Sunday, October 18, 2009

What if Ararat is not the highest mountain?

I saw something interesting in Ibn Ezra the other day. In parshas Noach, we read (perek 7):

יט וְהַמַּיִם, גָּבְרוּ מְאֹד מְאֹד--עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיְכֻסּוּ, כָּל-הֶהָרִים הַגְּבֹהִים, אֲשֶׁר-תַּחַת, כָּל-הַשָּׁמָיִם.19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered.
כ חֲמֵשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה אַמָּה מִלְמַעְלָה, גָּבְרוּ הַמָּיִם; וַיְכֻסּוּ, הֶהָרִים.20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

and in perek 8,

ד וַתָּנַח הַתֵּבָה בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי, בְּשִׁבְעָה-עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ, עַל, הָרֵי אֲרָרָט.4 And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.
ה וְהַמַּיִם, הָיוּ הָלוֹךְ וְחָסוֹר, עַד, הַחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי; בָּעֲשִׂירִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ, נִרְאוּ רָאשֵׁי הֶהָרִים.5 And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.

and on 17:19, Ibn Ezra writes:
מאד מאד -
פעמים שאין לרוב ממנו.
וכן אחר שאמר: ויכסו כל ההרים הגבוהים.
למה אמרו ויכסו ההרים?
וכן פי' כל הר גבוה, כסה במים וחמש עשרה אמה כסו ההרים הנזכרים, ואנחנו נאמין בדברי אלהינו ונעזוב הבלי בני האדם, שיאמרו על הר אחד גבוה שהוא במלכות יון:

That is, they say something about a certain high mountain in the kingdom of Greece. Now, if they mean Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece, it is not higher than Ararat. But maybe they meant a mountain in some other area in the greater kingdom of Greece. And indeed there are higher mountains than Ararat in the world, and in Europe. Ararat is 3896 m, while Elbrus is 5642 m.

Apparently, the claim is that it would not have covered the higher mountain, for some reason. Presumably because the water only covered 15 cubits above Ararat, and this mountain is higher than that. Or that the revealing the tops of the mountains was after the ark rested on Ararat.

Perhaps we can take Ibn Ezra's statement that "we believe the words of our God and discard the vanities of those who speak of a high mountain in the kingdom of Greece" as rejecting the facts of the situation -- that there is no such higher mountain. (If so, we know that indeed there are higher mountains.)

Or/and probably he is claiming that since the verse states all the mountains, it would include such a mountain there, somehow. Though he does not explain precisely how this works out with the pesukim.

Rabbi Shmuel Motot says that one can explain it as the waters being much higher, initially. Then, they reduced and the teva rested on Ararat. And then when it says the tops of the mountains were seen, after that, it refers to those other mountains which were smaller than Ararat. And Mechokekei Yehuda says similarly.

And see Shadal, who writes:
אז חדל הגשם, ועם כל זה נשארו המים גבוהים ומכסים ההרים היותר גבוהים עד י"ז בתשרי (למטה ח' ד' ), אז נשארו ראשי קצת ההרים מגולים ותנח התבה על הרי אררט שאינם היותר גבוהים, ובאחד בטבת (שם ה' ) ניגלו ראשי הרי אררט ושאר הרים הבלתי גבוהים כל כך

I was tempted to say that in

כ חֲמֵשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה אַמָּה מִלְמַעְלָה, גָּבְרוּ הַמָּיִם; וַיְכֻסּוּ, הֶהָרִים.20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

15 cubits was the entire height of the water, such that it reached and covered part of all the mountains. But this conflicts with the previous pasuk somewhat, and greatly with the next perek which has the mountain tops revealed.


Anonymous said...

I don't think the existence of Mt. Everest is the biggest scientific challenge to the flood story. If you don't come close to solving the other scientific difficulties, why bother with this one? You're better off just saying that the details of the story are metaphorical.

joshwaxman said...

one problem at a time. :)

i don't claim to be able to solve all the problems. on the other hand, i don't know if it is better to say that the details are metaphorical, for reasons i will spell out in a subsequent post.

this is interesting, and blogworthy, for a few reasons. i am focused on the commentary of ibn ezra at the moment, and it is ibn ezra who says this. and it is interesting to see the problems the medieval parshanim grappled with, historically. and in *general*, ibn ezra's approach to this narrative, and his balancing of the demands of peshat, as well as nature, are interesting. i plan on expanding on this last point in a post titled Teva and Teiva, but we will see if I get around to it...




joshwaxman said...


Thank you for your correction, though you could work on your manners. Apparently, when I looked for the height of Ararat, all that came up was "Lesser Ararat", which indeed 3896 meters.

"Greater Ararat" is indeed 5,137 meters high.

In terms of highest mountain in the world, if you could (politely) explain how Mount Elbrus, at 5642, is lower than it, I would appreciate it. Otherwise, I will not accept your assertion.

Please choose a pseudonym.

All the best,

Mount Ararat said...

You know in all Holy books like Bible - Quran .. is writing that ark rested on Mountains of Ararat. Ararat is really magical mountain. It really has some secrets. You made mistake about how high about Ararat. It is 5,137 meters. Even small Ararat is higher than 3896 meters. I strongly belive that ark rested on Mt Ararat. Anyway if you want to have some more information about Ararat just gonna check this link : . I and my friends used their services for or trekking trip to Ararat summit.


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