Ancient Tablet Provides New Shape to Noah's Ark Story.
According to newly translated instructions inscribed in ancient Babylonian = on a clay tablet telling the story of Noah=92s Ark, the vessel that saved o= ne virtuous man, his family and the animals from God's watery wrath was not= the pointy-prowed craft of popular imagination but rather a giant circular= reed raft.
The battered tablet, which is about 3700 years old, was found somewhere in = the Middle East by Leonard Simmons, a largely self-educated Londoner who in= dulged his passion for history while serving in the Royal Air Force from 19= 45 to 1948.
The relic was passed to his son Douglas, who took it to one of the few peop= le in the world who could read it as easily as the back of a cereal box - I= rving Finkel, a British Museum expert, who translated its 60 lines of neat = cuneiform script.
There are dozens of ancient tablets that describe the flood story, but Fink= el said this is the first to describe the vessel's shape. =93In all the ima= ges ever made, people assumed the ark was, in effect, an ocean-going boat, = with a pointed stem and stern for riding the waves - so that is how they po= rtrayed it.
=93But the ark didn't have to go anywhere, it just had to float, and the in= structions are for a type of craft which they knew very well. It's still so= metimes used in Iran and Iraq today, a type of round coracle which they wou= ld have known exactly how to use to transport animals across a river or flo= ods.=94
Finkel's research throws light on the familiar Mesopotamian story, which be= came the account in the Old Testament, of Noah and the ark that saved his m= enagerie from the waters that drowned every other living thing on earth.
In his translation, the God who has decided to spare one just man speaks to= Atram-Hasis, a Sumerian king who lived before the flood and who is the Noa= h figure in earlier versions of the ark story. =93Wall, wall! Reed wall, re= ed wall! Atram-Hasis, pay heed to my advice that you may live forever! Dest= roy your house, build a boat; despise possessions and save life! Draw out t= he boat that you will build with a circular design; Let its length and brea= dth be the same.=94
The tablet goes on to command the use of plaited palm fiber, waterproofed w= ith bitumen, before the construction of cabins for the people and wild anim= als. It ends with the dramatic command of Atram-Hasis to the unfortunate bo= at builder whom he leaves behind to meet his fate, about sealing up the doo= r once everyone else is safely inside: =93When I shall have gone into the b= oat, caulk the frame of the door.=94
Fortunes were spent in the 19th century by biblical archaeology enthusiasts= hunting for evidence of Noah's flood. The Mesopotamian flood myth was inco= rporated into the great poetic epic Gilgamesh, and Finkel believes it was d= uring the Babylonian captivity that the exiled Jews learned the story, brou= ght it home with them, and incorporated it into the Old Testament.