Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Unpacking an Ark

The first of the Noah's Arks for the new exhibit at the Biblical Museum of Natural History just arrived in Israel, and it's a beauty! It's also very, very unusual. Many model Arks tell an interesting story, if you only know how to unpack it. This one is no exception, and a careful study of its details reveals where it was made and why it is different from other model Arks.

The first thing to take note of with any model Ark is the material that it is made from. Arks are made from all kinds of materials, including different types of wood, ceramic, porcelain, resin, and metal. But this one is hand-made of red clay. This indicates that it was made in a country where traditional art is produced in such a way.

Then there's the architecture of the Ark to consider. It's perhaps difficult to tell from the picture, but it's much more rounded than models usually are. And the roof is designed to look like curved terracotta tiles, rather than a flat material. These aspects are indicative of Spanish architecture.

Then there's an extremely curious detail. Perched on the middle of the roof, between the two birds, are two gourds, with lines on them. What are they doing there?

But the real giveaway, and the most fascinating aspect of this Ark, are the animals that appear on it - and the ones that don't appear on it.

In general, there are certain animals that always appear on Arks. Giraffes are far and away the most prominent, iconic and common. There's usually also elephants, lions, and often zebras. Yet none of those animals appear on this Ark! 

Instead, we have some very unusual species here. Flanking Noah on both sides are llamas! And the bird perched on the roof, accompanying the dove, is a toucan!

All this is a clear giveaway as to this Noah's Ark's origins. It must have been made in South America, specifically Peru. There are no giraffes or lions in South America or its culture, but there are plenty of llamas and toucans. The architecture is Spanish. Peru in particular is rich in clay, which is long-favored for use in traditional art. And another traditional art form in Peru, practiced for thousands of years, is the intricate carving of large gourds.

Flood stories have long been widespread around the world. But this is the Biblical story transplanted to a South American setting! It's a really special piece of art with which to begin the museum's collection.

Meanwhile, we have several other very special Noah's Arks sitting in various peoples' homes around the world, and due to the new Covid restrictions, all of the people who were supposed to bring them to Israel are now unable to do so! So if you happen to know of anyone traveling in from New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Toronto, or Melbourne who is able to bring an Ark, please let me know!


 

13 comments:

  1. I have five "(piggy-)bank arcs" or Tzedakah box arcs I would like to done them to you but parting with them is a little painfu

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    1. But think of all the people who will enjoy seeing them!

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    2. Send them on loan? Museums do that & accredit appropriately. So many will enjoy.

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  2. Beautiful and fascinating! Thanks for sharing. It's as if you're giving us a free mini tour at the museum.

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  3. Nice piece. There are tons of arks handmade in Peru, beautiful things. It's odd to have an exibit of them when you don't believe that it had actually happened as described in the text. Say some precocious kid going to ask: ' How did a lamma get to the ark? Was a turkey also there?'

    Belongs more in a museum of being Biblical Art.

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    1. That is a risk, but not much different from various questions that we get all the time, such as "where are dinosaurs in the Torah?", which we gently deflect as being beyond the museum's purview.

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    2. The thing is that these cute tmimustike people that make these figurines really believe in the story. That adds to the charm of it.

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    3. Almost like those cute tmimumustike people that really believe in God, eh, Yakov?

      Professor Slifkin - I'm sure you know exactly where the ark you describe comes from. If not, your analysis is convincing, at least to me. However, you missed the most obvious clue of all, even more than the llamas. Look at the woman in the second figure. She's a dead ringer for my past two cleaning ladies.

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  4. From the wiki page on gourds, they were found in Peru in 13,000 to 11,000 BCE and likely came from Africa or Asia. I found another interesting page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_flood_and_procreation) which tells of the role of the gourd in a different flood myth in China. In one iteration of this myth, children were placed inside a gourd, on an ark, to save themselves from a global flood. The gourd represents procreation; in one sense analogous to the rimon in Jewish tradition.

    Not sure how that would be related here. However, given the size, prominence and amount of seeds in a gourd, it would seem that it could be a representation that suggests re-seeding of the world, post-flood. Possibly :)

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  5. I love the proto-python slung over Noach's shoulder! ;)

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    1. I think it's some sort of staff. Hard to tell, because the top is broken off.

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  6. Hispanic or Spanish architecture? If it comes from Peru would be the first one.

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