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.
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.
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
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.
Bethsaida 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.
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."
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.
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
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 study
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
A Day at
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
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.
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
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."
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."
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
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.
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.
Freund (left), the Bethsaida Project director, and President Jack Magruder
(right) standing next to the sign listing the universities involved with the