Ancient Mysteries

Noah's ark was never built, still less crash landed on Mount Ararat, a British Museum expert has declared – despite holding in his hand 3,700-year-old instructions on exactly how to construct one. "I am 107% convinced the ark never existed," Irving Finkel said. His discoveries, since a member of the public brought a battered clay tablet with 60 lines of neat cuneiform text to Finkel – one of the few people in the world who could read them – are outlined in a new book, The Ark Before Noah. While every child's toy and biblical illustration – and the latest film version, due for release later this year and starring Russell Crowe as Noah – shows a big pointy-ended wooden boat, the Babylonian tablet gives what Finkel is convinced is the original version of the story.

The tablet gives a version of the ark story far older than the biblical accounts, and Finkel believes the explanation of how "holy writ appears on this piece of Weetabix", is that the writers of the Bible drew on ancient accounts encountered by Hebrew scholars during the Babylonian exile. Texts about a great flood and the order by God to the one just man to build a boat and save himself, his family, and all the animals, clearly older than the Bible story, were first found in the Middle East in the 19th century. They caused both consternation and wild excitement, including an expedition to find the broken part of one tablet in a mountain of shattered clay fragments.

However, the tablet studied by Finkel is unique, the only one with precise instructions on how to build the ark – and the crucial detail that it should be circular. He believes the data on its exact dimensions, the two kinds of bitumen, and the precise amount of rope needed, are evidence not that the vessel once existed, but of a storyteller adding convincing details for an audience that knew all about boat-building. Finkel describes the clay tablet as "one of the most important human documents ever discovered", and his conclusions will send ripples into the world of creationism and among ark hunters, where many believe in the literal truth of the Bible account, and innumerable expeditions have been mounted to try to find the remains of the ark.


Finkel said that not only did the ark never exist, but ark hunters were looking in the wrong place – the map shows the ark in the direction of, but far beyond the mountain range later known as Ararat.

Kemo D. 7

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