Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Building Noah's Ark

The Biblical Museum of Natural History
focuses on the identities and symbolism of the animals of the Bible. As such, the story of Noah's Ark is less relevant to the museum than one might suppose. So far, we have had no exhibit relating to Noah's Ark. But since the words "animals" and "Bible" obviously conjure up Noah's Ark, and it does carry the powerful symbolism of conservation, I would very much like to create a Noah's Ark exhibit, to be displayed in our entrance hall. 

My idea is not to get at all into the scientific issues discussed in the previous post - the museum stays far away from such controversial topics. Instead, the signage would talk about the Ark as a symbol of conservation. (Note that rather than destroying all the animals and creating new ones, God wanted Noah to look after some animals and preserve them - perhaps teaching that civilization must be built upon kindness.) The exhibit would be based around a large model of the Ark, along with the animals entering it. Deciding upon the nature of such a model involves numerous factors, which are not at all straightforward. There's a Noah's Ark Model Store, but all of the models sold there run into problems. Here are the aspects that I am considering:

1. Proportions

I certainly want the model to reflect the Biblical dimensions of the Ark. These are not at all the dimensions of the popular drawings and models. In popular depictions, the Ark is about two or three times as long as it is wide and tall. But the Biblical Ark was ten times as long as it was tall! It's quite jarring when one looks at a scale image or model, because it's so different than what we're used to.

2. Scale

Given the extreme length of the Ark, it's quite difficult to scale it down and have animals that are not microscopic. The small but highly detailed model animals that one sees in museum and quality toy stores, and which we have in our Hall of Shofars alongside each shofar, are at a scale of 1:24. But at this scale, the Ark would be nearly twenty feet long! Our Entrance Hall is very large, but still, I'm not sure that we want to take up that much space with this exhibit.

A more reasonably sized model Ark would be around five feet long. That is the 1:87 scale of certain tiny model railways, the manufacturers of which also make model animals to match this scale. But then it's only about six inches tall, and the animals are absolutely tiny - less than half an inch high, and thus less detailed. 

Perhaps we should do an intermediate scale of around 1:45 (the "O" scale of model railways), resulting in an Ark that measures ten feet long? I'm not all sure which scale to go for.

3. Form

Popular depictions of Noah's Ark present it as being a large boat. Boats have rounded hulls, to reduce drag as they move through the water. But the whole significance of Noah's Ark (in contrast to Gilgamesh and other such stories) is that Noah was not a sailor and the Ark was not a boat. It was not designed to move through the water, merely to float in it. It was an ark, a box, not a ship. In that respect, the horrible 2014 film Noah with Russell Crowe was more accurate, depicting the Ark as a crate-like structure. Still, the Torah does not say that the Ark didn't have a rounded hull, so perhaps we should make the model look a little more aesthetic and in line with people's expectations.

4. Superstructure

The popular depiction of a house-like superstructure above a deck is not in the Biblical description. The Torah speaks about the Ark being "finished to a cubit above," the meaning of which is highly unclear. So do we hazard a guess as to what is being meant (which is perhaps some kind of sloping roof), or do we cater to the popular image?

5. The Animals

Which animals do we show going into the Ark - lions and hippos and other animals from Biblical lands, or animals from the entire planet, such as elephants and giraffes? This is a very stark difference, and requires taking a position on the potentially controversial issue of whether the account of the Ark is intended to describe a flood covering the "world of the Bible" or the entire planet. (We will certainly not be including the dinosaurs that many Christians place on the Ark!)

So, how should we do it? I would welcome people's feedback and suggestions - and please try to consider it from the perspective of what is best for the museum, not what you would personally like to see! Meanwhile, I hope you will all be able to visit the museum - either physically, or in one of our live online tours!

33 comments:

  1. You could use your preferred scale and simply not show the whole ark. Have part of it going into the wall or otherwise indicate that you are only showing one end.

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  2. Hmmm, a "best for the museum" suggestion. I think you would need to define "best," first. The museum is always described as "unlocking" biblical passages (while staying away from controversy), and if continuing that remains the "best" path, I would think the depiction should be as uncontroversially accurate as possible. Teaching is what a museum should be all about (so I guess I am voting for a box-like depiction).

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  3. I think you should go with the Ark model being twenty feet long. For one, this would impress viewers, and it would make a great first encounter, and certainly something I would like to see!

    Wth regards to the animals, I would use the 1:24 scale, as it enhances the viewership to see small details. And I would only depict animals from the biblical world. True, some may say this is controversial, but your books, as well as the museum is controversial anyway, and many would appreciate it as opposed to seeing dinosaurs, as the Christian Ark encounter shows, which is a joke. In addition, this would not only lend more credibility to the museum in the eyes of some but depict a more accurate Ark, in my view. Lastly, I would aim for a more box-like shape for the ark. As you said, the Ark was never met to sail, but float. Also, it would be neat to have it spanning 20ft because it would act like a metaphor. Just as the animals are entering an ark, so are you entering a museum filled with Ark type animals, and more!
    Hope this was helpful.

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  4. My suggestion is that, as a museum intended on communicating truths, you make the ark as accurate as possible while still avoiding the controversies you want to avoid. Not putting rounded edges is not controversial, so if you don't think there were rounded edges, don't put rounded edges. Not putting giraffes is not controversial, because nobody is going to look at it and ask explicitly why there are no giraffes. And so on.

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    1. Of course they are. Giraffes are one of the first animals that kids (and adults for that matter) look out for.

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  5. Why not have a smaller model, with tiny animals - then have a 'blow up' portion with larger animals next to it? You could show the levels in the interior, and the scale of the animals to the ark better.

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    1. Agree, the "blow-up portion" could be a cross section that you could stand inside.

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  6. Do you have enough space in your parking lot to place the ark there? That way, you preserve your display space inside and you can make it close to the 1:24 scale (or maybe 1:18 or 1:10 scale). If need be, you can have the ark "door" connected to a door in the wall of your building so that people have to go inside the museum to gain a visual entrance into the ark. Best of luck either way.

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  7. The Kabbalah explains that Noah’s ark was shaped like a biological microcosm. In other words, the Ark resembled a living cell. The word “cell” derives from cella, meaning a “small room.” It was called a "cell" because these tiny living unicellular organism resembled monastery cells. The Ark also looks like a cell. Just as a cell protects its inhabitants from the environment, so too did Noah's Ark protect the animals and people from the flood. The Ark also had compartments like a eukaryotic cell, which houses a nucleus and membrane. Noah housed animals, people, food, etc. And just as a single cell contains all the genetic (DNA) material for life, Noah contained species of flora and fauna to repopulate and resume the biological cycle of life on earth. Ark in Hebrew is tevah, which means a container. As RNS correctly pointed out, the Ark was never designed sail, it was designed to float. In short, Noah's Ark is a biological metaphor!

    Thus, your Ark model could be a model or picture (on the wall) of a cell and you can point out all the parallels between. In addition to teaching visitors about the Ark, will also inform them about biology and science. And you don't need to go shopping for Ark models that don't fit the bill. As the saying goes, two birds with one stone.

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    1. The Kaballah was written before microscopes were invented, so they couldn't have known any of that.

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  8. Or, you could build the Ark inside the museum and place some of the animals, or at least the animals that would have lived in the Ark inside. It would act as a kind of a second exhibit. But that would require a lot of remolding.

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  9. Maybe you can leave it for the children’s play zone

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  10. Great idea! The museum is quite awesome now already, but this would certainly be a welcome addition.

    Maybe do a mural instead of a model. That way you can put animals in the foreground with much more detail and the ark stretching out into the background to maintain scale.

    Regarding which animals to include, you've certainly got enough Biblical animals to choose from. No need to stick in a couple of kangaroos for completeness.

    And since your purpose is symbolic rather than historical, you don't have to be so focused on exact accuracy. You can choose an understanding of tzohar related to light/window and talk about what that represents for us environmentally.

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  11. Perhaps you can consider a half length ark and use a mirror to give the appearance of it being double the size. And you can go double the scale that you wanted to do.

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  12. The physical model does not have to be built strictly to scale (especially if one adopts the view that the story is allegorical.) The model can be built as needed, with a two-dimensional drawing to the side showing how it would look in scale. Same with the animals - they can be "enlarged to show texture", as the cereal box manufacturers would say.

    As to which animals to depict - given your museum's name and your own writings on the topic, I would stick with animals from the Biblical lands. The famous image of the long-necked giraffe sticking out of the boat would, sadly, have to be scrapped. You can make up for it with a depiction of Og hanging off the side.

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    1. You could also depict demons since Noah saved them from the flood (Genesis 6:19). In the Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 6a, Rashi describes the demon: “the feet of a demon is like a rooster’s.” Should be easy to make. Of course, if we take the rational position, then we can't show Og and demons on the Ark. Anyways, they'd look more ridiculous than dinosaurs.

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  13. To combine David Ohsie's suggestion with Reb Gili: have PART of the ark sticking out of the wall at a tasteful angle, yet have the rest of the ark be a mural or otherwise cool painting - somewhat blurred so the details need not be perfect yet impressive enough to show the scale. Have - in the mural - pictures of some people and animals far away along the side in order to confirm the scale. This allows you to represent the "extruding" part at a larger scale without swallowing up the room.

    Of course, you'd then have to decide if the extruding part is going to be built in forced perspective (ie already angled to look like it's getting smaller because some of it is farther away) or that bit will be built with right angles. If the latter, you wouldn't be able to have to much of it because then the mural part will look like a different entity.

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  14. I would use virtual reality or augmented reality.
    If vr goggles are out the question, let's make a tunnel about five meters long. Internally it should be all video screens. Project a moving image that makes u feel like you are gliding down the full length of an ark, showing whatever animals or small films that align with your messaging?
    With a bit of technical skill you could make the floor move a bit as though the ark is now in the flood? Maybe even spray a bit of water on the visitors making it a bit of a simulator
    Then the visitors file out through a rainbow?
    Something along those lines anyway

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  15. You might want to study the experience of the Ark Encounter, a theme park in the U.S. sponsored by young earth creationists. It comforts the choir, but fails to inform, challenge and elevate them. Similarly, any effort on your part to dummy down the multifaceted story of Noah and the Ark ultimately will either fail to educate or undermine your credibility. For instance, and without limitation, you simply cannot address the animal issues in a rationalist and intellectually honest way without alienating many of your potential customers. For more on Ark Encounter and the problems involved, see here:https://www.judaismandscience.com/an-ark-is-a-terrible-thing-to-waste/

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    1. @Roger Price, I actually read your essay a few days ago and enjoyed it. I think I left a comment there, or on some of your other many essays.

      Here is an interesting topic that I think you will like: Maimonides felt that nothing disappears from the earth. It only changes its shape. Therefore the intellect (and not the soul) gets absorbed by the active intellect. Theoretical physicist Roger Penrose and American anesthesiologist, Stuart Hameroff peer-reviewed, scientific model attempts to prove this. Do you agree with two Jewish scientists?

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  16. I think many visitors, especially learned ones, would be put off by any non-biblical details (like rounded edges) - which could create a terrible first impression, leading to doubts of the accuracy of the rest of the museum.

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  17. Regarding giraffes, at least -

    Depending on your medieval commentator (e.g. R' Saadia Gaon), giraffes were indeed found in Eretz Yisrael in Biblical times...

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  18. I've been to a zoo in Bristol called Noah's Ark which I believe was founded by Christians - they even had a room with a large model of the Tevah - https://www.noahsarkzoofarm.co.uk/noahs-ark-exhibition

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  19. I rather liked that Noah film to be honest.

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    1. Me too - quite visionary. One would expect Rabbi Slifkin to not like it

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  20. "Our Entrance Hall is very large, but still, I'm not sure that we want to take up that much space with this exhibit"

    That would be cool though.

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  21. To elaborate on that, the reason I think it would be cool to have a 20-foot long ark is that people would physically sense the immense stature of it, and that would be part of the experience. Even though it is still not to real-world proportions, it nonetheless STILL fills up the room and makes the observer feel small next to it. So you get the scale comparison with the animals but at the same time still get a feel for a comparison to self.
    If it's made into like a 6 foot ark, it won't feel imposing on the observer.

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  22. Maybe the size and shape is totally not important. There is maybe a different way: Instead of thinking about what people expect to see, instead design the exhibit(s) by thinking about what will be the most educationally effective way to tell the story you want to tell. Then build that. It might be that you never see the outside of the ark and the exhibit is 'inside' the ark, as the size and shape of the ark is largely irrelevant and will get you bogged down into a whole set of issues that are not part of the story you want to tell.

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  23. Since the museum is already the right width and height for a 1:1 scale, I'd suggest running with that. Have an HO-scale model of your neighborhood, with the teva replacing the museum building so people can visualize how long it actually was. ("Oh, if one end of the teva is the door we just came through, the other end is all the way over at rechov ploni!")

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