Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Summary of Noah's Ark account in the Bible

The account of Noah's Ark is one of the things in the Bible that is most easily falsified.

While nearly everyone has heard of Noah’s Ark, many people are a bit fuzzy on some of the details. (Hilariously, some 18% of the US population believes that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife!) Many Biblical literalists don't know the story. So here are the highlights of the story.

The story runs from Genesis 6 through portions of Genesis 9.

1. Noah was instructed by God to build an Ark because God was unhappy with the wickedness of humans on Earth. (“Ark”, by the way, means “box” rather than “boat” in Hebrew. Most artists portray a very box-shaped boat. Apparently it should look more like a pontoon or house boat. Michelangelo’s image of the Ark on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel looks like that.)

2. Noah was instructed to build a very large Ark. The original dimensions are given in cubits (the distance from the elbow to the end of the middle finger, which varies a bit from person to person) but when translated to modern units of measure the Ark was about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. According to the Bible it took Noah 120 years to build such a large ship. (The length of time to build the Ark is something that raises an issue all by itself. Wood, after 120 years, tends to become mildewy and moldy and doesn’t really provide the best material for a boat.)

3. Noah was told to bring two of every “kind” of animal onto the Ark as well as food for those animals. (Actually Genesis 7:2-3 speaks of seven pair of all “clean” animals but only one pair of “unclean” animals. The words “clean” and “unclean”, of course, refer to the Jewish dietary rules.) That’s a lot of animals. The exact numbers are one of the problems with this account.

4. Noah was also told to bring sufficient food for all of the animals onto the Ark. “Sufficient” food being a year’s worth.

5. Noah had three sons named Shem, Ham and Japheth. The four of them, along with their wives – a total of eight people - were allowed to escape the flood on the Ark. All other humans drowned.

6. When it started to rain, it rained for forty days and forty nights. The waters rose so high in those forty days and nights that “all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered”. In fact Genesis 7:20 specifically says that the tallest mountain was covered by more than twenty feet (or 15 cubits) of water.

7. Noah, his family and the animals stayed on the Ark for a bit more than a year. (They boarded the Ark on the 17th day of the second month of Noah’s 600th year and left it on the 27th day of the second month of Noah’s 601st year.)

8. Ultimately the Ark landed on or around Mt. Ararat, which is in Eastern Turkey. (The mountain – actually an inactive volcano with its last eruption in 1840 – is close enough to the border between Turkey and Russia that it is difficult to get permission even to hike on it.)

9. Once the Ark settled on the mountain, the animals were released and made their way to their final homes.

A few key points of emphasis: many people think that the flood only lasted for forty days and nights. That’s incorrect. That’s actually only how long it rained (or how long the water rose). Noah’s family and the animals were on the Ark for a bit more than a year. Also the Bible is specific about the size of the Ark, the fact that the entire Earth was covered with water and where the Ark ended up.

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