Recently the newspapers and other media have had an ongoing story about a Dutch man who built a replica of Noah’s Ark (BBC News, April 29, 2007). The man’s work is truly amazing, with considerable attention to detail. The size, ratios, and structure of this massive monument have gotten a great deal of press and astounded many writers. At the end of 2010 Ken Ham announced that his organization, “Answers In Genesis,” is involved in a multi-million dollar project to build a replica of Noah’s Ark along Interstate 75 in Kentucky. This will be part of a theme park which they expect to bring in millions of visitors when completed.

ArkWe do not want to demean or minimize these projects in any way, but they are classic examples of westernizing the biblical account. As you look at this picture of this ark replica you see a very attractive ship. The boards that make up the ship are carefully cut, planed, and smoothed. They are fitted together beautifully and are carefully cut and sanded to fit in an attractive way. We have no way of knowing when the Flood occurred, but suppose we accept the traditional date of 5,700 years ago even though 9,000 to 12,000 years ago is more reasonable. What kind of tools were available? How was wood cut and used? Copper was used as a metal somewhere around 2,500 B.C., but smoothing, sanding, nailing and other processing of wood was a long way off. The hundred years of work by Noah takes on a different meaning if you realize that modern tools were not available when he did his construction.

The problem of westernizing the biblical account comes up in a variety of ways. We read about houses in the Bible and assume that the dwelling places were like the ones in which we live. The fact is that most people lived in houses with dirt floors, had no solid doors or windows, and had a leaky roof. In Mark 2:4 when the palsied man was lowered through a hole made in the roof, making an opening in a roof was fairly easy to do in that day. Sweeping to find a lost coin (Luke 15:8 – 9) makes sense when you understand how the houses were made. In Luke 11:5 – 8 we see the story of the man who refused a traveler because he was “closed in” for the night. The notion of just throwing open a door was not possible in the construction of that day. All hygienic issues of cleaning and washing in Bible times were far more complicated than most of us care to imagine.

Travel in the day of Jesus was far more laborious than today. No one could travel from point A to point B without adequate preparation. Most people traveled on foot and in groups because of the heavy crime rate on the open road. The man in the story of the good Samaritan being beaten and robbed by thieves was all too familiar to most people. Roads were poor and few in number, being either ruts or Roman cobbled. The story of the Ethiopian Eunuch reading a scroll while riding in a chariot (Acts 8:26 – 39) shows he was an eager student of the Bible, studying in austere conditions. Boats were nothing like what we are familiar with in the Western world. Many boats were made of reeds, and some boats were more like rafts. Jesus sleeping in the bottom of the ship in Luke 8:22 – 25 is even more incredible when you realize what that ship was probably like.

We have a very westernized view of how agriculture was carried on in biblical times. Modern plows, cultivators, fertilizers, and herbicides were not involved in growing crops. A hoe was a stick with a limb on it. Sowing or planting was totally done by manual methods. Fishing was done with nets and was very slow and labor intensive.

Modern medicine has caused us to have some misguided views of medicine in ancient times. There were no antibiotics or miracle drugs, and infection and water-borne illnesses were common, frequently ending in death. Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23 to use wine to assist fighting off a stomach problem. Proverbs 31:6 suggests that pain killers in that day were limited and ineffective, especially in old age maladies. Quarantine was a major medical tool and oil was used as a soothing help to many illnesses (see James 5:14). Even relatively minor injuries could be life-threatening, and death was so common that average life expectancy in Jesus’ time was in the early thirties.

We take many things for granted in our lives, and assume that people in the ancient times had the same quality of life we do. The reality is that as we better understand how they lived and how hard their life was, we get a better picture of how much Christianity has improved the lives of everyone on the planet.
--John N. Clayton

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