The Shape of Noah’s Ark

According to an article by Will Hunt, published in the Examiner, Dr. Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper of Department of Middle East at the British Museum, has translated an ancient Babylonian tablet which provides a physical description of the Babylonian ark. After translating the ancient tablet, Finkel concluded that the ark was a circular raft, made of reeds.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

According to a recently translated ancient Babylonian text, Noah’s famous vessel depicted in the Christian imagination as a double-prowed wooden ship, was actually a circular raft, made of reeds. The text in question was written in cuneiform on a 3,700-year-old tablet brought to England from the Middle East more than sixty years ago by an RAF soldier, Leonard Simmons. Douglas, son of Leonard, recently brought the tablet to Dr. Irving Finkel Assistant Keeper of Department of Middle East at the British Museum, who read the 60 lines of text and “nearly fell off his chair.”

According to Finkel, dozens of such tablets have told the ancient Mesopotamian story of the flood, which was later adopted as the account of Genesis, in the Old Testament. But this is the first to describe the actual shape of the boat itself. “In all the images ever made people assumed the ark was, in effect, an ocean-going boat, with a pointed stem and stern for riding the waves – so that is how they portrayed it,” said Finkel. “But the ark didn’t have to go anywhere, it just had to float, and the instructions are for a type of craft which they knew very well. It’s still sometimes used in Iran and Iraq today, a type of round coracle which they would have known exactly how to use to transport animals across a river or floods.”

The view that the Babylonian ark was similar in shape to Noah’s is just a guess. The Babylonian ark may have been in the shape of a circular raft, but when one read the dimensions of Noah’s Ark in the book of Genesis, the Biblical Ark probably was built in the shape of a box rather than double-prowed wooden ship or a circular raft.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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8 Responses to The Shape of Noah’s Ark

  1. >You always post great stuff! I agree the dimensions of the ark is more of a box. It's dimensions are the same proportions as our modern large ocean-going ships that are nearly impossible to capsize.

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  2. >Thank you Marcus. My desire is always to be informative.Claude Mariottini

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  3. Johnny C says:

    >The Tevat Nuach, or ark of Noah has been found, according to Ron Wyatt and David Fasold. I had the privelige of talking extensively with each of these explorers, and even did an interview for two newspapers and hosted a multimedia event on the University of Florida campus when Robert Murell, who worked with Wyatt, came to Gainesville. While there are still alternate views and some today dispute the site as a geological formation [Ian Plimer, plunging geosyncline], these two, Wyatt and Fasold, and I myself still believe the site is valid, because of the structure of metal lines following the contours of the structure. The bible describes the ark as being built in sections, or kiniym, but does not give the number of these compartments. The other ancient accounts describe nine sections, and that is what was found in the ground. While they both agreed that the site is valid, David Fasold had a different concept than Ron Wyatt's more traditional envisionment. Fasold is a sailor and salvor in the merchant marine, and has spent a career sailing and salvaging ships. Fasold envisioned the craft to be an ocean going papyrus vessel, a magur, or voyager. The religious concept of a helpless vessel designed to float only is a landlubbers myth. The vessel had to be landed safely or it would be smashed against the rocks. Anchor stones found at the site attest to this. I could go on in greater detail, if anyone is interested, but let me make a few pertinent comments here about geometry. Fasold describes something called a basi-cube, used for ordering jars of a given volume. So many units cubed was the desired capacity of the jar to be made. The potter would of course not fashion a cube of clay, [it would break!] but would contour the clay for a round, sturdy jar shape, handles, neck and all. The potter would take his calibrated cube of liquid, pour it in the jar and mark the fill line. Similarly for ancient ships, the convention was to use the length of the ship at the waterline, its maximum draft, or depth of the hull beneath the waterline, and its average width to describe a rectangle to express the capacity of the ship. [No one would build a rectangle – the waves would smash it to pieces!]Instead the contours are layed out on the ground and the papyrus vessel if formed on that template. The site conforms to the length and average width expressed in egyptian royal cubits, which are 21.6 inches rather than the typical 18. The author of the current article is correct to look to ancient vessel types, but should look further, using Fasold's logic. Fasold has authored a book, The Ark of Noah, published under a different title in Britain and elsewhere. Ron Wyatt has a website with photos of the site and his traditional envisionment with interesting modifications to include what was found at the site. I have built models of papyrus vessels including one conforming to the geometry of the site, and compared the performance to that of a rectangle shape as described in the Sun classic pictures film. The marsh arabs of southern Iraq still build the structures most congruent with that of the ark's upper structure, while the Peruvians of Lake Titicaca build the most robust papyrus vessels today based on the ancient technology. Thor Heyerdahl built papyrus vessels Ra I and Ra II. I am looking for on line illustrations of Noa's ark as a papyrus vessel, but have not found any so far. Johnny C Godowski

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  4. Johnny C says:

    >A further point of clarification – Ron Wyatt had asked me to do some research on Kfar, the coating of the ark, and on 'atzei gofer, the material of which it was made. Kfar is an enclosure or protection, so many modern villages are described with this name. Kapar is a covering, so Yom Kippurim, the holiest day – the Day of Atonement – is literally that of covering. The ancient material would have been, according to Fasold, a waterproof clay or cementitious zeolite applied over the papyrus structure to strengthen and seal it. Otherwise the reeds eventually become waterlogged. Heyerdahl found that the prow and stern of the vessel must be built as depicted anciently to function, or the waves destroy it, as the experience of the first Ra expedition showed. Another religious myth is the mysterious gopher wood. The hebrew is atzei gofer – woods of shaping – which would include today what we call wickerwork, and would include papyrus, beams, timbers and the whole composite structure – including reeds and the wood from different trees as appropriate – even woods glued together as well as tied would be included in that concept- and Ron Wyatt was particularly interested in a specimen found at the site which seemed to be a sample of ancient plywood. There is no Gofer tree – gofer is shaping – there is no wicker tree either – that term describes the shaping that can be done with wickerwork.

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  5. >Johnny,Thank you for this information you provide in your two comments above.There have been many people who have reported they have found Noah's Ark, but all those reports have been false.Ron Wyatt has made the same allegation and yet there is no firm evidence that he has found Noah's Ark. Although many continue to make the same claim, people still remain skeptic about such claims.Claude Mariottini

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  6. Anonymous says:

    >======================When the Bible has specific dimensions for the ark and Irving Finkel says something as dumb as:"There are dozens of ancient tablets that have been found which describe the flood story but Finkel says this one is THE FIRST to describe the vessel's shape."you've got to question this guys ability to research and make sound judgement.======================

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  7. Johnny C says:

    >Dr MariottiniThank you again for the space to post. I am aware, as you wrote, that there have been many claims to have found the ark, especially on Mt Ararat, and nothing substantial has ever come of these claims. I would not say that all the claims are false though. People remaining skeptic does not falsify a claim – sometimes the truth is simply not believed – for a variety of reasons. I myself tend to be skeptical of any claims to find the ark on the mountain called Ararat. Fasold's logic in this regard is interesting. Scripture says the ark landed in the mountains of Urartu, or Ararat – not a specific mountain. THe mountain called Ararat did not receive that name until christian times – in fact, from space looking at the drainage of the land, the volcano is a recent addition to the topography and may not have even existed in Noah's time. Arabic tradition says the ark landed on the side of a mountain, and is impaled on a large rock. That is what is found at the Akyayla site, some 17 miles SSW of Ararat. Persians in the zoroastrian time visited the site and left its geodetic coordinates in their legends, from a coordinate center in Persepolis. The zoroastrians were surprised by what they found. Instead of a boat, they found a buried structure made of clay. It had three stories inside, was ship shaped with one end recombent and the other with a spout like structure, and a dome on top, with the three floor levels inside the dome. This shape then became the fashion rage. People would make slippers recumbent, curling back up over the toe, with a spout like structure at the back of the heel. Lamps were made to this shape, with a recumbent pointed end like the back of a papyrus ship, a spout like structure on the other side, where the wick was located, and a covering dome. Everyone has seen similar representations of Aladdin's lamp, persian slippers and the like. THe romans followed Mithras, and shaped their clay coffins, divided into nine sections, with the pointed toe end recumbent, like the structure found at the Akyayla site. The persians were expecting a boat – when they found instead this buried clay structure, they called it Varuna's house of clay, and changed their myths! They decided that Varuna did not ride out the disaster in a boat after all, but hunkered down in this strangely shaped bunker! The boat simply was buried over time, because the slope was subject to mass wasting. The peculiar shape though is recognizeable to us as an ancient papyrus vessel, but by persian times papyrus was not used in shipping – hence their lack of recognition. People today are so unaware of papyrus vessel architecture that they reject the site because it is not a box! God is not served by such holy hubris.Ian Plimer claimed the site is a plunging geosyncline, but the layout of the iron lines in the structure is entirely inconsistent with his theory. THe object is man made. The fact that public attention has faded due to Plimer's inadequate rejection does not diminish the facts of the site.Like Velikovsky, Fasold's work in this regard is important, yet virtually unknown. Even Ron Wyatt argued with Fasold. People do not easily part with their own ideas and traditions, even when these differ from the reality in the ground. Fasold was trained in these areas, and his work is worthy of being made more widely known. THe site should be protected and further evaluated. It is a valuable archaeological site, part of the Heritage of Humanity that Fasold spoke of. Even if it was not the ark, but another large craft that an emperor had built in that region, it is a boat, an archaeological site and should be recognized and preserved. Even if it is neither of these, it is the site that corresponds with the arabic and persian legends. Precisely because the legends that come to us are different from our modern misconceptions, yet consistent with what is found on the ground at the site, we should be prepared to investigate further.

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  8. >Dear Anonymous,I agree with your comment. Here was not the first to translate the table but maybe the first to say that the Ark was a circular raft.Claude Mariottini

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