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The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  514 ratings  ·  84 reviews
The recent translation of a Babylonian tablet launches a groundbreaking investigation into one of the most famous stories in the world, challenging the way we look at ancient history.
Since the Victorian period, it has been understood that the story of Noah, iconic in the Book of Genesis, and a central motif in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, derives from a much older s
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published March 25th 2014 by Nan A. Talese (first published January 1st 2014)
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Wall, wall! Reed wall, reed wall!
Atra-hasîs, pay heed to my advice,
that you may live for ever!
Destroy your house; build a boat; spurn property
and save life!
After reading this book, I think I have a pretty good idea of how utterly exciting it must have been for the author when he first laid his eyes upon the above words, written on a small tablet of clay, in cuneiform, the world’s oldest writing system, used in Mesopotamia some 4000 years ago.

Irving Finkel is one of the few people on our plan
Clif Hostetler
Aug 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book provides more information about the history of ancient Mesopotamian writing and the art of reading cuneiform texts than the average reader probably cares to learn. The author at one point claims that after 30 years of studying cuneiform texts he believes that he has a feel for the personalities of the ancient writers and the nature of their culture. After finishing this book I'm inclined to agree; at least I doubt there many are people who are more familiar with cuneiform. An extra bon ...more
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is one of THOSE books. You know...the type with the big time expert author and the complex and abstruse subject and the 600+ pages. This is a doorstop of a book. It made my wrists ache to hold it up to read. So why did I give it five stars? Well, as I have repeatedly stated in reviews and comments on this site, I'm all about the story. So this is one of the oldest, most beloved, most often told stories in the history of mankind. It's The Flood, people, the BIG flood; it's the huge boat and ...more
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: quest
I absolutely ADORED this book. Not only did I learn an incredible amount, but the author is a quintessentially British academic - and that makes him adorable. At least, to me. I dig that sort of thing. Page after page is injected with both hard facts, historic discovery, and the dry humor that you either get and love - or you don't.

This is a book written by a man that deciphered one of the more important tablets that show how much the traditional myth story of "Noah's flood" was just a copy/pas
Apr 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Before 1872 everyone believed that the story of Noah and the Ark was unique to the Bible, a distinctive part of the story of the Jewish nation. That assumption crumbled one day when an assistant in the British Museum discovered a Babylonian version of the story from the city of Nineveh written on a clay tablet in wedge-shaped cuneiform, a full one thousand years older than the Bible version. It contained all the elements of the Genesis story: displeased by humans, the gods decide to drown everyo ...more
Matthew Colvin
Mar 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It is delightful and fascinating to watch Finkel explain how he does textual criticism of Akkadian and Sunerian cuneiform tablets, and see how the details of the different versions of the flood story help unlock further lines that have been misunderstood or lost to damage. He warms to his task, providing helpful illustrations and diagrams along the way. I found myself thoroughly convinced of all his reconstruction and correction of the Akkadian philology in Gilgamesh and Atrahasis, and admiring ...more
Heath Henwood
Mar 14, 2014 rated it did not like it
I had to question whether this book was another to capitalise on Russell Crowe’s new movie Noah, or whether it was a genuine academic text.

While there will be some cross promotion with the movie, it does not take long to determine that The Ark before Noah is a purely academic text. To call it dry would be a complement.

It is in fact an investigation into the ark and more specifically an ancient clay tablet, called cuneiform. The book centres on the tablet and how it provides a new interpretation
May 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Finkel brings something as dry as ancient history and cuneiform and brings it to life. It is wonderful to read a book in which the author actually did his own research and is an authority on the subject he presents. He doesn't actually rub it in your face in the book either. Rather, he reveals his passion in some of the stories he tells about his life's work. This is by no means a light read, but I enjoyed it. I may not agree with all of his conclusions, but it is still worth 5 stars.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Justin Tapp
Oct 11, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoy works by practitioners of their craft over journalistic accounts of those crafts and the practioners' discoveries. I suppose most practitioners too eccentric to be good writers, but Irving Finkel does a decent job he; apparently moonlights as a fiction author. He's a committed philologist and Assyriologist living his childhood dream of working in the British Museum and is one of the world's foremost experts on Akkadian/Sumerian/Babylonian cuneiform. I listened to Gerald Davis' "new" tran ...more
The Idle Woman
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deep within the British Museum is the Arched Room, a soaring vaulted hall lined with shelves of cubbyholes. This is where the cuneiform tablets are kept and it feels rather like the Holy of Holies. I’ve only been once, but that single visit impressed me mightily: not just the architecture, but the hushed air of industry as scholars and students sat hunched over at the central line of desks, working away at deciphering these ancient fragments. Tablets might be business letters, court records or p ...more
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: salem-2017
Irving Finkel's marvelous introduction to the topic of Assyriology and cuneiform tablets deserves a space on the shelf of anyone driven by the joy of curiosity and discovery. Finkel is your kindred. If you are fascinated by the concept of history or the working of the human mind as it invented writing and literature, you cannot find a better author to learn it from. As I read this text I feel I can hear Finkel speaking in my ear. He is aware that he is a boffin and yet unapologetically in love w ...more
Dec 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Review: The Ark before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood by Irving Finkle

The Flood story, absent Noah, is rather widespread in ancient civilizations. There are remnants of two versions of the Flood story in the book of Genesis. (I challenge readers to review the Flood accounts in Genesis and to write down a summary of what they read.) It has been clear to me for decades, and to scholars for centuries, that the Flood stories in Genesis are derivative. That is why I read this book.
To his cr
Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
I downloaded The Ark Before Noah from Audible in a version which is read by the author, Dr Irving Finkel. For the first few minutes, I found his unpolished narrating style awkward to listen to and wondered if I had made a mistake. However, once his wonderful enthusiasm began to shine through, I was hooked. Finkel discusses his academic life, British Museum career and fabulous fairly-recent discovery of an ancient clay tablet containing details concerning the story of the ark and the flood. He al ...more
Mouldy Squid
Jun 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History, Biblical Studies, Religion
While the first third of "The Ark Before Noah" can be somewhat dry, especially to the casual reader, Finkel sets the foundation of assyriology and cuneiform writing and an over view of the writing system and a brief history of the cultures that produced it. This is necessary for the remainder of the book relies on at least a basic understanding of cuneiform texts and the myths they record.

Once this preliminary matter is dispensed with, Finkel clearly and entertainingly explains the Mesopotamian
Kevin Hill
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
We have known for over a hundred years that Biblical account of Noah's flood derived from a Mesopotamian legends. Anyone who has read the Epic of Gilgamesh has noted the parallels. But apparently even the Gilgamesh tale is a late rendition of the legend. Finkel's book is a marvelous explication of that legend based on various cuneiform tablets. To read The Ark Before Noah is a bit of an undertaking. It is part memoir, part academic text and part detective story. It is alternately fascinating and ...more
Sara M
Feb 06, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
too many wild speculations, but an enjoyable read.

major plus for the anecdote about Smith trying to undress himself from excitement having first deciphered the flood tablet.
Chuck Kollars
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book tells the story of the discovery of yet another cuneiform tablet about an 'ark' story, and its implications and some of the possible reinterpretations it caused. The author is quite careful to distinguish new ideas occasioned by this tablet from existing ideas occasioned by other tablets. The writing style is both humorous and very clear, with most of the considerable technical detail banished to several lengthy and very detailed appendices and notes in the back of the book.

I however
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have SUCH conflicted feelings about this book. The contents are fascinating, and continue my growing interest in the ancient Near East. Finkel provides a wonderful introduction to Assyriology itself, Akkadian and Sumerian cuneiform, Babylonian mathematics, ancient and modern boat building practices, the workings of the British Museum's cuneiform collection and many other topics. The author's voice really comes across well, he seems like a fascinating individual with so much knowledge to share. ...more
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wow, this was a lot to unpack. I'm quite the Arkphile, if you pardon the word, since I grew up. A local author had journeyed to Turkey searching for the Ark and written a book on it. So, I came to this early and have been highly interested my whole life. If an expedition looked for a sherpa to help them I would be there in a heartbeat no matter my career.

Irving Finkel at the British Museum has made a study of cuneiform texts and found some stories of round boats, which fits the boat usage of the
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Outstandingly written with passion by a man clearly a master of his field. Full of fascinating insights into life in Mesopotamia and also the challenges of writing and interpreting Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform.
I think the conclusion is too simplistic, though. Irving Finkel deciding to use a precedence equals causation solution instead of several more realistic options.
Presumably this is driven by his worldview bias as I cannot believe it is due to either laziness or lack of imagination. He is
Nate Rabe
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, spirituality
I was excited to read this book but didn't finish it. Perhaps I will one day. Finkel is a good lively writer but really, this book is as much an expression of his love of his profession as an Assyirologist as it is about the Ark. He simple LOVES explaining the slight differences between a variety of cuneiform styles and editions of the Flood Story which just bogged me down and bored me. Yes, some of this is essential but not all of it. Finkel loves this stuff (that's great) but he comes across a ...more
A good enough book about Mesopotamian flood myths and their relationship to the biblical Noah story. Unless you're a budding or trained Assyriologist, the book probably tells you more than you ever wanted to know about the flood myth tablets - their history, language, interpretation, inter-relatedness, etc. For a book intended for a popular audience, the text gets quite dense and detailed, though the author lets his sense of humor come through in occasional jokes. Finkel clearly loves the subjec ...more
Aileen Noura Vitarelli
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I bought this book because I could not answer my 7-years old son if the Noahs Ark is a really story or fictional. History (with actual dates, place, beginning of event) is not clearly written neither in Quran nor other old books stated firmly about the facts. Prof Ussher of Trinity College in the 17th century calculated that the flood had taken place in 2349 BC near to the slopes of Mount Ararat. I enjoyed reading Dr Irving Finkel investigations on Babylon Story of Floods cuneiforms. It is well ...more
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating insights into a little-known field of ancient history. Book chronicles the author's 'discovery', decipherment, and interpretation of a fragment of a Mesopotamian flood narrative, placing it both in its local historical context as well as in relation to the Biblical flood account. Though many questions about the text remain unanswered, Finkel does a superb job of elucidating what is known and what can be reasonably hypothesized about it. Reading this book was like looking over the sho ...more
Federico Davoine
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting book, a bit too long though. You have to be a keen Assyriologist amateur to enjoy the extended sections on cuneiform and Mesopotamian languages: they are too descriptive and boring. On the other hand, the analysis on the origins of the Bible stories (Genesis, Moises and, obviously, the Ark) is fascinating and well accomplished. In conclusion, if the book were written in a third of pages it would have been very entertaining.
Enkidu Jones
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the funniest quirkiest intros ever – Finkel is a Sumerologist at the BM and stumbles onto an Akkadian tablet. This leads to the reconstruction of the likely original ark (reality TV!). Considering how central the Ark Story is to Western Civilization, this is a really big deal. Also interesting is the hypothesized transformation of the Ark Story throughout the various forms (Gilgamesh, Torah, etc.).
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A quite comprehensive review of the Flood story. It covers if from multiple storylines like Old Sumerian, Old Babylonian, Ancient Greek, from Genesis, Bible, and Koran and compares them all. Also provides a technical overview of building such an ark with the measurement data coming from the cuneiform tablets which makes it totally unbiased scientific review. Loved it!
Stephen Munitz
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
What a superb piece of scholarship. Extraordinarily deep research, clearly laid out, evidence detailed.

But from my side, just too much. I am not That interested in the topic, so gave up about third way in.

Nevertheless I'd recommend it - maybe you'll find it pulls you in.
Catarina PB
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
With humor and knowledge we go through ages and details as if we were in a time machine! Irving brings us closer to the story as ever before and explains how it developed into the narrative we know today!
A super recommend ~
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Irving Leonard Finkel, Ph.D. (Assyriology, University of Birmingham, 1976; B.A., Ancient
New Eastern Studies, University of Birmingham, 1969), is a British philologist and Assyriologist. He has served as Assistant Keeper in the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum since 1979. As such, he is the curator in charge of cuneiform inscriptions on tablets of clay from ancient Me

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“…для прочтения клинописного текста надо сначала идентифицировать определенный знак, затем понять, использован ли он как логограмма, силлабограмма, фонетический комплемент или детерминатив, и только после этого окончательно выбрать правильное звучание (если знак распознан как силлабограмма). Начинающие писцы, как теперь начинающие ассириологи, должны были сразу понять, что любой клинописный знак может иметь несколько звуковых значений; и наоборот — что любой звук может быть записан различными знаками; другими словами, поливалентность — наше всё. На практике, однако, не всякое использование знаков допускалось традицией. Поскольку слова обычно делятся на слоги, глазами мы быстро научаемся выбирать наиболее гармоничное и грамматически правильное прочтение последовательности знаков, отметая маловероятные или попросту невозможные варианты прочтения.
С самых древнейших времен месопотамские писцы начали составлять списки слов (словники), потребность в которых была связана с необходимостью зафиксировать значения новообразованных знаков, чтобы избежать путаницы и чтобы легче было их заучивать.”
“Fingers of bitumen Here we have to understand the measure as the Sumerian ideogram ŠU.ŠI (usually written ŠU.SI), standing for the Babylonian ubānu, ‘finger’, one of which comes out at about 1.66 centimetres. Bitumen is thus applied to all ark surfaces to a depth of one finger.” 0 likes
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