The Ark Encounter and Two Competing Approaches to Miracles

March 1 2023

Located in Williamstown, Kentucky and opened in 2016, the Ark Encounter theme park features a 500-foot-long replica of Noah’s biblical vessel, complete with live animals and detailed exhibits. The organization behind it is an evangelical Christian group committed to the belief that the earth is about 6,000 years old, in keeping with a literal reading of Genesis. After a recent visit, Natan Slifkin compares the theme park’s approach to the supernatural elements of the Flood story with those of both medieval rabbis and contemporary Ḥaredim:

The Ark Encounter has some theological messages (largely Christian), but its primary focus is about the logistics of the ark. How did it work? How did all the animals fit on it? How did they survive without the conditions that they require in the wild? What did they eat? How did Noah and his family look after them all? How was there light [in their stalls]? How was there ventilation? How did all the animals get back home afterwards? How did they survive on their way back home through various habitats? With tremendous ingenuity and effort (and a willingness utterly to disregard science and plausibility), the Ark Encounter does not shy away from these questions, and instead tackles them in great detail and with fabulously creative exhibits.

Contrast that with the modern ḥaredi approach. [For instance], Rabbi Moshe Meiselman goes to the opposite extreme: he explains at length that the logistics don’t work at all, and therefore the whole thing must have been miraculous. . . . Ironically, it is the fundamentalist Christian approach which is more similar to traditional Judaism.

Let’s start with the Pentateuch. While the unleashing of the Flood is presented as a supernatural act, and there is a description of the animals arriving on their own (which is probably intended to be supernatural), there is no mention of anything miraculous regarding the ark. On the contrary, it is described as being huge, which is logistically necessary to contain many creatures, and covered with pitch, for the logistics of waterproofing.

Rabbi Nissim ben Reuben of Gerona (1320–1376) says that there were far fewer types of animals back then; the current multitude rapidly evolved from those that survived on the ark. The same approach is adopted by Rabbi David Luria (1798–1855). . . . This is the exact approach presented in the Ark Encounter.

Read more at Rationalist Judaism

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


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy