Contributed by Eric Cline.
Mea culpa. For more than a week now, I have remained silent, simply rolling my eyes amid news reports that Randall Price is going in search of Noah’s Ark this coming summer (www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,486684,00.html; dated 2 Feb 2009). Eighteen months ago, in Sept 2007, I published an op-ed in the Boston Globe which, in part, chastised my fellow archaeologists for not deigning to comment on such stories, or the outlandish claims that usually come from such expeditions upon their return (www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/09/30/raiders_of_the_faux_ark/; dated 30 September 2007). And yet here I have been for eight days, sitting on my hands with my mouth clamped firmly shut, doing nothing.
But I’m not alone. In fact, only one archaeologist has spoken out so far (though to be fair, the non-archaeologist “˜biblioblogger” Jim West did draw attention to the story on February 1st [jwest.wordpress.com/2009/02/01/oh-and-price-is-also-looking-for-noahs-ark/]). Robert Cargill, of UCLA, posted comments on his Facebook page a few days ago: “’tis the season for pseudoscientific fundamentalists to venture out into the world and attempt to prove things that are sure to yield no results, lots of press, and raise lots of dollars in the process.” Amen, Brother Cargill. I couldn’t have phrased it better myself.
Price is the newly-appointed executive director of the Center for Judaic Studies, which opened in Fall 2008 at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. He has a Master of Theology degree in Old Testament and Semitic Languages from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the founder and President of the World of the Bible Ministries, whose stated goal is “to provide service to the Christian community by clarifying biblical truth through an increased understanding of the original context of the Bible which is Israel and the Middle East” (www.worldofthebible.com, last accessed on 10 February 2009). Their website also states: “We believe in the total verbal, plenary, unlimited, and inerrant inspiration of Scripture (Old and [sic: missing word; probably New] Testaments), and in it’s [sic] complete sufficiency and authority for faith and practice” (www.worldofthebible.com/message.htm, last accessed on 10 February 2009). (By the way, is it just me or does anyone else inherently mistrust a website with grammatical mistakes and missing words? Can’t they afford a proofreader?)
Price is what archaeologists and biblical scholars refer to as a biblical maximalist — i.e. someone who sees the Hebrew Bible as infallible and authoritative. As Price says in his book The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1997), “My perspective comes from a high view of the Bible (what is called by archaeologists the “maximalist position”), which believes historical corroboration with the archaeological record is both possible and preferable” (Preface, page 13). Price’s personal beliefs are nobody else’s business, except when they impact the so-called archaeology that he is ostensibly practicing, in which case they are everybody’s business.
But, back to my main point. Price is going looking for the Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey. Numerous amateurs and pseudo-scientists have searched in this region before, because Genesis 8:4 says that the Ark “came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” However, as the Fox News report says, “For centuries, expeditions have set out to find Noah’s Ark but have been unable to find any concrete evidence, beyond that of an unwavering faith, to support its existence.”
Indeed, as I noted in my book, From Eden To Exile (Washington DC: National Geographic, 2007), ancient writers such as Josephus in the first century CE were already wondering where the Ark might be found and modern expeditions have been searching for Noah’s Ark without success since at least 1876. In large part that may be because Mount Ararat and the “mountains of Ararat” are not necessarily the same place; Mount Ararat was only given that name a few centuries ago and may have no connection whatsoever to the biblical account.
So why does Price think he can find the Ark now? According to Fox News, the new evidence that Price has, upon which he is basing his entire expedition, is that “A Kurdish shepherd told them that he had seen the ark, and even climbed on top of it, when he was a boy.” Is this good archaeological methodology? Hardly. As someone who claims to be a professional archaeologist, Price should know better than to base an entire archaeological expedition simply on the word of a Kurdish local who claims to have climbed on the Ark as a youth.
According to Fox News, during a preliminary trip last September, Price and his colleagues “found the spot– but it now is covered by an estimated 60-foot-deep pile of boulders.” Question: if it is covered by 60-feet of boulders, how can they see anything yet? They may have gone to the spot where the Kurdish shepherd took them, yes, but that in itself means absolutely nothing. One hopes, at the very least, that they are planning to do a bit of remote sensing before trying anything more. And yet, the expedition is also clearly guilty of a priori conclusions, as so many such groups are. One team member already told Fox News, “there will be discovery. The only thing that’s holding us back is to finance the machinery that we need.” This is no way to run an archaeological expedition. I can hardly wait to read the press release from the team when it returns from its missionâ€¦and chuckle over the excuses for why they didn’t find anything.
In all seriousness, we cannot let these media items just go by uncontested, even if it is much easier to let them slide through and hope that they fade quietly into the night. They don’tâ€¦and they won’t.
Next up: British rocket scientists who have found Sodom and Gomorrah. Yeah, right.
This blog entry represents the personal opinion of Eric H. Cline and is not necessarily held by all members of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
Later Note: Robert Cargill has now published the full text of his blog entry on Price’s Quest for the Ark at: