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The real Noah’s Ark?


Published: 10 January 2015 (GMT+10)
Fig. 1. Dr Irving Finkel’s new book in which he claims to have found the original Flood story.

Dr Irving Finkel is an Assyriologist at the British Museum in London and an expert in ancient cuneiform scripts. In recent months he has become something of a celebrity, following the publication of his book, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood,1 and the Channel 4 documentary, The Real Noah’s Ark.2 The source of this media hype is his recent translation of a small Babylonian tablet, named the Ark Tablet. It is about the size of a mobile phone and has been dated to around 1750 BC.

According to Finkel, the Ark Tablet contains the original Flood story, upon which the biblical version was based centuries later. Moreover, he claims, this new tablet reveals that the real Noah’s Ark was not as described in Genesis. The Ark was round, he says, having a diameter of approximately 68m, and was constructed with ropes made from palm fibres and palm leaves. He believes it was a giant version of the guffas (circular coracles) commonly seen in Iraq up until the 1970s, and known from Assyrian carvings dating back to 850 BC.3 In the Channel 4 documentary, Tom Vosmer, a world-renowned maritime archaeologist, joined a group of boat builders who, using these same materials, constructed a mini version of Finkel’s Ark, having a diameter of just 13m (fig. 2). Vosmer expressed grave doubts as to whether this much smaller vessel would hold together in the water. One wonders, then, quite what would be the feasibility of something five times larger.

dailymail.co.uk Ark-tablet
Fig. 2. Scaled down replica of the vessel Finkel believes is described in the Ark Tablet.

In contrast, the Ark described in Genesis has been shown to be a design which would have been particularly stable in rough seas and whose wooden structure could have withstood the bending stresses applied by the cargo and waves.4 Moreover, historical documents describe wooden vessels approaching the size of the Genesis specification, providing further confirmation of both its sea-worthiness and the ability of ancient peoples to construct it.5

Despite the absurdity of Finkel’s preferred Flood story, he freely ridicules the Genesis account. As is usual, however, he knocks a straw man, suggesting that Noah would have needed to take over a million species aboard the Ark. Most of the animals listed by Finkel, however, are insects, which very likely survived the Flood on floating vegetation mats. According to the Bible, the Flood wiped out land animals that breathed through nostrils. Insects breathe through tiny pores in their exoskeletons. The animals taken aboard the Ark probably included only birds, mammals and reptiles. Moreover not every species known today would have been required—only one pair of each kind of unclean animal and seven pairs of each kind of clean animal.6 Different species within each kind would have arisen in the centuries following the Flood.7 (Note that, because this would have been from sorting of existing genetic information and would not have required new genetic information, it gives no support to the idea of evolution.) Despite Finkel’s assertions to the contrary, there would have easily been enough room for all these animals, along with the food needed to sustain them for the duration of the Flood.8

The Genesis account—just revamped Babylonian myth?

According to Finkel, the biblical version of the Flood story was derived from Babylonian myths and incorporated into Jewish writings during the Babylonian exile, around the sixth century BC. Hence, in his view, the Ark Tablet was written over a thousand years before the Genesis text and is therefore the more authentic version. Moreover, consistent with liberal tradition, he argues that the biblical account was written by two different authors, ‘J’ and ‘P’. This latter claim is easily refuted as the symmetrical pattern evident in the Genesis narrative clearly points to a single author:9

A - Noah and his family: the only righteous people on earth (6:9–10)
B - God promises to destroy the earth and its inhabitants by a global Flood (6:11–22)
C - God instructs Noah, his family and the animals to enter the Ark (7:1–10)
D - The floodwaters come upon the earth (7:11–16)
E - The floodwaters rise and cover the earth (7:17–24)
F - God remembers Noah (8:1a)
E’ - The floodwaters recede from the earth (8:1b–5)
D’ - The floodwaters disappear and the earth is dry (8:6–14)
C’ - God instructs Noah, his family and the animals to leave the Ark and fill the earth (8:15–9:7)
B’ - God promises to never again destroy the earth and its inhabitants by a global flood (9:8–17)
A’ - Noah and his family: the only people on earth (9:18–19)

It is difficult to see how it can be asserted that the biblical narrative was derived from the Babylonian version when another cuneiform tablet, possibly at least as old as Finkel’s Ark Tablet, provides an account so much closer to Genesis.10,11,12 The tablet in question was discovered at Nippur during an expedition by the University of Pennsylvania.13,14 Its text is shown below beside the biblical version.

(2) … I will loosen Gen. 7:11 – “all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.”
(3) … it shall sweep away all men together; Gen. 6:13 – “I will destroy them with the earth.”
(4) … [l]ife before the deluge cometh forth; Gen. 6:17 – “But I will establish my covenant with you … ”
(5) … as many as there are, I will bring overthrow, destruction, annihilation Gen. 6:18 – “I will bring a flood of waters destruction, annihilation upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die.”
(6) … Build a great ship and Gen. 6:14 – “Make yourself an ark … ”
(7) … total height shall be its structure. Gen. 6: 15 – “and its height 30 cubits.”
(8) … it shall be a houseboat carrying what has been saved of life. Gen. 6:16 – “Make a roof for the ark … and set the door of the ark in its side.”
(9) … with a strong deck cover (it).
(10) …. [The ship] which thou shalt make
(11) … [br]ing the beast of the field, the birds of heaven, Gen. 6:19 , 20 – “And of every living thing of of heaven, all flesh, you shall bring … into the ark … Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds … ”
(12) … instead of a number,
(13) … and the family … Gen. 6:18 – “ … you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”

Of great significance is that this Nippur tablet appears monotheistic, with the singular pronoun, “I” being used in both lines 2 and 5. Moreover, it does not deviate from the biblical account in any way, with even the order of the narrative being similar. Its discoverer, Dr. Hermann Hilprecht, believed it to have been produced around 2100 BC13—a date considered plausible by Professors Robert Rogers15and Fritz Hommel.16 Other scholars assign the tablet to a later date: possibly 1700 BC,15 fifteenth century BC17 or even as late as 1000 BC.18 All these estimates, however, predate the exile by centuries, providing strong evidence that the original Genesis version existed well before the period when the Israelites became immersed in Babylonian culture.

Does Finkel’s Ark Tablet really specify a round vessel?

Finkel is adamant that the real Noah’s Ark was round. This is based primarily on his interpretation of the instructions given in lines 6 to 9 of the Ark Tablet:

Draw out the boat you will make on a circular plan; let her length and breadth be equal, let her floor area be one field, let her sides be one nindan high.

However, lines 13 to 17 continue:

I set in place thirty ribs which were … ten nindan long; I set up 3,600 stanchions within her … half a nindan high; I constructed her cabins above and below.

A ‘field’ is around 3,600m2.19

Hence, if circular, the Ark’s base would have had a diameter of


A ‘nindan’ is around 6m.19 So, if Finkel is correct, the Ark Tablet specifies a vessel with a base diameter of 67.7m and a height of 6m. This, however, clearly does not fit the facts. Firstly, “a circular plan” does not necessarily specify a circular base. Draftsmen often construct circles as an aid to drawing straight-sided shapes, and the Babylonians were undoubtedly familiar with such principles.20 Secondly, the tablet specifies that the “length and breadth be equal”, suggesting a square rather than a round base. Thirdly the ribs were 10 ‘nindan’ long, i.e. 60m. This is 7.7m short of what would be required for a base with a diameter of 67.7m. However it is the perfect length for a square base having an area of 3,600m2, as this would have sides of length


Fourthly, the Ark Tablet specifies a coating of bitumen on both the inside and outside surfaces of thickness one ‘finger’ (i.e. around 1.667cm = 0.01667m)21 and states that 28,800 ‘sutu’ (288m3)22 of bitumen were loaded into the kilns. A square-based design, 60m long x 60m wide x 6m high, would have a surface area of 8,640m2 including the base and roof; thus the volume of bitumen required would be

8,640 x 0.01667 x 2 = 288m3 i.e. 28,800 ‘sutu’.

Hence the volume of bitumen specified is, again, entirely consistent with a square-based vessel. In contrast, using Finkel’s envisaged Ark shape and his own calculations of its surface area, a bitumen volume of 29,296 ‘sutu’ would be required.23 Similar calculations relating to rope requirements also show the square based design to be more consistent with the data provided.24

Was the Gilgamesh Ark round?

Finkel also argues that the Ark described in the Epic of Gilgamesh had a circular base, rather than being a cube as is traditionally held. Lines 28 to 30 of the Gilgamesh Flood tablet read,

The boat that you are going to build, her dimensions should all correspond: her breadth and length should be the same.

Lines 57 to 59 continue,

On the fifth day I set in place her [outer] surface: one ‘acre’ was her area, ten rods each her sides stood high, ten rods each, the edges of her top were equal.

According to Finkel the word, “area”, is mistranslated and should read, “circle”; but if so then the dimensions would not “all correspond”. One ‘acre’ is again 3,600m2 and a ‘rod’ is 6m.19 So, an Ark with a round base of area one ‘acre’ and a height of 10 ‘rods’ would be 67.7m in diameter and 60m high. However, an Ark with a square base of area one ‘acre’ would have dimensions 60m x 60m x 60m—a cuboid with dimensions that do “all correspond”. Moreover, the use of the plural terms, “sides” and “edges”, seems inconsistent with a circular base. Such an Ark would have one continuous peripheral face and one continuous edge at the top. Hence, it would seem more reasonable to understand the Gilgamesh Ark to have been a cube—as has been held by the majority of scholars for many years. Either way, the design would be far less stable than the vessel described in Genesis, supporting the view that the biblical account is the true one.

References and notes

  1. Finkel, I., The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood, Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2014. Return to text.
  2. Channel 4, The Real Noah’s Ark: Secret History, UK, first broadcast 14 September 2014. Return to text.
  3. Agius, D.A., Classic Ships of Islam: From Mesopotamia to the Indian Ocean, Koninklijke Brill NV, Netherlands, p. 130, 2008. Return to text.
  4. Hong, S.W. et al., Safety investigation of Noah’s Ark in a seaway, J. Creation 8(1):26–36, April 1994; creation.com/safety-investigation-of-noahs-ark-in-a-seaway. Return to text.
  5. Woodmorappe, J., Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study, Institute for Creation Research, USA, p. 50, 1996. Return to text.
  6. Batten, D., ed., The Creation Answers Book, 3rd ed., ch. 13, Creation Book Publishers, 2009. Return to text.
  7. Wieland, C., Darwin’s finches: Evidence supporting rapid post-Flood adaptation, Creation 14(3):22–23June 1992. Return to text.
  8. Ref. 5. Return to text.
  9. Holding, J.P., Debunking the Documentary Hypothesis: a review of The Inspiration of the Pentateuch by M.W.J. Phelan, J. Creation 19(3):37–40 December 2005; creation.com/debunking-the-documentary-hypothesis. Return to text.
  10. Cooper, W.R., The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis, Creation Science Movement, UK, pp. 390 – 402, 2011. Return to text.
  11. Statham, D.R., Genesis authenticated in clay, Creation 36(2):20–21, April 2014. Return to text.
  12. Adamthwaite, M., Gilgamesh and the biblical Flood—part 2, J. Creation 28(3):80–85, 2014. Return to text.
  13. Hilprecht, H., The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania, Series D; Researches and Treatises, Vol V, Fasciculus I; The Earliest Version of the Babylonian Deluge Story and the Temple Library of Nippur, University of Pennsylvania, 1910; archive.org/stream/babylonianexped04archgoog#page/n12/mode/2up Return to text.
  14. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, CBS 13532; www.cdli.ucla.edu/search/archival_view.php?ObjectID=P268565, last accessed 12 November 2014. Return to text.
  15. Rogers, R.W., Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament, 2nd ed., Wipf & Stock, USA, p. 108, 2005, first published 1926. Return to text.
  16. The Oldest Library in the World and the New Deluge Tablet, Expository Times 21(8):364–369, 1910. Return to text.
  17. Ref. 16, p. 368. Return to text.
  18. Barton and Gordon argue for the Middle Babylonian period which ended around 1000 BC. Lambert, W.G. and Millard, A.R., eds., Atra-hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood, Oxford University Press, p. 126, 1969. Return to text.
  19. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Mesopotamian_units_of_measurement, last accessed 17 November 2014. Return to text.
  20. In fact Finkel himself provides an illustration of a tablet showing a circle inscribed within a square. Return to text.
  21. Ref. 1, Appendix 3. Return to text.
  22. 1 sutu = 2,160 fingers3 = 0.01 m3 since 1 finger = 0.01667 m. See ref. 21. Return to text.
  23. Ref. 1, Appendix 3. Finkel’s Ark would have had a surface area of 8788.859m2 (31,639,880 fingers2) and, using his assumptions, a bitumen volume of 8788.859 x 0.01667 x 2 = 292.96m3, i.e. 29,296 sutu. Return to text.
  24. The Ark Tablet specifies a rope volume of 14,460 sutu. However, again using Finkel’s own calculations, for a coracle shaped vessel with a circular base, a rope volume of 14,648 sutu would be required, an error of 1.3%. Calculations for a square based vessel using similar assumptions indicate a rope volume of 8,640 x 0.01667 = 14,400 sutu, an error of only 0.4%. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Alexander L.
I looked at the photo of Irving Finkel's Welsh coracle type Ark and wondered how this vessel could ever have stayed afloat in rough seas.

I worked with ships of all shapes and sizes for 22 years and the thing that was noticeable to me when looking at the photo was that the were no run-off vents on the deck to allow sea water to run off the decks back into sea. Also there was no foot door plate at the bottom of the door that prevents water getting in to the living quarters; neither was there a solid door. Without these feature this vessel would have become water logged and would have sank in seconds.

I have seen all sorts of impressions of Noah’s Ark but this was the least impressive and the most insulting.
Christopher M.
From a Christian, biblical perspective, searching for the Ark of Noah, or the lost Ark of the Covenant, is a foolish endeavor. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11) If an archaeologist ever found THE Noah's Ark, think of what that would do to the lost of this world. Remember the true story (not a parable) of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16? Abraham declared that even if Lararus was raised from the dead, to preach to the rich man's brothers, "...lest they also come into this place of torment," they would not be persuaded to believe the message of forgiveness of sins. Proving God's word, beyond a reasonable doubt, will only serve to further harden unbelieving hearts. We're all asked to believe Moses and the Prophets, for "the just shall live by faith." Also from Hebrews 11, we learn that, "without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
Dominic Statham
According to Christ, the greatest commandment is this: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:36-40), my emphasis. The Bible certainly does require faith but does not call people to a blind faith.

The view that considering evidence has no place in Christian thought would seem inconsistent with Scripture. For example, the apostle Paul taught that evidence for the existence of God is seen in nature (Romans 1:19, 20). It is surely, then, appropriate for Christian apologists to point to this. The apostle Peter exhorted us always to be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us for the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Christian apologists are called to "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:4–5).
Martyn M.
Thanks for the article. Dr Finkel's Babylonian tablet confirms the authenticity of the Genesis account. It is merely another garbled account of a true world wide flood and Noah's Ark, that can be added to the many other recorded accounts around the world. The fact that the craft is not sea worthy confirms it is not the original but merely a faint memory of Noah's Ark. Rather than discrediting the Genesis account, it confirms it.
Jack S.
Ho hum. Can't we just get a well funded, well trained team of qualified and respected archaeologists to the 14,000 foot level on the northern face of Mt. Ararat (near the Ahora Gorge), document the thing and show it to the world?
Dominic Statham
Not everyone believes that Mount Ararat is the place to look. According to Genesis 8:4, the Ark settled on the "mountains of Ararat", i.e. a particular region. See here.
Gennaro C.
If all those who try to debunk the Bible's stories would analyse the whole of the Bible's revelation in order to have enough meat in their buckets, in other words if these clever people would have an all inclusive view of it - as the real scientific method would suggest - they would realize the congruence of all Bible's records as the results of true facts. However, the supposed antecedence of written records toward the Bible's writings, means nothing because all of them are just records of oral transmission by the side of the real eyewitnesses.
John P.
One can't help a light hearted pun here - I fink Dr Finkel has his facts wrong! In all seriousness though, this bowl like structure would not have a hope of surviving the flood. He peddles mythology, and appears typical of those who refuse to take the Genesis account as history and God's Word. There is only one real Ark - the one Noah built as directed by God and described in Genesis. Undoubtedly, if it turned up somewhere in the mountains of Ararat, blokes like Finkel would still be desperately denying its validity.
David James R.
As one who has spent half his life engineering and making repairs on weak and/or collapsed structures, and even without taking the necessary time to engineer a round structure of the magnitude suggested, I am certain that such structure would require framing with numerous additional cross section reinforcement beams, which would not otherwise be necessary to use with the biblical ark.

Without such additional framing, this type of massive vessel would be wholly unsuitable, impractical, and unstable for rough seas (or even gentle seas).

Such a massive circular craft may have been built on a whim at various times in the past, but the ultimate failure of such an impractical vessel would likely soon become apparent under first test.

Further, the tremendous amount of wasted space that would be consumed by such a tremendous quantity of additional timbers to stabilize the structure would surely eliminate the possibility for it to accommodate all the necessary animals and supplies that were required.

Further, any basic wood-crafter would rightly question the reason that such circular design never became commonly used throughout history, after the flood, especially since the Biblical ark designed by Creator God has striking similarities to most of the ships that have successfully been built throughout history.

Man is highly intelligent, and would have chosen to repeatedly build circular ships, had they been found to be of more practical and excellent utility than conventional shaped ships that remain in use, even today. This fact alone shows the absurdity of such a proposed vessel.
Brian G.
When people reject the Tower of Babel as true history, they will mistake earlier writing as "more authoritative" not realizing that everybody at Babel had "a flood account" - but the one that God made sure was correct when written was the one God had Moses write.

Over 300 of them around the world and the only one that has the right Ark is the account Moses wrote. God let the Babylonians write down wrong details because they were not his chosen people and were not writing scripture.

Understanding the Tower of Babel really makes it clear.
Roger P.
I am an ex sailor, so I have a certain practical experience of boats. If we consider the great waves which the ark survived, a massive coracle like that in the picture would have broken up. Water would have poured over it. Great waves smashing down on its deck. With thousands of tons of water falling around and on it, I doubt it would have lasted minutes. I have been in the South Pacific in a small aircraft carrier of 21,000 tons displacement. We had green water, not spray and not broken water passing over the flight deck as we plunged our bows into the trough of the waves. Our escorting destroyer seemed to be totally buried from time to time and we often could not see it. The waves created by the breaking up of the "fountains of the great deep" must have made all that seem like the proverbial mill pond.
Gary C.
One of the recent publications offered on the CMI site is Untold Secrets of Planet Earth: Flood Fossils by Vance Nelson. It deals extensively with the shape of the Ark, along with amazing finds that give evidence of the flood. The production quality is incredible - I bought 5 copies for the family and gave them out at Christmas. I highly recommend it!
Andrew M.
It is rather funny that the circular boat pictured is not in the water, but safely on land. In this position, it is well insulated from the rigours of its practical task. Superficially, it looks great, but probably should not be exposed to harsh reality for any length of time.
Robert W.
I trust the biblical account of the ark over any and all disputes concerning its shape and size. This tablet find proves nothing. Is it a complete description? Is it itself accurate? Mankind plays tricks and gets information wrong; we have to be very careful to stay out of traps. Those out to disprove or diminish the Bible use many delusional tactics to advance their cause. When biblical concepts are followed (and trusting it completely is required) there is life success. When it is debunked, there is chaos. This is proven. Believe God! All others, though they may be sincere, are mere men who don't have all the facts. Go with Jesus Christ.
George J.
The way I see it is that since the nonbelievers are losing the battle about the truth of the global flood, they have got to come up with wacky (absurd is also a good word) ways of trying to debunk the Bible. One way is to try to divert people's attention by saying, "Well, the flood may have occurred, but the ark wasn't like the Bible said, so the Bible is wrong and here's what really happened."
Dr John L.
Thank you CMI and Dominic Statham as an engineer stepping forward to address this man's claim of the Babylonian story of a circular ark being the original story - which is an incorrect claim. The issue of the origin of the Flood story has been bantered around and subjected to more criticism since the time of Darwin. Most earlier church scholars fully supported a literal rendering of a worldwide flood and a large boat of float-able dimensions. The Babylonian stories, as there are several, are clearly a degenerate form of the Noah Account.

I wrote a 500 page dissertation on the Noahic Flood assessing whether it was a True Narrative Account (TNR), i.e. a true eye witness account. It has all the characteristics necessary to be a TNR. For Determinancy it uses many ancient terms but also unique ones. The terms for ark and flood are unique. Ark "teba" is used for the boat of Noah and Moses only, and for flood "mabbul". It, flood-"mabbul", is used only one other time when God sat over the flood Ps. 29:10. As well, Noah used the term "eres" for describing water covering the whole earth, and "dama" when describing the destruction of life. The continuity of the text or Connectedness is seen in that it not only is in a chaistic structure as noted in the article but also fulfills the requirment for a geneologic inclusio, repetitio mater studiorum, purposeful textual discontinuity. It is not an amalgamated text. Finally, it fits the concept of Generalizability as geological, biological, anthropological and theological observations and concepts are consistent with the Noahic Flood Account. The Finkel reading needs to be understood within the larger context of the information already available. Thank you for an engineer, Statham, addressing the "circular" boat issue.
Clive M.
I watched the spurious documentary in question. At first I thought such an 'expert' in cuneiform would support the possibility of the Flood and Ark story. How gullible of me! The status quo of debunking the Bible raised its ugly head again, spending a huge amount of money producing this programme on location shooting in Iraq and Sri Lanka etc. It is a shame they don't think,'Let us build the Ark to the exact specifications laid out in the Bible and prove believers are wrong.' That would be a scientific experiment worth watching!
Great to have your magazine and web site. God bless your hard work.

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