Noah's ark truth or fiction, fact or myth?

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Noah's Ark Links: a comprehensive web site dedicated to the Search for Noah's Ark
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The Gilgamesh Epic

Noah’s Ark: More than Myth?
by Bruce Fowler

What would an old wooden ship nearly as large as the Titanic be doing on the upper slopes of a 17,000 foot tall mountain? How could such a phenomenon be explained, and how might it change our perspective of myth? There are many who believe we will soon be confronted with just such questions as these. It may be that the greatest find in the history of archaeology will soon be unveiled--the discovery of Noah’s Ark.

Today, many view the story of Noah’s ark as the archetypical children’s story. Critics of the Biblical flood and Noah’s Ark contend that such a flood never took place, and that the story is nothing more than myth, derived from ancient Mesopotamian traditions. However, flood traditions are found the world over, and there is compelling evidence that these traditions derive from a common source. Furthermore, historical corroboration and eyewitness reports confirm this source to be Noah’s Ark.

The question of rather the ark is a literal artifact is inextricably connected to the traditions of a great flood. In his book The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, Donald Patten, geographer, and student of ancient history, comments on the pervasiveness of these traditions. In appendix 1, Patten Documents flood traditions from sixty-eight cultures spanning every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Moreover, Patten emphasize that this list is not a comprehensive one (164-165). In Accord with the foregoing, Don Stewart, a graduate of Talbot Theological Seminary and the International Seminary of Theology and Law in Strasbourg, France, notes the general agreement of the flood stories in several categories, including (1) divine judgement by water, (2) references to some sort of ship, (3) the saving of certain individuals and animals on board this ship, (4) the release of birds to search for dry ground, (5) and the vessel docking in a mountainous region (148). In this light, it may be instructive to ask a question: how could so many diverse cultures, literally dispersed over the globe, have a story with so many commonalities unless they were derived from a common source? For those who accept the historicity of the Noah account, the answer is a glib one; yet for the critic it presents an interesting challenge.

In rebuttal to the foregoing, university professor and author of Noah’s Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought, Norman Cohn, asserts that Mesopotamian flood traditions predate the oldest Biblical records, and that the Biblical story is without question a product of more ancient Mesopotamian accounts (15-16). However, such dogma clearly lacks logical coherence, since to make this assumption presupposes that the archeological records are themselves complete. Additionally, according to physicist and Bible scholar Lambert Dolphin, Biblical chronology dates the flood to around 2500-3500 BC. (15). Thus, according to Cohns date of 1600 BC. for the oldest Mesopotamian records, it is clear that the Biblical record of the flood’s actual occurence predates this by a considerable margin (1). It is also noted that Cohn believes some Mesopotamian accounts may have circulated orally for a thousand years prior to their written form (2). Hence, if this is a reasonable conjecture for Mesopotamian versions, then it certainly follows that the Biblical record should be afforded the same consideration. Moreover, if a thousand years is reasonable, then why not fifteen hundred? Accordingly, it does not logically follow that what is oldest in its written form is oldest in conception.

The Biblical account and the Gilgamesh Epic of the Mesopotamian genre are probably the most widely known of all flood traditions. In his book The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, university professor Alexander Heidel concludes that these accounts are undeniably related (260). Furthermore, regarding this relationship, Heidel notes some provocative theological and architectural distinctions that keenly appeal to the voice of reason. Regarding theological considerations, Heidel comments on the Gilgamesh rendering of the gods and their nearly complete lack of any moral or ethical purpose in their pronouncement of judgement (268). He further describes these gods as capricious and deceitful and draws attention to the reaction of the gods as they gaze upon the flood they had created, stating that they "flee in consternation to the highest heavens and cower like dogs in their distress" (268). In contrast the Biblical record describes only one God, who is omnipotent, just, and morally defined in his dealings with man (269). Accordingly, it is the God of the Biblical cast who, theologically speaking, penetrates more deeply into the mind of reason.

As to the architecture of the ships described in these accounts, Heidel notes that the dimensions of the Gilgamesh vessel are that of a perfect cube, measuring approximately 200 ft. on all sides. In contrast, the Biblical rendering depicts the ark as rectangular in shape, measuring 450 ft. in length, 75 ft. in width, and 45 ft. in height (236). Regarding these dimensions, Naval Academy graduate and engineer, Chuck Missler, maintains that the Biblical dimensions are certainly the more reasonable of the two. Moreover, Missler observes that the 6:1 length to width ratio of the Biblical ark is amazingly similar to that of modern day vessels.

Concerning the history of ark testimonies, they are abundant and go back thousands of years. Flavius Josephus, an historian of the first century, made a number of comments on this topic. Josephus stated that the ark came to rest on a specific mountain in Armenia and mentions several historians who have confirmed this assertion (29). Included among these is a quote by Berosus the Caldean that dates to about 275 BC. which states, "It is said that there is still some part of this ship in Armenia... and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen... and use as amulets..." (29). Josephus goes on to announce that many others have testified to the same,

including Heironmus the Egyptian, writer of the Phoenician Antiquities, Mnaseas, and Nicholaus of Damascus (29). In addition Josephus records that the Armenians of his day called the landing site of the ark "The place of decent", and furthermore, asserts that the remains of the ark are still there (29). Of the many ancient testimonies, one final example of interest is found in the words of Marco Polo. In describing the province of Armenia Major, Polo makes the following statement: "In the central part of Armenia stands an exceedingly large and high mountain, upon which, it is said the ark of Noah rested..." Polo goes on to describe the mountain and to note that the upper regions of the mountain never thaw (21).

More recently ark sightings have been the subject of considerable attention. For those who relegate the ark story to that of myth, explanations of these sightings can but fall into two categories--they are either delusional or intentional fabrications. Certainly these alternatives are valid considerations. However, it is also clear that these assertions cannot explain the number and consistency of these sightings. This point is emphasized in an article by Drs. Lee Spencer and Jean Luc Lienard entitled "The Search for Noah’s Ark." In this article seven independent eyewitness reported spanning over the past century were reviewed and the degree of consistency was found to be considerable--their conclusion: "That the ark has been seen this century there can be little doubt" (10).

In an article entitled "Eye Witness Accounts", ark researcher Tom Pickett details a couple of the better known eyewitness reports. The first is that of George Hagopian, who reportedly visited the ark with his uncle in 1905. The Hagopian account gives considerable details, describing the location and structure of the ark (1). Appendix 2 shows a drawing of Hagopian’s description of the ark, as drawn by artist Elfred Lee. A second account pickett reviews is that of a Russian Lt. Named Roskovitsky. In this case Roskovitsky reported sighting the ark while flying

reconnaissance in 1916. The report recounts how this sighting lead to an expedition in which the ark was examined and extensively photographed, but that these photos were lost during the Russian Revolution. According to Pickett the story has been confirmed by members of the expedition (2).

Most recently the ark controversy has been stirred by the declassification of CIA photos in connection of some sort of anomaly on Mount Ararat. The declassification of these documents was spearheaded by law professor, Porcher Taylor III , and is recounted in an article entitled "The Origin of the planned Search for the Mount Ararat Anomaly in Turkey." According to Taylor, it was February 24, 1995 that the declassification of these documents formally began with this quote from Vice President Al Gore: "And the photos could be of value in other ways, including... to determine whether the remains of Noah’s Ark might be found on a remote part of Mt. Ararat in Turkey" (8). In Taylor’s article he recounts how that in his attempt to gain declassification of the CIA photos he came into association with Dr. George A. Carver Jr., former Deputy for National Intelligence in the CIA, and that Carver recollected a report from back in 1973 in which photographs indicated something unusual on Mount Ararat. Taylor goes on to quote Dr Carver as stating "it certainly was eyebrow lifting" and that "the Bible might not be all that bad as history" (4-5).

In an update report on these CIA photos, ark researcher Matthew Kneisler shares a letter of response in regard to his request for photos of Noah’s Ark. In this letter the CIA declared that a large number of Ararat Photos had been declassified, but that even though they had believed they possessed photos that would be "responsive" to Kneisler’s request, they had turned out not to be. Kneisler concludes with the following: "Although they claim not to have any such images, they are continuing to search for documentation about Mount Ararat and the anomaly"(5).

One final note of interest in this area comes from ark researcher Robin Simmons, who recently published an article on this topic in Fortean Times. In an Internet article, Simmons gives a transcript report of an interview he had with a remote sensing technician who chose to remain anonymous. The technician describes a process referred to as "Photo Analysis material Spectra", a procedure in which satellite photos are taken and analyzed through a "laser process that takes a spectra reading." The technician goes on to describe the process in detail and to state that he does not believe in Noah’s Ark, but that he is one hundred percent convinced that there is a man-made structure on the mountain somewhere above the 13000 foot level (1-2). This corresponds well with ark sightings, which have typically placed the ark at about 14,000 ft.

Though testimony of the ark continues to accumulate, many critics remain undaunted, and there are yet questions to be answered: How could the primitive culture of Noah’s day have built the ark? Wouldn’t the ark have decomposed after so many centuries? And if the ark is really on Mount Ararat then why hasn’t it been categorically confirmed? Regarding the building of the ark, an article in Skeptical Inquirer by David Pitt quotes author Kenneth Feder as saying, "The construction of the ark, given the conditions stated in the Bible, would probably have been impossible" (53). However, it is pointed out by Stewart that such reasoning would make it necessary to disavow many accomplishments of antiquity, such as the Great Pyramid (150). Concerning the preservation of the ark, in an article by Kneisler entitled "Isn’t the Ark Disintegrated by Now ?", he answers this objection by observing that the glacial conditions on Ararat would tend to negate the process of decomposition. In support of this hypothesis Kneisler refers to an article in Scientific America that records the discovery of a frozen Mastodon so well preserved that the meat was still edible (2).

Finally, the most obvious objection of all may be, if the ark is really on Mount Ararat, then why hasn’t it been definitively confirmed? In response to this question Missler notes that Ark sightings place it in one of the most inaccessible places imaginable. According to Missler the geopolitical climate surrounding Mount Ararat is extremely sensitive. The reason for this is that Ararat is located in a section of Turkey very near the borders of Iran and Armenia. Consequently, access to the mountain is often forbidden. Missler also points out that the geography of the mountain itself is exceedingly treacherous, prone to landslides, avalanches, and severe weather conditions. Additionally, the upper regions of the mountain are perpetually shrouded in snow and ice. In consideration of these difficulties Missler shares his personal suspicion on this matter, declaring that there are many places the ark could have landed that would have readily displayed its remains, or allowed it to decompose, however, given the suspected location of the ark, and its inaccessibility, he believes its landing sight was divinely ordered. Moreover, he voices his sentiment that the ark is destined for an unveiling at God’s appointed time.

Is Noah’s Ark for real? The Book of Genesis says it is. Historians have repeatedly supported this claim, and eyewitness reports have further confirmed it. Accordingly, evidence indicates that the dawn of discovery may soon dispel the shadows of doubt. Yet, if tomorrow’s headlines should read "Noah’s Ark: More Than Myth!", then even more profound questions may loom on the horizon. In this case, the end may in fact be only the beginning.

Works Cited: Noah’s Ark Bib.

Cohn, Norman. Noah’s Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Dolphin, Lambert. "On the Great Flood of Noah." 18 Feb. 1999 (25 Mar. 1999).

Heidel, Alexander. The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1949.

Josephus, Flavius. Josephus: Complete Works. Trans. William Whiston, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1960.

Kneisler, Matthew. "Isn’t The Ark Disintegrated by now?" Aug./Sept. 1998. (6 Apr. 1999).

Missler, Chuck. Personal interview. 8 Apr. 1999.

Patten, Donald W. The Biblical Flood And The Ice Epoch. Seattle WA: Pacific Meridian Publishing, 1966.

Pickett, Tom. "Eye Witness Accounts." The Genesis Flood. 6 Apr. 1999. (6 Apr. 1999).

Pitt, David. "Did You See CBS’s ‘Pseudo documentary’? Here’s the Book." Skeptical Inquirer Jan./Feb. 1996: 53.

Polo, Marco. The Travels of Marco Polo. New York, Crown publishers, 1958.

Simmons, Robin. "High-Tech Account." 1 Oct. 1998. (25 Mar 1999).

Spencer, Lee and Jean Luc Lienard. "The Search for Noah’s Ark." Dec. 1998. (25 Mar. 1999).

Stewart, Don. The Creation. San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1984.

Taylor, Porcher, III. "The Origin of and Planned Search for the Mount Ararat ‘Anomaly’ in Turkey." 24 Nov. 1997. (9 Apr. 1999).

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