So, what about this ark story? Even as a credulous child (one of those Jesus and the church really love, because they'll buy anything) I was already deeply suspicious about this one; the plot holes are not hard to spot, after all, even in the eyes of a child. But it's in the bible, and the bible's god's word, ergo: strewth! (an interesting "soft curse" meaning god's truth, for the curious). There are - sadly - still millions of christians (most of them living in America) who'd swear it's a true story, although not a single one is able to come up with a convincing moral. For those of you who are new to this planet, let me recap: after watching the world for 1656 years (Noah is the 6-time greatgrandchild of Adam, and as the ages of all guys inbetween are noted, it's easy to calculate he was born 1056 years after creation, people having quite phenomenal life spans in those days, apart from being giants, apparently), god finally repents creating mankind, so he decides to punish those wicked humans by destroying them all, plus, for good measure & (presumably) to really drive home the point, ALL animal & plant life. Luckily, he still finds one nice family (Noah and his 3 sons, plus their wives, because after all, we'll need breeding machines later on! Too bad he's the only one of Adam's lineage that turned out OK), so he instructs them to build this damn ark & take with them 1 pair of every species of animal; ALL other living things will be drowned for the Sins of Man (god of love, my ass). So why only an update, and not a complete reboot (Earth 2.0)? Although only man (created in his own image, no less!) proved glaringly disappointing (interesting, that), his only response to failure is killing everything, but keeping a few of those deeply flawed specimens alive, so that the whole cycle of misery can start all over again (there's something deeply buddhist about christianity, never noticed? but then they stole bright ideas everywhere. Christianity's the ultimate Gazza Ladra).
A propos stealing: the funny thing is, it's not even an original story. Those of you who read the epic of Gilgamesh will know: there's an interesting scene where the whole world is flooded, and Gilgamesh sets out to find an old man who can help him get his dead friend back from the underworld (Orpheus, anyone?) - salient detail: his much-beloved friend and companion being a man. There's even a bird with a branch if I remember correctly. And this was written about 3700 years ago; there are other flood stories dating back even further. Makes you wonder. But where the deluge story in Gilgamesh makes sense, storywise, taking it out and presenting it as the act of a vengeful god, well, doesn't.
Anyway, god instructs Noah & Co to build a big boat (L/W/H = 300/50/30 cubits, say 138/23/14 meter; for comparison, the Titanic measured 269/28/53m), to accommodate one pair of every living species. So did humanity at that time already have the technology to build a boat half the size of the Titanic? 4 men, using only their hands and simple instruments? Let's not forget Noah was already 600 by that time, his sons possibly in their late 400s. Oh yes, those stone angels... they would have been of great help, I'm sure. But then, god probably divulged the finer secrets of 20th century boat building to Noah in dreams. A real magician if he wants to be. Makes you wonder why Noah still had to build the bloody thing; would've been the blink of an eye to a god who created life, the universe & everything in just six days.
Having built this wonderful boat, Noah now only had to wait for the animals (good thing he didn't have to go out & collect them, or he'd still be at it today) to arrive. Which they did, amazingly. Really, amazingly. Just imagine the distances the penguins, marsupials and kangaroos had to travel... mountains, deserts and large swathes of water inbetween, we call them oceans, notoriously hard to cross for non-swimmers. Yet all animals from all over the bleedin planet arrived exactly in time for takeoff, a prestidigitous feat of timetable synchronization that our railways would never dare to aspire. As "animals" is rather a vague word (but then, the bible is habitually extremely vague, almost religiously so, hur hur, undulating between verbal diarrhoea and skeletal conciseness, always at the wrong moment), it would be interesting to know what happened to insects and birds. According to the lovable (pronounced laughable) Ken Ham, founder of Answers In Genesis (need I say more), even the dinosaurs (the birds' ancestors, as we now know) got a boarding ticket. Dinosaur bones undeniably exist, so they must have lived, so they must have been on the ark, QED. Blessed be the feeble of mind. It still seems a tad unfair to me however that nobody ever mentions the fish. What about them, I hear your bristling indignance: they can swim can they, they're bleedin fish? Yes, but there's freshwater & saltwater fish, right? If the whole earth becomes one big swimming pool, all water, fresh and salt, will mix, effectively killing most if not all species of fish. Nice one, dad.
Speaking of water: I'm not a geologist, but I know rain is a sort of closed ecosystem cycle. There is water in our atmosphere; sometimes it is fluid, as in rivers or oceans. At times this water evaporates, gathering in clouds; when those become too heavy it rains (something like that, anyway). What I mean to say, in my circumlocutory way: there is only a limited amount of water on earth and in our atmosphere. It cannot rain for 40 days without some of the water rising up & evaporating. Because, you see, next plothole: ALL the world was covered in water, up to the highest mountain peak. That would mean a layer of some 9 km of water, a staggering amount of 4 billion liters of rain - a sphere of water half the size of the moon. Now, even if all flora (which didn't get a boarding pass, at least it's not mentioned) could survive being submerged for 40 days (doubtful), do you think it could withstand water pressure like that? Fat chance, buster; the whole earth & everything on it would be crushed extremely flat and hence, extremely dead. Even the coral reefs (and, incidentally, the fish) wouldn't stand the additional pressure. Say bye bye to the pretty flowers.
Another corollary of the water problem, interestingly: why didn't the rest of the world notice? I'm sure the Chinese, Aboriginals and Aztecs would have made at least a passing mention of a flood 9 km high drowning every living thing... one would expect gazillions of carvings and ideograms along the lines of "argh, gargle, splutter", & yet nobody mentions a thing! Just like that time when Jesus dies and the "sun stands still" (we'll get to that later). Strangely, the complete & utter drowning of the world seems to have been a rather local affair, for local people only. As with Gilgamesh, who sails out until he finds this old man living in a hut - on dry land.
Back to the ship: it's not easy to imagine how 8 humans could ever handle 16 million animals (the current estimation is 8 million species, not counting bacteria and archaea; and we've got two of each), with one half having innate and deplorable but perfectly valid tendencies of wanting to eat the other. But, presumably, Noah gave them all a tranquilizer in their first (vegetarian! remember, we only have 2 of each, every killing would immediately mean species extinction) meal so they slept peacefully for 40 days & nights. Apart from all those insects who have a shorter life span, obviously; I can only hope there was an onboard cryogenic freezer for those. And if all the animals were sleeping all the time, we immediately solve the excremental problem: even if they don't eat (what would they eat, anyway? Rice, lentils, a nourishing broth? The provisions for the voyage would need to be HUGE), all animals would have to crap & pee occasionally, so basically our little band of heroes would be up to their elbows shit-shoveling & piss-mopping all day. The boons of being god's chosen are manifold and indeed mysterious if not downright incomprehensible. Why did it have to be me, they must have thought on more than one occasion.
After surviving the boredom of pre-facebook antiquity (anyway, all of their friends just drowned) for 40 days (very mystical number, that), lulled & dulled by a symphony of animal snores and the gentle rocking of the boat, they had to wait for a whole YEAR for the waters to subside, did you know that? Obligingly enough, possibly for purposes of veracity, we are given exact dates (although I haven't got the foggiest what calendar he's using here), so I'll give you the timeline:
- February 17th (second month, seventeenth day): flood
- 40 days later: it stops raining, the waters stay on the earth for 150 days before starting to abate (but where do they go?)
- July 17th: the boat strands on mount Ararat (now in Turkey)
- October 1st: the tops of the mountains reappear (Mt Ararat is 5137 m)
- 40 days later (mystical 40 again, but why wait so long?) Noah "opens the window", sends out a raven & a dove, but they return empty-taloned
- one week later, he again sends the dove; this time, it returns with an olive branch, and I still fail to see where the little bugger got it - all plants & trees being mercilessly crushed underneath all that water, remember?
- one week later, he sends forth the dove a third time, but this time it doesn't return (although its partner was still on board)
- January 1st of "the 601st year" (of Noah's life, that must be): "the waters were dried up from off the earth" (hopefully not all of it! What about the seas and rivers?)
- February 27th: the earth is finally dry (WTF? It was already dry on January 1st!). Noah "removed the covering of the ark" (it's a convertible?), thanks god (for what, one might ask) by animal sacrifice "of every clean beast" (of which he was commanded to take seven, as opposed to 2 for every unclean beast, I forgot to mention). God likes the smell of burnt flesh & promises: no more floods, no really, I can change, no longer will I be a sandy little butthole (we'll see about that...). As a sign of this covenant, and to remember his promise, he puts a "bow in the clouds" (a rainbow?).
Now all those poor animals had to trek back all the way to their natural habitats - after a year of fasting, and without a pit stop on the road, all plant life being destroyed & all animal life (except the "clean beasts", but then not every animal is carnivorous) at that point still being unique species, expressly saved from the flood, so eating them would be kinda pathetic (slaughtering, burning & sacrificing them is alright though); kudos to those early progenitors for making it (the dinosaurs were not so lucky, that's why they're extinct now). And as for those African apes: Noah, his 3 sons and their wives did a pretty good job too, considering there's 7 billion of us now. I just don't want to know the details... incest might be involved, just like with Adam, Eve & their kids. Our author seems to have thought 4 women amply sufficient to repopulate the earth, glossing over the moral dilemma and possibly pernicious side effects of sleeping with your close kin. The same goes even stronger for the animals, a certain amount of inbreeding being, regrettably, unavoidable.
Confusing coda to this tousled tale: Noah, finally freed from all those animals, sets up a vineyard and quickly becomes his own best customer. At one point, his son Ham finds him dead drunk & in a flagrant state of indecency. His brothers quickly cover him up (you really don't want to see a 600+ year old inebriated and naked), but Noah wakes up and curses Ham, the poor sod: he is to be "the father of Canaan" and shall be his brothers' servant (sounds a bit like political justification, that). Some very nasty people like to add here that god also punished Hams progeny - by colouring their skin.