Bari Weiss of The Wall Street Journal reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Noah is having quite the comeback. First came Darren Aronofsky's blockbuster, in which Russell Crowe portrays the he biblical character as an angry vegan. Then came a group of British student physicists with meticulous calculations showing that an ark, if built as specified in the Book of Genesis (300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high), would be able to carry pairs of some 35,000 land-based species.
Now comes a fascinating book by Irving Finkel called "The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood," which, as the title suggests, goes way back before Noah to explain how the flood story ultimately ended up in the Hebrew Bible.
It's hard to think of a more enthusiastic narrator than Mr. Finkel, whose official title is "Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures" at the British Museum. Mr. Finkel realized he wanted to work at the museum at the age of nine. He's now 62 and is in charge of cuneiform inscriptions on tablets of clay from ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq).
The book revolves around a particular clay tablet dubbed the Ark Tablet, dating from about 1750 B.C. (more than a millennium before the Bible). The tablet, about the size of an iPhone, contains with 60 lines of cuneiform, and these wedge-shaped incisions explain how to build an ark.
"The Ark Tablet is of colossal importance for the history of the flood story both in cuneiform and biblical Hebrew, and it is among the most significant inscriptions ever to come to light on a clay tablet," Mr. Finkel writes.
Here are some lines from the Tablet, so you get a sense of how much it echoes the Bible story:
"Destroy your house, build a boat;
spurn property and save life!
Draw out the boat you will make
on a circular plan;
Let her length and breadth be equal"
You heard that right: the ancient ark, according to this ancient text, was not a vast wooden box but a giant coracle made of coiled palm fiber rope. It's only one of the revelations Mr. Finkel presents in this excellent book.
If you're interested in the history of religion, or detective stories—because this is definitely one—check out "The Ark Before Noah."