'The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark': An Archaeological Quest?

By Fox, Richard A. | Free Inquiry, Summer 1993 | Go to article overview

'The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark': An Archaeological Quest?


Fox, Richard A., Free Inquiry


On February 20, 1993, CBS television aired "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark," an independently produced program purchased by the network. The ambitious goal was to determine if the great ship was "truth or fable" but the program title announced that conclusion straightaway. The producer billed the two-hour episode as an "archaeological quest" for the "real truth." "New" archaeological explorations on Mt. Ararat, using new technology, would settle the issue.

Use of the word new immediately puzzled me. I knew of no archaeological expeditions to recover Noah's ark. I thought it was a myth. As it turned out, "Incredible" offered nothing to alter that perception, nor could I discern evidence of any fresh archaeological explorations.

Indeed, I did not see a single archaeologist among the "experts" interviewed, except Philip Hammond of the University of Utah. A genuine archaeologist, he was one of a handful of token skeptics. The program limited the skeptics to cameo appearances intended overtly to convey impartiality but otherwise designed to set them up a straw men. Doubtless much of their commentary never made the show. Not surprisingly, Hammond is listed in the American Anthropological Association directory.

On-screen ID-supers displayed profession and credentials as each "expert" testified. A Dr. Don Shockey, labeled a "professor of anthropology," explained gopher wood, the material of choice for arks in those days. Not shockingly, Shockey is not in the anthropology directory, nor is "Dr." Carl Baugh who, as a "paleoanthropologist," curiously talked only about his photo of the ark. Baugh's "science degrees," or rather lack of them, are well known (see Kuban 1989), as are his childish efforts to prove that dinosaurs and humans once strolled together in Texas (e.g., Hastings 1987). Evidently the Texas "research" qualifies Baugh as a paleoanthropologist.

A Dr. Elfred Lee (also not listed) was the "archaeological illustrator." There is no such title in archaeology. Lee used "eyewitness testimony" to draw the ark, necessary because no one has ever produced the vessel. Larry Williams, who publishes a treasure-hunter newsletter, evidently lacks academic credentials, otherwise they would have been ballyhooed. He had been, we were told, around the world visiting archaeological sites. He was identified as a "publisher-archaeologist."

That is it for the archaelogical "expertise." The program did mention that "thousands" had combed Mt. Ararat, trotting out an assortment of ark-hunters of every persuasion except archaeology. Nothing they were up to even remotely resembled archaeology. This is certainly startling. After all, the narrator declared an "archaeological quest." Why no archaeologists and no archaeology? It's simple. There would have been no story.

Just what was "Incredible" then? Not a religious mission, or so said the narrator. If not, why was so much more time devoted to global flood issues than to an archaeological quest? Numerous "experts" explained global flood "theory" details from astronomy to zoology. Now and then these segments were reinforced with amateurish skits portraying pre-flood wickedness, Noah, his family, and their odyssey. The narrator repeatedly referred to the biblical flood, claiming, for example, that ". . . the Bible is suddenly emerging as an uncanny historical document. . . ."

Certainly Noah's ark implies a biblical flood, but archaeology does not deal with catastrophes. Even if archaeology could, the program's objective was to find an ark. So we might have expected "Incredible" to stick to "arkeology." But it did not. What possible connection, then, is there between archaeology and global flood "theory" punctuated with Noachian reenactment? The answer is singularly obvious. "Incredible" (and CBS) promoted a religious mission, and a peculiar soteriological one at that. CBS should have known better.

The religious link is important. Soteriology posits the following: (1) souls exist; (2) humans have (or are) souls; (3) souls survive corporeal death; and (4) at death, souls go to heaven or hell. …

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