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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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on 4 May 2014
This was a very interesting book about a very interesting subject. Irving Finkel has tried to explain the history of the well known story about Noah's Ark based upon his studies in Cuneiform and ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets. It is no doubt that Dr Finkel is a world expert on the subject.

There is a lot of information in the book and I learned a lot but the approach to the subject was to in great detail penetrate old Sumerian and Babylonian languages and their written form, Cuneiform. There are large parts of this book that gets very technical and for a serious student in those languages is is probably of great value. My interest was more toward the story itself and of course there are a lot to learn here but it takes some time since you have to go through a lot of Cuneiform discussions.

Dr Finkel tell us how the Ark was constructed, what it looked like and who went on board. There is also a discussion where it ended it's voyage. He is comparing old Babylonian and Assyrian records with the Bible and even the Koran. It is very clear that the story is far older than what is presented in the Bible.

Dr Finkel is also one of those really enjoyable English scholars that lets his fine sense of humor be presented in the book.

But after having more or less proven when the story was created, how the Ark was constructed etc. there are still a lot of questions. If we accept the story of the Ark as a real event, we must also accept that some god told Noah to build it and collect all the animals. If there are no gods, it all falls apart since how would Noah know about the storm so far in advance that he had time to construct, build and man the Ark?

Dr Finkel does not state that the story about Noah's Ark is an historical proven fact, just that the story is very old and that if it is true the Ark would have looked like he describes.

This is far from the last book on the subject but if it interests you read it. It is well wort doing that.
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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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on 28 April 2014
This is partly the wondrous story of how the archetypal 'flood' tale was passed around ancient Mesopotamia, being adapted, extended and condensed as it passed between empires and cultures and down the millenia.

It is also the story of how this evolving tale was recorded, through a variety of cuniform dialects.

Some-where along the way, that really awful river flood --Think 'Mississippi breaks its levées'-- was upgraded to 'global', and a big, but plausible coracle or house-raft became an absurd mega-ship that would break its back and founder in the first long swell, provided it didn't just capsize on taking the water...

The cuniform-inscribed clay tablet at the heart of this book supplies the material list and build instructions for one eponymous, but circular 'survival craft'. Almost identical craft, in a range of sizes, were still in use until the start of the 20th Century. See photos..

Must be said that tablet's tale and this book will infuriate many, many people...
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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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on 3 February 2017
You can't fault Finkel's enthusiasm for his ark projects, but sometimes it felt like he was enjoying writing more than I was enjoying reading. There is quite a lot here on Sumerian cuneiforms which is only slightly interesting for the general reader. On the other hand the journeys he takes us on through ancient Babylon are worth hanging on for. But if you want an examination of the theories of an ancient flood, or if you are a bible literacist, then look elsewhere - most probably in the pseudo history sections. This is scrupulously researched and informative, but it didn't fully engage me.
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on 8 March 2015
From the perspective of this reader this is a very readable book, the subject matter of which is of interest to many. But it is of particular interest to the inquisitive reader who is not content with plain dogmatic statements for answers or for more of the established versions. Or, as in the case of this reader, seeks an expert’s view and opinion, for the story of Noah’s ark is an important part of a much bigger story of great import, the Biblical Deluge.

In this book the author, in the light of new and very recent evidence, has made a painstaking re-assessment of the available evidence starting from the few ancient sources that are known, from what can be gleaned from the remaining texts of these same sources. It is a marvellous piece of detective work in teasing out information, especially from the ancient clay tablets from Mesopotamia.

The first three chapters are a necessary and useful refresher before delving into the subject proper. This is followed by a concise but complete review of the available documentation about the deluge. Most of the rest is then about the ark proper, a treatment as detailed as the non-specialist can hope for.

To this reader the book provided information and answers not readily available anywhere. A review of the texts relating to the Flood, placed in proper perspective by age and language, plus many pertinent and informative comments by the author that are invaluable to other avenues of research. In fact one or two questions raised in the book may have answers from new research in a totally different field.

To anyone with interest in any of the many related subjects, historical, cuneiform, biblical, or whatever, this book is a must-read.
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on 11 July 2017
This is a bit more of an academic book than I expected. Not yet read it from cover to cover as a bit heavy going in places: but I have learned a great deal!
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on 30 January 2018
Dr Irving Finkel's meticulous research and academic skill is brought to bear on Babylonian history and shows through analysis that the 'Flood' myth was appropriated by Hebrew authors who included the Babylonian flood myth in the Hebrew Bible.
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on 8 June 2014
I loved this book. I expected it to be a dry academic account of the Ark Tablet, but it's not only a very well written text on the Sumerian/Babylonian/Biblical flood myth, but is beautifully written, with lots of humorous anecdotes about the entire process of decoding cuneiform tablets. Even if you're not a specialist in Mesopotamian history, this is a splendid, amusing and very readable book.
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