Ark hunters left high and dry

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orty days and 40 nights of rain, two of all living creatures, a dove with an olive leaf and a rainbow. The story of Noah’s ark has intrigued for generations, says author Eric H. Cline.

“I’m fascinated by people’s fascination in Noah’s ark when there are many more solvable mysteries out there, and yet that might be exactly what draws them to it. They know it’s inherently unsolvable,” says Mr. Cline, an associate professor of ancient history and archaeology at George Washington University in Northwest and author of “From Eden to Exile,” recently published by National Geographic.

According to the book of Genesis, God observed humankind’s wickedness, and it grieved him. He decided to wipe mankind from the face of the earth. However, a righteous man named Noah found favor with God. So God told him to build an ark to save himself and his family. After the flood passed, God made a covenant with Noah, promising never again to destroy all living creatures by the waters of a flood.

In literature, many civilizations have a flood narrative, including multiple versions of the same story from ancient Mesopotamia, says Mr. Cline, who holds a doctorate in ancient history.

“I don’t know if that helps or hurts the story of Noah,” Mr. Cline says. “Stories like that were floating around, if you pardon the pun, even before the Bible. Maybe you don’t believe the biblical story because you have the other ones, or maybe you do believe the biblical story because other stories exist.”

There is no geological or archaeological evidence of a universal flood, says Lloyd Bailey, the Barrow professor of biblical studies at Mount Olive College in Mount Olive, N.C. He has a doctorate in Hebrew and cognate studies. After all, a wooden ark would tend to rot, he says.

“There is a question of the historicity of the flood,” Mr. Bailey says. “Was it a local flood or a universal flood? Was there a Noah? Who survived?”

However, there is a lot of evidence for smaller floods, Mr. Cline says. For instance, in 1998, William Ryan and Walter Pitman, two geologists from Columbia University, estimated that a flood took place about 5500 B.C., starting from the Black Sea.

“A local flood could have been really bad,” Mr. Cline says. “The world as you knew it could have been flooded to the horizon. Think of [Hurricane] Katrina and what happened with New Orleans.”

But then whatever happened to the boat? Although many explorers have set out to find Noah’s ark, it has not been found, Mr. Cline says.

“I’m not so sure anyone is ever going to find it,” Mr. Cline says. “Even if it did exist, it’s thousands of years old by now. If it ever existed, by this point, it’s long gone.”

There have been many theories about what happened to the boat, he says. Probably the only way it would have been preserved would have been if it had been buried in sand the way the Egyptians preserved a few of their royal boats. It also could be at the bottom of the Black Sea or a similar body of water at a depth where there is no oxygen, he says.

“Everyone is looking on the top of Mount Ararat in the snow line,” Mr. Cline says. “It’s very unlikely it would be freeze-dried or petrified. It’s a one-in-a-gazillion chance, but that doesn’t stop people from looking for it.”

Furthermore, the Bible says the ark “rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat,” not Mount Ararat, he says. The mountains of Ararat cover roughly 100,000 square miles, according to Armenian scholars.

“There is this quest,” Mr. Cline says. “It’s amazing how many people keep going to look for it and how many people are willing to give them money to do it.”

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