Team believes they've
found ark's resting place
___By Cathy Casper
___TAZEWELL, Tenn. (ABP)-- Recent months have witnessed a revival of interest in Noah's Ark, culminating in a made-for-TV movie advertised as the event of a lifetime but criticized by many Christians for taking too many liberties with the Bible story.
___Four east Tennessee men took their interest in the subject to an extreme, leading them on an adventure to Turkey to view what some claim is the final resting spot of Noah's Ark.
___Attorney Ron Leadbetter, private investigator Barry Rice, physician Jerry Lemler and
his son, Russell, now a West Point cadet but then a high-school senior, are not explorers.
|AUTHORS of the book "Journey to Noah's Ark" (at right, back row) are Jerry Lemler, Ron Leadbetter; (front row) Barry Rice and Russell Lemler.
___They are ordinary men who set off with intrigue in their eyes and hope in their hearts to the mountains of Turkey, traveling to a region explored by few before them. Recently they have chronicled their difficult journey in a book titled "Journey to Noah's Ark," which contains rare photographs of the site.
___A long-time adventurer, Leadbetter has taken many tumultuous trips in the past, usually traveling with whatever vagabond party of friends he can cajole into coming along. He is known for taking the kind of trips that most vacationers avoid. His travels have taken him to parts of the world not well explored, including several that are exotic and extremely dangerous.
___"He has never been one to do the standard golfing in Saint Andrews or touring the vineyards of France," said traveling companion Lemler.
___Leadbetter's interest in the Noah's Ark site began after he met an amateur archeologist from Nashville, Ron Wyatt. Wyatt, who traveled through the mountains of Turkey many times in the 1970s and '80s, was convinced he had found Noah's Ark and was instrumental in helping to set up a visitor's center presently located at the site.
___The meeting with Wyatt fueled Leadbetter's desire to see the site for himself, prompting a trip that took three years to plan.
___The exact location of Noah's Ark is disputed. Some dismiss the Old Testament story as a myth borrowed by Jews from an ancient Babylonian epic. Evangelical Christians believe the Bible story is literally true, however, and some suspect remains of the ark may still be hidden on Mt. Ararat, a nearly 17,000-foot peak in remote eastern Turkey. Others argue the Bible speaks of the "mountains of Ararat." Lemler and others believe the word "mountains" holds the clue.
___"The plural mountains is the key, which does not necessarily mean Ararat itself," said Lemler. Wyatt's discovery was indeed several miles west of Mt. Ararat, on what is known as the "Duripinar site."
___Lemler said studies on the site have been inconclusive. Several U.S. expeditions to the
site over the last 15 years have said it is nothing more than a rock formation with no significance for archeology. Some tests have claimed the object is composed of decayed wood, but other researchers say all evidence it could be Noah's Ark is based on assumptions and not science. While there have been many claims of a discovery of Noah's Ark, none can be verified beyond a reasonable doubt, according to ark researcher B.J. Corbin.
|WALKING on the spot where Noah's ark may rest, Jerry Lemler (below) discovered stones that could have been used as ballast.
___The formation matches the dimensions of Noah's Ark as identified in the Bible. It is about the length of one-and-one-half football fields.
___The site is not easily reached, down 10 miles of dirt roads and over the mountains from Iran. Americans have been discouraged from visiting, and in recent years the visitor's center has been closed.
___"Right now because of the even further escalation of hostilities in the area, the site has been closed and we, as far as we know, are the last westerners to have visited the site," Lemler said.
___Lemler's group was fortunate enough not only to see the site, but the guard Hassan, also known as the "keeper of the Ark," allowed them to walk out onto area to explore it firsthand.
___The men say the walk is what convinced them. They found hundreds of seashells on a site 50 miles away from the nearest body of water, and it is a freshwater lake.
___"It was not like someone took a truckload of sea shells and spread them out for our pleasure," Lemler said. "They were there on the boat and in the immediate vicinity, but no where else in that region."
___Lemler believes if the object is not Noah's Ark, it is an amazing engineering feat by someone. All four men say they are convinced it is a boat on a mountain with no other explanation of how it got there.
___"We are not talking about someone out in a desert who sees a flying saucer landing," he said. "We are talking about a physician, a West Point cadet, an attorney and a private investigator--four people who generally have a fair level of smarts, are inquisitive and are not four nuts who had to find something."
___After returning to the United States, the men began to speak to various civic and religious groups about their experiences, showing video, photographs, shells they collected and stones they believe were used for ballast on the Ark. Each group was curious and wanted to learn more. That prompted the idea for writing a book.
___Lemler describes the experience in Turkey as awe inspiring, "It is like when I was a kid and touched the Liberty Bell for the first time, only on a much larger scale," he said.
___Cathy Casper is a reporter at the Claiborne Progress in Tazewell, Tenn. This story is used with permission. The book "Journey to Noah's Ark" is available at bookstores and on the Internet at www.lakemoor.com
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