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Fortigurn

The Genesis flood

16 posts in this topic

In this first article (of four), the following questions are addressed:

* Was the flood local or global?

* Is there any physical evidence for the flood?

* Are there any other ancient records of the flood?

* Was the Genesis flood story copied from the older flood stories?

Was the flood local or global?

The language used to describe the flood does appear to refer to a global event, but can apply locally, as these examples show:

• ‘all flesh’: Psalm 145:21, Isaiah 40:5; 66:23, Jeremiah 45:5, Ezekiel 20:48; 21:4, Joel 2:28

• ‘under heaven’: Mark 16:15, Colossians 1:23

• ‘the face of the earth’: Genesis 4:14; 41:56, Exodus 10:5, Numbers 11:31; 22:5, 11, Isaiah 23:17, Jeremiah 25:26, Ezekiel 34:5; 38:20

• ‘The fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the wild beasts, all the things that creep on the ground’: Ezekiel 38:20

Equivalent phrases also used in a non-literal sense include:

• Deuteronomy 2:25, ‘all people under heaven’

• 1 Kings 18:10, ‘every nation and kingdom’

• Ezekiel 38:20, ‘The fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the wild beasts, all the things that creep on the ground, and all people who live on the face of the earth’

• Daniel 4:1; 5:19; 6:24, ‘all peoples, nations, and language groups’

• Mark 16:15, Colossians 1:23, ‘all creation’

This article provides evidence that the flood was an event local to Mesopotamia.

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Is there any physical evidence for the flood?

Physical evidence such as flood deposits indicate that the areas of Babylonia, Akkad, and Sumer were all affected by the flood. Flood layers have been found from Ur to Kish, a distance of over 200 kilometres:

‘The search for flood deposits within the settlement hills was triggered by Sir C. Leonard Woolley’s excavations at Ur south of Uruk in the 1920’s. WOOLLEY (1931) ascribed a more than 2.5 m thick homogeneous loam void of artifacts to Noah’s Flood. Below this layer are traces of an early civilization which had been buried by a great flood. The hanging layers were those of the pure Sumerian civilizations. Systematic search has shown that other tells [archaeological sites] in middle and southern Mesopotamia, e.g. Kish (Tell al-Uhaimir) and Shuruppak (Tell Fara), also have layers which may be interpreted as deposits of a great flood.

It seems that Mesopotamia was subject to a mega-flood around 2900 BC. A unique rise in the water table of the Euphrates and Tigris, e.g. caused by extraordinary and long-lasting rains in their source area, plus a southern wind blocking the drainage into the Persian Gulf, may have drowned the extremely flat central and southern Mesopotamia completely.’

The physical evidence is consistent with the Biblical account of flood waters lying on the earth for an extended duration:

‘When Kish was systematically excavated between 1923 and 1933, the Anglo-American team discovered a flood stratum upon which the remains of the Early Dynastic I period, [commenced 2,900 BC] i.e. the first period dominated by priest kings, was found. [33]

Meanwhile, excavations have ’shown that the Archaic Sumerian or Early Dynastic civilization of the early third millennium follows notable flood levels at several important sites: Shuruppak, Kish, and Uruk among them. […] The great recorded depth of the deposits at Ur, over 3 m, and at Shurrupak, probably about 60 cm, are significant as they would require lagoon-like conditions for a fairly long time‘. [58]

[33] M. Gibson, ‘Kis. B. Archaologisch’, in Realexicon der Assyriologie, vol. 5, Berlin, Walter de Gruyter 1976-80, p. 618.

[58] R. L. Raikes, ‘The physical evidence of Noah’s Flood’, Iraq XXVIII (1966),p. 53.

At Shuruppak, and also at Uruk, the last Jemdet Nasr remains are separated from the subsequent Early Dynastic I Period by clean, water-lain clay deposited by a flood. This clay is nearly five feet thick at Uruk [60] and two feet thick at Shuruppak. [61] Since the Sumerian King List mentions that Noah (Ziusudra) lived in Shuruppak (today the archaeological mound of Fara), and since Noah is believed to have lived during the Jemdet Nasr Period, [62] then these sediments date from the right time and place and may be deposits left by Noah’s Flood.

[60] P. Carleton, Buried Empires: The Earliest Civilizations of the Middle East (London: Edward Arnold, 1939), 64.

[61] M. E. Mallowan, “Noah’s Flood Reconsidered,” 80.

[62] C. A. Hill, “A Time and Place for Noah,” 26.’

For more on the physical details of the flood, see the following attached documents:

* Carol A Hill: The Noachian Flood: Universal Or Local?

* Carol A Hill: Qualitative Hydrology Of Noah’s Flood

* Alan E Hill: Quantitative Hydrology of Noah’s Flood

Carol_Hill_Flood_Hydrology_1.pdf

Carol_Hill_Flood_Hydrology_2.pdf

Alan_Hill_Flood_Hydrology_3.pdf

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Are there any other ancient records of the flood?

The flood was recorded in a number of other literary accounts outside the Bible, which is strong evidence that it was a genuine historical event.

• Sumerian ‘Eridu Genesis’ (around 1,600 BC): contains a record of a massive Mesopotamian flood from which animals and people were saved in a large ship built by Ziusudra king of Shurrupak

• Akkadian ‘Atrahasis Epic’ (around 1,600 BC): contains a similar account to the flood story in the Eridu Genesis, most likely borrowing from it, adding a few extra details

• Assyrian ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ (around 2,000 BC): contains a flood story which was added in the 7th century BC, copied from the Atrahasis Epic (not contained in the original 2,000 BC text), with additional details.

Of these three flood stories, the account in the Epic of Gilgamesh is the most detailed and the closest to the Genesis record, but is also the latest (written long after the book of Genesis had been completed).

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Was the Genesis flood story copied from the older flood stories?

Although many non-professional people believe this (and it seems logical, since there are flood stories older than the record of Genesis), there are more problems with this argument than can be solved, which is why this view is not commonly accepted by professionals in the relevant fields. The Sumerian and Akkadian flood accounts date to no earlier than 1,600 BC, during which time Israel was in Egypt. The Genesis record was written at least as early as the life of Moses (15th century BC), while Israel was still in the wilderness, or completed in the life of Samuel at latest (11th century BC). It is not possible that Hebrews living in Egypt, travelling in the wilderness, or living in Canaan, could have copied Sumerian or Akkadian flood tablets which lay in hundreds of kilometres away in Eastern Mesopotamia, written in languages they were unable to read.

Here is a detailed list of problems with the ‘borrowing’ theory:

• The early Hebrews as recorded in the Bible demonstrate a considerable familiarity with (and even indulgence in), the mythology of the people in their immediate chronological and geographical proximity (the Canaanites, Phonecians, Egyptians, Philistines, etc), but no familiarity with or indulgence in the vast mythology of the Sumerians and Akkadians

• This is no surprise, because by the time the Hebrews were writing their Scriptures both the Sumerian and the Akkadian civilizations had ceased to exist for over 1,000 years. How were the Hebrews were supposed to ask them what they believed, or copy their texts, when their civilization didn’t even exist any more?

• The Babylonians were several hundred miles away, so remote that they were described as ‘a distant land’. Did the Hebrews travel several hundred miles just to borrow a few legends?

• The Hebrews record themselves as being unable to speak Chaldean (except for a few noblemen), and mention that they were taught Chaldean when they lived in Babylon as slaves

• By the time the Hebrews were captives in Babylon (their first contact with Babylon), the Assyrian empire had also ceased to exist (the Babylonians had taken it over just prior to capturing the Hebrews)

• The texts on which the Assyrian flood story were recorded were written in cuneiform, and kept in scriptorums, accessed only by professional scribes. How would the Hebrews gain access to the scriptoriums, as well as a knowledge of the cuneiform scripts which only professional scribes could read and write?

The one flood story which the Hebrews could most plausibly have had access to would have been the 7th century Assyrian flood story which was added to the earlier text of the Epic of Gilgamesh borrowed from the Akkadians (which had not originally contained a flood story). But the flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh is itself almost a direct copy of the Akkadian Atrahasis Epic (even to the extent of using the original hero’s name, when the name of the hero in the Epic of Gilgamesh is different), and is radically different to the Genesis account.

And what reason can be provided to explain why the Hebrews accessed, assimilated, and actually corrected the flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh? Why borrow that part of the Epic, of all things, take it out and correct its inaccuracies, change it so substantially that there are almost no common details left, and expand it into something completely different? Recognized authorities on the subject of literary ‘borrowing’ between cultures (including a number who specialize specifically in Mesopotamian literature, and who have studied the question of whether the Genesis account ‘borrows’ from the earlier records), have concluded that no such ‘borrowing’ took place.

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The following list of quotes is taken from Glenn Miller’s paper ‘Is Genesis merely a rip-off of other ANE lit?’, 2005:

‘The derivative nature of the Biblical Flood narrative or rather the existence of an antecedent Mesopotamian tradition for the early forms of the Biblical story is undeniable. However, the extent to which the later narrative is derived from the earlier tradition remains uncertain. A direct form of literary influence cannot be asserted, as the distinctive features of the respective narratives are too plentiful to allow such an affirmation. All one can say is that the Biblical accounts must have been influenced by the Mesopotamian oral tradition or by a pre-existing series of such orally transmitted traditions.’

‘…it is obvious that the differences are too great to encourage belief in direct connection between Atra-hasis and Genesis, but just as obviously there is some kind of involvement in the historical traditions generally of the two peoples.’

This suggests that we are not dealing with a literary dependence or even a tradition dependence as much as we are dealing with two literary perspectives on a single actual event. To illustrate from another genre, we expect that the Hittite and Egyptian accounts of the battle of Qadesh will exhibit similarities, for they report about the same battle. Their differing perspectives will also produce some differences in how the battle is reported. The similarities do not lead us to suggest literary or tradition dependence. We accept the fact that they are each reporting in their own ways an experience they have in common.’

‘Thorough comparisons have been made between the Flood stories of Genesis and the “Gilgamesh Epic,’ tablet XI, and their interrelationship and priority have been discussed.

Heidel discusses the problem of dependence and summarizes three main possibilities that have been suggested:

1. The Babylonians borrowed from the Hebrew account,

2. The Hebrew account is dependent on the Babylonian,

3. Both are descended from a common original.

The first explanation, according to him, finds “little favor among scholars today,” while “the arguments which have been advanced in support of [the second view] are quite indecisive.” As for the third way of explanation, Heidel thinks that “for the present, at least, this explanation can be proved as little as the rest.’

'However, it has yet to be shown that there was borrowing, even indirectly. Differences between the Babylonian and the Hebrew traditions can be found in factual details of the Flood narrative (form of the Ark; duration of the Flood, the identity of the birds and their dispatch) and are most obvious in the ethical and religious concepts of the whole of each composition.

All who suspect or suggest borrowing by the Hebrews are compelled to admit large-scale revision, alteration, and reinterpretation in a fashion that cannot be substantiated for any other composition from the ancient Near East or in any other Hebrew writing. If there was borrowing then it can have extended only as far as the “historical” framework, and not included intention or interpretation.’

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In this second article (of four), the following questions are addressed:

* Isn’t the Genesis record just another wildly exaggerated story like the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian flood stories?

* I’ve heard that wood is too weak to support a ship the size of Noah’s Ark, and that the largest wooden ships ever built were no larger than 350 feet long, the physical limit for wooden ships

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Isn’t the Genesis record just another wildly exaggerated story like the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian flood stories?

Although it records the same event, the Genesis flood narrative is very different to the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian stories, for a number of reasons. A comparison of the four accounts of the flood shows that the only one which is historically plausible and reflects accurate nautical knowledge, is the Genesis account.

514825744_qBwB7-XL.jpg

The Genesis account is superior to the other accounts in terms of:

• The feasibility of building the boat (dimensions, shape, materials and time to build)

• Weather conditions (no catastrophic storms to survive)

• Cargo (no thousands of gallons of oil, and tremendous hoards of gold and silver)

• Navigational techniques (the Ark is designed correctly for navigation, and the pilot is familiar with standard nautical navigational techniques)

It does not read like an exaggerated legend, but as an accurate record of a real event written by someone who knew what they were talking about.

The flood stories of other Mesopotamian cultures read like myths. They contain a reference to a historical event (the flood), to which has been added wildly exaggerated details which could not possibly have been true. A comparison of these stories with the Genesis record demonstrates that only the Biblical account sounds realistic, an accurate description of the event.

Sumerian: There are 7 days to build a completely enclosed ship of unspecified material and dimensions (but which contains people, sheep, and oxen at least), presumably with standard construction techniques such as tension trusses and longitudinal strength beams, which must survive heavy storms for 7 days, and a flood which has to cover Mesopotamia using only 7 days of rain.

There isn’t enough time to build the ship, it lacks an opening for ventilation and light, or for the rain to flood Mesopotamia, and the ship wouldn’t have the strength to survive heavy storms described in the Eridu Genesis (’all stormy winds gathered into one’, and ‘the evil wind had tossed the big boat about on the great waters’).

Akkadian: There are 7 days to build a completely enclosed ship of reeds not wood, presumably using standard construction techniques and equipped with some kind of tension trusses, which must survive heavy storms for 7 days, and a flood which has to cover Mesopotamia using only 7 days of rain.

There isn’t enough time to build the ship or for the rain to flood Mesopotamia, it lacks an opening for ventilation and light, and the ship wouldn’t have the strength to survive the heavy storms (even timber wouldn’t be strong enough, certainly not reeds).

Assyrian: There are only 2 days to build a completely enclosed cube of wood or reeds, full of animals, people, silver and gold, as well as thousands of measures of oil, without tension trusses, with 9 rooms in seven decks, which must survive heavy storms for 6 days (which has to cover Mesopotamia using only 6 days of rain), equipped with punting poles for propulsion and steering (which cannot be used), handled by a man who cannot see where he is going while the ship is under way and who sends out the wrong birds to sight for land.

This is the most implausible of all the flood accounts. There isn’t enough time to build the ship, or for the rain to flood Mesopotamia. The ship’s shape and dimensions are nothing like ships of this era, are totally unseaworthy, and the ship wouldn’t have the strength to survive heavy storms (’the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land… the storm was pounding, the flood was a war’). The punting poles could not have been used in a ship which is completely enclosed, the navigator can’t see anything while the ship is under way, only opens a hatch after the ship has run aground, and is completely unqualified for the task, showing an ignorance of standard nautical procedures.

Genesis: There are 100-120 years to build a large timber barge similar in size and shape to an Egyptian obelisk barge, with standard construction techniques for timber vessels such as tension trusses and longitudinal strength beams, together with numerous internal compartments which may have acted as primitive bulkheads.

It has three decks (making four levels), and only has to ride out 40 days of rain (more than enough to flood Mesopotamia, together with the underground water), without battling storms, heavy waves, and the open sea. It has a large skylight the length of the ship for ventilation and light, a closable porthole with limited visibility for navigation, and is handled by a navigator who knows how to use birds to check for the proximity of land and its suitability for disembarkation.

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The fact that the Genesis account is the most historically plausible is strong evidence that it was written by someone personally informed about the event, whereas the Sumerian, Akkadian and Assyrian stories sound like mythologized descriptions written long afterwards by people with no personal knowledge of what happened, or even the knowledge to reconstruct accurately what really took place:

‘Since both Noah and Utnaphistim are scouting for land–albeit not to navigate–the bird that nautical customer dictates sending first is the raven.’

‘On the other hand, the Akkadian Deluge stories all betray ignorance of proper nautical terminology, and in one version of Atrahasis, the poet makes the reason quite clear when he has Atrahasis exclaim: ‘I never built a boat…Draw a picture of it on the ground…let me see a picture so I can build a boat’ (DT 42:13-15, in Lambert, 128). Thus, an Assyrian writing about something he was ignorant of has changed the customary order of the birds used as navigational aids.’

The accuracy with which birds are described in the historical literature is striking. The book of Genesis says that Noah used first the raven and then the dove to determine whether the water had subsided (Gen. 8:6-13).

Whereas the raven continued flying to and fro from the ark until the water subsided, the dove returned quickly to the ark the first time she was let go, returned with a newly plucked olive leaf in her beak the second time, and did not return the third time. A. Heidel noted the superiority of the biblical account to the parallel account in the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic where Utnapishtim, called “the exceedingly wise,” first sent a dove, then a swallow, and finally a raven (A. Heidel, Gilgamesh Epic and OT Parallels [1963], pp. 252f). Noah, whose wisdom is nowhere mentioned, showed much more knowledge about birds.’

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I’ve heard that wood is too weak to support a ship the size of Noah’s Ark, and that the largest wooden ships ever built were no larger than 350 feet long, the physical limit for wooden ships

Western shipbuilders eventually reached a limit of around 200 feet for ocean going timber warships. Both the weight and firing of the ship’s cannon produced stresses which caused decks to split and hull boards to separate. However, this was not due to the weakness of wood, but due to the ship designs being used. Western ships beyond this ‘limit’ were built when ship design was improved with diagonal bracing (the design was the problem, not the wood).

The inventor of this new technique, an Englishman called Robert Seppings (‘On the great strength given to Ships of War by the application of Diagonal Braces’, 1818), combined diagonal bracing with hogging trusses such as those used in Mesopotamia and Egypt. This enabled the construction of timber vessels of great size (ships were built approaching 300 feet in length, which became the new limit), and to be fitted with a previously impractical number of cannon.

The following is an extract from a paper written by the inventor of diagonal bracing, showing how well the new design technology withstood a cannon firing test:

‘I shall only further state, that after the memorable battle of Algiers, I requested the Navy Board to call upon Captain Coode, of His Majesty’s ship the Albion, to report on the state of that ship, she being built on the new principle; and the following is an extract of his letter to them:

I beg to inform you, that it is the opinion of myself and the officers of the Albion, that it was impossible any ship could have stood the concussion from firing, and the recoil of the guns, better than she did; and on a very minute inspection of the ship after the action, there was not the least difference to be observed, except what had been made by the enemy, between the side of the ship that all the firing was from, and the side that not a single gun was fired from during the action; and every bolt and knee was as perfect and secure as before the action commenced, which was also the case of the lower and main gun decks, but the quarterdeck was staved in several places; which in my opinion would not have been the case, had it been on the same construction as the decks that stood so well.”

With this technology (and other design changes), timber ships over 300 feet were built, though as these ships became larger they became weaker and increasingly prone to hull breach and leaking. Ships over 350 feet typically required iron strapping to hold their hulls together. This is still well short of Noah’s Ark, which will be considered in more detail in the next article.

It must be noted that these late 19th century European ships were weakened by stresses caused by features the Ark lacked. Multiple masts and heavy rigging caused huge stresses on the ship, as the force of the wind was transferred to the superstructure. Rows of iron cannons not only contributed stress through weight, but also massive stresses when fired (as mentioned in Seppings’ article above). Steam engines used for bilge pumps caused heavy vibrations through the hull which weakened joints and seams. These were all forces to which a barge of similar dimensions (but far simpler in design), would not be subject.

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In this third article (of four), the following questions are addressed:

* Could ships this size be built with the Early Bronze Age technology which was available to Noah?

* Even though this technology was available in the Early Bronze Age, is there any physical evidence that it was used to make such large ships?

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Could ships this size be built with the Early Bronze Age technology which was available to Noah?

Skeptics objecting to the size of Noah’s Ark frequently point to 19th century wooden ships which were unseaworthy due to their large size. It is argued from such examples as these that Noah’s Ark was too large to be practical for a wooden ship. However, it must be noted that the comparisons being made are not entirely valid. The Ark was a barge, whilst it is frequently compared with sailing ships, or even ships with steam engines. A barge is not subject to the same stresses as a sailing ship. It does not have to bear the weight of sails and rigging, and it is not subject to hull stresses caused by the wind bending the masts. The Ark did not have to carry the tremendous weight of cannon which burdened the wooden ships with which it is often compared, and nor did it have to deal with the weight and stresses of a steam engine or steam bilge pumps. In addition, the Ark was not a sea or ocean going vessel, it stayed within the Mesopotamian flood plain.

One of the largest wooden ships, the Appomattox, is often compared with the Ark. Measuring 97.2 metres long (319 feet), with a beam of 12.8 metres (42 feet), it had to be reinforced with steel bracing just to stay together, and pumped continuously by steam bilge pumps in order to battle constant leaking as stresses on the hull caused the timbers to separate. Skeptics frequently point to this as an example of the vulnerability of wooden ships over 300 feet long, and argue that this demonstrates Noah’s Ark (carrying no steel bracing or steam bilge pumps), could not possibly have been practical. However, the Appomattox was designed completely differently to the Ark, being a steam powered ship not a barge. It was also subjected to other stresses caused not only by a cargo load but also by having to tow a large unpowered barge behind it.

It is noteworthy that whilst much is made of comparisons between the Appomattox and the Ark, the unpowered barge which was towed by the Appomattox is never mentioned. This is particularly odd since this ship (the Santiago), is a far more relevant vessel with which to compare the Ark. Like the Ark it was made entirely of wood, carrying no steel bracing. Like the Ark it was not powered either by steam or sail. Like the Ark it was built as a barge. Not only this, but its dimensions are even larger than those of the Appomattox, being 102.4 metres long (336 feet), with a beam of 14 metres (46 feet).

Unlike the Appomattox, the Santiago did not suffer from leaking problems. It served on the Great Lakes as a towed barge for almost 20 years (1899-1918), before finally being swamped in a gale. This wooden ship (though not as large as the Ark), was larger than the Appomattox which towed it, but suffered from none of the structural defects and had a service history over twice as long as that of the Appomattox, despite serving on the Great Lakes, notorious for their storm conditions and unpredictable waters. This is a far more accurate comparison to draw with the Ark, and demonstrates that wooden barges over 300 feet long are entirely practical.

Turning to the Ancient Near East, we find records of large ships comparable to this size (and larger), being built centuries before the age of 19th century industrial technology.

• An obelisk barge built in Egypt for Queen Hatshepsut (about 1,480 BC, Late Bronze Age), estimated at 95-140 metres long (311-459 feet), and 32 metres wide (104 feet). A large contemporary Egyptian relief depicts the barge in the process of carrying two obelisks end to end. Given the size of the obelisks, if the barge carried them end to end as depicted in the relief, its length would be well over 100 metres. Even estimates made on the basis that the obelisks were carried side by side (rather than end to end, as the relief depicts), have ranged between 84 and 95 metres (Björn Landström, ‘Ships Of The Pharoahs’, 1970)

• The Thalamagos, a large pleasure barge built Ptolemy IV Philopater (around 200 BC), which was around 114 metres long (377 feet), is described by the Greek historian Athenaeus (2nd-3rd century AD), quoting earlier sources (’The Deipnosophists’, Book 5). Lionel Casson’s ‘Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World’ (1995), says ‘It was over 300 feet long’ (page 342). Michel Robert’s ‘Text and Artifact in the Religions of Mediterranean Antiquity’ (2000), says the Thalamegos is ‘well known from historical sources’ (page 347). George Sarton’s ‘Hellenistic Science and Culture in the Last Three Centuries B.C.’ (1993), says ‘Athenaios does not indicate his sources for the second ship, [the Thalamegos] but it must have been an eye-witness or a person who obtained measurements and other details from a contemporary’ (page 121)

• The Tessarakonteres, a timber warship built for Ptolemy IV (around 200 BC), which was 128 metres long (about 420 feet), is described by the Roman historian Plutarch (’Life of Demetrius’, chapter 43, sections 5-6). Recognized as a historical vessel by authorities such as Lionel Casson’s ‘Ships and Seafaring in Ancient Times’ (1994), and ‘Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World’ (1995)

• A 3rd century BC timber warship which was around 100 metres long (about 300 feet), is described by the Greek historian Memnon (reference to it is found in Photius’ 9th century ‘Myriobiblon’, book 9, capter 8, section 5, quoting the 13th book of Memnon’s ‘History of Heracleia)

• The ‘Nemi Ships’, two timber barges built for the Roman emperor Caligua in the 1st century AD, measuring 70 metres long (229 feet), and 18 metres wide (60 feet). The precise dimensions of the ‘Nemi Ships’ are known because the vessels themselves have been found, largely intact

• A large cargo barge also built for Caligula, measuring 104 metres long (about 341 feet), and 20.3 metres wide (66 feet), used to transport an obelisk from Egypt to Rome. Gregory Aldrete’s ”Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia’ (2004), says of this ship ‘Atop one of these was erected a lighthouse that used as its foundation the giant ship that had been built to transport the obelisk of Heliopolis from Egypt to Rome under the reign of Caligula’ (page 206)

It can be proved that the technology used by these cultures was capable of building such large vessels. Successful wooden ships of this size require nothing more sophisticated than such timber technology as mortise and tenon joinery, tension cables (’hogging trusses’), and bulkheads or internal bracing, such as transverse lashing and lateral or longitudinal strength beams. In some cases, only three out of these five techniques were used, whereas Noah’s ark demonstrably used at least four of these techniques, and most likely five (excepting the bulkheads).

Importantly, these ships were built using the same construction techniques used in the Early and Middle Bronze Age, including mortise and tenon joinery and a ‘hull first’ construction method, rather than the ‘frame first’ construction method used by later Western maritime engineers. Even more significant is ‘Caligula’s Giant Ship‘, previously mentioned. It had six decks, displaced between 7,000 and 8,000 tons, and carried a crew of 700-800. It was built using the same construction method as the two pleasure barges. The dimensions of this ship are not contested, since its physical remains have been found at Port Claudius in Italy (near Rome International Airport), where it was sunk and filled with stones to create a foundation for the port’s lighthouse.

Prior to this discovery, mention of super barges in Roman historical literature (such as Pliny the Elder), had been dismissed as either legend or wild exaggeration. Not only was it considered impossible to build such a large vessel from timber, it was also considered impossible that the Romans had the technology necessary for such an achievement. But the physical evidence overturned these preconceptions. It became clear that the simple maritime techniques known not only by the Romans but by the Ancient Near East in the Early Middle Bronze Age, were more than enough to construct sea going vessels larger than any Western timber ship up to the mid-19th century. Even more startling was the fact that this super barge of Caligula’s was a reliable sea-going vessel, unlike many 19th century timber ships over 90 metres long (295 feet).

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Timber pleasure barge built for Caligula, around 37-41 AD (source)

It is therefore clear that the technology required to build a timber ship the size of Noah’s Ark was already available long before the 19th century, and had been used to construct vessels almost as large as the Ark. These techniques were reliable, and widely used. The Greek warships described by Memnon and Ptolemy used mortise and tenon joinery with hogging trusses, to provide strength to the hull, and the Romans used the same technique to construct their super barges. Egyptian tomb reliefs as early as Dynasty IV (2,613-2,494 BC), show tension trusses being used, and they are known to predate this era.

Egyptian inscriptions as early as the reign of Khufu I (2,589-2,566 BC), show ships built with internal bracing techniques such as lateral and longitudinal strength beams, and transverse lashing. Longitudinal strength bulkheads are found in the Egyptian Middle Kingdom era (between 1,991 BC and 1,648 BC), showing that this technology was used from a very early date in the Ancient Near East.

In Mesopotamia, copper was used to make hammers and nails, adzes, chisels, axes, and drill bits from before 3,500 BC, mortise and tenon joinery was used from at least the same time, whilst timber boats using sails and copper nails appear as early as 3,500 BC.

Noah was a Mesopotamian, who would have used contemporary Mesopotamian construction techniques, meaning the Ark would have used mortise and tenon joinery, longitudinal strength beams, tension trusses, and hogging trusses, just like other ships built in the Bronze Age. The Ark was also built with internal compartments which may have acted as primitive bulkheads:

Genesis 6:

14 Make for yourself an ark of cypress wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and out.

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Even though this technology was available in the Early Bronze Age, is there any physical evidence that it was used to make such large ships?

Here the text from a tomb inscription in Late Bronze Age Thebes:

‘I inspected the erection of two obelisks built the august boat of 120 cubits in its length, 40 cubits in its width, in order to transport these obelisks. (They) came in peace, safety and prosperity, and landed at Karnak of the city.’

This ‘august boat’ was around 63 metres long, and 20 metres wide (207 feet long, 60 feet wide), built using Early Bronze Age technology. This is already slightly longer than the 200 foot ‘limit’ of timber ships which was reached by early 19th century Western technology.

A still larger ship was built (also for transporting obelisks), during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (about 1,480 BC, Late Bronze Age), using Early Bronze Age technology (the overhead cables in the picture below are hogging trusses):

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Obelisk barge of Queen Hatshepsut (about 1,480 BC, Late Bronze Age)

It carried two obelisks (each 29.6 metres long and weighing around 323 tons), and the ship itself is estimated at 95-140 metres long and 32 metres wide. The larger of these lengths is almost exactly the length of Noah’s ark (a little over, in fact). The broad barge shape of the ship is also very similar to most modern depictions of the ark.

It is also worth noting that although ships of this size were rare in the Ancient Near East, there was no difficulty in constructing them with this technology when the need arose. Despite the huge obelisk barges being immensely larger than all previously built ships, there is no evidence that the Egyptians were forced to spend years in experimentation, piling up nautical failures as they did so.

The outsized obelisk barges appear suddenly in the historical record, apparently without having required a lengthy process of trial and error before finally reaching the desired result. Proven design techniques were simply taken and scaled up as required. Ships of similar dimensions (though not quite as large), had been built earlier than 3,000 BC. Ancient Egyptian petroglyphs record ships estimated by some at 200 to 275 feet in length:

514830380_w7BGX-O.jpg

Ancient Egyptian petroglyph of sickle boat, possibly around 200 feet long

514830224_aXuvG-O.jpg

Ancient Egyptian petroglyph of square boat, possibly around 275 feet long

There are some 20 known reliefs and relief fragments illustrating Egyptian nautical technology from the Old Kingdom era alone (2,575-2,134 BC). But further back than this, in the pre-dynastic era, we have abundant evidence from boat graves as early as 3,800 BC. From this evidence a high level of standardization of shipbuilding practices can be seen, dating from about 3,300 BC onwards. Standard techniques such as mortise and tenon joinery, transverse lashing, carvel shell construction, and edge to edge plank binding were used from the late pre-dynastic era right through to the New Kingdom, a duration of over 1,000 years.

It is therefore possible to describe with reasonable accuracy the dimensions and construction techniques of a large free floating cargo barge built within this era. Descriptions of Noah’s Ark do not have to rely on guesswork. There is abundant evidence for the shipbuilding techniques which were standard methods for constructing vessels for such purposes in Noah’s day.

Indeed, given the technology of the day, there were limited options available for building such vessels. This explains, in part, the consistency and standardization of Ancient Near East shipbuilding in regions such as Egypt, where carpenters kept to established techniques for well over a thousand years:

‘The feature is seen repeatedly on representations of other early Egyptian boats, and indicates ‘accepted practice’: the correct way to build and to portray a boat incorporated transverse lashing of major components. By the fifth millennium BC, some boats were able to move large loads because they relied on displacement rather than simple buoyancy.’

‘It can be suggested that the practices by which the transition was accomplished were rapidly standardised and can be traced through Egyptian boat-building for more than a thousand years. Examination of woodworking and standard boat-building techniques in the fourth and third millennia supports this hypothesis.’

‘It is possible to examine the development of woodworking skills through tools, artefacts and features in tombs at several sites. By the mid-fourth millennium, evidence for sophisticated woodworking exists, and specialised carpenters had probably become a part of ordinary life in regional centres such as Maadi,Nagada or Nekhen.’

‘Grave enclosures in the Predynastic Naga-ed-Dˆer cemetery (Lythgoe & Dunham 1965; phase dates in Savage 1998) demonstrate an increased standardisation and complexity of woodworking technology.'

‘Knowledge and control of raw materials, production and design are reflected in technological standardisation visible by the third phase of Nagd-ed-Dˆer burials [pre-dynastic era] when a limited range of techniques was repeatedly used to join individual planks of uniform thickness and width with lengths of 2m or more (Lythgoe & Dunham 1965: xiv-xv, 202-5).’

‘It was startling to realise that the strap shows the same weave and approximately the same dimensions as similar remains from Lisht planks created more than a thousand years later.’

‘Examination of the details of hull construction over a period of 1200 years indicates regularities in design, plank shape, plank fastenings and even the dimensions of individual components. One explanation for the enduring tradition could be the establishment of communities of specialists with an extensive apprenticeship programme that maintained group practice over a very long period.’

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In this fourth article (of four), the following questions are addressed:

* The Ark might have been a good size and shape for a free floating barge, but how could it have survived the catastrophic storm conditions of the flood, and the large waves of the open sea?

* Does the Genesis flood story say that the rainbow God showed Noah was the first rainbow ever?

* Does the Genesis flood story say that this was the first time it had ever rained on the earth?

* If the flood was local, then why did Noah have to gather all those animals, who could have just run away on their own?

* The Ark was a huge wooden ship, so can we expect it to be around today?

* Just how large was the Ark?

* I have questions about where the Ark landed, how deep the water was, how it could rain for so long, and how the Ark could have been pushed up to the mountains of Ararat?

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The Ark might have been a good size and shape for a free floating barge, but how could it have survived the catastrophic storm conditions of the flood, and the large waves of the open sea?

What catastrophic storm conditions and large waves? The Bible says nothing of such huge storms and waves, recording only a heavy fall of rain and a flood:

Genesis 7:

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month-on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst open and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.

12 And the rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights….

17 The flood engulfed the earth for forty days. As the waters increased, they lifted the ark and raised it above the earth.

Furthermore, as the flood was local the Ark did not travel on the open sea, it stayed within the Mesopotamian flood plain and river valleys.

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Does the Genesis flood story say that the rainbow God showed Noah was the first rainbow ever?

There is nothing in the Genesis text to indicate that this was the first rainbow. Reading the classical Hebrew and Christian commentaries over the centuries (and certainly before Newton’s work on the prism), we find plenty who believed that this was not the first rainbow. Take the Jewish commentator Saadia Gaon for example (882-942 AD), who held the view that this was not the first rainbow - he could hardly have been asserting this on scientific grounds, as Newton might have.

But far earlier than Saadia is the Babylonian Talmud (compiled 6th century AD from earlier rabbinical sources), in which we find the rabbis commenting that the rainbow has been around since the beginning of creation (Babyloian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Pesahim 54b).

Does the Genesis flood story say that this was the first time it had ever rained on the earth?

No. There’s nothing more to say on this, the Genesis record simply says no such thing.

If the flood was local, then why did Noah have to gather all those animals, who could have just run away on their own?

The fact that the animals could escape on their own isn’t the point. The new community exiting the Ark would be faced with an empty flood plain which had been ecologically impoverished of both vegetable and animal life. Taking a new animal supply along with you was a good idea, unless you wanted to spend a lot of time being very hungry until all the animals returned (if they did). There is also the fact that God had placed on man the responsibility of caring for the environment Genesis 1:28; 2:15), and it was important that Noah be involved in the act of preserving local wildlife.

The Ark was a huge wooden ship, so can we expect it to be around today?

The Ark was slightly larger than the largest recorded Egyptian obelisk barge. Like those barges, it was made of wood. We cannot find any of those Egyptian obelisk barges today either. Dead wood doesn’t last for centuries in the open air without degrading, and there is no reason to suppose it was buried and fossilized or petrified. It is most likely that Noah and his family recycled the Ark’s timber after the flood, using for housing, shelters for animals, and fuel (as the Egyptian obelisk barges would have been recycled). But even if they hadn’t, it would have eventually disintegrated under the influence of local weather and wildlife.

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Just how large was the Ark?

People have all kinds of ideas about how large the Ark was. Confusion is caused by people disagreeing on how long the cubit was that Noah used, because the Hebrews used several cubit lengths over time.

Many people think the cubit used by Noah was the 21 inch cubit, but the 21 inch Hebrew cubit was not used until very late in Israel’s history. The Siloam inscription in the famous tunnel of Hezekiah (Jerusalem, 8th century BC), indicates a Hebrew cubit length of around 17 inches, which is 431.8mm (making the Ark about 410-425 feet long), and is the earliest written evidence for the cubit length used in Israel before the Babylonian exile. Several standard reference sources such as Harper’s Bible Dictionary (page 1,180, published 1985), the New Bible Dictionary (page 1,236, published 1996), and the Tyndale Bible Dictionary (page 1,299, published 2001), all identify the old Hebrew cubit as around 17.5 inches on the basis of the Siloam inscription (the New Bible Dictionary also notes ‘ Excavated buildings at Megiddo, Lachish, Gezer and *HAZOR reveal a plan based on multiples of this measure’).

This is also the nearest written Hebrew source to the composition of the flood narrative in Genesis, and so this is the most likely length of the cubit used by Noah. Most commentaries, both religious and non-religious, place the ancient Hebrew cubit at around 17-18 inches.

I have questions about where the Ark landed, how deep the water was, how it could rain for so long, and how the Ark could have been pushed up to the mountains of Ararat?

These questions are all addressed in the following articles:

* Carol A Hill: The Noachian Flood: Universal Or Local?

* Carol A Hill: Qualitative Hydrology Of Noah’s Flood

* Alan E Hill: Quantitative Hydrology of Noah’s Flood

Carol_Hill_Flood_Hydrology_1.pdf

Carol_Hill_Flood_Hydrology_2.pdf

Alan_Hill_Flood_Hydrology_3.pdf

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