The show opens with a natural geological formation that they fudge the facts and heavily imply is on Mt. Ararat in Turkey that believers think is the petrified remains of Noah’s Ark. It is not really boat-shaped, more of an irregular oval, but people tend to see what they want to see. The site, however, is the infamous Durupınar site, located on Mount Tendürek, 18 miles from the more famous Mt. Ararat. It sits near to a peak known locally as Cudi Dağı, sometimes linked to Mt. Judi, which the ancients considered the mountain where the Ark came to a rest. Nurse-anesthetist Ron Wyatt popularized the site as Noah’s Ark in the 1970s when he remade himself as an “amateur archaeologist,” though evangelical Christians had started already speculating about a connection when Life magazine ran a picture of it in 1960.
Lynn Picknett pops up to offer some ignorance. She correctly claims that people in the past thought they saw Noah’s Ark, but she wrongly identifies the first of them as Marco Polo. Polo believed Ararat—not Judi—was the mountain where the Ark rested, but he did not claim to see the Ark. (She is probably conflating his geographical passage with Sir John Mandeville’s, which does allege that the Ark was still there.) Theophilus of Antioch was, to the best of my knowledge, the first Christian to unambiguously claim Noah’s Ark could be seen on a mountain, though he did not specify the mountain. Nicholas of Damascus, a Hellenized Jewish historian of the first century BCE, claimed that the Ark had formerly been seen on a mountain but was no longer preserved. For your convenience, I’ve collected the ancient and medieval accounts here.
Most of the episode is devoted to Andrew Jones, an amateur “archaeological investigator” and longtime Christian Ark enthusiast. He believes that the rocks on Ararat are Noah’s Ark, and we watch as he visits the site to try to prove that the rocky formation is Noah’s boat. Archaeologist Klint Janulis explains the geology of the “Ark” site and how it formed naturally. Medieval historian Dominic Selwood explains that efforts to find that Ark are a “weapon” to assert the primacy of Christianity over science and materialism. As you might imagine, Jones has no interest in the Mesopotamian stories, which place the Ark closer to Mesopotamia, nor does the show bother to explain that the mountain today called Ararat was renamed after the Noachian story. Up until about the eighteenth century, the “mountains of Ararat” covered a broader range, and the Ark was believed to have rested on Mt. Judi, where earlier visitors “found” it over and over for more than a thousand years. Mt. Judi was the preferred choice down to the eleventh century, and maintained a coequal billing with Ararat until the eighteenth century, when Ararat became the Christians’ choice while Judi maintained its following in Islam. The show elides all of this and purposely confuses Mt. Ararat, the “mountains of Ararat,” and most of the geography of eastern Turkey so it all becomes the same thing.
We watch Jones use ground-penetrating radar to hunt for the Ark, and then we visit Kentucky’s Ark Encounter theme part to look at a replica of the Ark while Janulis tells us that it “boggles the mind” that Noah could have built the Ark to the specifications provided. He is clearly taken out of context, since he seems to be explaining why the story is implausible, though the producers have used his sound bites to reframe the quotation as proof Noah was a “superman” with advanced technology. A geologist is interviewed to explain that the formation is made of actual naturally formed sedimentary rocks, not petrified wood, and therefore isn’t the Ark of gopher wood unless Noah built a boat out of rocks. Jones rejects this by asserting that mainstream geology is a conspiracy, and the show—to my surprise—actually delivers an accurate geology lesson about the failures of Flood geology and the evidence for deep time. Sadly, though, the narrator minimizes this as “perceived” problems with the Flood narrative.
Another segment contrasts Jones’s belief in Noah’s animal husbandry with the various talking heads’ skepticism that Noah could have packed the Ark with two (or seven) of every species.
After another break, some large Christian megalithic tombstones are alleged to be anchors for Noah’s Ark. The show explains that Noah’s Flood could not have happened as given in the Bible, since there is no geological evidence for a global flood. Instead, they offer the popular argument that the original Flood myth referred to catastrophic flooding in Mesopotamia five thousand years ago. It’s possible, but not necessary to explain the story. The Mesopotamian peoples also spoke of a global Conflagration, but there is no reason to suspect that the whole world, or even a whole country, caught fire to explain it. Fire and water are common, and imagination can invent events that never happened.
In the next segment, Tony McMahon and Andrew Jones allege that Noah was a 12-foot-tall giant. The narrator claims that the Bible tell us this, but that’s not at all true. The Bible does not claim Noah was twelve feet tall. It reflects, sort of, a Jewish legend derived from a longstanding tradition that ancient peoples were all giants, shrinking over time from the massive Adam to the normal-sized us. (This theory of degeneration was famously promoted in the 1700s by a kooky French scholar, who estimated ancient heights at 100+ feet!) Moses, according to the rabbis, was a massive giant, for example. The specific claim, however, comes from creationist Ron Wyatt, who based it not on anything in the Bible but an 18-foot-long crypt allegedly found in Turkey and apparent megafauna bones being passed off as the bones of 12-foot-tall antediluvians. McMahon and Jones have drawn the conclusion that because the antediluvians were giants (Nephilim), therefore Noah was, too. Jones hopes that large tomb found near Ararat is a grave occupied by the “giant” Noah. The show quietly omits that Wyatt believed that he had found Jesus’s blood under the crucifixion site, with only 24 chromosomes (23 from Mary and 1 from God), the Ark of the Covenant, other biblical wonders, and he claimed that the Turkish government sold off Noah’s wife’s “bodice” for $75 million!
Then, finally, the show introduces Mesopotamian records, which they present as if the “dramatic evidence” contained in them were new, though they accidentally admit that tablets were first discovered in the 1860s. But even that doesn’t capture the full truth: Babylonian stories about the Flood were always known. The story was told by the Babylonian priest Berosus and was frequently cited in Jewish and Christian literature, demonstrating that our perception that the cuneiform tablets changed the world is an artifact of prejudice. The nineteenth century discovery of the tablets shows that the accumulating evidence forced Christians to reckon with what they pretended not to know by removing any doubt that Berosus reported a pre-Jewish tradition and did not copy from the Jews.
Anyway, the show suggests that the Jews copied their flood myth from Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity, though this is debatable. The biblical versions—there are two—may have been refashioned after the Babylonian story, but many believe that it originated from the broader Near Eastern flood stories shared across the Near East before 1000 BCE rather than taken over wholesale in the 500s. Either way, it doesn’t matter much for our topic—Noah’s Ark isn’t on Ararat if the story was made up.
Jones, of course, rejects all of this. Jones’s team falsely believes that right angles don’t typically exist in nature, so when their radar finds an angle under the ground, they excitedly believe they found proof that the Ark formation is artificial.
I was surprised that the show comes down on the side of science and agrees with the skeptics that the Flood never happened and the Ark story is a myth. The show leans too hard into claiming that the story of Noah’s Ark derives from a real flood around 2900 BCE and that it involved a real farmer who rescued his farm animals. “Skeptics” don’t argue for that—rationalizers do. Given the lack of evidence, the default position ought to be that the story is fictitious until evidence indicates otherwise.
Overall, however, this was a relatively balanced hour that made clear that its subject—Jones—is a kook. What made this episode relatively sane is that, aside from Jones, all of the talking heads were actual scientists and scholars, with the exception of very brief clips from their usual rogue’s gallery. The minimization of Andrew Gough, who appeared just once, and Lynn Picknett did much to reduce the crazy quotient down closer to zero.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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