British Museum: Was the Ark of Noah a fairy story?
The Babylonian Tale of a Round Ark: Reinterpretation That Challenges Fundamentalist Views
Living just five minutes away from the British Museum, I have always felt a connection to the mysteries and treasures of the ancient world. But it's always fascinating to know that even among old treasures archived in a museum, you can always find a rediscovery—a 4,000-year-old Babylonian tablet describing a round ark.
This article is crafted in response to my personal curiosity, and thanks to the many lectures I have listened to by the incredible Irving Finkel, he can take you on a journey through the tale of the round ark, its implications for fundamentalist interpretations, and the surprising link between ancient Mesopotamia and modern understanding.
The discovery of a 4,000-year-old Babylonian tablet has sparked a remarkable debate, rewriting the narrative of the ancient tale of the flood and Noah's Ark. This tablet, now displayed at the British Museum, offers a shocking alternative to the biblical story that has long been held as the literal truth by Christian fundamentalists.
Biblical vs. Babylonian: A Comparison of Arks
The Book of Genesis details the specifications of Noah's Ark, describing a wooden vessel measuring about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 30 feet high. A significant deviation from this description is found in the recently deciphered Babylonian "Ark Tablet." According to this ancient source, the ark was made of braided rope, stiffened by wooden spars, sealed with bitumen, and shaped with a round base 230 feet wide.
In 2014 Irving Finkel, British philologist and Assyriologist, Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages, and cultures in the Department of the Middle East in the British Museum, expressed his surprise at discovering the circular design, aligning it with the structure of a coracle—a river taxi widely used in ancient Mesopotamia. This structure clashes with the Genesis account and has drawn strong reactions from fundamentalist Christian circles.
Historical Debate: Which Account Came First?
Finkel suggests that the account of the flood and ark was adopted by the Jews during their Babylonian exile in the 6th century B.C., leading to the Genesis story. Some scholars agree, identifying the Babylonian tablet as predating the Genesis narrative by a full millennium.
Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis-U.S., disagrees. He asserts that the Genesis account is the original, inspired by God, and the Babylonian version is merely a corrupted human rendition. Fans of Ham have also rejected Finkel's claims, with some viewing this discovery as an attempt to distort the existence of the biblical ark.
A Real Replica: The Babylonian Ark Reconstructed
The Babylonian Ark's reconstruction, based on the cuneiform tablet, has been chronicled in a documentary by Britain's Channel 4. This project, inspired by Finkel's book "The Ark Before Noah," saw the creation of a scaled-down, coracle-like replica, utilizing traditional techniques in India.
The vessel, constructed to the exact specifications of the 4,000-year-old blueprint, has sparked fascination and doubt. Some argue the full-sized version would never have been seaworthy. Despite leaks in the replica, Dr. Finkel insisted that the Babylonian design was not to blame, and that the ark could have theoretically "floated to New York."
The Story and Science Behind the Tablet
The tablet offers detailed instructions for building the ark, describing a 220-ft diameter coracle with walls 20-ft high, two levels, and a roof. The craft was divided into sections for various animals and built using ropes, reeds, and bitumen.
Historians, employing computer models to test the vessel's integrity, concluded that the full-size ark would have been impossible to build with the materials and technology of the time. However, a small replica was successfully constructed in Kerala, India, over four months, following the ancient recipe.
The process, complete with challenges such as coating the vessel with sticky bitumen, has been documented in the television program "The Real Noah's Ark."
A Window to Ancient Thought: Finkel's Insight
Finkel's revisioning of the ark's architecture as a circular craft adds a unique layer to the understanding of ancient Mesopotamian culture and belief. The discovery also offers timeless lessons in resilience, ingenuity, and survival, symbolized in the form of the coracle, an everyday sight in ancient Mesopotamia.
Dr. Finkel does not claim that the tablet proves the existence of the ark described in the Bible. Instead, he posits that the narrative likely evolved from a devastating flood that found its way into folk memory.
A Challenge to Tradition
This Babylonian tale of a round ark has resonated beyond mere historical curiosity. It serves as a reminder that our understanding of ancient texts and beliefs continues to evolve. By challenging traditional interpretations, it invites us to look beyond literalism and engage with history, mythology, and culture in a more nuanced way.
A Personal Connection to History: Discover how living near the British Museum led to a profound exploration of the ancient Babylonian tale of a round ark, challenging traditional interpretations.
Early Life and Education:
Irving Leonard Finkel was born in 1951 in London, England. His fascination with ancient cultures led him to pursue Assyriology at the University of Birmingham, where he earned his Ph.D.
Career at the British Museum:
Finkel joined the British Museum in 1979 and has since become a prominent curator in the Department of the Middle East. He's responsible for a collection that includes over 130,000 cuneiform tablets.
Discovery of the Round Ark:
Dr. Finkel made international headlines in 2014 with his translation of a 4,000-year-old cuneiform tablet that described the construction of a round ark. This discovery challenged traditional interpretations of the Noah's Ark story and had profound implications for biblical scholarship.
Publications and Outreach:
Irving Finkel has authored several books, including "The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood." He is a charismatic speaker, frequently appearing in media and public events, where he shares his passion for Mesopotamian history and culture.
Known for his distinct beard and engaging storytelling, Finkel is not only a respected scholar but a captivating character. He often delights audiences with his humor and accessible approach to ancient history.
Legacy and Impact:
Dr. Finkel's work has shed new light on ancient Mesopotamian civilization and has made cuneiform studies accessible to a broader audience. His contributions to Assyriology and his unique ability to connect with the public make him a significant figure in his field.
Irving Finkel's life and work reflect a deep commitment to understanding the ancient world and making it accessible to others. His discoveries continue to shape the way we interpret and relate to the rich tapestry of human history.