Hollywood resurrects Noah's Ark, but did they get it right?
The new film Noah starring Russell Crowe as the man chosen by God to collect pairs of animals on Earth and gather them into a massive ark has just hit cinemas around the world. But has Hollywood got it right?
The movie features a great rectangular-shaped vessel some 50 feet tall and 500 feet long and made of wood. According to film director, Darren Aronofsky, the inspiration for the design came by "going back to what God tells Noah in the Bible". The problem is that Aronofsky may have been using the wrong instruction manual when designing the Biblical blockbuster.
Last year, translation of an ancient instruction manual for building an ark written on a clay tablet dating back 3,700 years turned the common depiction of Noah's Ark on its head. Far from describing a traditional wooden ship that would float on flood waters with animals peering out through the windows, the ancient text described a ship that was in fact a circular disc shape.
A traditional depiction of Noah's Ark as a typical wooden ship.
For years, archaeologists have scoured the world for factual evidence for the Bible story of Noah's flood, but due to lack of scientific proof, many believe the story to be an Old Testament myth.
However, linguistic expert Dr Irving Finkel firmly believes that Noah’s Ark and the ‘flood myth’ describe real events that took place, and he bases this belief not on faith, but on archaeological evidence coming from a 3,700-year-old clay tablet. The tablet was found in the Middle East by Leonard Simmons, who served in the RAF during the 1940s. However, the ancient artefact wasn't subject to any research until Simmons's son Douglas took it to the British Museum in 2008.
As an expert in deciphering cuneiform script and assistant keeper of the ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures department at the British Museum, Finkel was able to translate the text on the clay tablet, leading to a new interpretation of the ark story.
The tablet described a Mesopotamian story, which became the account in Genesis in the Old Testament, of Noah and the ark that saved every animal species from the flood waters. The text describes God speaking to Atram-Hasis, a Sumerian king who is the Noah figure in earlier versions of the ark story.
He 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 build with a circular design; Let its length and breadth be the same.'
The ancient Babylonian text describes the ark as a round 65-metre diameter coracle with walls 6 metre high, spread over two levels. The craft was divided into sections to divide the various animals into their own sections. The 60 lines of text, which Dr Finkel describes as a “detailed construction manual for building an ark”, claims the craft was built using ropes and reeds before being smeared with bitumen to make it waterproof.
An ancient clay tablet describes an ark that is circular in shape. Image source.
Scholars have always assumed that the ark was an ocean-going boat with a pointed stem and stern for riding the waves, but according to Finkel, the ark didn’t have to go anywhere, it just had to float.
The story of Noah’s ark is described in dozens of ancient texts and is told in three major world religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. According to the story, God flooded the world as punishment for its corruption and told Noah to build an ark and fill it with a male and female of every breed of animal. Once the flood receded, the ark came to rest on a mountain. Many people believe that the story is historically accurate and that this mountain was Mount Ararat in Turkey, the region's highest point. Other's believe that the flood myth was simply a creative story passed down from generation to generation.
Featured image: Noah's Ark under construction in the new film 'Noah'. Photo credit: Paramount