Sunday, May 02, 2010


In response to the announcement of a evangelical groups' find of Noah's Ark, Eric Cline, a prominent biblical archaeologist at George Washington University and author of the best-selling From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible, questions why this group made up mostly of amateurs in the field chose to announce their findings at a press conference rather than have them peer-reviewed and then published in a scholarly journal, as is standard archaeological and scientific practice.

"You see these sorts of claims almost every other year," he says. "When people of faith go out looking for things, it seems they almost always find them."

Archaeologists on blogs and forums have suggested the structure up on Mount Ararat may well just be a hut or some other form of rudimentary shelter. Cline also wonders why the ark over time would have been left intact at all. Indeed, according to the 1st century A.D. Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, the ship was already being torn down. "It is said," he wrote, "that a portion of the vessel still survives ... on the mountains ... and that persons carry off pieces of [it], which they use as talismans."

Nevertheless, Yeung and his colleagues are pressing ahead, hoping to gain the support of UNESCO and spend the next few years deepening their analysis of the site. Cline says this sort of work strays from the real purpose of biblical archaeology, which is to bring to light the greater social realities of that ancient time, rather than prove the truth of Christian doctrine with quests for biblical totems.

It also misses a larger point about the history of the myth. The flood has echoes in legends from Central America to South Asia, and it almost certainly predates Judeo-Christian times. Scholars believe it was most likely transmitted to the Israelites from Mesopotamia: in the far older Epic of Gilgamesh, we encounter Utnapishtim, a man chosen by the gods to live alone in a boat full of animals while the world around him ended in a deluge. Just like Noah, as the rains stopped he sent out both a dove and a raven to gauge whether the waters had receded. "That's why I tell my students," says Cline, "that if I am going to look for an ark, it won't be that of Noah. Maybe it would be Utnapishtim's."

Read more:,8599,1985830,00.html#ixzz0mnQ9zvOe


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