At times, those searching for Noah's ark must think they are seeking a phantom ship. Despite the many expeditions in recent years, no solid evidence has been presented to confirm the discovery of the elusive ark. Lately, some explorers have claimed to have discovered it, but the proof so far has been inconclusive. Either the supposed photographs of the ark turn out to be blurred or the wood brought back is of questionable antiquity. It is also quite common for the discoverers to lack corroborating witnesses.
For those who keep up with these recent explorations, it is hard to fathom why, with all the technology available, these searchers still have not been able to find a huge ship on a mountain-if it has survived the ravages of time.
Perhaps discovering Noah's ark would be such a monumental find that it could be seen as a "trump card" from the Creator to this mostly unbelieving world right before He decisively intervenes in world events. It would turn current geological notions on their head and provide convincing evidence that God does exist and the biblical record of the Great Flood is true. If a huge boat were found on Mt. Ararat or its environs, there is no feasible explanation of how it got there unless a worldwide flood took place. Additionally, the persons building it would have had to know in advance what was coming or they wouldn't have built it, and only God could have warned them ahead of time. Finding the ark could be a concrete proof that God's prophecy was fulfilled just as it was recorded in Genesis 6 through 8.
This is a good reason for us to keep an eye on the news about these searches, for if they succeed, they would provide an important proof to buttress the Bible and prophecy. On the other hand, we should carefully scrutinize any evidence, so charlatans or publicity buffs claiming to have found the ark will not deceive us.
The search for the ark
The failure to find Noah's ark has certainly not been due to lack of effort. Over 50 expeditions have taken place in the last decade, but all returned empty handed. There have been many claims to the contrary, but in the end, no solid proof has survived scrutiny. After so many expeditions, why hasn't it been found? Can the ark still be there? For what it's worth, there still is a determined group of professional explorers who think it is and are willing to spend thousands of dollars to continue the search. At least they believe they have narrowed down the area on Mt. Ararat where the ark could be-if it actually is on that mountain.
A few years ago, the ark was supposedly found on an alternative site, Mt. Judi, some 200 miles south of Mt. Ararat. Since then, after extensive geological tests, this "ark" turned out to be a natural rock formation. The main explorer there, David Fasold, went broke after spending $250,000 on this futile search and finally admitted, "I believe this may be the oldest running hoax in history" (The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark, Charles Sellier, 1995, p. 292).
The focus has now returned to Mt. Ararat, where the Bible said the ark landed. For the last two thousand years, there has been a steady stream of claims to have seen or touched the ark on this mountain. Historians such as the Babylonian Berosus and the Jewish Josephus said that in their day, the ark could be seen and the tar taken out of its sides to make amulets. For instance, Josephus wrote, "The Armenians call this place 'the Place of Descent'; for the ark being saved in that place, its remains are shown there by the inhabitants to this day" (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, chap. 3, section 5). Numerous pilgrims and adventurers through the Middle Ages also claimed to have seen and touched the ark.
In this century, the stories of finding the ark have continued. George Hagopian, an Armenian who lived next to Mt. Ararat, claimed to have visited the ark with his uncle in 1902 and 1904, when there was a great melt-back in the mountain ice pack. He said he even climbed up on its roof. He is a strong witness, and even submitted to and passed a lie-detector test.
Then in 1916, a Russian pilot reported seeing a large ship on Mt. Ararat. The following year, a group of 150 Russian soldiers, engineers and scientists were dispatched. At that time, Mt. Ararat was situated between the Russian and Turkish border. They claimed to have entered and taken pictures of the ark. Reportedly, all the information was sent to the Czar, but in that year, 1917, the Communists took over and the reports disappeared.
Another key witness in this century was George J. Green, an American oil and pipeline engineer working in Turkey in the 1950s who said he saw the ark while flying in a helicopter over Mt. Ararat. He took close-up pictures of the ark, went back to the United States and tried to mount an expedition in 1953. No one took the offer and Green died a few years later. The photos mysteriously disappeared. This is typical of much of the evidence claimed for the ark.
A difficult and dangerous mountain
Mt. Ararat is actually a huge, inactive volcano and the largest mountain in the eastern Turkish region. It has two great peaks, Big Ararat, at 17,020 feet and Small Ararat at 12,800 feet. The area between the two peaks spans 17 to 22 square miles and the snow and ice can build up to 200 feet thick. Even expert climbers can get lost, and this mountain has swallowed many a person in its crevices. To make matters worse, fighting erupted in the last decade between the Turkish authorities and the Kurdish people on Mt. Ararat itself. Many climbers have been held hostage or simply killed. Climbing permits are almost impossible to acquire, especially since the arrest of the area's main Kurd leader.
B.J. Corbin, an explorer who has climbed Mt. Ararat many times, mentions, "I have been a Noah's Ark researcher for over 12 years and a veteran of four separate expeditions to Mount Ararat in Turkey (1988, 1989, 1990, 1998). Since 1990, very few ark researchers have been permitted on Mount Ararat. In 1994, Mount Ararat was declared a military zone and permits to climb or research the mountain have been almost non-existent. Since evidence for the remains of Noah's Ark has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, there are individuals or groups still attempting to search. I returned in October 1998 from eastern Turkey and the Mount Ararat region as a consultant and member of the Ark Research Team. Though there was a good melt-back of the ice cap, no permissions to climb Mount Ararat were granted and military security was high."
Another example of the dangers and claims made by explorers was reported by Reuters News Service on December 24, 1998: "Nestled on the snowy cap of Mount Ararat, lodged in ice, lies the shadowy form of a boat the size of a battleship. 'Halleluja,' cried a triumphant Antonio Palego as he set eyes on the legendary vessel after trekking up the mountain for days on foot and donkey. 'It's Noah's Ark!'
"Explorer and Bible scholar Palego says he has found the real thing perched on Mount Ararat in Turkey. Using intricate calculations based on the story in the Bible's book of Genesis, the Italian explorer says the ark has been preserved in ice for over 4,000 years. Laying out a series of grainy photos on his kitchen table back home in northern Italy, the 63-year-old former chemist points out the form of the huge boat estimated to be 512 feet long, 82 feet wide and 50 feet high with enough space to fit 800 train [cars]. A small piece of wood found in the same area by a French explorer friend and authenticated as dating from the time of the flood is physical evidence of his find, he says....
"'Many explorers, especially American, say they have found the ark, but their sightings do not correspond with the Bible's coordinates,' Palego said. 'The CIA decided not to publish their photos after we highlighted that their vessel was not the right size.'...
"Palego says he just needs to get to his site to collect more evidence. So far, he has only seen it from a distance during his 13 expeditions to the mountain. The explorer has yet to get authorization from Turkey to take a helicopter, which an Italian television station has agreed to pay for, into the highly sensitive area where he was once taken hostage by Kurds. 'We've asked the Turkish government to let us go in and I won't give up until I get there,' said Palego. 'This is my mission.'"
The claim sounds impressive at first, but then a certain skepticism sets in. Why didn't the French explorer who found the wood, report the sighting? After planning the trip and trekking for days, why didn't he take a camera with a zoom lens for good, close-up pictures?
Mountain has fooled experts
From a distance, looks can be deceiving, as helicopter pilot Chuck Aaron, who has been on eight expeditions to Mt. Ararat, can attest. He writes, "I have flown a helicopter around that mountain many times. I have landed a helicopter on the 15,200-foot western plateau, and have even camped and walked around there for three days" (Explorers: Searching for Noah's Ark, B.J. Corbin, 1996, p. 10).
Aaron explains what happened in September of 1989: "On this expedition there were just Bob Garbe and myself. You have possibly heard of this trip. It was on this trip that the claim was made that we had 'found' Noah's Ark. That statement hit the papers and TV all around the world. We were sure. Anyone with us would have been sure too! The object that we saw fit most all the clues that some 'eyewitnesses' had stated about the ark over the years. It was on the side of a steep wall, encased in ice, protruding out at an angle, etc. What we saw at 14,500 feet on the west side of Ararat, fit that description exactly, and we had never seen it before, even though we had been all over that mountain many times in the past. The only reason we saw it this time was because of the tremendous amount of melt-back that had occurred that summer.
"Many of the past sightings had been by pilots flying past Mt. Ararat. Astronaut Jim Irwin made the comment, right after he saw our videos of it, saying, 'It looks like it could be Noah's Ark.' But was it, really?… A third expedition was made in October 1989… We got a helicopter in Istanbul, flew it out to Ararat, and on this trip were able to fly within 100 feet of the object that appeared to be the ark. After close inspection, we all agreed that it was not the ark after all. We also agreed that from a distance of five hundred feet or more, most people would swear that it was" (ibid., p. 11).
Has Chuck Aaron given up after this disappointment? No, he still thinks it is up there. He says, "I believe the ark to be on Mt. Ararat in the ice cap somewhere between 13,500 and 17,020 feet. That is the altitude range of the perennial ice cap. As for the question, Where on Mt. Ararat? I can tell you for certain, as can many of my close friends who have been with me on these eight different expeditions, that it cannot be seen with the naked eye. We have been all over that mountain by helicopter many times at very slow speeds and right up next to the mountain too. We have seen every square inch of it, photographing it as we went. But don't lose hope, we haven't finished yet" (ibid., p. 9). He mentions there are a number of places where the ark could still be, since the thick ice covers many other areas.
Charles Berlitz records a conversation with Ahmet Arslan, a Turkish doctor who has climbed Mt. Ararat 16 times. Dr. Arslan says, "I believe enough people have seen it [the ark] within the last fifty or sixty years to establish the truth of the legend. It will probably be found right where it is supposed to be-between 14,000 and 15,000 feet up, following the right-hand side of Ahora Gorge right up to the front of Parrot Glacier. There is a huge flat plateau there, as big as a football field, a hundred yards deep in ice. This is where, during melting periods, the ark has been seen and pieces of it have been taken away, and this is where the remains of the ark will be found" (The Lost Ship of Noah, 1987, p. 58)
In 1999, the snow on top of Mt. Ararat dramatically receded, a phenomenon called "melt-back." According to some of the local people who live around the mountain, it was the best melt-back in 70 years. In the late summer of 1999, the Turkish government finally granted a few permits to climb Mt. Ararat at a cost of $2,000 per climber. There was considerable Kurdish unrest in the area. Due to the late announcement about permits, no extensive expedition took place. Several groups did take photographs, but no significant structure was found.
Explorers expect this melt-back to last on through the summer of 2000, and if climbing permits are granted early in the summer, it could be one of the best years in decades to explore the mountain. Perhaps one of the expeditions will eventually find the elusive ark-if in fact it is the right place and its remains are still preserved.
But our faith should not be based on whether or not the ark is found.
What our faith is based on
Nothing in Bible prophecy demands that the ark must have been preserved or that it would be discovered. Consequently, our faith should not be based on whether the ark has survived up to this time. Our faith should be solely based on God's sure Word. If the ark is found it would be wonderful and an additional proof about the Flood. But if the ark isn't found, it doesn't affect the veracity of God's Word, prophecy or Christ's coming back to this earth to establish the Kingdom of God. These are the things we can be completely certain are true.
One has to be cautious not to make too much out of finding or failing to find the ark. Since the mountain is huge and there are many large rock outcrops, some explorers regularly mistake them for the fragments of the ark. There are also many publicity hounds trying to "make a buck" and a name by claiming to have found the ark.
With more expeditions planned and better technology available, we should simply wait and see whether they will ever find the ark. But remember, God's Word and His prophecies are separate from these results and remain forever faithful.
(If anyone is interesting in keeping track of the expeditions or wants more background material about the search for Noah's ark, two Web sites are recommended: http://www.arksearch.com and http://www.noahsarksearch.com.) WNP