The precise meaning of the Hebrew word (תֵּבָה, tebah') is uncertain. The word only occurs here and in the second chapter of Exodus, where it is used of the little papyrus boat in which the mother of Moses entrusted her child to the Nile. In all probability it is to the old Egyptian that we are to look for its original form. Bunsen, in his vocabulary (Egypt's Place, 1:482), gives tha, "a chest," tp, "a boat," and in the Copt. Vers. of Ex 2:3,5, thebi is the rendering of tebah. The Sept. employs two different words. In the narrative of the Flood they use κιβωτός, and in that of Moses θίβις, or according to some MSS. θηβή. The Book of Wisdom has σχεδία; Berosus and Nicol. Damasc., quoted in Josephus, πλοιον and λάρναξ. The last is also found in Lucian,.De Dea Syr. c. 12. In the Sibylline Verses the ark is δουράτεον δῶμα, αϊvκος; and κιβωτός. The Targum and the Koran have each-respectively given the Chaldee and the Arabic form of the Hebrew word.
This "chest," or "boat," was to be made of gopher (i.e. cypress) wood, a kind of timber which, both for its lightness and its durability, was employed by the Phoenicians for building their vessels. Alexander the Great, Arrian tells us (7:19), made use of it for the same purpose. The planks of the ark, after being put together, were to be protected by a coating of pitch, or rather bitumen (כֹּפֶר, Sept. ἄσφαλτος), which was to be laid on both inside and outside, as the most effectual means of making it water-tight, and perhaps also as a protection against the attacks of marine animals. Next to the material, the method of construction is described. The ark was to consist of a number of "nests" (קַנַּים), or small compartments, with a view, no doubt, to the convenient distribution of the different animals and their food. These were to be arranged in three tiers, one above another; "with lower, second, and third (stories) shalt thou make it." Means were also to be provided for letting light into the ark. In the A. V. we read, "A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above:" words which, it must be confessed, convey no very intelligible idea. The original, however, is obscure, and has been differently interpreted. What the "window," or "lighthole" (צֹהִר, tso6har), was, is very puzzling. It was to be at the top of the ark apparently. If the words "unto a cubit (אֶלאּאִמָּה) shalt thou finish it above" refer to the window, and not to the ark itself, they seem to imply that this aperture, or skylight, extended to the breadth of a cubit the whole length of the roof. Knobel's explanation is different. By the words, "to a cubit (or within a cubit) shalt thou finish it above," he understands that, the window being in the side of the ark, a space of a cubit was to be left between the top of the window and the overhanging roof of the ark, which Noah removed after the flood had abated (8:13). There is, however, no reason to conclude,. as he does, that there was only one light. The great objection to supposing that the window was in the side of the ark is that then a great part of the interior must have been left in darkness. Again we are told (8:13) that when the flood abated Noah removed the covering of the ark, to look about him to see if the earth were dry. This would have been unnecessary if the window had been in the side. "Unto a cubit shalt thou finish it above" can hardly mean, as some have supposed, that the roof of the ark was to have this pitch; for, considering that the ark was to be fifty cubits in breadth, a roof of a cubit's pitch would have been almost flat. Tavlor Lewis (in the Amer. ed. of Lange's Genesis, p. 298) ingeniously maintains that the aperture was at the peak or ridge of the roof. But if so it could not have been merely an open slit, for that would have admitted the rain. Are we then to suppose that some transparent, or at least translucent substance was employed? It would almost seem so. Symm. renders the word διαφανές; Theodoret has merely θύραν; Gr. Venet. φωταγωγόν; Vulg. fenestram. The Sept.
translates, strangely enough, ἐπισυνάγων ποιήσεις τήν κιβωτόν. The root of the word indicates that the tsohar was something shining. Hence, probably. the Talmudic explanation that God told Noah to fix precious stones in the ark, that they might give as much light as mid-day (Sanh. 108 b). A different word is used in chap. 8:6 where it is said that Noah opened the window of the ark. There the word is הִלּוֹן (chalon), which frequently occurs elsewhere in the same sense. Certainly the story as there given does imply a transparent window, as Saalschutz (Archaol. 1:311) has remarked, for Noah could watch the motions of the birds outside, while at the same time he had to open the window in order to take them in. An objection to this explanation is the supposed improbability of an'y substance like glass having been discovered at that early period of the world's history. But we must not forget that even according to the Hebrew chronology the world had been in existence 1656 years at the time of the flood. Vast strides must have been made in knowledge and civilization in such a lapse of time. Arts and sciences may have reached a ripeness of which the record, from its scantiness, conveys no adequate conception. The destruction caused by the flood must have obliterated a thousand discoveries, and left men to recover again by slow and patient steps the ground they had lost. A still more serious objection to this supposition of a glass window is the necessity of ventilation, which would require an open space for the passage of air as well as light. The challon may therefore, in accordance with Oriental custom, more naturally denote merely a lattice in the tsohar. Supposing, then, the tsohar to be, as we have said, a skylight, or series of skylights running the whole length of the ark (and the fem. form of the noun inclines one to regard it as a collective noun), the challon might very well be a single compartment of the larger window, which could be opened at will. A different word from either of these is used in 7:11, of the windows of heaven, אֲרֻבֹּת, drubboth (from ארב, "to interweave"), lit. "networks," or "gratings" (Gesen. Thes. in v). A still different explanation possible is that the tsohar in question 'consisted of a space, in the siding left open all along for a cubit's depth just beneath (מַלּמִעלָה) the projecting eaves. SEE WINDOW. But besides the window there was to be a door. This was to be placed in the side of the ark. "The door must have been of some size to admit the larger animals, for whose ingress it was mainly intended. It was no doubt above the highest draught-mark of the ark, and the animals ascended to it probably by a sloping embankment. A door in the side is not more difficult to understand than the port-holes in the sides of our vessels" (Kitto, Bible Illustrations, Antediluvians, etc. p. 142). The Jewish notion was that the ark was entered by means of a ladder. On the steps of this ladder, the story goes, Og, king of Bashan, was sitting when the flood came; and on his pledging himself to Noah and his sons to be their slave forever, he was suffered to remain there, and Noah gave him his food each day out of a hole in the ark (Pirke R. Eliezer).
Of the shape of the ark nothing is said; but its dimensions are given. It was to be 300 cubits in length, 50 in breadth, and 30 in height. Supposing the cubit here to be the cubit of natural measurement, reckoning from the elbow to the top of the middle finger, we may get a rough approximation as to the size of the ark. The cubit, so measured (called in De 3:11 "the cubit of a man"), must of course, at first, like all natural measurements, have been inexact and fluctuating. In later times no doubt the Jews had a standard common cubit, as well as the royal cubit and sacred cubit. We shall probably, however, be near enough. to the mark if we take the cubit here to be the common cubit, which was reckoned (according to Mich., Jahn, Gesen., and others) as equal to six hand- breadths, the handbreadth being 3.5 inches. This, therefore, gives 21 inches for the cubit. SEE CUBIT. Accordingly the ark would be 525 feet in length, 87 feet 6 inches in breadth, and 52 feet 6 inches in height. This is very considerably larger than the largest British man-of-war. The Great Eastern, — however, is both longer and deeper than the ark, being 680 feet in length (691 on deck), 83 in breadth, and 58 in depth. Solomon's Temple, the proportions of which are given (1Ki 6:2), was of the same height as the ark, but only one fifth of the length, and less than half the width. Augustine (De Civ. D. lib. 15) long ago discovered another excellence in the proportions of the ark, and that is that they were the same as the proportions of the perfect human figure, the length of which from the sole to the crown is six times the width across the chest, and ten times the depth of the recumbent figure measured in a right line from the ground.
It should be remembered that this huge structure was only intended to float on the water, and was not, in the proper sense of the word, a ship. It had neither mast, sail, nor rudder; it was, in fact, nothing but an enormous floating house, or oblong box rather, "as it is very likely," says Sir W. Raleigh, "that the ark had fundum planum, a flat bottom, and not raised in form of a ship, with a sharpness forward, to cut the waves for the better speed." The figure which is commonly given to it by painters, there can be no doubt, is wrong. Two objects only were aimed at in its construction: the one was that it should have ample stowage, and the other that it should be able to keep steady upon the water. It was never intended to be carried to any great distance from the place where it was originally built. A curious proof of the suitability of the ark for the purpose for which it was intended was given by a Dutch merchant, Peter Jansen, the Mennonite, who in the year 1609 had a ship built at Hoorn of the same proportions (though of course not of the same size) as Noah's ark (see Michaelis, Or. Bib. 18:27 sq.). It was 120 feet long, 20 broad, and 12 deep. This vessel, unsuitable as it was for quick voyages, was found remarkably well adapted for freightage. It was calculated that it would hold a third more lading than other vessels, without requiring more hands to work it. A similar experiment is also said to have been made in Denmark, where, according to Reyher, several vessels called "fleutel," or floats, were built after the model of the ark. SEE ARK
The mathematical investigations on the subject of the ark, begun by Origen (Homily 2 on Gen.), its dimensions and cubical capacity (Lamy, De Tabernac. feed. p. 170 sq.; Buteo and Hostus, in the Critici Sacri, 6:83 sq.; Silberschlag, Geogonie, ii, ch. 3; Donat, in Scheuchzer's Phys. Sacra, 1:128 sq.;' Heidegger, Hist. Patriarch. 1:491 sq.; Wideburg, Mathes. Bibl. 1:59 sq.; Schmidt, Bibl. Mathemat. p. 280 sq.), have not been productive of satisfactory results (see Cramer, in his Scyth. Denkmal. p. 276 sq.; Blomdahl, De congregatione animal, in arcam [Gryph. 1785]; Otho, Lex. Rabb.p.461), owing chiefly to the uncertainty of the Hebrew measurements (see Thenius, Althebr. Maasse, p. 213 sq.). Yet a strange fancy on the subject may be seen in the Theol. Annal. for 1809, p. 307. The general tradition of antiquity was that its remains were preserved on the Kurdish mountains (Berosus in Josephus, Ant. i.3, 6; Apion, 1:19; comp. Ant. 20:2, 3), SEE ARARAT.
The subject of Noah's ark has been found in some very interesting traditions represented on medals of antiquity, especially those of Apamea, in Phrygia, and these have in some unknown way been associated with the early Christian memorials. SEE APAMEA; SEE ARK; SEE NUMISMATICS.