Bible stories : 04 A Little Flood, part 2.
Before we go further, let me say that one of my big pet peeves about this part of the story is how Noah’s wife never gets her own name. Imagine being lost to history as such. No name, just the identity of being married to the guy who kept the human race from extinction. Even their children get names. Their three sons are named. Ham, Shem, and Japheth.
So Noah and his wife - I’m going to call her Jarissa - are good people, as are their sons and their wives. Those wives also don’t have names. Not cool.
God decides to save Noah and his family because they are the last only people on earth trying to live a righteous life. What precisely does this mean, in terms of day-to-day lifestyle? I don’t know, but Noah loved God and tried to live the life God had asked humanity to live.
God tells Noah what’s going to happen.
You’re going to build a boat.
A big boat. Call it an ark.
Make it out of gopher wood.
God gave specific dimensions in cubits, which was a common form of measurement that’s rather ingenious in its simplicity, but rather confusing in its inconsistency: one cubit was the length of a person’s elbow to the tip of their middle finger. Probably somewhere between 17 and 20 inches. So let’s do this in inches and feet to give a sense of scale.
The ark was to be built approximately 500 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 50 feet high. To put that into understandable terms, that would be about a football field and a half long and almost five stories high. That would put its storage capacity somewhere equal to that of 400 to 500 semitrailers. Whoa.
God continued with instructions.
When it’s built, you’re going to take one pair of every type of animal.
One female, one male.
God went on with some other animal details, including some stuff on “clean animals.” In other words, the ones fit for eating. Take seven pairs of those ones. But that’s the basic idea. Build a big boat. Make room for animals. Get on board. Flood’s coming.
So Noah and his family set to work. They work and work, and possibly even more difficult than the work was the response of their friends and neighbors and...everyone. Have you ever been laughed at or made fun of? I have. Plenty. People often don’t like new things or change or ideas that don’t make sense to them. So instead of accepting them and trying to understand them, they make fun of them.
Noah’s family got made fun of. Constantly. That has to take a toll. They have to have been physically and emotionally wiped out. But finally...done.
God checks back in seven days before high tide: hop in the ark and take the animals.
Where are the animals?
Aah! I knew I was skipping a step!
God might have said.
Hold on. They’re coming.
We’re going to take a literary intermission here because this story is too epic to be contained in one sitting. So let’s pause.
The ark is built, resting comfortably somewhere in what may now be Turkey. And there’s no animals.
Just Noah, Jarissa, Ham and his wife Mabel, Shem and his wife Ethyl, and Japheth and his wife Taylor. I’ve given all the women names because I’m a feminist and it bothers me they aren’t given ones. So there we are. Cozy little family waiting for some water.
But first, the animals. Stay tuned.
We return to this concept of knowledge acquisition again in the tall tale of Babel
Gopher wood is mentioned exactly once in the Bible: in reference to the ark. What is it? We don’t know. Skipping through all the etymological studies across translations, the one that makes sense to me is that it may refer to “pitched wood.” In other words, the wood being sealed with pitch and thus waterproof. Perhaps?