Noah built an ark … in Kentucky (Updated)

The headline on a Los Angeles Times opinion piece, of all things, tells the story best:

They paved Kentucky and put up a Noah’s ark

That’s right, folks. A for-profit company is reaching deep into the biblical archives — all the way back to Genesis, in fact — to build a theme park featuring a “full-size replica” of the ark, as The New York Times reported.

How big is a full-size replica? Um, for reasons that will be explained later, the Times apparently did not have room to include such details. But Genesis 6:14-16 contains these instructions by God to Noah:

14Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

15And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.

16A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.

That’s from the King James Version of the Bible. I’m typically a New International Version guy, but the NIV refers to “cypress wood.” My Sunday school classmates and I learned at an early age that Noah used “gopher wood,” as the KJV accurately reports.

You can imagine the kind of questions that reporters asked at the news conference announcing this project:

Will you use authentic gopher wood or a different kind of wood in this project?

– What is pitch, and how will it affect the construction process?

– How many feet are in a cubit?

– Will your ark only have one door and one window for all the animals and tourists? And if so, will this create fire-code concerns?

– Given that it took Noah an estimated 100 years to complete the ark, why are you confident you can finish the project in just 36 months?

I jest, I jest, although maybe a Godbeat pro did ask a few of those questions.

But based on the media coverage I have seen, I suspect that most of the questions related to separation of church and state — or, if you prefer, separation of church and synagogue. Alas, this is America, where there is always a political angle to ruin a perfectly good religion story.

Again, I jest, I jest.

In this case, plans for the state to provide generous tourism tax incentives to the ark entrepreneurs have dominated the news coverage, much to the chagrin of folks — or maybe I’m the only one — intrigued by the idea of the ark itself.

The New York Times piece did include a few juicy details such as this:

In the interest of verisimilitude, the ark is to be built with wooden pegs and timber framing by Amish builders, Mr. Zovath said. Animals including giraffes — but only small, young giraffes — will be kept in pens on board.

“We think that God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals that weren’t fully grown yet, so there would be plenty of room,” said Mr. Zovath, a retired Army lieutenant colonel heading the ark project. “We want to show how Noah would have taken care of them, taken care of waste management, taken care of water needs and food needs.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader provided this information on the dimensions:

The centerpiece of the proposed park is a 500-foot-by-75-foot wooden ark built to replicate the biblical Noah’s Ark.

And the Herald-Leader also included this:

The ark will be made of various types of wood and capable of floating.

From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Ark Encounter, which will feature a 500-foot-long wooden replica of Noah’s Ark containing live animals such as juvenile giraffes, is projected to cost $150 million and create 900 jobs, Beshear announced at a Capitol press conference.

I really liked the lede on The Associated Press’ ark story:

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Modern-day investors want to do in three years what took Noah and his sons more than 100 years to do: Build an ark to the dimensions specified in the Bible.

Mike Zovath, co-founder of the Answers in Genesis ministry that opened the Creation Museum in Kentucky three years ago, said Wednesday he believes the full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark will draw some 1.6 million visitors a year to the Bible belt city of Williamstown.

The mission of the project, Zovath said, is to lend credence to the biblical account of a catastrophic flood and to dispel doubts that Noah could have fit two of every kind of animal onto a 500-foot-long ark.

There, in the first sentence, the AP writer answered a key question: whether the ark would conform to biblical dimensions. That’s a crucial question, in my opinion. And in the third graf, the AP gives the exact length: 500 feet.

Don’t misunderstand me: The church-state debate is an key element of this story. So is the clash of “mainstream scientific thought” against “the biblical account of the Earth’s creation in six days.”

But future news accounts could benefit — in an ark-sized way — from a few more details about the massive wooden boat at the center of this flood of controversy.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    The church-state debate is a key element of this story.

    Taxpayer money is going to be used to subsidize this project and that is rightly the subject of controversy.

    I do also have the “exact replica” questions, but that is very much secondary to me compared with the church-state issue.

  • Zoomie

    Just think, this is reflective of the original “Habitat for Humanity” project. What better thing for the gov’t to be involved in?

  • Adam Gonnerman

    Another Christian-themed theme park, so Christians can be secure among themselves and not have to engage culture or address real-world concerns.


  • Bobby

    Adam, welcome to GetReligion. I suspect you got here via my Facebook or Twitter link and are not familiar with the site. Basically, GR is all about critiquing the media’s coverage of religion news. We tend not to allow comments that want to debate religion or politics but require comments to focus on the media and journalistic issues. That approach keeps us on target.

    Alas, I know you and your sharp mind, so I’d love for you to stop by more often. I just wanted to make sure you were familiar with what we’re all about.

    And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know … :-)

  • Crevo Press

    No tax money is going to be used to pay for or build this project. Another media distortion.

    See the official website for details about the Ark.

    Ark Encounter

    Particularly one of the FAQs:

    Yes, we are constructing a full-scale, all-wood ark based on the dimensions provided in the Bible (Genesis 6), using the long cubit, and in accordance with sound established nautical engineering practices of the era. It should become the largest timber-frame structure in the USA.


  • Ben


    Didn’t the AP piece say 500-foot-long in the third graf? Are you just frustrated they didn’t give the width? It’s a boat, so one can kind of guess based on the length.

  • Bobby


    I just totally missed that reference to 500-foot-long. My bad, and I really appreciate you pointing it out. I have updated the post to delete that concern. I wouldn’t complain about more specificity (such as height and width), but I don’t see a need to criticize the way it’s written now.

  • Dave

    I don’t have that Plain Dealer at hand, but I recall a mention of some kind of tax break for this project, which is expected to generate 900 jobs.

  • Bobby


    I think the distinction the earlier commenter is making is between giving tax money to the project and giving tax incentives to the project (in other words, taxes that won’t have to be paid). I think the argument is whether this is endorsing a particular religion by giving preferential treatment or endorsing tourism without discriminating against religion (by giving the same sort of tax breaks a NASCAR track would receive, for example).

  • Dave

    Bobby, I well understand the distinction. I lived most of my life in Cuyahoga County OH and watch the process leach revenue left and right. It still means more taxes gathered from others, just as though there had been direct support. As to whether there’s a disctinction in terms of the Establishment Clause, that’s why Supreme Court lawyers drive nicer cars than we do.

  • Bobby

    Hey Dave, speak for yourself. My minivan only has 186,000 miles on it. :-)

  • gfe

    Pretty much all the news articles I read played the story pretty straight, although it would have been easy and tempting to take cheap shots toward the folks putting this project together. And at least two of the articles quoted attorneys defending the constitutional aspects of the project even though they were representing groups (the ACLU and American Atheists) that could be skeptical of the group’ message.