While the Bible gives us essential details on many things, including the size and proportions of Noah’s Ark, it does not necessarily specify the precise shape of this vessel.
It is important to understand, however, that this lack of physical description is consistent with other historical accounts in Scripture.1 So how should we illustrate what the Ark looked like? The two main options include a default rectangular shape reflecting the lack of specific detail, and a more fleshed-out design that incorporates principles of ship design from maritime science, while remaining consistent with the Bible’s size and proportions.
Genesis describes the Ark in three verses, which require careful examination:
6:14—“Make yourself an ark [tebah] of gopher wood; make rooms [qinniym] in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch [kofer].
6:15—“And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.
6:16—“You shall make a window [tsohar] for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks” (NKJV).
Most Bibles make some unusual translation choices for certain key words. Elsewhere in the Bible the Hebrew word translated here as “rooms” is usually rendered “nests”; “pitch” would normally be called “covering”; and “window” would be “noon light.” Using these more typical meanings, the Ark would be something like this:
The tebah (Ark) was made from gopher wood, it had nests inside, and it was covered with a pitch-like substance inside and out. It was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. It had a noon light that ended a cubit upward and above, it had a door in the side, and there were three decks. (For the meaning of “upward and above,” see point #2 on the diagram below.)
As divine specifications go, Moses offered more elaborate details about the construction of the Tabernacle, which suggests this might be the abridged version of Noah’s complete directions. On the other hand, consider how wise Noah must have been after having lived several centuries. The instructions that we have recorded in Genesis may be all he needed to be told. But in any case, 300 cubits is a big ship, not some whimsical houseboat with giraffe necks sticking out the top.
The scale of the Ark is huge yet remarkably realistic when compared to the largest wooden ships in history. The proportions are even more amazing—they are just like a modern cargo ship. In fact, a 1993 Korean study was unable to find fault with the specifications (see sidebar “Scientific Study Endorses Seaworthiness of Ark” below).
All this makes nonsense of the claim that Genesis was written only a few centuries before Christ, as a mere retelling of earlier Babylonian flood legends such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh story describes a cube-shaped ark, which would have given a dangerously rough ride. This is neither accurate nor scientific. Noah’s Ark is the original, while the Gilgamesh Epic is a later distortion.
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