaida project.