Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Prague vs. the Flood

I just wanted to take a little time and space to send my best wishes to Matej and Chelsea in Prague, which is experiencing its worst flood since the late 19th century. It sounds like what you're dealing with is a whole lot more harrowing than my weekend was. Good luck to you both and to all of your friends in the city! For Matej's reference, here are some instructions on building his ark, originally found here:

The Design of the Ark

A. The Designer was God Himself. We do not need to assume Noah knew anything about ship-building. The instructions for design are given in Gen. 6:14ff.

There you go, Matej. You don't even need to know anything! Get God on the line and he'll help you out.

B. Construction Materials

The Bible says the Ark was to be built of "gopher wood". "Gopher" is the actual Hebrew word. In early english translations the meaning of the word was unknown so it was left untranslated. The NIV translates it "cypress wood", however, this is only a guess. It was undoubtedly translated this way due to the fact that cypress wood is highly resistent to rot. What this material was is still a mystery. It could have been a pre-flood wood with which we are not familiar.

Looks like you're screwed on the gopher wood. I recommend using Balsa wood, instead. At least then, when you get bored, you can make a really neat elastic-powered flying airplane model using one of the handrails.

It is almost certain that Noah did not construct a standard wooden ship of the kind we are familiar. According to nautical engineers the longest wooden vessel ever built was 360 feet in length and was not seaworthy. Because of the wave action of the sea only wooden ships shorter than this will be seaworthy. Therefore, we must conclude that Noah used some other method of construction to overcome this problem.

Well, it was designed by *God*, after all. Surely God would know a few things about nautical engineering that we don't. I wonder if anyone's ever tried using Krazy Glue and staples? One time, I tried that with one of my notebooks and got stuck real good.

C. The Design.

1. The Biblical word for Ark is "tebah". It is used 28 times in the OT and is only used of Noah's Ark and for the container in which Moses was hidden among the bulrushes. Because of a similar Egyptian word meaning "box", and the ultimate purpose of the Ark, we believe the Ark was not like a streamlined vessel designed to easily glide through the water. More likely it was shaped like a rectangular barge which floated rather low in the water. From the story in the Bible, it also would appear that Noah had no control over the vessel. He, and its contents were at the total mercy of God.

You know, that sounds good and all, but I think I'd want a little steering wheel, if only for show. Then I could be up on the bridge in my little captain's hat, shouting "Shiver me timbers!" or something of the like while God does all the driving.

2. The Ark had three stories with only one door. The phrase in Gen. 6:16, "Make a roof for it and finish the Ark to within 18 inches of the top." is problematic in that the words used are obscure. Most commentators believe it means leave an 18 inch space at the top that is open all around the vessel. This then would be for ventilation, and when water entered it would drain out somewhere below, similar to the vents in cars.

If those aren't clear instructions, I don't know what are. A couple of labeled figures might help a bit here.

3. The Ark was to be coated inside and out with pitch. Again the Hebrew word for "pitch" is obscure. It was more likely some resinous material used not only to waterproof the vessel but also to prevent decay. If Noah was 480 years old when God told him to build an Ark and 600 when the Flood came, it is reasonable to assume that the construction of the Ark took place during this 120 year period (See Gen. 6:3 along with I Pet. 3:20). The need for this preservative was essential. It is also possible that things did not decay as rapidly in the pre-flood atmosphere.

Wait a second....480 years old? 600 Years old? I think something's screwy here. Either that, or Noah was *much* older than my dad. And at 120 years' building time, something tells me you should've gotten started a while ago, dude.

4. The phrase in the NIV (6:14) "make rooms" is also problematic in that the word is obscure. The Hebrew is "qnm". Since Hebrew did not have any vowels when it was written, scholars speculate that the word could be either "qinnim" or "qanim". The former would mean either "rooms" or "nest", and the later, "reeds". Most english translations translate as in the former. However, some of the better and more recent commentaries, believe it should be translated "reeds" since the context is building materials. If in reality it is "reeds", then somehow reeds were part of the construction material. Large boats are still made from reeds and are very seaworthy. The Egyptians still use reeds for caulking their wooden ships.

Right, balsa wood and reeds. Check and check. This is going to be the strongest Ark ever!

The Size of the Ark

(When considering its size it obviously was not the backyard effort of a primitive river-dweller!)

Oh *CRAP*, Matej. I think the author of this piece is onto you.

A. It is given in cubits as being 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. A cubit in the OT was generally about 17.5 inches. However, an Egyptian royal cubit measured about 20.5 inches. Since Moses was educated in Egypt we must allow for the possibility that the longer measurement was meant here. The Ark, therefore, could have measured from 437 feet to 512 feet in length! It was not until the late 19th century that a ship anywhere near this size was built.

Alright, is everyone clear on what a cubit is? I'm not.

B. It's Ratio

The Ark had a ratio (length x width x height) of 30 x 5 x 3. According to ship-builders, this ratio represents an advanced knowledge of ship-building since it is the optimum design for stability in rough seas. The Ark, as designed by God, was virtually impossible to capsize! It would have to have been tilted over 90 degrees in order to capsize.

That's right, but no rocking the boat when you're out there! That's just asking for trouble.

C. Its Volume.

With the shorter cubit the Ark would have an internal volume of 1,518,750 cubic feet, or the equivalent of 569 standard railroad boxcars. If the average sized animal was the size of a sheep it means the Ark could hold over 125,000 sheep. (Assuming the shape of the Ark to be rectangular there would have been over 100,000 sq. ft of floor space!)

Okay, balsa wood, reeds, 125,000 sheep. The ark's as good as built, man!


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