Table of Contents
Part II: Flood Traditions
The Search for the Ark
THE SEARCH for the
ark is much in the news these days in certain quarters. The mounting
of alpine expeditions to survey Ararat may appear to many readers
of current reports to be something new. This is far from being
the truth of the matter. It seems worthwhile in the circumstances
to set forth some of the
background of such expeditions undertaken more than 150 years
ago and reported in M. M. Kalisch's Historical and Critical
Commentary on the Old Testament: Genesis (Longmans Green,
Commenting on Genesis
8:1-4, Kalisch wrote (in 1858):
1 of 7
Ararat consists of two unequal
peaks, both of which disappear in the clouds; the loftier summit
is 16,254 Parisian feet high, while the other northwestern pinnacle
rises to the elevation of 12,284 Parisian feet above the level
of the sea. Both are 12,000 yards distance from each other. .
The plateau on which Ararat rises
is of considerable height. But, viewed from the vast plain which
skirts its base, it appears "as if the hugest mountains
of the world had been piled upon each other to form this one
sublime immensity of earth, and rock, and snow. . . .
These two peaks of Ararat are separated
by a wild and dark chasm, cutting deeply into the interior of
the mountain, filling the spectator with horror and shuddering,
and containing in its innermost recesses immense masses of never
melting ice of the dimensions of enormous towers. And this stupendous
and fearful abyss is probably the exhausted crater of Ararat,
become wider than ever since the eruption of 1840, and since
that catastrophe, exposing on its upper sides the white, yellow,
and vitreous feldspars of which the mountain consists. Pious
hermits seem, in that fearful precipice, to have sought refuge
from the cares and vanities of the world. . . .
on the sides of the mountain is extremely scanty; stones, sand,
and lava form their mass.
Eagles and hawks soar around its majestic summits. In the hottest
season only, the snow melts on the peak of the Little Ararat;
and this event is used as a kind of calendar by the agriculturists
in the surrounding villages. In September and October it is generally
free of its hoary crust. But the Great Ararat is, for about three
miles from the summit, covered with eternal snow and ice, and
for the greater part of the year gloomily shrouded in dense and
heavy cloud. The summit of this noble mountain forms a slightly
convex, almost circular platform, about two hundred paces in
circuit. . . .
At the margin, the summit slopes
off precipitously, especially on the northeastern and southeastern
side. A gentle depression connects this pinnacle with the somewhat
lower eminence at a distance of 397 yards. Here it is believed
the ark of Noah rested.
The perils and fatigues of the
ascent of this mountain are so considerable, that it was several
times unsuccessfully attempted. . . . The French traveler
Tournefort undertook the ascent with the same inauspicious result
in 1700 as the bashaw of Bayazeed in the beginning of
the present [nineteenth] century. These disappointments rejoiced
the hearts of the Armenians. For they considered that the sanctity
of the mountain would be lost if its heights were searched by
the curiosity of man. It is almost an article of faith with them
that the summit of Ararat is inaccessible; and they firmly believe
that the ark of Noah still exists on that solemn peak.
These convictions have been strengthened
by ancient legends, busily spread and confirmed by the Church.
It is reported that the monk James who was later patriarch of
Nisibis, a contemporary of St. Gregory, wished to see with his
own eyes the sacred ark; he tried an ascent; from exhaustion
he frequently fell asleep; and when he awoke he invariably found
he had slipped back to the point from whence he had started (!).
. . .
However, in spite of this venerable
tradition, the German traveler Dr. Parrot, after two fruitless
attempts, effected an indisputable ascent of the summit of the
Great Ararat on the 9th of October, 1829, and five years later
in August, 1834, the tracks of Dr. Parrot were followed and his
accounts verified by the Russian traveler Antornomoff. It is
indeed not the fault of these two intrepid men, if their reports
are disdainfully rejected by the pious Armenians as barefaced
The latest successful ascent was
made in the course of 1856 by five English travelers (Maj. Robert
Stuart, Maj. Fraser, Rev. Walter Thursby, Mr. Theobald, and Mr.
Evans) who have considerably enriched our knowledge of these
They saw uninjured the oak cross
which Professor Abich had in 1845 fixed about 1,200 feet below
the peak of the cone, and the Russian inscription on it was still
perfectly legible. But the fact that the ark was not found on
the summit caused serious uneasiness, even to European scholars;
they thought this a very untoward circumstance,
and at last entirely renounced the idea
that the ark landed on Mount Ararat. They now firmly assert that
it happened to float merely in its neighbourhood at the end of
the one hundred and fifty days, but that it was then slowly carried
along in an eastward direction (cf. Gen. 11:2); and that the
real place of its concealment is entirely withdrawn from human
knowledge. . . .
Another locality, which several
ancient writers and translators assign to the Ararat (of tradition)
is in the Gordiaean or Carduchian range which separates Armenia
from Kurdistan. The Armenians call that peak the "place
of descent," and Josephus maintains that, even in his time,
remains of the ark were shown there by the inhabitants (Antiquities,
XX, ii, 2); Berosus relates that the people value any part of
the structure highly and use the pieces as safe amulets against
mischief, with which account other authors coincide.
Nicolaus of Damascus mentions the
Mount Baris in Armenia, above Minyas, as the place where
the ark of Noah landed (cf. Josephus, Antiquities, I,
iii, 5, 6); and the Mohamedans believe this to have been the
mount Gioud or Dshudi, a little to the east of
Jezireh ibn Omar, on the Tigris (Koran, xi, 46), at the
feet of which there is still a village called Tsamanin,
or "the eighty," because the Moslems believe that not
eight but eighty persons were saved in the ark. At the top of
this peak stands a mosque, and here was formerly a Nestorian
convent, "the Monastery of the Ark," which was destroyed
by lightning in the year 1776. The wood of the ark was said to
have been preserved there to the ninth century.
All these localities might indeed
be taken as the mount of our text with no less probability than
the Ararat above described, except that tradition has not pronounced
itself in their favour with such consistent unanimity.
In recent years
a number of expeditions have had the same objective of finding
the remains of the ark on Mount Ararat, the traditional site
of its grounding, on the basis of a report of a sighting from
the air supposedly made in 1917 by a Russian airman. For anyone
who wishes to examine the record of this so-called sighting and
these expeditions, the following documentation may be useful.
In 1917, supposedly testing out
an aircraft with a supercharger which allowed the plane to fly
up to 14,000 feet, an airman Roskovitsky is reputed to have sighted
the ark. This report sparked an expedition of several hundred
soldiers to climb the mountain. Subsequently a full report was
given to the Czar. Unfortunately the revolution brought an end
both to the czar and the report, and the latter has never been
actually seen by anyone since. The story is well known. Some
of the circumstances were reported by Donald Wiseman in an article,
"Hunting for Noah's Ark," in The Life of Faith (21
September, 1949, pp.733ff.). Also, Alfred M.
Rehwinkel in his book,
The Flood (Concordia, St. Louis, 1951, pp.77ff.), has
given a supposed verbatim account of Roskovitsky's report as
published in The Banner of the Christian Reformed Church,
dated 27 November 1942. The details of this were also given in
full in Evangelical Christian (Toronto, June, 1949, pp.297ff.).
There is considerable doubt about
the reality of this particular sighting, since aircraft without
superchargers could not climb to 14,000 feet and it is believed
that no supercharger was fitted at that time to a Russian or
any other aircraft.
In his book, The Flood and Noah's
Ark (SCM Press, London, 1955, pp.63ff.), Andree Parrot gave
a carefully documented account of all the recent attempts up
to that time to verify the story. He concluded that they were
without foundation. In fact, he points out that at least two
of the Christian papers which reported supposed "findings"
subsequently retracted their statements. One German paper, Kolnishce
Illustrierte Zietung, reported a sighting which afterward
turned out to be an April Fool's Day joke. Needless to say, the
report appeared on 1 April. However, John Warwick Montgomery
believes now, as reported in Christianity Today (7 January,
1972, p.50), that such an expedition did actually occur. Montgomery
interviewed several relatives of the soldiers who took part in
the expedition to the site in 1917. He has also made a most thorough
and commendable attempt to track down the supposed reports made
to the czar at the time and found that there is virtually no
truth to some of the claims made for that report nor any hope
of ever recovering the originals. (See his Quest for Noah's
Ark, Bethany Fellowship, Minneapolis, 1972, 334 pp., illustrated)
In 1949 an American expedition
to the site, which included in the party an engineer and a physician
among others, reported total failure, though they reached the
summit. The famous photograph published in Life magazine
in 1964 purporting to show the remains of a huge vessel high
on the mountain has now been shown
to be merely a rock formation. It is not impossible that it was
this formation sighted from the air that sparked the report made
in 1917 by Roskovitsky. An excellent report with beautiful photographs
of the geological formation will be found in The Creation
Research Society Quarterly for September, 1976, by W. H.
Shea, (Ph.D.), under the title "The Ark-Shaped Formation
in the Tendurek Mountains of Eastern Turkey."
Since publication in 1972 of Montgomery's
Quest for Noah's Ark, which is certainly the most thorough
scholarly to date, several
other volumes have been published. Christianity Today
(3 June, 1977) reviewed three of these volumes: Search for
Noah's Ark by Kelly L. Segraves (Beta Books, Chino, Calif.,
1975); In Search of Noah 's Ark by Dave Balsiger and Charles
E. Sellier, Jr. (Sun Classic Books, Los Angeles, 1976); and The
Ark on Ararat: The Search Goes On by Tim LaHaye and John
D. Morris (Nelson, Nashville, 1976). The reviewer -- Montgomery
himself -- considers Segraves's volume the best of the three
but identifies it as essentially a popular picture book rather
than a serious examination of the evidence.
There is much that is naive in
the present "popular" literature, unfortunately, and
the Christian public is not being served too well by writers
attracted to sensationalism. Reader's Digest carried an
article entitled "The Mystery of Noah's Ark" (condensed
from Christian Herald, August, 1975) in which this statement
appears: "Since [Ararat] is by far the highest mountain
in the entire region, its peak would be the first to emerge from
the water -- and obviously the place to land" (p.127). Can
one imagine Noah and his three sons seeing the mountain emerge
and deciding "That's the place to land" and so getting
out sails or oars and maneuvering the huge barge-like vessel
to a deliberate landing, having decided it was the obvious thing
to do? Does not such an observation suggest really a total lack
of imagination? Does one speak of a chance landfall of an unpowered
vessel of such proportions as though it were the result of a
deliberate decision made because the captain saw the emerging
mountain as "obviously the place to land" his ship?
Yet many readers will undoubtedly be misled into supposing that
just such a sequence of events must have occurred, though how
the ship was brought to this spot by the captain and his three-man
crew has not been given a thought. Moreover, there is no certainty,
as has been pointed out time and again, that the ark landed on
this mountain. The Scriptures say only that it landed on the
mountains (plural) of Ararat (Genesis 8:4), Ararat being almost
certainly a district (Jeremiah 51:27) containing more than one
potential landing site.
Almost every search has been directed
toward the side, rather than the top, of the supposed site of
landing. This seems difficult to justify unless one supposes
that after settling at the top and unloading, the ark later slipped
down the side. Is it likely that such a huge vessel would be
so easily shifted -- unless by an earthquake or a landslide?
But the assumption always seems to be that this, the present
supposed site, is where it landed. Then one must ask, How did
it land well down the mountainside without the dry land having
If it had settled, let
us say, 1,000 feet from the top, would not the 1,000 feet of
exposed land from which the waters must have already declined
have constituted "dry land" long before the ark touched
down? How then can the ark be said to have bottomed some 74 days
before dry land was anywhere visible?
The olive leaf brought back to
the ark by the dove seems to suggest that the bird had found
green trees at some elevation which must have been far below
the elevation at which the ark is reportedly resting today. And
if my argument has any force regarding the non-appearance of
dry land when the ark settled, the ark must have landed at an
elevation even higher than this. In that case, where could a
dove possibly find an olive leaf at such
a high elevation? Most of the land around was still under water.
It was, moreover, an olive leaf "plucked off"
(Genesis 8:11), i.e., not a bit of flotsam and jetsam but a leaf
from a living tree. It may have been found some distance perhaps
from the ark, but it seems reasonable to suppose that the ark
was, in fact, not resting at an altitude of several thousand
feet, and thus the olive tree had not been submerged under these
thousands of feet of water: possibly it had been an olive tree
on the crown of a rise of land like the Mount of Olives, and
scarcely submerged at all.
In all the present sightings, either
aircraft spottings or binoculars or mountain climbing has been
involved, suggesting that the site of land was, or is now, difficult
to reach. Many of the animals would have trouble descending to
sea level. . . .
The scenario we thus create may
be quite unrealistic. Until we know with greater certainty what
the phrase "the mountains of Ararat" actually signified
to the writer, we are not in a good position to assert vigorously
that the ark landed at an elevation of several thousand feet
on what is now known as Mount Ararat.
The stories reported by early writers,
like Josephus (Antiquities, I, iii, 5), of wood taken
from the ark in the first few centuries of the present era almost
certainly exclude any supposed site such as is currently in question,
the visiting of which means the mounting of an alpine expedition
with all the sophistication of modern mountain climbing equipment.
The Tower of Babel
A GOOD FRIEND
of mine, W. H. Pape, author of I Talked with Noah (Baker
Book House, 1966), who spent some years in China, tells me that
in the western part of that country the primitive Miao tribesmen
have a Flood story of sorts. They say that two brothers plowed
half a field one day but next morning they found all the furrows
had been filled in. This was repeated the following day. So on
the third night they hid to see what was going on and saw an
old man carefully replacing all the earth which had been plowed.
One of the brothers rushed out to kill the old man, but the other
suggested they should find out why he did this. He told them
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All
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great Flood was coming and plowing was useless, advising them
to make a boat to save themselves. Only one brother did so, and
he survived. The other tried to use a shallow cooking pot as
a boat, but perished.
Mr. Pape also pointed out that
one Chinese sign for "boat" (a sign about 2,000 years
old) is composed of three elements thus:
The root or radical,
, means "boat."
This is accompanied by a second element, ,which
means "eight," and by a third element, meaning
"mouth." When the Chinese talk of people, they use
an expression which literally means "man-mouth." As
we count heads, they count mouths. The Chinese ideograph for
"boat" has therefore come to be closely associated
with the idea of eight people, a fact which seems most reasonably
accounted for by assuming that the tradition of eight survivors
of the Flood already existed when the sign language was developing.