Was the Ark that Noah Built Round?



Was the Ark that Noah Built Round?

Richard Hollerman

Quite regularly in our day, secular news (by way of newspaper, magazine, and television) reports on sensational stories that conflict with the Word of God. How do we look on such reports?  Do they shake our faith? Or does our confidence in the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures resolid, steadfast, and unmoved?

A news report now suggests that Noah’s ark was round in its construction. Yes, you read that accurately.  Round! Could this be true?


This clay tablet was found in modern Iraq (ancient Mesopotamia). The sea vessel described on the tablet says that there was a “coracle” (which was a round Mesopotamian object). The article refers to a book by Irving Finkel of the British Museum. Finkel says that this archaeological find is “one of the most important human documents ever discovered” (news.msn.com/pop- culture/british-museum- prototype-for-noahs- ark-was-round). This scholar says, “It was a really heart-stopping moment”—to consider that the ark was round in nature. These Coracles were used in rivers of the region, thus Finkel thinks that this ancient description would be logical. Elizabeth Stone, of New York’s Stony Brook University, claims, “Coracles are not unusual things to have had in Mesopotamia” (Ibid.).

This vessel was to be built of rope, with “reinforced” with “Wooden ribs and coated in bitumen.” So far, Finkel doesn’t know if the round boat would even have floated, but they do plan to build something to see if it will. Interestingly, animals were to enter this round vessel, two by two. At this point, those scholars who have examined the clay tablet are unbelievers; they hold no confidence in the Biblical account of the flood or the ark.

We know that God commanded righteous Noah to build an ark (a large barge-like vessel) with certain dimensions.  It was to be built of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14). The window was to be a cubit from the top. The door was to be in the side. There were to be three decks or levels within the vessel. The length was to be 300 cubits. It was to be 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. Some may say that a cubit was about 21 inches, but most scholars conclude that a cubit measured 18 inches (from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow). A few even suggest 17.5 inches, which would decrease the ark’s size somewhat.

If we take 18 inches as the length of a cubit, the ark was to measure about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. This was a huge ship—and must have looked like a barge! After God gave His precise instructions on how to build (Genesis 6:14-16), we read, “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (v. 22). In other words, Noah built the ark according to the detailed instructions of God.  He did not deviate. These were the words of Moses, the writer of the first five books of the Bible, including Genesis (see Luke 24:27, 44).

And now, according to the news article, there is another competing account of the ark!  The British Museum in London has in their possession a clay tablet, written in cuneiform, that dates to about 2000 BC.  How does this fit in with Biblical chronology? Biblical chronologists say that the worldwide flood occurred about 2300 BC. Abraham lived about 2100 to 2000 BC. Thus, the archaeological find could actually be as old as the news article suggests. But what about the contents? The tablet purportedly depicts a round vessel but the Biblical account depicts an ark with different dimensions and shape!  It was more like a barge. The area of the Biblical ark could accommodate some 520 railroad boxcars! (Kyle Butt, “The Adequate Ark, “ Apologetics Press).

As the news article points out, there was another Babylonian ark “myth” that is called the Gilgamesh Epic. The Biblical ark, however, differs greatly from both the 2000 BC find as well as the Gilgamesh story. Moses wrote about 1404 BC, and his account is reverent, respectful, and gives credit to God for the deluge because of human sin and degradation (cf. Genesis 6:1ff). Even the details of the accounts are different. For instance, the Gilgamesh Epic has a vessel 120 cubits, by 120 cubits, by 120 cubits, with seven levels and nine sections. As we noticed above, this description is far removed from the Biblical account. Although Moses may have been aware of the Babylonian account, God’s account is far different.  This does suggest, however, that the Babylonians may have known of the Biblical flood that occurred some centuries earlier.

Instead of thinking that the account of Moses (in 1400 BC) borrowed from either of the earlier two accounts, we should recognize that Moses himself wrote an account of the flood according to earlier Biblical documents (cf. Genesis 6:9—“these are the records of the generations of Noah”). While the clay tablet recently found may date from 2000 BC (about the time of Abraham) and the Epic of Gilgamesh somewhat later, they may have had earlier records of the flood upon which to base their beliefs. In other words, only a few centuries earlier, there actually was a worldwide flood that would have still have been in the memory of some people.  (Noah himself lived for some 300 years after the flood!)

Another important difference is that the Biblical account attributes the flood to the direct intervention of God. It was a miracle of gigantic proportions!  God directed Noah how to build the ark and gave the reasons for the flood of judgment against a rebellious people. In contrast, pagan accounts of the flood and creation are steeped in idolatry.  They are entirely false in regard to the most important feature of creation and the flood! The Biblical flood account is God-centered and God-produced and God-glorifying (Genesis 6:11ff; Hebrews 11:7).

I’m not the only one to make the type of conclusions that I have (above). Ken Ham has a similar idea. In an article entitled, “Was Noah’s Ark Round,” Ham states:

When I attended university in Australia (many years ago!), I remember one of my professors stating that there were Babylonian stories about a flood similar to the account in the Bible. Therefore he concluded, the Jews borrowed their “story” from the Babylonians! But I say it’s really the other way round! There are flood legends in cultures all over the world because there really was an actual global Flood—Noah’s Flood. As the account of the Flood was handed down (and particularly as people spread out around the world after the Tower of Babel), it was changed by many cultures. Yet many of these legends (including the Babylonian ones) have similar elements to the Bible’s account. Because the Bible is God’s inspired Word, it gives us the true account. The other flood legends are man’s changed versions of the event called Noah’s Flood, which occurred close to 4,400 years ago! (Around the World with Ken Ham)

When we read accounts like the news report that came out, whom will we believe?  Will we believe the fallible ideas of men or will we accept the infallible information given by an infallible God?  Will we accept the opinions of certain unbelieving scholars whose ideas seem to be constantly changing, or will we accept the inspired word of our Creator? These Scriptures are authoritative and inerrant—and worthy of our acceptance (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Don’t be moved by fantastic headlines that describe stories that often later are found to be fallacious but accept the entirely reliable Scriptures. They will judge us on the Last Day (John 12:48). Besides, in time we may learn that this recent speculation was false!

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