Admitting ‘Noah’s Ark’ Hoax : Television: A man who claimed on a CBS special to have located the ark now says it was a setup.
The man who said he discovered the snow-covered location of Noah’s Ark high on Mt. Ararat in Turkey, and who displayed what he claimed to be an ancient piece of wood from inside the ark as proof on a CBS special earlier this year, now says it was a hoax.
George Jammal, an out-of-work Israeli actor living in North Long Beach, admitted in an interview this week that he made up the story to expose those who produce and broadcast what he considers to be poorly researched religious propaganda.
Presented with this information by The Times, CBS decided Friday to scrap two projects that were in development with Sun International Pictures, the Salt Lake City-based production company that made “The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark,” which CBS broadcast in February to an estimated 20 million viewers.
Part of the network’s decision not to move ahead with the Sun programs “Revelations” and “The UFO Phenomenon” stemmed from the tactics Sun used several months ago to try to pry a confession from Jammal, including threats that CBS was going to sue him--which the network adamantly denies.
“All of this has clearly made us re-examine our business relationship with Sun, and we won’t be going forward with those projects,” network spokeswoman Susan Tick said Friday.
But “Mysteries of the Ancient World,” another program from Sun examining such phenomena as the Sphinx, Nostradamus, the Bermuda Triangle and the Shroud of Turin, has essentially been completed and will air on CBS. That program has been carefully reviewed for accuracy by the network’s legal department and program practices department, Tick said.
“Incredible Discovery” came under strong criticism because its case for the existence of Noah’s Ark, as described in the Bible, was said to be based heavily on the views of creationists who oppose the scientific theory of evolution.
“We’re a motion-picture producer, and we don’t take a point of view, creationist or otherwise,” countered Sun President Allan Pedersen.
Asked if Sun planned to revise its research techniques to prevent similar hoaxes, Pedersen said that such safety measures have always been in place.
“We certainly will be as conscientious as we can and scrutinize sources as closely as we can in the future,” he said. “But frankly, we took the same due diligence before all this. My stance is that it’s just about impossible to defend against that kind of well-planned and well-thought-out deception.”
From Jammal’s perspective, the deception was painfully obvious. The “sacred wood” from the ark was actually from some railroad tracks in Long Beach, he said, and he has never set foot in Turkey.
“This is a scam that has been pulled on the American public, and it’s gone too far,” Jammal explained from his three-bedroom home this week, holding the scrap of wood that he hardened by cooking it in an oven. Referring to Sun and CBS, he said, “They’re foisting religious propaganda on Americans and making them believe it’s true. So I hoaxed the hoaxters.”
CBS does not plan to run an on-air correction. “A, there’s no format to do it, and B, it’s just going to attract more attention to this,” Tick said. “Plus, the show never purported the wood was from the ark, only that this person on the show said it was.”
When national news reports first surfaced in June that Jammal might have been lying, Sun stood firmly behind Jammal, who held to his story. Jammal’s original plan to reveal the stunt in his own time was ruined when a friend of his who was in on the hoax--Gerald Larue, a USC professor emeritus of biblical history and archeology--began talking to the press.
Sun producers called Larue the hoaxter, retained a lawyer for Jammal, presented an eight-page defense to CBS and wrote letters to Time Magazine, The Times and others to defend their production. CBS, in turn, launched its own internal investigation.
Now, even Sun admits it was wrong. “We were obviously duped, and all I can do is admit to that,” Pedersen said. “We’ll take the portion that concerned him out of the picture for any future airings.” That won’t be on CBS, though, which will not repeat the program.
Jammal contends that Sun knew all along he was an impostor. After “Incredible Discovery” was broadcast, numerous scholars and critics of creation science, including Larue, wrote to CBS and Sun insisting that the show was bunk.
“This was a dishonest program,” Larue said. “Look at the very title: ‘The Amazing Discovery of Noah’s Ark.’ They didn’t discover it.”
Robert S. Dietz, a professor emeritus in geology at Arizona State University, even asked Sun for Jammal’s piece of wood so he could run a Carbon-14 test to determine its authenticity--something Sun producers say they did not do, even though Jammal gave them a small chip of the wood. Sun did not provide it to him, and Jammal said that a Sun researcher told him not to show his wood to Dietz.
“ ‘Do not show him the wood,’ I was told,” Jammal said. “Doesn’t that mean they know the wood is fake?”
The hoax actually started eight years ago when Jammal heard a radio debate between a humanist scholar and the head of the Institute for Creation Research in El Cajon, Calif.
An atheist who was raised by Catholic and Greek Orthodox parents, Jammal concocted a story about how he visited the ark and then sent a letter to the institute, riddled with inside jokes, to see if anyone would believe him. For instance, his companion on the trip, Vladimir Sobitchsky, was a play on “s.o.b.” Jammal also sent a copy to the Pope.
“I gave them absurd names because I was laughing at their absurdities,” Jammal said. “All this started as a practical joke, to write a letter and see what their reaction was. I didn’t know I would end up on film.”
In 1986, John Morris, a geologist and Mt. Ararat explorer associated with the institute, interviewed Jammal, who had studied in the local library on the people, customs and geography of that area of Turkey.
“He wanted pictures, of course, so I made up the story about how Vladimir died on the mountain, and the camera went down with him,” he said.
That interview, which included hand-drawn maps by Jammal, was filed and almost forgotten--until 1992, when Sun contacted the institute looking for people who had first-hand knowledge of Noah’s Ark.
For the Sun interview, Jammal carefully studied the 1986 transcript. He also prepared the fake wood--a piece of California pine--by frying it on his kitchen stove in a bizarre mix of blueberry and almond wine, iodine, sweet-and-sour barbecue sauce and teriyaki sauce. He even made a home video of himself cooking it up.
Jammal resisted admitting the hoax for a long time; he never returned the calls of CBS attorneys. Nor did he cave in when a Sun representative kept calling him in June and July, leaving intimidating messages on his answering machine. One message said: “There’s talk of a serious lawsuit against you, George, and I don’t want to see that happen, because the resources of CBS would just wipe you out.”
“We never considered a lawsuit,” network spokeswoman Tick said Friday.
So why did Jammal finally fess up, after all this time?
“When I heard that CBS was going forward with more phony, religious, documentary, pseudoscience programs, that’s when my volcano erupted,” Jammal said.
When told Friday that his tactics budged the CBS network, he let out a belly laugh. “Prof. Larue and many other scholars wrote letters of protest and nobody listened,” he said. “Well, now they’re listening and they’re talking. I feel I made a difference.”
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.