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Monday, 14 October 2013

The temple of Nisroch, his god

And it happened as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons*, struck him with the sword and delivered themselves into the land of Ararat. And Esar Haddon his son reigned in his place.
--Isaiah 37:38, translation of the Masoretic Text ('his sons' is a marginal reading in 2 Kings 19:37)

Now, there's a problem with this account: Nisroch is not known as a member of the Assyrian pantheon. He seems to be a personal deity of Sennacherib. It turns out, however, that there is an account in Jewish tradition that identifies Nisroch and ties into another unusual name in this passage--Ararat.

Ararat (Armenia in the KJV, but that's a paraphrase, not an interpretation or transliteration) is, as we know, the biblical location of Noah's Ark. What is known today as the Mountains of Ararat (Greater Ararat and its subpeak Lesser Ararat) turns out to have been given that name because of a relatively recent association with the account of Noah's Ark. It's Turkish toponym is Agri Dagh.

On the other hand, the word 'Nisroch' is associated with another location entirely, and one with widespread ancient association both with the story of Noah and with artifacts of the ark itself: Cudi Dagh, some 200 miles southwest of Agri Dagh,.

Gordon Franz tells the story:
In Tractate Sanhedrin, Rabbi Papa (ca. AD 300-375) recounts a story about Sennacherib, king of Assyria, finding a piece of wood from Noah’s Ark. It states: “He [Sennacherib] then went away and found a plank of Noah’s ark. ‘This’, said he, ‘must be the great God who saved Noah from the flood. If I go [to battle] and am successful, I will sacrifice my two sons to thee’, he vowed. But his sons heard this, so they killed him, as it is written, And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adram-melech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword.” This story is recounted in Louis Ginzberg’s classic work, Legends of the Jews, and implies that this is a legendary account. One reason it might have been considered a legend is because Sennacherib was never on, or near, the modern-day Mount Ararat (Agri Dagh). Yet there are plausible historical reasons to believe this story is true and not legendary.
There are three lines of arguments that suggest the historical plausibility of this event. First: at one point in his life, Sennacherib was on the mountain in the Land of Ararat where tradition and ancient history say Noah’s Ark landed. Second: he learned of the story of Noah’s Ark from some Israelites or Judeans with whom he had contact. Third--the strongest--: the temple of Nisroch was dedicated to a plank of wood from Noah’s Ark.

Bill Crouse, president of Christian Information ministry, was one of four plenary papers at the beginning of the conference. His paper was: “Five Reasons for Rejecting Agri Dagh as the Ark’s Final Resting Place and Five Reasons Why it Did Land on Cudi Dagh.” His five reasons for why it did not land on Agri Dagh, the traditional site of Mount Ararat, are:
(1) The early ancient sources do not mention Agri Dagh as the landing site of Noah’s Ark,
(2) Agri Dagh is a volcanic mountain and was never submerged under water, and thus it was formed after the Flood and could not be the landing site of the Ark,
(3) Geographically, the peaks of “Greater Ararat” and “Lesser Ararat” are not located in the “Mountains of Ararat,” but rather, in a plain,
(4) The “eye-witness” accounts [of the Ark at Agri Dagh] are unreliable, and
(5) Thus far, after 60 plus years of [scientific] searching, nothing has ever been found there.

The five reasons Bill believes the Ark landed on Cudi Dagh are:
(1) There is a consensus of diverse ancient sources that place the landing site of the Ark in the area of Cudi Dagh, including pagan, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sources,
(2) Diverse groups of pilgrims have visited the site for over at least two thousand years,
(3) There are olive trees in the area of Cudi Dagh (cf. Gen. 8:10), but none in the area of Agri Dagh,
(4) Possible archaeological remains have been discovered on the top of Cudi Dagh, including wood that has asphalt on both sides (cf. Gen. 6:14), 9-12 inch nails/spikes (cf. Gen. 4:22), and other objects found in the area of the landing site, and
(5) Cudi Dagh is a much more accessible mountain for disembarking from the Ark.

To conclude:
1. The identification of Agri Dagh as "Mount Ararat" is based on legends of the Ark being seen there, and the biblical identification of "The Mountains of Ararat" as the Ark's final resting place. Thus, Agri Dagh needed to be thoroughly searched by scientific expeditions (especially during the most recent global warming cycle that culminated in 2012) in order to ensure that the Ark was, or was not, present there. The verdict is in that the Ark is not there in any way that is accessible to science. Thus it is now reasonable to search for it elsewhere.
2. Cudi Dagh ("Mount Judy") is identified as the Ark's final resting place in all ancient accounts that specify a geographically identifiable mountain. Since it is not nearly as inaccessible as Agri Dagh, it is possible that no more of the ark remains to casual view. Thus what is needed to further the science of Arkeology is a systematic archeological excavation of Cudi Dagh in search of evidence that the Ark once rested there.

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