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Stories in the Bible

What the Bible says about Noah's Ark.
Was it rectangular or circular?
Could Noah build it? Would it float?
20th and 21st century "arks"

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What the Bible says:

  • Why was the ark and flood necessary? The Bible, starting in Genesis 6:6, records that God was concerned about the level of wickedness, violence, and other evil behavior among humans. God apparently assumed that when he created Adam and Eve that the human race would turn out to be acceptable in his sight. God apparently was unable to foretell the future and realize that humans would turn out to behave so badly. He repented that he had created Adam and Eve. God decided to destroy all humans and other land animals, in the largest and most thorough act of genocide in history. Every man, woman, youth, child, infant and newborn, as well as birds and land-dwelling animals, were to be drowned in a great, world-wide flood. Also, most life forms in the oceans require a salt water environment to survive. Many species would die because the salt in the oceans would be drastically diluted by the rain. Also, most life forms in freshwater lakes and streams require low salinity to survive. Because the flood covered the entire earth, their environment would become salty and most would die.

    Because Noah was a decent man -- alone as such among the human race -- , the lives of Noah, his three sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth), and their four wives were to be spared. They were to escape drowning by building, entering, and sailing on an ark.

  • What did the ark look like? According to Genesis 6:14-16, the vessel was to be made with planks of gopher wood sealed with a material called "chemar" in Hebrew. This has variously been translated as bitumen, slime, and tar. The ark was to be 300 cubits (138 meters, 453 ft.) long, 50 cubits (23 meters, 75.4 ft.) wide and 30 (14 meters, 45.9 ft) deep. This is based on the standard 46 cm. long regular cubit, which is an ancient unit of distance. It was the typical distance from an adult's elbow to the tip of their longest finger.

    The ark was to have one door, built into its side, and a single window. The inside of the ark was to be divided into three floors. It would house the 8 people, and all the animals.
    With such inadequate ventilation, the stench from all those animals world have been overwhelming.

  • What animals were to be loaded on board? Most religious liberals believe that "P," an unknown priestly author, wrote In Genesis 6:19 that God instructing Noah to place one pair of every "sort" of animal in the ark -- one male and one female. "Sort" or "kind" of animal is not to be confused with "species." Many creationists believe that Noah did not load onto the ark a male and female of every species. Rather, he loaded two of every "kind." For example, there would be a male and female horse kind loaded. After the flood, a type of limited evolution would take place and the prototype horse would evolve into actual horses, zebras, onagers, asses, quaggas, etc. as well as now-extinct species like Eohippus, Mesohippus, Merychippus of the same general shape as a horse. A prototype ape pair would travel on the ark and later "evolve" into all the various species of apes. And so on. Since only prototypes and not the full diversity of species would travel on the ark, the housing and caring of all those animals would be vastly simplified. The quota of two of each "sort" was repeated in Genesis 7:8-9 and Genesis 7:15. Sufficient food was to be loaded on board for the humans and animals.

  • Who wrote the flood story in the Bible?
    • Most conservative Christians believe that all of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) were written by Moses.

    • Most liberal/progressive Christians believe that "J," a resident of the southern kingdom of Judah, wrote Genesis 7:1-5. God is here described as ordering Noah to take seven animals from each of the "clean" kinds, seven of each bird kinds, and two of every other animal kind.

    • According to most religious liberals, an unknown redactor (editor) who is normally referred to as "R" alternated writings from the two authors "P" and "J" from Genesis 7:1 to 10:32. "J" has heavy rain flow for 40 days and nights. "P" describes some of the water as coming in the form of rain. Windows in the firmament -- the metal dome that formed the division between heaven and earth -- were opened and water was poured onto earth. Also something called "the fountains of the great deep" were broken up, causing water to flood the earth from below. The ancients believed that the earth was more or less flat, and was supported on pillars that stood in a great underground ocean, the "deep."

    • Some religious conservatives interpret the windows in the firmament and the fountains of the deep symbolically, not as literal devices.

    • Genesis 7, Verses 7 and 8 contain many conflicts.

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Mesopotamian story claims that the ark was circular in shape:

As noted above, the Bible describes an ark that is rectangular in shape, about 138 meters or 453 ft. in length and 23 meters or 75.4 ft. in width. However, Dr. Irving Finkel, the assistant keeper of the Middle East British Museum, has translated the text on a 4 millenia-old year-old clay tablet from Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). It predates the Epic of Gilgamesh that is widely believed to be the original story from which the biblical Flood of Noah was copied. The cuneiform text describes how to build an ark to survive a flood. It describes loading the ark with two animals per species. It describes a god instructing Atram-Hasis, a Sumerian king, on how to build the ark. The god says:

"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."

However, the vessel is described as a coracle (a round ship) that is 200 feet in diameter, and 20 feet high. It was built with two levels and was covered with a roof. It was to be made of rope, reinforced with wooden ribs, and coated with bitumen to make it waterproof. Coracles were once used as water taxis in Iraq. The British Museum is planning to attempt to build an ark to these specifications.

Finkel said:

'I'm sure the story of the flood and a boat to rescue life is a Babylonian invention."

He believes that the Gilgamesh myth was originally based on memories of an earlier, devastating flood, and later passed on to the Hebrews while they were exiled in Babylon during the 5th century BCE. The Hebrews then changed it slightly and added it to the Book of Genesis. He said:

"The idea that floods are caused by sin is happily still alive among us."

He gave as an example a local English councilor who blamed recent storms in the UK on the government having legalized marriage for loving, committed same-sex couples.

Finkel has written a book titled "The Ark Before Noah." He commented that if he had known of the remark by the councilor, he would have mentioned it in the preface of the book. 3

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Could Noah have built the ark? Would it be seaworthy?

An article by Robert A Moore in the Creation/Evolution Journal of the National Center for Science Education concludes that the answer to both questions is no. 5 It would have required numerous miracles by God for the Noah family to have accomplished all of the activities specified in the Bible to collect, store, care for, and redistribute all of the plants and animals on Earth. Due to space limitations, we can only mention a few of the difficulties that Moore points out:

  • "Before he could even contemplate such a project, Noah would have needed a thorough education in naval architecture and in fields that would not arise for thousands of years such as physics, calculus, mechanics, and structural analysis. ... How could he anticipate the effects of roll, pitch, yaw, and slamming in a rough sea? How did he solve the differential equations for bending moment, torque, and shear stress?"

  • The design requirements cages in order to accommodate the different animals would have been overwhelming.

  • Some creationists have estimated that Noah and his three sons could have built the ark in 81 years. Unfortunatelly, long before the ark was ready to sail, the initial construction phases would have rotted away.

  • 300 feet is the upper limit for a wooden boat. Beyond that length, hull deformation would have caused excessive leakage. Yet the ark was allegedly 453 feet long.

  • Most biologist believe that a population of at least 50 individuals is required to prevent a species from becoming extinct. Many more than 50 is required to assure survival. But Noah only carried two of most species.

  • Noah would have had to collect, store, and redistribute seeds and spores of more than 420,000 species of plants in order to assure their survival. Moore estimates a total of more than 3.8 million different plant and animal species that the eight members of Noah's family would have had to collect, store, look after, and unload.

  • Moore notes that:

    "... a mature sheep (the creationists' average-sized animal) weighs 120 pounds, and at this rate the vertebrates alone would exceed 4,500 tons. When the huge volume of food and drinking water, the hundreds of thousands of gallons in the aquaria, and the giant dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals are included, it is clear that the ark would have sunk like a brick the moment it was launched."

  • Moore asks how could Noah verify the fertility and even the gender of animals coming onto the ark. He writes:

    "... 30 percent of the birds and even some mammals, are sexually monomorphic and [their gender] cannot be distinguished without modern veterinary techniques or even hormonal analysis."

  • He calculates that each animal on board the ark would have received a maximum of 44.3 seconds of attention from Noah's family during the entire voyage of the ark. This would have to be divided among supplying food and water, while removing waste products which alone would exceed 25 tons. Employees in today's zoos care for an average of 25,4 animals. The ark would have required a staff of over 150,000 to care for the creatures on board. They had eight.

  • After the ark landed the animals would have had to redistribute themselves around the world. The plant seeds would have to be manually transported to places throughout the world where they could grow.

  • Moore concludes:

    "It has by now become abundantly clear that the case for the ark utterly and completely fails. Despite the clever ingenuity of its proponents, nothing, from the trickiest problems to the tiniest details, can be salvaged without an unending resort to the supernatural. This includes so many pointless prodigies, so many inane interventions for no reason other than to save a literalistic Bible, that religion itself is cheapened in the process, not to mention the total abandonment of any semblance of science. No doubt in days to come some erstwhile arkeologists will concoct "solutions" to some of the difficulties we have raised, but no intellectually honest person can any longer pretend that the legend of Noah can possibly represent a historical occurrence." 5

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20th and 21st century "arks:"

  • During the 2014-FEB debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on creation vs. evolution, Nye mentioned that someone had built a copy of Noah's Ark. It floated successfully but broke apart in heavy seas and sank. We can find no detailed reference to this event on the Internet.

  • However, a 450 foot long wooden boat, the Wyoming, was built circa 1909 and was capable of carrying 6,000 tons of coal. It was almost identical in length to the biblical ark.

According to John Taylor of FolkArtShips.com:

"Because of the extreme length of the Wyoming and its wood construction, it tended to flex in heavy seas, which would cause the long planks to twist and buckle, thereby allowing seawater to intrude into the hold. The Wyoming had to use pumps to keep its hold relatively free of water.

She served for fifteen years. In March 1924, she headed from Norfolk to New Brunswick. A large storm arose. ... The Wyoming stopped ... to ride out the storm. Her size caught up with her - gaps opened in her planking and let water in. Normally her pumps could handle the leakage, but the ... storm was too much. She sank, taking thirteen sailors down with her." 6

  • noah ark logo Dutch evangelical Christian, creationist, and building contractor, Johan Huibers, once dreamed that Holland would be flooded in the future. He built a copy of the biblical ark that is 70 meters long -- half the length and about one-eighth the volume of the ark described in the Bible. However, to make it seaworthy, he first constructed a metal frame by welding the hulls of several barges together. He then covered the hull with Scandinavian pine to give it the appearance of the biblical ark. 7 The first visitors arrived in 2007. Huibers later transferred this ark to another group and started to build a full size model in 2009. On 2012-JUL-09, he opened a second ark to visitors. It is moored in the city of Dordrecht. 9 The ark itself does not actually contact the water, because, as a wooden boat, it would be too long to be seaworthy. Rather, it sits upon a structure consisting of 25 steel barges welded together. 10

  • A biblical epic film, "Noah" is scheduled to be distributed by Paramount Pictures to movie theatres on 2014-MAR-28. A set representing Noah's Ark was built at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Upper Brookville, NY. Production was held up briefly because of the arrival in late 2012-OCT of Hurricane Sandy. Producer Scott Franklin said:

    "Noah is a very short section of the Bible with a lot of gaps, so we definitely had to take some creative expression in it. But I think we stayed very true to the story and didn't really deviate from the Bible, despite the six-armed angels."

    No animals were harmed in the production of this film. In fact, no actual animals appear in the film at all. All are simulated. 8

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Bert Thompson, "In defense of...The Genesis flood, Part 1," Reason & Revelation, 1998-AUG, 18[8]: Pages 57-63. See:  http://www.apologeticspress.org/rr/rr1998/r&r9808a.htm
  2. Wilfred Elders, "Problems with 'Flood' Geology," at: http://home.attbi.com/
  3. Mark Prigg, "Was Noah's Ark ROUND? 3,700-year-old clay tablet reveals giant boat was made out of reeds and bitumen," Daily Mail, 2014-JAN-24, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

  4. book cover image Irving Finkel, "The ark before Noah: Decoding the story of the flood," Read reviews or order this book Available from Amazon.com in Hardcover, Paperback and Kindle formats.
  5. Robert A. Moore, "The impossible voyage of Noah's Ark," National Center for Science Education's Creation/Evolution Journal, 1983-Winter, at: http://ncse.com/
  6. John Taylor, "Wyoming," Folk Art Ships, undated, at: http://www.folkartships.com/
  7. Robert Nisbet, "Modern-Day Noah Opens Doors Of Ark Creation," Sky News, 2012-JUL-29, at: http://news.sky.com/
  8. "Noah (film)," Wikipedia, as on 2014-FEB-08, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  9. Toby Sterling, "Dutchman launches life-sized replica of Noah's Ark," Yahoo! News, 2012-EC-10, at: http://news.yahoo.com/
  10. "Johan's Ark," Wikipedia, as on 2014-JAN-22, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-AUG-27
Latest update: 2014-FEB-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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