Were there Dinosaurs on the Ark?
Charedi vs. Creationist Christian approaches
In my post on Adam and the Dinosaurs, I discussed the Creation Museum in Kentucky and contrasted the Creationist Christian interest in exploring Creation with the Charedi insistence on avoiding it. In this post, I’d like to discuss another difference between Creationist Christians and charedi Jews: whether dinosaurs were on the Ark.
Thirty years ago, when I was in yeshiva gedolah in Manchester, my maggid shiur quoted the Sefer HaChinnuch as saying that no species of animal ever goes extinct, because providence does not allow for it. (I subsequently discovered that this was the universal view of all religious authorities, Jewish and Christian, from the times of the Rishonim into the nineteenth century, as discussed in the third edition onwards of The Challenge Of Creation.) Greatly disturbed, I asked him about dodos, and he said that they must be hiding in the jungle somewhere. Then I asked about dinosaurs, and he responded that they were the products of sin and so became extinct in the mabul.
He didn’t make this up. In the 19th century, R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, known by his acronym Netziv, used the account of the Deluge to solve the theological problem with dinosaurs (Haamek Davar, Genesis 7:23). The problem for Netziv was not the antiquity of dinosaurs (he was doubtless unaware of the geological evidence that they lived long before humans), but rather the extinction of them. As above, it presented a problem with the idea of God’s providence over the animal kingdom. Netziv answered that dinosaurs were not naturally occurring creatures. Instead, they were monstrous chimeras, hybrids produced by the sinful activities of the Generation of the Deluge. Accordingly, they were destroyed in the Deluge.
In the model of the Ark in the Creation Museum, on the other hand, they take a diametrically opposed approach. They enthusiastically display dinosaurs on the ark! A T-Rex stalks around outside the ark, while a pair of sauropod dinosaurs march up the ramp into the ark.
And at the Creation Museum’s full-size sister institution the Ark Encounter, they exhibit life-size dinosaurs in cages in the ark. And while they limit the number of animal exhibits in order to make room for auditoriums and other exhibits, they have more model dinosaurs than they do animals!
How did the larger dinosaurs fit on the ark? The Ark Encounter explains this based on their approach that the ark only had to contain basic “kinds” from which a multitude of species evolved very quickly. Accordingly, the ark did not need to house full size T-rexes or sauropods, but only various smaller kinds of dinosaurs from which these developed (and only juveniles of those species). After the flood, dinosaurs eventually became extinct, as part of a general decline in the “vitality” of the world since the Fall.
Initially, I just couldn’t understand what was driving them to put dinosaurs on the ark. Why not just say that dinosaurs became extinct before the flood? It certainly makes the logistics of the ark less difficult! However, subsequently I realized that there are two reasons why it was important for them to have dinosaurs on the ark.
First is that in order to counter the modern scientific view that dinosaurs became extinct long before humans, they present all kinds of “evidence” that dinosaurs lived contemporaneously with humans. This includes such things as the Behemoth of the Book of Job (as discussed in my book Sacred Monsters) and medieval depictions of dragons. Accordingly, they need dinosaurs to have survived after the Deluge.
Second is that the overriding message that the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter want to put out is that they are not afraid of science and they are not obscurantist. (Compare Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, who does not mention dinosaurs once in an 800 page book about Torah and science.) That’s why it’s so important for them to give great prominence to dinosaurs, even more so than to contemporary animals. Dinosaurs project the message that they are scientific and cool.
In the forthcoming exhibit of artistic model Noah’s Arks that we are launching at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, there will also be a scale model of the Ark as per its Biblical description. But, as cool as dinosaurs are, they will not be featured in our Ark. And nor will we be saying that they died out in the Deluge. We just won’t be addressing the topic of dinosaurs at all. Which is a little frustrating for me, because I love dinosaurs. But fortunately, I get to write about them here!
(Meanwhile, there is an artistic model Noah’s Ark destined for our exhibit that is waiting for collection in South Carolina with no option of shipping. If you are able to transport it to New York, please let me know! We also have one in Teaneck that needs bringing to Israel.)
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