Adrift Again on Noah’s Ark

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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.

Noah's Ark Resting on top of Mt. Ararat. A note to the naive and gullible: this image was photoshopped.

Noah\’s Ark Resting on top of Mt. Ararat. A note to the naive and gullible: this image was photoshopped.

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 mission…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’t…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:
bobcargill.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/yet-another-ark-quest-randall-price-liberty-university-and-pseudo-scientific-religious-fundamentalism/

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17 Comments for : Adrift Again on Noah’s Ark
    • Mark Chancey
    • February 10, 2009

    Eric,

    Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of this. I would add only that Price's views have often been promoted in public schools through a Bible course developed by an organization called the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, of which he is a member. High school students in Bible courses across the country have been introduced to the intersection of history, archaeology, and biblical studies through the lens of this type of pseudo-science, fostering all sorts of confusion about the nature of the field.

    Mark Chancey

    Associate Professor of Religious Studies

    Southern Methodist University

  1. Pingback: yet another ark quest: randall price, liberty university, and pseudo-scientific religious fundamentalism «

    • Jim
    • February 10, 2009

    There's a corrective movement in the wind- and Duke is hosting a symposium on archaeology and the media. Info here
    http://www.archive.org/download/dukeflyer/finalfl

    • Mitch Allen
    • February 11, 2009

    What I teach my students: There is one prerequisite for an ark sitting atop Mt Ararat, or any other mountain, and that is a worldwide flood. Instead of a summer of mountain climbing, why don't Price and his friends test geological strata worldwide and find evidence of a simultaneous global flood? It would have to be there, in Turkey, Antarctica, even underneath Liberty University. And, given the magnitude of the event described in Genesis, the sedimentological evidence would be obvious. Without it, any search for an ark is nonsensical. But no ark seekers have ever tried that, for obvious reasons. It's more fun mountain climbing in Turkey and speculating on random bits of wood.

    • Helen
    • February 12, 2009

    Evidence for a worldwide flood is below the Cambrian in what is called the "snowball earth" strata, and this does exist in places all over the world. The tillite at the bottom of this strata is supposed to be glacier transported. The problem with that is that the material is locked into a limestone which can only form in warm water.

    Now, aside from that, if I were Mrs. Noah, I would tell Mr. Noah, "There is NO WAY I'm going to live in a cave with all that cured wood sitting there. And I'm not going to wait for trees to grow. Please build me a house. And, by the way, the boys and their wives want houses, too! Some animal pens and shelters wouldn't be bad, either, for the coming flocks and herds. But, honey, I'm NOT going to live in that Ark one more day, so PLEASE take it apart and let's air out that wood!"

  2. I would like to clarify for the record that the Ark Search LLC expedition was not seeking national publicity or funds when its planned work was announced in the Fox News piece. I gave the original story to a local reporter for a local paper as part of an interview concerning the archaeological field work of our newly instituted program in field archaeology. The focus of the interview was to have been on our university’s recent (December 2008 excavation on the Qumran Plateau that I have been directing for the past six seasons. This excavation is working with both the Hebrew University and the University of Haifa to analyze the animal bone deposits unearthed on the southern plateau. If you read the original article published in the Lynchburg News & Advance you will see this inclusion (omitted by the Fox News report). The interviewer learned of my survey of the site on Mt. Ararat this past October and hoping to raise from the local community some funds for the planned summer excavation I gave them some of the material. I did not approve of the paper’s focus on the Noah’s Ark expedition and its spread to national exposure. I have repeatedly declined any and all request for interviews from the media on this subject, even though they offered the means to raise needed excavation funds. I felt it was appropriate to raise funds from our local community in which Liberty University functions for the benefit of the community. Liberty University is a major employer in Lynchburg with 12,000 resident students and 30,000 distant learning students and contains a law school, business school, nursing program, aviation school, and fully accredited master’s and doctoral academic programs.

    


    Again, for the record, I was invited as an archaeologist by Richard Bright (the leader of the expedition) to access the site of the expedition when I was in Turkey to present a paper to a scholarly symposium in Dogubeyazit. As a result of going to the site, interviewing the Kurdish shepherd, and researching the history of prior exploration in this area, including satellite remote sensing, I agreed to conduct an archaeological excavation at the site, including the use of side-scanning radar. I do believe that this site offers the best possibility among sites previously researched for an archaeological excavation.


    The claim “there will be a discovery” was made by Richard Bright (the expedition leader) who I referred to the original reporter as a source in the local interview. Even though I do believe in the historicity of the Genesis account and that Noah’s Ark possibly may exist, and think that traditional Mt. Ararat is a good candidate in the region of ancient Urartu (”mountains of Ararat” in Gen. 8:7), I do not make any claims as to what is there or may be discovered. Based on my assessment of the site and the shepherd’s claim I believe it is scientifically responsible to conduct an archaeological excavation to prove or disprove this claim and that it is no more unreasonable to seek dig funds for this site than for any other. The intention of the expedition is to investigate through proper scientific means the site, recover any samples and subject them to laboratory analysis and write an article on the finds in a peer-review journal. If a discovery is made that can be objectively verified then a release to the media will be made.

    
If the objection to this work is based on the interpretation that the Genesis account of the Flood and Noah’s Ark is allegory or based on an ancient local myth, then let that be the stated reason. It is not pseudoarchaeology when an organized archaeological work is being done at a site connected with a documentary account, unless one believes the account to be fiction and then can denigrate the one conducting the work as a fundamentalist.

    Randall Price, Ph.D.

    Executive Director


    Center for Judaic Studies


    Liberty University



    • Eric Cline
    • February 13, 2009

    Dr. Price: As I have stated elsewhere, it is not religious views that are the issue; it is whether good science is being done. I will be watching with interest to see whether you are actually conducting “organized archaeological work… at a site connected with a documentary account” or whether you are aiding and abetting a group of untrained amateur enthusiasts practicing pseudoarchaeology. Particularly for the sake of the believers who give their money to your expedition, I pray that it is as serious an undertaking as you make it out to be and that you do intend to use remote sensing and other applicable archaeological techniques, as well as to subject any recovered samples to proper and verifiable laboratory analysis, and to publish an article on the finds in a peer-reviewed journal; I would suggest that BASOR might be a good place for such a serious article, should you find anything worth reporting.

    P.S. I’m glad to see that you have now corrected the grammatical mistakes on your webpage; it’s been a long four years…

    • James L. Mathews
    • February 15, 2009

    In regard to the history of the bible, it seems to me that much of what has been written has been well worked over before it came to rest in the King James version of the bible In my archaeological studies I have certainly come across the revelation of indications of the "great flood" in various areas. To my knowledge those isolated discoveries have not been tied together by any who are qualified to do so.

    The creation of man leaves a great deal to be determined between the archaeological findings of the development of man through the ages and the creation of woman from Adam's rib. That story has much of a science-fiction plot to it to be believable

    The real problem as I see it is not another expedition to Mt. Ararat based on some sheperd's sworn testimony (I hope he isn't Islamic as some of these people are definately not friendly towards Christains) but rather the teaching the bible in schools in direct opposition to the archaeological findings which indicate the rise of mankind over a million years or so, and certainly not 8,000!!

    I wish Dr. Price all the success in the world, although I do not believe that he will find it in his current efforts. However, I could wish strongly that the confusion of conflicting stories cn be kept out of the classrooms of public schools. It is certainly one thing to believe in a supreme being, it is quite another to believe strange tales of wonder built upon with ages of personal ideas and determination. This tendency is easily proved by pasing a simple statement through fifty different people and comparing what comes out with what went in!!

    Respectfully;

    J.L. Mathews

  3. When I saw Randall Price in Boston at the SBL meetings, somewhat briefly in the hotel lobby, he told me that he had found a position at a new university and I congratulated him on his new job. However when I ran across this 'searching for the ark' thing I was somewhat taken aback and Googled Liberty University and came away even more perturbed. First of all I have been following these so called archaeologists with no academic record whatsoever, looking for the ark the past 30 yrs and am constantly amazed as to how gullible people can be and how manipulative others are when it comes to conning the blind, the lame and the halt into giving up their hard earned wages for these public relations campaigns. Secondly, the new Dept of Judaic Studies sounds interesting until one looks at the faculty and it appears that there are no Jews there. Reading their web site it sounds like as we day in Hebrew 'a movie I've seen many times before'. One is reminded of the initials, CMJ,the British Commission to the Jews, founded in 1809 and Bob Jones Univeristy, both are still around. Clearly, it's intent is to convince the Jews to 'cross over' from the OT to the NT and I hope that it's not a state funded university using tax payer's money which is doing this. What is even more disturbing is the issue of the biblical archaeological museum, much of which will be built around Randall Price's private collection. In the world of biblical archaeology, collecting antiquities is a cardinal sin, few do it and those that do are severely criticized. To publicly proclaim such a collection goes against the profession, textual people are the one's which have fallen to this sin and as far as sin's go, it's one of the most profitable. For those of you unaware, having ones collection being in a museum 'koshers it' and ups the price ten fold. Secondly, the website mentions that the museum will try to borrow from other institutions, well don't bet on the IAA or any ASOR connected institution. Lastly, when I looked at the bibliography I failed to see any peer reviewed books or articles which would indicate that these writings are the work of an individual who holds a degree in archaeology, BA or otherwise. Having spent a few summers in the field does not make one an archaeologist, I for example, having spent over 3 decades in the field, taken courses, lectured widely on archaeology, published a good number of peer reviewed articles would never refer to myself as an archaeologist. True others do, but no one in the field has granted them any creditability which is why they pander to the media with stories about John the Baptist being found in Qumran, the Talpiot tomb of the Jesus Family ect. This ark search is on par with those two and it's time that those of us in the profession put an end to this manipulation in the hunt for fame and fortune. These 'expeditions' are more in the category of Amazing Dis-Grace than the world of archaeology, biblical or otherwise and we must put forth more effort at bringing this to an end. We were somewhat successful with the Talpiot tomb, the James Ossuary and this is not the way to start one career at a VA university, Liberty or otherwise.

  4. Great post. Gives me what I have been looking for.

  5. Pingback: Question for people who rely on faith. - Page 24 - InterfaithForums

    • Eric Cline
    • September 17, 2009

    Mr. Moore, we here at the ASOR blog are not exactly "lazy do nothing arm chair critics." I, for one, direct excavations at two different sites in Israel, including at Megiddo (biblical Armageddon), digging at one or the other every summer. I'm sorry that you have such disdain for "hot dogs with high degrees," but we put our money where our mouth is, we know what we are talking about, and we are finally calling 'em as we see 'em, in order to reign in the pseudo-scientific nonsense that the media loves so much. Digging may look like a "crap shoot" to the untrained eye, and one often does find completely unexpected things (that's the added thrill and beauty of being in the field), but archaeology has come a long way since its earliest beginnings, with research questions and scientific methodology now involved in every real project that goes out during the summer to dig or survey. The days when people dug blindly without any understanding of what might lie below are long gone; even if we don't know exactly what we might find, we are digging in order to answer real research questions, not just traipsing about a mountain looking in vain for petrified wood. So, thanks for your comments and I invite you to come to our annual meetings this November in New Orleans to learn about some real archaeology. I would also invite you to pick up a copy of my newest book, Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction, which will be published in just a few weeks…and then we can continue this conversation. Cheers, EHC

  6. We were visiting a church six months before the "discovery" and the pastor predicted (prophesied) the ark would be found. I forgot about it until I started hearing about it in the news at that time. Interesting.

    • Hank
    • May 30, 2010

    An update of the various Ark expeditions would be interesting here, particularly with any reported insights by Dr. Price. I believe a Chinese/Turkish team claimed to be 99.9% sure they found the Ark in April 2010, on Mt. Ararat in Turkey.

  7. Pingback: Another Ark flash-in-the-pan discovery « Bad Archaeology

  8. Pingback: Another Ark flash-in-the-pan discovery | Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

  9. Hi there, I found your site by the use of Google at the same time as searching for a related matter, your website got here up, it seems to be great. I've bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

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