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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Ark Noah's

Ark, Noah's (Genesis 6:14). Vast labor and much ingenuity have been employed by various writers, in the attempt to determine the form of Noah's ark and the arrangement of its parts. The success has not been equal to the exertion; for, on comparing the few simple facts in the Scripture narrative, everyone feels how slight positive data there are for the minute descriptions and elaborate representations which such writers have given. That form of the ark which repeated pictorial representations have rendered familiar—a kind of house in a kind of boat—has not only no foundation in Scripture, but is contrary to reason. The form thus given to it is fitted for progression and for cutting the waves; whereas the ark of Noah was really destined to float idly upon the waters, without any other motion than that which it received from them. If we examine the passage in Genesis 6:14-16, we can only draw from it the conclusion that the ark was not a boat or ship, but a building in the form of a parallelogram, 300 cubits long, 50 cubits broad, and 30 cubits high. So far as the name affords any evidence, it also goes to show that the ark of Noah was not a regularly-built vessel, but merely intended to float at large upon the waters. We may, therefore, probably with justice, regard it as a large, oblong, floating house, with a roof either flat or only slightly inclined. It was constructed with three stories, and had a door in the side. There is no mention of windows in the side, but above, i.e.probably in the flat roof, where Noah was commanded to make them of a cubit in size (Genesis 6:16).

The purpose of this ark was, to preserve certain persons and animals from the Deluge with which God intended to overwhelm the land, in punishment for man's iniquities. The persons were eight—Noah and his wife, with his three sons and their wives (Genesis 7:7; 2 Peter 2:5). The animals were, one pair of every 'unclean' animal, and seven pairs of all that were 'clean.' By 'clean,' we understand fit, and by 'unclean,' unfit for food or for sacrifice. Of birds there were seven pairs (Genesis 7:2-3). Those who have written professedly and largely on the subject, have been at great pains to provide for all the existing species of animals in the ark of Noah, showing how they might be distributed, fed, and otherwise provided for. But they are very far from having cleared the matter of all its difficulties; which are much greater than they, in their general ignorance of natural history, were aware of. These difficulties, however, chiefly arise from the assumption that the species of all the earth were collected in the ark. The number of such species has been vastly under-rated by these writers—partly from ignorance, and partly from the desire to limit the number for which they imagined they required to provide. They have usually satisfied themselves with a provision for three or four hundred species at most 'But of the existing mammalia,' says Dr. J. Pye Smith, 'considerably more than one thousand species are known; of birds, fully five thousand; of reptiles, very few kinds of which can live in water, two thousand; and the researches of travelers and naturalists are making frequent and most interesting additions to the number of these and all other classes. Of insects (using the word in the popular sense) the number of species is immense; to say one hundred thousand would be moderate: each has its appropriate habitation and food, and these are necessary to its life; and the larger number could not live in water. Also the innumerable millions upon millions of animalcules must be provided for; for they have all their appropriate and diversified places and circumstances of existence.' Nor do these numbers form the only difficulty; for, as the same writer observes:—'All land animals have their geographical regions, to which their constitutional natures are congenial, and many could not live in any other situation. We cannot represent to ourselves the idea of their being brought into one small spot, from the polar regions, the torrid zone, and all the other climates of Asia, Africa, Europe, America, Australia, and the thousands of islands, their preservation and provision, and the final disposal of them, without bringing up the idea of miracles more stupendous than any which are recorded in Scripture.'

The difficulty of assembling in one spot, and of providing for in the ark, the various mammalia and birds alone, even without including the otherwise essential provision for reptiles, insects, and fishes, is quite sufficient to suggest some error in the current belief. We are to consider the different kinds of accommodation and food which would be required for animals of such different habits and climates, and the necessary provision for ventilation and for cleansing the stables or dens. And if so much ingenuity has been required in devising arrangements for the comparatively small number of species which the writers on the ark have been willing to admit into it; what provision can be made for the immensely larger number which, under the supposed conditions, would really have required its shelter?

There seems no way of meeting these difficulties but by adopting the suggestion of Bishop Stillingfleet, approved by Matthew Poole, Dr. J. Pye Smith, Le Clerc, Rosenmüller, and others, namely, that, as the object of the Deluge was to sweep man from the earth, it did not extend beyond that region of the earth which man then inhabited, and that only the animals of that region were preserved in the ark. The bishop expresses his belief that the Flood was universal as to mankind, and that all men, except those preserved in the ark, were destroyed; but he sees no evidence from Scripture that the whole earth was then inhabited; he does not think that it can ever be proved to have been so; and he asks, what reason there can be to extend the Flood beyond the occasion of it? [DELUGE].


Fig. 49—Ancient Monument

As Noah was the progenitor of all the nations of the earth, and as the ark was the second cradle of the human race, we might expect to find in all nations traditions and reports more or less distinct respecting him, the ark in which he was saved, and the Deluge in general. Accordingly no nation is known in which such traditions have not been found. Our present concern, however, is only with the ark. And as it appears that an ark, that is, a boat or chest, was carried about with great ceremony in most of the ancient mysteries, and occupied an eminent station in the holy places, it has with much reason been concluded that this was originally intended to represent the ark of Noah, which eventually came to be regarded with superstitious reverence. On this point the historical and mythological testimonies are very clear and conclusive. The tradition of a deluge, by which the race of man was swept from the face of the earth, has been traced among the Chaldeans, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Druids, Chinese, Hindus, Burmese, Mexicans, Peruvians, Brazilians, Nicaraguans, the inhabitants of Western Caledonia, and the islanders of the Pacific; and among most of them also the belief has prevailed that certain individuals were preserved in an ark, ship, boat, or raft, to replenish the desolated earth with inhabitants. These traditions, moreover, are corroborated by coins and monuments of stone. Of the latter there are the sculptures of Egypt and of India; and it is not unlikely that those of the monuments called Druidical, which bear the name of kist-vaens, and in which the stones are disposed in the form of a chest or house, were intended as memorials of the ark.


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Ark Noah's'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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