The Journal Gazette
 
 
Tuesday, December 17, 2019 1:00 am

A real Indiana Jones

Huntington prof has visited 400 ancient cities

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

I couldn't help myself. I started humming the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” theme song before I even talked to Dr. Mark Fairchild.

Dum, da, dum, dummmm, dum, da dummmm, dum, da, dum, dummm ... .

It seemed like the natural thing to do when you're about to interview a modern-day Indiana Jones.

Fairchild, a world-renowned archaeologist, has spent time trekking through jungles, climbing mountains, slashing through dense brush and crossing canyons to explore more than 400 ancient cities and hidden ruins in Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Greece and Egypt.

When he's not halfway around the world exploring, Fairchild is a professor of Bible and religion at Huntington University. And yes, he hails from Indiana.

Now, similar to his cinematic counterpart, Fairchild has his own movie. “The Last Apostle” is a full-length documentary that follows Fairchild as he explores ancient Turkey.

The documentary was filmed by Huntington University alums and filmmakers Logan Bush and Matt Whitney.

Of course, this movie doesn't include giant boulders, Nazis, chase scenes or the Ark of the Covenant. And Fairchild doesn't carry a whip. But his story does include religious discoveries and snakes.

“Many people don't even know these sites exist,” Fairchild says. “It's like you're walking into unknown cities. We don't even know the names of these ancient cities. For me, that's a thrill. That's a lot of excitement for me.”

Fairchild says while researching the sites, he's never been afraid or in danger from the people, adding that Turkey is the most secular Islamic country in the world. However, when it comes to traveling the terrain, he often has to climb steep ascents and push through dense brush. “If I happen to fall, that'll be it,” he says. “But it's worth it.”

He also has encountered snakes, including vipers. “I don't like snakes either,” Fairchild says in reference to Indiana Jones' dislike for the reptiles.

Fairchild, who has been doing this more than 20 years, says many of the sites he visits are in fantastic condition. Since Turkey is a Muslim country, most of the people are not interested in anything before Islam, he says. Most of the ancient sites date back 700 to 900 years before Islam. And while there is some damage from time, Fairchild says, the sites have not suffered from it's biggest enemy: people. “What damages ancient sites are people,” he says.

Fairchild was contacted about 31/2 years ago by Bush and Whitney, asking if they could film him during a trip to Israel and Turkey. The men went with Fairchild in May 2017 and shot 150 hours of footage.

Most of Fairchild's work has been researching the life and travels of the apostle Paul, who, as a Jewish leader named Saul, had persecuted followers of Jesus before his conversion to Christianity after his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul traveled to many cities, preaching about Christ to the gentiles, Fairchild says.

The 65-year-old is writing a book on Paul's early life, “which is largely unknown,” Fairchild says. He talks in the film about what Paul might have been doing as a new Christian at the time, but of course, he can't be 100% certain.

The two-hour documentary takes viewers to ancient cities and villages that date back to the time of Paul on his first missionary journey.

“We wanted to cover Dr. Fairchild's work and the way he works,” Whitney says by phone from Goshen. “That's what's so interesting about him.” 

While the two filmmakers had never had a class with Fairchild, they had heard stories about the “crazy guy” that goes on these adventures, Whitney says. “We both had this epiphany moment: He's basically Indiana Jones, which is really rare these days,” says the 27-year-old, who describes how many archaeologists would do a lot of boring work sitting at a specific site and digging in a square. Instead, Fairchild “goes into the wilderness and finds boss cities,” he says.  

When the two men found out about Fairchild, they decided that “we need to make a movie about this guy before someone else does,” Bush says.

Bush says Indiana Jones is his favorite movie. “I felt like Indiana Jones being there,” he says by phone from his home in Los Angeles.

But apparently Whitney and Bush aren't the only ones who consider Fairchild an Indiana Jones-type. Bush says the Turkish people call Fairchild “Indiana Mark.”

In addition to having a chance to explore ancient ruins with Fairchild, the men found out that Fairchild is responsible for discovering what is believed to be the oldest synagogue in the world. He uses GPS satellite maps to find the ruins, talks to locals and hikes from sunup to sundown. “It was just a story that demanded to be told,” Bush, 27, says. 

It took Bush 21/2 years to edit the movie, which premiered last month at Huntington University. The movie is set up “a little bit like a road trip,” Bush says, highlighting each of the 14 days the men were with Fairchild.

And while Fairchild has found his niche exploring ancient ruins, it wasn't always that way. Fairchild says he didn't grow up in a Christian home and actually had a degree in biology. However, by studying biology, he began a search to discover if there was a God and eventually became a Christian. 

He then became interested in biblical history and went back to get his degree. He now has two bachelor's degrees, two master's degrees and a Ph.D. 

Fairchild and his wife, who have four children, are originally from Pennsylvania, but a job offer at Huntington University brought them to Indiana. 

When he's not exploring or teaching, Fairchild enjoys playing tennis, as well as watching football and wrestling. He also spends time with family. “With the work I'm doing, I don't get to see my children and grandchildren,” Fairchild says.

However, he doesn't stay at rest for long. He'll be doing some more exploring come January, but this time closer to home. He will be heading to Arizona to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up again.

But after all his other adventures, this one should be a little easier for Indiana Mark.

Terri Richardson writes about area residents and happenings that affect their lives in this column that publishes every other week. Email her at trich@jg.net or call 461-8304.

To get the film

Matt Whitney and Logan Bush hope to eventually enter “The Last Apostle” documentary into film competitions. In addition, they hope to have a wider availability of the film in the coming year. But in the meantime, the documentary is available at lastapostle.square.site.


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