On February 12, 1993, the CBS television network aired another of its recent series of "religious interest" specials, this one entitled "The Remarkable Discovery of Noah's Ark." While I am pleased that a major network is acknowledging people's interest in Biblical subject matter, I cannot say I am thrilled with the material presented.
Since the end of World War II, nearly a dozen Christian organizations have mounted serious expeditions to Mt. Ararat in search of the remains of Noah's ark. I know of no attempts to find it in earlier years.
Why this sudden surge of interest? The credit may go to the invention of what has been termed "flood geology."
Flood geology, the idea that virtually all of the geologic features of planet Earth were formed during the Genesis flood, was first proposed by George McCready Price, an amateur geologist who in 1923 published the book, The New Geology. Many Christians latched onto Price's work as a tool for countering the evil of Darwinism. But not until publication of The Genesis Flood, in 1961, by Drs. Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, did flood geology become the favored flood doctrine of fundamentalist Christians.
A key problem with these two books and most other discourses on the flood is their failure to properly distinguish between "universal" and "global." As long as the Genesis flood destroyed the entire human race (except Noah's family) and all the birds and mammals associated with mankind, it could be a universal event without being global, and neither the text nor the scientific data would be violated or "stretched." For a more detailed discussion of this perspective, see Facts & Faith, vol. 5, no. 2 (1991), pp. 4-5.
In a global flood scenario, the obvious landing spot for Noah's ark would be somewhere near the top of Mt. Ararat. But Genesis 8:4 says that the ark came to rest on the "mountains" of Ararat- plural, not singular. The Hebrew word for mountains, bar, is a general term referring to any geologic relief, from a small hill up to a towering peak.
According to Armenian scholars, "the mountains of Ararat" cover an area of about 100,000 square miles of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, western Iran, and southern Russia. Since the focal point of the flood is Mesopotamia, it seems likely that the ark came to rest in the foothills of Ararat, just north of Nineveh, rather than atop Mt. Ararat itself.
I am not suggesting, however, that search parties start hunting in the region north of Ninevah. Not at all. I believe that the remains of the ark will never be found simply because the timbers of the ark would have been too valuable for the ancients to leave lying around.
The Bible says the ark was made of "gopher" wood, a type of wood that no scholar has yet been able to identify. It must have had great structural strength, given the dimensions of the ark. The Bible also tells us that it took Noah, his family, and their helpers a hundred years to fashion the timbers and build the ark. Such lumber would have been far too valuable a building material for Noah's descendants to ignore. Consider the ambitious construction projects post-flood people attempted, according to the Genesis narrative.
Genesis 10:10-12 mentions eight cities built shortly after the flood. These cities might make a more likely search site for the remains of the ark if it weren't for the devastating destruction they suffered. The likelihood of finding even a trace there is extremely remote.
As to all the claims that artifacts of the ark have been uncovered, I am sorry to say they are bogus. In fact, some such reports are blatantly deceptive.
One popular book tells of some wood that was found in a glacier high on Mt. Ararat. The authors claim that a coal-dating measure used on the wood indicates an age of 5500 years, a date they deem consistent with the Genesis flood. In the fine print, however, one discovers that the error bar on the measurement was ±5000 years and that another measurement, a carbon-14 study, yielded an age of 1700 years ±2 years.
Archeology is a wonderful and worthwhile endeavor, but in the case of the search for the ark, I believe Christians could invest their resources much more wisely and fruitfully.
Please do not hesitate to call the RTB hotline at (818) 335-1480, 5 to 7 P.M. (Pacific Time) if you would like to discuss this or other Biblical subjects further.
- "Noah and the Ark" video
- "The Universal Flood" video
These are available through the RTB catalog or by phone call to the RTB office.