Noah's Ark Goes to Hollywood
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
The search for Noah's Ark has many years been a source of fascination and intrigue for millions. The story has such appeal that the news media had always been anxious to report any news dealing with the Ark. These accounts have not always been factual or favorable, but they have been well circulated.
The first major splash was in 1883 when Turkish avalanche investigators claimed a discovery of the Ark. The world press so twisted and turned this story, however, and made such a sport of it, that those inclined to accept it were intimidated.
In 1940 the second major story hit the American public. The fictional account of Vladimar Roskovitsky was printed and reprinted in newspapers, magazines, books, tracts, etc. in spite of the fact that the author of the story claimed it was mostly false, built on only the barest of details supplied by the families of two of the deceased members of the reported Russian expedition.
During the '40s, the Ark continued to be in the news, with Air Force personnel claiming sightings from the air, a Kurdish peasant finding it by accident, and several expeditions raising support and making plans.
Fernand Navarra, the French climber, had his day in the spotlight when he displayed to the world an ancient piece of hand-tooled wood that he removed from a crevasse in the ice cap of Mt. Ararat. Later, in 1969, he returned with a team from SEARCH INC. and discovered other small pieces of wood in a nearby location.
In this decade, the publicity has been of a different sort. There have been numerous expeditions with many participants, most of whom consistently lecture and write on the subject, and few in this country are not aware to some degree that the search is current. Since 1972 ten books have been written on the subject, all of which have been good sellers. These books have varied in viewpoint, content and accuracy, but are all reasonably factual.
The Institute for Creation Research has always maintained a strictly ethical, legal and moral stand in its expeditions and its publications have strived for precise accuracy even though truth may not make such exciting reading. It is in that light that some of the more recent well known and circulated items must be discussed.
The first of the major news stories of this decade was the report on February 21, 1974, that a NASA satellite known as the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS, now known as LANDSAT) had photographed Noah's Ark from an altitude of 450 miles. The news was repeated in virtually every newspaper, and on every radio and television station.
Unfortunately, when examined by photographic experts, the object in question turned out not to be the Ark. It was many times too large and not at all in the area under consideration as the possible resting place of the Ark. NASA experts agree that the Ark, even if fully exposed, and under optimal conditions, would likely not be visible. In any case, they are certain that this object, located at about 6,000 elevation, is not the Ark.
Holy Ground Mission Changing Center
Several years ago a small group of people established a commune in rural east Texas and formed a unique cult under the leadership of Tom Crotser, and began their "ministry of restoration." They feel that many major Old Testament relics, artifacts, dwelling places, etc. must be restored before Christ can set up His Kingdom on earth. They claim a special anointing of God to do this work, while espousing doctrines far removed from mainline Christianity.
They believe that one of the major remains that must be restored in their program is Noah's Ark, and they have been actively searching since 1971. In 1974, they returned from Mt. Ararat, actually claiming to have found the Ark, and produced a tone picture which has since enjoyed wide circulation, showing primarily what is claimed to be "the planking on the side" of the Ark.
However, their messianic complex has perhaps justified, in their thinking, actions which others would find questionable, so that at least some of their statements are open to question. They have consistently used the material of others, claiming it was their own, and drawn false conclusions from it. For example, the intriguing picture of the "unidentified object," taken by the Archaeological Research Foundation in 1966, which shows an unusual but unidentified Ark-like formation in the distance, has now appeared without permission in many newspapers and personal pictures sponsored by the Mission and used as proof that they have found the Ark.
Their 1974 photo has been claimed as a telephoto of the Ark, taken from 2,000 feet away. The photograph is far out of focus and shows a mountainous region and an unusual rock formation. However, very sharp and distinct lines appear on the picture running parallel along the formation. However, any photographer knows that in a telephoto taken from 2,000 feet, if anything is in focus, everything should be in focus. But in this picture, the only thing that does appear sharply is the supposed "planking," which is the only proof offered by the Mission to substantiate their claim of seeing "the planking on the side" of the Ark. CIA representatives have scrutinized the picture, as they do everything on the subject, and labeled it as an amateurish job of retouching.
Noah's Ark: Movie Star
In the past three years, two feature length movies have been produced detailing the search for Noah's Ark. Both of these films are interesting and informative, and an effort in both was made to be fair to the Biblical concept of a global flood in Noah's day, but numerous errors were present that confused the issue.
"The Ark of Noah"
The first of the two movies resulted from an illegal expedition in August of 1974, led by film producer Bart LaRue, of Jannus of Hollywood. LaRue and his crew literally bribed their way up the mountain, climbing at night to avoid detection whenever possible. Much of the movie details these bribes and calls attention to the corruption within the Turkish government. As a result, Bart LaRue was banned from Turkey and is under peril of arrest and prosecution if he returns. In fact, when the writer of this article was in Turkey in May of 1975, several times he was detained for questioning and once arrested for several hours, until it was definitely ascertained that he had no connection with LaRue or with any of the other illegal groups that had surreptitiously climbed the mountain looking for the Ark, (including the Holy Ground Mission).
Before launching his expedition, LaRue contracted with SEARCH INC. for all of their archival material. Much of the footage in his film stemmed from expeditions in the sixties launched by the Archaeological Research Foundation and later SEARCH INC. itself. This footage supplemented some rather dramatic shots of the glacier where Navarra and SEARCH found wood in 1955 and 1969 respectively.
LaRue's film has not been successful in commercial theatres. It was somewhat upstaged by the second movie, which benefited from a massive advertising budget. LaRue's movie is now playing (in an abbreviated version) in churches around the country. It contains some of the background research into past sighting, into the folklore and symbolic place names of the Ararat area, and shows the political problems and physical dangers encountered. Black and white movies of Navarra and his wood taken in 1955 precede the SEARCH 1969 discovery and LaRue's expedition. Also included is a rather interesting study of the Flood and Flood geology although this is not entirely compatible with the Biblical Flood model as understood by the Institute for Creation Research. Deleted from the original feature length version are some of the many statements of Turkish corruption and details of the supposed bribes.
In its present form it is neither particularly Christian nor creationist, but it does contain worthwhile information.
"In Search of Noah's Ark"
Publicity on its grandest scale resulted from the second feature length movie, which currently is playing across the country. Produced by Sun Classic Pictures, Inc., a subsidiary of the Schick Razor Company, the movie is said to have cost about one-half million dollars to produce and five million dollars to advertise; however, the movie is expected to gross thirty million dollars.
The Sun Classic emphasis is in family-oriented pictures, although it is not a Christian organization as such. Several years ago, this company conducted a nationwide survey to determine what subjects people were interested in, and the number one subject was the search for Noah's Ark! Plans were laid to produce a dramatized documentary detailing the past sightings, current research, technical features of the Ark and Flood culminating in the Navarra and SEARCH finds, much as Bart LaRue's film had done.
After the script had been written and production started, problems arose and Sun Classic hired Dave Balsiger, a California advertising man thoroughly familiar with the facts of the search, to check the script accuracy. Balsiger, a ghost writer for Fernand Navarra's book Noah's Ark: I Touched It, recognized serious problems in the original script. Balsiger was acquainted with the work of the personnel of the Institute for Creation Research, and frequently consulted this writer and other ICR scientists as he rewrote major portions of the script. The final product suffered somewhat in the hand of editors and advertising men who were more interested in a sensational movie than in strict factuality but, all things considered, the movie has had an overall positive effect, in informing people of the search and of the fact that serious scientific investigators are involved.
Unfortunately, a number of historical, Biblical, and scientific errors did creep in. Because so many people have mistakenly assumed that ICR is responsible for the film, some of these errors should be noted.
The pre-flood geography, meteorology and other conditions implied in the film included a curious mixture of local-flood concepts (as put forward by Biblical skeptics for decades) along with various speculative concepts of astral catastrophism. This, of course, involves a number of significant differences with a straightforward rendering of the Genesis account and resulting logical deductions therefrom.
The Bible indicates that it had never rained before the Flood, yet in the movie Noah and his family were already familiar with rain, snow, thunder and other storms. Most Biblical creationists feel that the water canopy of Genesis was made up of invisible water vapor, with uninhibited views of the stars and with no clouds. But the movie, in its reenactment of the building of the Ark, and collecting of the animals, showed both cloudy days and sunny days, and then rehearsed the concept of a canopy made of ice crystals, translucent but not transparent, which was supposedly precipitated by an astral near-miss, causing the Flood. This latter model, of course, seems a clear contradiction with Scripture, and has thus raised many unnecessary questions.
If the Flood story in the Bible is to be regarded as sober history, then we should not expect to recognize any pre-Flood geography. The surface of the globe would have been totally restructured. All of the fossil-bearing sedimentary rock would have been laid down at this time, in places many miles thick. Certainly, we have no justification for placing the Garden of Eden or Noah's pre-Flood home in the Mesopotamian valley, but the movie does just that. In the same breath the film speaks of 60,000 feet of Flood strata in India and a few feet of supposed "Flood" silt at Ur of the Chaldees. The wood found by Navarra (white oak) is said to have come from the fertile crescent, since that same type of wood grows there now, but the fact is that thousands of feet of Flood-lain strata underlie the present river valley.
In reenacting the Flood story, the movie varied from the Biblical version in a few details, such as the sending out of doves, the rainbow, chronology and others, but in essence the story was correct. The footage showing the destruction due to advancing Flood waters is especially dramatic. Equally interesting are the construction methods used and the stability studies of an Ark model in a hydraulic testing facility.
Once the movie leaves the more historic areas, serious errors and unproved assumptions are introduced. The Navarra wood is discussed at length and an effort is made to establish its ancient vintage. First the carbon-14 dates, which don't agree with the estimated date of the Flood, are explained away. Attention turns, then, to highly subjective and unreliable techniques based on uniformitarian principles that would not be accurate if the catastrophe which they are trying to demonstrate is indeed history. Four methods, the degree of lignite formation, gain in wood density, cell modification, and degree of fossilization, all yielded older dates but these were rather uncertain estimates, and in fact are rejected by most scientists. The Navarra wood remains highly questionable in origin, and Navarra's claim to have found the Ark is at best premature.
The climax of the movie is the presentation of all possible positive data, with very little regard for the canons of true evidence, including the unusual geologic formation photographed in 1959 from the air 50 miles to the south of Mt. Ararat and known without a doubt not to be the Ark. In addition, the ERTS photograph discussed earlier is studied in detail in a very impressive piece of footage in a NASA laboratory. The sensors located a spot on the photo that possessed a different reflectivity than any other spot on the mountain. Unfortunately, since the spot was at about the 5,000 foot level, it could not be the Ark, and in all likelihood was the new tin-roofed schoolhouse in the village of Ahora, on the lower slopes of the mountain.
To prove its bold statement that the Ark has been found, the movie showed both the "unidentified object" taken by the Archaeological Research Foundation in 1966 and the obviously-retouched Holy Ground Mission photo. In both cases the director and producer were aware that neither photo should be considered as proof of anything. And since these two "pictures of the Ark" were at different locations, a broken-Ark theory was postulated, with half of the Ark in two separate locations. However, there are four sites actually mentioned in the film, the Navarra site, the NASA spot, the "unidentified object," and the Mission photo, and all four are distinct and widely separated, and furthermore, none are in the places specified in the movie.
These differences may seem trivial, but the fact remains that the Ark has not yet been rediscovered, and the search must go on. The Institute for Creation Research is presently approaching the proper Turkish authorities in an effort to overcome the negative publicity of the past few years and to launch a serious investigation once again.
*Dr. John Morris is President of ICR.