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Noah’s Story Revisited

Noah is getting a great deal of attention these days. A new Paramount movie, starring Russell Crowe (now in theatres), attempts to retell the classic story of the man who the Bible says built a great ark to enable representatives of all living creatures (two by two) to survive a worldwide flood and to repopulate the Earth. Not only is Noah getting the full Hollywood treatment, but also an ancient cuneiform artifact, apparently offering instructions on how to build a very large boat which could have done the job, has just surfaced at the British museum.

In fact, the museum’s curator Irving Finkel held a February press conference to display the ancient clay tablet that he says explains exactly how one might construct such an ark. For biblical literalists, the problem with this is that the tablet’s instructions refer to a giant round boat, or coracle, whereas the Bible clearly describes a long rectangular affair. Finkel says he is “107%” sure that the ark was never built; but still, if it were, the ancient tablet he presents tells how it could have been done.

Most arguments about the Ark of Noah seem to revolve around whether or not the biblical story is literally true. Believers, of course, place great stock in the account from the book of Genesis—usually as it appears in the King James version of the Bible—and therefore are greatly inspired by many, as yet unproven, allegations seeming to confirm the Bible story that such a vessel may have turned up on Turkey’s Mount Ararat. There is, though, little or no evidence that the Ararat referred to in Genesis is the same place.

For the less literally minded—albeit those who yet respect the veracity of ancient scriptures—the most important inference to be drawn from the story of Noah, it can be argued, is that it is an archetypal account of events surrounding the end of the last Ice Age. For these, the story—possibly a retelling of the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh—is but one of a multitude of flood legends, including Plato’s Atlantis, found worldwide, which chronicle the catastrophic end of one age and the birth of another—the end of the prediluvian world and the beginning of the postdiluvian—our own.

For these, the details found in the Bible still have very important meaning, symbolic and otherwise, but that is another story for another time.