Thursday, May 07, 2009

We got it wrong about Noah

History has a nasty habit of catching up with you. More than three years ago, on Friday, March 17, 2006, The Bath Chronicle published in our “This Day in History” column several tantalising nuggets of fact.
On that day in 1845, you will doubtless be fascinated to know, one Stephen Perry patented the rubber band. What he did with it afterwards is not recorded. Pinged it out of the window, probably.
A few short years later, on March 17 1876, Marshall Brooks was the first person to jump over six feet.
The original article didn’t say whether Brooks jumped upwards or sideways. And anyway shouldn’t it have been “more than” rather than “over”?
These deeply trivial snippets pale into total insignificance, though, when compared with the first item on the list. Because, according to the article, it was on that very day more than 5,000 years previously – in 3446BC to be exact – that Noah rounded up his menagerie and boarded the Ark.
Now leaving aside for a moment the question of whether Noah was truly a historical character, whether there really was an Ark, and if so where did they keep the skunks, all this is not really the sort of stuff you’d generally speaking give a lot of extra thought to.
So it was quite a surprise when last Wednesday (May 6 2009, date fans, and more than three years after the publication of the original article) a postcard arrived at Chronicle Towers questioning our dating of Noah’s embarkation.
The card was from someone who signed themselves only as Mark, and was ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS Never a good sign, although not quite as bad as green ink.
It was addressed to the Editor at our former headquarters in the Western Wasteland, but it doesn’t appear to have been delayed by inefficiency on the part of the Post Office. In fact, the postmark suggests that it was posted only one day before it was delivered. Nice one, postie! If anything can keep you from privatisation then this must be it.
The card has a clipping of the original article taped to it, together with a long and complex explanation of why it wasn’t February 17 when Noah took ship, but the 10th day of Zif (otherwise known as Ziv), the second month in the Jewish calendar. According to Mark it started raining a week later on the 17th day of Ziv (otherwise known as Zif) and stopped, 150 days later, on the 17th day of the seventh month, which might or might not be called Ethanim. And probably not in 3446BC either.
Confused? So were we. We had really bought into the 40-days-and- 40-nights thing and weren’t prepared for this 150 days afloat stuff. And be warned: trying to make any sense at all of when, if ever, Noah did his bit for animal conservation will lead you to the depths first of Wikipedia and finally of despair.
Just don’t go there is all.
Goodness knows why Mark was so long in posting his card. Maybe it took him those three years and a couple of months to do all those complicated sums. Maybe the card got stuck behind the sofa. Or maybe he’d only recently stumbled across the paper. (Sherlock Holmes might have made something of the fact that the clipping was curiously unyellow for three-year-old newsprint.)
Whatever the reason, it is the stated policy of The Bath Chronicle to correct mistakes promptly. So we did, although we’re still not sure exactly what it was we were supposed to be correcting.
Noah, consider yourself avenged.

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