Tuesday, October 27, 2020

How Aesthetic was the Ark?

I would like to thank everyone who commented on the previous post, Building Noah's Ark, with ideas about how best to create a scale model of Noah's Ark for the Biblical Museum of Natural History. In the previous post, I discussed the factors of proportion, scale, form, superstructure, and animals. Since then, I realized that there are further factors to consider.

One is carpentry. Now, it seems that nails were invented about 5500 years ago, in Ancient Egypt. The ancients also knew how to use mortise joints to fasten beams together. But another, perhaps more common construction technique in ancient Mesopotamia involved lashing beams together with rope (see this paper on Ships and Shipbuilding in Mesopotamia). This in turn required lots of pitch for waterproofing - which is why God told Noah to apply pitch both on the inside and outside.

The other aspect to consider is aesthetics. Most contemporary models of Noah's Ark involve beautiful carpentry. But there's a fascinating video about the making of Noah's Ark for the 2014 film Noah with Russell Crowe. As I noted in the previous post, that version was accurate in terms of presenting the Ark as a box rather than as a boat. But the production designer also explains that they decided to show it as being constructed in a roughshod manner. This is not a sleek, beautifully designed luxury vessel. It's a purely functional emergency refuge constructed by a single family. 

(While this and other aspects of the 2014 film are impressive, overall I absolutely hated the film for its utterly miserable tone and its depiction of Noah as a homicidal maniac. And they hardly showed any animals!)

Putting these two factors together, the result is that rather than the Ark being a beautiful work of carpentry, the Bible is describing a giant crate made of logs roughly lashed together, coated in black pitch. Not a very attractive model to build! It might be educational, but it won't be very inspirational.

Perhaps we should exhibit multiple models and artwork? I'm also leaning towards making it resemble the ark-like architecture of the museum building itself, with curved corners and vertical strengthening pillars/beams. Since our model Ark will be situated near the donors' plaques, it might be fitting symbolism for those people helping us build a modern Ark!

30 comments:

  1. Abarbanel says the ark was shaped like a triangular prism, which I would think is a bit sleeker than a box. Not sure if anybody agrees with him, though.

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    1. Quite the physicist, that Abarbanel guy.

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    2. He knew more physics than the Chaim X guy knew Torah, that's for sure.

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  2. I had not know of this Noach movie till you mentioned it. I saw some clips on youtube. There are some strange rock creatures featured in the movie, which apparently are meant to be the Nefilim, or as described in the Book of Enoch, "the watchers." Its weird to see Pseudepigraphal accounts introduced into one of the best known Biblical episodes.

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    1. @DF, I have mixed feelings about the movie. It has wonderful cinematography and good acting (I always enjoyed Russell Crowe). But I thought the movie was kinda dark and the story was lame. Although the Ark had a neat design, I disliked the "the watchers" and the Book of Enoch reference. It is not in the Bible.

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    2. @TH
      Not seen the movie, but as described by @DF they are meant to be the nefilim, which are very much mentioned in the bible. The bible has no decent description of them so presumably they went elsewhere to fill in missing detail. Artistic license at the very least.

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    3. I think the best idea is to present various "imaginings" and have signs stating the sources with the source quotes as possible, such as "happygolucky"'s information re: the Abarbanel imagining. So I would do a model and have the Abarbanel quote. I think having various imaginings would be "fun" and contribute to the idea that we just can't know everything and that knowledge evolves too.

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    4. The Torah also doesn't say that Noach's wife was Na'amah, but it's a well-accepted (and actually quite beautiful, when you think about it) Midrash, and it's in the movie.

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    5. @Nachum - There's a difference between someone's first name, and rock monsters.

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  3. I didn't see the movie Noah, but if it was built in an emergency manner there, then that doesn't really go with what's said that it took him many years to build it. Perhaps he took the time to also work on the esthetics.

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    1. “What it’s said”. But not in the bible. Not entirely surprising that a movie doesn’t take every medrash into account.

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    2. I wasn't contradicting the movie. I'm not so naive that I think a secular, non-Jewish movie should use midrashim. Rabbi Slifkin, however, thought to use the movie's model as a basis for his own. I pointed out what problem I see with that.

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    3. The movie does use Midrashim, and was made by a Jew who did so deliberately.

      The Midrash says he built it all on his own. That means he may well have had no time (and certainly no reason) for aesthetics. He wasn't selling tickets here.

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    4. Tzo-ar was a wide-screen digital plasma TV. Unfortunately, there wasn't many stations broadcasting.

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  4. @RNS

    I would be fascinated to know what your actual belief as to what happened is. I understand that you see the story as non literal in at least some aspects. But you also ask questions like “what was the actual shape of the ark” (paraphrasing) etc. implying strongly that you do believe the story to be more than a parable.

    Do you believe that an actual human being built an actual box / boat / whatever out of actual wood / pitch and filled it with pairs of every animal he could get hold of and then managed to live for a year inside the box along with his family while a flood of significant size ravaged all around?

    Where / when do you think this happened? Which civilisation was wiped out on account of this? (Or if none was, what exactly was the point of the exercise other than to have a nice story told thousands of years later? A parable would have been a far more efficient way to achieve this.) Are any of the aspects of the story supported by any external evidence? (And if not, it seems you have not gained much vs the literalists.) What exactly was the point in bringing all the animals on board? A pair of each species wouldn’t do much to repopulate a sizeable area so unavoidably there would be reliance on outside populations to refill the flooded area. The pair bought on board seem pretty superfluous.) Come to think of it, wouldn’t it have been far easier for noah to have gone to china for a year than to have gone to all that effort of building a 300 cubit long box (I appreciate that travel wasn’t simple back then, but building a 300 cubit long box isn’t even simple now!)

    No doubt I could come up with dozens more questions in a similar vein, but surely you get the gist.

    It seems to me that it *was* a global flood. But that it also never happened. To what degree the authors knew or otherwise that it was myth / allegory / parable (whichever you prefer) I am less certain of, but asking questions on the details not specified in the actual story seems to really miss the point and put you right back in the literalist camp you strive so hard to not be a part of.

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    1. Several places in the Tenach and not just the Chumash treat the flood story as a real event. Also Talmud does. I wrote a couple of blog posts with details. ACJA

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    2. That's not what the Museum is about. I believe he trying to depict what was is described literally in the story, regardless of what actually happened.

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    3. @DO

      What do you mean by "described literally in the story"? Clearly the story does not "literally describe" any of these things. Unavoidably you are asking what the *intent* of the story is, not the literal description. In which case you need to ask intent of who?

      Either way my primary question of what RNS believes still remains and remains relevant. If he believes that it was an allegory / myth then any details not described explicitly are effectively irrelevant (and subject to the whim of the reader); if he believes it to have been an actual event (which I believe talk of things like a "local flood" imply) then the other questions are relevant.

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    4. Sure the story describes things. L'havdil, people want to know what, say, Minas Tirith looked like even though it never actually existed.

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    5. Gilgamesh was real.

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    6. Does physical impossibility mean anything to anyone anymore, or are we all just going to be a bunch of fifth graders, with eager ears listening to whatever story we are told, with the Chazon Ish ready to fill in the blanks with the (forever known but never written down) "rest of the story". Seriously?

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  5. I definitely agree with having multiple models. In addition to having an "inspirational" model and a "realistic" model, you could also accommodate issues of scale by doing so. For instance, you could have a no details model that is 150x25x15 (cm) showing the external appearance of the full ark and a cross-sectional model that is 90 cm high x 150 cm wide with whatever length you want.

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    1. The YU Museum has a series of models of the Mishkan and Beit HaMikdash that does just that. Large overviews and smaller cutaways.

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    2. Fascinating. It's like fantasy football, with creating models out of sand.

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  6. "How Aesthetic was the Ark?" - does that make sense, English-wise?

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    1. Why should it make any more sense linguistically than logically?

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  7. Nails were known in early Egypt, but until the development of nail manufacturing machines beginning in the late 1700's and early 1800's they were expensive. This impacts not only shipbuilding but also home construction. The A-frame style of construction began to predominate over post and beam only when nail manufacturing machines reduced the price of nails relative to lumber and the joining labor in a way that shifted the economics.

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  8. If they want to see a pretty but factually inaccurate model, let them go to the evangelicals. Your job is to educate, so teach! I want the unvarnished truth, even if it is covered in pitch.

    Build the Stephen Biesty cross section of Noah's ark models.

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  9. When the ice began to melt during the last ice age sea levels raised up to 20 feet a month. You could literally watch the ocean come closer and closer every day till one day you wake up in the water. A giant ice mountain caused mass tidal shifts. It would have flooded most regions. Too many sources speak about it. They think a world-wide flood did occur.

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