Was Noah’s Ark A Saucer-Shaped Craft Not A Typical Ship?

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It is likely that ancient civilizations that had been on Earth might have done things differently in comparison to what we know today. It is undeniable that there could be various branches of history. R. A. Boulay, the author of the book “Flying Serpents and Dragons,” discusses the typical shape of Noah’s Ark and tries to explain that the vessel could be different from its generic illustration in the ancient texts.

In chapter 13 of his book, Boulay pointed out the similarities between a saucer-shaped vehicle and Noah’s Ark, which is usually depicted as an ancient sea-going ship with a rounded hull, pointed prow, and stern, with a keel running the full length of the ship. On its deck, a cabin is shown running the length of the ship.

Interestingly, the design of the ark as mentioned above is according to the late Middle Ages in Europe, about which Boulay is uncertain. There are only two descriptions of the ship in ancient literature, neither of which is very satisfactory from naval engineering standards since they are completely unseaworthy designs.

Noah's ark story

Noah’s ark shown as a round, domed vessel, with birds and animals peering out of the portholes, with Noah and his family staring through a large opening on the main deck below. Image credit: British Museum

Biblical accounts describe the Ark as large, about the size of a 19th-century seaman’s chest, made of gold-plated wood, and topped with two large, golden angels. It was carried using poles inserted through rings on its sides. The Ark has been linked to several of the Old Testament’s miracles.

But that is no excuse for the description of the Ark in the Sumerian account of the Great Flood. If the translation of Sumerian texts is correct, the ark is depicted as a cube. This is not very convincing in view of the fact that the Mesopotamians were a sea-going nation. Sumerians and later people were well-acquainted with the principles of shipbuilding and seaworthiness. All Sumerian cities had access to the sea, and sea-going ships are often described at anchor at these Sumerian ports.

Boulay finds the Ark as a cube completely nonsensical, as there is no reason why the sea-going people would describe it with a shape that is incompatible with floating in the water. He added that there is something inappropriate with the translation and interpretation of the text that is provided.

The complete text in the book of Genesis (Bible), which provides the description of the Ark is as follows:

“Make yourself an ark (box) of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall build it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a sky light for the ark, terminating it within a cubit of the top. Put the entrance in the side of the ark, which is to be made with lower, second, and third decks.”

It is described as a rectangular box with a flat bottom and straight sides, 300 cubits long, 50 wide, and 30 high. Since a Hebrew cubit was 18 inches [45 centimeters], its dimensions were 450 feet long [162 meters], 75 feet wide [27 meters], and 45 feet high [16.2 meters], and as such was said to displace 43,300 tons.

It is strange that Hebrews, who had a good word for ship, for some reason chose to call it a box or chest. However, this box of Noah was not a seaworthy craft and as described was merely a rectangular box without keel, bow and aft braces, and other essentials required of sea-going ships.

The story of the great flood was known worldwide and can also be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is believed to have been written down about 2000 BC. Moreover, the earliest mentioning of the great flood can only be found in the Sumerian literature. The story of the Ark came in the Book of Genesis later after a number of changes and emendations.

Great flood noah ark

Noah’s Ark is typically portrayed at a traditional ship, such as in this Italian mid-16th century painting. Image Credit: Alamy

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim is told to build a ship in order to survive the coming catastrophe. Ziusudra (from Atrahasis Epic) is the hero of the Sumerian account of the Great Flood. Utnapishtim is the Akkadian or Semitic name for the hero and is the hero of the Gilgamesh Epic, the better known Semitic version of the Flood story.

In the Sumerian account, the word used is “magurgur” or “very great ship.” In the Akkadian or Semitic version of the epic, it is also called a great ship of “elippu rabitu.”

Unlike the three decks of the ark of Noah, the ark of Utnapishtim has seven decks and is then divided into nine sections or compartments. It had a door and some sort of window as well. Traditional translations report the craft as being an exact cube, with the height, length, and width each being 120 cubits. Since the Akkadian cubit was 20 inches [46 centimeters], the craft would be a perfect cube of 200 feet [72 meters] on each side.

Again, the ark design is not unseaworthiness.

Alexander Heidel, an assyriologist, and biblical scholar, brought up the problem of interpretation where certain scholars believe that a circular design of the ark would be much more practical and that the text lends itself easily to this interpretation. However, this theory was summarily dismissed by other scholars.

The Sumerian account also reveals that the god Shamash (or Utu) played a key but unidentified role in its construction as well as advising Utnapishtim when to launch the ship. Since Enki was the Sumerian God of shipbuilding and logically the advisor on ship construction, by all tradition he should have been the one dealing with Utnapishtim, rather than Shamash.

This divine assistance is also noted in The Book of Enoch, where the Ark is said to have been designed by the deity and built by a group of angels which presumably assigned by Shamash, according to Boulay.

The circular shape of the Ark with a row of windows along the top and designed by God Shamash would in all probability result in an oval or saucer-shaped craft. There is also evidence that the Ark of Utnapishtim was propelled by some sort of fuel rod as part of a propulsion system, thus making it maneuverable and able to maintain stability in the stormy seas it was intended for.

noah's ark

Dr Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper of the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum, translated the cuneiform script on the tablet. Image credit: Stuart Clarke/REX

sumerian ark story

In 2010, Irving Finkel, a cuneiform expert at the British Museum translated an ancient tablet describing Noah’s Ark as round and built of reeds. He managed to piece together information on the ark from a 3,700-year-old clay tablet.


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