Noah’s Ark

Okay, this news item excited me, but I understand not everyone would be.

The British Museum recently announced the translation of an ancient cuneiform tablet on the Flood that describes in detail the construction of the ark . . . and it is round!

The tablet went on display at the museum, and soon engineers will follow the ancient instructions to see whether the vessel could have actually been built.  It is also the subject of a new book, The Ark Before Noah, by Irving Finkel, the museum’s  expert who translated the tablet.

I have long been interested in Mesopotamian history (see the posting on October 10, 2009, Symbol of the Universe) and often visit the University of Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology for just that reason.  I also have several books on the subject that I found at the University’s bookstore by looking at the texts assigned for their archeology courses.

The basic Biblical story of the Flood was well known in Mesopotamian times, as would be expected for such a monumental and ancient event.  Despite the small differences, it lends credibility to the Biblical version.  Diverse cultures all over the world, such as the South American Mayas, have similar stories of a flood.  (Although many experts point out local floods are common world-wide and are so awesome they became a part of the mythology.  It is easy to imagine the entire world is drowning.  Even I am impressed by the occasional flooding of the Brandywine River.)

And there may be more information to be discovered.  There is a huge supply of cuneiform tablets waiting for translation that have been found in training schools for Sumerian scribes.  The students copied well-known tales for practice, and the tablets were saved.  Most are the same stories over and over again, but occasionally a new one is discovered or a new passage in an old one.   The tablets at the University of Penn are impressive.  Many are small, about the size of a cell phone, and packed edge-to-edge with tiny writing.  Pressing the stylus into the wet clay raised the surrounding clay into puffy hills, and the wonder is that anyone could read it.

Mesopotamian boat 2But the idea of a round ark also matched a vivid memory I had from about seventh grade.  It was the first time we went to a different room with a different teacher for a specific subject.  The subject must have been history or geography, or maybe even social studies, but the book we were given opened with a photo of Iraqi fishermen on the shores of the Tigris River standing in round boats of woven reeds called “coracles,” very similar to the one shown here that I found on the Internet.  Coracle-type boats are known all over the world and are still used here and there.  The Irish version is called a “curragh.”  You can even read how to build one yourself on the Mother Earth News website,  although not big enough to hold two of every animal.

Engineers are attempting to build the Mesopotamian boat for a TV documentary.  It may not work since the Mesopotamians were interpreting oral tales ancient even to them, and they would be expected to base the design on the much smaller boats they knew.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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