I recently had to comment in a discussion on one of socnets about the plausibility of the story of Noah’s Arch. The argument was that the story was never questioned, then the person took interest in science, and before long the story of the most ancient sea journey amidst the deluge became a myth.
Regular readers know that I’m not a religious person, however I do have faith. It’s neither Christian, nor some other, but a set of what I hold to be true of the world where I live. However, being a historian I realise that these “myths” are not the mere old woman’s tales but the examples of how our ancestors made sense of this world. They may appear exaggerated to us today but at the very core they are not at all contradictory to the event as it was.
In case with Noah’s Arch the problem is that, rather than acknowledging the limited worldview of our predecessors we let our own erudition run wild. We come to imagine an arch the size of the Titanic, and a pair of every species grows to the size of an average zoo. The purpose of saving Noah was to rebuild the mankind; naturally, Noah would have to eat and to grow crops, and he needed animals to do so – domestic animals, that is. In his time these would most likely be sheep, and it was absolutely possible to take a couple of “baahs” on board.
I mentioned the story of St. Ursula that I wrote about previously. It’s one of the best-known Christian myths that sprang from the misreading of an abbreviation and inspired a popular theme in medieval painting. Yes, today we know there had not been 11,000 virgin martyrs, and the iconography appears a good subject for mockery. Instead, why cannot we appreciate the art of composition, the colours, the studies of a dress?
On to my socnet argument.
“The Noah story as I knew it had it that he was allowed to take a pair of every species. Given the time we are talking about, it would not be a zoo, so generally he would be able to take some creatures in a boat with him. Scientists, historians, archaeologists have long established that the story of Noah’s Arc is one of many reverberations of the story of the Great Flood, references to which we can find not only in the Bible but also in American Indian myths, and in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the first ever epic song. As much as I am not religious myself, I’m an historian, and the biggest problem we have with these “fables” is that they are taken at face value and taught in the same vein, then later we discover our critical faculties and begin to refute the story altogether. We need to realise that it is through fables, parables and extensive iconography that our ancestors made sense of this world. It would be a shame if, by discarding these stories as old woman’s tales, we also threw away the ability for rich, imaginative thinking. We should believe the story of Noah’s Arc, as it is depicted in the Bible, no more than we believe today the story of St. Ursula and 11000 virgin martyrs, but it doesn’t mean nothing similar had ever happened. I felt I had to say this because in Russia in the late 1990s an academic “school” appeared that claimed that all history, as we know it, especially starting from our era, was a creation of a limited number of European scholars from 17th c. onwards. If we say that those myths are just myths, we merely give strength to this theory that would happily refute Darwin with all his apes, if it could”.