Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wrong Date, Too

Okay, I'll cut straight to the chase today. The next main reason for doubting the recent claims of having found Noah's ark is that
Just as the location of the alledged ark discovery, so, too, the dating of the ark is wrong--fitting perfectly with expectations that arise from a (popular, widespread) misinterpretation of Scripture rather than what would be expected by archaeologists and serious students of the Bible.
While the Bible lends itself to verification and falsification by specifying historical people and places, it never gives dates. The calendar dates by which we order our lives (B.C. and A.D.) are very recently derived, and would, of course, have been unavailable to the human authors of the various books that make up the Bible. The closest Scripture comes to specifying dates is to fix an event in a particular year of the reign of some well-known ruler. And this sort of date fixing didn't become feasible until the point at which humanity had begun to order itself into kingdoms, which was a rather later development. The point is that the Genesis accounts--including the account of the flood--do not attempt to fix dates for the events they describe.

This is not to say that we cannot arrive at dates for some of the events recorded in Genesis. Historical, archaeological, and anthropological evidence can, in some cases, be aligned with the Bible's accounts to estimate the timing of certain events and people. There remains, to be sure, some controversy about the exact date of the exodus (of Moses and the Israelites from Egyptian captivity), but the two dates at issue are not all that far apart. And most Bible scholars and archaeologists accept that the "Ur of the Chaldeans" from which Abraham was called by God to move is the important city in southern Mesopotamia that flourished from about 3000 to 1900 B.C. But dating any events or people described in Scripture prior to Abraham can only be done in very general terms, that is, within very broad limits.

And even though the chronological limits placed on the flood are necessarily broad, they do not include a date as recent as only 4,800 years ago. A host of evidence from archaeology, anthropology, and even (now) genetics, places the spread of humanity that occurred not only post-flood but post-Babel at between 9,000 and 40,000 years ago. So, if neither Scripture itself nor the available corroborating evidence provides a date for Noah of 4,800 years ago, where does that date come from? Well, if you're tracking with this series of posts, you'll have by now guessed that it comes from a rather modern (but popular) misinterpretation or superficial reading of Scripture.

Ask many conservative evangelical Christians how they come to the conclusion that the Earth and universe are only thousands of years old--and that, therefore, the flood of Noah's day dates to about 4,800 years ago--and an important part of their answer will be the idea that the names and ages in the Hebrew genealogies (of Scripture generally and of Gen. 5 and Gen. 11 in particular) can be set end-to-end and summed to arrive at such dates. As I will flesh out in the next post, this idea involves a misassumption about Hebrew genealogies and is demonstrably false. It persists in modern circles, however, because studying and testing it involves greater effort than does reading the text superficially.

But by now you can understand why I immediately dismiss the recent reports of an ark that dates to 4,800 years ago on Mt. Ararat. Both the date and the place match perfectly with popular expectations but miss by miles and thousands of years the place and date that a careful study of Scripture and the relevant evidence predict.

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