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How the ark changed shape
Catholic Herald ^ | February 13, 2014 | Will Gore

Posted on 02/13/2014 9:34:14 AM PST by NYer

Dr Irving Finkel

Dr Irving Finkel

In 1985 a man called Douglas Simmonds brought a bag of miscellaneous antiquities to the British Museum for inspection. Dr Irving Finkel, the museum’s assistant keeper of ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures, went through the curiosities and quickly discovered that one of them, a small Babylonian tablet covered in cuneiform (an ancient form of script) was a historical document of great significance. As an expert in Assyriology and cuneiform, Finkel only needed to read the first few lines of this small, craggy tablet to realise that this was a segment of an ancient Mespotamian myth, the Babylonian Story of the Flood, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark.

“With its pinched corners the tablet looks like the classic example of a Babylonian letter,” Finkel tells me, the words emanating from beneath a fine and wild beard, “but when I started reading I knew straight away that it was the start of the flood story, with warning coming from heaven to build this huge boat and save lives.”

Ancient tablets featuring the Babylonian flood myth have been found before, mostly famously in 1872 by another British Museum Assyriologist, George Smith. The fact that the Smith tablet, which featured the story in full, originated in around 700 BC, close to the time that the Bible was written, gave those who stood steadfastly by the primacy of the Holy Book a reason to suggest one could have influenced the other. Finkel contends that the Simmonds tablet breaks through this argument as it dates back to 1750 BC, some 1,500 years before the Bible was written.

Finkel grew up an Orthodox Jew and, although he became an atheist in his teenage years, the enormity of his discovery was not lost on him. “This has been a matter of argument and anguish since 1872, but it was up to me consider how this story that is definitely older than the Bible managed to end up in the Bible,” he says.

“Most people, when they get to this question, runaway like mad. There are books that say the Babylonian period and the Bible are obviously connected, but nobody has ever really tried to explain how it happened.”

Finkel’s explanation is unfurled in his excellent new book, The Ark Before Noah, and later this year there will be a Channel 4 documentary based on his work. During the course of the hour I spend with him in his dark, book-lined office at the British Museum he talks me through his theory.

Finkel’s quest to translate the tablet initially got off to a frustrating start, with Simmonds refusing to leave the precious artefact at the museum. It was not until the two men met again at the British Museum’s Babylonian exhibition in 2009 that Finkel was able to persuade the collector to bring the priceless object back in and, more importantly, allow him to hold on to it.

Finkel got to work deciphering the cuneiform and soon the tablet’s full significance was revealed. It contained detailed instructions for how the story’s hero, Atra-hasis, was to build his ark – a vessel that was round, as opposed to the Bible’s famous oblong version.

“It sounds bizarre to begin with, this idea of a round boat, but, of course, coracles are used on the rivers of many European countries and on the rivers of India, and the Ancient Mesopotamians had coracles too,” Finkel says.

“When you put the two things together you realise that an unsinkable, light and easy-to-use waterproof boat that they used to transport animals up and down the river made perfect sense as the kind of craft described in the story.”

Furthermore, the tablet, which is currently on display in the British Museum, also says that the animals came on to the boat “two by two”. As Finkel puts it, this was an “electrifying” discovery. “In the other tablets that have come to light, the expression had never been found in cuneiform and it is an iconic thing in people’s minds,” he says.

Finkel believes that one of the key elements that proves the link between the Babylonian myth and Bible version of the flood story is how similar the texts are. He is adamant that a process of what he calls “literary transmission” must have taken place. “It’s not credible that a version ran around through the centuries and that the stories just happened to be almost identical,” he says. “There’s no good you being a Babylonian in the bus queue, who knows the flood story well, and me being a Judean next to you, and somehow the story jumping from brain to brain. That’s not how it works. We might have talked about the story but that has nothing to do with literary transmission.”

Finkel explains how the ark changed shape, from round in the Simmonds tablet to square in the Smith version and, finally, oblong in the Bible story. Briefly, it’s to do with a misunderstanding in the first instance and how the word for “boat” has been translated in the second. He then goes on to tell me that the root of the story’s “literary transmission” can be found in the Book of Daniel.

Finkel says that at the beginning of the book the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar called for the finest young Judeans to be educated in the lore and literature of the Babylonians. These Judeans would, he says, have been taught cuneiform and that the curriculum would have included the Babylonian stories that went on to form a major part of the Old Testament. Finkel believes that, in the context of this education and with the Judeans trying to maintain their religion in an alien environment, it’s easy to see how the seeds of the Hebrew Bible were sown.

“The Judeans had no culture or temples and no sculptures or images of God,” he says. “Their religious conception was purely abstract and I don’t think that abstraction would have lasted unless their survival as a body was imperilled to such an extent that they felt the need to bring the Bible into existence.

“My idea is that when they came to describe the beginning of the world in the Old Testament they didn’t have their own traditions, so in order to fill out the story from the start they took three Babylonian stories that were taught in schools: the tradition of the people living to huge ages before the flood, the story of the flood itself, and the story of a child being thrown into a river being rescued and becoming a king like Moses.

“They took these stories and turned them round to have a moral principle of man being non-sinful or punishment comes, divorcing them from the original messages that were different in Babylonian contexts.”

In talking through his theories Finkel rarely pauses for breath. At one point, there’s a brief hiatus when a colleague (also with fine facial hair) knocks on the door. But he’s soon back in his stride as we discuss how the roots of the Babylonian flood myth can be found in Mesopotamia’s susceptibility to flooding.

We also discuss the negative reaction that his theories might provoke in some Christian quarters. He admits that those who tend towards a literalist reading of the Bible will never be persuaded of its links to the Babylonian era.

He hopes, though, that he is handling the topic sensitively. He is at pains to point out, for example, that, despite what some headlines have suggested, he is not claiming the Bible story to be wrong and that Noah’s Ark should be round. He has, he says, simply traced the origins of the story found in Genesis.

Finkel has resolved to make sure he maintains a sense of humour when dealing with critics. He’s obviously very content with the conclusions he has drawn. Behind that big beard it’s not hard to detect a smile as he says: “I can’t imagine somebody will find something that proves my ideas wrong, so if people reject them it doesn’t matter. People often reject things they don’t like and not necessarily on logical grounds. If I give a lecture and people throw vegetables, then so be it.”

The Ark Before Noah by Irving Finkel is published by Hodder and Stoughton, priced £25



TOPICS: History; Judaism; Religion & Culture; Religion & Science
KEYWORDS: arkbible; assyriology; babylonians; blacksea; blackseaflood; catastrophism; coracle; cuneiform; drirvingfinkel; epigraphyandlanguage; godsgravesglyphs; grandcanyon; greatflood; irvingfinkel; letshavejerusalem; nebuchadnezzar; noah; noahsark; noahsflood; oldtestament

1 posted on 02/13/2014 9:34:14 AM PST by NYer
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To: Tax-chick; GregB; Berlin_Freeper; SumProVita; narses; bboop; SevenofNine; Ronaldus Magnus; tiki; ...

Ping!


2 posted on 02/13/2014 9:34:50 AM PST by NYer ("The wise man is the one who can save his soul. - St. Nimatullah Al-Hardini)
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To: NYer
but it was up to me consider how this story that is definitely older than the Bible managed to end up in the Bible,” he says.

How about, BECAUSE IT HAPPENED?!
3 posted on 02/13/2014 9:36:28 AM PST by Dr. Sivana ("We are not sluts."--Sandra Fluke)
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To: NYer

Or Moses who was literate having grown up as a prince of Egypt, could have written the first 5 books like the scripture claims for itself, with Joshua adding the details of Moses death.

There is no reason to give Babylonian stories equal footing with scripture and to imagine a different narative of how scripture came to be other than the one recorded in scripture.


4 posted on 02/13/2014 9:39:14 AM PST by DannyTN
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To: NYer

Or Moses who was literate having grown up as a prince of Egypt, could have written the first 5 books like the scripture claims for itself, with Joshua adding the details of Moses death.

There is no reason to give Babylonian stories equal footing with scripture and to imagine a different narative of how scripture came to be other than the one recorded in scripture.


5 posted on 02/13/2014 9:39:14 AM PST by DannyTN
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To: Dr. Sivana

The “story” of the creation...is clearly older than the bible.. having utterly no impact on its veracity.


6 posted on 02/13/2014 9:43:25 AM PST by MeshugeMikey ("When you meet the unbelievers, strike at their necks..." -- Qur'an 47:4)
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To: DannyTN

yup, bible over one babylonian tablet, any day. the ark main measurements and features are clear, and its dimensions are ideal for a stable, self-righting, ocean-going ship. so much so modern ships use the same or near-same ratios of height, width and length.


7 posted on 02/13/2014 9:47:58 AM PST by Secret Agent Man (Gone Galt; Not averse to Going Bronson.)
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To: NYer
1750 BC, some 1,500 years before the Bible was written.

...and that is when I stopped reading.

That would put the writing of the Jewish Biblical texts concurrent with the Septuagint. Absolutely absurd.

Even his "...700 BC, close to the time that the Bible was written..." puts it firmly in the BS "Post Babylonian Exile" territory.

8 posted on 02/13/2014 9:49:27 AM PST by ApplegateRanch (Love me, love my guns!©)
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To: Zionist Conspirator
Ancient tablets featuring the Babylonian flood myth have been found before, mostly famously in 1872 by another British Museum Assyriologist, George Smith. The fact that the Smith tablet, which featured the story in full, originated in around 700 BC, close to the time that the Bible was written, gave those who stood steadfastly by the primacy of the Holy Book a reason to suggest one could have influenced the other. Finkel contends that the Simmonds tablet breaks through this argument as it dates back to 1750 BC, some 1,500 years before the Bible was written.

You might want to get in on this.

9 posted on 02/13/2014 9:50:09 AM PST by Alex Murphy ("the defacto Leader of the FR Calvinist Protestant Brigades")
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To: Secret Agent Man

Yes, easy to test - put the Babylonian design through the same tests and see how it fairs against the YHWH model.


10 posted on 02/13/2014 9:51:15 AM PST by MrB (The difference between a Humanist and a Satanist - the latter admits whom he's working for)
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To: NYer

Epic of Gilgamesh. Some sort of flood happened. Could have been an ice dammed laurentide lake in North America that blew, filling the Atlantic then the Mediterranean then blowing into the Black Sea and down into Mesopotamia.


11 posted on 02/13/2014 9:51:36 AM PST by Vaquero (Don't pick a fight with an old guy. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you.)
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To: SunkenCiv

One of those pings.


12 posted on 02/13/2014 9:53:28 AM PST by colorado tanker
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To: NYer

Essentially, this article takes as a given that the Bible is fiction, to suggest that it’s not even an original fiction. I’m not sure why they would bother.


13 posted on 02/13/2014 10:01:41 AM PST by rightwingcrazy
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To: NYer
So, 300 cubits by 50 cubits equals a round ark?I prefer to believe the Bible version.
14 posted on 02/13/2014 10:04:41 AM PST by trebb (Where in the the hell has my country gone?)
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To: NYer
Furthermore, the tablet, which is currently on display in the British Museum, also says that the animals came on to the boat “two by two”. As Finkel puts it, this was an “electrifying” discovery.

Genesis 7:2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

15 posted on 02/13/2014 10:19:21 AM PST by Ol' Dan Tucker (People should not be afraid of the government. Government should be afraid of the people)
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To: rightwingcrazy
Essentially, this article takes as a given that the Bible is fiction, to suggest that it’s not even an original fiction.

Not surprising considering Finkel is an atheist.

16 posted on 02/13/2014 10:21:24 AM PST by Ol' Dan Tucker (People should not be afraid of the government. Government should be afraid of the people)
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To: Ol' Dan Tucker

“Not surprising considering Finkel is an atheist. “

which makes his interest in the Bible rather interesting, but this unstated dogma makes his “revelation” hardly revelatory.


17 posted on 02/13/2014 10:37:51 AM PST by rightwingcrazy
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To: NYer

Uh, Doc, a lot of the stuff in the Bible happened well before it was written. Or do you think there was a guy with a clay tablet and stylus on the scene for everything back to the creation and fall?


18 posted on 02/13/2014 10:45:52 AM PST by RichInOC (2013-14 Tiber Swim Team)
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To: NYer

Funny how we are talking about the ark where, the word ark as used in Genesis and Exodus(for Moses salvation) is a loan word from Egyptian. But these people are sure Pentateuch was never written until after the Babylonian exile.


19 posted on 02/13/2014 11:10:53 AM PST by the_daug
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To: the_daug

Bookmark


20 posted on 02/13/2014 12:57:39 PM PST by publius911 ( At least Nixon had the good g race to resign!)
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To: Alex Murphy
You might want to get in on this.

Sorry. Not while my mother is in the hospital.

21 posted on 02/13/2014 3:43:59 PM PST by Zionist Conspirator (The Left: speaking power to truth since Shevirat HaKelim.)
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To: NYer

Nice try Catholic Herald...Post some junk by an atheist to give some credence to the Catholic position that the Flood is a myth...Put ‘er in the round file with the rest of the trash...


22 posted on 02/13/2014 6:07:12 PM PST by Iscool (Ya mess with me, you mess with the WHOLE trailer park...)
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To: Zionist Conspirator
Sorry. Not while my mother is in the hospital.

I'll send a prayer...

23 posted on 02/13/2014 6:09:18 PM PST by Iscool (Ya mess with me, you mess with the WHOLE trailer park...)
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To: colorado tanker; NYer

Thanks colorado tanker for the ping, I’ll add it to the catalog, but this has been posted twice or thrice already.

http://www.freerepublic.com/tag/coracle/index


24 posted on 02/15/2014 1:43:41 PM PST by SunkenCiv (http://www.freerepublic.com/~mestamachine/)
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25 posted on 02/15/2014 1:44:15 PM PST by SunkenCiv (http://www.freerepublic.com/~mestamachine/)
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26 posted on 02/15/2014 1:44:28 PM PST by SunkenCiv (http://www.freerepublic.com/~mestamachine/)
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To: SunkenCiv
...this one may have needed a 'when civil-eye-zation floated' rather than sank ping?

hmmm... which catastrophe was the worse? I guess I'll have to be glad for the floating thingy (something floated) with the slow-mo gradual dust accumulation coverings not so bad, all in all.

That is preferable to a scenario in which the planet encounters cosmic dust storms where the dust granules weigh talent weigh (about 70 lbs) or more.

One of these days, Alice...

Just a mile or a few across, as far as rocks go, mere dust on cosmic scale, eh?

Until then, we can continue to keep calm, and

27 posted on 02/15/2014 2:50:24 PM PST by BlueDragon (everyone needs to have a plan)
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