Then there was the logistical problem of boat-building. Commanded by God to build the Ark, it was necessary for Noah to find, fell, transport and prepare several thousand tons of gopher wood using Bronze Age tools. He had to cut it into planks and fasten them together into a structure many hundreds of times larger than any boat previously built; no mean feat for a farmer or herdsman with no previous marine-engineering experience and limited resources. Where did the labour come from? How was it paid for? Was there even enough gopher wood in the area to supply Noah’s needs?
But assembling the animals must have been the biggest problem. Recently, students at Leicester University calculated that an ark built to the dimensions given in the Bible could have carried the weight of 70,000 animals, the equivalent of around 35,000 species. The Leicester students seem not to have taken insects into account, which although small, are numerous; around 1,000,000 species having so far been identified; Genesis 8:17 mentions ‘every creeping thing’ as well as fowl and cattle to be brought on board, so presumably that meant insects as well.
Noah and his helpers had to capture and cage the animals, reptiles and birds, including elephants – both African and Indian – lions and tigers, hippos and rhinos, giraffes, anacondas from South America, pandas from China, polar bears from the Arctic, penguins from the Antarctic and kangaroos and the duck-billed platypus from Australia. It would have needed overseas expeditions to Australia, South America, China, the Arctic and Antarctic at least.
Having done all of that, cages for the animals had to be manufactured and squeezed into a volume 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits (a craft about 500 ft. long). While on board the animals had to be fed, watered and mucked out for around the year that was required before the flood abated. And of course the Ark had to take on enough food and water to feed every animal and person on board not only for a year afloat, but for many months afterwards until the first harvest could be got in. This would have included extra animals to feed the carnivores on board. Ironically, the water needs of the animals may well have sunk the whole enterprise. Drinking water could only have been supplied from the sea – assuming that the Deluge would have diluted the salt in the seawater sufficiently to allow it to be drunk. Otherwise, just the volume of fresh water needed would have sunk the Ark. I have seen it written that a good 19th century navvy could shift 20 tons of earth in a day. At that rate, Noah and his sons and their wives would have had to have spent practically the whole time on board just raising and carrying water to feed the animals.
Interestingly, a much older, but startlingly similar story was found in cuneiform tablets discovered in Iraq in the late 19th century. Contained within the Epic of Gilgamesh is a Babylonian flood myth with uncanny parallels to the Biblical flood. It was initially committed to clay tablets at least 1,000 years before the Old Testament was written down. The hero, Utnapishtim, was told to build a large ship of dimensions similar to Noah’s Arc (albeit shaped like a cube), caulk it with pitch and take a number of animals on board. As the waters abated, he released a dove, a swallow and then a raven. Clearly, whoever devised the story of the flood in the Bible must have borrowed it from the much earlier Babylonian version. If the flood had really happened, and Genesis and Gilgamesh were simply reporting the same event from different perspectives, how could the similarities in the tale possibly be explained unless the two derived from the same source?
No, the story of the Flood is charming allegory and as far divorced from reality as dragons, unicorns and the world supported on four elephants standing on the back of a tortoise. It was a parable intended to demonstrate to a primitive people the wrath of God, reinforcing the point that He really did hold the power of life and death over them, and would exercise that power to their detriment unless they led righteous lives.