That the biblical account does not actually name a specific mountain has led different proposals as to where Noah’s ark actually landed.
Randall W. Younker
One of the great stories of western civilization is the story of the great Flood and how Noah and his family survived it in a large vessel known as the ark. The story appears in Genesis 6–8. According to this sacred text, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. In Hebrew, the word hārê has been interpreted either as a plural noun (“mountains”) or an adjective (“mountainous”). “Mountains” is the more common translation. Speiser translates it as the “Ararat range,”1 which would still support the idea of a plurality of mountains named Ararat.
However, some scholars believe that hārê ’arārāt may be a nuanced expression that still points to a particular mountain. Keil and Delitzsch understood the plural form “mountains of Ararat”—to refer to the two peaks of today’s Ağrı Dağı/Masis in eastern Turkey—often referred to as Greater Ararat and Lesser Ararat.2 If they are correct in their proposal, then the candidates for the ark’s landing place are greatly reduced, with Ağrı Dağı and its dominant double peaks being the most obvious choice.
Victor Hamilton is another commentator who sees the expression hārê ’arārāt as referring to a single mountain. Hamilton acknowledges that the straightforward, literal reading of the Hebrew is commonly understood as “the mountains of Ararat”3—a point that is regularly emphasized by most commentators. However, Hamilton argues that it is possible that the expression could be understood as plural, such as found in Genesis 21:7, in which sons refers to only one son, Isaac. If so, then the plural could be used as singular, which would read, “[one of] the mountains of Ararat.”4 This would still not provide the proper name of the mountain, but could indicate that the Hebrew author was aware that other ancient traditions such as Gilgamesh had designated a specific mountain. Indeed, the fact that the Genesis flood narrative follows that of the Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh Epic so closely makes it difficult to conceive that the Hebrew author was unaware of the names of the two significant mountains associated with the flood hero and the flood mentioned in the Gilgamesh narrative.
Regardless of whether the term hārê ’arārāt can be understood as a single mountain, scholars have long recognized that the Hebrew name “Ararat” and its Akkadian cognate, “Urartu,” is a geographical term for a mountainous area in what would later be known as the Anatolian or Armenian Highlands in southeast Turkey. Thus, even if the actual mountain is not named, the Hebrew writer understood that the ark landed somewhere within this mountainous area.
The Name of the Mountain of the Ark’s Landing
The fact that the biblical account does not actually name a single, specific mountain has led different individuals through the ages to propose various candidates for the mountain where Noah’s ark actually landed. Lloyd R. Bailey lists over half a dozen of the better-known candidates for the biblical landing place of the ark.5 However, of these proposals, two have emerged in recent times as the more popular among Western scholars. These are: (1) the mountain in the province of Corduena/Gordyae known as Jebel Djudi (Mt. Judi) southwest of Lake Van; and (2) Ağrı Dağı/Masis in the Armenian Highlands northeast of Lake Van. Of these two locations, it seems the current consensus of scholarship favors the identification of biblical Ararat with Mt. Judi.
Jebel Djudi (Mt. Judi) as Biblical Ararat
The Jebel Djudi (Mt. Judi) option is thought to be the older tradition, going back to at least the early third century B.C. Babylonian Bel-Marduk priest, Berossus. His flood story identifies the hero who builds the ark and survives the flood as Xisuthros, a Greek translation of the Sumerian flood hero, Ziusudra. This would indicate that the principal ancient source used by Berossus was some version of the Sumerian creation-flood story rather than the Atraḫasīs Epic/Gilgamesh Epic, in which the hero is called Atraḫasīs or Utnapishtim. It is Berossus who first claims that the ark landed on the “Gordyaean mountains of Armenia,” that is, Mt. Judi.6
It seems, then, that it was Berossus’ third century B.C. version of the flood, written in koine Greek, that would be picked up by Greek-speaking Syrian Jews and later, in the fourth century A.D., the Syrian and other eastern Christians, all of whom allowed Berossus’ third century B.C. Flood story to inform them as to the location of the ark’s landing place on Mt. Judi. Hence, numerous Jewish and Christian writers such as Flavius Josephus and Eusebius cited the Berossus version of the flood as a parallel for Genesis.
The Syrian and Eastern Jewish and Christian tradition of Mt. Judi, in turn, would be picked up and adapted by the Muslims, appearing in the Qur’an (11:44). Thus, the Mt. Judi (alternately spelled Cudi) identification as the landing place of the Ark came to dominate Jewish and Christian understanding until the 12th century A.D. when Mt. Ağrı Dağı/Masis became increasingly more acceptable. Yet even with the increasing popularity of Mt. Ağrı Dağı/Masis as the biblical Mt. Ararat, Mt. Judi remains the favorite candidate for Mt. Ararat among scholars.
The tradition, then, for Mt. Judi is no older than the third century B.C. It can be traced to Berossus, whose own work is based on the Sumerian flood account. However, the name Judi itself, does not appear in the early accounts of Sumer; rather, it is a later addition by Berossus; it is important to note that the name Judu simply means “great” mountain.
The History of Mount Masis/Ağrı Dağı and Māšu
Mount Masis (Turkish Ağrı Dağı), on the other hand, is thought by most scholars to have not been a serious candidate for biblical Mt. Ararat until around the 11th to 12th centuries A.D. However, the name, Mt. Masis, seems to have an ancient history—much older than Mt. Judi. Masis is an Armenian name whose earliest appearance in written form is probably by Movses Khorenatsi—the same fifth-century Armenian historian who names Mt. Judi as the landing place of the ark.7 However, while there are different opinions about Masis’ etymology and origin, there seems to be general agreement that the Armenian Masis is linguistically related to (if not derived from) the much older Akkadian name for this same mountain, Māšu (which means “twin”—clearly a reference to the two peaks of the mountain). Māšu is, of course, the name of the mountain to which, according to the Gilgamesh Epic Tablet IX (circa 13th–10th century B.C.), Gilgamesh travels to meet the flood hero, Utnapishtim, in hopes of learning the secret of eternal life. Many other details related to the flood story are included in Gilgamesh. Moreover, there is no question that the flood story that appears in the Gilgamesh Epic (Tablet XI, lines 1–203) was derived from the flood story that appears in the earlier Atrahasīs Epic (Tablet III), which is dated to circa 1600 B.C. So, Mt. Ağrı Dağı/Māšu/Masis has an ancient tradition connected with the flood.
Mountains of Ararat
The Hebrew Scripture mentions the landing place of the ark as being on the mountains (plural) of Ararat (jr"(r"a] yrEîh') (Genesis 8:4) or one of the mountains of Ararat. The Hebrew Scriptures provide no additional information about Ararat other than it was a land north of Assyria (2 Kings 19:37; Isa. 37:38; Jer. 51:27). Since Ararat/Urartu is predominately, if not entirely, a mountainous geographic region, the expression “mountains of Ararat” is not much help in locating the actual landing place of the Ark, the expression being too generalized.
However, there is an indirect way of isolating within the mountains of Ararat the approximate location where the Hebrew writer understood the ark to have landed when one realizes that the spatial parameters of Ararat/Urartu changed through time and that early Ararat/Urartu was relatively restricted geographically at the time it first appears in extra-biblical sources; it then expanded through time eventually to encompass a fairly large region. Thus, if one can date the time when the Hebrew expression, “mountains of Ararat” was written, then one can correlate that expression with the actual geographic boundaries for Urartu that existed at that same time.
The Changing Boundaries of Urartu
Urartu8 is an Assyrian-derived exonym for a geographic region originally centered on the mountainous area northeast of Lake Van in what would be later known as the Armenian Highlands and is today known as eastern Anatolia.
The fact is, the boundaries of Urartu were not static. Rather, they changed through time, as did the meaning of Urartu; the term Urartu changed from being a merely geographic reference to the high, mountainous region northeast of Lake Van to a broader, geo-political entity completely surrounding Van. The more restricted boundaries of the early kingdom of Urartu are reflected in archaeological discoveries and ancient literary references. As Mack Chahin notes, “Urartian territory was at first confined between the banks of the River Arsanias (Murad su [= east Euphrates]) and the northern and eastern shores of Lake Van.”9 This included the mountainous region that overlooked the Murad su to the north and east of Van. This mountainous area, which forms an irregular U-shaped band of mountains, is distinguished by possessing the highest mountains in Turkey, having well over a dozen peaks rising more than over 3,000 meters in height—with Ağrı Dağı rising above them all at 5,165 meters. It was within this restricted mountainous region that the tribal chiefdoms of geographic Urartu (while they were still part of the Nairi confederation of the Late Bronze Age) began to consolidate.
The term first appears in records from Assyrian King Shalmanesser I (1275–1245 B.C.) in which he describes a military campaign to the territory northeast of Lake Van where he encountered the lands of eight ununited tribes. Shalmanesser I describes the collective territory of these eight tribes as “Uruatri,” an early form of Urartu: “At that time, at the beginning of my viceregency, the land Uruatri rebelled against me. I prayed to the god Aššur and the great gods, my lords. I mustered my troops (and) marched up to the mass of their mighty mountains. I conquered Himme, Uatqun, Mašgun (or Bargun), Salua, Halila, Luhu, Nilipahri (or Zallipahri) and Zingun—eight lands and their fighting forces; fifty-one of their cities I destroyed, burnt, (and) carried off their cities people and property. I subdued all of the land Uruatri in three days at the feet of Aššur, my lord. I took a selection of their young men (and) I chose them to enter my service. I imposed upon them (the conquered regions) heavy tribute of the mountains forever.”10
Although the Urartu tribes seem to have consolidated, their unified territory seems to have remained a part or subset of a larger tribal confederation known as “Nairi.” The precise size and boundaries of Nairi are difficult to determine—probably because membership in the confederation changed through time resulting in changing boundaries. On the whole, however, those Nairi boundaries tended to expand. Its name is thought to be derived from the northwest Semitic word for “rivers,” which fits both the mountainous region of the Armenian plateau that includes the mountains of Ararat where rivers flow through the mountains’ valleys, but also the lower lands surrounding the mountains that are bisected by the rivers that run out of the mountains. Thus, Nairi included the low plains that surrounded and drained the Urartu mountains. Regardless of its precise size and boundaries, the lands of the Nairi confederation were obviously larger than those of its constituent members, which included the Urartu alliance.
Urartu’s subordinate political and geographic position vis-á-vis Nairi seems to have been maintained until the ninth century when the Urartu king, Arame, became king over the entire Nairi confederation. It was during the late ninth century that Urartu began expanding under a single king. It began to absorb Nairi territories into its new kingdom. Initially, the Urartu kings—and the Assyrians—referred to their new kingdom as Nairi, maintaining the name of the parent confederation. Eventually, however, the Urartu kings adopted a new name for their kingdom (Bianili) while the Assyrians continued to refer to their expanded kingdom as Urartu.
Arame, himself, seems to have initially made his capital to the west of the Urartu heartland at Sugunia. However, forced to retreat eastward before the advancing Assyrians, Arame relocated at Arsaskun, and then to the city of Tushpa (Van) on the east side of Lake Van. Thus, by the ninth century B.C. the kings of Urartu had formed a single polity known as the kingdom of Urartu. It would reach its maximum territorial extent in the late eighth century B.C.
Shalmaneser III’s Ururtu/Ararat Was Smaller
The more restricted boundaries of the early kingdom of Urartu are illustrated by the itinerary of Shalmaneser III’s campaign against Urartu in 856 B.C., as recorded in the Kurkh monolith and interpreted by Henry F. Russell.11 Following Russell’s reading of Shalmaneser III’s itinerary, as Shalmaneser moved against the Nairi coalition, now ruled by the first known Urartu king, Aramu, Shalmaneser crossed over the East Tarsus mountain range (which separates the upper Mesopotamia river valley from the east-west branch of the Euphrates River) using the Lice-Genç pass and entered the east-west valley of the Murad Su (the east branch of the Euphrates River). This pass is upstream, just beyond what the Assyrians considered to be the source of the Tigris River—the Tigris Tunnel. Moving eastward up the Murad Su, Shalmaneser III apparently passes the territories of Sumei and Dayaeni, north of the east Euphrates and Urartu, and reaches the sources of the Euphrates; he then reaches the region of Urartu proper, south and east of Lake Van.
Again, this itinerary, shown on Russell’s map, locates Urartu north, northeast, and east of Lake Van. Urartu, in this context of Shalmaneser III’s itinerary, is likely referring to the original heartland of Urartu proper, and does not include the surrounding territories of Nairi that would become part of Urartu as these territories fell under the expanding hegemony of the Urartu kings beginning in the mid-ninth century B.C. into the eighth century B.C.
This transition from the Urartu that refers to the original heartland to its displacement of the term Nairi of the surrounding territories is reflected in the fact that for a period of time after the Urartu kings came to be kings over all of Nairi, the Urartu kings referred to their expanded kingdom as “Nairi.” However, later references show that the expanded kingdom that included the former lands of Nairi were now identified as Urartu—at least by the Assyrians. Chahin describes the ultimate extent of Urartu in the eighth century: “During the first half of the eighth century B.C., Ararat’s generals could discuss strategy at the frontiers of an empire stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean and River Orontes, and from the River Kura in the north to the southern foothills of the Armenian Alps, and the highlands east and south of Lake Urmia.”12
Chahin illustrates the assumption by many scholars that the eighth century Urartu—with its expanded territorial gains—is the Urartu/Ararat that the biblical writer had in mind while writing Genesis 8:4.13 However, as will be seen below, a more critical analysis of the Genesis flood pericope points to an earlier composition of the Hebrew story, when the boundaries of Urartu were geographically much more limited and the expanded kingdom of Urartu had not yet emerged.
Only Ağrı Dağı Is in Early Urartu
It is important to note that the original heartland of Urartu included Ağrı Dağı—one of the candidates for the landing place of the ark. However, this Urartu heartland did not include the location of Mt. Judi (or Mt. Niṣir). Mt. Judi was located southwest of Lake Van—within the broader territory of Nairi, but not within the heartland of Urartu. The same can be said of Mt. Niṣir/Nimush which, if identified with Pir Omar Gudrun in northern Iraq, is located southeast—and outside even the territory of Nairi. Rather Mt. Niṣir/Nimush was located in the northern region of Assyria. It would not fall within the territory of Urartu until after the expansion of the Urartu kingdom in the eighth century B.C.
Dating the Hebrew Flood Story
This realization that the boundaries of Urartu changed through time, expanding from a more limited territory northeast of Lake Van to one that was quite expansive by the eighth century B.C., raises the question as to what Urartu meant when the Hebrew writer referred to the landing place of the ark as occurring within the mountains of Ararat. The Hebrew writer’s understanding, in turn, would be based upon the period of time in which he wrote. Traditional dating of Genesis 8:4 would place the reference to the “mountains of Ararat” in the 15th or 13th centuries B.C.—the time of Moses—and a time when Urartu/Ararat would refer only to the original heartland of Urartu prior to its expansion in the ninth to eighth centuries B.C. However, historical-critical opinion on the dating of this passage would assign it to the so-called “P” source, which would mean it was written during the ninth to sixth century B.C. This would mean that the expression “Mountains of Ararat” could refer to the expanded meaning of Urartu after it became a kingdom in the ninth century B.C.—this would include Mt. Judi. It is doubtful the Hebrew writer would have ever understood Mt. Niṣir as being part of the “mountains of Ararat”—Mt. Niṣir would be too far south in Assyria. And Mt. Niṣir may not have been understood as an actual place name—rather, it was a reference to a mythical place shrouded in secrecy and could refer to most any mountain. So, what is the likely date of the Hebrew flood story?
In determining the age of the Hebrew flood story, it is first important to understand how and when it came to be put in written form. Among most biblical scholars, the Bible’s “primeval history,” that is, Genesis 1 to 11 (which includes the Flood narrative), was composed from two different ancient documents or sources, known as “J” and “P.” The “J” source (called the “Yahwist” because of a preference to refer to the Hebrew God as “Yahweh”) has been thought to have been composed around the 10th century B.C. by an individual or group of individuals who lived in the southern part of Israel—that is, Judah—probably at Jerusalem. The “P” document, (called the “Priestly Document” because it was thought to be composed by a priest or group of priests) around the sixth century B.C.
However, while the documentary hypothesis is still widely accepted in some form or another by many, if not most, biblical scholars, there have been a growing number of scholars—especially those studying ancient Mesopotamian literature—who have seriously questioned the traditional document hypothesis, especially for the first 11 chapters of Genesis and particularly for the Flood account in Genesis 6 to 9. This is because comparative analysis between Mesopotamian primeval histories and Genesis 1 to 11 shows a remarkable correlation with the overall themes and structures. As a result, many Ancient Near East scholars believe that the Genesis 1 to 11 primeval history, including the Flood pericope of Genesis 6 to 9, was composed as a single literary unit using the earlier 16th-century B.C. Mesopotamian versions—especially Atraḫasīs—as a model. At the same time, some of the details of the Hebrew flood story track closely with details in the Gilgamesh Epic, whose flood story in Gilgamesh Tablet XI clearly borrowed from the earlier Atraḫasīs Epic Tablet III. So, it seems the greatest influence on the Hebrew Flood story in Genesis 6 to 9 was the Atraḫasīs and Gilgamesh epics. Jared Pfost’s study illustrates the newer view: “The account in Gilgamesh has the most similarity to the biblical account in details but Atraḫasīs has much more in common with Genesis in theme and structure. Atraḫasīs (as well as the Eridu Genesis) and Gen 1–9 share the same tripartite structure: creation, antediluvian life, and the flood. This suggests that the author(s) of the Genesis flood narrative may have used this tripartite structure as a model with which to create the narrative of the primeval history and then used the Gilgamesh version to craft many of the details of the flood story itself. . . . The nature of the biblical polemics strongly suggest that it was heavily borrowing from the traditions, if not the actual texts, of both Atraḫasīs and Gilgamesh.”14
This more recent understanding of how the Hebrew flood story came about directly impacts the question as to when the Hebrew flood account was composed. This is important because of its specific reference to the “mountains of Ararat.” The geographic boundaries of the land of Urarat/Ararat changed through time, and those boundaries provide a check on the viability of the various proposals for where the biblical mountains of Ararat are located and where the ark landed.
The actual Gilgamesh flood story (taken from Atraḫasīs) was only added to the standard version sometime between 1300 to 1000 B.C. This means the reference to Mt. Nimus appears only in the standard version of Gilgamesh.
The question remains: When did the Hebrews become aware of, and interact with, the Mesopotamian traditions? As Lambert notes, “If the case for borrowing is to be established, at least a suggestion of the manner and time of transference must be made.”15 In Lambert’s opinion, “The exile and the latter part of the Monarchy [10th to 5th centuries B.C.] are out of the question, since this was the time when the Hebrew traditions of creation and the early history of mankind were being put in the form in which they were canonized. That the matters spoken of were included in Genesis is proof that they were long established among the Hebrews. Kaufmann has rightly argued that the prophetic use of the traditions of Yahweh’s battle with the sea implies that these traditions were therefore long established on Hebrew soil. Thus, one is forced back at least to the time of the Judges [1200 to 1000 B.C.] and even this may be too late.”
Lambert continues, “only the Amarna period [14th century B.C.] has any real claim to be the period when this material moved westwards. This is the period when the Babylonian language and cuneiform script were the normal means of international communication between countries from Egypt to the Persian Gulf. From within this period, the Hittite capital in Asia Minor has yielded a large quantity of fragments of Mesopotamian literature, both Sumerian and Babylonian, including the Gilgamesh Epic. A smaller quantity of similar material has been yielded by Ras Shamra, including a piece of the Atraḫasīs Epic. Megiddo has given up a piece of the Gilgamesh Epic, and Amarna itself several pieces of Babylonian literary texts.” Thus, Lambert believes that the Hebrews would not likely have “borrowed” or interacted with the Mesopotamian literary materials before 1500 B.C. because Genesis shows no knowledge of Mesopotamian matters prior to that time.
However, Kenneth A. Kitchen sees the possibility of an even earlier historical context for when Mesopotamian literary traditions moved west: “It is logical to suggest that the framework and basic content of Gen. 11 goes back to the Patriarchal period, and came as a tradition with the patriarchs westward from Mesopotamia. This would be no isolated happening. In the early second millennium, ‘cuneiform culture’ in terms of scribal use of cuneiform script spread not only to Syria and Anatolia but round and south into Canaan, to Hazor and even as far south as Hebron, with its seventeenth-century administrative tablet of livestock, offerings, and a king. Wherever cuneiform script and learning went, so did its literary traditions, as many other and later finds amply show. So, no objection can be taken to the essence of Gen. 1–11 going westward at this epoch; its written formulation in early Hebrew may then have followed later and independently. The patriarchal tradition would have been passed down in Egypt (as family tradition) to the fourteenth/thirteenth century, possibly then first put into writing, then to the monarchy period and beyond as part of the larger whole with the accounts of the patriarchs to form part of the book that we call Genesis. It is part of the oldest levels of Hebrew tradition as were the Mesopotamian accounts in their culture.”16
Both Lambert’s and Kitchen’s arguments would support the writing of the biblical flood account, including the reference to the ark landing on the “mountains of Ararat,” at a time prior to the emergence of the kingdom of Urartu in the ninth century B.C.
More recently Gary A. Rendsburg has made additional arguments for an earlier composition of the Genesis flood account. There is little doubt that the Gilgamesh flood story was adapted from the Atraḫasīs flood story. But, certain details from Atraḫasīs were not carried over into the Gilgamesh flood story. For example, a Late Babylonian fragment of Atraḫasīs includes the following couplet presenting Ea’s promise at the end of the flood:
“‘From this day no Deluge shall take place,
And the human race [shall] endure forever!’”
This divine promise of no future floods is clearly echoed in Genesis 9:11:
“‘And I will establish my covenant with you,
And never again shall all flesh be cut-off by the waters of the flood,
And never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’”
The Bible writer seems to be following a hybrid version of Atraḫasīs and Gilgamesh. This might point to an early version of the standard edition of Gilgamesh (1300 B.C. or earlier).
Thus, in determining the date for the composition of the Hebrew flood story (and its reference to the mountains of Ararat), the dating of the Hebrew account’s principal source materials that influenced it and with which its author interacted—the Atraḫasīs and Gilgamesh epics, must be considered. It is generally believed that the Akkadian Atraḫasīs Epic was composed circa 1600 B.C., the Akkadian Old Babylonian version of Gilgamesh dates between 2000 to 1500 B.C., and the standard version of the Gilgamesh Epic sometime between the 13th and 10th centuries B.C. It would seem the Hebrew writer was familiar with these Mesopotamian flood traditions and was responding to them.
The idea that the Hebrew writer could possibly have had access to both of the early Atraḫasīs Epic and the Gilgamesh Epic as he wrote the biblical account of Creation and the Flood is supported by archaeological evidence, which indicates that both Atraḫasīs and the Epic of Gilgamesh had become part of the literary culture of the Syro-Palestine region no later than the Late Bronze Age (1550 to 1200 B.C.). This is established by three archaeological finds in this region: (1) a fragment of the Gilgamesh Epic (Tablet VII) dating to the 14th century B.C. was found at Megiddo in the 1950s; (2) a fragment of the Atraḫasīs Epic flood account was found in the Late Bronze Age archives of ancient Ugarit (Ras Shamra); (3) a Gilgamesh text was found at Ugarit in 1994. Thus, the West Semitic peoples (including the Hebrews) were apparently quite familiar with both the Atraḫasīs and the Gilgamesh Epic’s flood stories no later than the beginning of the first millennium (10th century B.C.) and possibly as early as the third millennium B.C. Based on the similarity of the literary structure of Genesis 1 to 11 with those of Atraḫasīs and the Eridu (Sumerian) Genesis, the Genesis flood story (and its reference to the mountains of Ararat) likely achieved its written form no later than circa 1000 B.C. and even as early as circa 1400 B.C. as long advocated by conservative and traditional biblical scholars.
One final argument that the Hebrew flood account was written prior to the establishment of the kingdom of Urartu is seen in the literary structure of the Hebrew text. This argument has been proposed by William H. Shea and Kenneth Kitchen. Specifically, Shea noted that the structure of the Genesis primeval history (Genesis 1 to 11) is in a tripartite form: creation—antediluvian history—Flood. This same structure—creation—antediluvian history—flood, appears in both Atraḫasīs and the Sumerian Eridu Genesis, which each date as early as the 16th century B.C. The traditional date for the composition of Genesis is the 15th to 13th century B.C.17
On the other hand, later Mesopotamian stories tend to lack the creation—antediluvian history—flood structure. For example, Enuma Elish (10th century B.C.) is a creation story without a flood—and the Gilgamesh Epic (13th–10th century B.C.) is a flood story without a creation. Again, these later stories (Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh) lack the creation—pre-flood history—flood structure, and are more popular and common in later periods after the 13th century B.C. Thus, Shea held that the Hebrew account with its creation-flood structure—and its reference to the ark landing in the mountains or Urartu/Ararat—dates prior to the 13th century B.C.
A similar argument has been made by Kenneth Kitchen: “The creation-stories in Mesopotamia from circa 1100 B.C. onwards diverge from what we find in Genesis. The grouped themes of creation, flood, primeval history, ceased to inspire new writers and new works. . . . During the 1st millennium BC, king-lists in Assyria and Babylonia never normally bothered to go back to either the flood or creation. . . . By the time of the Babylonian exile and after, the forms of history-writing had changed. In a real post-exilic book like Chronicles, the whole of primeval antiquity down to Abraham’s grandson Jacob/Israel is covered in just one initial chapter (1 Chron. 1:1–52), almost entirely of genealogies, in which neither the creation nor the flood are even mentioned, let alone any other ‘primeval’ details. . . . Thus, whenever it reached its present [written] form within the entire book of Genesis, the unit Gen. 1–11 best finds its literary origins in the early 2nd millennium BC.”18 It is important to remember that this is well before the emergence of the kingdom of Urartu in the ninth century B.C.
In summary, based on the evidence above, it was likely the Hebrew flood story with its reference to the ark landing on the “mountains of Ararat” (Gen. 8:4) was composed before the rise of the kingdom of Urartu in the ninth century B.C., when the term Urartu/Ararat was used only as a geographic term (16th–10th centuries B.C.). That means the expression in Genesis 8:4, the “mountains of Ararat/Urartu” refers to the more limited geographical region of Urartu, not the later Kingdom of Urartu. This earlier limited region of Urartu excludes Mt. Judi as being within the mountains of Ararat from the Hebrew writer’s view (as well as Mt. Niṣir if it is identified with Pir Omar Gudrun)—but it does include Ağrı Dağı/Masis/Māšu.
Why the Hebrew Story Doesn’t Name the Mountain of the Ark
Finally, it is interesting to address an important question as to why the Hebrew writer avoided naming the precise location of the landing place of the ark—the specific mountain? This was not an accidental omission—rather, it was likely deliberate. The fact that the Hebrew writer was following Atraḫasīs and Gilgamesh so closely while composing his own Flood narrative (Genesis 6–9), makes it virtually impossible that he was unaware of either Mt. Masu or Mt. Niṣir, both of which appear in the Gilgamesh Epic in association with either the flood hero or the ark. The answer for the omission lies in the demonstrable practice of the Hebrew writer to avoid any Mesopotamian mythological overtones in his own work. This has been illustrated by numerous comparative studies of the Hebrew primeval history with those from Mesopotamia—including the Sumerian “Eridu Genesis” and the Atraḫasīs Epic. Both Mt. Masu and Niṣir, which are each viewed as “cosmic” and holy mountains, are replete with mythological elements that would have been in direct contradiction to Hebrew theological concepts and beliefs. Thus, in his account, the Hebrew writer “demythologized” the Atraḫasīs and Gilgamesh stories by omitting the mythological elements of those stories when writing the Hebrew version of the Flood story. Therefore, rather than referring to either of these “cosmic” mountains and risking an apparent endorsement of their mythological (and anti-Yahwist) attributes and associations, the Hebrew writer avoided referencing them at all. Rather, he simply states, rather vaguely—yet deliberately—that the ark landed in the “mountains of Ararat” (Heb. jr"(r"a yrEîh) (hārê ărārāt). Yet the non-mythological common elements, along with the dating of his Flood account necessarily placed the ark’s landing place within the territory of the pre-monarchal kingdom of Urartu (mountains of Ararat)—that is, in the region northeast of Lake Van. The narrower geographical parameters of early Urartu would, therefore, necessarily preclude the possibility that the Hebrew writer—writing before the formation of the kingdom of Urartu—had in mind Mt. Judi or any other candidate (such as Pir Omar Gudrun) that lies outside this region of early Urartu as the place where the ark landed. These other candidates lay outside what the Hebrew writer would have understood to be the “mountains of Ararat.”
While there have been several proposals for the location of Noah’s ark landing place, the two most widely accepted have been Mt. Judi and Ağrı Dağı/Masis. Of these two, Mt. Judi has received the greater support among scholars. One of the main arguments in support of Mt. Judi is that it is the older tradition (third century B.C.), while the tradition that Ağrı Dağı/Masis is the biblical Mt. Ararat is said to have originated late—only in the 12th century A.D. or thereabouts.
The tradition for Ağrı Dağı/Masis/ Māšu is actually the older tradition. First, the tradition that Ağrı Dağı/ Masis/Māšu is a sacred, cosmic mountain is very ancient, going back to at least the 22nd century B.C. Second, that by looking at the Mesopotamian accounts with the Hebrew account in tandem, it can be seen that while not naming the specific location, the Hebrews understood the ark to have landed in the vicinity of Ağrı Dağı/Masis/Māšu—not in the region of Mt. Judi (or other proposed sites). Third, the fact that the Hebrew term “mountains of Ararat” predates the rise of the kingdom of Urartu with its expanded borders, means that the writer of the Hebrew account of the landing of the ark envisioned the region of Ararat to correspond with the more limited boundaries of Urartu as they were before the rise of the kingdom of Urartu; that is, biblical Ararat was more restricted to the northeast of Lake Van. This, therefore, precludes other candidates for Ararat because they lay outside the boundaries of what the Hebrews understood to be the mountains of Ararat. This leaves Ağrı Dağı/Masis/Māšu, with its flood-related traditions as depicted in the Atraḫasīs and Gilgamesh epics, as the most viable candidate for the biblical landing place of the ark.
Randall W. Younker, PhD, is Professor of Archaeology and History of Antiquity at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary (Andrews University) in Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.; and Director of the Institute of Archaeology at the university.
NOTES AND REFERENCES