news from ekklesia

By staff writers
March 19, 2004

BBC set to examine Noah and his ark

-19/3/04

In a programme to be broadcast this weekend, the BBC will examine the Genesis account of Noah and the Ark.

According to the biblical narrative God warned Noah to prepare for a great flood. With his sons he built a great ark and the animals marched in two by two. By the time the rain started to fall, Noah was ready. The ark was a refuge until the waters went down, leaving Noah and his menagerie high and dry on Mount Ararat, believed to be in modern day Turkey.

Scholars have of course pointed to difficulties with the story. Some estimate it would have taken 35 years for Noah and his family to load the animals.

In the BBC programme ìNoahís Arkî to be broadcast on Sunday, programme makers will examine whether it is possible to build a more credible version of the story based on a different reading of the Bible, on ancient Babylonian sources that predate the Book of Genesis, and on archaeology and science.

The traditional shape of Noah's Ark comes from the imaginations of 19th Century artists. It would in reality have been about 450ft long - about the size of the Titanic - and experts say it would have broken apart.

But even if such a feat of marine engineering had been possible, there are about 30m species of animals in the world. With Noah's deadline of a week he would have had to have loaded 50 pairs a second. For so many creatures, a fleet of enormous arks would have been needed.

Geologists have also suggested that there is not enough water in the world to cover all the continents, then or now.

But in 1851, British archaeologists discovered hundreds of clay tablets while digging in ancient Babylon.

It was 20 years later that British Museum assistant George Smith became the first person to read them.

He found the story of Gilgamesh, which bore strong similarities to that of Noah. He was visited by the great gods, who decided there would be a great deluge, told him to make a boat and carry in it the seed of all living things.

Further Iraqi texts were discovered, showing the story emerged in Mesopotamia. And in the 1930s conclusive evidence of a huge flood in the area about 5,000 years ago - the time of the story of Noah - was found.

What we know of the culture of what is now Iraq gives the first glimpse of the real-life historical figure behind the story.

The programme will suggest that Noah might have been king of a city called Shuruppak. He would have had a kilt, a shaven head and eye make-up, like the figures portrayed in artworks created in what was then known as Sumeria.

The epic of Gilgamesh says Noah had silver and gold, then the currency of wealthy merchants, suggesting he was a businessman.

Instead of building an ark to survive a great flood, he is more likely to have built boats to trade goods like beer, grain and animals.

All the big trading centres of the era were on the River Euphrates and it was cheaper to move goods by water than land. Sumerians were able to build barges about 20ft in length, and marine archaeologists have not found remains or inscriptions of larger vessels.

But they believe they would have had the technology to have built a series of barges and used them like pontoons on which a much larger boat, or ark, could have been constructed.

Parts of the Euphrates were only navigable at certain times of the year, when the waters were deep enough for large boats. Noah was likely to have waited for the melt waters to arrive in June and July and, if these had combined with a tropical storm, the river could have flooded the Mesopotamian plain.

The currents in the area would not have taken him towards Mount Ararat, but out into the Persian Gulf.

Life would have been difficult, but they could have survived on the animals and beer on board.

One Babylonian text suggests the ark came to rest on what is now the island of Bahrain, providing a very different yet plausible end to the adventure.

Could this story have provided the inspiration for the writers of Genesis? You decide!

Noah's Ark will be broadcast in the UK on BBC One on Sunday 21 March at 1900 GMT.

BBC set to examine Noah and his ark

-19/3/04

In a programme to be broadcast this weekend, the BBC will examine the Genesis account of Noah and the Ark.

According to the biblical narrative God warned Noah to prepare for a great flood. With his sons he built a great ark and the animals marched in two by two. By the time the rain started to fall, Noah was ready. The ark was a refuge until the waters went down, leaving Noah and his menagerie high and dry on Mount Ararat, believed to be in modern day Turkey.

Scholars have of course pointed to difficulties with the story. Some estimate it would have taken 35 years for Noah and his family to load the animals.

In the BBC programme ìNoahís Arkî to be broadcast on Sunday, programme makers will examine whether it is possible to build a more credible version of the story based on a different reading of the Bible, on ancient Babylonian sources that predate the Book of Genesis, and on archaeology and science.

The traditional shape of Noah's Ark comes from the imaginations of 19th Century artists. It would in reality have been about 450ft long - about the size of the Titanic - and experts say it would have broken apart.

But even if such a feat of marine engineering had been possible, there are about 30m species of animals in the world. With Noah's deadline of a week he would have had to have loaded 50 pairs a second. For so many creatures, a fleet of enormous arks would have been needed.

Geologists have also suggested that there is not enough water in the world to cover all the continents, then or now.

But in 1851, British archaeologists discovered hundreds of clay tablets while digging in ancient Babylon.

It was 20 years later that British Museum assistant George Smith became the first person to read them.

He found the story of Gilgamesh, which bore strong similarities to that of Noah. He was visited by the great gods, who decided there would be a great deluge, told him to make a boat and carry in it the seed of all living things.

Further Iraqi texts were discovered, showing the story emerged in Mesopotamia. And in the 1930s conclusive evidence of a huge flood in the area about 5,000 years ago - the time of the story of Noah - was found.

What we know of the culture of what is now Iraq gives the first glimpse of the real-life historical figure behind the story.

The programme will suggest that Noah might have been king of a city called Shuruppak. He would have had a kilt, a shaven head and eye make-up, like the figures portrayed in artworks created in what was then known as Sumeria.

The epic of Gilgamesh says Noah had silver and gold, then the currency of wealthy merchants, suggesting he was a businessman.

Instead of building an ark to survive a great flood, he is more likely to have built boats to trade goods like beer, grain and animals.

All the big trading centres of the era were on the River Euphrates and it was cheaper to move goods by water than land. Sumerians were able to build barges about 20ft in length, and marine archaeologists have not found remains or inscriptions of larger vessels.

But they believe they would have had the technology to have built a series of barges and used them like pontoons on which a much larger boat, or ark, could have been constructed.

Parts of the Euphrates were only navigable at certain times of the year, when the waters were deep enough for large boats. Noah was likely to have waited for the melt waters to arrive in June and July and, if these had combined with a tropical storm, the river could have flooded the Mesopotamian plain.

The currents in the area would not have taken him towards Mount Ararat, but out into the Persian Gulf.

Life would have been difficult, but they could have survived on the animals and beer on board.

One Babylonian text suggests the ark came to rest on what is now the island of Bahrain, providing a very different yet plausible end to the adventure.

Could this story have provided the inspiration for the writers of Genesis? You decide!

Noah's Ark will be broadcast in the UK on BBC One on Sunday 21 March at 1900 GMT.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.