Noah’s Ark and Large Ancient Ships

In preparing this week’s blog I was comparing the replica of Noah’s Ark at Answers in Genesis’ new theme park “Ark Encounter” with an essay Larry Pierce wrote for Online Bible entitled  “Large ships of Antiquity”.

How Large Was the Ark?

At approximately 510 feet long, it would take nearly one and a half football fields to equal the Ark’s length. That’s big enough that NASA could lay three space shuttles—nose to tail—on the Ark’s roof! 

The roof of Noah’s Ark was more than 50 feet from the ground—higher than a modern four-story building. That’s plenty of space for three extra-tall inner decks as the Bible describes.

The Ark had the same storage capacity as about 500 standard semi-trailers. A standard livestock trailer holds about 250 sheep, so the Ark had the capacity to hold at least 120,000 sheep. 

Here is a picture taken this month in Kentucky.

ark-600l

As you can see the stern of the life-size Noah’s Ark coming into shape and the bow should be done next month. The Ark Encounter is starting to look like the design of the Ark we know so well with the curvy stern, essential to the overall comfort, stability, and balance of the ship. In this picture you can see what the Ark looks like now compared to the model in the foreground of what it will look like when it is finished in July.

Earlier this month AiG did a three minute Video of the Ark as construction nears completion. This gives a great sense of how enormous it really was. You can check it out on YouTube by clicking this link. Ark Encounter

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Greek-Triremes

Large Ships of Antiquity by Larry Pierce

Each generation produces a fresh crop of skeptics who are legends in their own mind. Charles Spurgeon wryly observed about such a man in his day: “It is but the shallowness of his mind that permits him to see the bottom of his knowledge.”

We should not be surprised that we are awash today with such so called “experts”. The Apostle Peter warned us this would be the case. It has become fashionable to scoff at anything biblical. Noah’s ark has never failed to be the target of skeptics and the butt of many jokes. Everyone knows you cannot build a boat as large as Noah did from wood, even using today’s advanced technology. Only since ships were made of steel, in the last hundred years or so, has man been able to build a larger ship than Noah’s ark. These so called experts display their ignorance of history in making such statements. Lets look at what ships the ancients actually did build, some of which were almost as large as the ark.

Rise in Technology of the Ancients

In the writings of Pliny, we discovered the following table relating to ships of antiquity. This documents the rapid advances the ancients made in shipbuilding technology in just a few centuries. The time period in the table covers from about the seventh century BC to the end of the third century BC.

  • Vessel / Inventor / Authority / Approximate Time
  • double-banked / the Erythraens / Damastes / 7th c. BC
  • trireme / Aminocles of Corinth / Thucydides / 6th c. BC
  • quadrireme / the Carthaginians / Aristotle / 5th c. BC
  • quinquereme / the Salaminians / Mnesigiton / 4th c. BC
  • galleys of six banks / the Syracusans / Xenagoras
  • up to ten banks / Alexander the Great / Mnesigiton
  • up to twelve / Ptolemy / Soter Philostephanus / 3rd c. BC
  • up to fifteen / Demetrius, son of Antigonus / Philostephanus
  • up to thirty / Ptolemy / Philadelphus Philostephanus
  • up to forty / Ptolemy / Philopator Tryphon Philostephanus

When we think of warships of antiquity, we think of the tiny ships that were shown in a movie like Ben Hur. They had about fifty or so men and a single tier of oars. This was the best Hollywood could do on a limited budget and reflects our evolutionary thinking that the ancients were primitive compared to us. While we may flatter ourselves with our supposed knowledge of ancient history, the actual facts, that come down to us, tell us another story. From this table in Pliny, we can see a rapid rise in technology over a few hundred years which culminated in a ship of forty tiers of oars. (When we say forty tiers we mean forty levels of rowers!) Now the question is, do we have any descriptions of these ships so we can comprehend how large they really were? Fortunately, we have a good description of one of the early third century ships and an excellent description of the largest ship Pliny lists.

The Leontifera

There was a naval battle in the Aegean Sea in 280 BC. The following is Ussher’s description of what happened:

When Antigonus, surnamed Gonatas, the son of Demetrius Poliorcetes, heard how Seleucus was murdered, he made an expedition into Macedonia. He planned to get there before Ceraunus could with his army and naval forces. However, Ceraunus had all Lysimachus’ fleet in readiness, and set out and met him in a good battle formation at sea. In his navy, ships were sent from Heraclea in Pontus, some of six, some of five tiers of oars. These kinds of ships were called Aphracta. The largest ship of all had eight tiers of oars and was called the Leontifera. She was admired by all for her large size and exquisite construction. In her were a hundred oars per tier, so that on each side there were eight hundred rowers which made sixteen hundred in all. On the upper deck or hatches there were twelve hundred fighting men who were under two special commanders. When the battle began, Ceraunus won and Antigonus was forced to flee with all his navy. In this fight, the ships from Heraclea performed the best and among them the Leontifera did the best of all … ”

We are not given the dimensions of this ship. However, for a hundred men to sit on one tier of oars, each one would have to be at least three feet apart which is the approximate distance between airline seats. Has anyone ever complained of having too much space between airline seats! Allowing for a bow and a stern, this ship could easily have been four or five hundred feet long. (The next ship we describe had fifty oars in a tier and was over four hundred feet long) If I was in that battle in a ship, I definitely would not want to be in the path of the business end of the Leontifera’s ramming prow. Also consider that these battles were not fought in an afternoon! This ship could have been at sea for a few days before and after this battle. With a crew compliment of over three thousand men, think of the provisions they would have to carry. They would need somewhere to sleep too!

Other Large Ships

Plutarch briefly describes the fleet which Demetrius built around 294 BC. These were the largest ships built at that time. Although Plutarch gives no dimensions, he does state the following:

“Up until this time, no man had seen a ship of fifteen or sixteen banks of oars.  …  However, in the ships of Demetrius their beauty did not mar their fighting qualities, nor did the magnificence of their equipment rob them of their usefulness, but they had a speed and effectiveness which was more remarkable than their great size.”

The Grand-Daddy of Antiquity

Athenaeus gives us a detailed description of a very large warship.

Ptolemy Philopator (c. 244-205 BC) built a large warship. It was four hundred and twenty feet long, fifty-seven feet wide and seventy-two feet high to the top of her gunwale. From the top of her stern post to the water line was seventy-nine and a half feet. It had four steering oars forty-five feet long. It had forty tiers of oars. The oars on the uppermost tier were fifty-seven feet long. The oars were counter balanced with lead to make them easy to handle. It had a double bow and a double stern and carried seven rams of which one was the leader and the others were of gradually reducing size. It had twelve under-girders nine hundred feet long. She was manned by four hundred sailors to handle the rigging and the sails, four thousand rowers and two thousand and eight hundred and fifty men in arms for a total of seven thousand and fifty men. This ship was too large to be of much practical use.

Some things of interest about this ship. First, there are no forests worth mentioning in Egypt. All the lumber had to be imported from elsewhere, likely Lebanon. This ship had a crew compliment that was almost twice as large as the compliment of the largest aircraft carrier we have ever built! The size of the ship approximated the size of Noah’s ark. Like Noah’s ark, it would have to carry provisions and supplies for all these men. Oh for a time machine to go back and capture this ship on film!

Athenaeus describes other very large ships and boats of antiquity. One ship had a catapult designed by Archimedes that could hurl a hundred and twenty pound stone over six hundred feet.

Conclusion

What should we learn from this? 

Firstly, we are not as smart as we think we are! Just because we cannot duplicate something that was done thousands of years ago, does not mean the ancients could not do it either!

Secondly, we should learn from history. True history supports the Bible and we have nothing to fear from the study of it. In fact, we have much to learn. From these accounts we have given, it is obvious mankind was able to build huge ships that rivaled Noah’s ark in size. We do not know how it was done, but they did it!

The next time someone says that it is impossible for the ancients to build a ship as large as Noah’s Ark, give the same reply Jesus gave many times to his skeptics:  “Have ye not read … ?”

 

10 thoughts on “Noah’s Ark and Large Ancient Ships”

  1. Imagine a team of humans tasked with communicating God’s message to those of all technologies, cosmologies, not to mention languages. How does God communicate a comet/asteroid being launched from the starry heaven to our sea. They didn’t know stars are distant suns [if thats what they really are]. Some once thought a turtle carried Earth on its back. The writing couldnt conflict with cosmologies too much, or no one would accept it long enough to read it. I think of the Bible as a magnificent piece of angel-tech delivered in a manner that humans from 400BC to 2016AD could understand well enough to be considered reliable enough to trust in for salvation. You have to use print, using a simple language of shepherds who didn’t understand the electromagnetic spectrum, yet can be translated into a tech society like 2000+AD -“rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden” Hab 3:4NIV, and what doesnt need to be included, like describing a space shuttle. What about Rev 9:47-20? Is it a tank firing rockets? A tail like a snake [plume] and heads that injure? War head. Sky receding like a scroll Rev 6:13-14-a comet/asteroid trail through atmoshere or perhaps ICBM warheads burning as they reenter the atmosphere then igniting a fusion reaction? Or put the Day of the Lord all together and its remarkably like an ELE asteroid/comet impact with aftereffects, earth wobbling like a drunkard in Isaiah, 1/3 of solar output reaches Earth, forests and grass burned up. How to speak to 2016 about fearsome weapons without confusing people of 350bc who didnt know such things. .

  2. The physics of containing the number of animals necessary using all types of modern animals is problematic, insects included. That’s part of faith. God can do things that cant be done in our normal experiences.

  3. I commend every heart-felt effort to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world, especially those that devote their lives to the truth. However, there is a great variance among them, with some even being evil imposters, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Nevertheless, the kingdom of Christ goes forward in spite of the weakness of true servants and the evil of this world. Hallelujah! Let us continue to pray fervently for God’s mercy to us and our generation.

    I checked out briefly the word “ark’. Thank you for that post, I agree. The Hebrew word for ‘ark’ is used of baby Moses’ ark and of Noah’s ark, but never of any military or commercial vessel. Likewise the Greek word ‘ark’ is used only of Noah’s ark and the ‘ark’ of the covenant of Israel. Amen! It’s a big box!

    As for the details of the structure, I think just the accurate overall dimensions are sufficient to amaze and enthrall the heart and mind with the power and faithfulness of the LORD. While I agree we might need a better Biblically informed semantic, observe with me that no one has put any rudder, sails or oars on their interpretation of Noah’s ark. They are all more box than ship or boat.

    As for the ability of ancient man to build such a structure out of wood, I think the pride of modern man blinds him to the ability of ancient man. I say this as a retired engineer who worked for the US Air Force. The LORD was gracious to me and I worked on what I thought was amazing stuff. But who knows what wood was in Noah’s forest? Who knows what technique of cutting, transporting and assembling he used. What were the properties of that ancient pitch? What witness do we have?

    Nearly all the wood structures are gone. I hope for a preserved ark, but it seems controversial at best. There is not much of a wood witness.

    But we have an amazing stone witness. Look at the ancient mega structures all around the world, Egypt, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, etc, etc. Theses structures shout with enduring irrefutable evidence that modern man can’t do what ancient man could. Beware the evil interpretations of modern men on this stone testimony. If ancient man could do it in stone, it is possible he could do it in wood; agreed?

    We have an even stronger witness than wood or stone and that is the living Word of God. The real issue in most of these discussions on the creation and the flood is the heart. I appreciate the effort to refute a lie and make the truth known. May God speak through their testimony. So many Christians are ill-informed by those calling themselves servants of God. I endorse the basic struggle to prove the facts, but that is not the end of the matter. There is a difference between knowing the facts and knowing the Word. Salvation is a work of God to create a new spiritual creature in Christ, not an intellectual argument to change the mind of a spiritually dead one. “Arise O God, plead thine own cause, remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily.” (Ps 74:22) “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)

    Father, glorify thy name, draw them!

    Frank

    1. Hi Frank, clearly some of your comments I see were towards my comment, so I’ll here provide some further clarification. You’d stated
      “As for the details of the structure, I think just the accurate overall dimensions are sufficient to amaze and enthrall the heart and mind with the power and faithfulness of the LORD. While I agree we might need a better Biblically informed semantic, observe with me that no one has put any rudder, sails or oars on their interpretation of Noah’s ark. They are all more box than ship or boat.”
      Without a doubt the Kentucky ship will amaze and serve to encourage many in their faith concerning the general size of Noah’s Ark. However I cannot agree with you concerning “that no one has put any rudder, sails…”. Having researched specifically into this controversy I can tell you that the ship (as they’ve identified it) which was designed by Tim Lovett was in fact designed with a very large protruding rudder on one end as well as a “fin” that was also designed specifically to act as a sail in the ship models. Although fixed and not moving in this theoretical design, the protrusion qualifies as a rudder. A small fixed rudder that does not protrude would not be a problem to stay true to the Biblical text, however the AIG design is part of a sleek hull that disqualifies the hull as box-like on that end. As it stands, they openly declare it a ship, here I have no objection but only when they identify it as “Noah’s ship”.

      “The Hebrew word for ‘ark’ is used of baby Moses’ ark and of Noah’s ark”
      You may also find it interesting to know that every bible that translates Moses vessel as a “basket” is absolutely mistaken. I have researched ancient Egyptian papyrus reed uses and can affirm that the Egyptians made chests both out of wood and papyrus. Of course papyrus chests are boxes or rectangular with legs, rarely with no legs. Although irrelevant, it is also interesting to note the Egyptians did make square and rectangular papyrus baskets. As I’ve said, baby Moses was placed in a papyrus chest.

      I will also affirm along with you that the ancients were very intelligent people capable of designing large scale projects of various kinds. I see no reason why Noah’s Chest would be in question.
      Andrew

  4. Construction of what is suppose to be a full scale version of Noah’s Ark by Ken Ham is a joke. No one knows what any large ships may have looked like before the flood and Noah would not have had the capability to form curved bows and sterns, much less curved sides. All God needed was for Noah to construct a large box that would contain the people and animals and God took care of the rest. This large “ship” that Ken Ham is constructing will make his Theme Park more like “Dollywood.”

  5. Interesting article. As this article endorses the AIG ship, and speaks of various wooden ships in the past without clarifying, I feel it’s necessary to point out that Noah did not build a ship, but a vessel termed a chest, a box. If Noah’s vessel was a boat or a ship, we would today be calling it that. However the famous designation “Noah’s Ark” exists because Noah did not build a ship but an Ark. The English term “Ark” is the adaptation from the Latin word “arca” which means box or chest. So today, every time someone calls Noah’s Ark an “Ark” they are unknowingly referring to an object that has an intrinsic geometric shape. Well then, could the latin word for Noah’s Ark be wrong? No. There are in fact three Hebrew words used to refer to boats or ships. Never, not once in the Bible is Noah’s vessel referred to using these available Hebrew terms, yet it is referred to with the Hebrew word for box or chest. The New Testament speaks of Noah’s Ark in several places and in perfect harmony with the Old Testament the Greek word chosen to refer to Noah’s Ark was the Greek word for a wooden box or chest. Again, in perfect harmony the Greek authors specifically avoided the more obvious and natural available Greek word choices for boat or ship that were availiable while choosing the counter intuitive yet unmistakable term for a wooden box. Why? Because these words carry as part of their definition geometric shapes and for that reason were chosen to convey the unusual NON-ship like shape that the real Noah’s Ark had. It is unfortunate shame that the design creators of the new Kentucky ship didn’t do careful scriptural study before designing the present ship. As a result, it stands as a testament to their disinterest in finding the right answers in Genesis. For anyone interested in more evidence and rebuttals on this particular topic feel free to message me on FB.

  6. I just got this note from a trucking firm.

    On a standard 48’ x102” wide semi trailer we haul anywhere from 350 fat lambs (150#) to 650 feeder lambs (85#).

    Nels

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