Noah’s Ark was a round raft

A newly translated ancient Babylonian clay tablet dating to 1,700 B.C. reveals new details of the global flood story. Dozens of clay tablets tell the tale of the one righteous man and his ark full of animals, but this one tablet is the only one that actually describes the vessel.

The tablet in question was owned by RAF veteran Leonard Simmons who got it somewhere in the Middle East when he was serving there right after the war. He had a chest full of tablets, pottery, seals and various other artifacts that he had bought at bazaars and whatnot, but although he showed them to experts, they all dismissed them as commonplace.

Dr. Irving Finkel examines a clay tabletWhen he passed away and his son Douglas inherited the collection, he took the tablet to British Museum cuneiform expert Dr. Irving Finkel. Dr. Finkel is one of the few people in the world who can sight-read cuneiform and he knew at first glance that this was no common clay tablet.

“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.”

Finkel’s research throws light on the familiar Mesopotamian story, which became the account in Genesis, in the Old Testament, of Noah and the ark that saved his menagerie from the waters which drowned every other living thing on earth.

In his translation, 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. “Wall, wall! Reed wall, reed wall! Atram-Hasis, pay heed to my advice, that you may live forever! Destroy your house, build a boat; despise possessions And save life! Draw out the boat that you will built with a circular design; Let its length and breadth be the same.”

It closes with Atram-Hasis telling the builder he’s leaving behind to drown to make sure he caulks the door behind Atram-Hasis when he last enters the boat.

Round bundle boats called quffa are still found on the Euphrates today, very similar to ones found on Assyrian wall carvings from the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 B.C.). In the 20th century some were made that could transport 16 tons of grain and dozens of animals, so the idea of round coracle ark is not as crazy as it may sound.

11 thoughts on “Noah’s Ark was a round raft

  1. I’d be a bit cautious with this one. The Guardian article seems a bit superficial and a bit rushed (e.g., it quotes the Creationist John Morris via the Noah’s Ark article in Wikipedia, rather than direct – can journalists really be so lazy?). Just for the record, the ark described in Genesis is a rectangular box, not a boat, and the Mesopotamian one in the Atrahasis epic is a cube. Each has its shape from the imagined shape of the universe and of temples – square ziggurats, oblong temples in the Levant, each in turn mirroring the shape of the cosmos as conceived by each culture. (The cosmos is the “house” the gods create for themselves, and the ziggurat or temple is the god’s house on Earth). It will be interesting if this tablet is describing a circular ark – but I doubt it.

      1. They regarded the world as flat and circular, so it’s not impossible I guess. Let’s wait and see. (The bible’s view of the shape of the world isn’t clear or consistent – sometimes it seems to be a flat circle like the Babylonian world, sometimes a rectangular box like the Egyptian).

    1. All the articles on the topic tend toward the threadbare. It’s a common problem when the mass-market media catch scent of something with Biblical implications. In other words, yes, I’m afraid journalists often are that lazy.

      When you say the Mesopotamian ark is a cube, do you mean there are specific reference to shape and dimensions in other tablets, or that the “Draw out the boat that you will built with a circular design” quotation is a kind of template for making a cube, like the Vitruvian Man stretching out in a square inside a circle?

      1. Ziusudra’s Magurgur (barge) was neither a circular Guffa (coracle)nor a cube, but a square vessel, according to lines 57 and 58 of the Akkadian recension of tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamish:

        057: One iku (about 3600 square metres or 60 x 60 meters) was its floor space, twenty cubits each (10 meters), was the height of its walls,

        058: One hundred and twenty cubits (about 60 metres) measured each side of its deck,

        Furthermore, the Magurgur was not intended just to float and not move, according to Finkel (allegedly), because it started at Shurupak the hometown of the Sumerian Ziusudra (Ut-Napishtim in the Akkadian recension) and ended at Dilmun in the Gulf, some 280 miles south (lines 139 and 140 of tablet XI):

        139: At a distance of fourteen double-hours (about 280 miles), there emerged a stretch of sand bank,

        140: On Dilmun (Bahrain) the ship was held fast.

        Finally, there was no such a king in Sumer or anywhere else in ancient Iraq, either before or after the flood of 3050 BC, called “Atrahasis”. This is a phrase meaning “very wise”, not a proper name but an adjective applied to Ziusudra in some of the translations of the Epic of Gilgamish.

        Getting to grips with ancient (or even modern) history is an exceedingly difficult exercise, not helped by being infected with falsehoods, either honestly or dishonestly.

  2. ======================
    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 do research and make sound judgement.

    1. Finkel is referring to cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamian civilizations such as Sumer and Assyria which had an ark myth but obviously not an identical one to the story in Genesis. That’s why he said “dozens of tablets”.

  3. This was nice to read as those clay tables from Babylonian are not the only WITNESS to the shape of Noah’s Ark is also described in the Book of Ether from the Book of Mormon.

    The people of Ether were instructed of the Lord to build boats that were round also and left shortly after the Tower of Babel was build and the languages were changed.

    Gen. 6: 14.
    14 ¶ Make thee an aark of gopher wood; brooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

    Ether 2: 17.
    17 And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly atight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.
    Ether 6:7
    7 And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being atight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the bark of NOAH; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.

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