Paul Harris discovers Noah’s Ark in the most unlikely place. But it’s the real deal and millions have already visited it, while 40 miles away is Kentucky’s very own Sodom and Gemorrah
‘WE’LL get you all checked in and then we’ll take you down to the ark.” Presumably Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives required no transport when they prepared to board the ark as the Biblical flood prepared to destroy the earth.
They were already on site, having built the ark to God’s precise specifications which are well documented in the Torah.
But here I am in Williamstown, Kentucky of all places, heading for the ark.
Over the years there has been not a little controversy over its precise site, with reports of its remains being uncovered everywhere from Mount Ararat itself, where the Bible tells us it eventually rested after 40 days and nights when the flood waters receded, to other parts of the Middle East.
But Kentucky, in the south east of America where the major waterway is the Ohio River?
The ark, though, is actually there.
One wag chimed up: “Do we go in two by two?” But our guides had heard it all before, one promising: “When you see it, you’ll be blown away.”
I hoped not, but after all, a storm and flood were in prospect for Noah.
And suddenly, there it is... Noah’s Ark, in all its glory.
Now, before I am assailed by rabbinic readers about the inaccuracy of my report, I should explain that this ark, the Ark Encounter, was built at a cost of £100m by Answers in Genesis.
It describes itself as an “apologetics ministry, dedicated to enabling Christians to defend their faith and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively”.
But it does share with Judaism the fact that it believes the Earth to be nearly 6,000 years old and that Adam and Eve co-existed with dinosaurs. So at least we’re partly on the same track.
The Kentucky ark has been constructed faithfully to Biblical dimensions — 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high.
Or in plain English, 510 feet by 81 feet by 51 feet.
The huge vessel, made entirely of wood, looms large, a little incongruously in its American location.
I can’t help reflecting, as I gaze at it, that the reed-filled lake in front of it could possibly present the opportunity for a sequel project — Moses in the bullrushes.
Or an adjacent wooden tower might double as the Tower of Babel.
Joking apart, just 40 miles away is Newport, Kentucky’s very own one time Sodom and Gemorrah where the mob once ruled and lawlessness was the order of the day.
But this is all to be somewhat flippant about this hugely impressive labour of love which, since it opened two years ago, has already attracted two million visitors.
Amish craftsmen helped build the Ark on a 200-year-old site, using the skills of biblical carpenters known only to them, sadly not with the speed of Noah and his sons, but still in an impressive 25 months between June, 2014 and July, 2016.
Answers in Genesis have been meticulous in following the Bible story — as far as possible — although one of the first signs to greet visitors reads: “Ark-tish license” and concedes that some facts, such as the names of the women on board and the shape of the ark itself, have involved some guesswork.
Researchers working on the project also estimated that 1,398 animal kinds were on board with Noah, presumably amounting to a total of 2,796, since there were two of each.
Approaching via long wooden walkways, the sounds of invisible animals greet visitors who soon spot rows and rows of bamboo cages and contemporary items stored above them.
It’s a little like night-time on safari as creepy, distant calls of wild animals assail the senses.
I soon encounter cages of reproductions of extinct animals that Noah and his family might have led into the ark.
For instance, the Caseid is represented by Cotylorhynchus; Pariasaur by Scutosaurus and the Rebbachisaur by Nigersaurus.
They’ve thought of everything — food storage, water and waste disposal and separate sections for clean and unclean animals — ie, kosher and non-kosher.
All the time, I’m aware of the low sound of crashing waves much as Noah and family must have heard.
The sheer magnitude of the structure is evident throughout with vast tree trunks seemingly reaching from top to bottom.
I am assured that no trees had been harmed in its construction — all were diseased with Colorado beetle and reclaimed from a forest in that state.
I soon encounter a carpentry workshop on board depicting Noah’s woodworking technology.
I’m told that he would have been proficient in the art since some of his descendants built engineering marvels, including the pyramids.
I didn’t quite follow that logic, but still...
I find Noah’s library, his study, his wife’s kitchen and his sons’ living quarters.
Tableaux deal with complex issues such as cross-continental deposition and fossils and the Bible.
They feature the situation before and after the Flood and the Ice Age and show evidence that the various biblical stories are genuine, although there are Jewish and Christian interpretations which can differ.
One section shows what probably happened outside the ark during the flood, interpreting evidence and examining rock strata and fossils.
We’re shown how Noah and his family might have cared for the animals and there are films depicting the flood and relating the bible story.
As if all that’s not enough, Ararat Ridge Zoo is adjacent and there are Screaming Eagle zip lines.
Still want to learn more? Forty five minutes away is the Creation Museum.
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