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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Noah's Ark: Not exactly a zoo

Islamic depiction of Noah's Ark
Many zoos today are named “Noah’s Ark.”  Is this entirely a misnomer, or are similarities valid enough to warrant such an association?

According to Genesis 6, Noah was an exceedingly righteous person – as compared to others of his time.  Therefore, God entrusted him – not only with the continuation of the human race, but also with the continuation of the animal kingdom.  Genesis does not really give many specifics as to how Noah was able to insure the health and survival of all these animals.

That’s where the Rabbinic Midrash comes in.  Some stories credit Noah with round-the-clock, zookeeper-like duties.  These same stories say that Noah was therefore unable to sleep for his entire floating tour of duty.  In answer to the many questions regarding why the animals didn’t have one another (or Noah) for dinner, Midrash tells us that these animals were also exceedingly well-behaved as compared to others of their time.  As for the, ahem, “refuse” – Midrash is still divided as to whether it was stored on one of the ark’s three decks, or shoveled regularly into the sea.

The story of Noah’s Ark is also featured in Christianity, Islam, and the Bah’ai Faith.  These versions also focus far more upon themes of human righteousness than they do upon themes of zoological ethics.  Christianity often compares Noah’s Ark to the overall Church.  The Latter-Day Saints consider Noah to be the archangel Gabriel’s mortal incarnation.  Islam ranks Noah as one of the five great prophets.  The Bah’ai Faith views Noah as a symbol of spiritual vitality.

Perhaps, then, naming a zoo “Noah’s Ark” could be running the gamut from ridiculous to blasphemous.  Unless zookeepers are touched by angels on a regular basis, the comparison seems fraught with arrogance.  However, Dr. Stephen Miller of the North Carolina Zoo might beg to differ.  He states that many zoos are also keeping animals from going extinct.  He claims:  We are preserving elephants so that your kids can see them in 20 years.  If we don’t, one more generation and you won’t be able to see them.


Copyright January 29, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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