Noah’s Ark: Josephus, Earlier Historians, & Church Fathers

Noah’s Ark: Josephus, Earlier Historians, & Church Fathers March 16, 2022

Early Witnesses of the Ark Resting on Jabel (Mt.) Judi

My treatments of a suggested local Mesopotamian Flood, c. 2900 (identical to Noah’s Flood) have included analysis of a different landing-spot for the ark: other than the currently named “Mount Ararat” in Turkey. In my article, Local Flood & Atheist Ignorance of Christian Thought (7-2-21), I cited geologist Carol A. Hill:

[T]he Bible does not actually pinpoint the exact place where the ark landed, it merely alludes to a region or range of mountains where the ark came to rest: the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4). Ararat is the biblical name for Urartu (Isa. 37:38) as this area was known to the ancient Assyrians. This mountainous area, geographically centered around Lake Van and between Lake Van and Lake Urmia (Fig. 1), was part of the ancient region of “Armenia” (not limited to the country of Armenia today). “Mountain” in Gen. 8:4 is plural; therefore, the Bible does not specify that the ark landed on the highest peak of the region (Mount Ararat), only that the ark landed somewhere on the mountains or highlands of Armenia (both “Ararat” and “Urartu” can be translated as “highlands”). In biblical times, “Ararat” was actually the name of a province (not a mountain), as can be seen from its usage in 2 Kings 19:37: “… some escaped into the land of Ararat” and Jer. 51:27: “… call together against her (Israel) the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Askkenaz …” . . . 

Only in the eleventh and twelfth centuries AD did the focus of investigators begin to shift toward Mount Ararat as the ark’s final resting place, and only by the end of the fourteenth century AD does it seem to have become a fairly well established tradition. Before this, both Islamic and Christian tradition held that the landing place of the ark was on Jabel Judi, a mountain located about 30 miles (48 km) northeast of the Tigris River near Cizre, Turkey. (“The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?” (Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 54, Number 3, September 2002)

Jabel Judi is 6,854 feet in elevation. The current Mt. Ararat wasn’t even known by that name until the Middle Ages (see more on its names in Wikipedia).

I returned to this theme a week later in my article, Local Mesopotamian Flood: An Apologia (7-9-21), where I wrote:

The biblical text doesn’t require the ark resting on top of a mountain. It says “came to rest upon the mountains of Ar’arat.” Ararat was a region, and it is where the traditional ark resting place (in Christian thinking prior to the 11th century) is located: just north of the Mesopotamian floodplain where the hills and mountains begin.

I can’t follow all the science and math (it gets very technical), but for those who can, it should be an even more fascinating read. A topographical map of the area (“Cudi Dagi” is Jabel Judi or Mt. Judi) shows how the hills and mountains abruptly begin. Thus it makes perfect sense for a boat that came from southern Mesopotamia, floating on massive floodwaters, to land at the first higher elevation landforms that it runs into.

Today I got to thinking: “if this was the early tradition for well over a thousand years, do we know if anyone ever saw or searched for the ark in that area or on that particular mountain peak, if identified?” Today, the only searches seem to be undertaken on Mt. Ararat, by Christian fundamentalists who believe in a global Flood and waters that rose up to some 15-16,000 feet above sea level at Mt. Ararat and over 29,000 feet above elevation at Mt. Everest.

It turns out that there are mentions of seeing Noah’s Ark in this other region. The most notable person who refers to it is none other than the eminent Roman Jewish historian  Josephus (c. 37-c. 100):

[T]he Armenians call this place,. . . The Place of Descent; for the ark being saved in that place, its remains are shown there by the inhabitants to this day.

6. Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood, and of this ark; among whom is Berosus the Chaldean. For when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: “It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs.” Hieronymus the Egyptian also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same. Nay, Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them; where he speaks thus: “There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved.

[Footnote 16 from translator William Whiston: This . . . Place of Descent, is the proper rendering of the Armenian name of this very city. It is called in Ptolemy Naxuana, and by Moses Chorenensis, the Armenian historian, Idsheuan; but at the place itself Nachidsheuan, which signifies The first place of descent, and is a lasting monument of the preservation of Noah in the ark, upon the top of that mountain, at whose foot it was built, as the first city or town after the flood. See Antiq. B. XX. ch. 2. sect. 3; and Moses Chorenensis, who also says elsewhere, that another town was related by tradition to have been called Seron, or, The Place of Dispersion, on account of the dispersion of Xisuthrus’s or Noah’s sons, from thence first made. Whether any remains of this ark be still preserved, as the people of the country suppose, I cannot certainly tell.] (Book I, ch. 3, sections 5-6; my blue coloring and bolding)

Berosus (or, Berossus) was a Hellenistic-era Babylonian astronomer and historian active in the early 3rd century BC. Mnaseas was a Greek historian of the late 3rd century BC, who lived in Cappadocia (present-day Turkey). Nicolaus of Damascus was a Jewish historian and philosopher who was born around 64 BC and lived till at least 4 AD.

So that’s three known ancient historians (whom historian Josephus uses as sources) who refer to remains of the ark and people not only seeing it, but taking away specimens of it, including bitumen (pitch), which the Bible mentioned as being used in its construction (Gen 6:14; see also my article, Tower of Babel, Baked Bricks, Bitumen, & Archaeology (Also, Archaeological Verification of Sufficiently Available Bitumen and Wood for the Building of Noah’s Ark) (8-26-21) ).

S. C. Compton, an academic and explorer who has actually climbed Jabel Judi and taken pictures of what he believes to be the remains of Noah’s ark (see his remarkable web page) wrote that “The ancient Babylonians report cutting off pieces of the Ark to use as magical amulets” and that “The Assyrian emperor Sennacherib climbed this mountain in 699 BC and was said to have had idols carved from the Ark.” [see Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, folio 96a].

Some believe that in 537 AD, the Christian emperor Justinian used its wood to make the doors of his great cathedral, Hagia Sophia [in Constantinople; present-day Istanbul] and that in the seventh century, Caliph Umar “took the Ark from the two mountains and made it into a mosque.” Arab historian Al-Masudi (d. 956), reported that the place where the ark rest could still be seen in his time.

As for Berosus referring to “the mountain of the Cordyaeans”: that has to do with Corduene: “an ancient historical region, located south of Lake Van, present-day eastern Turkey.” The Wikipedia page on it states:

This region is traditionally identified with the landing site in Deluge mythology. In the targumim, Noah’s landing place after the flood is given as ‘Qadron’ or ‘Qardu’.[13][14] Jacob Neusner identifies the targumim’s locations with Corduene.[15] According to the Aggadah, Noah landed in Corduene in Armenia. . . .

Footnotes:

(13) “Targum Jonathan Genesis 8:4”Sefaria.org.

(14) “Targum Onkelos Genesis 8:4”Sefaria.org

(15) Jacob Neusner, The Jews in Pagan Armenia, Journal of the American Oriental Society, pp.230-240, 1964, p.233.

Jabel Judi is near Cizre, Turkey. The Wikipedia location coordinates (use Google Maps / map) for the location of ancient Corduene, shows the center of that region to be about 50 miles east and slightly north of Cizre, while it is about 160 miles south southwest of Mt. Ararat, which is, on this map, between Dogubeyazit and Artashat. So it seems possible that “the mountain of the Cordyaeans” might be Jabel Judi or a peak near it, and this particular historical evidence from the early 3rd century BC doesn’t suggest Mt. Ararat at all.

The article, “Ararat” in the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia (1880) offers much fascinating historical information:

The earliest tradition fixed on one of the chain of mountains which separate Armenia on the south from Mesopotamia, and which, as they also enclose Kurdistan, the land of the Kurds, obtained the name of the Kardu or Carduchian range, corrupted into Gordiaean and Cordymean. This opinion prevailed among the Chaldeans, . . .

Hence we are prepared to find the tradition adopted by the Chaldee paraphrasts, as well as by the Syriac translators and commentators, and all the Syrian churches. In the three texts where “Ararat” occurs, the Targum of Onkelos has קִרדּוּ, Kardu; and, according to Buxtorf, the term “Kardyan” was in Chaldee synonymous with “Armenian.” At Ge 8:4, the Arabic of Erpenius has Jebel el-Karud (the Mountain of the Kurds), which is likewise found in the “Book of Adam” of the Zabaeans. For other proofs that this was the prevalent opinion among the Eastern Churches, the reader may consult Eutychius (Annals) and Epiphanius (Hoeres. 18). It was no doubt from this source that it was borrowed by Mohammed, who in his Koran (11:46) says “The ark rested on the mountain Al-Judi.”

That name was probably a corruption of Giordi. i.e. Gordiaean (the designation given to the entire range), but afterward applied to the special locality where the ark was supposed to have rested. . . .

The historian [George] Elmacin [1205-1273] mentions that the [Byzantine] Emperor Heraclius [c. 575-641] went up, and visited this as “the place of the ark.” Here, or in the neighborhood, was once a famous Nestorian monastery —” the Monastery of the Ark,” destroyed by lightning in A.D. 776 . . .

The selection of this range was natural to an inhabitant of the Mesopotamian plain; for it presents an apparently insurmountable barrier on that side, hemming in the valley of the Tigris with abrupt declivities so closely that only during the summer months is any passage afforded between the mountain and river (Ainsworth’s Travels in track of the Ten Thousand, p. 154).

Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 235) wrote: [B]oth the dimensions and relics of this ark are, as we have explained, shown to this day in the mountains called Ararat, which are situated in the direction of the country of the Adiabeni” (Refutation of All Heresies, Book X, ch. 26). Adiabene was in this same region that contained Jabel Judi, as a map proves.

Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 160-c. 240) stated that “we know” that the mountain on which the ark landed was “in Parthis” (Chronography, 4). The Parthian Empire included Gordyene (next to Adiabene), where Jabel Judi is located (see a map of it).

Eusebius (c. 260/265-339), the great Church historian, cited Josephus in agreement.

Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (c. 310–320-403) wrote: “even today the remains of Noah’s ark are still shown in Cardyaei” (Panarion, Book I, Section I, 18). Others translate that as the “country of the Kurds.” Kurdistan in in the same general area of Cizre and Jabel Judi (see the Google Map of its location).

Eutychius, Patriarch of Alexandria (877-940) stated that “the Ark rested on the mountains of Ararat, that is Jabal Judi . . .”

This is the early Christian tradition (which followed existing Greek and Jewish and even Assyrian / Babylonian historical traditions), that held for over a millennium. So if we want primitive history regarding the landing-place of the ark: this is it: on Jabel Judi or at least in its range of mountains, some 200 miles away from the present Mt. Ararat.

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Photo credit: Noah’s Ark (1846), by Edward Hicks (1780-1849) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: I detail how Josephus & other early historians and Church fathers bear witness to the view that Noah’s Ark came to rest on Jabel Judi, not the present Mt. Ararat.


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