On March 21st, the BBC showed a “drama documentary” on Noah’s ark. They claim to be showing that the Bible story has a basis in fact, but it ends up very differently from the Bible account and misses the point (and the record) in several instances.
The programme was presented by Jeremy Bowen (who was also involved with a helpful documentary on the birth of our Lord Jesus and His human nature a couple of years ago). His interest in the Bible arises from his years of broadcasting from the Middle East, particularly in Israel. The Radio Times announces that Bowen “deconstructs the myth” and “rebuilds it into a more realistic account.” Another preview in the same magazine says that folk like ourselves “believe it no matter what, because they’re ignorant, or stupid, or fearful” according to Ron Liddle.
I suppose we cannot expect the BBC to present the Bible in the way we would expect since it is not a biblical organisation, but it would be good if they presented the facts (rather than misrepresenting them) and included folk who support the Bible account.
The commentator rightly comments that a great flood like the biblical one would leave a signature and that would be all over the world. Since the only one they located was that of Woolley in Iraq (1931), which was only 12ft thick and localised in the fertile crescent, they conclude that the flood referred to by Noah was a local event. In fact, the deposit was not as widespread as they claim, even in Ur. Deposits in other towns, for example Kish, do not correlate with the one at Ur. So, they cannot even substantiate their own argument! Their original surmise is right – if it was on the scale described in the Bible, we should look for a global deposit of great thickness and destructive of all life. We believe the lower part of the geological column demonstrates this condition. Of course, most geologists dismiss this scenario because they believe the Precambrian and Palaeozoic rocks are many millions of years old and predate mankind. (Other papers on the BCS web site can be used to follow this up).
Noah is described as a vine-grower and his sons are pictured as youths with “brides” who had been betrothed to them from birth. It is easy to show that is not what the Bible says and is a straw man they have postulated.
The boat is described as the size of the Titanic, built of wood and covered with pitch. A marine archaeologist is called in to declare that this is impossible because wood could not maintain its shape and so the boat would distort and sink. This is displayed by computer graphics but is inadequately discussed and no attempt is made to verify the claim. This must, in part, depend on the actual design of the ark which was not comparable to the Titanic. Interestingly, they show the ark in the style of a Victorian boat, but when they revert to the Babylonian legend, they resort to a box-like structure!
The Bible tells that Noah loaded the animals in 7 days. How could he collect 30 million species and load them in that time: it would take 35 years, they tell us. But, who said anything about 30 million species? The Bible does not. If they had spoken to anyone who had studied the biblical account seriously, they would have soon corrected that misconception. In fact, unknowingly they gave the clue themselves. They used the word “kinds” initially and then switched to species. Creationists have long pointed out that we must not read modern taxonomy into biblical (or other ancient) accounts; it is illogical. Studies have shown that the biblical kind for the animal kingdom can probably be best understood by the modern “family” category. Modern studies in speciation have demonstrated that from a single pair of parents with a large genetic pool, rapid speciation is possible giving the variety of life we observe today.
The commentators pick on a compromise by comparing the “clean” and “unclean” animals with those listed in Leviticus and so propose that about 260 animals were on the ark. If we take the Bible account seriously which limits the animals to air-breathing land animals and birds, and use the family category as our basis, we can conceive of a population of 1600 – 3500 animals on the ark (these are the limits that are generally proposed by those who have applied these principles). This number would certainly fit on the ark without difficulty. As for Noah having difficulty in fetching them, the Bible indicates that God brought the animals to Noah and that he had rather a long time to collect them (120 years); the seven days was needed to load them.
But then, we are told, there is not enough water to cover the world in the way the Bible demands. To support their claim, they bring in geologist Prof. Ian Plimer who is notorious for his attacks on the Bible and attempts to sue creationists in Australia. To cover Mount Everest, there would have to be three times the amount of water that exists on the earth. Forty days of rain would not be enough. Fountains of the deep of the required magnitude would have caused the earth to be a quicksand, preventing life even before the event. That amount of water would make the atmosphere impossible for life. The only possibility would be to have a massive comet (1000 miles wide) strike the earth, but that would cause the temperature to rise to 6000C and kill even those on the ark.
But, that assumes their scenario is correct. If, as suggested above, the Flood deposits corresponded to the lower earth strata, then this was before the mountains rose to the modern heights and so far less water would have been needed. Indeed, it has been shown that there is enough water to cover the hills of that time quite adequately. (Amazing that the Bible writers got a consistent account even though it does not fit with current geological thinking!) It is interesting too that the programme referred to the attack on the Earth from space and the consequent extinction of life. This is also actively discussed by creationists as an explanation of the “windows of heaven” being opened and a cause of the destruction of life. This too would be consistent with the concept of the earliest, global strata being Flood deposits.
The programme describes the hunt for the ark and claims concerning its discovery. Most of us would concur with the claims that the reputed sightings have been ill-conceived. However, the programmers fall into the classic trap of saying that the ark settled on Mount Ararat which is in Turkey. The Bible does not say that. It refers to the mountains of Ararat as the place where the ark rested. The location has been long disputed. The modern Ararat is a much later postulate than the biblical times and could be a long way from the real location.
We are then shown the discovery of the Babylonian and Mesopotamian tablets with their accounts of the Flood. Here, the hero is Gilgamesh. He is a business man, the “king” of Shuruppak. He owned much gold and silver. He built the boat to make money. With a business partner, he built a boat to carry livestock, grain and beer. In fact, when the fresh water ran out, they and the animals drank the beer. Gilgamesh lived on the banks of the Euphrates. The flood was a freak coincidence of natural events: the melt water from Armenia and a once-in-a-millennium catastrophic storm of tropical proportions. They drifted out into the Persian Gulf (hence the concept of a world-wide flood) and landed on Dilmun (modern Bahrain) rather than Ararat. In this area, there are many burial mounds: perhaps one of these could be of Noah?
This was the true story, they claim, and it was while the Jews were in Babylon that they took it and edited it into their own version with a moral message. While it is possible that the latest Hebrew documents were copied and even edited during the Babylonian captivity, it does not mean there was not an original contemporary document. Indeed, Wiseman wrote on this very point some 60 years ago. The Mosaic books (which claim to have been written by Moses whose authorship is endorsed by our Lord) show marks of his Egyptian background.
I was saddened most of all to see our brother, Prof. Alan Millard, being used to give credence to this concept of the priority of the Babylonian account. (I assume he was not being quoted out of context, but I suspect that may have happened). Isn’t it strange that folk dismiss the Bible and give credence to myths? Yet that has always been true and one can but wonder why.
Surely the answer to this is found in the Scriptures themselves. The Bible shows that the Flood account has ultimate significance. The Lord Jesus referred to this event as a sign of His coming: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be when the Son of Man comes.” Peter, in his second letter, refers to the sceptics of the last days and notes that the Lord’s judgment is to be compared to the destruction of the world in the days of Noah. Global, catastrophic and fatal. The whole world was destroyed and will be. Only Noah and those in the ark with him were saved. So it will be with the church. If the Bible account of Noah can be dismissed as a moral fable, then the force of these passages is weakened, even destroyed.
J H John Peet.