555 Difficult Bible Questions Answered

90. What Were the Dimensions and Material of Noah's Ark?

According to the directions in Genesis 6:15, the Ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits broad and 30 cubits high. Bible students have been greatly puzzled over the length of the cubit, which seems to have varied greatly in ancient times. It is evident, however (from Deu. 3:11), that it was taken as a measure from the human body, and may have been either from the wrist to the end of the third figure, or the entire length of the lower or forearm, from the elbow to the wrist, or even from the elbow to the finger-point. One authority, Celsus, says the cubit was identified with the ulna, or under and larger of the two bones of the arm. The Egyptian cubit, which the Hebrews may have taken, measured six hand-breadths and the Jewish rabbins (as the Mishna states) assigned six hand-breadths to the Mosaic cubit, while Josephus says a cubit was equal to two spans, the span being equal to three hand-breadths. Ezek. 40:5, 43:13 speaks of the cubit "which was a cubit and a hand-breadth" which was the Babylonian cubit. It would thus seem that the Ark, though its size cannot be confidently stated, was a very spacious vessel, probably exceeding 500 feet in length, fully 85 feet broad and over 52 feet high. In 1609 Peter Jansen of Horn, in Holland, built a vessel of these proportions and found that it would stow fully a third more cargo than ships of its size built in the ordinary manner. It had 3,600,000 cubic feet of space, and after nine-tenths had been assigned for food storage there was still room for 7,000 pairs of animals, each with 50 cubic feet of space. It was, in fact, a huge floating storehouse, rather than a ship. As to the materials of which the Ark was built, we find in Genesis 6:14 that Noah is told to make an ark of "gopher" wood. There are various conjectures as to what kind of wood this was. Bunsen holds that it was a wood found only in Egypt; Dietrich believes it was a heavy reed-like growth; Gesenius affirms that it was pine, fir or cedar, and Bochart says cypress. Chaldee translators declare it to have been the sissu, a dark-colored wood of Arabian growth and highly valued. A majority hold to the opinion that cypress was meant, on account of its enduring qualities. As to the time occupied in building it, much has been said but little of real worth. The only Bible passage supposably referable to this question is Genesis 6:3. This passage is variously interpreted. By some it is held to refer to a shortening of human life; by others it is interpreted as meaning that the period stated would be further granted as a respite—an opportunity for repentance—failing which the divine presence (the Shecinah, which had hitherto continued at the gate of Eden) would be withdrawn from the world on account of its wickedness. The best answer is that nowhere is it stated in the Bible how long Noah was engaged in building the Ark. The Lord had offered a respite of 120 years, after the warning to the human race (see I Peter 3 -20; II Peter 2:5), and it was during this period that Noah, who was a "preacher of righteousness," not only labored in the work of awakening the people to the enormity of their sin and of urging them to repentance, but also used a portion of that period in preparing the Ark for the emergency that would arise, if the people did not listen to his cry for repentance.