Noah's Ark revealed to be filled with cannibal rats, drifting toward British coast

Cartoon Christian and Tea Party clown Bryan Fischer alerted us to the Associated Press story about Noah's Ark this morning.

"Ancient Mesopotamian tablet confirms biblical account: worldwide flood, huge ark, animals in pairs," he wrote.

Of course, the story he linked to does no such thing. The excellent piece by the AP's Jill Lawless explains that a new book is coming out about a 4,000-year-old clay tablet from modern Iraq that contains a fascinating message in Mesopotamian cuneiform writing.

The tablet gives detailed instructions for building an ark for surviving a flood. And yes, it talks about putting animals on it "two by two," but the craft described has a circular shape -- it's known as a coracle, Lawless explains, which was a familiar kind of craft for plying the rivers of Mesopotamia.

The man who translated the message, Irving Finkel of the British Museum, explained to the Guardian that the tablet's tale is far older than the Biblical story, and he figures the Bible's writers were drawing on accounts that had been passed around "by Hebrew scholars during the Babylonian exile."

In other words, a Mesopotamian folk tale ended up being recycled for the Bible. (And there are plenty of other examples.)

The tablet's tale is supposedly spoken by a deity, but Finkel doesn't say which Mesopotamian god described the ark (there were plenty of gods to choose from). One thing's for certain: it's not the god of the Bible.

Also, there's this: "I am 107% convinced the ark never existed," Finkel said.

Sure, even 4,000 years ago, the people passing around that fantasy knew it was just a tall tale, perhaps built up from memories of an even more ancient deadly flood.

That's just how these sort of tales get embellished. It even happens now. Take, for example, the story of the derelict cruise ship that may or may not be floating around in the North Atlantic. The Lyubov Orlova was built in what was then Yugoslavia in 1976, but by 2010 was sitting abandoned in Newfoundland after its owners defaulted on a debt. Seized for scrap, in 2012 it was being towed to the Dominican Republic when it somehow got free, and has been floating around, a ghost ship, ever since. Or maybe it's sunk by now. No one seems to know for sure.

Last year, there was a story about the ship possibly drifting toward the British Isles, and an official mentioned that if it crashed on the coast, the rats living inside might be a "biohazard."

A year later, the story came up again, and those details got somewhat embellished by creative minds. Now the ship was barrelling toward the English coast and the rats inside were eating each other to stay alive.

Some scolds at the Smithsonian and elsewhere chastised the press for promoting this "bogus" story, but really, did anyone read "ghost ship with cannibal rats heading for British coast" without realizing it was an exaggeration?

When tales get told and retold, they tend to pick up a life of their own. That's what people do. We tell tales in an attempt to make sense of the world. In this case, didn't everyone realize the cannibal rats story was a pimp?

Maybe not. There are still people who believe a giant ship was built by a guy named Noah, after all.

And Hollywood is banking on that! Check out the trailer for this year's March release, Noah, which features Russell Crowe in the title role, as well as Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, and Jennifer Connelly...