Sloppy Reporting Mars Interesting Ark Questions

Whatever it is, the Ark planned by Answers in Genesis (AiG) won’t be a “replica.”

Mar 19, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Whatever it is, the Ark planned by Answers in Genesis (AiG) won’t be a “replica.” 

This local Ark story is going to be around for a while, so it’s time for reporters and editors to check their biases.

The Ark is back in headlines because the confrontation between AiG president Ken Ham and Bill Nye the Science Guy raised AiG’s international profile and fundraising. 

So when journalists say AiG president Ken Ham’s Ark will be a “replica,” they knowingly or inadvertently affirm Hebrew Scripture as history and Ham’s assertions as fact. 

Part of my problem is that “replica” is a perfect headline word. It fits just in one-column and it’s easy shorthand for something more intellectually demanding. 

Most biblical scholars who do not share Ham’s literal reading of Hebrew Scripture say there was no global flood or vessel like that described in Genesis 6:14-16. 

Rather, these scholars argue that the Noah story represents a borrowing from older cultures in the region. 

Ham calls his Grant County project a “full size” Ark that replicates what Genesis says was Noah’s DIY project. However, a replica typically is a reproduction by the original artist or a faithful copy in all details. Often, replicas are smaller than originals. 

In this case, the biblical Noah is dead, there are no illustrations of the ark from the biblical era and Ham has no intention of creating anything smaller than that which Hebrew Scripture says God commanded. 

Here’s the Jewish Publication Society translation of what Hebrew Scripture says God told the old man: 

“Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make an opening for daylight in the ark, and terminate it within a cubit of the top. Put the entrance to the ark in its side; make it with bottom, second, and third decks.”

Even if we read the Noah story literally — as Ham and millions of Americans do — problems abound. 

We don’t know the length of the cubit in the era that tradition assigns to Noah’s ark. In that part of the ancient world, it usually was from the elbow to the tip of fingers. 

My advice? Bill Cosby’s famous dialogues between God and Noah in which Noah gets his building directions but asks, “What’s a cubit?”

There were “long” and “short” cubits, too, according to AiG’s website. Generally, however, a cubit was about 18 inches. Using that average, Ham’s Ark could be about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high.

It could be larger. In unbiblical terms, it’s to be the length of one-and-a-half football fields. If Ham really builds it, look for the demand for lumber to outstrip availability. 

Then there’s a problem finding “gopher” wood. That’s an English pronunciation of the untranslated Hebrew name for the required building material. Today, we don’t know what the writers of Genesis intended. 

Then there are the details that further confound any use of the word, “replica.” 

Ancient authors believed the Genesis ark was seaworthy; it survived and its occupants repopulated the earth. The new Ark is to stay on dry land; it won’t be designed to float. After all, in Genesis 9:11, God promises no more global floods. 

I’m betting that the Humane Society won’t allow Ham to follow Hebrew Scripture in which God tells Noah: 

“(O)f all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female. From birds of every kind, cattle of every kind, every kind of creeping thing on earth, two of each shall come to you to stay alive.”

However, given the artistry attributed to Ham’s Creation Museum exhibits, I wouldn’t be surprised to see AiG’s Ark filled with similar creatures. Otherwise, it might become the world’s largest empty wooden structure. 

All of that forces AiG and Ham to interpret Genesis 6-14 as they choose dimensions and materials. Even biblical literalists like Ham must interpret Hebrew Scripture, but none more so than translators. Every time they have to choose an English word for Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or (later) Latin, they have to search for what the writer of the text meant. 

It’s even harder when their research — and AiG has scholars competent in biblical languages — fails to come up with the meaning of something like “gopher” wood. It’s used once in Hebrew Scripture: material for Noah’s ark. 

It also can be transliterated “gofer” in English. In the minds of the ancient writers, the tree probably was local, plentiful and resinous; natural pitch assured any craft would be watertight.

There also is evidence from the oldest known texts that medieval commentators believed Noah’s ark was boxy with lots of compartments.   

Finally, God help county or state officials who have to approve Ham’s plans for such a huge (flammable) wooden structure as a major tourist attraction. No one wants a fire escape designed for people, two by two. 

I don’t care what AiG and Ham believe or build down the road from their Creation Museum. My problem is in credulous, sloppy reporting and editing in our secular news media. 

Believers will love AiG’s Ark. Others will lump it in with Creation Museum as an embarrassing and troubling rejection of science and history. 

Meanwhile, it’s inescapably a monument to faith. Godspeed.

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]