Last night, British television (ITV) broadcast Joanna Lumley: The Search for Noah’s Ark, in which the actress travelled around the middle east and beyond looking for evidence of the Biblical story. The programme lasted just over an hour (padded out to 1:30 by adverts), and contains some interesting location filming and interviews, but the main attraction is Lumley trolling the world of Biblical archaeology and scholarship with ludicrous statements, particularly during the first part of the programme. In Istanbul, for instance, Lumley eats a bowl of ashure, known as “Noah’s Pudding”; she asks, utterly deadpan:
I wonder if this is what Noah ate to celebrate surviving the flood?
Lumley then heads for the area of Durupınar near Mount Ararat; there is natural rock structure here that has been promoted by American fundamentalists as the Ark for some years, and we’re shown 1970s video footage of pseudo-archaeologist Ron Wyatt surveying the site (Wyatt’s alleged successes rival those of St Helen: as well as Noah’s Ark, house and grave, Wyatt claimed to have seen the Ark of the Covenant, and to have found pre-flood wood without tree rings, sulphur balls from Sodom and Gomorrrah, and a sample of Jesus’ blood, which contained 23 chromosomes from Mary and one from God. Wyatt is now deceased, but his Wyatt Archaeological Reseach Inc. lives on under the control of Richard Rives, who makes witless videos for WorldNetDaily).
Lumley views one of the nearby Hole Stones of Arzap (not identified as such in the programme), and explains to local children how it could have been used first to balance the ark and then as an anchor once dry land was spotted. She also takes in a local visitors’ centre, described in the programme as the “Museum of Noah’s Ark”. The curator, Hasan Ozer, shows her various mounted drawings and press cuttings, and explains to her how the site was first identified:
Before Noah’s Ark was discovered, there was a light shining here every night. Local people thought it was a mausoleum or treasure. Then in 1959 a Turkish Air Force pilot took a photo from the sky… When the photo was taken they said “This is Noah’s Ark”… They showed us the photo and said “Where is this place?” And I said, “I know where it is!”
A gallery of photos from the museum can be seen here, including a clipping of Ozer with Wyatt.
Alas, however, the site is subsequently debunked in an interview with a geologist named Murat Avcı, who explains to Lumley how the rock formation came to be where it is; the theory that the rock formation is the fossilised ark is not sustainable (he has a paper in English here). But this serves only to spur Lumley on, to look for evidence further afield.
Her first stop is Mardin, where she has a brief chat with the “Archbishop of Mardin & Diyarbakir” (more properly, Archbishop Filuksinos Saliba Özmen, Metropolitan of Mardin and Diyarbakir) at a “small monastery” (actually the large Deyr ul-Zafaran Monastery). Nearby Mount Judi, the Koranic site of Noah’s landing, is closed off by the military, so Lumley instead heads for the Islamic Tomb of Noah in Cizre, where the imam, Mahmut Muren, explains that Noah was just a “nickname”, and that he was actually named Abdul Ghaffar. Surveying the tomb itself, which indicates that Noah must have been many times taller than anyone living today, Lumley mutters “terribly tall”.
This is followed by an unexpected interlude back in the UK, during which Lumley discusses the Bible story with Julia Neuberger at the West London Synagogue and then pads things out by talking to Lloyd Buck, a bird specialist who handles ravens (the raven was the first bird sent out by Noah). Lumley then visits the British Museum to discuss tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh with AR (Alan) Millard, who tells her that he believes there was a flood in Mesopotamia which forms the basis of the story, and that this can be seen from a list of Babylonian kings which is interrupted by a flood.
Next is a visit to India, where Lumley talks about the story of King Manu with a scholar named Nivedita Ghosh. Could the story of King Manu be due to the transmission of the flood story from Mesopotamia? Lumley discusses trade links between Indus Valley Civilization and Mesopotamia with another Indian scholar (who for some reason isn’t given a name subtitle), and then takes off for Oman to learn about ancient shipbuilding techniques from Eric Staples; Noah’s Ark is “stretching the imagination”, he explains to her.
The programme ends with Lumley standing on Jebel Shams with Mohammed Alkindi, a geologist who believes the ancient story can be reconciled with scientific evidence of a “catastrophic event”. Lumley concludes:
It probably did happen. There probably was a catastrophic flood. There probably was a good man who saved gis family and animals. And it was kept as a moral story.
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