The Ark Encounter and Two Competing Approaches to Miracles

March 1, 2023 | Natan Slifkin
About the author:

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 on Rationalist Judaism: