Noah’s Ark to be reconstructed following instructions on ancient Babylonian tablet

Work has begun on a full-scale reproduction of Noah’s Ark according to an ancient manual written on clay tablet dating back 3,700 years. The reconstruction will form the basis of a new television documentary to be aired on Channel 4 in the UK later this year. It will follow attempts to build the ark according to the ancient Babylonian text , which was recently translated.

The ancient tablet was found in the Middle East by Leonard Simmons, who served in the RAF during the 1940s. However, the artefact wasn’t subject to any research until Simmons’s son Douglas took it to the British Museum in 2008. Linguistic expert Dr Irving Finkel, who described the text as “one of the most important human documents ever discovered”, translated the text on the clay tablet, leading to a new interpretation of the Noah’s Ark story.

The tablet described a Mesopotamian story, which became the account in Genesis in the Old Testament, of Noah and the ark that saved every animal species from the flood waters. The text describes God speaking to Atram-Hasis, a Sumerian king who is the Noah figure in earlier versions of the ark story.

He says: “ 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 build with a circular design; Let its length and breadth be the same.”

Remarkably, the tablet is like a detailed manual which provides precise details about its construction and design. The ancient Babylonian text describes the ark as a round 65-metre diameter coracle with walls 6 metre high, spread over two levels. The craft was said to be divided into sections to divide the various animals into their own sections, and was built using ropes and reeds before being smeared with bitumen to make it waterproof. It even provides details on the two kinds of bitumen and the precise amount of rope needed.

The boat is already in the early stages of construction, with traditional boat-builders in India working to specifications found in the ancient Babylonian tablet.

This is not the first time a full-size ark has been constructed; in 2012 Dutch carpenter Johan Huibers opened to the public his 460ft-long reproduction of Noah’s Ark . However, like the art constructed by Huibers, experts have always assumed that the ark was an ocean-going boat with a pointed stem and stern for riding the waves, but according to the Babylonian tablet, one of the key features was that the ark was a round, disc-shaped vessel.

Despite translating the 3,700-year-old instructions on exactly how to construct the ark, Finkel doesn’t believe that it was ever built. For a start there is no reference to how collecting, housing, watering, feeding and caring for hundreds of animals aboard a wooden ship was achieved. There is also no clue as to how the animals managed to travel or where they were going. He believes the tale was likely passed on to the Jews during their exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C. And he doesn’t think the tablet provides evidence the ark described in the Bible existed. He said it’s more likely that a devastating real flood made its way into folk memory, and has remained there ever since. Nevertheless, others believe the detailed building instructions found in the ancient tablet are proof that the story of the ark really is true.

Featured Image: Construction begins an Ark to be built to specifications given in a pre-Biblical tablet
Photo: Courtesy of Blink Films and Channel 4.