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The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2014
This is one of the best books available on the middle-eastern Flood myth but it might not be the best. That's fine because it's really about the Ark and for that it might be the best book available. It covers all the extant middle-eastern Flood texts (I believe) with the love of a writer who knows the texts and even some of the original tablets intimately. It also spends a lot of time building up an understanding of the world surrounding the texts - especially that surrounding the Ark Tablet which is the center of this book. You will learn about cuneiform, ship building, marsh dwellers, babylonian ghosts (yes, a whole fascinating seemingly misplaced chapter on them), and, of course, the Ark and you'll (probably unexpectedly) enjoy most of it.

I found it most amazing how the presence of a handful of words in this short tablet have radically changed and coalesced our understanding of these varied Flood myths. It is a masterful work written for the layman but suitable for someone knowledgeable in the field. It even has one of my chief preferences in a text like this, an interlinear interpretation of the text so that you can take a look at the language behind the translation which often provides insight that the translation alone cannot. Amazingly, for all the insights that Dr. Finkel brings to this topic, there are plenty of insights which he seems to have missed or not included awaiting the interested reader.

My only complaint about the book is the referencing. Dr. Finkel (or, more likely, his editors) employ a truly atrocious form of referencing called chapter notes. These are the notes that you find in a section at the back of the book which are usually not terribly specific and can only be linked back to the page by page numbers and general context. Not only is the flipping back and forth awkward and distracting but there were a number of cuneiform texts for which I would have liked to have references to translations that simply weren't there. Fortunately, the power of Dr. Finkel's writing and the information that he provides overwhelms most of the downside to this feature.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2014
This was fun. Not only did it tell me things I didn't know, but it did its scholarship with a delightfully light touch. Finkel makes reading cuneiform sound like reading a thriller, and he kept me interested all the way through. Mesopotamian religion might be a niche market, but the general reader is very well catered for in this book. A page turner.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2014
I am no scholar of ancient history and I'm not sure why I bought this book - but I'm glad I did. Dr Finkel has spent his entire career deciphering and interpreting ancient clay tablets and it amazes me that anyone can read the seemingly random indentations on the tablets! Dr Finkel's infectious enthusiasm for his work and his engaging descriptions of his dealings with other experts in the field make for surprisingly easy reading.

Everyone knows the basic story of Noah's Ark and it has been known for years that the biblical story is based on earlier versions which go back as far as 1900BC. Dr Finkel, who is a curator at the British Museum and an expert on ancient Mesopotamia, carefully carries the reader through the histories of the flood story and even tries to teach us the basics of cuneiform writing. His major contribution to the work is his reading and interpretation of the Ark Tablet; this clearly describes the size and methods of manufacture of the ark. In spite of our preconceptions, it turns out that the original Ark was circular in shape and was, in fact, a super-sized coracle!

This book will be enjoyed by almost anyone who has an enquiring mind and who enjoys history. I was almost persuaded to try and grow a flowing white beard like Dr Finkel's but, perhaps wisely, my wife dissuaded me! A most enjoyable and informative read!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2014
A clear explanation of the different sources forming the story of Noah and his flood. The writer's dedication to deciphering the British Museum's collection of clay tablets is impressive and his enthusiasm for the subject is infectious.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Engagingly written - and pretty topical at the moment - this book investigates the 'Great Flood' myths that existed before they were adapted into the one we know best.
The impact of deciphering Babylonian Cuneiform writing turns out, in its own way, to be as controversial as Darwin's theories - and the Babylonian 'Noah' myth is a rich, human story. I won't spoil the delight of finding out for yourself what this 'Noah' made his Ark from - but, when you come to his complaints to his gods about the quality of the bitumen tar he's had to use to waterproof it, just try not to think of any builder across all of time whistling through his teeth!
A great read, turning what could be a very 'dry' subject into a detective story!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2014
Fascinating stuff, written with wit, enthusiasm and authority. I did get confused now and again about which tablet version was from where and when, but that's my fault not the author's. If you have an interest in the history of the middle eastern flood myths then this book is for you. I know he's been doing this all his working life, but the knowledge and insight of Irving Finkel is mind blowing - it's difficult to imagine that another non-academic book on the subject could surpass it.

And it has a surprising link to the kids TV show The Double Deckers!

Great man. Great book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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 also introduces us to the earliest origins of the story - waaay before the Hebrew Bible - and collects together other tablets with parts of the famous tale and shows how it evolved over some 4000 years into what we know today.
I was particularly fascinated by the comprehensive comparisons of the different tablets and their meshing story versions. As I have only heard the heroes' names, I am not going to attempt to spell them, but it had not previously occurred to me that Noah wasn't always called Noah! The earliest flood version wasn't occasioned by sin either - humans had simply become too noisy for the Gods to endure! Finkel goes into immense detail in his tablet comparions. He examines ark building techniques, mountain landing sites, and intricacies of language in a way that could be too in depth for less nerdy souls. I appreciated his dry humour throughout but am unsure whether this would come across via the printed page. This purely aural version obviously didn't contain images though so I think now a trip to the British Museum is called for so I can see the Ark tablet and Babylonian Map tablet 'in the flesh'. I am so intrigued by their existence that I might visit even if it's not raining!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 November 2014
In 'The Ark before Noah' Dr Finkel gives an enthralling and authoritative account of a 150 year old problem. His analysis is solidly based on his knowledge as an expert in cuneiform, and he successfully conveys his enthusiasm for the subject. Huge amounts of information are communicated in a deceptively easy style, covering not just the technicalities of flood texts but the whole range of Mesopotamian writing - business documents, court records, dreams and omens, educational primers, mathematics, myths and rituals and works of reference - a whole world now lying in innumerable fragments on museum shelves or still buried in Iraq. He take us through the many 'flood tablets' which have been identified since George Smith made his epoch-making identification in 1872, not just the nine main texts in Sumerian and Akkadian but the related sources in Genesis, the Qur'an and the Greco-Babylonian Berossus, then, conjuror-like, adds his own contribution, an unrecognised version of the Atrahasis myth, the so-called 'Ark Tablet', which gives new details of dimensions, design and construction methods. On this he founds a wholly original theory: in its original Babylonian conception the ark was a gigantic 'quffa', a huge circular coracle. Traces of this extraordinary idea survive in other tablets, and Dr Finkel is able to show how the design evolved from the early reed-boat of the Sumerian texts to the Babylonian circular ark, then to Utnapishti's cube and finally the rectangular box of Genesis 6-9. Necessarily this takes the discussion to the relationship with Genesis, and the author seeks to argue, again in my view convincingly, that we are not dealing with parallel, independent traditions but direct literary dependence, in which a version of the Utnapishti narrative in Gilgamesh XI was incorporated in Genesis at the time of the Babylonian Exile (597-538 BC). Here he has useful things to say about the crisis in Judaean history and its effects. There is a large measure of speculation in all this - maybe the author lets his enthusiasms run away with him at times - but there is nothing in the book that is not scholarly or worth considering. There is also valuable supporting material about the construction of coracle boats in Iraq, now alas a lost art, drawn from the pages of the Mariner's Mirror. This is a fascinating and rewarding investigation, and I thoroughly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2014
This book is an amazing detective story about a clay tablet, brought into the British Museum about six years ago, which turned out to contain the design specifications of Noah’s Ark. The author is an expert in cuneiform writing, the oldest writing known to us, and in this book he describes how – with increasing astonishment and excitement – he gradually realised as he painstakingly translated the tablet, what it contained. The book then takes us on a tour of other aspects of the story including how the Flood Story probably reached the Bible through the Jews in captivity in Babylon during the period from which the tablet dates, and at which time the Old testament was being put together. So there are at least two fascinating and important themes dealt with in the book – how to build an Ark, and how the Old Testament came into being. There is a third also as Finkel believes that this was around when monothesim evolved – with fundamental consequences for religion and religious tolerance.

And the really amazing thing is how accessible entertaining the book is, written with expert knowledge, wry wit, enthusiam and excitement. Considering the serious subject matter it is astonishingly readable. It is history but told entertainingly as a detective thriller – incredible. Really worth buying.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2014
The cuneiform tablets found in the royal library at Nineveh have provided much of the material for Irving Finkel's review of flood stories down the ages. This is a fascinating and comprehensive examination of the flood stories and their origins. Mr Finkel's erudition astonishes.
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