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    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

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    Wednesday, December 26, 2012

    The Search for Noah's Ark (2012)

    Absolutely Fabulous star and British national treasure Joanna Lumley headed out to Mount Ararat in an attempt to find Noah's boat in Sunday's ITV documentary The Search for Noah's Ark.

    Starting off in Tissington Derbyshire, before heading to Mount Ararat (in Turkey) via Istanbul. In Istanbul she "learns" that Noah is a celebrated figure in Islam as well as Christianity and Judaism: At Ararat she views the Arzap Drogue stone (rock anchor) and hears Ron Wyatt's theory that the Durupınar site is the final resting place of the Ark. Having spent time meeting the locals including those in the local museum, Lumley then meets a geologist who persuades her that the Durupınar site was simply formed by a standard geological process.

    Yet whilst Lumley is put off from her initial quest to find the ark she then decides to head to the region around Mount Judi - named in the Koran as the ark's resting place - to find if there is any evidence for the flood. She visits one of the places that claims to house Noah's remains and eventually wonders if the area flooded was actually considerably smaller than worldwide - perhaps the area between the Tigris and Euphrates.

    Lumley heads back to London next to meet with Rabbi Julia Neuberger who talks about the Noah traditions in Judaism and our lack of knowledge about the precise words used. "Was it a Raven?...sure about the names of the birds? I'm not sure". But instead of taking Neuberger's advice, Lumley goes to talk to a raven expert somewhere in the English countryside. Then it's time to meet Alan Millard in the British Museum who talks about the Gilgamesh epic and the Mesopotamian story that many suppose lies behind the story.

    After the break Lumley heads to India to uncover a Hindu version of the story even more ancient than Gilgamesh, that of Vishnu and King Manu. Having heard about the Indus region's 5000 year old trade with areas as far away as the Arabian peninsula, Lumley heads to Oman accompanied, briefly, by an audio clip of Eddie Izzard's Noah routine. When she arrives she talks to Eric Staples who enlightens her and us about the kind of wooden boats built in the time, but suggests that boats the size of the ark were unprecedented at that time and would have had to be miraculous.

    Finally Lumley meets geologist Mohammed Alkindi who finds evidence for some sort of catastrophic flood. Lumley sums up by saying that there probably is some kind of historical core to these stories, but one that has been adapted and transformed into a moral story, encouraging its audience to "be good".

    It's a rather simplified summary of the role the story plays and whilst, I suppose, I broadly agree with the programme's findings - some evidence of a localised catastrophic flood which got passed throughout the wider region - the summary seems rather undercooked. If such an event occurred the results would have been so catastrophic as to reverberate throughout the region for centuries rendering itself rife for the type of mythology we find in the Noah story. Not so much simply a prod to "be good", but a fear of the danger of the untameable natural world, the hope of a deity who can rule over it and the warning to stay on his right side to avoid similar catastrophe happening to oneself.

    The problem with the documentary, as is often the case with similar programmes is that the absolutely key information is often greatly abbreviated and given little more air time than the more trivial travel-journally type footage of, say, Lumley eating food in Istanbul and wondering if Noah had eaten a similar dish all that time ago. Lumley's opinion is apparently changed by what she hears, but the evidence which appears to persuade her is strangely absent.

    None of this is to say it's a bad programme - far from it, and given ITV's relative paucity of this kind of documentary it should be applauded for providing something rather more demanding than the X-factor and indeed giving it a fairly high profile. Lumley is a high profile TV star, and whilst clearly not an expert also refuses to revert to the cliché of feigning total ignorance about her chosen subject. At the same time as a non-expert she is able to take the audience with her.

    Secondly whilst I wish certain parts of the material could have had greater emphasis, not many aspects of the topic were entirely absent. More conservative believers might wish that more time had been given to Wyatt's theories and more literal interpretations of the Noah story, but in honesty there's not much that a documentary can really do with this kind of approach.

    So whilst not perfect, The Search for Noah's Ark is a fairly good attempt to grapple with the wide variety of specialisms that shed light on the story of Noah which is hopefully sea worthy enough to encourage ITV to be involved in similar projects in the future.

    N.B. Richard Bartholomew has also posted a review of the programme.

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