Righting America

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Taking “Artistic License” with a Literal Word? | Righting America

by Susan Trollinger

As visitors move through the exhibits at Ark Encounter, they come upon placards that alert them to the fact that they are looking at an “artistic interpretation” or that the creators of the exhibit have taken “artistic license” with the content. For an enterprise so dedicated to a literal interpretation of the Bible that it saw fit to build a life-size ark, it is puzzling, to say the least, that “artistic interpretation” or “artistic license” played a role in the production of exhibits at Ark Encounter.

In our next post, we’ll address that puzzle. But first, we’d like to take a look at what AiG’s artistic interpretations and artistic licenses have yielded and how their creations compare to Genesis.

A placard titled “Artistic Interpretation” appears in an exhibit that depicts humans’ “Descent into Darkness” between the Fall and the Flood. The placard says that while the Bible tells us that “the pre-Flood world became extremely wicked . . . it provides little detail about the specific activities of the people.” Given that such information is missing, the placard continues, “[t]he remainder of this exhibit presents an artistic representation of what the world may have been like.”

The placard is right that Genesis doesn’t tell readers much about what human civilization was like prior to the Flood. There are just two chapters in Genesis between the Fall and the Flood, and together they spend more time on genealogies than anything else. Along the way, we do learn that the wickedness on the Earth included violence, corruption, and divine beings who had sex with human women producing giants as their offspring. That’s not a lot to go on, and the divine/human/giants story is just weird.

Via “artistic interpretation,” the exhibit offers quite a bit more detail. For instance, a wall-size artistic rendering of pre-Flood civilization depicts a scene in which men, who are bound at their hands and feet, are kneeling at the feet of giants who are holding spears. (Notably, no mention is made of the divine/human sex that brought forth these giants or the possible connection between God’s anger about that sex and the Flood. For more on this point, see Righting America 126-127.) Nearby, women ascend the stairs of another temple. At the top of the stairs is a fire in a large container and a gigantic statue of a cobra. A miniature diorama shows men and women playing instruments while other barely-dressed women dance for their male audiences. A second miniature diorama shows men and women holding infants as they ascend steps leading to a sacrificial altar.

In another exhibit about Noah’s life, a placard announces that “This exhibit provides a plausible backstory based on clues from Scripture to explain how the Lord may have prepared His faithful servant to fulfill such an important mission.” Here too, Genesis offers little in the way of details about Noah’s life prior to the Flood. All that it says is that his father was Lamech, his first son was born when Noah was 500 years old, he received instructions from God to build an ark, he did all that he was commanded, and he got his family and the animals onto the Ark.

According to Ark Encounter’s exhibit on Noah’s life, Noah

  • “clearly learned how to work with wood, and he may have also been trained to work with metals to make tools and braces for the construction of the Ark.”
  • He was “driven by a desire for adventure and a love for construction.”
  • He “traveled to a small port city where he became an apprentice shipwright.”
  • Along the way, “he learned blacksmithing and shipbuilding and eventually married the daughter of his employer.”

A third placard alerts visitors to the “artistic license” taken with the life-size dioramas of Noah’s family’s in their living quarters on the Ark. As before, the placard informs visitors that “the Bible tells us very little about Noah’s family.” A true word. All that Genesis says is that Noah and his wife (who is not named) had three sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The placard continues: “Since we don’t have a time machine, we can only make educated guesses about the looks, skills, and personality of each individual.”

Those “educated guesses” include such vivid details as the following:

  • Japheth was adventurous like Noah and looked forward to the end of the Flood so that he could “set out” into the world. He was also a successful farmer.
  • Shem exceled at taking care of animals and loved to talk to his mother, Emzara, about how to selectively breed them.
  • Ham was an especially gifted inventor of weapons, an ability he developed in response to a vicious animal attack that happened years ago.

Noah’s daughters-in-law reflect the physical characteristics of the three main people groups in the world. Japheth’s wife, Rayneh, looks European, while Shem’s wife, Ar’Yel, looks middle eastern, and Hams wife, Kezia, appears African. Also, Rayneh loves crafts. As a child, she was rescued by Noah, which is how she met Japheth. Ar’Yel, whose father made ships with Noah, enjoys deep discussions about God and what the world was like before it became wicked. Kazia “enjoys dressing up and looking her best” and also serves as the Ark’s “medical expert.” She came to know Ham as she treated his wounds after the vicious animal attack.

Wow! What interesting and vivid portraits of Noah, his family, and the wicked world that God had to punish. Such portraits certainly bring Noah, his family, and the pre-Flood civilization to life for visitors. But so much of this goes way beyond the biblical text. Does that make sense in a place dedicated to reading the Bible literally? Stay tuned . . .