Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Noah's Ark

Artist Elfred Lee's Painting of Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat - Image Copyright Elfred Lee

The ark was the vehicle God used to deliver Noah, his family and the animals from the flood (God's judgement). Most people are familiar with popular artistic depictions of Noah’s Ark. The ark often resembles a wooden ship with a barn-like structure on top. Interestingly, the Bible gives a much different description of the ark. The book of Genesis describes it as a rectangular object resembling a barge rather than a ship-like structure. The basic specifications for the ark are given in Genesis 6:14 - 16. Noah is commanded by God to construct the ark. Therefore, the specifications came from God Himself.

Genesis 6:14 - 16 (NKJV) 14 "Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. 15 "And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 "You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.

What Was the Hull Shape of Noah’s Ark?
The Genesis passage provides only a brief description of the ark's basic specifications. These specifications appear to represent a rectangular hull design. However, it is possible that the ark's design could represent a more traditional hull shape. Since detailed construction plans are omitted, we don't know for certain what the hull shape actually was. Moses is the credited author of Genesis. He may have condensed a much longer story in order to conserve space or perhaps the only information he had available was what he included. Therefore, all we have available for the ark's design is what is written in Genesis. It is likely that the Genesis account of the Great Flood came from earlier written material. We know Moses was educated in Egypt. Perhaps he learned about the flood from the libraries of the Egyptians. Perhaps their ancient libraries contained detailed knowledge on the antediluvian society that lived before the flood. Another likely possibility is Jacob could have carried records into Egypt that were kept by both the Israelites and the Egyptians. It is entirely possible that the Genesis story could have consisted of a number of writings which Moses condensed into "Genesis". Perhaps the information could have come from an ancient "Book of Noah", containing a more detailed version of the Genesis story.


The ark's purpose was to deliver its occupants from a catastrophe that would bring an end to all land based-life on earth. The Biblical word for ark is "tebah" and it is used only in the Genesis account of the flood and for the container in which Moses was placed. The ark's design was intended to protect its occupants from the hostile environment of the flood. Its construction appears to have taken about 120 years. Interestingly, it appears to have been designed without capability for steerage or power. This was probably due to the reason that there was no place to navigate to during the flood. Navigation would have been at the mercy of God. The Bible also indicates that God watched over the ark.

The ark was made of a material that the Bible identifies as "gopher wood". The actual Hebrew word is "Gopher". The exact meaning of this material is still unknown. It has been presumed by some to be Cypress wood, Cedar, Teak, or Mahogany, but these are only assumptions. What ever the actual material was, still remains a mystery, although it was probably some type of wood. There are serious problems with building a solid wooden ship longer than 300 feet. This is due to the structural stress caused by the effects of wave action upon wooden vessels. Gopher could have been a material which was far stronger than conventional wood. The Antediluvians may have had processes for strengthening wood that we are not aware of. It is interesting that no ship of the size of Noah’s Ark was built until the late 19th century when iron was used for construction material. It is possible that other materials could have been used in its construction. Perhaps metal was used as a frame (which is not mentioned in the Bible). Another possibility is the design could be other than the rectangular shape given in scripture.
The outside and inside were coated with pitch. The Hebrew word is "kopher" and again, this word is obscure so we don’t know what the composition of the pitch was. Pitch was probably used to make the ark water tight and to protect the exterior from the effects of the outside environment.

The ark had three decks. We don’t know if they were all the same height or if there were areas in which there was open space from bottom to top. The ark had only one door, which was the side door (Gen 6:16). It was used for loading its cargo. Genesis also describes a window that is 1 cubit in size (Gen 6:16) (~18 inches) located at the top of the ark. The size in this description makes it (likely) to be a small hatch. We are not entirely certain of the exact use of the window. We do know that Noah was able to send out the raven and the dove, probably from this same window. It is a safe assumption that the ark needed some sort of ventilation. This could have been one purpose of the "window". Elfred Lee's painting shown at the top of the page, shows a row of these "windows" along the top of the ark extending from bow to stern. This would form an adequate ventilation system. With its cargo of animals, it would seem necessary to have more than one eighteen-inch window for ventilation.

Size of Noah's Ark
The measurements provided in Genesis are in cubits rather than feet or meters. A cubit in the Old Testament is approximately 17.5 inches long. Another measurement to consider is the Egyptian Royal cubit which is 20.65 inches. As mentioned earlier, Moses is credited as being the author of Genesis. Since Moses was educated in Egypt we should consider the Egyptian cubit, as well as the Hebrew cubit. Hebrew common cubit = 17.5 in. Egyptian Royal cubit = 20.65 in.
Ark MeasurementsCubitsHebrew Cubits to ft/mRoyal Cubits to ft/m
Length300437.5 ft (133.35 m)516.25 ft (157.35 m)
Width (Beam)5072.9 ft (22.2 m)86 ft (26.2 m)
Height3043.75 (13.3 m)51.6 ft (15.7 m)

Comparison of Noah's Ark to Modern Cargo Ship - Image copyright Tom Pickett
The ark has the same cargo capacity of a modern cargo ship. The above figure shows a comparison with a 550 ft long cargo ship. The ark had a volume of 1.4 million cubic feet and a gross tonnage of 14,000 tons. This is the equivalent of 522 railroad box cars. The ark could have carried over 125,000 sheep-sized animals. Interestingly, there are less than 18,000 species of land animals alive today. Also, the average size of most animals is less than that of a sheep.

A scale model of the ark was tested in a special tank at Scripps Institute of Oceanography at La Jolla, California. The tank was capable of generating giant waves with respect to the model boat, thus simulating severe sea conditions. The waves were much larger than would be experienced in the ocean. The ark proved impossible to capsize. Due to the rectangular shape, it proved capable of righting itself, even to 90 degrees. This is unheard of on an ocean-going vessel. Most vessels will develop severe stability problems at more than a 60 degree list. The Ratio of the ark is 30 x 5 x 3. It turns out that this design is a perfect design to prevent capsizing in rough seas.

One of the ongoing debates on Noah's Ark is weather the ark was the rectangular design indicated in scripture or a more traditional canoe design. There are still a number of unanswered questions concerning a rectangular "box" design for the ark. The primary concern with this design is longitudinal stability. This problem is associated with the ark's length. Analysis of an all-wood design indicates that the vessel would break apart under heavy sea conditions due to longitudinal forces acting upon it. Further analysis needs to be done on this design. It is entirely possible that the antediluvians had developed methods of construction which we are unfamiliar with. Also, the general shape of the ark could appear to be rectangular, yet curved in areas to relieve stress. Just as the design of modern ships has significantly changed in recent years, the construction of Noah's Ark could turn out to be radically different by our design standards.

No comments:

Post a Comment