Statement by William H. Shea
William H. Shea
Biblical Research Institute
Ron is an SDA [Seventh Day Adventist] nurse anesthetist in Nashville, TN, with a strong interest in various archaeological projects in the Middle East. Some of these projects have some validity to them and others do not necessarily have any factual basis to back them up. Thus, each one of his projects needs to be judged upon its own merits.
The one project that is most possible is the one with regard to the arkshaped formation in the Tendurek mountains of eastern Turkey. It is located at the 6300 foot level in those mountains about 20 miles away from the volcanic peak that is known as Agri Dagh, the traditional Mount Ararat. During the last four years (and for many years before that) quite a number of expeditions have gone up the mountain in search of the Ark but no one has ever brought down any convincing evidence for its existence there. Indeed it would have been a poor place for it to have been preserved because it is a volcanic peak and the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes on that mountain could well have destroyed any evidence for the ark if it landed there. Some wood has been brought down twice from that mountain, in 1955 and 1969, and that radiocarbon dates to the ninth century A.D. so there is little likelihood that it comes from the original ark.
The Bible does not say that it landed on that peak, it only says that it landed in the mountains of Ararat. That includes a much larger territory and it also includes the location across the valley where the shipshaped formation is located. It was discovered first in 1960 by aerial photography as read by some members of the Turkish military for NATO. Elder George Vandeman led a group up to see it at that time but because it did not meet their expectations of what the ark would look like at that stage they did not pursue it further. After looking at the aerial photographs of it in 1975 I wrote an article on it published in 1976 suggesting that this might be the remains or not [sic] the full intact ark. In 1977 Ron Wyatt began his explorations there and the two main contributions that he has made have been to take soil samples (which show twice as much organic carbon as the field outside the formation) and to go over it with surface instrumentation, mainly subsurface radar. This type of equipment tends to show a subsurface pattern in a crisscross direction--long lines along the length of the formation, and cross lines across them. If these lines detected beneath the surface do have something to do with the ark then they might represent the petrified timbers of the hull of the vessel. The process of petrification deposits minerals in the wood which might give these readings. That is one possibility anyway.
To summarize the findings of the arkshaped formation in the Tendurek mountains:
- It is shaped like a ship.
- It is the length of the biblical ark--500 feet or 300 cubits.
- It is located in the biblical mountains of Ararat.
- It has a high organic carbon content, consistent with disintegrated wood.
- It gives an unusual subsurface pattern that could possibly represent some petrified wood which would be consistent with a vessel there.
Only excavations will give the final proof whether this is or is not the ark. To the present those excavations have not been carried out, but indications are such that political conditions are not ripe for excavation.
For Ron's other archaeological projects, I do not have as positive an evaluation. The first that I might take up is the matter of the Ark of the Covenant. He has been working on repeated digs in a cave or cistern on the grounds of the Garden Tomb in Eastern Jerusalem but he has never brought anything out of the ground to indicate that the ark is there. It should be recalled that Jewish tradition is divided on where the ark was hidden. First Maccabees says that it was hidden on Mount Nebo across the Jordan River while the Apocalypse of Baruch says it was hidden in the vicinity of Jerusalem. At the present time there are four groups out looking for the ark in four different locations. They are:
- A nonSDA commune leader from Kansas City said that he had photos of the ark in a cave on Mt. Nebo. Siegfried Horn, the SDA archaeologist, examined those photos and said there were nineteenth century AD nails in the photo so it is unlikely that the ark was involved. They probably were in burial caves of the monks who have a monastery on Mt. Nebo.
- Larry Blazer, an SDA formerly of Denver now living in Arizona, had the theory that the ark was hidden at Ein Gedi, the spring down by the western shore of the Dead Sea. He did some seismic testing for a cave and attempted to open what he thought was a cave but it had no external opening. He is still trying to go back there to work. I do not see any basis, biblical or apocryphal, for locating the ark there.
- There is an SDA layman from northern California who has had the idea that the ark was hidden some place between Bethlehem and Hebron and has done some clandestine digging there but has not found anything of significance.
- Ron's own work in the Garden Tomb area is based upon his typological theory that Christ's blood flowed down from the cross onto the mercy seat through a crack in the rock, so the ark had to be hidden near the place of the crucifixion. I see no basis in the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, or in sound biblical typology for such a theory. He has had repeated groups over there digging with him and has never produced anything of significance. His theory is based upon the idea that the garden tomb is the genuine tomb in which Jesus was buried. This is very unlikely archaeologically. The tomb type in the garden tomb area is from the seventh century BC and the New Testament says that Jesus was laid in a newly cut tomb. This is not a Roman tomb type, so it is very unlikely to have been the original tomb. That means that Ron has the wrong location for his starting place. In addition, I understand that he antagonized the Israeli archaeological authorities of Jerusalem the last time he worked there (September 1990?). And he may not be able to work there again.
In summary, there are four different groups looking for the ark in four different locations and none of them have found any solid evidence for it in any of these locations. One group's guess is as good as another's and Ron's is no better or no worse than any of the others. A fifth possibility, and a better one to me, is that it would have been hidden in one of the catacombs underneath the temple mount. Many of these have never been opened for centuries and hence something hidden there like the ark might have been very hidden from our eyes.
A third project that Ron is working on involves the place of the crossing of the Exodus and the location of the traditional Mount Sinai. The vast majority of biblical scholars have placed that crossing of the sea at the head of the Gulf of Suez or across one of the bitter lakes across the Isthmus of Suez. Ron, however, prefers to put the crossing of the sea on the other side of the Sinai peninsula, crossing the Gulf of Aqabah and going into Arabia (jebel el Lawz) for his Mount Sinai. He provides two sorts of evidence for this. For one thing he says that he has discovered chariot wheels on the floor of the Gulf of Aqabah which for him came off of Pharaoh's chariots. I have seen the photographs of one of these chariot wheels and it does not look like an Egyptian chariot wheel. It looks more like an Assyrian chariot wheel of the ninth or eight century BC, not an Egyptian one of the fifteenth century BC The difference is that the Assyrian chariot wheels were thick rimmed and the Egyptian chariot wheel is very well preserved, better than one would expect for 3,000 years on the sea floor.
Ron has picked out Jebel el Lawz in Saudi Arabia for his Mt. Sinai, in part because it lines up with his crossing point and in part because there are carvings on the rocks there. None of the rock drawings are definitive, however, and thus there is no definite demonstration that the Israelites were there. I have finally seen the photographs of this place published in a book and did not see anything distinctively Israelite there. In addition such a site requires a tremendous stretching of the Israelite route, does not have any good site identifications along the way like the Sinai site does, and ignores the fact that an Israelite inscription from the period of the Exodus has been found in the traditional Mt. Sinai area in the Sinai peninsula. It may be that the site in Saudi Arabia may be archaeologically interesting or significant but that does not prove it to be the biblical Mt. Sinai.
Ron's most recent archaeological project has been to look for Sodom and Gomorrah. The place that he has picked out for this is on the western shore of the dead sea, kind of down near the foot of Masada. I have seen his photographs of this place and I have seen a video in which he presented his findings to an evangelical group. There is not any archaeological evidence from this site; it is purely a geological site, as I told him by letter when he sent me his photos. In addition, the western shore of the Dead Sea is a poor place to located them from the geographical indicators in the biblical stories of Abraham. Beyond that, excellent candidates for the five cities of the plain have already been found on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea beginning with Bab edh dhra on the Lisan peninsula and its four sister cities extending to the south. All of the archaeological findings, locations, geography, etc., fit these five cities perfectly well into the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Ron has made his error here from overlooking and being in ignorance of what professional archaeologists have been doing in the field in relation to these findings and the biblical stories with which they relate.
In summary, each of Ron's projects must be judged its their own [sic] merits. The one that currently has the most credibility is the matter of the arkshaped formation in the mountains of eastern Turkey. It may be related to Noah's ark but we will only know that for sure when it is excavated and fully demonstrated just what this formation is. Pointers in that direction up to the present time have been positive but that is different from actually digging it out.
For the other projects mentioned above, I do not personally put much stock in them and do not feel they have much archaeological merit.