(I’m forced to place the word literally in quotation marks here because it is the word they insist on using, although what they mean by it is far from clear.) Both sorts of literalists approach these stories with the same incomprehension as that of people who don’t understand jokes. They’re even more infuriating when you’re trying to tell a really important story. But the truth of the story about Noah’s ark has nothing to do with exactly how long a cubit was, what sort of wood is meant by “gopher wood,” or what happened to all the poop.Noah’s ark is a story about the dangers of selfishness, about the importance of being good to one another, and ultimately of honoring our ancestors.And sometimes, problematic stories are the best ones, since you need to think about them more, and reward careful consideration.Do you know what real good you could accomplish with your money?Instead of gambling it away on the hope that you’ll find Noah’s Ark on a mountain where it can’t possibly be?So Fox News breathlessly reported that Chinese researchers had found Noah’s ark. Say what you will about creationists, some of them have genuine critical thinking skills. Wood assumes that magic things happened to radioisotopes during the Flood, so wood from before the Flood should, like dinosaur bones and pre Cambrian fossils, have an apparent age of millions of years old. Wood later reported on comments by someone who tagged along on some of the Ark expeditions and absolutely debunked the story. You know, creationists give evolutionists a hard time over hoaxes like Piltdown, but frankly, we’ve got just as many skeletons in our closet.
It’s also about the patriarchal society of the era in which it was written down, a culture in which the sins of the father pass to the children, and in which Noah’s religious devotion could save not only himself, but his family, just as Lot’s goodness (including a willingness to offer his virgin daughters to be raped by a mob to save a guest) was sufficient to save his family.In other words, a good story, but also a problematic one.