Newly translated pre-Biblical tablet describes a great flood and a “rescue boat” with wild animals aboard—in pairs!

January 20, 2014 • 7:19 am

We’ve known since at least 1872 that the Great Flood detailed in Genesis is a descendant of earlier flood myths from Mesopotamia.  And there may be some credibility to the presence of at least some serious floods then, based on the fact that Mesopotamia is a giant flood plain and the presence of some archeological evidence for a big flood around 5000 BC. But what we didn’t know until now is that those earlier flood myths also incorporated a boat onto which species of wild animals were sequestered to save them—two by two!  This clearly shows, as if we didn’t know it already, that the Genesis story of Noah and the Ark isn’t true, but was simply an embroidery of earlier flood stories. (It will be interesting to see how Biblical literalists like Ken Ham react to this finding.)

This has all come to light since the recent deciphering of a clay cuneiform tablet first shown to curators at the British Museum in 1985, but not surrendered by its owner for translation until 2009.  Now the remarkable results are detailed in a book by Irving Finkel, Assyriologist and “assistant keeper” of ancient writings at the British Museum. Finkel’s book, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood (released in the US on Jan 30, Kindle only;  already available at Amazon UK in hardback, Kindle, and paperback—the last for a tad more than 8 pounds). Finkel’s article (see below) is very well written, so I suspect his book will be a good read.

First, here’s Finkel (he’s Jewish), who bears a remarkable resemblance to both an aged Darwin with more hair, and an even closer resemblance to my friend at UC Davis, Professor Michael Turelli:

Irving Finkel (Photo: Benjamin McMahon)

Here’s the “Ark tablet” that Finkel and the British Museum finally got hold of four years ago. It contains 600 cuneiform characters and is dated between 1900 and 1700 BC, which makes it roughly a millennium older than the book of Genesis. According to Finkel, Genesis was assembled between 597 and 538 BC during the Jewish exodus in Babylonia:

The Ark Tablet, which dates from around 1900BC (Benjamin McMahon)

The remarkable story on this cellphone-sized table is detailed in two pieces in yesterday’s Telegraph: an interview with Finkel by science writer Tom Chivers: “Irving Finkel: reader of the lost Ark“, and a piece written by Finkel himself,”Noah’s Ark: The facts behind the flood.” There’s also a very positive review of Finkel’s book by James McConnachie in yesterday’s Sunday Times, but it’s not online (thanks to pyers for scanning it for me). The two Telegraph pieces are must-reads for visitors to this site.

Here’s a quick overview of what’s old and new; quotes from the articles are in italics:

  • We’ve known since 1872, from another cuneiform tablet that came to the British Museum, that there were Mesopotamian flood myths that long antedated the one in Genesis. Other tablets surfaced, and their contents are famously detailed in Tablets XI and XII of the Epic of Gilgamesh, written beginning about 2000 BC.
  • A bit about cuneiform writing: it’s apparently very complicated, with symbols that can stand for either words, syllables, grammatical phrases—and in more than one language.  Finkel has handled so many of these tablets that he’s learned to recognize individual scribes:

Finkel has been doing this for so long, and “met” so many of the same scribes over and over again, that he gets a sense of them as people. The Babylonian schools were filled with the same mix of troublemakers, bored kids and swots as modern ones, he says, which you can tell from the recovered tablets from children learning to read and write. And when you read a really learned, intelligent, experienced scribe, “you can really see a brain there, a brain that’s clever and can see meaning. They were very sharp.”

I ask him if he has any favourites, if any of the writers become almost friends. “You get cleverness and intellect, but what you don’t get, usually, is personal stuff,” he says. “You don’t get private writing, you don’t get spontaneous love poetry. So one is filled with admiration for these minds, and sometimes you wish you could bloody well talk to this guy so he could explain what he means, but not a feeling that you’d like to go for a pint with him or something.”

Occasionally, though, he finds that a scribe has missed a line in a long, copied document, and they’ve tried to squeeze it in in the margin, with an asterisk to mark the spot: “The device is familiar, that’s like us. And it’s that sense of the guy going ‘oh s—’ – that’s the moment you think you might like to buy this guy a pint and calm him down.”

  • The boat described as the earlier Ark was a huge coracle: a shallow round boat made from coiled ropes of palm fiber. Finkel describes it as being 230 feet in diameter (Chivers’s piece says 70 feet, but he must mean meters, since 70 meters is almost exactly 230 feet). The length of palm rope required for such a large boat would, says Finkel, stretch from London to Edinburgh. The new “Ark tablet” is quite detailed about the coracle’s construction:

Before the arrival of the Ark Tablet, hard facts for the boatbuilder were sparse. We have had to wait until now for the statistics of shape, size and dimensions, as well as everything to do with the matter of waterproofing. The information that has now become available could be turned into a printed set of specifications sufficient for any would-be ark-builder today.

Enki tells Atra-hasıs in a very practical way how to get his boat started; he is to draw out a plan of the round boat on the ground. The simplest way to do this would have been with a peg and a long string. The stage is thus set for building the world’s largest coracle, with a base area of 38,750sq ft, and a diameter of, near enough, 230ft. It works out to be the size of a Babylonian “field”, what we would call an acre. The walls, at about 20ft, would effectively inhibit an upright male giraffe from looking over at us.

Atra-hasıs’s coracle was to be made of rope, coiled into a gigantic basket. This rope was made of palm fibre, and vast quantities of it were going to be needed. Coiling the rope and weaving between the rows eventually produces a giant round floppy basket, which is then stiffened with a set of J-shaped wooden ribs. Stanchions, mentioned in lines 15-16, were a crucial element in the Ark’s construction and an innovation in response to Atra-hasıs’s special requirements, for they allow the introduction of an upper deck.

These stanchions could be placed in diverse arrangements; set flat on the interlocked square ends of the ribs, they would facilitate subdivision of the lower floor space into suitable areas for bulky or fatally incompatible animals. One striking peculiarity of Atra-hasıs’s reports is that he doesn’t mention either the deck or the roof explicitly, but within the specifications both deck and roof are implicit. (In line 45 Atra-hasıs goes up to the roof to pray.)

Here is a coracle, in a photo from the 1920s:


  • Finkel also notes that the tablet describes the boat as caulked with bitumen. Bitumen, of course, is a petroleum-like product, which is the fossilized and transformed remains of ancient microscopic creatures like diatoms. The Genesis Ark, too, was caulked with petroleum-like material, something that’s overlooked by Biblical literalists. If the earth is only 6000-10,000 years old, where did that caulk come from?
  • But the cool stuff is the two-by-two animals on the coracle. There couldn’t have been many species in a coracle that small, so we need a new science: Mesopotamian Baraminology! Finkel’s finding of the animal story is spellbinding:

At first sight, the very broken lines 51–52 of the Ark Tablet looked unpromising. The surface, if not completely lost, is badly abraded in this part of the tablet. I needed, then, to bring every sophisticated technique of decipherment into play: polishing the magnifying glass, holding it steady, repeatedly moving the tablet under the light to get the slightest shadow of a worn-out wedge or two. Eventually the sign traces in line 51 could be seen to be “and the wild animal[s of the st]ep[pe]”.

What gave me the biggest shock in 44 years of grappling with cuneiform tablets was, however, what came next. My best shot at the first two signs beginning line 52 came up with “sa” and “na”, both incompletely preserved. On looking unhopefully for words beginning “sana” in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, I found the following entry and nearly fell off my chair as a result of the words: “sana (or sanâ) adv. Two each, two by two.”

This is a very rare word among all our texts – when the dictionary was published there had only been two occurrences. To me, it is the world’s most beautiful dictionary definition.

For the first time we learn that the Babylonian animals, like those of Noah, went in two by two, a completely unsuspected Babylonian tradition that draws us ever closer to the familiar narrative of the Bible. (Another interesting matter: the Babylonian flood story in cuneiform is 1,000 years older than the Book of Genesis in Hebrew, but reading the two accounts together demonstrates their close, literary relationship. No firm explanation of how this might have really come about has previously been offered, but study of the circumstances in which the Judaeans exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II found themselves answers many crucial questions.)

There is a further consideration raised by these two lines in the Ark Tablet: they only mention wild animals. I imagine domestic livestock might well be taken for granted, especially if some of the animals were going to be part of their own food chain.

Well, of course there’s no way they could have fit the world’s 7-million-plus species (in pairs) on either the Genesis ark or a 230-foot-diameter coracle, so of course literalists have to explain where the later species came from. The usual answer is “evolution” from a limited set of “kinds,” but this disguises the fact that evolution was admitted to occur! So what were taken on the Ark were a set “kinds” that split into all the species we know today.  The fruitless study of what the kinds really comprised is the subject of “baraminology,” which I mentioned above. It’s the world’s most useless (and, to a scientist, funniest) area of scholarly “research.”

The upshot is, of course, that the Ark story is fiction, which won’t surprise any of us. But when I debated those creationists in Arizona a while back, they all held firmly to the literalism of the Ark Story, and even had an answer to my question about “where did the pitch come from?” (answer: “We’re not sure that the word is accurately translated from the Hebrew”).

I haven’t done any Googling, but I suspect that Biblical literalists already have an answer to the striking similarity of the Genesis flood account to the Epic of Gilgamesh. Readers who know how they comport these should weigh in below.  But now the literalists have extra work to do: explaining why the Bible, which is the word of God, gives a description of animals boarding the ark two by two (or seven by seven for the “clean” animals), yet that very word of God describes similar (but not identical) things written in cuneiform a thousand years before God spoke. If you’re a fundie, you can say either that the cuneiform story was God’s first word, or that it was wrong in its details, and the Ark story is right. You’re screwed either way.

The solution, of course, is to recognize both documents as myths that probably embroidered real-life but smaller floods occurring thousands of years ago in Mesopotamia.

At any rate, have a look at Finkel’s book. Here’s the cover:

Finkel book

h/t: Matthew Cobb, pyers

198 thoughts on “Newly translated pre-Biblical tablet describes a great flood and a “rescue boat” with wild animals aboard—in pairs!

  1. Fascinating! One question: ‘According to Finkel, Genesis was assembled between 597 and 538 BC during the Jewish exodus in Babylonia’.

    But isn’t it the case that there is no historical or archaeological evidence that the Babylonian captivity (or the Egyptian, for that matter) actually occurred?

    1. But isn’t it the case that there is no historical or archaeological evidence that the Babylonian captivity (or the Egyptian, for that matter) actually occurred?

      -Nope. There is not a single scholar that does not accept the historicity of the Babylonian exile. What made you think that the Babylonian exile didn’t occur?

      1. Lack of archaeological evidence for a mass scale “captivity”, see Barney’s comment.

        Also, the evidence concerns a non-descript population of Palestine, not jews specifically.

        1. What would such “archaeological evidence” look like? There is certainly evidence for a massive decline in economic activity and population in the first half of the 6th century BC in Judah.

          1. Cultural influx in the area where people settle. E.g. in Babylonian areas here, in Palestinian areas under the mythical abrahamistic exodus. As far as I know the archaeologists see not a glitch in such cultural influence – but it should be there.

  2. I predict that many Christians will only half read this information, select what they like out of it & come up with “there is archaeological evidence for Noah’s Ark”.

    Also cuneiform is tricky and I don’t know how people have the patients to read it off tablets. They are the true heros of archaeology.

    1. Yes, and the inconsistencies will be ignored, because only the Bible is 100% correct and this (or any) conflicting record is automatically and unquestionably partly wrong. Just cherry-pick the useful parts and all is well — in literalist fantasyland.

    2. I have actually had conversations with believers who say that previous Mesopotamian stories only provide corroborating EVIDENCE for the Biblical one. They are not at all inconvenienced by dissimilar details as the other stories were handed down by man and memories are faulty, but the Book of Genesis gives the “true” correct details of the same Happening directly from God.

  3. I would appreciate it if you were to use the accepted dating system of BCE and CE rather than BC and AD. Not all of us are Christians.

    1. Sorry, but I don’t run this site to give you what you would “appreciate”: I alternate between the systems, but used “BC” and “AD” because that is what the Telegraph articles give. And, by the way, I’m not Christian either. Get thee to another website, O rude one.

    2. The Telegraph is a UK paper and, for better or worse, still uses, like most of the UK I suppose, the traditional BC/AD …

    3. BCE & CE are just daft I think – we are using a dating system based on the supposed existence of this person Jesus & the (supposed date of his birth as construed by Dionysius Exiguus inter alia, whay not call it what it is?

          1. No, “modern” dates are unchanged. It’s discussed in the Wikipedia article Reginald linked to: “Earlier years are also negative four-, five- or six-digit years, which have an absolute value one less than the equivalent BC year, hence -0001 = 2 BC.” 0000 = 1 BC.


      1. I also find BCE & CE confusing, having I suppose grown up with BC & AD. It’s the CE – I see the C & think BC. Maybe I’m just getting old. I didn’t have a problem switching between them in my youth. My brain is hardening. 🙂

        1. That’s nothing. People who use radiocarbon dating have to deal with BP (Before Present), where “Present” = 1950.

          1. And with “radiocarbon years before present,” specifying to allow the reader to correct for known variations in the amount of carbon 14 in the atmosphere over time.

        2. Just like Kelvin for the absolutetemperature, instead of Fahrenheit or Centigrade, we should use absolute time based on 13 .7 billion years ago.

          In the year 13,700, 300, 745 T

          1. we should use absolute time based on 13 .7 billion years ago.

            Didn’t some dude called einstein knock that “absolute time” thing into a hat some years back. You can’t agree on simultaneity. Or on sequence. It all depends on where you, the events you’re comparing, and any other observers are and how fast you’re moving (or accelerating) with respect to each other.

      2. Joseph Needham (who was a Christian of a rather odd sort) faced this problem in his monumental history of Chinese science and technology; feeling the Western system was inappropriate he adopted + for AD and – for BC. He could of course have used the Chinese system of dating by dynasty/reign, but that is very tedious to work out.

            1. Didn’t the Romans count from the first Olympiad? Or was that the Greeks (after the first Olympiad, of course).
              I’d go for Mayan myself ; at least we know when we’ll be able … to … stop … counting.

            1. …but, unless you’re using 64-bit time_t, that’s only good for another quarter century.

              Even then, 64-bit time_t only gets you another few hundred billion years — not even a small fraction of a proton’s half-life.


    4. There’s no need to get exercised about the “Christ” in “Before Christ” or the “Domini” in “Anno Domini.”

      That is, unless you’re also upset that this is the month of Janus, the two-faced god, or that today is the day of the Moon. Will you be upset on Thursday when we celebrate Thor?

      I tend to be in the habit of using CE and BCE, but I couldn’t really give you a good reason why.



    5. And please no “tuesday”, “wednesday”, “thursday” or “friday” — some of us doubt the existence of Tyr, Wodan/Odin, Thor or Frigg.

    6. Both of these systems are based on the Christian era, whether you like it or not. They just have different names for it. Changing the names of things to try and hide their reality is a favourite modern trick, but it rarely works. As all the endless new euphemisms for “crippled” (handicapped, disabled, challenged) go to prove. They have to keep coming up with new ones fast enough to overcome the increasingly negative connotations of the previous word. Things are what they are. The current calendar is based on the supposed birth of Christ and is of Western origin, a new name won’t change that.

        1. You think that’s good? Try this: “Using creation science to demonstrate evolution: application of a creationist method for visualizing gaps in the fossil record to a phylogenetic study of coelurosaurian dinosaurs. P. SENTER. Journal of Evolutionary Biology Volume 23, Issue 8, pages 1732–1743, August 2010”
          Baraminology doesn’t even do what it tries to do, but can actually support evolution.

  4. The Genesis Ark, too, was caulked with petroleum-like material, something that’s overlooked by Biblical literalists. If the earth is only 6000-10,000 years old, where did that caulk come from?

    AIUI, YECers typically claim that the dinosaur mashing occurred during the flood or as a result of it. Which is no help to them here. 🙂

    If you’re a fundie, you can say either that the cuneiform story was God’s first word, or that it was wrong in its details, and the Ark story is right. You’re screwed either way.

    I’m guessing YECers are perfectly willing to say that the dating of the bible is wrong and that it’s older than the cunieform version, making it (not the Torah) the incorrect copy.

    1. I don’t think they’ll worry about dates. The ‘histories’ from the Genesis “X was 126 when he begat Y” stories typically date the ark about 2400 BC, and the Tower of Babel a couple of centuries after that, so they’ll just say this is a copy of what really happened, getting a few things ‘wrong’. The idea is that Genesis was faithfully handed down by word-of-mouth/divine intervention for hundreds of years before someone wrote it down (that’s meant to be Moses for the Pentateuch, and that even goes for the scene where he dies!)

    2. Good point about the bitumen. I’d not thought about that issue or noticed that the fundamentalists haven’t dealt with it with respect to Noah using the stuff.

      I suppose they’ll claim that God made some of it earlier, at the time of creation, out of loving concern for boat builders — and then a whole bunch more was made at the flood. The world is really your oyster when you can just make facts up as needed.

      1. Well, the KJV says the ark was “pitch[ed] within and without with pitch” — other translations say “tar” but both of these are easily extracted from wood.

        1. More to the point, in the Mesopotamia area there are no shortage of natural seeps of hydrocarbons, which can evaporate to give “pitch”, “bitumen”, “asphalt” and a dozen other names in a matter of weeks to years.
          I’d never seen the definition of “bitumen” that JAC implies in his article, and I work drilling holes in the ground for the damned stuff. I suspect Chinese Whispers involving either the cuneiform expert, or the Torygraph‘s journalists, or both. And I don’t consider the terminological looseness worth pursuing.

      1. @ Musical Beef,

        Brief bullet pointy guide to the 4 main sources in the Pentateuch. Academics will disagree on details, but you’ll get the idea.

        J – the Yahweh source, God of Israel was the Tetragrammaton YHWH – stories: Eden, Eve and the Fall, some Moses, the exodus, Sinai, wilderness, no interest in priestly rules, no emphasis on covenant of God with Israel, written in Judah probably in the early 8th century BCE.

        E – the E source, El was God of Israel – stories: Moses and the early patriarchs, written probably in Israel before CE 722.

        P – the Priestly source – stories: Sabbatical creation account, related to rise to prominence of priests in Temple; the promise to Noah, the Flood, covenant of God with Abraham, Tabernacle, priesthood, laws of holiness and diet (Leviticus) bringing of people under God’s domination, written in later 6th century BCE, main P text ca. 530-500.

        D – the Deuteronomic source – stories: seven books from Joshua to end of Kings essentially written by one person, the Deuteronomist mid-6th century, written in exile Iraq, held fast to book of the Law found in Temple in 622/1, misfortune is result of disobedience of God’s Law, fascinated by prophets, some Moses stories and speeches.


        1. Interesting information. Looks to me like it’s consistent with what Barney and I give as a possible argument Judeo-Xian theists will make:

          Flood happened around 2400 BCE; both accounts in question here were written down later, one earlier than the other.

  5. The same sojourn of the israelites in Babylon certainly led to a big influence of Zoroastrianism on their ideas, particularly of heaven & hell – from Sheol to Paradise.

  6. I would like to know how Ken Ham has reacted to the Epic of Gilgamesh, and how he will react to this new finding. It would be consistent for him to just mentally edit out the details, leaving a version that comports with his beliefs.

    Also it is cool how smart phones are proportioned like cuneiform tablets.

    1. “smart phones are proportioned like cuneiform tablets.”

      God showed us long ago how to make smart phones, but we forgot. Too bad cuneiform tablets are not in the Bible — we’d probably see some very interesting apologetics on that.

    2. Also it is cool how smart phones are proportioned like cuneiform tablets.

      Smart phones are proportioned like human hands. Cuneiform tablets (if not ziggurat walls) are proportioned like human hands. Smart phones and cuneiform tablets were both engineered to be comfortable to be used by human hands.
      Unless, of course, someone knows of a smart phone (or cuneiform tablet) proportioned appropriately to be used used by a cows hooves, or a cat’s paws.
      Hili, how’s your cuneiform?
      One of the old mantras is that “correlation does not, of itself, imply causation” ; and one of the common reasons given why not is that both your measured parameters may be related to a common underlying factor. This is a nice example of that.

  7. Heh – I looked for other web articles about the book, and found a reaction on ‘’- “Was Noah’s Ark saucer-shaped? I’m not saying it was Aliens, but …”. Creationists and “it was all aliens” people deserve each other.

    1. I think that this illustrates our human tendency to focus on a large and perhaps unusual feature, such as the beard, to the detriment of noticing any other features.

    2. He’s certainly doing his bit for “Dishevelled Professor Chic”.
      I think I see elbow patches on that jacket. “Narrative causality”, to borrow a Pterry trope, practically demands elbow patches. Leather ones.
      (Which begs the question of – will JAC start wearing matching cowboy boots and patches on his jackets?)

  8. But this is only more evidence that the flood actually happened! Even other cultures knew of it and depicted the flood.

    Of course, only our religion gets all the details just right about the flood.

    Similar to the fact that all the different religions support the fact that God exists, even though it happens to be our religion that gets all the details about God correct.

    Won’t you atheists ever learn?


    1. Of course all those other cultures were wiped out in the flood, but when you’re on a roll with your rationalizing, who cares!

      1. Well, it’s the same as with all the animal species: from a few “common ancestors” all baramins developed into all the various species we know today, with lightning speed.

        Same with humans: probably within several tens of generations they had split into all the different ethnicities and cultures that we know today, and “everybody” of course remembered the Flood. Only some better than others.

        Really, it’s all so simple.

        All we know need to do is find that dratted Ark, and everybody will understand the truth.

  9. From creationists I’ve talked to, this will only help confirm their belief that an ancient flood really did occur. I saw a flood book a few years back, which basically “proved” that Noah’s flood happened by showing ancient flood accounts from different parts of the world (since others had their own myths something colossal had to have happened).

  10. “If the earth is only 6000-10,000 years old, where did that caulk come from?”

    God created it. No, I don’t believe that, but you don’t need to misrepresent the view of the literalists. They might be wrong, but, at least on this point, they aren’t inconsistent.

    1. I meant to type:

      I had to use google to figure out that Gargamel and Gilgamesh are different characters…

      It’s not funny now…

  11. I read Finkel’s piece on the Torygraph site yesterday, and was much exercised by their secondary lede — which I see they’ve now (wisely) changed. (Perhaps Finkel himself protested?) Unfortunately I didn’t copy the original, but it read to the effect that new evidence shows the Flood really happened and the Ark really existed.

    Even for the home of such antiscience buffoons as James Delingpole and Christopher Booker, this seemed an astounding claim.

  12. Creationist colleges across the land are now racing to update the descriptions of their courses in Basketweaving to encompass Ark Building..

    But otherwise, the basket has ribs 115ft long? Seriously? Or let me rephrase that. I have serious doubts on the structural integrity of such a rig. Or else they invented microlam beams, too. This all points to serious exaggeration in the clay tablets, to boot.

    1. Nah! The tablets are solid.

      It’s funny how people lock onto one source or another, instead of treating them all critically. There are not many tablet inerrantists around now though. Just as well.

  13. As for how they could fit all the animals into the coracle, that’s all been explained on Dr. Who: it’s bigger on the inside!

    Clearly, the ark was a Tardis.


  14. And there may be some credibility to the presence of at least some serious floods then, based on the fact that Mesopotamia is a giant flood plain and the presence of some archeological evidence for a big flood around 5000 BC.

    I buy that these ancient people would have developed myths about the natural disasters that they experienced. Given the unrealistic dimensions of the boat, I don’t buy that this myth is based on someone’s experience, even exaggerated. IMO this is not a real event mythologized, its an origins myth invented to give a group of people a sense of community. The point of the myth is: “…and we all come from the survivors.”

  15. The builder of this Super Coracle must have had very advanced warning, because to build a coracle of that size, first making the ropes as long as the distance between London and Edinburgh alone must have taken a heck of a long time. Then, the weaving of the coracle and all the other actions necessary must also have taken a heck of a long time…

      1. He had plenty of time. Don’t forget, people in those days lived for several centuries. It says so right in Genesis, the Republican’s favorite science book.

            1. The problem is that they’ll look for the corner, not find it, and then stand in a random spot, thoroughly convinced that they are standing in the corner.

              1. they’ll look for the corner, not find it, and then stand in a random spot

                NO! NO! ON!
                G*d tells them to go and stand in the corner ; they go looking for the corner ; there is no corner ; THEREFORE, in obedience to the will of g*d, on being given an impossible task, they continue looking for the One True Corner.
                As such, the animals never have time to fight, eat each other, defacate, or do any of the other piddling details that atheists and heathens continually bring up about the ark. Oh, and their circulatory motion provides gyroscopic stabilisation for the vessel too. So there!
                Have you no faith?
                (Incidentally, it would have been quicker to knit the “corarkle” out of spaghetti and caulk the seams with rich spicy sauce. Another victory for pastafarianism!)

          1. Each member of each pair diametrically opposite each other for equilibrium. (Any remaining imbalance due to sexual dimorphism will average out.)

            It also has the advantage of keeping the number of rabbits to two.


    1. Super Coracle. I like that. Sounds like some sorta Buick. The Buick Super Coracle – at your Buick Dealers now. (After all, they already have an Enclave.)

    2. Of course the builder had advanced knowledge of the flood, coz he consulted the Coracle of Delphi beforehand.

  16. This clearly shows, as if we didn’t know it already, that the Genesis story of Noah and the Ark isn’t true, but was simply an embroidery of earlier flood stories.

    Not necessarily. If the flood actually happened, then it stands to reason that other cultures would have stories of it, too, since they are all descendants of Noah.

  17. I’ve been told the Hebrew reads “two two”, actually. Hence Mordechai Richler’s _Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang_, etc. Wonder if the older version does that as well?

    Also, Genesis also includes the later version of the story where the clean animals (how does Noah know what those are?) are in sevens. So the literalist has to account for *another* contradiction, this time external, if he wishes to use this source.

  18. Up at the Institute for Pseudoscience at Seattle, Washington, we have long considered the question about bitumen. It is evident that it came from the bitumen-tree, one of our lord’s clever creations. You guys in Southern California have heard of the Creosote Tree? Same thing.

    And to answer the atheist scoundrel, George Rumens who keeps mocking us by suggesting that Noah and his sons took a donkey-cart to the Spitsbergen Island in the arctic Circle to pick-up two one-ton Polar Bears, I’ll have you know that out lord had the Polar Bears swim south to Israel by instinct, or drifting upon a fast-moving Ice-Berg, paddled by Sea-Lions. We have scratch-marks on stone near the ports of Sidon and Tyre as proof.

    I work in the Department of Mystical Explanations up at The Institute, and we are always ready to answer reader’s queries, with straightforwardness and honesty.

    A point came up concerning the low IQ of your average religious believer. It seems to us that the IQ score-card is upside down, and that the top should be our typical members with an IQ below 100, meaning that they are the smartest.

    Only the other day someone asked why the yellow church-buses are disappearing. We decided to take our congregation to church atop of turnip-trucks, because those half-filled trucks felt more familiar to our true believers.

    In these hard times we have set-up a special help-group for Christians in poverty. We have a whole stack of free white pants-belts, four inches wide and more; a free service replacing the studs on your dungarees, and a whole shed of banjos and pickers. Don’t thank me. It’s just the work of the baby Jeebus.

  19. ‘I needed, then, to bring every sophisticated technique of decipherment into play: polishing the magnifying glass, . . . .’
    Luv it!

  20. “We’re not sure that the word is accurately translated from the Hebrew”

    = The Bible is true where consistent with my fundigelical ideology. It’s true, in English, if we want you want you to believe what it says, but unorthodox or incredible items are translation errors, or some such. Not God’s fault because the Bible is inerrant, to the degree He agrees with Me.

    It really was a future virgin, for example, not just a currently pregnant young woman. OK?

  21. GeoR: “You guys in Southern California have heard of the Creosote Tree?”

    All we have left are creosote bushes. They must have shrunken as a result of sin coming into the world. Even the vegetation committed abominations!

    1. Even the vegetation committed abominations!

      Tell it not in Gath, but I believe that some plants have sex organs of the different types on the same bush at the same time. So that that can … you know … do it. to themselves. Literally.

  22. I was wondering if reading abraded areas of a cuneiform tablet would be aided by the technology used by the FBI to read ground off serial #s. The numbers are still present below the surface as a hardened metal pattern. Not sure how they see the pattern, but maybe the same method would reveal the writing where the surface impression is obscure.

    1. I’d say they probably etch it. Areas of differing hardness will be corroded by the etchant at different rates.

      It’d only work on cuneiform if the cutting or pressing of the grooves in the tablet had compacted or changed some grain pattern in the clay.

      1. if the cutting or pressing of the grooves in the tablet had compacted or changed some grain pattern in the clay.

        Which it might well do. Similar techniques are sometimes applied to “underprints”, where the mud (sand) below a fossil footprint is examined to try to establish the weight of the print-making organism, the sequence of impression of the “foot” (could also be a “hand”) parts, and other details.
        Unfortunately, petrology on that fine a scale tends to be destructive. Which even the most Dishevelled of Cuneiform Professors is likely to frown upon.
        That said … with a really high intensity X-ray source like a synchroton … they’re doing some really impressive micro-CAT scanning of lithified fossils. So the general approach isn’t beyond the range of the possible. I haven’t heard of it being done though.

  23. What does this part mean?

    ‘Eventually the sign traces in line 51 could be seen to be “and the wild animal[s of the st]ep[pe]”.’

    Is this just an attempt to render the incomplete original in terms we can easily understand?

    1. Yes, a damaged/partial text that the translator read as best he could with the inferences clearly identified by the brackets.

      1. That makes sense if you’re reconstructing English, but cuneiform? And the plural marker for “animal” was missing, as were most of the letters (!) in “steppe”?

        It just seemed like an awfully specific way to represent partial text that surely couldn’t resemble what a similar hard-to-interpret sample would look like in English.

        1. I’m sure there’s plenty of room for doubt. But Dr. Finkel is very experienced with this stuff and apparently thought he could make it out.

          Then he translated into to English, with indication of what sounds/letters were derived from guesses. The word “steppe” does seem a particularly large guess, but no doubt context helped.

            1. So, this ancient language written in cuneiform also has a 6-letter word for “steppe” (complete with the same silent letters of English)! Cuneiform wasn’t an alphabetic system and surely the language so written differs greatly from English.

              I was just trying to understand why the partial text was represented in that highly English-specific way, when it was surely nothing like that quoted material. It would be like trying to explain your attempts to make out some smudged French and saying, “I can read ‘breakf’ and then there’s a splotch and then there’s a ‘t.’ I guess it says ‘breakfast.'”

              Sure, but that’s not French.

              I’m sorry. I’ve spent too much time in this trivial point. I guess there’s nothing else for me to do but click “Post Comment.”

              1. I don’t know why you’re being such a hot head. It wasn’t clear if you were questioning the punctuation, the skills of the translator or the writing of the article.

                Square brackets are a convention of punctuation that indicate that the text within them is not part of the quote.

                I believe Achrachno explained this above. I suspect they are representing what is missing while translating.

              2. I don’t think I’m being a hothead, just persistent. I guess I’ll just have to leave it here, still not understanding how partial cuneiform looks exactly like partial English. Admittedly, this is a trivial point, especially in light of the fascinating findings discussed in the original piece.

  24. Fascinating stuff, but since the critical words here like “two by two” and “the wild animals of the steppe” were so badly faded, how certain is Finkel that he has the correct translation?

  25. In Finkel’s piece in The Telegraph, the paper has a caption of “Was the Ark that survived the Flood really round?” underneath a pictorial representation of the boat.

    I e-mailed a link of the story to a friend and the paper’s blurb reads: “There was indeed a great flood, and the animals really did go in two by two. But does an ancient tablet hold the blueprint for the Ark?”

    The Telegraph is re-inforcing the existence of an actual Ark for a believing readership.

  26. I rather liked the mild humour of:
    “I needed, then, to bring every sophisticated technique of decipherment into play: polishing the magnifying glass, holding it steady, repeatedly moving the tablet under the light to get the slightest shadow of a worn-out wedge or two”

    1. Yes he’s quite a character. He has appeared a few times on BBC TV documentaries.

      One rather sad part of the article on the Telegraph: Finkel has never been able to travel to Iraq to see evidence for himself. During the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein jews of whatever nationality were refused entry. And now, of course, as a result of the wonderful Bush/Blair liberation of the country, it’s simply too dangerous for anyone from outside to visit their archeological sites, which are anyway mostly looted.

      1. Unfortunately, there are a lot of places with important antiquities that are too dangerous, especially for women, to visit.

            1. Yes, exactly — impo…erm, you’ve got an “r” in your, don’t you?

              Though, sadly, to be fair, they’re pretty important, too. Just ask the women in Mississippi and North Dakota, two states with but a single remaining abortion clinic.

              God damn.


  27. I LIKE Dr Finkel: writing about Smith, the translator of the 1872 tablet he says:
    “Setting the tablet on the table, he jumped up and rushed about the room in a great state of excitement, and, to the astonishment of those present, began to undress himself!”
    Smith’s dramatic reaction achieved mythological status, to the point that all subsequent Assyriologists keep the tactic in reserve just in case they too find something spectacular”

  28. Won’t the literalists just say this is corroborating evidence for the Flood story, and where there are inconsistencies between the two, the Bible version is the more accurate- not because it’s more recent, but because it’s (allegedly) inspired by God?

  29. The big question that arises is how strong a coracle that size could be. Not very, I’d suggest.

    Or, as the boatbuilder might have replied to inquirers, “Super coracle fragile? It’s expletively atrocious.”

  30. Although the 230-foot ark obviously wouldn’t hold all the species on earth, it may well have been enough to hold all the species known to the Mesopotamians. So in Mesopotamian terms, the story would make sense. (Though I have huge doubts about the structural integrity of the ark; at best it might have behaved more like a giant raft).

  31. I forgot to mention that the part where Finkel mentions the mistakes the authors of the cuneiform tablet make – these mistakes are found in Greek vases too. The artist runs out of space and has to squish words or images in. It’s funny because it’s so relatable. And to think we whine because there’s no edit function on this Word Press site!

  32. You unbelievers out there should understand that the Bible is totally true and utterly correct in all chapters because it is the word of God, and we know that because the Bible says it is so.

    1. Thank you for sharing a perfect example of Circular Reasoning. Unfortunately, we already know this one, so you’ll need to come up with something new.

  33. Doesn’t surprise me. I’ve learned that the jewish sun calendar dates back to the Babylonian through the Persian such.

    According to Finkel, Genesis was assembled between 597 and 538 BC during the Jewish exodus in Babylonia:

    “What is your evidence for that?”

    Really, the first archaeological evidence for the abrahamistic texts are the Dead Sea Scrolls at ~ 2 200 years ago. Even “biblical scholars” seems to agree that no modern sects were evident by then. [Wikipedia; I’m no scholar in this.] E.g. no judaism, which was first described ~ 1 900 years ago by a jewish-roman historian (which name slips my mind at the moment).

    Judaism may or may not go back to Herod, which build the same temple that later judaists claim as their own. So perhaps it originates 2 100 years ago, which would fit the DSS find.

    I think archaeologists have as little evidence for in- or out-flux of cultures before the Hellenic Conquest as they have during the mythical egyptian slavery period. E.g. this should be taken as myth until evidence appears.

    IIRC there is evidence of a, likely small scale, cultural visit at the times, found Babylonian records of Palestinian high ranked exiles (which I think Finkel refers to). [Oh, see Barney’s link under #1!]

  34. I love the idea of a 230ft, floppy, circular coracle made of rope stiffened with “J shaped wooden ribs” and incorporating “stanchions” and 20ft high sides. Having paddled a Northumbrian spoke-shaver’s coracle I know that they are jolly good at floating and spinning round, which would not be a problem. It is just the impossibility of getting a vast coil of rope and some wooden ribs to hold together. The J shaped ribs would need to be of wonderfully massive dimensions and presumably lashed into place. Any wave movement flexing the vessel would cause it to collapse. As for adding decks to this floppy structure, well! Has a competent marine architect been consulted on this idea? We could have done with some of these on ‘D’ Day. Perhaps this is the answer to the Royal Navy’s lack of useable aircraft carriers. I don’t think Enki thought this one through.

  35. I will sum it up really simply.

    All religions are a load of Bollox. In all religions you can only find out the real truth when you are dead! How very convenient. That is all.

    1. What slightly bothers me about the certainty of some Atheists is that they often express themselves in very similar terms as do religious extremists. There sometimes seems to be a singular lack of humility or flexibility in their thinking. We often accuse the religious of being bigoted and dogmatic but perhaps we should remove the beam from our own eye before we criticise the mote in the eye of another?

      If we wish to be taken seriously and distance ourselves from the ignorant and aggressive posturing of religious zealots we might do well to watch our own language. People who assert that they are ‘right’ are not likely to convince others of their opinion and they are best ignored.

      1. Not really Paul, if I wish to swear or express my self that way then I will.
        Who am I trying to convince??! I don’t really care if you accept or dismiss the fact I proclaimed ‘religion is a load of bollox’ as I am entitled to my opinion. Just as anyone that is religious is able to practice their faith. I don’t care. Just don’t expect me to put up with it for more than 10 seconds.
        To just accept it is a load of crap is enough for me, even if I was lacking and needed a ‘faith’ I wouldn’t know which of the hundreds out there to even ‘choose’!
        Ps..get out of the bubble, there is a world out there where people swear.
        Profanity (also called bad language, strong language, foul language, swearing, cursing, cussing, or using expletives) is a subset of a language’s lexicon that is generally considered in society to be strongly impolite or offensive. It can show a desecration or debasement of someone or something, or show strong or intense emotion.
        I hate religion and all the problems it has caused the human race, it far out weighs the good.

      2. Sorry, but I see no reason to show humble respect towards people who take seriously an ancient third-rate faery tale that opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard; features a talking plant (on fire!) that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero; and ends with an utterly bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy with the king of the undead getting his intestines fondled through his gaping chest wound.

        Whatever circumstances you might think are most appropriate for granting respect in the first place, it is also necessary that not everything should be universally respected. And grown adults seriously participating in play-pretend cannibal vampire orgies with their imaginary friends are not acting in a manner deserving of respect.



      3. The comment you are referring to may be blunt but it is accurate. I am not going to sugar coat things but I will be very straight forward in arguing facts and I will call lies, faery tales, deceptions, misdirections and bad thinking out where I see it. I consider myself quite polite but people who hear something that contradicts what they believe, may feel otherwise.

        1. I do strongly believe also, that telling a child, if they are naughty they will burn for eternity in hell, as most religions proclaim; is disgusting.
          When someone recently ‘told’ me I must baptise my daughter (on my own door step) or when she dies, as she is a sinner she will burn in hell for eternity. I promptly asked if god protects only those that believe to which he replied ‘god protects all believers’ I don’t think he expected to be knocked on his arse with no divine intervention.

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