Noah's ark was circular

Was Noah's Ark round?

On May 31, 2015, my family and I visited the German Museum in Munich. In the "Shipping" area there is a real fishing cutter from 1880 to be admired; the replicated inner workings of a submarine and the cannon deck of an old warship as well as a model of the Titanic are fascinating for children and adults alike. On the other hand, a black, round boat is quite inconspicuous, but it caught my eye. It looks like a braided basket that is way too big.

It is a so-called "guffa" from Iraq, 1.40 meters in diameter. “The basket is made of reed rings and held together by strips of palm leaves. The ribs inside are branches of the pomegranate tree that are sewn in with coconut fiber cords. The thick layer of asphalt that seals the scaffolding needs to be renewed from time to time. Asphalt is widely used in Iraqi boat building. Asphalt bearings were already known there in ancient times. «- This is what it says in the description text on the exhibit.

I would surely have passed this rather unsightly structure if I hadn't previously occupied myself with a book by Irving Finkel: "The Ark before Noah". In it the thesis is put forward that the ark could have looked exactly like this: A round basket boat, albeit in mega dimensions. Was this the miniature ark before me in Munich?

In my book “The Riddle of Noah's Ark” in 2014, I only dealt very briefly and superficially with Finkel's round ark. A newly deciphered cuneiform tablet had raised this one question that preoccupied me and for which I had not yet found a hundred percent convincing answer: Was the ark round?

The Bible describes the ark as a rectangular box 150 meters long, 25 meters wide and 15 meters high. At least roughly, there were different cubits in ancient times. While images of the ark today often show a nutshell with the giraffes looking out over the deck, earlier depictions - for example in old Bibles - were often very much committed to realism and implemented the idea of ​​an actually existing ark.

In 1872, George Smith made headlines around the world when he translated the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh and was astonished to discover that it contained a flood tale that had fascinating parallels to the biblical account. However, there was talk of a completely different form of the ark: a cube with an edge length of 120 cubits (approx. 60 meters).

A few years ago, the well-known British Assyrologist Irving Finkel launched a completely new ark shape: the vehicle was round. This is described in a newly discovered cuneiform tablet, the so-called "Ark tablet". It is dated to 1750 BC. And would be around 1000 years older than the so-called 12-panel version of the Gilgamesh epic, which contains information on the cube shape. Older fragments of the epic lack the corresponding passage and so an oversized round basket boat - called a coracle (Welsh) or guffa (Arabic) - is said to be the oldest description of the shape of the ark.

The most important passages of the Arche tablet read:

“Atrachasis, take my advice so that you may live forever! Destroy the house, build a boat! Disdain possessions and save lives! ... Draw up the boat you are going to build on a circular plan. Let the length and width be the same. … The base area will be one acre [an iku area]> large, the sides 7 meters high. ... Remember: many times you have seen ropes and reeds for boat building. Someone else can braid the ropes for you. You will need exactly 527 kilometers of rope. "

The press gratefully received the message of a round ark. For example, the “Welt” wrote in an article at the beginning of 2014: “Anyone who thinks of a ship with a pointed bow or a kind of box as described in the biblical texts is wrong. New scientific evidence suggests that Noah's Ark - or its model - was round. "

In Finkel's book about the ark board there is a very detailed appendix: "Building the ark - a technical report" [10]. There the coracle construction of the ark is described in detail and many dimensions are calculated on the basis of the information in the cuneiform text.

It is astonishing - as Finkel's calculations show - that the calculated total volume of the "finger-thick" rope, probably braided from reed, which would be necessary for the construction of a coracle with the given floor plan, corresponds almost exactly to the value given in cuneiform. The calculation then results in a total rope length of 527 kilometers required for the wickerwork of the Coracle Ark! This length seems unrealistic - and yet the cuneiform text is very plausible, at least as far as the construction is concerned, and seems to be much closer to reality than the Gilgamesh cube ark.

This technical information and the reconstruction attempts inspired Irving Finkel to have a "Coracle-Ark" built on a scale of 1: 5. Finkel's findings and the construction project are documented in the film "Secrets of Noah‘s Ark":

Finkel had his team travel to southern Iraq, where the designer Eric Stables recognized precisely those components in mighty reed structures that are described in the ark board. But: "The structure could not bear the weight, for physical reasons." Therefore, a coracle was not built in its original size, but one with a diameter of only about 12 meters. In the end, it actually floats, only the pitch, which was applied in the traditional way, allowed water to get inside and so the pumps ran at full load - and unfortunately the decorative loading with some farm animals had to be omitted.

An ark or just an ark idea?

Irving Finkel does not believe that the ark ever existed in this form; this is what the “Welt” writes at the end of the article mentioned: “What Finkel does not see in the discovery is a confirmation that Noah's ark described in the Bible existed. Rather, he believes the story of Noah developed when memories of an actual devastating flood were passed down through many generations. "

At most it could have been a small coracle boat, as he describes and depicts it in his deluge story "The Lifeboat that saved the World". The narrators would have turned this realistic possibility into an inflated life-saving ark.

So was the ark round? Or at least the idea of ​​what the ark is supposed to have been? At least this is what film and the media suggest. This calls into question the biblical account. What is to be made of it?

A question of worldview

Originally I had considered whether the specification of a "circular plan" could perhaps be reconciled with the construction of the biblical ark - e.g. with the help of a rope frame. But Finkel's calculations and reconstructions show that the author of the Arche board knew exactly how a coracle boat shape was to be made, even if a historical model never existed.

The author of the Arche panel may only have wanted to reproduce the history of a rescue ship, which has been known for a long time, as credibly as possible and to formulate a reconstruction that is as accurate as possible based on the original data still available to him. The length and width measurements as well as the indication of the shape were probably lost, but it is possible that the original measurements of the base were still known. Because the bases of the coracle ark, Gilgamesh cube and the biblical version coincide strangely enough.

Academic research assumes that the biblical tradition is much younger than the cuneiform sources. She learned that from the theology, which is critical of the Bible. The naturalistic science can hardly be reproached if it sees the Bible at the very end of a chain of tradition, at the beginning of which there was only a local flood event that has little to do with the global dimensions of a divine criminal court. Only through human imagination - by those who exaggerated and dramatized the event to their children and grandchildren - thus Noah and his ark became the saviors of all humanity.

The film exists as "the only conceivable possibility of connection" [12] between cuneiform and Bible again: During the time in the Babylonian captivity after 587 BC. Like Daniel, Judeans got to know the stories and adopted them as their own religious doctrine. The imposing ziggurat of Babylon, which still existed at that time, became the story of the Tower of Babel, and the Gilgamesh epic, which was also used in writing lessons, became the story of Noah and the ark.

At that time, the coracle shape of the ark had already been lost, according to Finkel's interpretation, at some point someone said: "We don't need all the technical stuff of the story." [13].

The authors of the Bible would then have taken a boat shape that was common in their time to superlative - to describe a vehicle that never actually existed.

A Bible-based view

Are the stories of Genesis really just stories that have been passed down orally for centuries and were only recorded in writing during the Babylonian captivity? There are many reasons to believe that Moses himself was the author of the five books named after him [14]. Only a contemporary like Moses could describe Egypt of the 2nd millennium BC as in the book of Exodus. And the confirmation of his authorship by Jesus should be a weighty argument for Christians.

Genesis is the book whose events took place before Moses and whose contents must have been accessible to him from other sources. These could have been oral traditions, but it is much more likely that Moses was able to fall back on written evidence: "Well before the time of Abraham, everything that was worth mentioning was recorded in writing on clay tablets." [15], writes the British researcher P.J. Wiseman. He advocated the thesis that typical features of cuneiform text sources are recognizable in Genesis: »Genesis is therefore composed of a series of tablets ... The whole series then came into the possession of Moses, who compiled and published the book in the form we know « [16].

Moses collected and reproduced the texts true to the original, so that word repetitions from successive tablets or so-called colophons can still be recognized as remnants of the original sources. Hence, perhaps even very early stories from the time of Abraham, Nimrod, or Noah could have been transmitted in writing. Wiseman's theory is also controversial among Christian researchers, but if written sources could have existed well before Moses, it suddenly seems much more likely that true events were recorded in writing from immediate memory and that the deluge was not just the result of the exaggerated imagination of many generations of narrators .

If one breaks away from a naturalistic worldview shaped by atheists and allows the almighty work of God in a thought model, the early history of mankind must be rewritten, because the current development model can hardly be reconciled with the narratives of Genesis.

Did the Flood really take place in a global dimension, as the Bible and many cuneiform texts testify? Did the ark land on one of the mountains of Ararat (on the southern tip of the Urartu mountains, on Mount Cudi)? Even at the turn of the century, the historian Flavius ​​Josephus referred to the remains of the ark that could be viewed. If the ark really existed, then logically also the flood.

It would be conceivable that some of Noah's descendants emigrated from the Ararat mountains to the Mesopotamian plain to settle and build cities there. Many interpreters tend to interpret the biblical description in Genesis 11: 1 + 2 in such a way that it was all people who went to the Shinar plain. But archaeological connections and extra-biblical traditions [18] suggest that part of humanity also remained behind - the descendants of Shem, or at least the ancestors of Abraham.

Then the linguistic confusion in Babel would only have happened to a part of humanity and from there the different languages ​​would have spread, while the Semitic language tribe, to which Hebrew also belongs, in the land of Ararat, where possibly also not far from Abraham's Ur [19] would have continued to be spoken. And only there, among the "Semites", would the ark have been known as before, since it still existed. And their dimensions could be recorded in writing.

On the Ararat, with the Sumerians and in China

According to this hypothesis, the people of Urartu (Ararat) had the ark and the original document of the history of the Flood, possibly later brought to the Holy Land with Abraham.

The people in Babel, on the other hand, only had memories that later had to be captured in their new languages. Information may have been lost in the process, mainly because people spread out in groups in all directions. And yet there are also many traces that point back to the real event.

For example, the Chinese character for boat is combined from the characters for "vessel" and "eight", ie represented as a vessel that contains eight people - as the Chinese pastor CH Kang writes in his book "Memories of Genesis" : "It is found that these originally eight people, from whom the earth was repopulated after the Flood, play a very important and striking role in many Chinese characters." [20]

In a detailed study, Chan Kei Thong points out that the Chinese, like many other ancient cultures, knew the story of a flood. He confirms the meaning of the Chinese character: "Eight people in one ship" [21].

Regarding the origin of this connection, he explains that “historically, the Chinese characters appeared around the same time as the peoples were dispersed from the Tower of Babel after the catastrophe, as reported in Hebrew history. The following scenario would therefore be conceivable: people had fled the chaos in Babel and settled in the river valleys of the area that would one day be China. They developed a written language using symbols that were influenced by the oral traditions known to all mankind at the time, and in some cases based on them « [22].

After the confusion of language, the events of the past had to be put back on paper - or better: put on sound. Perhaps, in addition to other details such as the number of survivors, the area of ​​the ark was known, because amazingly it is almost identical in the Bible, on the ark tablet and in the Epic of Gilgamesh - other details may have been lost.

Peculiarities of the Epic of Gilgamesh

After this Bible-oriented reconstruction of history, the 300-cubit-long box ark did not stand at the end of the tradition - but as a real ship at the beginning. But how did the variety of forms in the Babylonian cuneiform script come about?

The Christian historian Werner Papke recognized an astronomical - or better: astrological - masterpiece in the Gilgamesh epic, which distorted true events and projected them into the Babylonian starry sky with new religious interpretations. There the ark had to correspond to a constellation in the form of a heavenly square and so naturally »[the poet of the Gilgamesh epic]>> the hydrodynamic conditions were of little interest. He is only concerned with the description of the (ASH) .IKU, the heavenly square, and that is why all six sides of the ark must be square and have an area of ​​one iku (ASH.IKU)! « [25]

He also explains the third species of bird that appears in the epic with the appearance of a corresponding constellation: In addition to the dove and raven, the Babylonian Noah "Utnapishtim" also sends out a swallow [26].

Papke comes to the conclusion that the biblical account existed before the Gilgamesh narrative: “The Bible tells us about the Flood event without any secondary astronomical ballast! If the Genesis account of the Flood always deviates from the epic exactly where something had to be added to the epic for astronomical reasons - as in the case of the swallow (SIM.MACH) - or had to be changed - as with the dimensions of the ark to describe the (ASH) .IKU - then it is very unlikely that the Akkadian narrative of the Floods was the model for the biblical account, as it has been maintained in theological circles for over a hundred years. " [27].

Finkel goes back much further

As already mentioned, Irving Finkel traces the ark depiction in the Gilgamesh epic back to the earlier Coracle version of the ark tablet - technical details have simply been left out. But he goes much further in his considerations in the book "The Ark before Noah"; these aspects were of course left out in the superficial representation in the film and in the media: the origin of the Flood tradition is to be set much earlier and in the very old ones Well, the ark was probably not round, but oblong, almond-shaped. A ship shape that was common among the Sumerians. But even then, a real and locally limited flood event with a normal boat turned into an oversized super boat: »The Sumerian flood history mentions a gigantic version of this gisch-má-gur called gisch-má-gur-gur, apparently a special, oversized one Form of the same " [28].

A Middle Babylonian tradition, in turn, derives from the Sumerian history of the floods, which adopted the term boat: "There is a common, everyday type of Sumerian river boat called má-gur, which is the origin of the Akkadian loan word makurru." : makurkurru. In the Middle Babylonian tide story it is therefore said: "Make a makurkurru boat out of it with the name lifesaver" [29]

Finkel derived the shape of this life-saving ark from a Babylonian instruction board on which the intersection of two circles is described as makurru-shaped. The resulting almond shape is compared with the shape of the ark boat. Finkel concludes from this that the coracle shape described on the Arche tablet had an almond-shaped, elongated predecessor version. He writes: "I argue that the traditional understanding of the boat layout changed from magur (long and slender) to coracle (large and round)" [30].

The "house-like" ark

Most recently, Kai Alexander Metzler has brought another - Akkadian - term for the "ark" into play: "bitistum", "the house-like" [31]. So a word can be read that is used in the Atrachasis epic as a description of how people survived the catastrophe. Elongated, house-like - maybe at the very beginning of tradition again the biblical box?

Metzler's work goes into linguistic details and he first compares a section from the ancient Babylonian Atrachasis epic with the much more recent Plate XI of the Gilgamesh epic. There it says in a section dealing with the situation immediately after the flood: “From where has a life escaped? How did a person survive the catastrophe? " [32]

Metzler argues that the translators would have made it too easy for themselves if they simply used the old Babylonian word, which is difficult to decipher and otherwise unknown, to use the neo-Babylonian term »na-pish-ti«, which was translated as »life« in the Gilgamesh epic Equating »bi-ti-isch-tum« in order to translate the corresponding line in the Atrachasis epic with »From where has a life escaped?«. Rather, it should read: “Where has something house-like escaped from? How did a person survive the disaster? "

Rather, Metzler assumes that the word was originally to be understood as "the house-like" and was only later changed to "life". He interprets the instruction of the god Enlil at the beginning of the story as a literary connection between the terms house and ship or property and life.

He also addresses the question of form and refers to Finkel's Coracle. He concludes: »Although the history of house construction, also explicitly of the ancient oriental, circular structures, and numerous individual buildings and even more numerous rooms within buildings are (approximately) square, a square as the ideal floor plan for houses can be - differently than for certification rate - do not check plausibility beyond doubt " [34].

By later analyzing literary links between ark, ark-mountain, ziggurat and other temples, he comes to the conclusion, based on their shapes and dimensions, that a rectangular or square ark was probably intended. Ultimately, however, he leaves it open as to what the earlier form was: "Whether it started with the circular boat that evoked a square house or whether a square ideal house led to the choice of a circular boat is an open question." [36]. Now there are other ark shapes to choose from, clearly in front of the coracle on a »circular plan«: an elongated almond shape and an unspecified »house-like« shape. And areas that have remained almost the same across all forms of appearance - at least where dimensions are given.

The Bible at the beginning, not at the end

One could argue in favor of the Bible as follows - without, of course, having any final proof: The ark was a gigantic elongated ship like a house, it initially existed for a long time and the dimensions were taken from the people who continued to live there - Abraham's ancestors - held.

The peoples who were affected by the confused language had to refer to the memories of their ancestors, some details were recorded, some only inadequately.

Centuries later, the coracle, a ship shape that was no longer almond-shaped, but round, had prevailed on the rivers of the Mesopotamian plain. Perhaps engineers wanted to make the description of the ark appear more realistic and have calculated everything precisely - based on the information still available about the area. Their shape and the length of the rope to be used resulted from their ideas and the calculations based on them.

In the Gilgamesh epic, which, as Werner Papke explained, had not only very strong religious but also astrological references, realism was finally given up again and a large cube remained with the original base, which now corresponded to a square. that can be found again in the sky.

At the same time - possibly also in cuneiform, as P.J. Wiseman worked out - received the original report from the descendants of Shem, which can be checked at any time on the real ark, the remains of which still existed at the time of Josephus at the turn of the ages and which were apparently a popular pilgrimage destination for millennia. Moses then summarized these traditions in his book of Genesis and the Israelites have passed these scriptures down verbatim to this day. The box is the original, the house-like structure was subject to constant change until it was completely distorted. And only in between - thanks to the Coracle reconstruction by a Babylonian engineer - it was able to swim in the beginning, as Finkel has proven.

According to the calculations, the ark is also buoyant in full size. The proof is of course pending: Ken Ham's ark is on land, the half-size replica by Dutchman Aad Peters has already suffered several accidents [37].

The information provided by the historian Berossus suggests that there was also an elongated version in the Babylonian traditions [38]: His ark was 5 stadiums long and 2 stadiums wide. In the usual converted dimensions, however, this would be 750 x 150 meters. It is interesting that Berossos certainly had access to the old cuneiform records and also points out that the ark could still be seen in remains in his time. So there is actually a lot to suggest that he could have known the correct dimensions and proportions. However, Berosso's reports have only come down to us in quotation fragments from a much later period. Therefore, its original fonts may have been altered.

Flavius ​​Josephus, who in his "Antiquities" reproduces the biblical dimensions and also reports on remains that existed at his time, quotes Berossos only very briefly with regard to the ark - the dimensions of the Babylonian priest are missing here.

Confirmation for the bible

But last but not least, the biblical version of history also assumes that God is behind everything. And he will have made sure that Noah had a more precise blueprint than he has given us. And that salvation could actually take place and that human ineptitude could not destroy his divine plan.

So one can say: The ark was not round, but a gigantic box. It could possibly have been round, but then not all animals would have fit in. The animals that Finkel had prepared to bring them to his Coracle Ark had to stay outside because the crew was too busy pumping the water out of the vehicle to keep them buoyant. "The result is extremely astonishing, but from the point of view of biblical faith it is actually expected: It was only because God had prescribed them that they [the dimensions of the ship] had to be optimal" [39].

And in addition to the inconsistencies about the shape of the ark, the ark tablet contains astonishing information that confirms the version of the Bible [40]:

The sealing of the wooden structure with bitumen is described in detail.

The Ark tablet contains the only reference in Babylonian tradition that a pair ("two of each") of each species came on board the ark.

The door was sealed before the flood began [41]. This is written at the end of the Arche plaque: "When I go into the boat, seal the frame of its door." [42] Here we are very close to the Bible, which says: "And the Lord closed behind him" (Genesis 7:16).


Irving Finkel's idea is that there was only one local flood event, which has been passed on in a greatly exaggerated manner. The ark concept was first oblong-almond-shaped, then it got a round coracle shape, this became the cube-shaped Gilgamesh ark and finally Noah's ark of the Bible.

An idea based on the Bible is as follows: There was actually a global flood disaster and also a real ark with dimensions according to the testimony of the Bible. After the confusion of the language, the memory of a "house-like" or almond-shaped ark remained (without precise details of the shape). This resulted in an exact »reconstruction« as a round coracle ark based on real existing boats. Later, in addition to the cube-shaped Gilgamesh Ark, based on astrological considerations, there were other parallel traditional forms, e.g. as an unknown source for the elongated (but much too large) form of Berossus.


[1] Stefan Drüeke: "Noah's Ark - Myth or Truth", Hückeswagen 2015, p. 68

[2] It is even possible that an antediluvian cubit was even longer.

[3] This and the following quote from: Werner Gitt: "The strangest ship in world history", p. 2

[4] Stefan Drüeke: »Noah's Ark ...«, p. 84

[5] See my book, Chapter 12: "An unusual ship", p. 85ff as well as Reinhard Junker and Fred Hartmann: "Did all animals fit into the ark?", Wort und Wissen, 1990 (with comments from 2009)

[6] Werner Gitt: "The strangest ship ...", p. 3

[7] After the English translation by Irving Finkel, translated into German by me. Version from his book "The Lifeboat that saved the World", London 2017, in which the length specifications have already been converted into meters. His book “The Ark before Noah”, London 2014, contains the text of the Ark tablet from p. 357 with transliteration of the Babylonian cuneiform, English translation and many grammatical notes.

[8] one of the three cuneiform names for Noah ...

[9] World article "Old clay tablet kindles a stir around Noah's Ark" from 2014

[10] Irving Finkel: "The Ark before Noah", London 2014, Appendix 3, from p. 333

[11] See "The Ark Before Noah," p. 341

[12] Piotr Michalowski from the University of Michigan in the film "Secrets of Noah‘s Ark", 36:30 min

[13] Irving Finkel in the film "Secrets of Noah‘s Ark", 27:20 min

[14] See Timo Roller: "The riddle of Noah's ark": p. 76ff. and also online

[15]: P. J. Wiseman: "The Origin of Genesis", Wuppertal 1987, p. 56

[16]: "The Origin of Genesis", p. 57

[18] e.g. "Enmerkara and the Lord of Arata", e.g. B. in the work of the same name by Catherine Mittermayer, Göttingen 2009

[19] Today's Sanliurfa

[20] C. H. Kang: "Memories of Genesis", Neuhausen-Stuttgart 1998, p. 100

[21] Chan Kei Thong: "China's true greatness", Singapore 2009, p. 79

[22] "China's true greatness," p. 59

[23] See Flavius ​​Josephus: "Jewish Antiquities", translated by Dr. Heinrich Clementz, Marix, Wiesbaden 2004

[24]Is it a coincidence that Mount Cudi is a direct extension of the stairs of the Tower of Babel?

[25] Werner Papke: "The secret message of Gilgamesh", Weltbild, Augsburg 1996: "From a hydrodynamic point of view, such a cube is of course extremely unsuitable as a ship, let alone as a flood ship." (P. 153)

[26] “The Secret Message of Gilgamesh”: “The 'square' and 'swallow' in the sky of the Chaldeans explain why Utnapishtim's ark has a square base of 14,400 square cells and why the Babylonian flood hero lets a swallow fly in addition to a dove and a raven. (P. 156)

[27] "The Secret Message of Gilgamesh", p. 157

[28] Irving Finkel: "The Ark before Noah", London 2014, p. 120

[29] "The Ark before Noah," p. 121

[30] "The Ark before Noah," p. 311

[31] Kai Alexander Metzler: "bītištum› the house-like ‹", in: "Studia Mesopotamica", Münster 2015

[32] see »bītištum› the house-like ‹«, p. 150

[33] see »bītištum› the house-like ‹«, p. 159ff

[34] »Bītištum› the house-like ‹«, p. 163

[35] »Bītištum› the house-like ‹«, p. 175 ff

[36] »Bītištum› the house-like ‹«, p. 181

[37]Article about the "Arche Disaster"

[38] see the fragments of Berossus

[39] Werner Gitt: "The strangest ship ..."

[40] See my article:

[41] "The Lifeboat that saved the World," p.78

[42] "The Ark before Noah," p. 366



[Overview: News]