Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Ark, again
The expedition to find Noah’s Ark is almost a generic news story that could be run every summer. Fill in the name of the financier and his church and you’re ready to go. So far at least 150 news outlets have picked up the latest version. I’m sure there will be more.
WASHINGTON -- An expedition is being planned for this summer to the upper reaches of Turkey's Mount Ararat where organizers hope to prove an object nestled amid the snow and ice is Noah's Ark.

A joint U.S.-Turkish team of 10 explorers plans to make the arduous trek up Turkey's tallest mountain, at 17,820 feet, from July 15 to August 15, subject to the approval of the Turkish government, said Daniel P. McGivern, president of Shamrock-The Trinity Corporation of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Ark hunting is easy to dismiss as a fairly harmless belief. At least it has the benefit of employing a few people in a very poor region. Of course, I’m not going to let it go at that. I’ll limit myself to commenting on one aspect of the whole business that I find interesting.

It’s probably the wrong mountain. Genesis does not say the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat; it says, depending on your translation that it came to rest on “a mountain in Ararat.” Ararat, or Urartu, was their name for the mountainous region in northern Iraq, western Iran, and eastern Turkey reaching as far as the Caucasus. To the desert and river valley dwellers that wrote Genesis, these mountains were the tallest things they could conceive. Ararat was the top of the world. It was the same reasoning that led the Greeks, who were familiar with the region from sailing the shores of the Black Sea, to place the location of Prometheus’ captivity and torment on those same mountains (Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus). When they named a specific mountain, they usually named one further south and visible from Mesopotamia. Mt. Ararat didn’t become the mountain until around the time of the crusades (I suspect, but can’t prove, that it was the Ararat chamber of commerce trying to get a piece of the lucrative pilgrimage trade that sold this particular mountain).

There are some fairly interesting things to say about what the persistence of belief in the ark reveals about modern fundamentalism and the American imagination in general, but I’ll save those for another day.

No comments: