from Environment Forum:

How did Noah’s Ark float?

Greenpeace volunteers build a modern day version of the legendary Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey May 21, 2007 as part of a project to draw attention to global warming. REUTERS/Fatih Saribas (TURKEY)The story of Noah's Ark in The Bible is widely read as an allegory and discoveries of a stunning range of species of wildlife raise questions, for those who believe in the account as literal truth, about how they all crammed aboard.

The total number of species of animals and plants on the planet, according to biologists, may well range up to the tens of millions. About 1.8 million have been identified so far -- many of them are plants and fish that Noah did not take along to escape the flood, according to the Book of Genesis.

Even the Ark, with its three decks, would have quickly filled if Noah took at least two of all living creatures as God instructed Noah in the Book of Genesis. 

Modern maritime standards are that cows, for instance, need about 2 square metres each on ocean voyages in pens of about half a dozen. The Ark was about 140 metres (460 feet) long -- the world's biggest container ships are now almost 400 metres long.

One 2004 poll showed that 60 percent of Americans read the story of Noah's Ark as literally true.

Jew for Jesus could win Israel Bible quiz

An Israeli with the Jewish Bible, 27 July 2004/Gil Cohen MagenA 17-year-old Israeli girl is a leading contender to win the country’s annual youth Bible quiz, but there’s a controversial twist: She believes in Jesus.

Tipped off about Bat El Levy’s beliefs, an anti-missionary group has called on religious Jews to boycott the May 8 contest, at which she will compete against 15 other teenagers from Israel and abroad for a prize awarded by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The group, Yad L’Ahim, has invoked Israeli law forbidding Christians from proselytizing in the Jewish state. But there is more at stake in the quiz, which is held on Israel’s 60th
Independence Day — the question of who has a better command of holy writ.

Vienna museum reels from Last Supper uproar, blames outsiders

Vienna Catherdal Museum director Bernhard Böhler, 9 April 2008/Heinz-Peter BaderThe mainstream Austrian press has now got hold of the debate over a controversial exhibition in Vienna’s Cathedral Museum and the director is wading right in. Austrian papers have not given the Alfred Hrdlicka exhibition too much attention until recently. The celebrated 80-year-old Austrian artist’s outspokenness and bold paintings are nothing new to country with a tradition for daring art.

Now the museum’s director Bernhard Böhler has told Die Presse newspaper he is amazed by the fierce criticism the museum has received for exhibiting a homoerotic version of the Last Supper, which had to be taken down on the request of Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. The exhibition provoked some complaints from visitors but it was the uproar on religious blogs in German and in the United States that really hit both the museum and the cardinal hard.

Boehler put this “massive verbal hostility” down to the fact that most of the critics don’t know Hrdlicka’s art well enough. He said he was “astounded by the heatedness of the debate.”

King David: mighty warrior, fabled monarch and…villain?

Kings III by Yochi BrandesBeloved by Jews and Christians as a biblical hero, King David is famous for slaying Goliath with a single slingshot. Despite some serious moral slip-ups — he seduced the beautiful Bathsheba then sent her husband off to war to die — David is traditionally championed as the fearless leader who vanquishes the Philistines in the name of God.

But in a new biblical novel by Israeli author Yochi Brandes, “Kings III”, David is portrayed as a blood-thirsty warrior and womaniser who mercilessly slaughters his enemies.

“It’s provocative, and it plays with people’s expectations,” Brandes told Reuters in an interview this week. “The reader gets angry at this dictatorial ruler, then discovers at the end it is actually a character they have been taught to love.”

Vienna cardinal explains stand on erotic Last Supper painting

Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, 7 March 2008/Heinz-Peter BaderWe recently wrote about an exhibition in Vienna’s Roman Catholic Cathedral which has caused quite a stir — it included a homoerotic version of Christ’s Last Supper by Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka. The picture was quickly taken down at the request of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna.

The cardinal has now made a statement about the exhibition regretting the work was ever shown but describing Hrdlicka as one of Austria’s most notable artists. He also says art inspired by biblical subjects is something to be welcomed, even if the artists themselves are atheists. The full statement, sent to Reuters in English, is copied below.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Cardinal Schönborn on religion blogs connected to this exhibition. What do you think of his statement?

The Last Supper as a gay orgy? Uproar in Vienna…

Museum visitors study Alfred Hrdlicka paintings of Jesus’s scourging and crucufixion, 7 April 2008/Heinz-Peter BaderThe sketchy black-and-white picture shows the Twelve Apostles drinking, dancing, and well, getting extremely friendly with each other. It certainly isn’t the version of Christ’s Last Supper that most people are familiar with…

Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka‘s version of the Last Supper as a homosexual orgy was supposed to be one of the highlights of an exhibition at the Dommuseum, the museum of Vienna’s Roman Catholic cathedral. An initial favourable review by the local Catholic news agency didn’t seem to find anything wrong. But blink and it’s gone — thanks to the intervention of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, after the painting sparked criticism in Austria and as far away as the United States. Here’s a protest article in German (with 61 comments and an explicit video about the exhibition) and a comically bad machine translation into English.

The museum, a stone’s throw away from St. Stephan’s Cathedral, says it never intended to offend anyone but stands by its decision to celebrate Hrdlicka’s 80th birthday with a retrospective of his biblical-themed works.

High on Mount Sinai?

There is no end to modern speculation trying to explain how some ancient event in the Bible may have happened. Here’s the latest, picked up by Jeffrey Heller, editor-in-charge in our Jerusalem bureau:

A man prays on Mount Moses on the Sinai Peninsula, 4 March 2007/Goran TomasevicThe biblical Israelites may have been high on a hallucinogenic plant when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, according to a new study by an Israeli psychology professor.

Writing in the British journal Time and Mind, Benny Shanon of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University said two plants in the Sinai desert contain the same psychoactive molecules as those found in plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca is prepared.

Google Earth “views” of Noah’s Ark, parted Red Sea, the crucifixion…

googleearth.gifIt’s amazing what you can do with Google Earth. Some Australian artists have used it to create some clever images of biblical scenes. Click here to see “God’s-eye view” shots of Noah’s Ark beached on Mount Ararat, the crossing of the Red Sea and the crucifixion of Jesus.

Their fourth image is supposed to show the Garden of Eden, but I don’t think it makes it. Where’s the naked couple? Or the serpent? Do those trees look like fruit trees?

Hat-tip to for the link.

Bible as cheap as a cup of coffee is hot seller in France

Bibles“The treasure of humanity … for the price of a coffee.”

With an ad slogan like that and a price of only €1.50 ($2.20), the Bible has become a hot seller in France. In the last four months of 2007, French shoppers snapped up 200,000 copies of a new low-cost edition — as many as are usually sold in a year — in hypermarkets, a leading book chain and in religious bookshops. Another 300,000 have been bought in French-speaking Africa, Belgium, Canada and Switzerland.

The Geneva Bible Society says the new translation (only into French) is meant to be for those who’ve never read the Bible before. “The sentences are shorter and the vocabulary more understandable,” its director Jean-Pierre Bezin told the French daily Le Parisien.

But isn’t France such a secularised country? Frederic Lenoir, editor of Le Monde des Religions, said many French no longer believe in God or attend church but they could not ignore the role of Christianity in western culture. “There are many biblical references in films and books these days and they think it’s useful to know the Bible,” he said. “They wouldn’t spend €25 to buy one, but they’re tempted by €1.50.”

Blasphemy and the Beast as Britain debates church-state ties

British judges leave an annual service at Westminster Abbey in London, 3 Oct 2005/Stephen HirdAmong the idiosyncrasies of British life is the fact that this secularised open society has an established church and a law banning blasphemy against it. This anomaly was back in the headlines this week when a member of Parliament tried to abolish the blasphemy law with an amendment to a bill on crime and immigration. With the issue back on the table, another MP submitted a motion to disestablish the Church of England. By a coincidence some might see as a warning, it was listed as motion #666 — the number of the Beast in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, associated with Nero, the Antichrist and other opponents of Christianity.

Change is coming, but it won’t be apocalyptic. After heading off the amendment on the blasphemy ban, the government has pledged to scrap the outdated law against “scurrilous vilification” of the faith after consultation with the Church of England. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has co-signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph advocating the abolition of a ban “in clear breach of human rights law.” The Church of England has signalled it could accept abolition if the government proceeds with caution.

(UPDATE Jan 12: Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, later said the Church of England “is not going to resist the repeal of the blasphemy laws given their awkward and not very workable legacy at present.”)