FLYING SERPENTS AND DRAGONS
By R. A. Boulay 1990
Editorial Comments By Roberto Solàrion 1997
THE UNUSUAL DESIGN OF NOAH'S ARK
The Ark of Noah is usually depicted in illustrations as an ancient sea-going ship with rounded hull, pointed prow and stern, with a keel running the full length of the ship. On its deck a cabin is shown running the length of the ship.
This is pure fantasy, of course, based on current designs of the late Middle Ages in Europe. We have absolutely no idea of exactly what the Ark looked like. There are only two descriptions of the ship in ancient literature, neither of which is very satisfactory from naval engineering standards, since they are completely unseaworthy designs.
The Old Testament describes it as a rectangular box with straight sides, no bow, no keel or hull. In fact the Hebrew word used for the ship is that of a box or container. However, the Hebrews can be excused for their preposterous interpretation since they were a land-locked people and had little, if any, experience with ships.
But that is no excuse for the description of the Ark in the Sumerian account of the Deluge. There is depicted as a cube, if the translators are to be believed. This is not very convincing in view of the fact that the Mesopotamians were a sea-going nation. Sumerians and later peoples were well acquainted with the principles of ship building and seaworthiness. All Sumerian cities had access to the sea and sea-going ships are often described at anchor at these Sumerian ports.
Obviously, there is something amiss in the Sumerian accounts or in the translation and interpretation of the text that is provided. For a sea-going people to describe the Ark as a cube is completely nonsensical.
THE ARK IN GENESIS
The information in the Old Testament that is available concerning the configuration of Noah's Ark is derived from Genesis 6. There are scraps of information from other religious sources. The complete text of Genesis which provides the description of the Ark is as follows:
The ark is called "teba" which means a box, chest, or compartment in Hebrew. It is described as a rectangular box with a flat bottom and straight sides, 300 cubits long, 50 wide, and 30 high. Since a Hebrew cubit was 18 inches [45 centimeters], its dimensions were 450 feet long [162 meters], 75 feet wide [27 meters], and 45 feet high [16.2 meters], and as such was said to displace 43,300 tons.
While the Hebrews had a perfectly good word for ship, for some reason they chose to call it a box or chest. This box of Noah was not a seaworthy craft and as described was merely a rectangular box without keel, bow and aft braces, and other essentials required of sea-going ships.
This rectangular box of Noah would have tossed and pitched uncontrollably in stormy seas, and surely would have turned turtle time and time again, making a complete jumble of the occupants. Perhaps the Hebrews called it a box or chest rather than a ship because they were a land-locked people and knew nothing of sea or river navigation, much less ship design and construction.
The Hebrew chroniclers may have felt that the word for container would be more understandable to their pastoral people. It indicates that the flood legend was undoubtedly manipulated and modified by the early Hebrew priests to suit their purposes.
The story of the great flood was known world-wide and in the Middle East can be found in the Gilgamesh Epic which is believed to have been written down about 2000 BC, from Sumerian accounts which go back to the days of a king called Gilgamesh who ruled in the 28th or 29th Century BC.
The earliest part of Genesis was not written down much earlier than 1000 BC, and apparently is a version of the Sumerian account which circulated in Mesopotamia and the Levant in Akkadian or Semitic form. It indicates that the Old Testament story went through a number of changes and emendations until it became part of the Book of Genesis.
This "box" of Noah had three decks and numerous unspecified cells or compartments. It had a door on its side and an opening below the roof line to let in light. The phrase "make a sky light for the ark, terminating it within a cubit of the top" has been interpreted by many Biblical scholars to mean that Noah was to construct an opening for light completely around the ark.
The craft was built of gopher wood, an expression that is completely unidentified. The word has no Sumerian or Akkadian origins and is a complete mystery since it appears nowhere else in the Scriptures. In view of the following evidence, we suggest that it does not refer to a natural wood but that it may be a treated wood, made waterproof by an impregnation process much like today's pressure-treated lumber.
THE PROBLEMS WITH THE DESIGN OF THE SUMERIAN ARK
The oldest known story of the Deluge is found in the Gilgamesh Epic where Utnapishtim is told to build a ship in order to survive the coming catastrophe. The Sumerian name of the hero is Ziusdra, as it is used in the Atrahasis Epic, the original account of the Deluge. Utnapishtim is the Akkadian or Semitic name for the hero and as such is the hero of the Gilgamesh Epic, the better known Semitic version of the Deluge story.
In the Sumerian account, the word used is "magurgur" or "very great ship." In the Akkadian or Semitic version of the epic, it is also called a great ship of "elippu rabitu."
Unlike the three decks of the ark of Noah, the ark of Utnapishtim has seven decks and is then divided into nine sections or compartments. It had a door and some sort of window as well. Traditional translations reports the craft as being an exact cube, with the height, length, and width each being 120 cubits. Since the Akkadian cubit was 20 inches [46 centimeters], the craft would be a perfect cube 200 feet [72 meters] on each side.
Again we have that nagging problem of unseaworthiness. While scholars have insisted on translating the configuration of the Ark of Utnapishtim as a perfect cube, common sense tells us that this design is completely impractical.
A cube would be highly unstable and roll incessantly in stormy seas. The occupants would really be scrambled up! With its human and animal cargo, it would seem that stability would be the uppermost factor in the design and construction of the craft.
In his study The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, the noted scholar Aleksander Heidel brought up the problem of interpretation where certain scholars believe that a circular design of the ark would be much more practical and that the text lends itself easily to this interpretation. Their views, however, have been summarily dismissed by other scholars.
It is not clear in the text that the figure for the width of the ship of 200 feet applies to the diameter or the radius of the craft. If the latter is true, then the ship would be 400 feet [144 meters] in diameter and 200 feet in height or thickness. Furthermore, the Sumerian account does not mention a cube but merely states that "equal shall be her width and her length." This certainly applies to a circular design as well.
If a circular design is postulated, then the nine compartment would radiate like spokes from a wheel, in the form of pie-shaped sections. A streamlined ellipsoid design, such as found in modern submersibles would certainly have made more sense and provided stability in the tempestuous seas for which it was intended.
The Sumerian account also reveals that the god Shamash [Prince Utu, Nibiruan Space Commander] played a key but unidentified role in its construction as well as advising Utnapishtim when to launch the ship. Since Enki was the Sumerian God of Shipbuilding and logically the advisor on ship construction, by all tradition he should have been the one dealing with Utnapishtim, rather than Shamash, the god and chief astronaut who was in charge of rocket and space vehicles.
This divine assistance is also noted in the ancient religious document The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, where the Ark is said to have been designed by the deity and built by a group of angels which presumably are the engineer astronauts of Shamash.
The circular shape of the Ark with a row of windows along the top and designed by the Chief Astronaut Shamash would in all probability result in an oval or saucer shaped craft. There is also evidence that the Ark of Utnapishtim was propelled by some sort of fuel rod as part of a propulsion system, thus making it maneuverable and able to maintain stability in the stormy seas it was intended for.
[Comment: Once again we perhaps need to be reminded that Noah's physiology and brain were no different from the physiologies and brains that we have today. If a modern person can be trained to maneuver a submarine, then Noah and his family could have been so trained as well.]
THE SUMERIAN PUNTING POLES OR FUEL RODS
When the Sumerian craft was being built and waterproofed and before it was completed, certain items called "punting poles" were loaded aboard. Utnapishtim describes how "I provided punting poles and stored up a supply." Apparently these were of paramount importance for they were loaded while the construction was going on and before the Ark was finished. Only then were the food, supplies, and personnel brought aboard.
It is quite puzzling why Utnapishtim would require punting poles, such as those used by current day river boats to cross shallow waters. This was a closed and sealed craft and again we see the traditional translation and interpretation as illogical.
This strange item also appears earlier in the epic at the time that Gilgamesh had to cross a dangerous area called the "sea of death," in order to reach his grandfather Utnapishtim who was reportedly with the gods. While this dangerous "sea" which he had to cross has been interpreted as a watery area, it may very well have been a metaphor for a journey through that vast sea of air called the atmosphere, that had to be traversed to reach the gods.
For this trip, Gilgamesh had to procure 120 of these punting or thrusting poles. These could be used only once and were consumed as they were used. Each pole was good for only one thrust and then became contaminated and had to be thrown away.
For want of a better name, they have been called "punting poles," no doubt influenced by modern day river craft, but the meaning is not clear and basically the term means a thrusting stick or rod.
In modern terms we would describe them as fuel rods since they were associated with the propulsion system of a ship. In this sense, they could be either fuel rods inserted into a nuclear reactor in order to control its energy output or, more probably, tubes or rods filled with solid propellant used in some sort of rocket propulsion system.