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Johan’s Ark Makes a Splash

David Damen, Dordrecht, Holland

A millionaire Dutch contractor has decided to bring biblical awareness to the world in the most hands-on way possible: he’s created a full-size replica of Noach’s ark, which he plans to float around the globe as a testament to his faith in the literal truth of the Bible.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ark“David, when are you coming to see my new ark?”

On the line was Johan Huibers; the lilting Dutch and the cheerful tone of his voice were unmistakable.

I last met Johan in 2007 in the Dutch village of Schagen, when I wanted to see for myself the massive replica he had created of Noach’s Ark, a scale model of the biblical teivah.

Huibers, a millionaire evangelical Christian and contractor by profession, began his original project as a testament to his faith in the literal truth of the Bible. The massive ark — 150 cubits (225 feet) long, half the length of the biblical original (300 cubits), built mostly with his bare hands (as was the ark of old, by Noach), was his way of making the Bible come to life for his countrymen. Huibers envisioned building the model 30 years ago when he had a dream that theNetherlandswas submerged in a flood like the Old Testament destruction.

At the time I wrote about Johan and his project — I had been duly impressed by his sincerity, creativity and determination. At the end of our conversation then, Johan made a pledge: “I promise to build another ark; that one will be the same size as the original.”

It sounded so improbable that I didn’t believe he’d actually do it. When he’d made the pledge, he had just finished his first version of the ark and opened its doors to crowds of curious pilgrims and townspeople. But Johan, infused with ambition and motivation, didn’t stop there. What sounded like a pipe dream has now become a promise fulfilled. Soon the new ark will be open to the public, but meanwhile, he wanted me to have a sneak preview.

And so, one fine day found me driving on the outskirts of the Dutch city ofDordrecht, located betweenAntwerpandAmsterdam, seeking the ark. The weather was definitely in the spirit of the Mabul. Black, threatening clouds hovered above; strong winds gusted around the car, and a heavy rain poured down incessantly. We passed the industrial zone outside the city, drove another mile or two, and … there it was. The huge ark rose up before me.

The latest version of the teivah — a colossal-sized ship — is breathtaking. I couldn’t help emitting a “Wow!” when the thing came into view. The tremendous size makes it look like a multistoried building floating on the water. I see that I’m not the only visitor; the huge parking lot is packed with cars. Apparently, the fact that it’s not yet officially open to the public hasn’t stopped a wave of curious onlookers from streaming to the unique structure.

Johan is waiting for me at the entrance, smiling and excited. I might not be a coreligionist, but he knows I’ll appreciate the biblical recreation. Many journalists and media teams from around the world have visited the site already, but a journalist who is also a Jew — and who probably more closely resembles the original Noach than any of the others — makes him especially proud. “Welcome!” he says, proffering a hand in greeting. Perhaps it’s a throwback to the original Noach, l’havdil, as he stands at the entrance welcoming his guests.

The biblical Noach didn’t charge an admission fee, but entrance was limited to his family and the animals. At the door of Johan’s ark, admission isn’t limited, but neither is it free. Twelve euros and seven euros for adults and children respectively is what it costs for those who want to take the trip back in time and feel what it must have been like to be locked in the ark as the floodwaters filled the land.

It’s no small change, but if you ask me, the visit is worth every penny, euro, or shekel. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such an enjoyable writing assignment. I have to hand it to Johan: I can’t say whether his ark actually resembles the real thing, but the biblical atmosphere has been magnificently recreated. 


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