Noah's Ark

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For the TV series, see Noah's Arc (TV series).
For the chess opening trap, see Noah's Ark Trap.
For the water park, see Noah's Ark (waterpark).

In the Hebrew Bible's account (Gen. 6-9) of a Deluge (and the elaborations surrounding it in the various Abrahamic traditions), Noah's ark is a boat Noah built at God's command to keep Noah, his family, and a core breeding stock of the worlds animals safe.

Missing image
A painting on board by the American Edward Hicks (1780 - 1849), showing animals boarding Noah's Ark, two of every kind.

The ark

According to Genesis the Ark was built of gopher wood. The meaning of "gopher" is not clear, as this is the only occurrence of the word in the Bible. It has been suggested that it is related to the Hebrew word kopher (pitch), or was at one time kopher but miscopied. If so, it would mean that the Ark was made of wood treated with pitch, of an unspecified type of tree. Some modern translations of the bible replace the word gopher with cypress, but there is little evidence to support this identification.

It was covered with pitch, 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. However, the actual size of the ark cannot be determined because the biblical account does not specify the type of cubit. If the Egyptian cubit was used, the Ark's dimensions could range from 129 metres long, 21.5 metres wide and 12.9 metres high to 165 metres long by 27 metres wide and 16.5 metres high. If the Sumerian cubit was used, the metric equivalents would approximate 155.2 metres in length, 25.9 metres in width and 15.5 metres in height. This proportion of length to width (6 to 1) is used by modern naval architects and is a very stable shape, unlike the cube-shaped ark of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Traditional pictures of the ark typically show an unresearched depiction (something shaped like a boat). The Hebrew text uses the word tebah or "box" to describe the Ark.

The directions recorded in Genesis describe an oblong three-storey structure, with a door in the side and a window in the roof. It is unclear just what the window was, as only one dimension is given for it. The Hebrew word for window, tsohar, merely indicates a "light aperture", giving no indication of its size or shape. Genesis states that Noah was commanded to "complete it to the extent of a cubit upward". The use of the words "extent" and "upward" suggest something akin to a raised vent or stack, which could have served as a ventilation shaft for the passengers. The account does not, however, mention a cover or door for the window.

In preparation for the flood, Noah, his wife, his sons, Shem,Ham, and Japheth and their wives entered the ark. They took seven pairs of each kind of clean animal, two pairs of each kind of unclean animal and seven pairs of each kind of bird into the ark. Then God sealed the door.

According to a Jewish tradition, the ark had an extra passenger: the giant Og, King of Bashan, who sat on the roof of the ark during the whole of the flood period and so survived the flood. Noah passed him food out a window. Verse 3:20 of the Christian book I Peter however, states to the contrary that only eight souls were on the ark and therefore saved from the deluge, accounting only for Noah, his three sons, and the men's four wives).

The flood

The Genesis narrative states that on the seventeenth day of the second month of the 600th year of Noah's life, the "fountains of the great deep" and "windows of heaven" broke open, bringing on the deluge both from forty days of rain and a subterranean water source.

Genesis gives specific dates for the major events of the flood. The flood was sent in the 600th year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth day of the second month. On the seventeenth day of the seventh month, the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. On the first day of the tenth month, the tops of the mountains were seen. On the first day of the first month of the 601st year of Noah's life, Noah lifted the cover of the ark to see that the face of the Earth was dry. On the twenty-seventh day of the second month, the Earth was dry, and Noah, his wife, sons, their wives, and all the animals left the ark.

According to Archbishop Ussher's calculations the flood took place around 2348 B.C. This has since been revised by conservative scholars to 2519BC.

After the flood

After several months, water began to subside, and the Ark came to rest on "the mountains of Ararat" (Genesis 8:4). (That statement is even more ambiguous than the question "where in those mountains?" suggests, and some hoaxes and misconceptions involve these ambiguities.) After waiting another forty days, Noah sent out a dove to see if there was dry land for it to land on, but it returned. He waited seven more days, and sent it out again, and it returned with an olive leaf. After another week, he sent it out yet again, but this time it did not return. He knew then that the time had come to disembark.

God commanded Noah to take his family and all the animals out of the ark and concluded a covenant with him, in which he promised never to flood the Earth again, and imposed a basic set of laws on humanity. God symbolized his promise with a rainbow, to remind his people after each storm that he would never again destroy the world by water.


The Biblical account asserts that God sent the flood because mankind had become completely corrupt, and the heart of mankind was full of sin, so God regretted having made mankind, and decided to wipe it out, saving only Noah and his household, because he found Noah to be a just and righteous man. (Genesis 6:6). This raises a number of theological issues regarding the nature of God.

Skeptics of the story find the idea of an all-good, all-powerful God destroying humanity and all other life on the planet (except Noah, his family and the animals on the Ark of course) simply because He was displeased with them highly questionable and immoral if it were true.

Christians, Muslims, and Jews are divided between those who take the story as "literally true" and those who do not. The former, including Protestant fundamentalists and most Orthodox Jews, believe that the flood was a historical part of God's divine plan for the Earth and mankind whichalthough it may appear harsh to uswas just and good in His eyes. The latter, including most Catholic theologians, liberal Protestants, Conservative and Reform Jews, seek to understand its message about God's love for mankind without believing in either the historicity or theology of planetary destruction.

Those ascribing to Open Theism believe that God created Mankind hoping they would remain good and walk with Him, but that God was surprised and disappointed to find mankind become completely corrupt and violent. This led God to regret having created mankind, and to choose to wipe them out and start fresh.

Other flood accounts

Flood stories are widespread in world mythology, with examples found in European, African, Native American, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and other societies. Noah's counterpart in Greek mythology was Deucalion and Pyrrha, found in Apollodorus's Bibliotheke and Ovid's Metamorphoses, among other sources. In Indian texts, a terrible flood was supposed to have left only one survivora saint named Manu, who was saved by Vishnu in the form of a fish. The Sumerian story of Utnapishtim, dating to the third millennium BC and found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, has broadly the same structure and plot as the Genesis account. The Sumerian story was later translated into Akkadian, Hittite andthrough the fragments Berossus's BabyloniakaGreek. The story of Yima in Zoroastrian mythology also contains a very similar account, although in this case it is ice, not water, that threatens life.

The flood as purported history

Mainstream Biblical scholarship concludes that the Biblical account was based upon Mesopotamian models. A majority of Christian Fundamentalists believe that the prevalence of the story points to its origin in an actual, historical event. They argue that the high level of detail given in Genesis makes it an inherently reliable account, and that the other stories are accounts of the same historical event which were distorted into mythology over time. They claim that the Epic of Gilgamesh is merely a corrupted retelling of Genesis (though this is rejected by mainstream biblical historians and archaeologists, who regard Genesis as having been written considerably later than Gilgamesh).

Outside Christian Fundamentalist circles, the Biblical account is regarded as being somewhere between apocryphal and metaphorical . As the majority of the human population has historically lived close to water sources such as rivers and seas (and still does), one would expect that exceptional floods would occasionally happen and be recorded in traditional histories. Such floods would be local (though widespread) in character, possibly affecting the entire known world of the tribe or people in question. A catastrophic flood event could thus be "global" from the geographically limited perspective of those who experienced it, but would not be global in the sense of affecting the entire planet.

In addition, the concept of a universal flood is one that lends itself particularly well to metaphor, symbolising the eradication of sin and corruption and the renewal of the Earth and mankind. Historians have pointed out that the "superpowers" of the ancient Middle East – the Sumerians, Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians – all lived in flood plains where annual inundations were a keenly-awaited event in the religious and social year.


Flood geology, a doctrine advanced by creationists, holds that the global flood of Genesis actually occurred and that many geological formations of today are best explained in terms of a global flood in the recent past. This includes phenomena such as submarine river canyon extensions, layered fossil fuel deposits, fossil layers, and layered sedimentary strata.

This is rejected by mainstream geology – which is to say, virtually the entire scientific discipline – which holds that the Earth is extremely ancient, that geological formations were created over many millions of years and that there was no Great Flood. The concept of flood geology was abandoned as a serious scientific hypothesis in the mid-19th century following advances in scientific understanding of geological processes, though it is still promoted (mostly in the United States) by Biblical literalists.

Some have suggested that the Biblical account may be based on folk memories of severe but localised floods that affected the Persian Gulf or Black Sea regions in prehistoric times.


The Genealogies of Genesis make a clear assertion that people lived between 700 and 900 years before the flood, but that the lifespans quickly dropped immediately following the flood to approximately 100 years by the time of Abraham. Some creationists have claimed that this drop in lifespans was due to the negative effects of inbreeding and a less hospitable environment following the flood, although scientific evidence to support this idea is scanty at best.

Biology as understood by creationists holds that the animals on the ark were representatives of the created kinds, not representative of every species known to modern taxonomy. These 'kinds' had significantly more genetic information and a significantly superior genetic structure than the animals of today, and that speciation from these 'kinds' followed the flood as a result of reproductive isolation and loss of genetic information. Although it is unknown exactly how animal 'kinds' relate to modern taxonomic classifications, the creation narrative in Genesis indicates that a 'kind' is a category that was reproductively isolated from other 'kinds'. For example, some creationists have argued that Felidae may have been a "kind," and the various subtaxa of felines speciated due to reproductive isolation and inbreeding in the years following the flood. On this basis creationists argue that there would have been about 16,000 individual creatures on board the ark [1] ( Many creationists argue that some dinosaurs were also included.

Opponents argue that there is little chance that so few humans and animals would have survived for long. With such a small gene pool, they would have become extinct soon because of the negative effects of inbreeding. Even if they had survived, the genes of all extant species would show the effects of a severe population bottleneck—such a bottleneck is not in evidence.

Skeptical biologists claim several impossibilities in the tale of Noah's ark:

  • It would not be possible to hold all the world's species in an ark with the dimension specified above. There are possibly up to 100 million animal species alone!
  • It would not be possible to feed these millions of animals, both during the flood and shortly afterwards. This is a particular issue for carnivore species.
  • How did specific species and classes of animals become trapped on different continents? For example, most marsupials are only found in Australia, while isolated islands such as Madagascar are home to many species found nowhere else. If Noah's ark was true, they argue then we should expect a more homogenous converge of species.
  • Many aquatic ecosystems would have died off from a massive change in salinity.
  • Many modern plants would not have survived.

Depth of the floodwaters

Flood geologists hold that the antediluvian mountains were significantly lower than present ranges, that present mountain ranges were formed only after radical geological activity during and after flood, and that the sea-floor dropped during and after the flood to draw the extra water off the continents. They point to submarine river canyon extensions on the Ganges, Congo, Hudson, and Amazon as evidence that sealevels were much lower at one time, and that the canyons were formed as the flood-waters receded from the continents.

Genesis 1:9 refers to God commanding the water to gather to one place, implying a single large ocean and single large continent (which was a factor leading Antonio Snider in 1859 to suggest that the continents had separated during the Flood, although it was not until the 1960s that the idea of continental movement was widely accepted). Genesis 10:25 says that "the earth was divided" during the days of Peleg, after the flood, although it is not certain whether or not this refers to the division of the continents, but it would explain how animal and plant life had time to spread between continents. Psalm 104 says that after the waters covered the mountains, the mountains rose and the valleys sank. All of this suggests that (a) the flood did not need to cover the modern-day mountains, and (b) the subterranean water added to the seas during the flood is now stored in the rearranged and deeper-than-before oceans.

Ancient Chinese characters

Creationists hold that the word for "boat" in Chinese characters (which survived the 1950s and 1960s character simplification) appears to be composed of the symbols for "vessel," "eight," and "person" (literally "mouth," and sometimes translated as "family member"). According to Chinese tradition, the characters were developed by the historian Cangjie at the order of the Yellow Emperor during the 3rd millennium BC, and in many cases used combinations of pictograms to represent more abstract ideas. They argue that Cangjie based his character for "boat" on his historical knowledge of the eight people saved on a ship through the flood (Kang & Nelson, 1979) [2] ( The components for "eight" and "person" have been reduced to merely phonetic significance in Chinese today.

Missing image

However, most Chinese characters cannot actually be interpreted by their graphic elements alone [3] ( The vast majority of Chinese characters are actually radical-phonetic compounds, in which the radical indicates the meaning while the phonetic indicates the pronunciation (usually based on the pronunciation of Ancient Chinese) (DeFrancis, 1984). In the case of the character for "boat," 船, the left-side radical is 舟 (meaning "boat" or "vessel"), while the right-side phonetic 㕣 is shared with other characters that have similar pronunciations. For instance, in Cantonese Chinese, which preserves many of the rimes of Ancient Chinese, the characters 船 ("boat"), 沿 ("along"), and 鉛 ("lead metal"), all of which feature the same phonetic, are pronounced syhn, yhn, and yhn, respectively. The 㕣 phonetic used in 船 does not actually signify "eight persons" but rather only the pronunciation. In addition, the 八 in the phonetic originally meant "to divide", not "eight," which is the modern meaning. Finally, the interpretation also falls short due to the fact that the oracle script (the type of Chinese writing that was used when Cangjie supposedly developed Chinese writing) for the character 船 is not known to exist [4] (

Modern searches

The three most popular locations for the Ark are the Ethiopian highlands, somewhere in the mountains of Ararat and most specifically Mount Judi (Cudi Dağı in Turkish) in the Ararat range both of which are in eastern Turkey. Ethiopia is also known as the country where the Ark of the Covenant can allegedly be found, in the care of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Whether insightful or misguided, the only archaeologist to have claimed to have possibly located the Ark's final resting place was Ron Wyatt. Although rejected by many Christians as misguided or a fraud, since his death he has been heroized by many Bible-believers; a plethora of websites coming into existence concerning him, many fabricating information about him and his discoveries. Wyatt does not seem to have a single defender within academic archaeolgy. It is likely that few are aware of his work, as none of his data has been published in a peer-reviewed archaeological journal, the mechanism by which professional archaeologists evaluate each other's work.

In 2004, yet another expedition went to Mount Ararat in Turkey to try to locate the Ark. Samples from Turkey tested by Geological and Nuclear Sciences, a New Zealand government research institute, were found to be volcanic rock rather than petrified wood.

Modern allusions

In Western culture, the image of Noah's Ark with its many animals has taken on the symbolism of the effort to preserve wildlife.

Noah's Ark toys with dozens of pairs of animal figures, usually set up in a long two-abreast line leading to the toy ark, were popular among middle-class children in the 19th century.

A "space ark" is a common plot element in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction, with species of all life on Earth preserved in space in case of some terrestrial disaster, usually a world-wide nuclear war.

See also


External links


  • Noah's Ark on the Web (, comprehensive guide to Noah's Ark in art, religion, archaeology and culture.


  • Bible version (, Genesis 6ff. (King James Version)
  • Noah's Ark and the Ziusudra Epic (
  • Laputan Logic ( on Babylonian version of the flood myth





de:Arche Noah fr:Arche de Noé he:תיבת נח ja:ノアの方舟 nl:Ark van Noach pl:Arka Noego (Biblia) pt:Arca de No


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