Does a “Recently Deciphered 4,000-Year-Old Tablet” Discredit the Genesis Account of Noah's Ark?
“But forget all those images of a long vessel with a pointy bow—the original Noah’s Ark, new research suggests, was round.”1 Those words highlight the AP article discussing the tablet that just went on display at the British Museum on January 24.
This recent assault on God’s Word comes from Irving Finkel, the assistant keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages, and cultures at the British Museum. According to reports, Finkel received the tablet a few years ago from the son of an amateur historian named Leonard Simmons, who had acquired it in the Middle East following World War II. The cell-phone-sized tablet is also the subject of Finkel’s new book, The Ark Before Noah.
So what’s the big deal about this tablet, which Finkel calls “one of the most important human documents ever discovered”? And how does it supposedly discredit the Bible’s account of Noah’s Ark and the global Flood?
First, Finkel and the journalist who wrote the AP story push the long-discredited “documentary hypothesis,” meaning that they believe Genesis and much of the Old Testament was largely composed during the time of Ezra following the Babylonian exile. Therefore, they automatically assume that the author (or compiler) of Genesis merely copied the Flood account from the Babylonians. Thus, for those that cling to the documentary hypothesis, any flood story from the Middle East that apparently predates the fifth century BC will naturally be touted as one of the sources of the biblical account. Since Finkel’s tablet is reportedly dated to approximately 2000 BC, these individuals assume that it is more original and therefore more reliable than the biblical account. Finkel even jokes about the revelation of finding “Holy Writ”—namely, Ark-building instructions—chiseled on a tablet that looks like a piece of wheat cereal.
Second, the primary difference between the flood account on this tablet and the biblical account is that the Mesopotamian tablet describes the “ark” as being a “round boat.” The article states that a round boat makes sense because “coracles were widely used as river taxis in ancient Iraq and are perfectly designed to bob along on raging floodwaters.” A coracle is a small, round boat used primarily for fishing or transportation in the United Kingdom and India. Finkel states that a coracle is the “perfect thing” because “it never sinks [and] it’s light to carry.”
Assuming for the moment that the tablet is authentic and the translation is accurate, do these claims stand up to scrutiny?
Finkel believes that the Jews picked up the idea of the flood while they were exiled in Babylon in the sixth century BC. However, Noah is mentioned in the Old Testament books written prior to the 70-year exile or right at the start of it: Isaiah:54:9 (eighth century BC) and Ezekiel:14:14, 20 (early sixth century BC, at the start of the exile).
Should this tablet “cause consternation among believers in the Biblical story” as the article suggests? Of course not—in fact, this is just another archaeological find that corroborates the biblical Flood account. It is only reasonable that people in cultures the world over—being descended from the eight people that got off the Ark—would recall various versions of the Flood in their cultural memory and traditions. Hundreds of flood stories have been found in cultures around the world. While many of these contain legendary embellishments, it is very obvious that many of them refer back to a real event described in Genesis, many of the details of which were passed down through the generations.
Secular researchers often jump to the conclusion that the Bible borrowed from other ancient records. Yet other explanations exist for the similarities between Scripture and these ancient myths. It could be that the other myths borrowed from the biblical writers, assuming the tablet model is accurate. Or it could be that the Bible and the ancient myths are records of actual events, but while the Bible records the true history of our world, these other myths are loaded with legendary embellishments but still contain strands of truth.