Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Most Powerful Biblical Motif

What is the most powerful Biblical motif of all? 

It's not Abraham at the Akeidah. It's not Moses atop Mount Sinai. It's not the splitting of the Red Sea or the Tabernacle.

It's Noah's Ark. 

While there were many ancient flood stories, there's only one that captivated billions of people around the world. The story of Noah's Ark spread through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of which taught about it, and presented it in various art forms. It has spread beyond religion, to become the symbol of the urgency of saving life from destruction. The ark is in the title of numerous works about conservation, and conservation organizations worldwide have the ark as their symbol. Amazon has over twenty thousand books with "Ark" in the title, and at any given time, EBay has around thirty thousand items related to Noah's Ark. It's incredible!

We're developing a Noah's Ark exhibit at the Biblical Museum of Natural History. We already have reproductions of mosaics depicting Noah's Ark from ancient synagogues on display, soon to be accompanied by reproductions of various historic illustrations and paintings, and a scale model of the Biblical ark. And we've been collecting amazing models of Noah's Ark from different cultures around the world, each of which reveals fascinating insights about those cultures and how they grasp the story. I already wrote about one of our Peruvian arks, but we also have arks from the Cameroons, Kenya, the Philippines, Mexico, Colombia, England, various fascinating Americana models, and facsimiles of 19th century German arks. 

If you have any interesting models to donate to our exhibit, or if you're interested in dedication opportunities, please be in touch!

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13 comments:

  1. How does contemporary science fit with the story though? I never heard a comprehensive answer yet...

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    1. http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2020/10/the-noahs-ark-challenge.html

      Delete
  2. "While there were many ancient flood stories, there's only one that captivated billions of people around the world. The story of Noah's Ark spread through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of which taught about it, and presented it in various art forms."

    You mean the story of Utnapishtim's ark spread through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. If you are crediting borrowing, you have to include that the story in the Torah is borrowed.

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    1. The story of Utnapishtim's Ark is completely different from the biblical narrative in every respect except that there was a flood and an ark.

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    2. And a dove and a raven and sacrifices to the gods and...I could go on.

      It's different in many *important* ways, but that's the whole point.

      Delete
    3. SQ, whatever your belief/understanding/opinion is on the origin of the story, you are (deliberately??) missing two points:

      1) RNS's question was which Bible story has the most recurrences/resonances in the modern world. Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim are not in the Bible.

      2) The VERSION that DOES resonate with people is the version as recorded in the Bible. People know Noah, not Utnapishtim. They remember that the Ark survivor was saved because he was worthy compared to the rest, that G-d had moral opposition to the society, and that there was a covenant afterward sealed with a rainbow. I think that at least some of the Babylonian stories have the gods deliberately trying NOT to save anyone, and there is no rainbow.

      Debate the origins of the story and enjoy doing so, but do not be deluded so as to think that the world responds with any nostalgia to the story of Utnapishtim's Ark in at all the same vein as Noach's Ark.

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  3. Could you suggest why the ark motif is so wildly popular?

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    1. Couldn't you?

      That's a psych question, not a bio question :)

      I'd guess it has something to do with how one person can save the world. Or how the sum total of society/the living world can be gathered together to survive the apocalypse.

      Also, people like animals (in theory; zoos are popular attractions) and picturing all of the animals together is fun.

      Oh, and the rainbow is a (literal) pretty bow on top.

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    2. "Also, people like animals (in theory; zoos are popular attractions) and picturing all of the animals together is fun." That's what I was thinking.

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  4. Here's a picture from National Geographic, 1940's, showing Utnapishtim telling his story to Gilgamesh, with an image of what he's describing in the background. Not sure if it's what you're looking for. :-)

    Gilgamesh is actually in the news today, as a tablet from his epic was recently recovered and returned to Iraq.

    https://www.etsy.com/listing/130953970/ancient-mesopotamia-epic-of-gilgamesh

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  5. I would argue that Moses about to throw down the tablets is at least as powerful a symbol as the ark. And the splitting of the sea has been portrayed in every Haggadah and even acted out on Pesach. These two images resonate more deeply with the Jewish people because of the emotional heft hidden in the two images; Moshe weighing anger and mercy, and the Israelites sudden joy at freedom from slavery. But since you brought in Christianity and Islam and effect of an image on the world, I would argue that the ark doesn’t hold a candle to the nativity scene or the crusifixion in the history of art.

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    1. The flag of the UN itself- and a lot of other flags and symbols, including that of the State of Israel- uses the olive branch motif. History of art is one thing, but universal recognition is another.

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    2. This post seems to tend to the globalism-internationalism perspective, with its positive and negative baggage--kindness and liberalism. (Or to love of animals?)

      Then Shimshon Kaplan tends to the 'Jewism(?)'-localism perspective, with its positive and negative baggage in the reverse, plus arguing that the nativity and crucifixion are tops even according to the globalism-internationalism perspective.

      -----

      To mention another popular Biblical Motif, the 'snake and staff' of ambulances. Of significance, it lacks the friendliness of the others, and might not survive wokism. Or wokism is only against 'superiors'.

      Delete

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