Since mid-June, 2006 there has been a flurry of reports in the media and on the Internet about the possible discovery of Noah's Ark on a mountain in northern Iran. Robert Cornuke has now focused on what is perhaps the biggest target of all, both literally and figuratively – Noah's Ark.
This article was first published in the July 2006 ABR Electronic Newsletter.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. – Genesis 11:1–2 (KJV)
The Media Blitz
Since mid-June, 2006 there has been a flurry of reports in the media and on the Internet about the possible discovery of Noah's Ark on a mountain in northern Iran. Robert ("Bob") Cornuke, who has previously claimed to have found such notable things as the true Mount Sinai, the place of Paul's shipwreck off the coast of Malta, and the location of the Ark of the Covenant, has now focused on what is perhaps the biggest target of all, both literally and figuratively – Noah's Ark.
In brief, on a mountain known locally as Takht-e Suleiman in the Alborz (also spelled Elborz or Elburz) range of northern Iran, Cornuke and his team found an "unusual object" at the 13,120-foot elevation which is currently (7/16/06) described on his website (http://www.baseinstitute.org/noah.html) as "dark rock with an uncanny beam-like appearance in several places," having a texture and color unique to the area, and of the approximate dimensions of Noah's Ark. Cornuke adds that some samples were tested by an independent lab and "showed signs of petrified wood," though what those signs were has not yet been announced, and these signs evidently did not apply to the entire object. There was additionally a second finding of wood near the summit that may be from a shrine, reportedly dated to 500 years old.
Cornuke says he is not making outright claims that his Iranian find IS the Ark. In the current information posted on his website he notes, "I have been careful to position all comments that I am not claiming to conclusively to have found the ark." That demonstrates what I think is appropriate restraint. It is far improved from what characterized the initial press barrage and commentary. For example, on June 14 a man named Bill Wilson apparently jumped the gun on the "official" announcement and opined on the watch.org website, "Cornuke found what is believed to be Noah's Ark, nearly intact." That posting was subsequently pulled, but as this is written a copy of that first message can still be found at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1649864/posts. Brannon Howse, apparently the primary publicity agent for the find, chose to title his web report at http://www.arkfever.com, "Noah's Ark? For Real." In it he quoted one team member, Arch Bonnema, as saying, "These beams not only look like petrified wood, they are so impressive that they look like real wood – this is an amazing discovery that may be the oldest shipwreck in recorded history." So effective was the promotional push that, as Howse notes, it even got Cornuke on Fox News Channel with John Kasich, Good Morning America, and The Michael Reagan Show. Other media sources soon picked up the story, which was widely distributed. A typical report on this discovery is that from WorldNetDaily, online at http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=50857. Among the things noted there was, "With the discovery of wood splinters and broken pottery at the remote 15,300-foot level, the team says it also found evidence that ancients considered it an important worship site for hundreds, if not thousands of years." It seems clear that the conclusion one is expected to draw from that statement is that the site was important due to the presence of Noah's Ark.
In short, though there was a great deal of initial hyperbole surrounding the find, Cornuke and his team have since toned down the rhetoric. Not entirely, however; as this is written, the heading of the photo section of his website (http://www.baseinstitute.org/noaharkpics1.html) still reads, "Photos from the PROBABLE site of Noah's Ark" (my emphasis). "Possible" would be a much more appropriate word! Since I have a cynical streak when it comes to marketing, I also remain a bit disturbed by the thought that the initial sensationalism was a calculated step to garner widespread free publicity, giving the story the kind of high profile which opens doors for speaking opportunities and selling future books and videos, despite a lack of really persuasive evidence that would stand the tests of time and skeptical analysis. But only God and Cornuke and his team know for sure.
Evidence for an Iranian Location
Let's lay the groundwork for this study by first noting Cornuke's six primary reasons for putting forth his find as possibly being Noah's Ark on an Iranian mountain. As his website presents them, they are:
1. Ararat refers to a region of mountains, not just a single mountain.
2. Ararat is east of Shinar (Babylon).
3. Ararat is east of Lake Urmiah (also spelled Urmia) in Iran.
4. Other ancient writers put the Ark in Iran.
5. A British explorer in 1894, and an American soldier in 1943, confirm local Iranians believed the Ark landed on Takht-i-Suleiman (east of Lake Urmiah); the British explorer claimed to see a wooden shrine, and the American soldier claimed to see the Ark.
6. BASE Teams in 2005 and 2006 find possible evidence of the shrine and the Ark on Takht-i-Suleiman.
Cornuke also notes,
As we offer our possible scenarios about biblical history, we are unapologetically excited about what we believe we have discovered. We believe that others, meanwhile, are free to hold opinions of their own, and that they should be excited about those as well. We leave it to students of the Bible and of history to do enough investigation of their own to formulate their own educated opinions.
In what follows I intend to do just that.
Filters at Work
Before getting into this study, I wish to observe that it appears Bob Cornuke truly believes he has found something very significant which could indeed be Noah's Ark. But I believe he has not dealt fairly and squarely with all of the raw data at his disposal, and has, consciously or unconsciously, mentally filtered it so that he only deals with the data that fits into his interpretive framework. What is that framework? As far as I can determine, the primary motivator for his search for the Ark in Iran comes from a particular interpretation of Genesis 11:2 which, in his mind, rules out Turkey's Mount Ararat as a legitimate candidate for the Mountain of the Ark. (His past experience of fruitlessly searching for the Ark on Mount Ararat, as well as the Iranian Zograt Mountains and Mount Sabalon, can only have increased his openness to this interpretation.) Everything else in his research flows from that starting point, and, as will be shown, this filter catches an awful lot of valuable material which is then thrown out.
"From the East"
He discusses his understanding of Genesis 11:2 at length in his book, In Search of the Lost Mountains of Noah. In a nutshell, his contention is that Gen. 11:2, which says in a number of versions (including the ancient Septuagint and Vulgate translations) that men came "from the east" to first enter the Valley of Shinar (Mesopotamia), rules out Mount Ararat as a candidate for Mountain of the Ark because it is due north of Shinar. Case closed.
However, it is not as simple as that. First, a quote from his website:
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. If the descendents of Noah traveled from the traditional Mount Ararat in Turkey, then they would have traveled an easy path down the Euphrates River, which eventually pours into the Mesopotamia Valley. This North to South direction would be a contradiction of Genesis 11:2. Noah's descendents journeyed from the east, which only allows for a Northern Iran interpretation.
The flow of logic above makes perfect sense – but only if one accepts its unmentioned starting premise, that Noah and his immediate descendents stayed close to Mount Ararat until the push into Shinar. If this assumption is not valid, then neither is Cornuke's argument. If we consider a few factors, some from Scripture and others from what seems to be common sense, it appears highly unlikely that his unspoken assumption holds up.
1. God told Noah and his family to be fruitful, multiply and FILL THE EARTH (Gen. 9:1). He did not want them to stay put in one small area, but to spread out. To stay close to Mount Ararat for what was probably a few hundred years (a logical deduction from Genesis 10's focus on the growth of the human race) would have been to disobey God.
2. The long-lived first few generations after the Flood, plus God's blessing on mankind's fruitfulness, would have been a recipe for a major population explosion. This would have put understandable pressures on mankind to spread out into virgin territory early on.
3. Noah was a farmer who grew grapes (Gen. 9:20). Pursuing agriculture is not very compatible with living on the slopes of a volcanic mountain! It makes far better sense for him to have quickly moved at least to the foothills, preferably to a well-watered river valley.
4. The dominant consensus of alleged eyewitnesses of the Ark places it on the northeastern side of Mount Ararat, overlooking the plain of the Araxes (now Aras) River. If we accept this provisionally, it means the most likely route away from Ararat would have been down into that valley, rather than toward the headwaters of the Euphrates.
5. People in unfamiliar territory tend to stay near water, an essential for life – for drinking, fishing, irrigation, a magnet for game animals, even industry. This consideration also makes it unlikely that an increasing population would have stayed totally sedentary in the mountains of Urartu for very long, but would have gravitated toward a ready source of flowing water, such as the Araxes.
6. A city named Nakhichevan lies just a short distance away in the foothills of Ararat as one follows the Araxes River EASTWARD. There are varying interpretations of what the place name means. Some say it means, in the Armenian language, "the place of first descent," and connects to Noah as the place where he first went after descending from the Ark on Ararat's slopes (see http://www.cilicia.com/rediscover.pl?Nakhichevan); others say the name comes from Nukkhtchikhan, meaning “colony of Noah”; a third opinion is that it refers to the Ark itself "descending" in the water and glancing off the submerged summit of Nakhichivan's Ilan-dag ("Snake Mountain") prior to finally coming to rest atop Turkey's Mount Ararat (see http://www.azerbaijan24.com/tours/nakhichevan_tour). Regardless of the precise meaning, this place has a clear and ancient tradition connecting it to Noah, and when one considers that there were reports of a reputed Tomb of Noah there as recently as the 19th century, it presents a tantalizing hint about which direction Noah may have taken after leaving the Ark.
7. Ararat and Urartu are interchangeable terms for the same geographic area. All reputable scholars agree that the ancient kingdom of Urartu – where we find the “mountains of Ararat,” Gen. 8:4, on which the Ark landed, and to which we must restrict ourselves in proposing possible locations for the Ark – lay north of Shinar, centered around Van in eastern Turkey, and NOT extending into Iran. Located thus, the entire "mountains of Ararat" region faces the exact same problem that troubles Cornuke with regard to Mount Ararat specifically: it does not extend far enough east to accommodate his interpretation of Gen. 11:2. He therefore winds up pitting Scripture against Scripture, Gen. 8:4 versus 11:2, and having to choose one or the other! This presents a conundrum unacceptable to Christians who accept the inerrancy of the Word of God.
8. Finally, the immediate context of Gen. 11:2 has it setting the stage for discussing the dispersion from Babel following the confusion of languages. This indicates we are to understand it as referring not to the time right after Noah left the Ark, but to immediately before going into Shinar, however long after the Flood that may have been. The context thus presents us with a very important interpretive key that cannot be ignored. Cornuke, however, does not seem to recognize this, and instead views the verse as applying to the whole time between the end of the Flood and the migration into Shinar.
What these points indicate is that there is an easy solution to the apparent problem Cornuke sees with Mount Ararat: we merely accept that Noah and his descendants rather quickly left the immediate environs of Ararat and followed the Araxes River eastward and to unknown points beyond for an indeterminate period of time. This earliest migration, in obedience to God's command to "fill the earth," eventually placed a sizeable population of people east of Mesopotamia, from which they "journeyed from the east," as the Scriptures say.
To me, this interpretation is faithful to the Bible, does not require me to reject or ignore several believable alleged eyewitnesses who unambiguously place the Ark on Turkey's Mount Ararat (see below) as Cornuke does, and as a bonus, it allows me to fit Nakhichevan and the interesting meanings attached to its name into the picture. It presents a solution that satisfies the actual biblical data, known tradition, common sense, and the context of Gen. 11:2.
Where were Urartu and Minni?
Cornuke spends a great deal of time on his website justifying an Iranian location for the Ark on the basis of his understanding of ancient geography. Despite the fact that the Alborz Mountains lie outside the region historically known as Urartu, and therefore do not fit into the biblical "mountains of Ararat" (Gen. 8:4), Cornuke makes a dedicated effort to read the data differently. It is, after all, critically important to his case that the "mountains of Ararat" can legitimately be extended to include the Alborz Mountains, or his case for Mount Suleiman (or indeed, any Iranian location) fails to meet the fundamental requirement of fidelity to Scripture.
For example, he states the following on his website:
Jeremiah 51:27 suggests that Ararat is adjacent to Minni (which is east of Lake Urmiah). It states, Lift up a signal in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations! Consecrate the nations against her, Summon against her these kingdoms: Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz. (NKJV)
This prophecy by Jeremiah is referring to Cyrus who attacked Babylon in 539 BC. The Scripture specifically says "set up a banner in the land, blow the trumpet amongst the nations." This means that Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenas were closely aligned, not only politically but geographically. Minni or Minnai was a territory lying south and east of Lake Urmiah. The Ashkenas were also known as the Scythians who occupied the Mukan steppe of Azerbaijan. This means that a more likely sight (sic) for Ararat would be east of Lake Urmiah in close proximity to Minni and Ashkenaz (my emphasis).
Can we indeed place Jeremiah’s “kingdom of Ararat” east of Lake Urmiah – in Iranian territory, in other words? First we need to ask, where exactly was the kingdom of Minni? By Cornuke's reckoning, the kingdom of Ararat (i.e., Urartu) should be just to the east of Lake Urmiah, in what is now Iranian territory. Now see this map:
Note the location of Ararat/Urartu relative to Minni; it is, as Nicholas of Damascus (quoted by Josephus) described it and as Cornuke's website notes, "above the country of the Minus in Armenia" (my emphasis). Cornuke is correct in adducing from Jeremiah that Ararat/Urartu is adjacent to Minni – but it is adjacent to the north and west of it, not east, and therefore west of Lake Urmiah as well. This does not fit in with any "Ark in Iran" scenario. Bill Crouse, another researcher who favors a different site – Mt. Cudi – for the Ark's landing place, says that, "According to ancient geographers, Minyas was a country slightly below and to the east of Armenia, below present-day Lake Urmiah in Iran" (http://www.fni.com/cim/technicals/noah.txt). In other words, Armenia – that is, the kingdom of Ararat/Urartu – was slightly above and to the west of Minni. By his testimony as well we see that a consideration of the location of Minni does not help the Ark in Iran case.
So much for Minni. What about Ararat/Urartu itself? The "mountains of Ararat" simply refers to mountains within the boundaries of the ancient kingdom of Ararat/Urartu, and that nation has always been regarded as centered around Lake Van. Note the following maps, from independent Armenian sources, and that in neither of them are the Alborz Mountains of northern Iran included within the scope of the kingdom of Ararat/Urartu (they lie off the maps to the right, below the Caspian Sea):
By referencing two different maps from Armenian sources, I am demonstrating that even though there may be a slight diference of opinion among scholars regarding the extent of Urartu – the first map includes a small portion of land to the east of Lake Urmiah, the second does not – scholars are unanimous in clearly placing the kingdom of Ararat/Urartu no farther than the vicinity of Lake Urmiah, far to the west of the Alborz Mountains. Cornuke has failed to present any telling reasons why the scholars are wrong; he simply asserts it.
A Question of Scale
Besides contending that Mount Ararat does not fit his understanding of what constitutes the biblical "mountains of Ararat," another of Cornuke's complaints is that Ararat appears to stand alone in eastern Turkey, not associated with other mountains that would make it part of the "mountains" (note the plural) of Ararat. He says on his website:
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia agrees with the aforementioned hypothesis that the Ark of Noah would lie in a distinct mountainous region: "The Ark is said to have rested upon the mountains of Ararat, i.e., in the mountainous region of Armenia, the plural showing that the mountain peak known as Ararat was not referred to, this peak lies outside the general region."
This also makes sense in light of Genesis 8:5 which states: And the water decreased steadily until the tenth month. And on the first day of the month the tops of the mountains became visible. (NKJV)
This verse indicates that other mountain peaks became visible subsequent to the ark of Noah landing on the mountains of Ararat. In the Elborz Mountains of Northwestern Iran, there are fifteen peaks over 14,000 feet. Conversely, Mount Ararat virtually stands alone in Eastern Turkey. The Elborz Mountains seem to line up better with this verse than Mount Ararat.
It is true that, looking at the mountain close up, Mount Ararat in Turkey might seem to "virtually stand alone"; however, this is merely a question of scale. When one looks at the region from an airplane or a satellite, it becomes clear that Mount Ararat is part of a predominantly mountainous region, with other sizeable peaks, such as Aragats, nearby, as well as many small lines of mountains. Observe this aerial photo:
Note the various peaks in the background that could have been seen from Mount Ararat as the waters of the Flood subsided. The photo is looking south from the Armenian side, with the Araxes (Aras) River valley extending across the middle.
Satellite photographs also make it clear that Mount Ararat does not stand alone, totally unconnected with any other mountains. Here is one:
The many snow-capped peaks in this picture make it clear that the topography of the entire region is quite mountainous. Mount Ararat lies midway between Lake Sevan and Lake Van. The mighty Caucasus Mountains run across the top of the photo, the Taurus Mountains across the lower left, and the westernmost end of the Alborz range can be seen snaking around the bottom of the Caspian Sea at the lower right corner.
Lastly, relief maps of the area around Mount Ararat also clearly show it does not stand in isolation, but is part of an extended mountainous area. See, for example, this map:
To summarize this point, there is no problem whatsoever in considering Mount Ararat as part of a larger "mountains of Ararat" region. It all boils down to a question of scale.
Much Ado over History
Cornuke goes into considerable detail on his website to adduce further evidences from Assyrian history in an attempt to place the Mountain of the Ark in Iran. All of these details are very interesting, but for our purposes they do nothing but unnecessarily cloud the issue at hand. The bald fact remains, Ararat/Urartu was located west of Lake Urmiah, not east, placing it outside of both Iran and the Alborz range.
So far as Cornuke's contention on his website goes, that "Other Ancient Writers put the Ark in Iran," his references to Nicholas of Damascus, Flavius Josephus and Julius Africanus do nothing of the sort. As noted above, Nicholas of Damascus places the kingdom of Ararat/Urartu "above the country of Minni," not alongside of and to the east of it, where it would have to be to place it in Iran. (The name Nicholas gives for the mountain, "Baris," is somewhat mysterious, but in all likelihood was an old descriptive name for the Mountain of the Ark. Lloyd R. Bailey, referenced by Crouse (http://www.fni.com/cim/technicals/noah.txt), notes that the Greek word baris means "height," or "tower," and can also mean "boat"! [Lloyd R. Bailey, Where is Noah's Ark? Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1978, p. 216, footnote 19.]) Moving to Josephus, we'll simply observe that in his Antiquities, Loeb ed. vol. 4, p. 43, he says: "Then the ark settled on a mountain-top in Armenia..." Enough said. As should be clear from what has already been mentioned, Armenia (Urartu, Ararat) is not part of Iran.
Finally, Cornuke quotes Bailey regarding Julius Africanus: "And the ark settled on the mountains of Ararat which we know to be in Parthia" [Lloyd R. Bailey, Noah – The Person and the Story in History and Tradition, University of South Carolina Press, 1989]. Cornuke then observes, "Parthia is noted on various 19th century maps as being in the mountains of Iran." But Bailey is talking about the Parthian EMPIRE, which included Armenia (i.e., Ararat, Urartu) as one of its nation-states when Julius Africanus wrote, about 200 AD, while Cornuke is talking about the individual nation-state of Parthia, not the empire as a whole. A map showing the Parthian Empire helps to clarify this; the Parthan Empire is the entire light-gray area, and the separate nation-states of Armenia and Parthia that are part of it have blue boxes around their names.
Once again, the case for the Ark in Iran does not look good. On that note, let's move from geographical considerations to other issues.
Pitch and Petrification
A major aspect of the find that is assumed to favor its identification as Noah's Ark is what appears to be petrified wood beams. This was particularly highlighted during the early media blitz, although this aspect has since been de-emphasized. Pictures can be seen at the BASE Institute website, http://www.baseinstitute.org/noaharkpics1.html.
But for the moment, let's assume that a significant amount of petrified wood is found at the site. One of the unspoken assumptions made early on was that if the “dark outcropping” turned out to be petrified wood, this would increase the likelihood that it belonged to Noah's Ark. Is this assumption true?
The Scriptures tell us that Noah pitched the Ark both inside and out (Gen. 6:14). Since petrification is a process by which water-dissolved silicate minerals saturate the fibers of wood over a long period of time in an oxygen-depleted environment, as from rapid burial in volcanic ash, such a pitch treatment would tend to PREVENT wood from petrifying. If mineral-bearing water is prevented, as by a thorough waterproofing treatment, from saturating the wood in the first place, the minerals never get a chance to get deep into the wood and do their work.
For these reasons, I am skeptical that, even if the wood-like objects do turn out to be petrified wood, this would make it more likely to be the Ark. One thing that WOULD increase the likelihood, though, would be finding bituminous pitch throughout the structure! The ancient Chaldean historian Berosus (c. 275 BC), quoted by Polyhistor and Josephus, noted that the Ark "...grounded in Armenia, some part still remains in the mountains of the Gordyaeans in Armenia, and some get pitch from the ship by scraping off, and use it for amulets." This indicates that when the real Ark is found, there will be evidence of bituminous pitch found in conjunction with it. This is, to me, a glaring omission from the Cornuke report: not a single word about pitch being found at the site. (Aside: Why do I say bituminous? Because it is readily found from seeps, easier to apply than a sticky plant-based waterproofing resin, and is consistent with what the Babylonian flood story, the Epic of Gilgamesh, has to say: "When all was ready, I caulked the outer side with bitumen and inner side with asphalt" [Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends – Babylonia and Assyria. Boston, MA: David M. Nickerson & Company, no date, pp. 173–176].
Mountain of Confusion
The mountain where Cornuke's team did its research is called "Takht-i-Suleiman" on his website. Trying to determine exactly where it was turned out to be a confusing venture, because it turns out there are multiple mountains with nearly identical names. The one which seems to be the best match for where they went, judging from the terrain seen in Cornuke's website photos, the stated height of the peak, and its northeastern Iran location, appears to be the "Takhte Soleyman" featured at http://www.summitpost.org/view_object.php?object_id=150637&context_id=154322. It is located in the Central Alborz Mountains near Mazandaran, Iran, at Lat/Lon 36.39230°N/50.95610°E – about 55 miles northwest of Tehran – and has an elevation of 15285 feet. Note the flagged location of this Mount Suleiman below (and observe that it is located well outside the limits of the kingdom of Ararat/Urartu):
Here is one picture from the SummitPost website, notice that the dark outcropping near the center and general terrain look somewhat like Cornuke's pictures:
Since the foregoing site is so far east of Lake Urmiah – about 300 miles, leading one to wonder why Cornuke even bothers to mention it is east of that lake in the first place – there has been some discussion among Ark researchers as to whether the find was actually at another place with a virtually identical name, "Takht-e Soleyman," located near Takab, 70 miles east-southeast of the south end of Lake Urmiah. Though again outside the accepted limits of the kingdom of Ararat/Urartu, this spot would seem at least in the realm of possibility – but it is not a high mountain and has no snowcap, a requirement for fidelity with the Ed Davis testimony (more following). It is sited at the green arrow on the following map:
[Source: http://maps.google.com (search for "Takht-e soleyman")]
The online Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takht-i-Suleiman, provides details about this site. I will merely quote the beginning:
Takht-e Soleyman "The Throne of Solomon" is the holiest shrine of Zoroastrianism and the former Sassanid Empire. On 3 July 2003, twenty-four sites were inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List; one of these sites was the Takht-e Soleyman. It is a World Heritage Site located near the modern town of Takab, West Azarbaijan in Iran.
(For further details on this site, see http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:JQh-w3LWKbkJ:whc.unesco.org/....)
The following photo shows the Zoroastrian ruins for which this site is famous. In the background can be seen the Zendan-e Suleiman volcano, which also indicates it is not Cornuke's location, as he has insisted his spot is not volcanic.
Cornuke alludes to journal comments of a British explorer, whom he names as "A.H. McMahan," as another reason for placing the Ark on a "Mount Suleiman." According to that journal,
The name of this mountain is so well known from its mythical, geographical, and ethnological associations, that it may interest some of the readers of the geographical journal, to know that its summit has been reached by Europeans...Many legends attach to it. According to some, Noah's ark alighted here after the deluge.
You can read the text of the journal entry for yourself at http://www.khyber.org/places/2005/AscentoftheTakhteSuleiman.shtml.
So, which of the above peaks has a known tradition tying it to Noah's Ark? The surprising answer is...neither! It turns out that the peak Captain A. Henry McMahon (NOT "McMahan") climbed was the "Throne of Solomon," Takht-i-Suleiman, about 40 miles east of Quetta...in PAKISTAN! It is in the northeastern portion of Baluchistan, almost 1,000 miles from Tehran, and certainly is not part of the "mountains of Ararat." It is also only about 11,400 feet (3500 m) tall. Thus, we cannot identify its characteristics – alleged Noah's Ark tradition, shrine on the summit, etc. – with the location 55 miles northwest of Tehran.
One more comment before moving on. Cornuke also mentions on his website that his "Solomon's Throne" location "is the only mountain we know of in the Middle East outside of Israel with a Hebrew name." Since we've already noted three, and there appear to be two others in India and Kyrgyzstan, this claim does not stand. He is apparently unaware that Solomon is regarded as a prophet by Islam – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qur'anic_account_of_Sulayman – and it is more likely this is the reason for the name of his site, as well as all those other "thrones," rather than any Hebrew/Israelite connection. At any rate, the tie to Solomon's name has absolutely no bearing on whether the finding is thereby more likely to be Noah's Ark than otherwise. The Ark story is, after all, one that belongs to the entire human family, not the Israelites exclusively.
Rewriting the Ed Davis Testimony?
A major factor in Cornuke's getting "Ark fever" was the testimony of US Army Sergeant Ed Davis. An engineer assigned to help build roads to supply wartime needs to our ally Russia during WW II, Davis related a fascinating, highly detailed, but in some ways slightly unclear story of being taken to the Mountain of the Ark by the family of a native truck driver he befriended named Abas. The key to Cornuke's use of the Davis testimony lies in two things: he passed a lie detector test (very impressive to Cornuke, a former police officer), and when interviewed in the presence of Cornuke and a bunch of other Ark researchers at an "Arkathon" in New Mexico in 1988, he struck some people as being somewhat unsure of exactly which mountain he went to. For Cornuke, this opened the door to use Davis' story as justification for searching in Iran; if Ed did not know exactly where he went, he could have been at any mountain in the region, right? Cornuke says of Davis:
I was first directed to Mount Suleiman when a man named Ed Davis personally told me that he was taken to an object there (my emphasis) and told that the object was the actual ark of Noah. The men who showed him were from the Lur tribe, an indigenous people in Iran. Ed Davis was working at the time for the Army corps of Engineers stationed in Iran. He was building roads for supply lines from the Persian Gulf to assist the war effort. He was an engineer so it was easy for him to reconstruct a map of the site where he was shown the object. He did not know the mountain's name, but later, he could describe in detail on a map the route and terrain.
At the outset I cannot stress too highly this point: one must avoid reading into the above statement that "there" specifically equates with Mount Suleiman. This is not true. But it is exactly the kind of assumption someone not knowledgeable about the Ed Davis testimony would make upon reading it. Davis did nothing of the sort. All Ed did was say that on the mountain he went to, he saw an object that he was told was the Ark. Expressing it as Cornuke did above easily leads to wrong conclusions.
Cornuke also alleges that Davis "did not know the mountain's name." This is highly unlikely. While it is true that at the “Arkathon” Davis seemed a bit confused about where he was, what is not well known is that Davis literally got off a sick bed to attend the meetings, was surrounded by people he had never met before pestering him with lots of questions, and was already in his 80s. For this reason, any confusion as to what mountain he was on was probably more apparent at that moment in time than real.
And this is critical to remember: HE DROVE THERE. As his testimony makes clear, he KNEW where he was relative to Hamadan, Tehran, to the Russian border, etc. He was an engineer dealing with roads, for crying out loud! Of course he knew where he went! And if he was ever unsure what the name of the peak was, all he had to do was ask his driver to clear up the confusion as they bounced along on their long journey. So, as Cornuke himself admits (in Lost Mountains of Noah, p.11) when he wrote the following notes in his Bible upon his return to base, he knew exactly where he had been: "Went to Ararat with Abas, We saw a big ship on a ledge in two pieces..." (my emphasis).
In his book In Search of the Lost Mountains of Noah, Cornuke devoted an entire chapter to presenting his own summary of the Ed Davis testimony. Having done a close comparison between Cornuke's version and those given by others who have firsthand source material in their possession, such as Dr. Don Shockey and Robin Simmons, I've had to conclude that Cornuke has done a great deal of reading between the lines and editorializing on the basic story to justify his Iranian slant. Wanting to be charitable, we can chalk this up to the unconscious working of his "filters," but the point remains that he should clearly differentiate, for the ignorant reader who first comes upon his material, what Davis actually said, versus Cornuke's personal interpretation of it. For example, in that book Cornuke gives one aspect of the Davis story thus:
One afternoon, as they loaded trucks at a rock quarry near Hamadan, Davis asked Badi where he lived. Badi pointed nonchalantly toward a great range of snowcapped mountains towering in the northern horizon. "That's where I grew up," Badi said. He told Davis the mountains held a sacred, closely guarded secret. Located near the summit of the most imposing peak and locked beneath a year-round glacier, he said, sat the frozen remains of Noah's ark. Davis raised an eyebrow, but Badi remained adamant. "My family has been to the ark," he insisted. "My grandfather has taken me up to see it."
Compare this with a literal transcript of what Davis said in the short film by Robin Simmons, Riddle of Ararat (quirks of pronunciation have been kept exactly as Davis sounded):
We uh were building a way station at Hamadan for these truck drivers. Abas was the father, and his son uh was from a group that had turned out to be excellent truck drivers. So uh one day we were loading rock and we looked toward the mountain and you could see it very plain with its little white cap on top. And I said "Mt. Arat." "Oh, yeah, yeah that's where his home was." And I said "that's where the ark is." "Yeah" his daddy knew where it was and went up there quite often.
When we compare these two versions, we immediately notice significant differences. According to Cornuke, they looked at "a great range of snowcapped mountains towering in the northern horizon." According to the actual transcript, they looked "toward the mountain...with its little white cap," a single peak standing in isolation in the far distance, and nothing "northern" is said about it. The Simmons video transcript notes that Davis volunteered the identification, "Mount Arat," and that Abas confirmed it, whereas the Cornuke version says nothing about the name.
One more example from Cornuke's book:
He agreed to accompany his friend to the sacred mountain and secured a short leave of absence. A few days later they bought supplies – three barrels of gas, a case of motor oil, and some coffee – and set out from Hamadan in an army-issue truck. Driving all day and into the night, without a map, Davis noted a number of Russian encampments on the route north and paid casual notice to an otherwise indistinct town Badi pointed out called Casbeen (italics in the original).
Compare the Simmons video transcript:
So I went to the co. commander and uh told him what was going on. He said I can't do that, said I'd get murdered. And uh I said boy I'd sure like to go. He said I know you would. So I started to walk off and he said listen, he said uh I guess I could send you to Tehran and you could take a delay en route and get up there. And so that uh he said get your truck greased and get an extra barrel of gas and a case of oil and some extra tires so you'd be prepared. So uh it didn't take long to get things goin. So Abas and I left we went almost to Hamadan and to Kazmin and then turned there and went up paralleling the Russian border for quite aways. And then we got in the foothills and sometime after dark uh we arrived at this village but he said that this is the village where Noah drank the wine and got drunk.
Note that where Cornuke renders the story "...Davis noted a number of Russian encampments on the route north and paid casual notice to an otherwise indistinct town Badi pointed out called Casbeen," Davis actually said that at Kazmin (i.e., Casbeen) he "turned there" and "went up paralleling the Russian border for quite aways" before getting to the mountain foothills sometime after dark. Davis says nothing about "Russian encampments" or a "route north"; rather, he speaks of "turning" at Kazmin/Casbeen and traveling parallel to the Russian border. In my opinion and that of many others, taking "a delay" en route to Tehran, and considering the amount of gas, oil, extra tires and travel time, makes it sound like he took a true roundabout route to Tehran, turning northwest at Casbeen and then taking a route paralleling the Russian border toward Tabriz and beyond it to Dzhulfa, right into the Ararat foothills, and eventually doubling back and heading southeast to eventually get to Tehran. Here is a map that helps greatly to visualize the likely route Davis took, from the official US Army WW II history of the Middle East Theater, The Persian Corridor and Aid to Russia by T.H. Vail Motter:
An even clearer map is found at http://www.o5m6.de/persian.html for those interested in seeing a large relief map that includes the WW II roads.
The point I am trying to make is that we see Bob Cornuke's "filters" very obviously displayed in these two excerpts from his book, to the point where it sounds like he is practically rewriting parts of Davis' story to match his own presuppositions. Those filters also allow him to overlook the fact that there are numerous little details in Davis' testimony that are only known to be true of Turkey's Mount Ararat. For example, some of the landmarks described by Davis, such as a "St. Jacob's Well" and a cave that Lawrence of Arabia hid in (while spying on TURKS in WW I, not Iranians), cannot be reconciled with an Iranian site. Rex Geissler, on http://noahsarksearch.com/iran.htm, presents a list of 20 aspects of the Ed Davis testimony that are difficult to reconcile with an Iranian site.
The Tale of the Polygraph Tape
A very significant detail that is little appreciated by Ark researchers, not even by Cornuke who highly values that Davis passed his lie detector test, lies in the specific questions asked of Ed Davis during the test. Dr. Don Shockey, the man who first learned about Davis' Ark adventure and brought him to the attention of others, has shared in B.J. Corbin's book, The Explorers of Ararat and the Search for Noah's Ark, the questions asked during the polygraph test. From page 109, here are the exact questions, emphasis mine:
1. Are you lying when you state that you were taken to Mt. Ararat by Abas and his seven sons?
2. Are you lying when you state that you climbed Mt. Ararat on horseback and on foot?
3. Are you lying when you state that the object you saw was broken in half?
4. Are you lying when you state that the structure was exposed between 100 and 200 feet?
5. Are you lying when you state that you saw a large wooden structure high on Mount Ararat?
6. Are you lying when you state that no one ever told you about the Ark other than Abas and the Bible?
By my count, no less than three of these questions specifically name Mount Ararat, and, as Shockey makes clear, he truthfully answered NO to each of them with no stress demonstrated. This ought to indicate to the unbiased observer that there was no question in Davis' mind that he went to Mount Ararat.
"The Testimony of Two or Three..."
One other thing which disturbs me is that Cornuke has, to all appearances, chosen to intentionally ignore the eyewitness stories of many others, but most particularly (in my humble opinion) those of Armenian George Hagopian and White Russian Army officer Alexander Koor. These two men unambiguously located their sightings on Turkey's Mount Ararat. Cornuke passes over their stories, as well as those of all other alleged eyewitnesses, in complete silence. He focuses exclusively on the slightly more ambiguous testimony of Ed Davis as support for an Iranian site (though Davis' story is consistent with those of Hagopian and Koor – see http://www.noahsarksearch.com/riddleofararat.htm).
For those not familiar with these two men, George Hagopian was a native of Van, an important Armenian city. As a small boy he claimed to have gone twice to Mount Ararat in the general time period 1905–1908 and not only to have seen, but even to have climbed onto the Ark. He related that he was herding sheep on the slopes of Masis – the Armenian name for Ararat, which absolutely pinpoints his location there – and his uncle took him up the mountain to see the Ark, which he described as shaped like a flat-bottomed barge, matching the description given by Davis. After the onset of the Armenian Holocaust, he emigrated to America and become a respected businessman in Baltimore. His story is recounted in detail in The Explorers of Ararat, pp. 65–69 and 368–374. Some information can also be found online at http://www.arkonararat.com.
Alexander Koor was another reputable man whose story clearly places him on Turkey's Mount Ararat. A colonel in the White Russian Army in 1915, shortly before the Bolshevik Revolution, he confirmed the story of Russian flyers who had flown over the mountain and reported seeing an object buried in the ice. The Czar then commissioned two expeditions, one with 50 men and another with 100. Koor related that these expeditions found the Ark, took photographs and measurements, and made maps of the area. He stated that he saw their findings when they came down from the mountain. Unfortunately, the documentation sent back to the Czar was lost during the Bolshevik Revolution. Koor, however, vouched for the event as an eyewitness. Those who met him found him to be a man of sterling character, and could not imagine him lying about this matter.
Besides these two men – who, like Davis, did not bring attention to themselves to “cash in” on their stories, thereby increasing their credibility – Ark researcher Rex Geissler, on his website at http://www.noahsarksearch.com/Eyewitnesses.htm, has compiled a list of some 38 other eyewitness testimonies which almost unanimously point to Turkey's Mount Ararat as the location of the Ark. An honest scholar needs to deal with all of these testimonies in an upfront way, but to the best of my knowledge Cornuke has not done so. He only references Ed Davis, despite the Biblical injunction that we should have at least two or three witnesses for something to be considered a fact (Deut. 17:6, 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1).
If one looks over the Geissler list, a noteworthy pattern can be seen that deserves comment – the multiple alleged sightings during the 1940s by American servicemen during World War II. With the exception of Davis, all were from aircraft. Given that American planes were criss-crossing the entire area at that time supporting the war effort, a pointed question must be asked: Why is there not one single reputed aircraft sighting of an Ark candidate on any mountain other than Mount Ararat? Surely there were overflights of Mount Suleiman, Sabalon, Damavand and other peaks, both prominent and obscure, during this time – but there is not one single mention of a suspicious boat-like shape on any of them, only on Ararat. To me, that silence speaks volumes.
For the above and other reasons which space does not allow me to deal with, it appears that Bob Cornuke's "filters" have prevented him from dealing fairly with much information which does not fit into his "Ark in Iran" hypothesis. When such data are considered, they raise great doubt that he has found anything related to Noah's Ark on Takht-e Suleiman. I would love to see his find hold up to close scrutiny so it can be used as a witness to the world of the trustworthiness of the Bible, but if I – who, as a brother in Christ, am "on his team" – can come up with this many problems in identifying the find on Mount Suleiman with the Ark, we can be sure that an unfriendly, secular world full of dyed-in-the-wool skeptics will find many more reasons to reject it. The best I think he can hope for is that many will want to hear his story as an adventure tale – but that may be enough for him, an expected benefit of the aggressive promotion of the site at the beginning. I just hope that in view of the many problems that have come to light, he presents his audiences with the FULL story, warts and all.
Rick Lanser graduated with an M.Div. from Biblical Theological Seminary, and serves as Webmaster and Editorial Assistant on the ABR staff. The search for Noah's Ark is his passion.