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Early reference to Noah’s Ark - Irving Finkel “The Ark Before Noah”

Noah and his ark are all the rage this year and it is not surprising, as marketing goes, that two months before the release of Russell Crowe’s movie Noah (in theaters on March 28, 2014 AD, see our article on it here) we have breaking news about an ancient inscription about Noah and his ark.

Fair use, to illustrate article's context.

Well, the breaking news is not the archeological find, as that news broke in 2010 AD, but rather the publication of a book this month. Also on the Noah trail is Ray Comfort and Ian Judy who will be releasing, respectively, the biblically based Noah - the movie and Mystery of Noah’s Flood.

Before getting into the news, let us propose a template whereby to discern such scholarly stuff as the decipherment of ancient inscriptions. If Jews or Christians make claims in favor of the Bible’s reliability (even on historical matters) it is demanded that we know when the record was written, by whom it was written, why it was written, what is the time of the even to the time of the writing of the record, what is the time of the writing of the record to the time of the first manuscript, how many manuscripts are there, how do they compare to each other, etc., etc., etc.

All of these, and more question, are perfectly valid and perfectly reasonable, academic, scholarly, etc. However, when anyone seeking to discredit the Bible’s reliability (even on historical matters) makes a claim then the least evidence the better, the farther away in time from the event the better, the least manuscripts the better. As an example, consider the so called Gospel of Judas; one single manuscript called for a reworking, a new understanding, even a discrediting of that which circa 27,000 New Testament manuscripts (over 5,000 Greek and the other in other languages, see our series Gospel of Judas).

Such is the case as with one single ancient inscription via which a British Museum expert named Irving Finkel concludes, “I am 107% convinced the ark never existed.” This, he based on “a battered clay tablet with 60 lines of neat cuneiform text” which was brought to him by Douglas Simmons who, in turn, got is from his father Leonard who, in another turn, acquired it whilst in wartime service in the Middle East from 1945-1948 AD, “Simmons said his father had once showed his treasures to some academics, and was bitterly disappointed when they were dismissed as rubbish” “academics dismissed treasures of his as commonplace and worthless.”

One report well puts it as it succinctly states that Finkel believes that, “Noah's ark was never built, still less crash landed on Mount Ararat, Irving Finkel has declared – despite holding in his hand 3,700-year-old instructions on exactly how to construct one.” Yet, “He believes the data on its exact dimensions, the two kinds of bitumen, and the precise amount of rope needed, are evidence not that the vessel once existed.” Well, you know how it goes; you have to buy his book to get the answers.

In fact, Irving Finkel believes that his 60 lines of text are the original version of the story. The tablet describes an ark which is “a huge circular coracle [an animal skin boat], 3,600 square metres in dimension or two-thirds the size of a football pitch [a soccer field], made like a giant rope basket strengthened with wooden ribs, and waterproofed with bitumen inside and out. This was a giant version of a craft which the Babylonians knew very well, Finkel pointed out, in daily use up to the late 20th century to transport people and animals across rivers.”

Interestingly, in the Epic of Gilgamesh (the old Babylonian version of which dates to the 18th century BC and the standard Babylonian version of which dates from the 13th to the 10th centuries BC) also has a Noah’s ark-like story wherein the boat is a square. In fact, there are ancient “myths” and “legends” from cultures all around the world which tell the basic tale of a great flood which only a few people survived upon a seagoing vessel. The simplest explanation seems to be the correct one; as people groups spread out from a central location, separated as per language groups, they took with them the basic Noah story which was then slightly changed with time and telling.

Thus, it is stated that “The tablet gives a version of the ark story far older than the biblical accounts, and Finkel believes…that the writers of the Bible drew on ancient accounts encountered by Hebrew scholars during the Babylonian exile.” So, why does the Bible not have a circular ark? Time and telling based change?

In any case, further questions about the tablet are those typical of such archeological artifacts; when was it found, where was it found, is the claim of it being 3,700-year-old accurate, etc.

The tablet relates that “the god who has decided to spare one just man speaks to Atram-Hasis, a Sumerian king who lived before the flood and who is the Noah figure in earlier versions of the ark story.” The story includes the details that “animals should enter ‘two by two.’”

Finkel states that it was a “heart-stopping moment” to find that “the boat was to be a round boat” and work is underway to build a replica to see if it will float—pun intended. Of course, the biblical Noah’s ark has a long history of research behind it such as John Woodmorappe’s book Noah’s Ark – a Feasibility Study.

Now, will the circular ark be built to scale? Likely not. Prediction; it will be a conveniently undersized one and the rest, whether it could hold all of the animals and weather a worldwide flood, will be done via computer animation and algorithms. Of course, such is inevitable as funding to build giant test boats, the circular one of the biblical, appears to be hard to come by—as are two of each animals and a worldwide flood.



Maev Kennedy, “Relic reveals Noah's ark was circular,” The Guardian, January 1, 2010 AD

Maev Kennedy, “Babylonian tablet shows how Noah's ark could have been constructedBritish Museum expert says 3,700-year-old instructions describe how to build round boat – but he does not believe ark existed,” The Guardian, January 2014 AD

Jill Lawless, “Noah's Ark Prototype Was Round, 4,000 Year Old Tablet Suggests,” Huffington Post, January 25, 2014 AD


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