the shape of the ark

A recent article in the UK paper The Guardian reports that a newly translated by Irving Finkel (although not, apparently, newly discovered) tablet of Atra-hasis makes reference to the Mesopotamian ark as being “circular” (I assume it means more cylindrical than spherical). Although the provenance of the tablet seems unclear, there has been no doubt cast upon its authenticity that I’ve seen.

The relevant portion of the text is translated thus:

Wall, wall! Reed wall, reed wall!
Atram-Hasis, pay heed to my advice, that you may live forever!
Destroy your house, build a boat; despise possessions And save life!
Draw out the boat that you will built with a circular design;
Let its length and breadth be the same.

As I’ve noted previously, the Mesopotamian conception of the ark recorded a vessel with equal width, breadth, and height, and so it has been widely assumed to have been cubic (a shape with significant cultic connections), but a cylindrical vessel would also easily fit these dimensions.

There are, however, a couple of notes of caution worth raising.

First, I have only seen Finkel’s translation. Without seeing the tablet itself it is difficult to judge how certain the translation “circular” is for whatever term was used on the tablet. The semantic range of the term could be less precise or script on the tablet itself could be unclear and allow some room for movement.

Second, the reports that this was the original shape of Noah’s Ark are simply wrong. The Bible records clear dimensions for its conception of the Ark and they simply cannot be circular (whatever that means in 3D). The biblical account is not merely a retelling of an older story, and hence it cannot be “corrected” by reference to older versions.

Nonetheless, I may need to go back to the drawing board for my lego Ark…

2 thoughts on “the shape of the ark

  1. This is nothing more than idle speculation, but I have to wonder if there might be a grain of truth preserved in this passage. Could it be possible that the ark, although still with the Biblical dimensions, could be a little more rounded in its design that the box-shaped pictures assume?

  2. Hi Mitchell. There is the “replica” built in the Netherlands which is certainly not without curves (see these photos). But as Finkel pointed out, it didn’t need to go anywhere, just float, so I guess the shape probably wasn’t too important!

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