The search for Noah’s ark has been carried out since the early century AD and up to the modern era today.
Noah’s Ark is the vessel in the Genesis flood narrative through which God spares Noah, his follower, and specimens of all the world’s animals from a world-engulfing flood.
In the Quran, the Ark appears as Safina Nūḥ (Arabic: سفينة نوح “Noah’s boat”). Literature review mentions these, although there are various contradictions; regarding the shape, the contents of the boat, does the boat even exist?
In Abrahamic religion, Noah’s Ark is a ship that was built at the behest of God to save Noah, his family, his believers and the crowds of animals around the world from the flood. This story is found in the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament in the Christian Bible, and in the Koran.
A number of Orthodox Jews and Christians based on the Old Testament and Muslims based on the Qur’an believe that this story really happened. However, some Orthodox Jews and Christians, based on the documentary hypothesis, claim that the story told in the Book of Genesis may consist of a number of semi-independent sources, and that the process of compiling it over several centuries can help explain the confusion and repetition that appears in the text. However, some Orthodox Jews and Christians who believe this story claim that the chaos can be explained rationally.
Sumerian myths also tell stories like this. Unlike the Abrahamic religion, the character in the Sumerian story is not named Noah but Ziusudra. The Sumerian tale tells how Ziusudra was warned by the gods to build a ship to save himself from a flood that would destroy mankind. Not only in Abrahamic and Sumerian religions, similar stories are also found in many cultures around the world. Indeed, the story of the flood is one of the most common folk tales in the whole world.
The story of the Ark has been described at length in various Abrahamic religions, mixing theoretical solutions with practical problems such as how Noah disposed of animal dung, or with allegorical interpretations that lead people to the path of salvation by obeying the God commandments.
In the early 18th century, the development of geology and biogeography as science has made few natural historians feel able to justify this literal interpretation of the story of the Ark.
The scribes continued to study the mountain where the ship was anchored. However, the Bible states that the ship was anchored in the northeast region of Turkey and the Qur’an states that the ship landed on Mount Judi.
Origins (Mesopotamian precursors)
For well over a century, scholars have recognized that the Bible’s story of Noah’s Ark is based on older Mesopotamian models. Because all these flood stories deal with events that allegedly happened at the dawn of history, they give the impression that the myths themselves must come from very primitive origins, but the myth of the global flood that destroys all life only begins to appear in the Old Babylonian period (20th–16th centuries BCE). The reasons for this emergence of the typical Mesopotamian flood myth may have been bound up with the specific circumstances of the end of the Third Dynasty of Ur around 2004 BCE and the restoration of order by the First Dynasty of Isin.
There are nine known versions of the Mesopotamian flood story, each more or less adapted from an earlier version. In the oldest version, inscribed in the Sumerian city of Nippur c.1600 BCE, the hero is King Ziusudra. This story is known as the Sumerian Flood Story and probably derives from an earlier version. The Ziusudra version tells how he builds a boat and rescues life when the gods decide to destroy it. This basic plot is common in several subsequent flood-stories and heroes, including Noah. Ziusudra’s Sumerian name means “He of long life.” In Babylonian versions, his name is Atrahasis, but the meaning is the same. In the Atrahasis version, the flood is a river flood.
The version closest to the biblical story of Noah, as well as its most likely source, is that of Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh. A complete text of Utnapishtim’s story is a clay tablet dating from the 7th century BCE, but fragments of the story have been found from as far back as the 19th-century BCE. The last known version of the Mesopotamian flood story was written in Greek in the 3rd century BCE by a Babylonian priest named Berossus. From the fragments that survive, it seems little changed from the versions of two thousand years before.
The parallels between Noah’s Ark and the arks of Babylonian flood-heroes Atrahasis and Utnapishtim have often been noted. Atrahasis’ Ark was circular, resembling an enormous quffa, with one or two decks. Utnapishtim’s ark was a cube with six decks of seven compartments, each divided into nine subcompartments (63 subcompartments per deck, 378 total). Noah’s Ark was rectangular with three decks. There is believed to be a progression from a circular to a cubic or square to rectangular. The most striking similarity is the near-identical deck areas of the three arks: 14,400 cubits2, 14,400 cubits2, and 15,000 cubits2 for Atrahasis, Utnapishtim, and Noah, only 4% different. Professor Finkel concluded that “the iconic story of the Flood, Noah, and the Ark as we know it today certainly originated in the landscape of ancient Mesopotamia, modern Iraq.”
Linguistic parallels between Noah’s and Atrahasis’ arks have also been noted. The word used for “pitch” (sealing tar or resin) in Genesis is not the normal Hebrew word, but is closely related to the word used in the Babylonian story. Likewise, the Hebrew word for “ark” (tevah) is nearly identical to the Babylonian word for an oblong boat (ṭubbû), especially given that “v” and “b” are the same letter in Hebrew: bet (ב).
However, the causes for God or the gods sending the flood differ in the various stories. In the Hebrew myth, the flood inflicts God’s judgment on wicked humanity. The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh gives no reasons, and the flood appears the result of divine caprice. In the Babylonian Atrahasis version, the flood is sent to reduce human overpopulation, and after the flood, other measures were introduced to limit humanity.
There is consensus among scholars that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, beginning with Genesis) was the product of a long and complicated process that was not completed until after the Babylonian exile. Biblical scholar Richard Friedman suggests that the Flood narrative was composed by the combination of two versions of the story, characterized by the names “God” and “Yahweh”.
In later works (Rabbinic Judaism – Noah in rabbinic literature)
The myth of the flood closely parallels the story of the creation: a cycle of creation, un-creation, and re-creation, in which the Ark plays a pivotal role. The universe as conceived by the ancient Hebrews comprised a flat disk-shaped earth with the heavens above and Sheol, the underworld of the dead, below. These three were surrounded by a watery “ocean” of chaos, protected by the firmament, a transparent but solid dome resting on the mountains which ringed the earth. Noah’s three-deck Ark represents this three-level Hebrew cosmos in miniature: heavens, earth, and waters beneath. In Genesis 1, God created the three-level world as a space in the midst of the waters for humanity; in Genesis 6–8, God re-floods that space, saving only Noah, his family, and the animals in the Ark.
The Talmudic tractates Sanhedrin, Avodah Zarah, and Zevahim relate that, while Noah was building the Ark, he attempted to warn his neighbors of the coming deluge, but was ignored or mocked. God placed lions and other ferocious animals to protect Noah and his family from the wicked who tried to keep them from the Ark. According to one Midrash, it was God, or the angels, who gathered the animals and their food to the Ark. As there had been no need to distinguish between clean and unclean animals before this time, the clean animals made themselves known by kneeling before Noah as they entered the Ark. A differing opinion is that the Ark itself distinguished clean animals from unclean, admitting seven pairs each of the former and one pair each of the latter.
According to Sanhedrin 108b, Noah was engaged both day and night in feeding and caring for the animals, and did not sleep for the entire year aboard the Ark. The animals were the best of their kind and behaved with utmost goodness. They did not procreate so that the number of creatures that disembarked was exactly equal to the number that embarked. The raven created problems, refusing to leave the Ark when Noah sent it forth and accusing the patriarch of wishing to destroy its race, but as the commentators pointed out, God wished to save the raven, for its descendants were destined to feed the prophet Elijah.
According to one tradition, refuse was stored on the lowest of the Ark’s three decks, humans and clean beasts on the second, and the unclean animals and birds on the top; a differing interpretation described the refuse as being stored on the topmost deck, from where it was shoveled into the sea through a trapdoor. Precious stones, as bright as the noon sun, provided light, and God ensured the food remained fresh. In an unorthodox interpretation, the 12th-century Jewish commentator Abraham ibn Ezra interpreted the ark as a vessel that remained underwater for 40 days, after which it floated to the surface.
Interpretations of the ark narrative played an essential role in early Christian doctrine. The First Epistle of Peter (composed around the end of the first century AD) compared Noah’s salvation through water to Christian salvation through baptism.
St. Hippolytus of Rome (died 235) sought to demonstrate that “the Ark was a symbol of the Christ who was expected”, stating that the vessel had its door on the east side—the direction from which Christ would appear at the Second Coming—and that the bones of Adam were brought aboard, together with gold, frankincense, and myrrh (the symbols of the Nativity of Christ). Hippolytus furthermore stated that the Ark floated to and fro in the four directions on the waters, making the sign of the cross, before eventually landing on Mount Kardu “in the east, in the land of the sons of Raban, and the Orientals call it Mount Godash; the Armenians call it Ararat”. On a more practical plane, Hippolytus explained that the lowest of the three decks was for wild beasts, the middle for birds and domestic animals, and the top for humans. He says male animals were separated from females by sharp stakes to prevent breeding.
The early Church Father and theologian Origen (c. 182–251), in response to a critic who doubted that the Ark could contain all the animals in the world, argued that Moses, the traditional author of the book of Genesis, had been brought up in Egypt and would therefore have used the larger Egyptian cubit. He also fixed the shape of the Ark as a truncated pyramid, square at its base, and tapering to a square peak one cubit on a side; it was not until the 12th century that it came to be thought of as a rectangular box with a sloping roof.
Early Christian artists depicted Noah standing in a small box on the waves, symbolizing God saving the Christian Church in its turbulent early years. St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430), in his work City of God, demonstrated that the dimensions of the Ark corresponded to the dimensions of the human body, which according to Christian doctrine is the body of Christ and in turn the body of the Church. St. Jerome (c. 347–420) identified the raven, which was sent forth and did not return, as the “foul bird of wickedness” expelled by baptism; more enduringly, the dove and olive branch came to symbolize the Holy Spirit and the hope of salvation and eventually, peace. The olive branch remains a secular and religious symbol of peace today.
The Quran and later Muslim works (Noah in Islam)
In contrast to the Jewish tradition, which uses a term that can be translated as a “box” or “chest” to describe the Ark, surah 29:15 of the Quran refers to it as a safina, an ordinary ship, and surah 54:13 describes the Ark as “a thing of boards and nails”. Abd Allah ibn Abbas, a contemporary of Muhammad, wrote that Noah was in doubt as to what shape to make the Ark and that Allah revealed to him that it was to be shaped like a bird’s belly and fashioned of teak wood.
Abdallah ibn ‘Umar al-Baidawi, writing in the 13th century, explains that in the first of its three levels, wild and domesticated animals were lodged, in the second human beings, and the third birds. On every plank was the name of a prophet. Three missing planks, symbolizing three prophets, were brought from Egypt by Og, son of Anak, the only one of the giants permitted to survive the flood. The body of Adam was carried in the middle to divide the men from the women. Surah 11:41 says: “And he said, ‘Ride ye in it; in the Name of Allah it moves and stays!'”; this was taken to mean that Noah said, “In the Name of Allah!” when he wished the Ark to move, and the same when he wished it to stand still.
The medieval scholar Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn Masudi (died 956) wrote that Allah commanded the Earth to absorb the water, and certain portions which were slow in obeying received salt water in punishment and so became dry and arid. The water which was not absorbed formed the seas, so that the waters of the flood still exist. Masudi says the ark began its voyage at Kufa in central Iraq and sailed to Mecca, circling the Kaaba before finally traveling to Mount Judi, which surah 11:44 gives as its final resting place. This mountain is identified by tradition with a hill near the town of Jazirat ibn Umar on the east bank of the Tigris in the province of Mosul in northern Iraq, and Masudi says that the spot could be seen in his time.
The Baháʼí Faith regards the Ark and the Flood as symbolic. In Baháʼí belief, only Noah’s followers were spiritually alive, preserved in the “ark” of his teachings, as others were spiritually dead.
The Baháʼí scripture Kitáb-i-Íqán endorses the Islamic belief that Noah had numerous companions on the ark, either 40 or 72, as well as his family, and that he taught for 950 (symbolic) years before the flood. The Baháʼí Faith was founded in 19th century Persia, and it recognizes divine messengers from both the Abrahamic and the Indian traditions.
While research shows a literal Noah’s Ark could not be practical, nor is there geologic evidence of a biblical global flood, commentators throughout history have made attempts to demonstrate the Ark’s existence.
The first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica from 1771 describes the Ark as factual. It also attempts to explain how the Ark could house all living animal types: “… Buteo and Kircher have proved geometrically, that, taking the common cubit as a foot and a half, the ark was abundantly sufficient for all the animals supposed to be lodged in it … the number of species of animals will be found much less than is generally imagined, not amounting to a hundred species of quadrupeds”. It also endorses a supernatural explanation for the flood, stating that “many attempts have been made to account for the deluge by means of natural causes: but these attempts have only tended to discredit philosophy, and to render their authors ridiculous”.
The 1860 edition attempts to solve the problem of the Ark being unable to house all animal types by suggesting a local flood, which is described in the 1910 edition as part of a “gradual surrender of attempts to square scientific facts with a literal interpretation of the Bible” that resulted in “the ‘higher criticism’ and the rise of the modern scientific views as to the origin of species” leading to “scientific comparative mythology” as the frame in which Noah’s Ark was interpreted by 1875.
Ark’s Geometry and Size
The structure of the Ark (and the chronology of the flood) are homologous with the Jewish Temple and with Temple worship. Accordingly, Noah’s instructions are given to him by God (Genesis 6:14–16): the ark is to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high (approximately 134×22×13 m or 440×72×43 ft).
These dimensions are based on a numerological preoccupation with the number sixty, the same number characterizing the vessel of the Babylonian flood-hero. Its three internal divisions reflect the three-part universe imagined by the ancient Israelites: heaven, the earth, and the underworld.
Each deck is the same height as the Temple in Jerusalem, itself a microcosmic model of the universe, and each is three times the area of the court of the tabernacle, leading to the suggestion that the author saw both Ark and tabernacle as serving for the preservation of human life. It has a door in the side, and a tsohar, which may be either a roof or a skylight. It is to be made of Gopher wood, a word which appears nowhere else in the Bible – and divided into qinnim, a word which always refers to birds’ nests elsewhere in the Bible, leading some scholars to emend this to qanim, reeds. The finished vessel is to be smeared with koper, meaning pitch or bitumen: in Hebrew the two words are closely related, kaparta (“smeared”) … bakopper.
This engraving, made from carved sardonyx and gold, features a line of animals on the gangway to Noah’s ark. It is based on a woodcut by the French illustrator Bernard Salomon. From the Walters Art Museum.
In Europe, the Renaissance saw much speculation on the nature of the Ark that might have seemed familiar to early theologians such as Origen and Augustine. At the same time, however, a new class of scholarship arose, one which, while never questioning the literal truth of the ark story, began to speculate on the practical workings of Noah’s vessel from within a purely naturalistic framework.
In the 15th century, Alfonso Tostada gave a detailed account of the logistics of the Ark, down to arrangements for the disposal of dung and the circulation of fresh air. The 16th-century geometer Johannes Buteo calculated the ship’s internal dimensions, allowing room for Noah’s grinding mills and smokeless ovens, a model widely adopted by other commentators.
source: Wikipedia with adaptation