Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth. And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth. —Genesis 7: 6-10
For centuries, explorers have been hunting for the remains of Noah’s ark, which the Bible describes as being at least 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high—or, according to one estimate, at least 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Putting that into perspective, we’re talking about a boat that was almost five times longer than the Mayflower, nearly four times longer than the original Queen Mary, and more than half the length of the Lusitania. A big boat by any standards.
Add the dilemma of rounding up the animals, finding space for them on the ark, and then caring for them for 40 days—with just eight human beings on board—and you have a story bound to raise some eyebrows. “Yeah, right,” one might easily say. How could roughly 16,000 animals (as some researchers have estimated) fit into such a crowded space?
As if these questions alone weren’t enough to raise doubts, consider the explorers’ quest: to find a wooden boat supposedly built in 2500 B.C.—give or take a few centuries—and now buried in the ice on the peak of 17,000-foot Mt. Ararat. It’s no wonder that some people scoff.
So what remains if we look at this story with different eyes? What is left if we believe, in contrast to the literal account in Genesis, that Noah’s boat was in fact just a barge, that the flood covered the area of the Euphrates River and not “the earth,” that other people survived by fleeing to the hills? Where are we then?
Though it is one of many that appear in various cultures, this particular flood story makes two important points: that God can and does act in history, and that all of creation—“clean” and “unclean,” “male and female,” human and non-human—is valuable, regardless of its worth in our eyes.
Oh God of deliverance, help me to remember that even the least in your kingdom have a part to play in the world, and that in spite of the terrors around me, you will carry me safely home.