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Crystal Downing and Sharon Baker

Readers of the Lost Ark

Midrash from Genesis to Evan Almighty.

Stranded along the Ararat of Interstate 68 in Frostburg, Maryland, a lifesize girdered skeleton of Noah's Ark sits unfinished, abandoned when the money ran out. Other launchings have been more successful: both Seaford, Delaware and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina boast churches built to resemble popular depictions of Noah's floating zoo. These edifices have their temporal counterparts in searches for the lost ark, expeditions described by 80,000 books in 70-odd languages.

Believed to be submerged under layers of ancient glacial ice somewhere in the mountains shared by Armenia and Turkey, Noah's ark continues to elude and intrigue us. Unable to recover the remnants of the craft, we re-construct it through story, preserving its moral treasures. From the Bible to the Heifer International catalogue, from Toys R Us to nursery walls, the story of Noah's ark remains securely anchored in the sea of tradition. Even Hollywood has come onboard with its takes on the tale, the most recent rendition appearing in last year's overhyped and underappreciated Evan Almighty.

This is not to say that the movie—the most costly comedy in film history—attains any level of cinematic art. Even at the box office Evan turned out to be far less mighty than its predecessor, Bruce Almighty (2003), earning only about one third the domestic revenue of the earlier film. Secular audiences may have imagined that Evan was too explicitly religious. And churchgoers, to whom the film was heavily marketed, apparently didn't want to see a traditional Bible story refashioned as political polemic. Those who denounced the film's substitution of ecology for soteriology, however, clearly missed the boat. Evan Almighty maintains an ancient tradition of Ark midrash: an appropriation of the flood story that reflects the needs and contexts of its readers.

The Genesis account of Noah is itself a reinterpretation of ancient sources. [1] The earliest version of the flood, dating to around 2,600 BC, is Sumerian, its ...

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