30 April 2010

Noah was a Pirate

Some Noah's Ark news from the 'what the hell?' department:

To a score of marching drums and pipes, we see the expedition trudge across a snowy expanse and up the mountain. They camp on a hilly bluff, the sun setting over the Anatolian hinterland below. Moments later, we go inside a dark cave and watch members of the expedition inspect what appears to be a solid wooden wall, entombed within layers of glacial ice and volcanic rock. A gnarled beam runs suspended from one part of the cavern to another. There's straw and bits of old rope on the ground; a structure is taking shape. What is it? According to the explorers, it's Noah's Ark, literally frozen in time.

This is the footage of the alleged discovery of the biblical vessel, perched more than 12,000 ft (4,000 m) high on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey, that was first shown to journalists on April 25 at a press conference in a fancy boutique hotel in Hong Kong. On hand were members of the team, composed largely of Hong Kong–based Evangelicals, an art historian and a handful of Turkish academics and government officials. They displayed specimens of objects recovered from the supposed ark, which they say they encountered in seven dismembered compartments within the mountain: on show are pieces of petrified wood allegedly carbon-dated at 4,800 years old, a chunk of crystal and a cluster of seed-like pellets. "There is a tremendous amount of evidence that this structure is the ark of Noah," said Gerrit Aalten, a Dutch researcher of ark lore who was enlisted to evaluate the team's findings.

Extreme secrecy? Check. Ulterior motives (via religious enthusiasm)? Check. Data preview in a hotel in Hong Kong? Uhhhh, check. The videos, of course, tell us nothing substantial:

What the hell is going on in that cave? What is that stuff they're displaying? If they really were robbing things from an archaeological site and taking them abroad without permits, these guys would be vandals eminently qualified for a stint in a Turkish prison. (That fact alone proves that this 'news' comes from the land of fantasy.) Comically, even other Noah's Ark "researchers" are now piling on: Bob Price of Liberty University wants to find the ark himself, so he's denouncing the Chinese researchers as "frauds", as Wingnut Daily reports:
Dr. Price, who is spearheading efforts to explore two competing locations for Noah's Ark, sent an e-mail dispatch to supporters with his personal take on the alleged find, asserting the structure is a hoax perpetrated by a Kurdish guide and his partners to extort money from Chinese evangelical Christians.
This stuff just bugs me. These guys are trying way too hard, and they don't even know their Bible particularly well. They apparently didn't get the bulletin that the Genesis flood story is a newcomer among flood myths. There's the Sumerian flood story (18th century BC or older) where King Ziusudra is warned by the god Enki to build a big boat and put some animals on it to survive. Or the Akkadian version, which features Atrahasis and the ocean god Ea in the same roles. Or Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh, where Gilgamesh hears the flood story from Utnapishtim, who survived the flood by building a giant boat full of animals, which was carried by the waters to rest on Mt. Nisir. This convenient website runs down the parallels for you.

The Noah story in Genesis is a cover version of these stories - but it's like the cover version that you never knew was a cover until later, then your mind is kind of blown by how good and different the original is. (My favorite examples: Rod Stewart vs. Tom Waits, and Calexico vs. The Damned vs. Love.)

Even if you prefer to pretend that those ancient Hebrews weren't influenced by their cultural betters and sometime masters, the Assyrians, there's still some inconvenient facts. Like, the flood story in Genesis is made up of two sources cleverly spliced together. (Like all of the Pentateuch, which derives from four separate texts.) If you know your Bible, you've noticed the contradictory facts in Genesis. Like, in one place Noah takes two of each animal (Genesis 6:20) and in another place he takes seven pairs of each clean animal and just two of all the rest (7:2). Or in one place Noah sends out a raven (8:7) and in another place it's a dove (8:8-10). But more than that, the stories are quite different, and emphasize different aspects of the tale: see this great side-by-side reading of the two stories for more.

This is all basic stuff for anyone who's been to seminary, but ministers never preach it in church, presumably because they'll alienate irritatingly sincere fundamentalists like these guys who are dicking about on Ararat looking for tangible evidence of a polysemic myth that's 4000 years old. The Noah/Utnapishtim/Atrahasis/Ziusudra flood story has been through so many versions and contortions that it should be understood more as something like a 4chan meme in its fluidity and adaptability and, well, viral-ness.

Yes, I just made a connection between Gilgamesh, Pedobear, and Rod Stewart. You can be impressed now.

My prediction: the whole 'taking the bible literally' thing is going to be seen in retrospect as a historical fluke. The implications for the whole field of 'Biblical Archaeology' are, I hope, obvious enough that I don't have to say anything ungentlemanly.

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