Noah’s Ark

Darren Aronofsky’s movie, Noah, may have people wondering about the biblical account. So what was the ark like?

The Hebrew word for ark means box. In the Old Testament, the word is also used of the papyrus (or bullrushes) ark in which Moses was placed as an infant (Exodus 2:3, 5). In fact, the word choice may have reminded the readers of the safety of Noah’s ark. A different word in Hebrew is used for the Ark of the Covenant, although both words mean box in some sense. Noah’s ark is not a ship in the normal sense of the word. It had no means of propulsion, and it may have had limited or no means of navigation. It was simply intended to rescue from the flood.

The text says that the ark was to be made of gopher wood. We do not know what gopher wood was. The “gopher” of the text of Genesis is a transliteration of the Hebrew word. (By the way there is no relationship in the Hebrew word to our English word gopher.) The etymology of the word is unknown. Several suggestions are made: cypress, pitch-pine, or simply some kind of resinous wood. The suggestions make sense given its use. The Greek Septuagint has “squared wood” which seems to be their attempt to translate gopher wood.

The dimensions of the ark were 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide by 30 cubits high which comes to about 450 feet by 75 feet by 45 feet. The proportions of the ark are correct for a cargo ship. It size is about as large as a wooden ship could be built. Sailing ships in the Western world generally did not get much above 330 feet long, but the Greeks were able to build ships of this size. China in the 1400s built ships which may have been as long as the ark.

The ark was made into rooms (literally the Hebrew word is nests). We are not told how many or how big. The ark was covered with pitch inside and out, which would have been used as a water seal. “A window” of the KJV in Genesis 6:16 is now thought to mean roof or skylight. The word only occurs once in the Old Testament making it more difficult to define. It may refer to a window all the way around with a height of a cubit (or about 18 inches), which may have been covered or opened as needed. The ark had three decks and one door.

If you like details, Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study by John Woodmorappe may be of interest. He concludes that the ark was not beyond the building skills of the period and goes into details about how it might have been done.

Sixty-eight different people groups are known to have flood stories. Varying flood accounts are found around the world.


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