This is the fifth and final post in a series. It is also the third post that deals either directly or indirectly with the flood of Noah. You might even think you know a lot about Noah. This post is going to tell you that you don’t know jack-squat about Noah.
Here is the strange claim that I can’t help but see is accurate. Are you ready for this? Okay. Get ready. No, I don’t think you’re ready. Alright. Well, Warned you. Here it goes. Noah’s Ark is not a boat. It is not a ship. What is it? We literally have no idea, except that it is much weirder than you previously thought.
Let me explain.
Problems With the Translation and Description of Noah’s Ark
The description of Noah’s Ark is mainly in Genesis 6. We read the following:
Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
Now, that’s simple enough. How is that not a boat? Well, you’d be surprised.
Problem 1: An “Ark” is not a Boat
The first thing to notice is that there is a Hebrew word for “ship.” That word is used in the book of Genesis at Genesis 49:13, and it is oniyyah. But it is not used in the story of Noah. The word we get in the story of Noah is tebah. It means a “box” or a “chest.” It’s actually a borrow-word from Egyptian, but we’ll get to that later.
This word is used a grand total of 28 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. For 26 of those times, it is used in the story of Noah and the Flood. The other two times, it is used to describe what Moses was placed in as he floated down the Nile. Well… it floated then, and so why wouldn’t it float now?
Good question, but we’ll cover that soon. What I want you to realize now, is that God told Noah to build a BOX. He did not tell him to build a BOAT. We can compromise and say “Ark.” However, just for starters, I want you to realize how ambiguous that word actually is.
Problem 2: “Gopher Wood.”
Let’s start with that phrase “Gopher wood.” In English, a gopher is a small mammalian creature with big teeth and small claws that digs tunnels and eats roots. In other words, we know EXACTLY what a gopher is.
Therefore, “Gopher wood” sounds like the specific name of a tree that is (supposedly) really good for making boats. I’m sure there is some Gopher Wood tree that we can look up, right? Let’s see what Wikipedia says:
Gopher wood or gopherwood is a term used once in the Bible for the substance from which Noah’s ark was built. Genesis 6:14 states that Noah was to build the Ark of gofer (Hebrew גפר), more commonly transliterated as gopher wood, a word not otherwise known in the Bible or in Hebrew.
Wait… what? Yep. That’s right. Literally no one knows what this word means. In fact, the word “gopher” is literally UNTRANSLATED. What we have are three Hebrew consonants: Gimmel, Pey, Resh. G,F, and R (Note: in its early existence, Hebrew writing had no vowels). Rather than “translate” this unknown word that is never ever used anywhere else in the Bible, we just get the sounds transferred into a new language.
In other words, the translators on this word are like “We did our best.”
However, as I learned in high-school, when adding “O” to the end of English words to try to make them Spanish, this is NOT how translation works.
So, if the word doesn’t mean what we think it means, then what does it mean? Nobody knows. But we do get a slight hint in the Septuigent, which has the benefit of being translated into Greek 2200 years ago. It translates this word as τετραγώνων (tetragonon), which means four-cornered or “square.” Hm… that doesn’t help much. But we’ll come back to that.
In light of that confusion, we need to recognize one thing: We have NO IDEA what Noah’s Ark was made out of.
Problem 3: “Rooms” in the Ark
So, now we have learned that “Ark” is made out of “something” wood. We see that we need to make “rooms” in the ark. But here’s the problem. The word “room” is the Hebrew word qen. Everywhere else in the Bible this is translated, this word is not translated as “room.”
Instead, this Hebrew word qen is translated as “nest.” As in, a bird’s nest. Or, to be more metaphorical, it is the place where you (or birds) live. I suppose that could be “room,” but it could also be “house” or “bed” or “inn” or any number of words in English that signifies a place where people live.
So….. That’s weird. More on that later.
Problem 4: “Roof” in the Ark
Another thing we learn is that God told Noah to put a “roof” on the Ark. But there is a problem here, because sometimes in English, this word is translated as “roof” in the ESV, CSB, NIV, and RSV. But it is also translated as “window” in the NASB and KJV. This alone is confusing, because a window and a roof seem to be completely different things.
Additionally, the ASV goes absolutely crazy and translates this verse as follows:
A light shalt thou make to the ark, and to a cubit shalt thou finish it upward; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.
Strangely enough, this might just be the closest English translation to the original that we have, though all of them are grasping at straws, because we don’t know what’s going on here.
Here’s the problem. There IS a Hebrew word for “roof” that word is qorah, and it is used in Genesis 19:8. That is not the word used here.
There are two Hebrew words for “window” and the first is challon. It is used later in Genesis 8 to refer to a “window” of the ark. There is a second word that can also be translated “window” or “chimney,” and it is used to describe the “windows of heaven” that were opened when the flood came. That word is arubbah . That word is not used here.
The word used here and translated as “window” or “roof” is a completely different word than all of these words. The word used in Genesis 6:16 is the word is tsohar. But unlike “gopher,” we know exactly what this word means. It is a well-known and often used word in the Old Testament, appearing 24 times.
Here is the real problem. The word means “noon” or “midday.” Wait…. WHAT?
Make a noon or midday for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks.
What the HECK does that mean? I have no idea.
Problem 5: “Door” in the Ark
Now, we also read that we have a door in the ark, and that Hebrew word is pethach. It means doorway or entrance to a house or a tent. Luckily, we have no ambiguity in what this one means.
Except…. ….wait…. isn’t this is a WOODEN vessel. A door? Where did that verse say the door should go?
Make a [roof] for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. (Genesis 6:16)
Hold up…. Look at this nice diagram of a ship that goes on water:
Notice what you should NOT put on the side of this thing for it to be seaworthy: a DOOR.
And things also get weird for a different reason. There is a word for “entrance” that would have been more fitting if this thing were located on the side of a floating vessel. That word is shaar, which is usually translated as “gate.”
If we used the word shaar, this would indicate that it is designed to be sealed and to keep unwanted things OUT. However, the word that we have is pethach, which is a word that is used to indicate the opening to A TENT.
That’s weird, and one of the most un-ship-like aspects of this thing.
Problem 6: Cover it with “Pitch”
Now, here is one of the parts that makes the MOST SENSE about the construction of this Ark that is about to face a huge flood:
Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. (Genesis 6:14)
In fact, we also see this detail in the other time we see that the word tebah (“ark”) is mentioned in the Old Testament, when Moses was placed in the Nile:
When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. (Exodus 2:3)
But here’s the problem. In Exodus 2:3, we get the English words “bitumen” and “pitch.” And these are the Hebrew words chemar and zepheth. But in Genesis 6, the “inside and out with pitch” is the Hebrew word kopher. It is a completely different word.
And here’s where it gets even stranger. It is not a word with an unclear meaning. That word is very often used in the Hebrew Old Testament. But it NEVER is translated as “pitch” (except in this particular verse). Its normal definition doesn’t even come close to “pitch” or “waterproofing material,” either.
It means “the price of a life; a ransom.” For instance:
“If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall accept no ransom (kopher) for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. And you shall accept no ransom (kopher) for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest. You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.
What is going on here? More on that later.
Problem 7: The “Decks” in the Ark.
We also read that we are to have “decks” in the Ark, when it says:
Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks.
And this is the very first word that sounds a lot like a ship, because ships have decks. But look at the word that the Hebrew uses to describe these structures:
THERE IS NO WORD THERE. Instead, the Hebrew only has the words “lower, second, and third.” The word “decks” is IMPLIED from the context. Because…. ….you know. Ships have decks. So what else could it be?
This is a HUGE problem, and we will return to it later.
Problem 8: The Covering
Now after the whole flood thing is over, and Noah has already sent out birds from the challon (window) in Genesis 8 that Noah made. But then we get something else:
In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. (Genesis 8:13)
But here’s the puzzle: WHAT COVERING???? Where is a covering EVER MENTIONED in the construction of the Ark? It’s not. We get a VERY ambiguous “roof” that we sometimes translate as “window.”
However, you can’t have both. If the “window” (tsohar) is a WINDOW (challon), then it is not a “covering.” If the “window” (tsohar) is a ROOF, then we have a problem of a window that comes from nowhere. Also, how on earth could you remove the ROOF to look at the face of the ground which was dry? That doesn’t make any sense.
So what is this covering?
Luckily, this word is used elsewhere in the Bible. It is not an ambiguous word. The Hebrew word is mikseh. It is used sixteen times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is either used to describe the COVERING that goes over the tabernacle (Exodus 26:14, 35:11, 36:19, 39:34, 40:19), or the COVERING that goes over the Ark of the Covenant and the altar of sacrifice (Numbers 3:25, 4:8, 4:10-12, 4:25). That covering was made either out of goat-skin or seal-skin, depending on how you translate it.
Strange…. Is there any significance to a “seal-skin” covering? More on that later.
Why Noah’s Ark is Most Definitely Not a Ship
Now, I’m going to make the point that it is DEFINITELY NOT TRUE that the Ark is a boat. But to make this point, I’m going to go to my good friend Josephus.
Josephus’s Description of Noah’s Ark
Now Josephus was a good Jew who knew his Old Testament. Luckily for us, Josephus lived in 100 AD, and so he is about 2,000 years older than we are, and doesn’t ahve any of our modern influences on the way he reads his Hebrew Bible.
So take it away, Josephus. Tell us about the Ark:
Now God loved this man for his righteousness: yet he not only condemned those other men for their wickedness, but determined to destroy the whole race of mankind, and to make another race that should be pure from wickedness; and cutting short their lives, and making their years not so many as they formerly lived, but one hundred and twenty only, he turned the dry land into sea; and thus were all these men destroyed: but Noah alone was saved; for God suggested to him the following contrivance and way of escape:—That he should make an ark of four stories high, three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits broad, and thirty cubits high. Accordingly he entered into that ark, and his wife, and sons, and their wives, and put into it not only other provisions, to support their wants there, but also sent in with the rest all sorts of living creatures, the male and his female, for the preservation of their kinds; and others of them by sevens. Now this ark had firm walls, and a roof, and was braced with cross beams, so that it could not be any way drowned or overborne by the violence of the water. And thus was Noah, with his family, preserved. Now he was the tenth from Adam, as being the son of Lamech, whose father was Mathusela; he was the son of Enoch, the son of Jared; and Jared was the son of Malaleel, who, with many of his sisters, were the children of Cainan, the son of Enos. Now Enos was the son of Seth, the son of Adam. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.3.5)
Now, that’s cool, but I want you to notice something about this story of the Ark. Look at the things that are described in its construction that prevented the waters from overcoming Noah and his family:
- Firm walls.
- A Roof.
- Braced with cross beams
But let me just go over a few words that are NOT included in Josephus’s description of the Ark:
That’s weird. But guess what…. it’s gets weirder.
The Nail in the Coffin for Noah’s “Boat”
Now here’s where things get weird. Compare the description in your Bible of the Ark:
- The length of the ark 300 cubits,
- Its breadth 50 cubits, and
- Its height 30 cubits.
- Lower, second, and third decks
Josephus’s description of THE SAME ARK:
- Three hundred cubits long
- Fifty Cubits Broad
- Thirty Cubits high
- FOUR STORIES HIGH.
Wait…. Is it possible to explain this difference? Oh, yes it is.
If we agree that Josephus and ourselves are looking at the same text, and if we agree that there are “lower, second, and third SOMETHINGS on the Ark, and if we agree that there is some sort of “roof” or “covering” over the ark, then here is how you can have BOTH three “decks” and four “stories” in Noah’s ark:
Guys, maybe the simplicity of that drawing covered up the central issue here. I don’t want you to miss how important this difference in Josephus’s version of this matter is. You can’t miss this because it is simply that important. It’s not just that Josephus has a different number of “decks.” Check it out:
IN JOSEPHUS’S UNDERSTANDING OF NOAH’S ARK, THE ARK DOES NOT HAVE A FLOOR.
How’s that for “not a boat”?
The Weirdest Part of The Noah Story
Now that I think I’ve done my job in explaining how Noah’s Ark is NOT a boat, I think I need to go further and telling you exactly how STRANGE this story of Noah’s Ark actually is.
Noah’s Ark Is “Carried” and It Does Not “Float.”
Now, if you look in your bible at Genesis 7, you will see the following verse:
The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. (Genesis 7:18)
And this makes sense. If you have a “box” or a “chest” or a bunch of wood logs tied together into a rough raft, it doesn’t matter if it is “not a boat.” What matters is that it floats. So long as it is able to float on water, that’s good enough for it to be a boat. Right? It doesn’t even need a FLOOR. So long as it floats, you’re safe.
Well, here’s the problem. There is a Hebrew word for “float.” That word is tsuph. It is found in the story where Elijah makes an iron ax-head float as a miracle:
Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float. And he said, “Take it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it. (2 Kings 6:6-7)
But here’s the problem. The Hebrew word in 2 Kings is different from the Hebrew word in Genesis. The word in Genesis for what happened to the Ark on the waters is halak. It means “to come, to go, to walk.”
Now, this is also something that is not so cut and dry. The word halak is an EXTREMELY common word. It is used over 1000 times in the Bible. And so obviously, if you have something “coming” or “going” or “walking” and doing its thing on the water, then doesn’t that mean “float”?
Well, just wait.
Here’s the problem. Even though this is a very common word, and even though this common word refers to “coming” or “going” in many circumstances, it is NEVER used to describe ships that “come” or “go” over water, such as the story of Jonah when he takes a ship to Tarshish (Jonah 1:1-4) or the ships that Solomon sent from Ezion-geber to get gold from Ophir (1 Kings 9:26-28), or the ships that came bringing all sorts of goods for Solomon (1 Kings 10:22). Notice how the NASB concordance notes that this word is translated:
access (1), accompany* (2), act (5), acting (2), already gone (1), am (1), am about (1), attended* (1), became greater (3), become (1), becoming (1), becoming increasingly (1), blowing (1), brighter (2), bring (4), brought (5), came (13), came nearer (1), carry (2), come (82), come and let us go (1), coming (3), continually (1), continued (5), continues…along (1), continuing (1), continuing* (1), crawls (1), darting back (1), depart (14), departed (55), departs (1), desires (1), die (1), disappears (1), down (2), down* (1), enter (2), extended (2), flashed (1), fled (1), floated (1), flow (6), flowed (1), flowing (1), flows (1), follow (2), follow* (14), followed (2), followed* (21), following (1), following* (5), follows* (1), get (1), get away (2), get rid (1), go (426), go and walk (1), go at once (1), go my way (1), go to patrol (1), go back (1), go* (4), goes (22), goes to and fro (1), goes down (1), going (30), gone (39), grew (2), grew steadily (1), grew…continually (1), grow (1), growing* (1), indeed gone (1), involve (1), lead (2), leads (1), leave (1), leave* (3), led (14), left (2), live (1), living (1), march (4), marches (1), move (2), moved (8), moves (1), moving (1), once the went forth (1), parades (1), passes (1), passing (1), patrol (2), patrolled (2), pressed heavier (1), proceed (2), proceed* (1), proceeded (4), prowl (1), prowled (1), ran (3), resort (1), return* (1), robber (1), run (1), runs off (1), set (3), set* (1), spent (1), spread (1), sprout (1), stalks (1), steadily (2), steps (1), strut (1), surely go (2), swept (1), take (6), taking (2), throng (1), took (1), took for us to come (1), travel (3), traveled (1), travelers* (1), vagabond (1), vanished (1), walk (142), walked (84), walked around (1), walked back (1), walking (14), walking around (2), walks (31), walks around (1), wandered (2), wanderings (1), way (1), weak (1), went (309), went along continually (1), went on his way (1), went on continually (1), went they could go (1), went forth (1), went* (1)
There is only one time that this word is ever translated as “floated,” and that is right here in Genesis 7. Also notice that you will never see “sail” as a translation of this verb, either.
Noah Walked With God
But…. and this is where things start to get weird… look what the preferred word is when the Bible describes VERY WEIRD things happening:
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking (halak) in the garden in the cool [ruach] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)
Enoch walked (halak) with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked (halak) with God, and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5:22-24)
The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained. But the sons of Israel walked (halak) on dry land through the midst of the sea, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:28-29)
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
. . .
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked (halak)in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
(Job 38:1, 16-18)
“You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
and crafted in gold were your settings
and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked (halak).
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked (halak) with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Genesis 6:9-10)
So, yes. This is a very common word that means “to walk,” but it is also the preferred word to discuss how God moves about on the Earth (in the Garden of Eden). It is also used to describe how someone can disappear and not die (Enoch). It is also used to describe miraculous passage through waters (the Red Sea). It is also used to describe how God in his power can move about in the depths of the ocean (in Job). It is also used to describe how Satan was able to be a guardian cherub before God cast him out of heaven (in the passage in Ezekiel). And finally, it is used as the HEADLINE and the MAIN THING that the author of Genesis wants you to know about Noah.
Think about this, guys. What is the main thing that the author wants you to know about Noah? Is it that he built an amazing boat? No. Is it that he and his family are the only surviving people on the whole Earth after the Flood? No. Is it the fact that he lived for centuries? No. Is it that he repopulated the whole Earth after the flood? No.
The thing this author wants you to know is that Noah walked with God.
“Like…. Noah was a good guy?”
No. Noah walked with God.
“Like… He had a really good prayer life?”
No. Noah walked with God.
Actually, let me cut you off right there, and go to the very next book of the Bible to make this as explicit as possible. This is when God literally appears to Moses when he comes down on Mount Sinai:
Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”
. . .
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
I don’t know how much more literal I can be with this. So just hear me out: NOAH WALKED WITH GOD.
The Waters BORE UP the Ark
So, now that we have covered the fact that the Ark did not “float,” we need to talk about what actually happened. Here is the full passage:
The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. (Genesis 7:17-19)
As a geographical fact, I will remind some people that we see that “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.” However, there is a problem of perspective for someone seeing this ON THE EARTH. That is the fact that THE EARTH IS CURVED.
Problem of the Horizon
Let’s take Mount Everest as a crazy example, using rough ballpark calculations. Mount Everest is 29,000 feet high. But according to the easy calculations you can do on how far away you can see the horizon, even Mount Everest would disappear beneath the horizon at 210 miles. A 14,000 foot mountain would disappear beneath the horizon after only 145 miles. A 10,000 foot mountain would disappear beneath the horizon at 125 miles distance. For a person of average height standing on the beach, the horizon is only about 3 miles distant.
So here’s a question. How is it possible to say something like “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered” if the speaker was a first person observer (Noah) on planet Earth?
In short: it’s not.
The Significance of the Words “Bore Up”
At this point, I should remind the reader of a point I made in a separate blog post about the “waters” of the flood. They are not normal waters. These waters are the waters of “the deep” (tehom). They are the “waters above the firmament.”
And in the story of Noah, look at what these waters do to the Ark:
The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark [walked about: halak] on the face of the waters. (Genesis 7:17)
That Hebrew word for “prevailed” is gabar and it means “to be strong, mighty.” The Hebrew word for “increased” is rabah and it means “to be or become much, many or great.” Also, the word “bore up” is the verb nasah, and it means to “carry.”
“Wait a minute!” One might say. “If the waters ‘carry’ the Ark, how is that any different than ‘floating’“? Well, in one sense, it’s not.
But in another sense, it is. The word “carry” is very common in the Old Testament, but in a very significant spot, it is repeatedly used to describe how a different ark should be carried. This was the wooden box (Hebrew: aron) that was the Ark of the Covenant:
“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry (nasah) the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you. (Exodus 25:10-16)
And there is another instrument of tabernacle worship that is to be “carried” in the same way:
“You shall make a table of acacia wood. Two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make a rim around it a handbreadth wide, and a molding of gold around the rim. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and fasten the rings to the four corners at its four legs. Close to the frame the rings shall lie, as holders for the poles to carry (nasah) the table. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly. (Exodus 25:23-30)
And there is yet another instrument of Tabernacle worship that is to be “carried” in the same way:
You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad. The altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze. You shall make pots for it to receive its ashes, and shovels and basins and forks and fire pans. You shall make all its utensils of bronze. You shall also make for it a grating, a network of bronze, and on the net you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners. And you shall set it under the ledge of the altar so that the net extends halfway down the altar. And you shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze. And the poles shall be put through the rings, so that the poles are on the two sides of the altar when it is carried (nasah). You shall make it hollow, with boards. As it has been shown you on the mountain, so shall it be made. (Exodus 27:1-7)
In the same way that all of these instruments of the Tabernacle (the place where the presence of God was, and where sacrifices were offered through the levitical priests) were carried (nasah) by the priests, the Ark of Noah was CARRIED (nasah) by the waters.
Not only that, but look how the NASB concordance shows the way this word nasah is translated:
accept* (3), accepted* (1), advanced (1), anything been taken (1), arises (1), assisted (1), bear (61), bearer (17), bearers (2), bearing (4), bears (1), become proud (2), bore (9), borne (5), bring (10), bring forth (1), bringing (7), brought (5), carried (45), carries (6), carry (45), carry away (1), carry off (2), carrying (20), contain (1), continued* (1), count* (1), desire (1), desire* (2), direct (1), ease (1), endure (4), endured (1), ever forgive (1), exalt (2), exalted (9), exalting (2), favor* (1), fetch (1), forgave (2), forget (1), forgive (8), forgiven (3), forgives (1), forgiving (2), found (3), grant (1), granted (1), have (1), high (1), honor* (1), honorable* (3), incur (2), laid (2), lift (64), lifted (67), lifts (4), load (2), loaded (3), lofty (1), longing* (1), looked* (2), make (1), married (1), must be carried (1), obtained (1), offer (3), pardon (2), pardons (1), partial* (2), partiality* (8), pick (1), picked (1), picks (3), promoted (1), protest (1), put (1), raise (5), raised (13), receive (2), receive* (2), receives (1), regard (1), released* (1), respected* (1), rise (2), rose (5), sets (1), shield-bearer* (1), shield-carrier* (1), show (5), showed (1), showing (1), shows (1), sing (1), spare (2), stirred (3), suffer (2), supplied (1), support (1), supported (1), sustain (2), swore* (12), sworn* (2), take (49), take away (1), taken (7), takes (3), took (37), towers (1), transporters* (1), upheaved (1), wearing (1), went (1), withhold (1), wore (1), worked (1).
The most common way to translate this word is to “bear” or to “lift” or to “carry” or to “take.” However, we also get the strange translation that this word can mean “forgive” or to “pardon.”
So… do you see how weird these things are about to get?
Look at the FULL CONTEXT what happened to the Ark of Noah:
The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated (halak) on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. (Genesis 7:17-23)
But look at the contrasts with the emphasis that the Hebrew brings:
And all flesh died that moved on the earth
The waters became mighty (gabar) and became great (rabah) on the earth,
The ark went about (halak) on the face of the waters.
The waters nasah the Ark. They carried or took or sustained or lifted or FORGAVE the Ark.
And rather than dying with the rest of the world:
The Ark rose high above the Earth,
Heaven and Earth and God and Noah
Let make my point VERY specific so that I’m not misunderstood. Let me ask a question. WHERE is Noah during all of this? He’s on the Ark, right? Yes. But WHERE is the Ark? The Ark is floating on the big flood on planet earth, right?
No. He’s not. Noah isn’t on the Earth at all.
In the creation account in Genesis, we see that there is a specific name for the land that is separated from the waters. That “dry land” that is separated from the waters is yabbashah. But when Noah rises above the Earth, he does not rise above the “dry land.” He arises high above “the Earth” (erets). This is not the word that differentiates seas from dry land. This is the word that differentiates heaven (shamayim) from earth (erets). God does not rule “Heaven and yabbashah. Instead, he rules “Heaven and erets.” But look at what we read in the account of the flood:
The flood continued forty days on the earth (erets). The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth (erets). The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth (erets), and the ark [went about: halak] on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth (erets) that all the high mountains under the whole heaven (shamayim) were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth (erets), birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land (yabbashah) in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens (shamayim). They were blotted out from the earth (erets). Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. (Genesis 7:17-23)
The text makes it clear that everything “the Earth” was destroyed. But it doesn’t say that everything on the “dry land” was destroyed (even though, that’s definitely true), differentiating it from the seas (yam). Instead, this passage repeatedly states that everything on “the Earth” was destroyed, and even though it would be normal to differentiate “the Earth” from “the sea,” it doesn’t. Instead, it only differentiates “the Earth” from “heaven” (shamayim).
Guys…. Here’s the crazy thing this passage is telling us. Noah’s Ark doesn’t “float.” The Ark goes TO HEAVEN. After all, remember what we read as the most significant thing about Noah in the introduction to this story:
NOAH WALKED WITH GOD.
The Significance of the Location of the Ark in the Text
The idea that the Ark goes to heaven is After all, look at the location of the Ark that is described after it is “carried” by the waters high above the Earth:
The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark went upon (halak) on THE FACE OF THE WATERS. (Genesis 7:18)
The last place we saw this language was in a very, VERY significant place:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over THE FACE OF THE WATERS. (Genesis 1:1-2)
The only other times this phrase “the face of the waters” are used in scripture is to describe very “heavenly” scenes. Because after all, we should remember (as I said in a previous post) that in the Biblical mindset, the stuff that is “up there” is not “space.” It is “WATER.” Look what Job says in one of the few places the “face of the waters” in mentioned:
He stretches out the north over the void
and hangs the earth on nothing.
He binds up the waters in his thick clouds,
and the cloud is not split open under them.
He covers the face of the full moon
and spreads over it his cloud.
He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters
at the boundary between light and darkness.
As a part of this context of what happens in heaven during the Flood, look at what we see in the Psalms:
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, [footnote: Hebrew: “sons of God” or “sons of might”]
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth [footnote: revocalization yields “makes the oaks to shake”]
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Notice how the setting of this Psalm starts with beings in Heaven:
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Then it moves to the power of what God has unleashed on the Earth:
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
And after everyone in his temple cries “Glory,” and we notice that the attention goes to God himself:
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
And then look at how STRANGELY the focus shifts:
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Well, that’s weird. But since we know the settine of this Psalm is during the flood of Genesis, let me ask a simple question: WHO are “his people”? Who are blessed “with peace”? This is especially confusing when we realize that the nation of Israel, as well as the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob DON’T EVEN EXIST yet. So who are these “people” that the Lord wishes to have strength? Who are they?
The answer is quite simple: the only people who still exist: Noah and his family.
For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.
Guys…. God is giving the speech of Psalm 29 IN THE PRESENCE OF NOAH, who WALKED WITH GOD.
Fixing Our Understanding of Noah’s Ark
At the beginning of this series, I wrote about Atlantis, and there, I said the following:
This is about Atlantis — which I’m about to take seriously. What’s next: UFOs?
That was supposed to be a sarcastic joke. But at that time, I wasn’t planning on writing this post (because I didn’t discover it yet). However, now I need to clarify. No, Noah did not build a spaceship. He built a temple.
We now need to discuss how the Bible differentiates between Heaven and Earth. Heaven is not separated from Earth by DISTANCE. It is a different realm. It is a different DIMENSION. But the realm of heaven and the realm of Earth are not completely separate. They overlap. See this nice video from the Bible Project if you want a brief explanation:
So here’s the thing I want you to realize, the Ark is NOT a boat. It is not described like a boat. It was not built like a boat. It has no resemblance to a boat. However, there is something that it DOES resemble. It resembles a temple. Specifically, it resembles the Tabernacle.
What the Tabernacle Was
In case you were wondering, the Tabernacle is the place where God’s presence LITERALLY CAME DOWN to be among the people of Israel. In a similar reverse-fashion, the Ark was the way that Noah’s presence LITERALLY WENT UP so that he could “walk with God.”
Now, if you’d like to know what the tabernacle is, you can read Exodus 26 to Exodus 27. It’s a bit confusing, so I won’t put it here. Instead, I’ll put this very nice picture of the layout that God gives it.
Similarities between the Tabernacle and Noah’s Ark
The first thing I’d like for you to notice is that the ENTRANCE is on THE SIDE, just like Noah’s Ark.
The second thing I’d like for you to notice is that the tabernacle (unlike the Temple on Mount Zion) is PORTABLE, just like Noah’s Ark.
The third thing I’d like you to notice is that there are three divisions of the tabernacle, the Outer Courtyard, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place (“Holy of Holies”), JUST LIKE NOAH’S ARK. (Or, if you break the Altar and the basin for washing into separate sections, then the Tabernacle has four divisions, just like Josephus’s description of Noah’s ark.)
Additionally, we can notice that the height, width, and length dimensions of the Tabernacle itself are similar (but about half as long) as the dimensions of the Ark.
Also, remember that “covering” (mikseh) that was over the ark? Well, guess what the tabernacle has over it?
And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle: eleven curtains shalt thou make them. . . .And the cubit on the one side, and the cubit on the other side, of that which remaineth in the length of the curtains of the tent, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle on this side and on that side, to cover it. And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of sealskins above. (Genesis 26:7, 13-14)
And the very-sharp-eyed readers of my blog will remember this post on “Immunity From Divine Judgment” which noted the importance of the laurel tree, the seal, and the eagle to ancient people According to that custom, these three items are NEVER STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. That is why Caesar Augustus, who was terrified of lighting (because he saw a servant get killed by lighting in a night journey) always carried around a sealskin with him no matter where he went: to protect him from lightning.
But don’t view this through a modern lens. The important quality of “not getting struck by lighting” is not the modern scientific reason that things don’t get struck by lightning — having poor electrical conductivity. The ANCIENT way to think about this is that if you are never struck by lightning, you are IMMUNE FROM DIVINE JUDGMENT.
- So what covered the tabernacle? It was covered by a mikseh of SEAL-SKIN, which was a symbol of it being immune from divine judgment.
- What covered the Ark of Noah? It was covered by a “mikseh,” and what it covered was LITERALLY the ONLY THING that was immune from divine judgment during the flood.
In this way, the Ark is very much like the Tabernacle. However, there is another similarity between the Ark of Noah and the Tabernacle that I’d like to explain.
But for it to make sense, we need to take a huge detour and talk about Moses.
The “Ark” of Moses
In the story of Moses, we read that the Pharoah wanted to kill all the male children of the Hebrews, and so he ordered that the children be thrown into the Nile if they were a boy. This is the story where we see the only other occurrence of the Hebrew word “Ark” (tebah), which means “box” or “chest.” The story is in Exodus:
Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”
Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket (tebah) made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.
Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Now, I’ve already given you a strange reading of a previous story, so I’m about to give you another strange reading of this story. But before we do, we need to cover some Egyptian History.
When Was Moses Place in the “Ark” (tebah)?
In a brief segment in the last post, we explored the calculation of the Exodus. We quoted this part of the scriptures.
In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. (1 Kings 6:1)
Because of Solomon’s Wikipedia page, which dates him from King Hiriam I of Tyre, who is mentioned in the same story in 1 Kings, “The conventional dates of Solomon’s reign are about 970 BC to 931 BC.” This means the Exodus was in 1446 BC.
We can also do a little bit of digging to our good friend Josephus, who has some commentary on the Exodus. Look what he says about who was ruling Egypt at the time:
But now I shall produce the Egyptians as witnesses to the antiquity of our nation. I shall therefore here bring in Manetho again, and what he writes as to the order of the times in this case. And thus he speaks: “When this people or shepherds were gone out of Egypt, to Jerusalem, Tethtmosis, the King of Egypt, who drove them out, reigned afterward twenty five years, and four months, and then died.” (Josephus, Against Apion 1.15)
Interesting, we actually get A NAME of the Pharaoh who “drove out” (LOL!) the shepherds out of Egypt. His name was Tethtmosis.
Aaaaand, guess what we can find related to the date of the kings of Egypt on the dang Wikipedia page for the List of Pharaohs of Egypt. Look who we see is the dang Pharaoh at the relevant time:
His name is THUTMOSE III. No Josephus was quoting Manetho, who translated directly from Egyptian to Greek. And in Josephus’s translation, he is reading the Greek name “TETHMOSIS” or “ΤΕΘΜΟΣΙΣ.” The name we’re reading on Wikipedia “THUTMOSE,” is the modern English reconstruction of the Egyptian language. We should first note that the “e” at the end has no sound, so it can be discarded. We can also note that in the pronunciation guides we have of the Egyptian language, there is a great deal of ambiguity because “TH” doesn’t exist as an Egyptian sound, but there are two sounds that don’t exist in the English language, which are used in Egyptian. Additionally, we should note that because Greek changes its nouns by “declension,” there are endings to the Greek words that are just the result of grammar. One of those endings is “-is”
This tells us something very interesting: TETHMOSIS and THUTMOS” are THE SAME THING. So there you go. If you ever wanted to know who the Pharaoh was during the Exodus, there are two ways to know. The first way is to just read Josephus, who is using the Egyptian records themselves. The second way is to just calculate the date of the Exodus from Scripture, and look on Wikipedia for the Egyptian Pharaoh during the relevant time. Not so surprisingly for those who treat the Bible as a reliable document, these two ways of investigation give THE EXACT SAME PERSON.
To confirm the issue, notice that when you subtract 25 years from the date of 1,446 BC (which is how long Josephus says Manetho said Thutmose reigned after he “drove out” the shepherds from Egypt), we get 1,421 BC, which is just a smidgen off of the date that CURRENT ARCHEOLOGY puts for the end of the reign of Thutmose III.
We also note that Thutmose III ruled Ancient Egypt at “its greatest extent,” during “the height of Egypt’s Power.” This puts some more significance on what Exodus says:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:13-16)
Also, look back up at that Wikipedia page. We also see that the person who ruled before Thutmose III was Hatshepsut, who was “the daughter of Thutmose I.” Guys…. she’s THE DAUGHTER OF THE PHARAOH, just like Exodus says:
Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. (Exodus 2:4)
But as cool as a side-point as that is, the real point is what this means for the “basket” (tebah) of Moses.
The Thing You Missed in the Story of Moses
Let’s look back at that story of Moses and the Nile. I want you to note some things.
Moses’s mother doesn’t put him in the Nile because the Nile is a “better hiding place.” If you think that’s the case, you are smoothing over the text to hide what the text says. Look what it says:
When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch.
Why does she put Moses in the Nile? Because she could hide him no longer. He had given up. She had risked her life for three months, but she could do it no longer. Babies are noisy. They cry, and eventually, people would see that Moses was a boy. And so, she follows the order of Pharoah:
She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank.
Notice what she is doing. Moses’s mother puts Moses in the Nile BECAUSE SHE GIVES HIM UP FOR DEAD. And look what his sister does, and how she doesn’t follow him on an errand for her mother:
And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.
She wants to know HOW HE WILL DIE.
That is the level of emotion that you were missing in this story. The lesson here isn’t that God helps those who help themselves with excellent baby-boats. Instead, the lesson is that God helps those who are oppressed to the point of death. And here’s the key point as it relates to the “basket” or “ark” (tebah):
Moses is placed IN A COFFIN.
After all, how do you explain the reaction of the daughter of the Pharaoh. How do you think that the Pharaoh’s daughter knew that the child was abandoned? Why didn’t she think it was “lost”? And how the heck did she know that this three-month-old baby was A CHILD OF THE HEBREWS? Why did she have pity on the child?
The answer is simple. SHE FOUND A BABY IN A SARCOPHAGU. That just screams “death.” She knows that this was someone who was following the order of her father the Pharaoh. He had been cast into the Nile.
A Short Lesson on Egyptian Coffins Around the Time of the Exodus.
If you don’t believe me, then let me just link to this webpage that breaks down what you can see if you travel to Egypt. It explains how Sarcophagi were made way back in the 18th Dynasty of Egypt:
However, by the middle of the dynasty, around the time of Hatshepsut, coffins were more commonly, particularly in non-royal burials, covered with black pitch. This background was then interrupted by bands, running vertically down the front and horizontally as well. The best of these had gilded faces, and the bands were of gold. The iconography of these coffins was constant, consisting of a winged figure on the lid, the Four Sons of Horus, and Thoth and Anubis on the walls of the case. They were most common in Thebes, but were also found in Memphis and the Fayoum. Wealthy individuals may have had outer and inner nested coffins of this type. In fact, the model coffin for Amenhotep Huy’s ushabti represents this type of coffin, although the color was green rather than black. Green was also a color symbolic of resurrection to the ancient Egyptians, and was easier to achieve in faience then black.
. . .
Those of lower status were buried in single coffins, usually made from cheap materials such as pottery or reeds, though occasionally, richly equipped mummies were buried in single wooden coffins.
Guys…. Look what Exodus says that Moses’s (tebah) was made out of:
When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket (tebah) made of bulrushes [footnote: Hebrew: papyrus reeds] and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. (Exodus 2:3)
She literally made A COFFIN. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Take a look at this video of a talk that was given at the Kentucky “Ark Encounter” (An organization with a view of the Ark that would NOT look to kindly on this interpretation):
“And here’s where this word gets really interesting. Most likely, this word is most likely an Egyptian loan-word, which makes sense, because Moses is writing this and Moses grew up where? Egypt. But it’s from their word for Sarcophagus.”
Think about what this means for the Ark of Noah. IT WASN’T A BOAT.
Final Note about Moses and the Pharaoh
Before we move on, I think I need to recognize the strange unexplained footnote we see about Thutmose III in the Wikipedia page:
“Before the end of his reign, he obliterated Hatshepsut’s name and image from temples and monuments.”
Why did he do this? Nobody in Egyptology knows. However, if we understand Hatshepsut to be the “daugther of Pharaoh” who pulled Moses from the water and Thutmose III to be the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus, we have some motivation for it shared in the Bible:
So Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, 5 and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. 6 There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. 7 But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ 8 And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.”
Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.
At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.
(Exodus 12: 29-30)
I think we have found the motivation for this strange archeological discovery about Thutmose III and Hatshepsut when we realize that it was probably Hatshepsut that pulled Moses from the water. Pharaoh chased after Moses and the Israelites in his anger of his dead child. When he couldn’t obliterate them, he obliterated the only thing that he could: the memory of the woman who drew him out of the water.
That’s some serious emotion that you probably missed in that story.
Anyway, that’s enough of that. Moving on….
Some Final Similarities between the Ark and the Tabernacle
Remember the “covering” that was over the Ark? Remember this strange thing that was supposedly never mentioned in the construction of the Ark that we see Noah removes at the very end? What was this thing?
Remember that the word for “covering” is mikseh, which was on the tabernacle, and signified immunity from divine judgment.
Also remember that the word “pitch” was translated in the construction of the ark. But the Hebrew word that we translate as “pitch” is not the same “bitumen and pitch” that Moses’s mother put on his basket/ark. Instead, it was the word kopher. And that word means “the price of a life; a ransom.”
Are you seeing where this is going? God tells Noah to cover the ark — inside and out — with SACRIFICE.
Look at how this and the other ambiguities back at what God tells Noah about this ark:
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself a [box] of [squared] wood. Make [nests] in the ark, and cover it inside and out with [SACRIFICE].
And remember that strange word “gopher” at the beginning? Remember how the Septuigent translated it as “four-cornered” or “squared?
Guess what else we know about a particular place in the tabernacle — the Holy of Holies — where the presence of God actually was? What are the measurements of that room? It takes a good bit of math, and it is not very simply described in Exodus 26, but a quick Google search will reveal a CURIOUS fact about the measurements of the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle:
- 10 cubits long
- 10 cubits wide
- 10 cubits high
IT IS A SQUARE!!!!! Do you see why this is relevant to Noah’s instruction to make a box of SQUARED wood?
Also, let’s rewind to that ambiguous word translated as “rooms.” We said that it wasn’t actually the word “room.” It is the word that is most commonly translated as “nest.” But guess what? This ALSO has a correlation to the Tabernacle.
Whenever the Tabernacle was carried and moved with the people of Israel, there was actually a very specific way that the Israelites were to make their camp. They were instructed to SURROUND the tabernacle:
The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. (Numbers 2:1-2)
And here’s the crazy part of the folloing verse:
Make [nests] in the ark, and cover it inside and out with [SACRIFICE].
That word “in” isn’t the Hebrew preposition for “inside.” It is the Hebrew preposition “eth“, which is defined as “with (denoting proximity).”
In other words, God tells Noah — just like he told the Israelites — to make their dwelling place NEAR his presence, which was literally inside a square structure of wood.
What is the “Window” or “Roof”?
The last mystery that I haven’t touched is the “roof/window/midday” that was placed in the Ark. The Hebrew word was tsohar. I can’t find a parallel to that to the Tabernacle, so that one will remain a mystery.
However, I can point to a different structure that was supposed to preserve someone into the afterlife that seems to have some “midday” window type of structure. I’m talking about the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Notice what we can see coming out of the shafts where the king and queen were kept in the Pyramid. These are shafts that go up, and are believed to be “star shafts” that were meant to have a view-point of the sky:
These “air shafts” are hypothesized to be “star shafts” which give a view of the sky. According to this paper that describes the shafts, the southern slope, (which is on the left in the picture) rises at an angle of 45 degrees. At Giza, he Sun shins from the South because Giza is in the Norther Hemisphere and above the tropics. Additionally, in February and November, at noon, or the midday, the Sun has an elevation of 45 degrees. So, while I do not know what a “midday” that translates as “window” is on the Ark, it seems that there is a “midday” that could be deemed a “window” on the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Anyway… moving on.
A Coherent and Non-Mythological Reading of the Story of Noah and the Flood
Remember that a Myth is something that has a purpose. We learned it from the passage in the Timaeus that we have been reviewing over and over again, in which the Egyptian Priest gives us what is REALLY going on with myths:
There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals
. . .
And whatever happened either in your country or in ours, or in any other region of which we are informed-if there were any actions noble or great or in any other way remarkable, they have all been written down by us of old, and are preserved in our temples. (Plato, Timaeus)
Myths take COMPLICATED truths, and make them SIMPLE for the purpose of making the facts MEMORABLE. That is what is going on. However, I’d like to say something quite controversial, but which I believe is true. The version of Noah that we tell in Sunday School is A MYTH. Meanwhile, the text of Genesis IS NOT A MYTH.
The story we tell in Sunday school IS SIMPLE. However, the details also also happens to beggar belief and come across as downright impossible, even when we are trying to take them as “true.” In contrast, the text of Genesis in describing the Flood MAKES NO SENSE TO US, but seems to correspond in its details to some very real things that definitely happened.
In other words, the form of the story of Noah is THE OPPOSITE OF A MYTH. It is not “simple” and easily remembered. Instead, it is rather technical, confusing, and quite specific. For instance, even though none of you have ever seen a chariot, I’m sure that even you can get an idea of what is happening when Phaeton takes his sun chariot across the sky. In contrast, not even Bible translators can get a handle on what is going on with Noah’s Ark.
The Theological Message Behind the Story of Noah
But even getting away from the details, let’s think about the general thrust of the story. We tend to think of the story of Noah as something like this:
“Noah, I am about to send a very big flood. Therefore, I want you to build a really big boat for you and your family. This boat will take you through the flood. I want you to build it with several rooms and decks, and I want you to put a roof over it because it is going to rain a lot. Also, please ambiguously place a window in the boat. And bring lots of food, because the flood is going to last a really long time.
And I want you to cover it inside and out with WATERPROOFING material, because I am going to wipe out all life with a flood, because the entire world is evil and corrupt. “
But the far more complicated reading gives a different lesson and instruction. To be glib, the story reads something like this:
“Noah, I am about to kill everyone on Earth. Therefore, I want you to build a really big box for yourself and your family that is pretty much a sarcophagus. Now, this box is going to be lifted up to the realm that comes after death, and I know that sort of resembles what a coffin does, too, but stay with me here Noah. You then need to make several “living places” in very close proximity to this box. And I want the box to have a tsohar in it. And bring lots of food, because just a few chapters back, I said that mankind can’t live forever and I can’t give you access to the Tree of Life buffet up here.
And I want you to cover this really big box inside and out with SACRIFICE, because I am going to kill everyone on earth with a flood, because the entire world is evil and corrupt.
In the first reading, it is a BOAT that saves Noah. In the second reading, it is THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD that saves Noah. In your view, which one of these themes fits in with the overall story of Genesis, the Pentateuch, and the entire Bible as a whole?
And on a related note. Do you ever wonder why Pharaohs made mummies and big tombs and put all kinds of provisions in their tombs to ensure their passage into the afterlife? I mean, where the heck did they get that idea from? Look at all the stuff in the Tomb of Tutankhamun:
That looks like a storage locker, man. And look what the Wikipedia page for the tomb says was included in the stuff inside his tomb:
The annex, originally used to store oils, ointments, scents, foods and wine, was the last room to be cleared, from the end of October 1927 to the spring of 1928. Although small in size, it contained approximately 280 groups of objects, totaling more than 2,000 individual pieces. Also found within the annex chamber were 26 jars containing wine residue.
Where would these ancient people get the idea that you would need to PACK FOOD to eat IN THE AFTERLIFE?
Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Genesis 6:21)
Oh….. yeah. That’s right. Remember that the word “Ark” (tebah) is a borrow-word from Egyptian. It LITERALLY means “SARCOPHAGUS.”
The Invasion of Myths into the Bible.
We have already covered what a “Myth” actually is. It is NOT an “untrue story.” Instead, it is a story that is not true that is deliberately made MEMORABLE by turning confusing elements into very real-life concepts. As the Egyptian priest said:
There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals (Plato, Timaeus)
In Phaethon, we get the story of an asteroid impact, but this is simplified into VERY easy concepts. Even though you’ve never seen a chariot before, I’m sure you get the idea of what is going on when Hyginus says:
Phaethon, son of Clymenus, son of Sol, and the nymph Merope, who, as we have heard was and Oceanid, upon being told by his father that his grandfather was Sol, put to bad use the chariot he asked for. For when he was carried too near the earth, everything burned in the fire that came near, and, struck by a thunderbolt, he fell into the river Po.
That is EASY to understand, even if it is “not true.”
I’m here to tell you that the story of Noah does not have any characteristics of what is typically called a “myth.” But the modern understanding of Noah’s Ark is starting to resemble a Myth.
“Boats” are normal things. “Floating” is a normal thing. “Landed on a mountain” is a normal thing. But the story of Noah in Genesis does not give us a story about “normal things.” It talks about literally being transported to a different dimension by following the instructions of a divine being. This story is DOWNRIGHT CONFUSING. It does NOT match up to our “real-life” concepts of how to get through crazy cataclysmic floods. In fact, we don’t even know what some of the words mean.
But that is what we get in the Genesis story of Noah. And even though I am a person who has some more-than-normal appreciation for the importance of “myths” as a way to communicate truth, the story of Noah IS NOT A MYTH. Instead, it has all the elements of a straightforward (non-mythical and non-simplified) description of an event that does not get simplistic in its wording, its order of events, its characters, its timekeeping, and its detail. That is why the actual story preserved in the text doesn’t make sense.
But because it doesn’t make sense, that is THE OPPOSITE of what a Myth does.
Flood myths are everywhere, but the story of Noah and the Flood is the ONLY ONE that doesn’t have the form of a myth, because it is so dang confusing and doesn’t seem to make any sense for those of us who didn’t see it.
But our understanding of the Noah story has been invaded by a Myth. That’s why you get pictures like this:
The Progression of the Noah Account Into Myth
Let’s review what we know. In 100 AD, Josephus knew just as well as anyone that boats float. He also had the story of Noah written in his Torah just like all of us have it in our Bible (except that he was reading in Hebrew).
Regardless, he sees no reason to describe the “box” of Noah as a boat. As late as 1866, we even get Gustav Dore’s wood-cut illustrations of the Bible. Look at the two illustrations he made of the Flood and of Noah cursing Ham:
Do you see any BOATS in these pictures? No at all. So what happened?
Well, a lot happened. The first thing is that this story truly is CONFUSING.
The second thing is that when Moses’s “ark/box” coffin floats down the Nile, it LITERALLY FLOATS. That is a very good hint that the other “box/ark” does the same thing.
The third thing is that when the translators didn’t know how to cover the tebah (“ark”) in kopher (“ransom”), they just thought it would be a good idea to borrow from the other story of a tebah, make the meaning of the word flexible, and slap the same meaning on a completely different word. You know, because words are flextastic:
That literally seems to be what was done. Now, those are all good faith efforts of people trying to figure out WHAT THE HECK is going on with the 6000 year old story, and it seems we’ve gotten confused all on our own.
We can even see it in pictures, too. For instance, recently a Jewish Synagogue was excavated in Husqoq, Israel in Galilee that dates around the 5th century A.D. One of the mosaics was of “Noah’s Ark.” Look what it showed:
Now, admittedly, it’s quite damaged. But do you see the boat? Me neither. Maybe that box in the top right is the “ark,” but that looks more like the one described by Josephus, not what we see today.
Additionally, there is an old 6th or 7th century book Ashburnham Pentateuch. Here is its wikipedia page. Look at the illustration of Noah’s Ark:
Things definitely start getting much more “boat-like” in the medieval era. Notice how things have changed in this 1545 Francisco de Holanda image of the Ark:
For the quintessential “boat” look, notice the painting by Bernardino Luini in the San Maurizio al Monastero Church in Milan, completed in 1518:
But on the other hand, look at the persistent non-boat appearance of Noah’s Ark depicted in the Sistine Chapel of Rome, completed in 1512:
That looks like a house.
It is also noteworthy that by the medieval era, the general understanding of what was above the “sky” had changed, as well. No longer was there the general ancient belief that “water” was above the sky, as I wrote about in the previous series on The Waters Above the Firmament.
Notice what Martin Luther says about the waters above the firmament in the 1500s:
It is a circumstance naturally exciting our particular wonder that Moses evidently makes three distinct parts or divisions of this portion of the creation. He describes “a firmament in the midst of the waters,” which “divides the waters from the waters.” For myself I am inclined to think that the firmament here mentioned is the highest body of all; and that the waters, not those “above” the firmament, but those which hang and fly about “under” the firmament, are the clouds, which we behold with our natural eyes; so that by the waters which are “divided from the waters,” we may understand the clouds which are divided from our waters which are in the earth. Moses however speaks in the plainest possible terms, both of waters “above” and of waters “under” the firmament. Wherefore I here hold my own mind and judgment in captivity and bow to the Word, although I cannot comprehend it. (Martin Luther, Commentary on Genesis)
Therefore, we can see that there was general confusion about what was going on with Noah’s ark. That is because the story is quite confusing. This is what we should understand about the general understanding of the story when the most influential book in the English language — the King James Version of the Bible — was published, using words like “window” and “pitch.”
The Myth Invades
But it wasn’t just general confusion, either. Something else happened, too. And it literally involves a MYTH invading our understanding of Genesis. In the 1850s, Austen Henry Layard, his assistant Hormuzd Rassam, and W. K. Loftus found several hundred tablets in the Library of Ashurbanipal, near modern-dan Mosul, Iraq. These were taken to the British Museum and studied. You can read about it on Wikipedia. This is where we get the oldest physical copy of a flood myth: the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Here is what Wikipedia says about that:
Late in the following decade, the British Museum hired George Smith to study these; in 1872, Smith read translated fragments before the Society of Biblical Archaeology, and in 1875 and 1876 he published fuller translations, the latter of which was published as The Chaldaean Account of Genesis.
A great deal of what we “know” about the story of Noah — “pitch” and “bitumen” and “float” and “boat” — are details that either come from or are confirmed by the Epic of Gilgamesh, not the text of the Bible. But here’s the thing the Epic of Gilgamesh is A MYTH. It is a story that takes a real event, and reduces it to understandable concepts so that it get preserved in memory.
The Bible doesn’t.
We Should Proclaim the Weird Stories of Scripture in All of Their Weirdness
Now, I’m one of these weird people who has an over-inflated appreciation for finding the truth in ancient stories that are “myths.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeing a myth, trying to see what’s underneath it, and saying “Yep. That happens in the Bible, too.” But that’s not a two-way street. The thing that is trustworthy is the Bible, not Mesopotamian Myths from cultures with gods that are described as “deceiving” the people of God in places like Deuteronomy 11:16 and John 8:44. Yeah…. that doesn’t sound like a good source of information. It sounds like the sort of thing that would turn the lesson of a story of “We need to draw near to the presence of God as we go to something that looks like death, but is not.” to “We need to build a boat to be safe, like a really REALLY big one.”
In light of this fact, I think we need to take back our understandings of the Bible, and boldly proclaim even the WEIRD Parts of Scripture in all of their absolutely baffling glory.
Everyone on Earth died, but Noah did not, because God supernaturally saved him by making a covenant with him:
For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. (Genesis 6:17-18)
This covenant did not involve a salvation that came from the work of human hands (like “a boat”), but instead was accomplished by LITERALLY bring Noah and his family into the presence of God. Noah walked with God, and that is why he was saved.
The same lesson is there fore us, because death still comes to all. So if you want to avoid the judgment of God against the wickedness of the Earth that comes in universal death, you should draw near to his presence and walk with God, too. But we should not be afraid. Instead, we should be confident:
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (Galatians 3:4-6)
And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-28)
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19: 28-30)
That is the massive and significant context of the non-mythical story of Noah, his covenant, his deliverance, and the flood that brought death to all the earth.
That’s all of this series for a while. I’ll remind you all that I’m still looking for someone with academic publishing chops to help me get published on another “Weird Part of Scripture” that I’m trying to get ready for everyone. That’s on the Star of Bethlehem. If you can read Attic Greek or have inroads into academic publishing on the Bible (and you like this series), please get a hold of me, because I need help getting published on a subject that I have done A LOT more research on. If you thought these things were weird, just wait until you see what else I’ve found.
But if you’d like me to write more on this subject, give me a bible passage in the comments, and I’ll try to give it the same treatment here. The subjects can be the medium of En-dor, the Umim and Thumim, the creation account, the Sun standing still, or whatever. Let me know what you want to be discussed, and I’ll make it happen.