By Gordon Franz
The recent reputed discovery of Noah’s Ark by the BASE Institute has gotten a great deal of airtime as well as publicity on the Internet. There are, however, some excellent reviews that critique the claim that Noah’s Ark landed in Iran. Three such reviews should be noted: the first is a well illustrated article by Rick Lanser, of ABR (http://www.biblearchaeology.org/articles/article49.html), another article by Rex Geissler (http://www.noahsarksearch.com/iran.htm) and the last one by the Institute for Creation Research (http://www.icr.org/news/70/). In this review, I will add a few details that were overlooked by the other articles.
I do have an interest in the location of Noah’s Ark, so I read the article on the BASE website (http://www.baseinstitute.org/noah.html), as well as the two books on the mountains of Ararat. The first book, a gripping, well-written page turner, was entitled, In Search of the Lost Mountains of Noah, the Discovery of the Real Mts. Of Ararat, and was co-authored by Robert Cornuke and David Halbrook. It was published by Broadman and Holman in 2001. In this book, Cornuke advocated Mt. Savalon in Iran as part of the Mountains of Ararat. Apparently he did not find Noah’s Ark on this mountain so he sought the ark on Mt. Suleiman in the Elburz Mountain Range in Iran near Tehran. This location is advocated on the website and the second book authored by Robert Cornuke and entitled, Ark Fever. It was published by Tyndale House in 2005.
I went to many universities and libraries in the New York City area (including Columbia University, Drew University, New York Public Library, Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, and Kutztown University) in order to verify the claims presented on the website, and in the books. After reviewing the material presented, it became obvious to me that the BASE researchers had done inadequate research and consequently had mistakes on their website and in their books that led them to the wrong conclusions.
- The Mount Suleiman proposed by the BASE researchers is not within the Biblical “mountains of Ararat” (Urartu) and nowhere near it so it cannot be where Noah’s Ark landed.
- None of the ancient historians and authors, such as Josephus and Berossus, placed Noah’s Ark on the mountains of Ararat within modern Iran either.
- Modern scholarship has also found that the Kingdom of Urartu proper never extended 300 miles into Iran to Mount Suleiman in the Elburz range near Tehran.
These are serious flaws in the research by the BASE Institute that need to be addressed by scholars and should be brought to the attention of the general public. An informed person will find that there is overwhelming evidence that the object of interest discovered by the BASE team is not Noah’s Ark.
A disclaimer is in order as well. A business associate and close friend of the BASE Institute predicted that Mr. Cornuke would be “venomously attacked by both Christians and non-Christians.” He claims that the reason some Christians would attack him would be because they are jealous, having “spent years and millions of dollars searching on Mt. Ararat in Turkey” and it turned out to be the wrong mountain.
Personally, I have never searched for anything on Mt. Ararat (Agri Dagh) in Turkey and, in fact, have never been to that mountain, nor do I have any interest in climbing that mountain. I have done all my archaeological work in Israel (Jerusalem, Lachish, Jezreel, Hazor, Ramat Rachel, etc.) and have never excavated in Turkey.
This article is a critique of the ideas presented on the BASE website and in the books and nothing more. I will not judge motives. I will simply examine the evidence as a professional. I hope this will invite a similar response from Mr. Cornuke, his organization and his supporters to this or any other factually based critique of his claims.
One of the flyers distributed by an organization promoting a presentation by Cornuke asked the question, “Is it Noah’s Ark?” The blurb goes on to say, “Dr. Bob Cornuke, president of BASE Institute is not making any claims. Instead, he is sharing photographic and laboratory data, and letting audiences draw their own tentative, informed conclusions …”
Herein is the problem. They raise the question, “Is this Noah’s Ark?” But they never answer the question whether it is Noah’s Ark or not. What we, in the evangelical community lack is any critical evaluation by the BASE team of the material presented, especially when it goes contrary to the statements of the Bible. Such an evaluation would allow someone to make a conclusive, informed decision. Cornuke likes to challenge his listeners with the questions, “What if this is true?” But the critical question is, “Is this true?” This question is never addressed. What he fails to provide, this article will, and for one reason. My concern is that evangelical Christian researchers do honest, careful, meticulous research, using original, or primary, sources and hard data. They must fully and accurately document their findings and arrive at viable conclusions. That, and no less, should be the goal of this, or any research, done by evangelical Christians.
Is Mount Suleiman in the Elburz Range within Land of Ararat / Urartu?
Our compass, the Bible, makes it clear the Ark landed in the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4). I would agree with the BASE website that Ararat refers to a range of mountains and not just one mountain called “Mount Ararat”. Herein is the most important issue to be discussed. Does Mount Suleiman in the Elburz Range fall within the Land of Ararat? If it does not, then there is absolutely positively no way the object of interest discovered by the BASE Institute could be Noah’s Ark (Ark Fever, pages 229-246). Also, any talk of whether the BASE team went to the site visited by Ed Davis is totally irrelevant.
The BASE researchers have made the claim that the Land of Ararat is east of Lake Urmiah in Iran. If their location for the landing of Noah’s Ark on Mt. Suleiman has any validity then the Land of Ararat / Urartu must extend east of Lake Urmiah, actually 300 miles to the east of Lake Urmiah, all the way to the Elburz Mountain Range and the Caspian Sea. Do the BASE researchers successfully demonstrate that Mount Suleiman in the Elburz Range in Iran is the landing site of the Ark within the Mountains of Ararat?
In the book, Ark Fever (page 166) a conversation is recounted between Ali, the guide, and Cornuke. Ali allegedly reported that the Iranian scholar, Dr. Abdul Hussein Zarinkub, placed the first capital of Urartu in the region of Lake Urmiah. Cornuke goes on to say that David Rohl agreed with Dr. Zarinkub’s assessment. He quotes from Rohl’s book, Legend. The Genesis of Civilization. A Test of Time, vol. 2 (1998). London: Arrow, page 104. I found the quote on page 102 in the Century, Random House edition (London, 1998). The quote, as recorded in Ark Fever, says: “The later kingdom of Urartu [Ararat] was originally located here [east of Lake Urmia] in its early days, before shifting its heartland to the area around Lake Van.” This is a misleading and inaccurate quote. Rohl’s actually said: “Scholars have determined that the later kingdom of Urartu (Ararat) was also originally located here (in the Miyandoab plain) in its early days, before shifting its heartland to the area around Lake Van.” Please notice that Cornuke substituted the words “east of Lake Urmia” for Rohl’s “in the Miyandoab plain.” The map on page 83 of Rohl’s book places Miyandoab south of Lake Urmiah, not east of it. Rohl also states, “The lost kingdom of Aratta, mentioned in the earliest Sumerian epics, is to be located within the Miyandoab plain to the south of Lake Urmia in greater Armenia” (page 103, see also page 100).
Dr. Paul E. Zimansky, a leading expert of Urartian studies, gives a lengthy description of the territory of the Kingdom of Urartu / Ararat. He states: “Urartian kings would have ruled all of the agricultural lands around Lake Van and Lake Sevan, and the southwestern shore of Lake Urumiyeh. The upper Aras, particularly the Armavir and Erevan areas, was firmly in their hands, and conquest took them as far north as Lake Cildir. Along the Murat, evidence for royal control is surprisingly meager, but sufficient to put the Euphrates at Izoli within the conquered zone and the Elazig area in the narrower sphere. Campaign inscriptions are found well to the east of Tabriz, but the nearest evidence for firm state control in that direction comes from Bastam, thirty-eight kilometers north of Khvoy. Missing from this picture are the large and fertile plains of Erzurum and Erzincan on the Karasu, the northwest shore of Lake Urumiyeh, the plain of Marand, and the middle Aras from Jolfa to the slopes of Mount Ararat. All of these are generally assumed to be part of Urartu in some sense, and it is worth examining other forms of evidence to see if there might be some grounds for including them within the perimeter of state control” (Ecology and Empire: The Structure of Urartian State, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1985, page 10). For a discussion of the inscriptions found to the east of Tabriz (in Iran), in conquered territory outside the borders of the Kingdom of Urartu, see B. Andre-Salvini and M. Salvini’s study, “The Urartian Rock Inscriptions of Razliq and Nasteban (East Azerbaijan, Iran)” in Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolia 41/1 (1999), pages 17-32.
The territory of Urartu is centered around Lake Van and between this lake and Lake Urmiah. Lake Van is about 90 miles / 150 kilometers to the west of Lake Urmiah. Urartu’s eastern border went up to the northern and southern tip of Lake Urmiah (which are in Iran), but not to the eastern side of the lake. The Mount Suleiman that the BASE Institute claims is the mountain where the Ark landed is about 300 miles to the east of Lake Urmiah and is not in the Land of Urartu.
It is important to note that the Elburz Range is not included in the Land of Urartu / Ararat. In fact, the Elburz Range is in the Land of Media (Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 2, edited by I. Gershevitch, 1968, page 36). The ancient Biblical and historical sources clearly show that Mt. Suleiman, northwest of Tehran, was deep inside the land of Media and far outside the land of Ararat / Urartu where the Ark landed.
A student of the Bible who is interested in the search for Noah’s Ark should do a serious study on the region of Ararat / Urartu. It would be helpful to begin with: W. W. Gasque, “Ararat”, pages. 233, 234 in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1979); A. R. Millard, “Urartu”, page 955 in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1979); Edwin Yamauchi, pages 29-47 in Foes from the Northern Frontier. Grand Rapids: Baker (1982); Paul E. Zimansky, Ancient Ararat. Delmar, NY: Caravan Books (1998). The use of secondary sources (Roux, Gasque, Millard, Yamauchi, and Zimansky) is good for general background information, but it is the proper use of primary sources that builds a compelling case. The serious student of the Bible should master the primary sources.
Do Other Ancient Writers Put the Ark in Iran?
The BASE website identifies three ancient writers that supposedly place the landing of the Ark in Iran: Nicolas of Damascus, Flavius Josephus and Julius Africanus. Is this an accurate assessment of what these ancient writers actually wrote?
Let us start by examining the statements of the Jewish historian Josephus. There are at least six passages in the writings of this first century AD historian that refer to the Ark and / or the location of its landing. The BASE website only refers to two of the six and on one of them the citation is inaccurate.
In the first reference, Josephus recounts the writings of Berosus, the priest of the temple of Bel in Babylon, who states the ark, “landed on the heights of the mountains of Armenia” (Against Apion 1:130; Loeb Classical Library 1: 215).
The second reference by Josephus states, the “ark settled on a mountain-top in Armenia” (Antiquities of the Jews 1: 90; Loeb Classical Library 4: 43).
The third reference, in Antiquities of the Jews 1: 92 (Loeb Classical Library 4: 45), states: “The Armenians call the spot the Landing-place, for it was there that the ark came safe to land, and they show the relics of it to this day.” This passage does not state explicitly where the Ark landed, but Josephus does indicate that the Ark still existed in his day. One needs to determine the territory of Armenia at the end of the 1st century AD. Did it include Iran? The answer is, “No, Armenia did not extend into Iran, and for sure, not to the Elburz range.”
For a good study on the historical-geography of Armenia, see the four articles by R. H. Hewsen in Revue des Etudes Armeniennes, vol. 13 (1978-79) pp. 77-97; vol. 17 (1983) pp. 123-143; vol. 18 (1984) pp. 347-366; vol. 19 (1985) pp. 55-84.
The fourth reference to the Ark by Josephus is his quotation of Berosus the Chaldaean’s (330-250 BC) description of the Flood and the landing of the Ark. He quotes, “It is said, moreover, that a portion of the vessel still survives in Armenia on the mountain of the Cordyaeans, and that persons carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they use as talismans” (Antiquities of the Jews 1: 93; Loeb Classical Library 4: 45). We get the word Kurdistan from the word Cordyaean. This area is located in southeastern Turkey today. At one point that was a district in Armenia.
The fifth quote that Josephus gives is from Nicolas of Damascus which the BASE website quotes from J. W. Montgomery’s book, but they don’t seem to realize the quote was from Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 1:95; Loeb Classical Library 4:47). Here, it is reported by Nicolas, “There is above the country of Minyas in Armenia a great mountain called Baris, where, as the story goes, many refugees found safety at the time of the flood, and one man, transported upon an ark, grounded upon the summit, and relics of the timber were for long preserved.” The importance of this quote is that the Ark landed in Armenia. Again, Armenia did not extend into what is present day Iran.
The sixth quote, the one cited on the BASE website, is found in Antiquities of the Jews 20:24, 25 (Loeb Classical Library 10:15). It is not, as cited by the website, “(Loeb edition, volume 1X, pp. 403-403).” Here Josephus recounts the story of Monobazus, the king of Adiabene and the wife of Queen Helena, who wanted to see his son Izates before he died. The capital of Adiabene is Arbela in northern Mesopotamia (present day Iraq). When Monobazus saw his son, he gave Izates the district of Carron. The land of Carron is described as a place with “excellent soil for the production of amomum in the greatest abundance; it also possesses the remains of the ark in which report has it that Noah was saved from the flood – remains which to this day are shown to those who are curious to see them.” The land of Carron must be in the mountains to the north of Mesopotamia (in present day southeastern Turkey), but these mountains are not in present day Iran.
The BASE website goes on to cite Julius Africanus as supporting their claims that the Ark landed in Iran. They quote from Lloyd R. Bailey’s book, Noah – The Person and Story in History and Tradition (1989), University of South Carolina Press, rather than the original source. No page number is given for this quote, but this source can be found on page 65. In the context, Prof. Bailey does not support the BASE contention that Julius Africanus says the Ark landed in Iran, but rather, the context quotes Julius Africanus as placing the landing of the Ark “somewhere in the mountains of modern Kurdistan (the upper Zagros range, northeast of Mesopotamia)” in the area of ancient Adiabene (page 64). In the footnote to the Julius reference Bailey adds: “Parthis was generally to the east of Mesopotamia, but occasionally extended its influence to the area of Greater Armenia. Thus Julius’ reference allows for a number of possibilities” (page 217, footnote 24). The possibility that he suggests is the ancient “Mount Nisar, which is likely the spectacular Pir Omar Gudrum (called Pira Magrun by the Kurds), just south of the Lower Zab River” (page 65). This mountain is in the Kurdish part of Iraqi today, not Iran.
What is interesting is to go back and read the original quote of Julius Africanus. He says: “And Noe was 600 years old when the flood came on. And when the waters abated, the ark settled on the mountains of Ararat, which we know to be in Parthia; but some say that they are at Celaenae of Phrygia, and I have seen both places” (The Extant Writings of Julius Africanus, page 131b in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6, Hendrickson (1994)). The last part of the sentence is not quoted by Dr. Bailey or the BASE website. Phrygia is in Western Turkey, not Iran.
The Land of Ararat / Urartu is in modern day Turkey and north and west of Lake Urmiah, but it is not in the Elburz range in Iran. It is wishful thinking on the part of the BASE researchers to claim that the ancient writers placed the landing site for the Ark in modern day Iran. The ancient writers clearly point to Turkey or Iraq as the place of the landing of the Ark, not Iran.
The BASE team is free to speculate, within reason, any new theories they may have regarding the landing place of the ark. That reasoning, however, must take into account all the data pertaining to historical geography. These facts must not be overlooked.
Is Ararat East of the Land of Shinar (Gen. 11:2)?
The BASE website states that: “The Bible gives us a clear direction for the landing location of the Ark, and it is not in the direction of Turkey. The Bible says that the survivors of the flood journeyed ‘from the east’ and subsequently settled in ‘Shinar’ (a region generally known as Babylon).” I would agree with the BASE researchers that the descendents of Noah came from the east, but does the text state that the Ark landed east of Shinar?
The Biblical passage does not state that Ararat is east of the Land of Shinar. The scholar that is quoted at the end of this section is Samuel Shuckford (?1694-1754), a Cambridge graduate and the chaplain to King George II. In his book, The Sacred and Profane History of the World Connected, From the Creation of the World to the Dissolution of the Assyrian Empire at the Death of Sarda-Napalus, and to the Declension of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, Under the Reigns of Ahaz and Pekah, (I kid you not, that’s the title of the book!) I was able to locate a 5th edition of vol. 1 of this work published in 1819. The original edition was first published in 1728. In it, Shuckford says that about 80 years after the Ark landed on the mountains of Ararat the descendents of Noah migrated to the Plain of Shinar (pages 93 and 94), that is plenty of time for the descendents to multiply and migrate to Shinar from wherever the Ark landed.
The BASE website states: “It is highly unlikely that the descendents of Noah would migrate from the traditional Mount Ararat in Turkey to the Mesopotamia plain. If they did so, they would have had to traverse impassable mountain ranges to eventually come from the east. The Assyrian invaders found it impossible to cross these mountain ranges thus it would seem that the descendents of Noah would find it equally difficult.” This statement is simply not true. The Assyrian invaders did not find the mountain ranges impossible to cross. Sargon II, in the year 714 BC (see below for citations), took his army from Calah into the Zagros Mountains, up around Lake Urmiah and into Urartu and back to Calah, all in less that one year. Sargon complained that part of the campaign in the Zagros was difficult, but it was not impossible. Other Assyrian kings invaded Urartu through the Zagros Mountains as well. During times of peace, there was trade and commerce between Urartu and Assyria. The mountains are not impassible and it is not impossible to cross them. If the Assyrians could do it, the descendents of Noah could as well.
The BASE website gives a quote from a book by Edward Hitchcock entitled The Religion of Geology and its Connected Sciences (1851). (Please note the misquotation of the title. The website entitles the book Religion and Geology. Fortunately the website did spell Edward Hitchcock’s name correctly and I was able to locate the book).
Hitchcock says: “Shuckford suggested that some spot farther east corresponds better with the scriptural account of the place where the ark rested. For it is said of the families of the sons of Noah, that, as they journeyed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar. Now, Shinar, or Babylonia, lies nearly south of the Armenian Ararat, and the probability, therefore, is, that the true Ararat, from whose vicinity the descendents of Noah probably emigrated, lay much further to the south” (pages 139, 140). This quote is an accurate replication of what Hitchcock said, but a good researcher should read the context and follow up on what Shuckford actually believed.
In the chapter where this quote is found (Lecture IV), Dr. Hitchcock is recounting all the different views of geology and Noah’s Flood that were held by theologians in 1851 (eight years before Charles Darwin published Origins of Species). Hitchcock is advocating a “local” or regional Flood and not a universal world-wide Flood. He realized that if the Ark landed on Mount Ararat (Agri Dagh) and the flood waters covered that mountain, then the Flood would have had to be global or universal in scope. To get around this problem he quotes the above passage from Samuel Shuckford. Dr. Hitchcock did not fairly represent Chaplain Shuckford’s position. After dismissing the “common opinion … that the ark rested on one of the Gordyean hills” (page 87), Shuckford advocated a landing site for Noah’s Ark “near Saga Scythia on the hills beyond Bactria, north of India” (page 92). That area is today northern Afghanistan and Pakistan, located about 1,200 miles ENE of Shinar. Yet Dr. Hitchcock says the landing site was further to the south of Armenian Ararat, in Shinar / Babylonia, not to the east or ENE and not in Iran or India.
It is not true that Genesis 11:2 “only allows for a Northern Iran interpretation.” The descendents of Noah had 80 years to multiply once they left the Ark and migrate to Shinar. They could have walked from the mountains of Ararat to China and back to Shinar if they wanted. The text does not demand, or require, that the Ark landed to the east of Shinar.
Do the maps in Ark Fever confirm the Mount Suleiman location for the landing site of Noah’s Ark?
Two old maps are presented in Ark Fever in an attempt to bolster the case for the landing site of the ark in Iran (pages 42 and 60). However, neither map supports the case for Mount Suleiman being the landing site of the ark.
The first map is found on page 42. It is identified in the book as a “Map of the ‘Terrestrial Paradise,’ showing Noah’s Ark below the Caspian Sea on the Summit of ‘Mont Ararat.’ Pierre Daniel Huet’s conception from Calmet’s Dictionnaire historique del [sic] la Bible (1722).” What BASE is trying to demonstrate by this map is that the landing site for Noah’s Ark is below (or near) the Caspian Sea, just as Mount Suleiman, near Tehran, is near the Caspian Sea. This is very misleading. The map is not to scale and is an idealized map. Fortunately one can locate where this mountain is by a careful examination of the map. Just below the mountain is a city named Ecbatana. The ancient city of Ecbatana is buried underneath the modern Iranian city of Hamadan.
Ecbatana is mentioned once in the Bible in Ezra 6:2 (see the margin of any good study Bible) as the capital of the province of Media. It is also possible that it was one of the “cities of the Medes” to which Israelite captives were exiled to by the Assyrians after the fall of Samaria (II Kings 17:6). Interestingly, the mapmaker places “Mount Ararat” in the Land of Media and not in Armenia. This should have raised red flags because this is contrary to our Biblical compass.
The mapmaker was trying to convey that the Ark landed on a mountain near Ecbatana, but not, as Ark Fever tries to portray, on Mount Suleiman some 250 km to the northeast of Hamadan. There are Luristan traditions that Noah’s Ark landed in the area of Hamadan. Major Rawlinson visited the area in 1836 and mentions the tradition of the landing on a “very lofty range, called Sar Kushti” on page 100 in his article in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 9 (1839) 26-116.
The second map is found on page 60. It is labeled “Map of Armenia showing ‘Ararat Mons’ (Mountains in Region of Iran) from Petras Plantius 1552 & 1622.” The arrow on the map points to “Ararat mons” and the label says that they are “mountains in region of Iran.” This map is primitive, and in some cases inaccurate, but a careful examination of the map will show that the mountains are in southeastern Turkey and not Iran. Just below the “Ararat mons” are the cities of Nineve, Mosul, and Arbela, all cities in northern Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), and not Iran. The range of mountains to the right of “Ararat mons”, running in a north-south direction, are the Zagros Mountains, even though they are mislabeled “Caspy (?) montes” (Caspian Mountains). One can tell they are the Zagros Mountains by the location of Elam and Susa at the southern end of the mountain range. These locations are to the southeast of the Zagros Mountains. The label under the map is misleading because “Ararat Mons” is not in the region of Iran.
The two maps in Ark Fever do not support the claim by the BASE Institute that the landing site of Noah’s Ark was on Mt. Suleiman near Tehran in Iran.
Where did Sennacherib’s two sons really flee too?
The Bible states that after Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was assassinated by his two sons, they escaped into the Land of Ararat” (II Kings 19:37 // Isa. 37:38). This occurred on the 20th day of the month Tebet (October) in the year 681 BC.
Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s son that succeeded him after his father’s death, pursued his two brothers. One of Esarhaddon’s historical texts says, “As for those villains [his two brothers] who instigated revolt and rebellion, when they heard of the approach of my army, they abandoned their regular troops, and fled to parts unknown” (ARAB II: 202). Esarhaddon does not tell us where they went, but the Bible, our compass, does. They went to the Land of Ararat. As we’ve seen before, the territory of Ararat / Urartu does not extend to the east of Lake Urmiah.
The BASE researchers could have located the site utilizing the statement by E. A. Wallis Budge where he gives the precise location that one of the sons, Sharezer, fled to: a village on Mount Kardo in the ancient Land of Ararat / Urartu which is in present day Turkey and not Iran.
Another scholar made another interesting suggestion based on Esarhaddon’s “Letter to God” that the two brothers fled to Subria, a buffer state between Assyria and Urartu (Bradley Parker, The Mechanics of Empire (2001) pp. 241-245, 251). This area is in Turkey, not Iran.
According to the BASE website, Sargon II described the Mountains of Urartu as a “spine of a fish”. Is Sargon II describing the Elborz Mountains?
The BASE website states that “the Elborz Mountains matched to what the real Mountains of Ararat should look like according to a description by Sargon the Second in 714 B.C. He recorded that the Mountains of Urartu (Ararat) were like the spine of a fish which were very high and impossible to cross.” They go on to speculate that “Mount Suleiman in [sic] one of several high narrow mountains [sic] peaks that look like the long spine of a fish. There are fifteen peaks [sic] are over fourteen thousand feet high in that range”.
The only basis for these claims is a citation from George Roux’s book, Ancient Iraq, 1966 edition, page 313. Roux’s book is a classic and has gone through several editions with different publishers. Unfortunately, I was not able to locate a copy of the 1966 Penguin edition, but did find the reference to the “spine of the fish” on page 260 in the 1964 World Publishing Company edition and page 290 of the 1980 second edition Penguin paperback. A friend informed me that the quote was on pages 283-284 of his tattered copy of the 1966 edition. Unfortunately for the BASE researchers, this reference does not support their claim. In fact, their speculation is wrong on two counts.
The “spine of the fish” quotation comes from Sargon II’s “Letter to Assur recounting the events of the eighth campaign” (Daniel David Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylon, Vol. 2. London: Histories and Mysteries of Man, 1989, pages 73-99, cited below as ARAB). He writes, “Mount Simirria, a large mountain peak, which stands out like the blade of a lance, raising its head above the mountains where the goddess Belit-ilani resides, whose summit reaches to the heavens above, whose root strikes downward into the midst of Arallu (the lower world); where, as on the back of a fish, there is no going side by side, and where the ascent is difficult (whether one goes) forward or backward …” George Roux translates the phrase “back of a fish” as “like the spine of a fish” (page 260 in Ancient Iraq, Cleveland: World Publishing, 1964).
On this cuneiform tablet, Sargon II the king of Assyria, addresses the supreme god of Assyria, Assur and recounts his campaign against the kingdom of Urartu in the year 714 BC.
Sargon II and his army left the capital, Calah, and went into the Zagros Mountains to secure his eastern flank before he attacked the kingdom of Urartu. The “spine of the fish” quote comes in the first part of Sargon’s campaign and not his campaign against Urartu. Sargon identifies Mount Simimia as the mountain described as the “spine of the fish” (Luckenbill 1989: II: 74). There have been a number of scholarly works on the geography of eighth campaign by Sargon II against Urartu and this mountain can be pinpointed on a map.
A helpful tool to research the location of Mount Simimia and follow the route of Sargon’s campaign are the maps in the Helsinki Atlas of the Near East in the Neo-Assyrian Period (Edited by S. Parpola and M. Porter, Casco Bay Assyriological Institute and the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2001). I engaged in a simple exercise by spreading the map from the back of the atlas out on a table and read the account in ARAB and followed the route from one place, region or mountain to another. Mt. Simirria was located at Kuh-I Saih Maret, on the eastern edge of the Zagros Mountains, about 40 kilometers to the north of modern day Sanandag and 190 kilometers northwest of modern day Hamadan, not in the Mountains of Urartu as the BASE website maintains (Parpola and Porter 2001: 5, 7, 16; map 11).
Sargon II’s account is helpful in another respect because it delineates the eastern border of Urartu and demonstrates that the Elborz Mountains are not in the Land of Urartu.
Sargon II’s campaign goes up the east side of Lake Urmiah and reaches a point near modern day Mount Sahand, a large volcanic mountain to the east of the lake. Sargon writes, “I stopped my march on Andia and Zikirtu which lay before me, and set my face toward Urartu. Uishdish, a district of the Mannean country, which Ursa had seized and taken for his own, with its many cities, which are countless as the stars of heaven, I captured in its entirety” (ARAB II: 84, para. 157). Ursa is the Assyrian name for the Urartian king Rusa.
Dr. Paul Zimansky has observed: “Sargon’s account shows sensitivity to a distinction between territory that is truly “Urartian” and territory which is merely under Rusa’s political control. For example, the letter states that Uisdis [also spelled Uishdish – gf] was a Mannean province which Rusa had expropriated” (“Urartian Geography and Sargon’s Eighth Campaign”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 49 (1990), page 7).
Sargon goes on to say: “From Uishdish I departed, (and) drew near to the city of Ushkaia, the great fortress on the outer frontier (lit. head of boundary) of Urartu, which bars the pass into the Zaranda district like a door” (ARAB II: 84, para. 158). Zimansky continues his observation: “Only after his march through it [the district of Uishdish – gf], upon entering the next province, does Sargon claim to have crossed the border into Urartu” (JNES 49 (1990), page 7). The next province, Zaranda, is northwest of Lake Urmiah.
The unsubstantiated speculation of the BASE research team that the Urartian mountain, described by Sargon II as like a “spine of a fish,” is in the El Borz Mountain Range is wrong on two accounts. First, the “spine of the fish” quote by Sargon II is not referring to the Mountains of Urartu, as the BASE website claims, but rather Mt. Simimia in the Zagros Mountain Range. Second, the Elburz Mountain Range is not in the Land of Ararat / Urartu.
It is clear that whatever the object of interest found by the BASE team on Mount Suleiman in Iran, it can not be Noah’s Ark because our compass, the Bible, clearly states that the Ark landed in the Mountains of Ararat / Urartu and Mount Suleiman is not in the Mountains of Ararat! This we can say with certainty. That naturally raises one question.
What is it?
Since the object of interest found by the BASE team can not be Noah’s Ark, then what is it? I can only venture a guess because I have not been to the mountain, nor have I seen the material first hand. I suspect it is some sort of geological formation. Or, as one Ark hunter so eloquently put it, “It could be plain old rocks that mean nothing!” At the end of the day, this will prove to be the correct assessment.
I was able to locate one geological report on the geology of Takht-i-Suleiman in the Elburz Mountain Range in Iran. It was co-authored by Augusto Gansser and Heinrich Huber in 1962. The article, in English, was entitled “Geological Observations in the Central Elburz, Iran” and published in Schweizerische Mineralogische und Petrographische Mitteilungen (Vol. 42, pages 583-630).
Gansser and Huber observe that “The Pre-Devonian sedimentary uplifts show a regional, though slight metamorphism and their fracture system is accentuated by a dense dike and sill network of diabasic composition” (page 590). One geologist pointed out to me that “diabase is often a dark rock and could correspond to what was shown in the photos.”
Since I am not a geologist, I can not make a fair and accurate assessment of the material. If there are any serious ark researchers with geological training that does not have access to this publication, I will be glad to make it available. With more published information available, the discussion can go forward on a much more informed academic level. It would be helpful if the BASE researchers provided other researchers with the exact GPS coordinates for the site.
The Challenge to the BASE Institute
I hope in the weeks and months to come, the BASE Institute will follow the standard protocol of the scientific community and present their findings in the proper way. Ark researchers and some archaeologists would like to see all the material published in a peer reviewed scientific journal(s), either a geological and/or an archaeological one.
The late Ron Wyatt claimed to have found ninety-two (92) Biblical objects or places, yet he never published a single object in a peer reviewed scientific publication. The only thing that was ever published in a peer reviewed journal was by his partner, Dave Fasold, and it was not a pretty review of Wyatt’s “Noah’s ark.” [Lorence Collins and Dave Fasold, “Bogus ‘Noah’s Ark’ from Turkey Exposed as a Common Geologic Structure”, Journal of Geoscience Education 44 (1996) 439-444]. The BASE Institute has made claims of four Biblical discoveries, yet none of the first three (Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia, the ark of the covenant in Ethiopia, or the anchors from Paul’s shipwreck off the coast of Malta) have ever been published in a peer reviewed scientific publication by the BASE Institute. (A popular book for the lay audience, with a few pictures, is not a scientific publication). I hope with this discovery, the BASE Institute will follow normal scientific protocol and not follow in the footsteps of Ron Wyatt.
With so many theories claiming to discover biblical truth, the evangelical Christian community must be very discerning and follow the model of the Bereans who, after hearing the Apostle Paul himself, “searched the Scriptures to see whether these things are true.” Before swallowing the next claim, our community must do our homework on the history, archaeology, geology and geography of the landing place of Noah’s Ark using primary sources and hard data. If we cannot, then hold off judgment (pro or con) until others are given the opportunity to do so.
At this point the claims made by BASE Institute do not seem to have any merit. For the sake of the truth, however, I encourage the BASE Institute investigators to offer scholars, independent of the BASE Institute, full access to all the data. Let their best evidence come under the tests of scholarly scrutiny. When all the test results are in, the investigation and its claims will either be vindicated or proven false. The church, the witness to an unbelieving world, and truth itself deserve no less.
Revised October 15, 2006
Revised January 26, 2007