A blogger at the Daily Kos wrote last night of how an episode of Ancient Aliens changed his or her view of ancient astronauts. After not having believed in any supernatural or extraterrestrial claims, and after having found Ancient Aliens ridiculous, the blogger was so overwhelmed by the otherworldliness of Puma Punku during an Ancient Aliens episode that something changed: “Now I don’t know if aliens made it but saying aliens made it sounds at least as credible as the archeological explanations. There are perfectly round holes straight through a few feet of rock and they say it was done by bouncing stones on it. There is just no way that could be.” Point of fact: The holes were drilled, not made by bouncing. The blogger seems to be confusing the drilling of holes with the use of pounding stones for carving and polishing blocks.
Consequently, the blogger feels that archaeology cannot explain Puma Punku and “I need a better explanation” than what (and these are the blogger’s actual sources) Wikipedia and Ancient Aliens’ summary of archaeologists’ views can provide.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need better science education and easier access to high quality archaeological material. If you lock it all away behind paywalls and in dense, unreadable academic books, this is what you get.
Moving on to a different topic…
I came across an interesting problem that deserved an answer. In Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus provides a series of testimonies from the pagan authors testifying to the reality of Noah’s Ark and its continued existence as a venerated relic. Here is the relevant passage from 1.93-95 (= Book 1, chapter 3, sec. 6):
(93) Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood, and of this ark; among whom is Berosus the Chaldean. For when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: “It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs.” (94) Hieronymus the Egyptian also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same. Nay, Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them; where he speaks thus: (95) “There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses the legislator of the Jews wrote.” (trans. William Whiston)
The quotation from Berosus is familiar enough to most readers since I’ve discussed it often enough, and the next two authors are non-entities who are basically unknown, though there are a few extant fragments of Mnaseas. Many scholars believe Josephus simply copied their names from the last author listed, Nicolaus of Damascus, a pagan author also known only from fragments. He lived in the time of Augustus, was a close friend of Herod the Great, and wrote a universal history in 144 volumes.
It is Nicolaus’s reference to Mt. Baris that is the problem. What might this mountain be? The question sparked the interest of the Associates for Biblical Research, an archaeological group dedicated to proving the inerrancy of the Bible. Rick Lanser of the ABR became upset after reading Bill Crouse’s 2006 article on the ancient tradition that identified the mountain on which the Ark rested with Al-Judi (Cudi Dagh), near Nisibis in what is now Turkey. Lanser felt that this discredited his own efforts to find Noah’s Ark on Mt. Masis, now known as Mt. Ararat because “I cannot bring myself to dismiss many of the testimonies claiming the Ark’s landing place was on Mount Ararat.” In other words, because other Biblical literalists think they saw the Ark on modern Ararat, the earlier testimony has to be wrong.
So Lanser set about proving the Mt. Baris was in fact Mt. Masis, the current Mt. Ararat, and therefore supports not the pagan myths of Berosus but the Biblical history of Genesis. To that end, he lays out his case for why we should identify Baris with Masis and not Judi in the Gordyaean Mountains, as Josephus clearly intended us to read the passage. The claims are as follows:
Obviously, Lanser has not made a particularly rigorous case, but he does raise doubts about what Nicolaus meant by Mt. Baris. Lanser’s first point can be dismissed instantly, as indeed Lanser himself dismisses, noting that the resemblance need not imply derivation.
The second point is stronger, for the land of the Minyas (Minni or Mannu) in the area around Lake Urmia is indeed due south of the current Mt. Ararat but southeast of Mt. Judi. However, this implies that (a) Nicolaus placed north at the top of his conception of the world, (b) had an accurate way of reckoning due north over hundreds of miles, and (c) considered north to be “over” (or “above”) more southerly areas. When considered in those terms, and given the poor quality of geographical knowledge in the years when Nicolaus wrote, his identification of the Ark mountain as “above” the land of Minyas could equally well apply to Masis or Judi since both were generally north of Lake Urmia and both significantly upland from there. (For comparison, in Geography 11.12.14 Strabo places a mountain discussed below “above” Nisibis despite it being northeast of the city). We can’t apply modern cartographical rigidity to ancient geography, so this part of Nicolaus’s text does not exclude either possibility.
Obviously, Shepherd’s map is irrelevant since he simply took Nicolaus’s Baris as the Greek name for Ararat in creating a “Reference Map of Asia Minor under the Greeks and Romans.”
Murad’s 1901 identification of Baris with Masis is more complex but rests ultimately on his belief that the Greek adopted “Baris” as a direct transliteration of the Armenian adjective bardsr (high), used to describe Masis in modern times. In his view, the Greeks gained the name indirectly from neighbors of the Armenians who somehow adopted the adjective for the mountain as its name. While I can’t disprove this possibility, as we shall see, it is not supported by modern scholarship. Murad’s claims are in German, but F. C. Conybeare outlined them in English here, noting that the Armenians did not themselves identify Masis with Ararat until the eleventh century CE. Prior to that, Masis had been the site of a (probably Mesopotamian-derived) local myth of a flood-surviving Ark that the Armenian Christians seemed to think it blasphemous to equate with Noah on distant Judi.
That leaves us with the cuneiform claim, which derives from the work of an Armenian, Dr. Artak Movsisyan. I will of course not cast aspersions on Dr. Movsisyan, but I’ve found in the case of Georgian scholars working on the problem of Colchis that people have a tendency to reach conclusions about Greek material that glorify their homelands. I don’t know Dr. Movsisyan from dirt, but it is unsurprising that he concludes that Baris has to do with Armenia rather than enemy Turkey. (Ararat is currently in Turkey but is a historical region of Armenia.) In fact, Movsisyan is best known for his argument that the Armenians invented a well-developed writing system millennia before Christianization, controversially connecting Armenian writing (attested in the fifth century CE) with the earlier Uratian script (last used c. 585 BCE).
Anyway, Movsisyan was quite taken with the name “Baris.” In his 2004 book The Sacred Highlands: Armenia in the Spiritual Geography of the Ancient Near East, he said that because there was no mountain of Armenia named Baris, the name was too important to have been “forgotten” and therefore must be a corruption. He proposed that the corruption occurred before the extinction of the Minyas, which he places around 600 BCE on Biblical evidence (Jeremiah 51:27), for this is the last mention of the Minni in historical records. It is not certain that the Biblical Minni are the same as the Mannaeans or Nicolaus’s Minyas, for Nicolaus also says that the Minyans of Orchomenus (the ancestors of Jason’s Argonauts) were expelled from Greece and took up residence in Asia Minor (FGrH 90F51).
From all of this, Movsisyan concludes that Baris would have been a corruption that occurred prior to 600 BCE and therefore likely occurred in cuneiform when a Greek misread the name Masis as Baris because the cuneiform symbols for mas- and bar- were the same. So far as I can tell, the Armenian place names have not been found in cuneiform texts, and according to Lanser Movsisyan simply sidesteps the question through the circular argument of claiming that the existence of the name Baris shows that Mesopotamians must have been familiar with the name Masis or else the confusion could not have taken place.
Lanser notes the problems but believes that since Baris is found in the same sentence as Minyas, the name must predate 600 BCE and therefore refer to Ararat in Turkey; thus he is right to look for Noah’s Ark there.
But does it really?
There is actually some scholarly conjecture that Baris is a Greek translation of Masis, where a name derived from baros, or heavy, was used as a synonym for “Masis,” meaning “great.” But this is uncertain. Alternately, some believe the name is actually a Greek corruption of the name Mt. Lubar from Jubilees 5:28, on which the Ark landed and which Epiphanius (Panarion 1.2.2) equated with Mt. Judi in 375 CE. He placed Lubar “between Armenia and Cardyaei” (i.e., Corduene, the area around Judi).
But let’s assume that Baris really does derive from Masis. Does that prove that we’re talking about the Masis now identified with Ararat?
No, it doesn’t.
Strabo is our witness against this identification. In his Geography (11.12.4) he writes of “Mount Masius, which is situated above Nisibis.” The mountain located above Nisibis is Mt. Judi, and here Strabo tells us that at the time he wrote—roughly contemporary with Nicolaus of Damascus—it was called Mt. Masis! Just to drive home the point, he repeats the same fact again at 16.1.22. This is the same place where Faustus of Byzantium (History of the Armenians 3.10) placed the recovery of wood from Noah’s Ark by Jacob of Nisibis in the fourth century CE.
If we still don’t want to believe this, well Josephus himself also records (Antiquities 20.22 = Book 20, chapter 2, sec. 2) that the Ark was located north of Adiabene in a land called Carra or Carron, along the Zab river, as did Julius Africanus (Syncellus, Chronicon 21), who called this area part of Parthia, of which it was in his day. Adiabene was the territory abutting Gordyene, in the same Gordyeaen mountains where Berosus placed the Ark back in the 300s BCE. Therefore, it seems obvious that Josephus wants us to read Baris as Mt. Judi, and none of the objections Lanser raised to this reading withstand scrutiny.
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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