The Ark Before Noah

Written by Irving Finkel
Review by Barry Webb

The focus of this book is a small tablet Dr. Finkel stumbled upon recently that had been sitting unnoticed among the British Museum’s cuneiform collections for over a hundred years. The significance of the “Ark” tablet is that it fills in some gaps in our knowledge on how the Ark was constructed. It is also the only cuneiform source (so far) that specifically has the animals enter the Ark in pairs, two by two, as in the Book of Genesis. The tiny tablet, though only sixty lines, helps to connect the two Mesopotamian Flood traditions (the Uta Naphisti tradition as recounted in Gilgamesh tablet XI, and the various Atrahasis traditions) with each other, and with the Biblical (Noah) text. Dr. Finkel uses these connections to expound on each of the major flood stories from Mesopotamia and Genesis, showing similarities and differences while explaining how they all derived from a common earlier flood tradition. Along the way he provides numerous delightful tidbits of arcane knowledge. His writing style makes this book accessible to the non-specialist while providing enough new material to be of use to the scholar. Highly recommended.