Not many people know this, but there exists an alternate ending to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. In this version, as the flood waters subsided, Noah found himself beached outside Williamstown, Ky., an hour’s drive from Cincinnati.
Something about this urban metropolis (population 3,000), inspired the enterprising Ken Ham (Ham also being the name of one of Noah’s sons) to put the “ark” back into “theme park,” complete with exhibits, a petting zoo, a 700-person restaurant and a gift shop (presumably hoping that “if you build it, they will come”). There is no suggestion that Ham and Noah are one and the same, although Ham does say he sometimes "feels a bit like Noah", who his ministry, Answers in Genesis, preaches lived to be 950 years old.
The attraction, Ark Encounter, opened to the public last week.
Among the more controversial aspects of the story told at Ark Encounter is that the earth is 6,000 years old and was co-inhabited by dinosaurs and humans at the time of Noah. These conclusions have been conclusively refuted by scientists such as PBS’s “Science Guy” Bill Nye, a prominent science advocate who, in a blog article, dubbed Ham and his followers “bad for Kentucky, bad for science education, bad for the U.S., and thereby bad for humankind.”
The problem, according to Harvard biblical professor Michael D. Coogan, is that the museum “rests on an assumption that the bible is literally true in everything that it says.” Coogan emphasized that in the case of Noah’s Ark “that is simply not the case,” adding that the early chapters of Genesis are known to contain mythological references, and that its writers “drew on previous sources directly in constructing their own account.”
Bruce Feiler, writer, columnist and star of PBS miniseries “Walking the Bible,” was a little more cautious, although he too emphasized “there is no evidence that any of the events in the Torah took place. Garden of Eden, Noah, Patriarchs, any of it.” That said, he added, “It doesn’t mean the stories aren’t true, just that there is no evidence.” To Feiler, however, the debate over the veracity of the stories is a “distraction from what the story is trying to do, which is to convey a message.”
In a post on his blog, Ham made a point of saying that Jews were welcome to the site, along with every other minority group, with the aim of “taking the gospel to everyone.” This welcome, however, only extends as far as visitors, with the 300 to 400 workers at the site required to sign a statement affirming their Christian faith. This requirement was affirmed to be legal by a federal judge.
This is not the first bible-themed theme park in the U.S. In 2001, the Trinity Broadcasting Network-owned Holy Land Experience opened in Orlando, Fla. Answers in Genesis also built a Creation Museum a short drive away from the new Ark Encounter.
In a statement, Ham said that Ark Encounter is expected to attract 2 million visitors in its first year, a figure that would make it by far (by about 2 million people) the most-visited site in Williamstown.