A Full-Scale Replica of Noah’s Ark May Fail by Not Taking the Bible Literally Enough

Aug. 11 2016

Located in a small town in Kentucky, the 510-foot-long recreation of the great biblical vessel opened to visitors last month, complete with 265 cages containing models of the animals Noah might have brought with him on his journey. The Ark Encounter, run by an evangelical Christian ministry, also presents theories about how Noah might have disposed of the animals’ waste during his voyage, imaginative details about his family, and explanations fitting the story into the designers’ creationist worldview. To Edward Rothstein, the exhibit was imposing but unsatisfying:

The problem isn’t that it takes the story literally, but that it doesn’t take it literally enough. Leon Kass, in his analysis of Genesis, The Beginning of Wisdom, notes that for over a half-century before Noah’s birth, all nine generations of humanity, including Adam, appear to be alive simultaneously. Then, suddenly, the first natural deaths occur. Despair, confusion, and nihilism run rampant. Then comes Noah who is, Kass notes, “the first man born into the world after Adam dies.” Everywhere he looks, Noah sees death: first, humanity in frenzied rebellion against death; then, humanity perishing in apocalyptic catastrophe; and finally, after the Flood, humanity getting divine sanction to devour animal flesh and execute murderers. The account of Noah’s post-Flood drunken stupor—ignored here—makes sense. Noah has seen too much. After the Flood, humanity’s powers expanded, but so did awareness of its own limits.

Seen in this light, the Ark story is not a simple tale of sin and salvation, but a complex tale of human mortality and human primacy, issues that soon lead to the hubris of the Tower of Babel, as men seek to re-establish their own permanence and prominence. There’s something hubristic about Ark Encounter as well. But while seeming to enlarge its subject, it ends up shrinking it instead.

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More about: Evangelical Christianity, Genesis, Hebrew Bible, Museums, Noah

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem