Was the story of Noah's Ark borrowed?
The Associated Press reported (via Yahoo News) Jan. 26 that a small, cell phone-sized clay tablet covered in 4,000-year-old cuneiform script -- now on display at the British Museum in London -- has revealed that the story of Noah, the biblical patriarch who gathered his family and the world's animals onto a massive ship, may have been borrowed by Hebrews when penning the Book of Genesis. Translated by Irving Finkel, the revelation is causing quite a stir among the religious, both in that it substantiates the premise that there was at one time a great flood (or at least stories of one) and that, more controversially, the story indicates that the biblical version of the flood story was appropriated from another culture.
Even the "two by two" inventorying of the animals brought aboard the ark seems to have been borrowed.
Finkel, the British Museum's assistant keeper of the Middle East, also notes that the long-established idea that the ark was a massive elongated ship seems to have been inaccurate depiction as well. According to his translation of the Mesopotamian writings, the ark in the flood story on the tablet was shaped like a coracle. That is, it was round.
Irving Finkel acquired the tablet a few years ago, a story he recounts in his book on the artifact and its significance (The Ark Before Noah), from a man whose father had picked it up in the Middle East after World War II.
At the unveiling on Friday in London, Finkel noted that the cuneiform-covered object was "one of the most important human documents ever discovered."
As for his finding the passages about ark-like boat: "It was really a heart-stopping moment — the discovery that the boat was to be a round boat. That was a real surprise."
But a circular boat would make sense, Finkel insists, because that was the most buoyant, nearly unsinkable, and well-protected type of craft known to ply the waters of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).
The clay tablet even predates records of "The Epic of Gilgamesh," the ancient Mesopotamian myth which also includes the flood myth. However, in that story, there is no mention of the boar, or ark, being round.
Still, Finkel gets backing from other experts, like from Elizabeth Stone, an expert on the antiquities of ancient Mesopotamia at New York's Stony Brook University, who says the shape of the ancient boat would make sense. "People are going to envision the boat however people envision boats where they are," she says. "Coracles are not unusual things to have had in Mesopotamia."
But how did the details -- like the shape of the boat -- get left out of "The Epic of Gilgamesh?" Finkel says he believes it was a conscious effort made by the story's author, taking out the technical details to make the story flow. He likened it to interrupting a James Bond scene with a sexy red car, then having to sit through the technical aspects of the car. "No one cares about that," he says. "They want the car chase."
And the story of Noah's Ark? Finkel says that he's certain the story of the flood and ark are of Babylonian origin. And he believes the Jews picked up on the flood myth during a period known as the Babylonian Captivity, a time in the 6th Century B.C. where the people of Judea were exiled to Babylon. Not that it really matters, he says.
"I don't think the ark existed -- but a lot of people do," he admits. "It doesn't really matter. The Biblical version is a thing of itself and it has a vitality forever."
And he's correct about the story's vitality. As recently as 2010, it was announced that remnants of Noah's Ark had been found in the mountains of Turkey. As reviewed by Snopes.com, the urban myth debunking website, the story would later be debunked by scientists as actual geologic formations and not the massive boat of biblical lore.