What About the Search for Noah’s Ark?
MORE than four thousand years ago Noah and his family survived an earth-wide flood, by riding it out in a huge wooden ark. The Bible states that, after the Flood, “the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” (Gen. 8:4) The Scriptures do not say what happened to the ark after that.
Widely publicized newspaper accounts in the spring of 1974 indicated that at least eight American groups were seeking permission to climb the 16,946-foot mountain in search of the ark. Permission has been hard to obtain, though, since modern Mount Ararat is located in the politically sensitive area bordering Turkey, Iran and Soviet Armenia. It appears that only four groups actually got to Ararat last year.
Why has there been so much interest in the search for Noah’s ark? Have these expeditions to Mount Ararat produced convincing evidence that the ark is still up there?
They Claim They Have Seen It
Many insist that the ark still remains on Mount Ararat. There is, for example, the folklore of Kurdish tribes who tend their flocks on the lower slopes of Ararat during the summer. More than one foreign explorer, however, has learned, to his chagrin, that native porters refuse to ascend the mountain beyond a certain point. Above that is thought to be a “magic zone.” Superstitions hold that, while the ark is up there, God will not allow any human to approach it.
The book Noah’s Ark: Fact or Fable by Violet Cummings lists more than a dozen “reports of discoveries of an Ark-like structure or of hand-tooled timber on treeless Mount Ararat” since the middle of the nineteenth century.
This book also speaks of several supposed visits to the ark. For example, an elderly Armenian reportedly told of a visit that he and his father made to the site of the ark in 1856. On that occasion, the two Armenians served as guides for three visiting scientists. The story has it that they did find the ark and entered it, noting that it was divided up into many compartments. But, supposedly, the scientists were bent on proving false the account about Noah’s ark. They therefore threatened the guides with death if word of the discovery ever leaked out.
It was only after the Armenian thought that those who had threatened him had died that he related the story to a friend, who wrote it down. Later this friend claims that he read a short newspaper item about a London scientist who confessed on his deathbed that he had seen the ark. Unfortunately, though, both the newspaper clipping and the account of the Armenian that had been written down perished in a fire.
On August 10, 1883, the Chicago Tribune carried a story about a group sent by the Turkish government to investigate avalanches occurring on Mount Ararat. The news item stated that they “came upon a gigantic structure of very dark wood protruding from a glacier.” Reportedly, inhabitants of the area had seen it for six years but were afraid to approach it because “a spirit of fierce aspect had been seen looking out the upper window.” The investigation team, notes the Tribune report, entered the structure, finding that the interior had been divided into partitions fifteen feet high.
Another Armenian claimed that he and his grandfather visited the ark about 1905. Interestingly, he described the vessel as being “like a barge,” long and narrow with a flat nose and a flat bottom. It had window holes, perhaps fifty of them, in the top under an overhanging roof. These openings were about eighteen inches high and thirty inches long and ran all along the side of the structure. It was clearly made out of wood, though this was said to be petrified, as hard as rock.
Real Evidence Elusive
Many are convinced that these alleged eyewitnesses are telling the truth. What reason, they ask, would they have for inventing such a story? On the other hand, a candid investigation reveals that real evidence of the ark’s being preserved on modern Mount Ararat has been elusive.
Consider, for example, accounts about spotting the ark from aircraft. One of these aroused the interest of the Czar of Russia back in 1917. He sent two companies of soldiers to climb the mountain. Supposedly, they located the ark, took pictures and sent back a full report to the Czar. An account of this adds, however: “A few days after this expedition sent its report to the Czar, the government was overthrown and godless Bolshevism took over, so that the records were never made public and probably were destroyed.”
More recently, in the summer of 1953, an oil and pipeline engineer claimed that he had several clear pictures and maps of the area where he spotted what appeared to be the prow of a great ship nesting on a ledge of a mountain. But the pictures disappeared with his death a few years later.
Too, aerial photos, even if available, can be misleading. For instance, something definitely thought to be the ark was photographed on Ararat in 1960. But it proved to be only a landform. As recently as February 1974 a U.S. Senator announced that photographs taken by a satellite revealed a feature “which appears to be foreign to other materials found on the mountain . . . It’s about the right size and shape to be the ark.” But a National Aeronautics and Space Administration official told one newspaper that it was “fairly unlikely” that an object the size of the ark could be detected in a photo from the altitude of a satellite.
Wood from the Ark?
Expeditions have resulted in finding wood that is said to be from the ark. In 1876 James Bryce discovered a piece of hand-tooled timber about four feet long and five inches thick at 13,000 feet. In 1955 Fernand Navarra pulled a piece of hand-tooled wood from the bottom of an eighty-foot crevice. He made a similar discovery in 1969. But laboratory tests disagree as to the age of the wood.
Even if it could be shown conclusively that this wood came from the time of Noah, more than 4,300 years ago, would that prove that it came from the ark? Doubtless wooden structures other than the ark existed in Noah’s time. (Luke 17:26-28) Fragments of these could have been carried great distances by the floodwaters, yes, even to Mount Ararat. Solid evidence that the wood pieces from Ararat came from Noah’s ark is yet to come forth.
The Search Goes On
In spite of difficulties and disappointments, interest in finding Noah’s ark runs high. One modern explorer, Eryl Cummings of Farmington, New Mexico, has climbed Ararat sixteen times during six expeditions; for thirty years he and his wife have compiled information about the subject. He predicts that the discovery of the ark will take place within the next “two or three years.”
One group, the Holy Ground Mission Changing Center of Palestine, Texas, has published some extravagant claims regarding their alleged locating of Noah’s ark. Tom Crotzer, a spokesman for the group, asserts that they saw and photographed the ark from a distance of “about 2800 feet,” but could not get closer because of lack of proper mountain-climbing equipment.
This organization provided Awake! with an eight-by-ten-inch black-and-white enlargement of the alleged photograph of the ark. Was it convincing? The enlargement was examined by seven professional photographers. Five of them said that in their judgment the blurred photograph was not from an original negative but was from a second-generation print that showed evidence of retouching, especially to produce or enhance the appearance of planks on the side of the object. The other two photographers said that the picture was of such poor quality that “it could be almost anything.”
Dick Kent, whose work has appeared in Time, Life and Newsweek, noted: “It could be a rock formation that someone has added lines to in order to make the appearance of planking lines.”
During the summer of 1974, two groups visited Mount Ararat to film documentaries about the search for the ark. Both groups claim that they visited the site where Fernand Navarra found wood. Another individual, Gunnar Smars, says that he climbed Ararat a year ago in August to investigate “about ten specific spots” in an effort to narrow down the possible locations of the ark. Smars does not intend to return.
None of the groups that visited Ararat last summer came up with anything that would conclusively prove that Noah’s ark is still there. The testimony about it is still circumstantial.
The Problem of Motives
Hardships experienced by many of the explorers of hazardous Ararat testify to their sincerity. Clearly, many persons believe that the ark is there. One investigator declares that its discovery “will constitute the grand climax of all archaeological discovery, fully supporting the accuracy and reliability of Bible history.” They believe that publicity about finding the ark would cause many unbelievers to put faith in God.
But, while this is a praiseworthy motive, there are other considerations that one should not overlook. Would not many of the explorers enjoy the personal honor that would come from “the grand climax of all archaeological discovery”? And what about the financial gain? Some have already capitalized on their work by publishing books about the subject.
Interesting in this connection is the notable lack of trust and cooperation between groups taking part in the search. Navarra reports that, when his group was returning from Ararat with wood thought to be from the ark, they met two other groups on their way to the mountain. Navarra relates that his group did not share their discovery with the others. He admits that there was “an air of quasi-secrecy” between the parties.
Again, in the summer of 1974, there was evidence of the same spirit of rivalry. All groups functioned as individual units, without cooperation with the others. Certain expeditions did not know of the presence of others, though, in some instances, they shared accommodations in the same hotel. Even after returning to the United States, there was no give-and-take of gathered information.
Does not this ‘air of secrecy’ result in much duplication of efforts and unnecessary expenditure of money? Why this lack of cooperation if the only motive was to find Noah’s ark?
Another problem: John Bradley, of SEARCH, an organization that has made trips to Ararat in previous years, reports that no one had permission to climb the mountain in 1974; but four parties, nevertheless, went. Bart Larue admits that his group went without permission and was able to get around by “bribing everybody with a pocket.” Those bribed included a company of Turkish soldiers, according to a writeup in the Washington Star. If people resort to deception and bribery to achieve an end, would they not be willing to stretch the truth a bit too?
One must weigh these matters before putting too much credence in certain claims that have been published. A person needs to beware of viewing as fact evidence that is yet circumstantial. But there is an even more important consideration. What is that?
Keep in mind that the apostle Paul stated that Christians “are walking by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7) “Faith,” according to Hebrews 11:1, is “the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.’’ Christians do not need to ‘behold’ ancient artifacts in order to have faith in God and his inspired Word.—2 Tim. 3:16.
On the other hand, should we expect that discovery of Noah’s ark would cause large numbers of skeptics to put faith in the Bible? In one of his parables, Jesus declared that many of such persons ‘would not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead,’ which would be far more impressive than finding the ark. (Luke 16:31) Showing the truthfulness of this is the fact that, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, his religious opposers took counsel to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.—John 11:45-53; 12:9, 11.
The search for Noah’s ark is interesting. Christians everywhere wish to be informed on any matter that relates to Bible history. It is important to remember, though, that neither sensational archaeological finds nor even direct miracles are now necessary for Christian faith. As the apostle John puts it: “To be sure, Jesus performed many other signs also before the disciples, which are not written down in this scroll. But these have been written down that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that, because of believing, you may have life by means of his name.”—John 20:30, 31.
[Map on page 17]
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[Picture on page 19]
Photograph submitted by one group as proof (?) that the ark had been located