He’s been described as the Indiana Jones of the university’s Jewish studies department.
Professor Matthew Suriano, who began teaching at this university in the fall, has built up a reputation among students and colleagues for excavating ruins, reading ancient Canaanite languages and working as a serious scholar. This summer, Suriano plans to take up to eight students along with him to participate in an archaeological dig at Tel Burna in southwestern Israel.
“It’s one of the few prominent [sites] in Israel that up until two years ago had never been touched,” Suriano said.
Suriano said he first surveyed the site 12 years ago and recently collaborated with two Israeli colleagues to bring university students over to the site to take part in excavations. So far, four students have expressed interest in the four-credit study abroad course in which the participants will dig at Tel Burna and travel across the country to other archaeological sites as well.
“It’s redefining the educational experience,” said Charles Manekin, who directs the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies. “It makes it a much more collaborative experience rather than a passive experience where you’re sitting down, listening to some guy lecture.”
He said the Tel Burna dig offers students a valuable experience that goes beyond the typical trip to Israel.
“If you want to do something which has academic weight, which will improve your mind and bring you into cutting-edge scholarship in the field – something besides sitting on a bus and going on tours and drinking in pubs at night, which you can do anywhere – [this class] is where you’ll actually find out more about the country,” Manekin said. “You’ll be digging into the ancient history of the country.”
Manekin added that Suriano has been a valuable addition to the faculty. Suriano had first taken a job at IBM in Chicago after graduating from the University of Illinois, but said he realized he was dissatisfied with the corporate job and followed after his childhood interest in museums, the Bible, and the country of Israel.
Suriano first taught a Narrative in the Hebrew Bible course to three students last semester, and two this semester. He also teaches a Hebrew Bible course with 57 out of 60 spaces taken this semester.
Suriano said while he is more accustomed to teaching lecture-sized classes, he likes to brag about his smaller class sizes to colleagues at other universities.
“You really get to know your students quickly, and I like that. It’s a much more intimate environment,” he said. “Sitting around a table in my office, with students who are able to read Hebrew, and reading through the biblical texts in the original language, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”