What is significant about the Ark of the Covenant? What is it?

In Genesis, God had Noah create an ark—a sanctuary for some of those things God had placed man in charge of, namely animals. In Exodus, God gave Moses instructions for a different type of ark. An ornate box that was to hold some of the law God had given the Israelites to be in charge of the Ten Commandments. It was also a marker for where the presence of God would rest and where God would talk to His people.

The Ark of the Covenant was a different kind of religious symbol than the Israelites were used to. It was not a statue meant to represent the physical manifestation of a god. It was not a container for God—it was to be respected but not worshipped. Instead, it was a place where God and man could meet. Both literally, as God would hover over the Ark when the priests approached it, and figuratively through the law that was kept inside. That law was the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written (Deuteronomy 10:2). These commandments were key in the covenant for which the Ark was named. If Israel followed the Ten Commandments and, as they represented, the rest of the Law God gave to Moses, God would always be in their presence.

In Exodus 16:32-33, Moses told his brother Aaron to take a jar of manna and place it before the Ark as a remembrance of how God provided for the Israelites. In Numbers 17:1-11, as a way of validating the choice of Aaron for High Priest, God made Aaron's staff grow buds, flowers, and almonds. God then told Moses to put Aaron's rod "before the testimony." Hebrews 9:4 is a bit confusing. It appears to say that the manna and the rod were inside the Ark. Looking more closely, however, the passage says the manna and the rod were inside the Holy of Holies (verse 3), which 1 Kings 8:9 confirms.

The Ark of the Covenant was basically a box with an ornate top. It was made of acacia wood, overlaid with gold. Four cast gold rings were fastened to the feet. Long poles fit through the rings so the priests could carry the box—the only method of transport authorized (1 Chronicles 13:7-10). (Of course, pure gold could not have held the weight of the ark, but if refining techniques were more primitive, the gold would not have been as pure.)

The lid was called the "mercy seat." On the lid were two gold cherubim, facing each other, with wings spread upward and covering the seat. God's presence hovered above the seat, between the cherubim, when He talked to the priest. It's possible that God used the wings to protect the priest from seeing His glory (see Ezekiel 1).

Moses had the Ark of the Covenant built while the Israelites were still wandering the desert. When the priests weren't carrying it, it was held in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. After Solomon built the Temple, it was moved there. Save for occasional visits to the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:3-11), the home of Obed-edom the Gittite (2 Samuel 6:1-11), and the Israelite army (2 Samuel 11:11), the Ark usually stayed in the Temple. At some point, it disappeared, and by the time the Babylonians took the Jews into captivity, the record of its location was lost. The Apostle John recorded in Revelation 11:19 that he saw the Ark in the temple in heaven.

We still do not know where the Ark is to this day, although there are rumours. Second Maccabees 2:4-10 says that Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to have the Ark in a treasury that they keep behind locked doors. There are also legends that the Knights Templar or Freemasons have it, but none of these stories is likely. Not even that Indiana Jones found it in Tanis, Egypt, and brought it to America where the government stored it in a warehouse.

Jeremiah 3:15-18 talks about a time when the Ark will no longer be needed or missed. At that time, the Jews will freely and completely follow God. Jerusalem, itself, will be God's throne. We will no longer have to hide from God's presence behind angels' wings, real or gold.

New Information Says the Lost Ark of the Covenant May Be Under Secret Protection In Ethiopia

Where is the Ark of the Covenant? The location of one of the Bible’s most infamous ancient relics has befuddled archaeologists, thrillseekers and biblical scavenger hunters for millennia. But now the US-based Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration Institute (BASE for short) thinks they might have a bead on its whereabouts: an Ethiopian church, where it is being closely guarded by an ancient monastic order.

First, some history. According to the Book of Exodus, the Ark of the Covenant was built by the Jews while they were wandering in the desert, en route to the Promised Land. It was conceived as an easily transportable resting place for God — a sign of His presence among the Israelites — until years later, when Solomon could build an actual temple. The ark was a gold-covered wood chest that contained the Ten Commandments, the staff of Moses’ brother Aaron and some of the mana that God showered the Hebrews with for their daily food. It was treated with great reverence, generally hidden from view and never touched by human hands. After the building of the temple, the Ark of the Covenant was housed within.

But the Bible has no record of what became of the Ark of the Covenant following the fall of Israel to the Babylonian empire in 587 BC. Some ancient texts say it was carried off to Babylon as a trophy, while others say some Hebrew escapees hid the Ark in nearby mountains. One popular American legend says it was captured by the Nazis before it melted their faces off. The truth is, nobody knows for sure.

And that’s still true, but BASE researchers say “What we have concluded is that St. Mary’s of Zion church in Axum, Ethiopia, is the resting place either of an incredible replica of the biblical Ark of the Covenant, or, of the actual Ark of the Covenant itself.”

The theory would be that a group of Jews sneaked the Ark away from the Babylonian conquerors and took it to Egypt, eventually fleeing up the Nile before arriving at the Ark’s current alleged resting place in Ethiopia. Monks at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in the city of Axum told BASE investigators that the Ark of the Covenant was hidden within, but would not let them see it (which, judging by the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, is for the best) and this is where things start to really sound like an old action yarn.
‘I was able to speak, through an interpreter, with the Guardian of the Ark, who told me that no other man beside himself could lay eyes on the Ark, that it was an absolutely holy object. He said that the world would not be allowed to pollute it by looking at it. He added that he and the villagers would protect the Ark with their lives, if necessary.

The researchers did find two people who claimed to have seen the Ark. One was a 105-year-old priest who said that twice in his lifetime, a so-called “Guardian of the Ark” had passed away and a new, younger man had to be trained in the religious rituals of the mantle. On those occasions, the researchers say, the old priest saw the Ark and “he described it as a gold box with two winged angels on top.”

Well, that certainly checks out with the biblical description, although it also could just confirm that these guys have access to flannelgraph technology. Nevertheless, assuming the Ark wasn’t destroyed by the Babylonians, the Ark is somewhere. Ethiopia is as good a spot as any.

What is the Ark of the Covenant?

Answer: God made a covenant (a conditional covenant) with the children of Israel through His servant Moses. He promised good to them and their children for generations if they obeyed Him and His laws; but He always warned of despair, punishment, and dispersion if they were to disobey. As a sign of His covenant, He had the Israelites make a box according to His own design, in which to place the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. This box, or chest, was called an “ark” and was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The Ark was to be housed in the inner sanctum of the tabernacle in the desert and eventually in the Temple when it was built in Jerusalem. This chest is known as the Ark of the Covenant.

The real significance of the Ark of the Covenant was what took place involving the lid of the box, known as the "Mercy Seat." The term ‘mercy seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel or make atonement for.” It was here that the high priest, only once a year (Leviticus 16), entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept and atoned for his sins and the sins of the Israelites. The priest sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed animal onto the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God for past sins committed. This was the only place in the world where this atonement could take place.

The Mercy Seat on the Ark was a symbolic foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice for all sin—the blood of Christ shed on the cross for the remission of sins. The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and one familiar with the Old Testament, knew this concept quite well when he wrote about Christ being our covering for sin in Romans 3:24-25: "…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." Just as there was only one place for the atonement of sins in the Old Testament—the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant—so there is also only one place for atonement in the New Testament and current times—the cross of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we no longer look to the Ark but to the Lord Jesus Himself as the propitiation and atonement for our sins.

Caring for the Animals on the Ark

While it is possible that God made miraculous provisions for the daily care of these animals, it is not necessary—or required by Scripture—to appeal to miracles. According to Scripture, Noah’s Ark was a safe haven for representatives of all the kinds of air-breathing land animals that God created. While it is possible that God made miraculous provisions for the daily care of these animals, it is not necessary—or required by Scripture—to appeal to miracles. Exploring natural solutions for day-to-day operations does not discount God’s role: the biblical account hints at plenty of miracles as written, such as God bringing the animals to the Ark (Genesis 6:20; 7:9, 15). It turns out that a study of existing, low-tech animal care methods answers trivial objections to the Ark. In fact, many solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems are rather straightforward.

How Did Noah Fit All the Animals on the Ark?
According to the Bible, the Ark had three decks (floors). It is not difficult to show that there was plenty of room for 16,000 animals (the maximum number of animals on the Ark, if the most liberal approach to counting animals is applied), assuming they required approximately the same floor space as animals in typical farm enclosures and laboratories. The vast majority of the creatures (birds, reptiles, and mammals) were small (the largest only a few hundred pounds of body weight). What’s more, many could have been housed in groups, which would have further reduced the required space.

It is still necessary to take account of the floor spaces required by large animals, such as elephants and rhinos. But even these, collectively, do not require a large area because it is most likely that these animals were young, but not newborns. Even the largest dinosaurs were relatively small when only a few years old.

What Did the Dinosaurs Eat?
Dinosaurs could have eaten basically the same foods as the other animals. The large sauropods could have eaten compressed hay, other dried plant material, seeds and grains, and the like. Carnivorous dinosaurs—if any were meat-eaters before the Flood—could have eaten dried meat, reconstituted dried meat, or slaughtered animals. Giant tortoises would have been ideal to use as food in this regard. They were large and needed little food to be maintained. There are also exotic sources of meat, such as fish that wrap themselves in dry cocoons. How Were the Animals Cared For?
We must distinguish between the long-term care required for animals kept in zoos and the temporary, emergency care required on the Ark. The animals’ comfort and healthy appearance were not essential for emergency survival during one stressful year, where survival was the primary goal.

Studies of nonmechanized animal care indicate that eight people could have fed and watered 16,000 creatures. The key is to avoid unnecessary walking around. As the old adage says, “Don’t work harder, work smarter.”

Therefore, Noah probably stored the food and water near each animal. Even better, drinking water could have been piped into troughs, just as the Chinese have used bamboo pipes for this purpose for thousands of years. The use of some sort of self-feeders, as is commonly done for birds, would have been relatively easy and probably essential. Animals that required special care or diets were uncommon and should not have needed an inordinate amount of time from the handlers. Even animals with the most specialized diets in nature could have been switched to readily sustainable substitute diets. Of course, this assumes that animals with specialized diets today were likewise specialized at the time of the Flood.
How Did the Animals Breathe?
Based on my two decades of research, I do not believe that anything more was needed than a basic, non-mechanical ventilation system. The density of animals on the Ark, compared to the volume of enclosed space, was much less than we find in some modern, mass animal housing used to keep stock raised for food (such as chicken farms), which requires no special mechanical ventilation.

It is reasonable to believe that one relatively small window would have adequately ventilated the Ark. Of course, if there were a window along the top centre section, which the Bible allows, all occupants would be even more comfortable. It is also interesting to note that the convective movement of air, driven by temperature differences between the warm-blooded animals and the cold interior surfaces, would have been significant enough to drive the flow of air. Plus, wind blowing into the window would have enhanced the ventilation further. However, if supplementary ventilation was necessary, it could have been provided by wave motion, fire thermal, or even a small number of animals harnessed to slow-moving rotary fans.

What Did Noah and His Family Do with the Animal Waste?
As much as 12 U.S. tons (11 m. tons) of animal waste may have been produced daily. The key to keeping the enclosures clean was to avoid the need for Noah and his family to do the work. The right systems could also prevent the need to change animal bedding. Noah could have accomplished this in several ways. One possibility would be to allow the waste to accumulate below the animals, much as we see in modern pet shops. In this regard, there could have been slatted floors, and animals could have trampled their waste into the pits below. Small animals, such as birds, could have multiple levels in their enclosures, and waste could have simply accumulated at the bottom of each.
Proposed manure removing plan for the Ark

The danger of toxic or explosive manure gases, such as methane, would be alleviated by the constant movement of the Ark, which would have allowed manure gases to be constantly released. Secondly, methane, which is half the density of air, would quickly find its way out of a small opening such as a window. There is no reason to believe that the levels of these gases within the Ark would have approached hazardous levels.

Alternatively, sloped floors would have allowed the waste to flow into large central gutters. Noah’s family could have then dumped this overboard without an excessive expenditure of manpower.

The problem of manure odour may, at first thought, seem insurmountable. But we must remember that, throughout most of human history, humans lived together with their farm animals. Barns, separate from human living quarters, are a relatively recent development.

While the voyage of the Ark may not have been comfortable or easy, it was certainly doable, even under such unprecedented circumstances.

A Look Inside the Ark

This is a cross-section view of a possible design of the interior of the Ark.

Possible Ark layout

the Decks
Genesis 6:16 instructs that the Ark is to be made “with lower, second, and third decks” (NKJV). In this version of the Ark’s interior, there are two levels that do not extend across the entire width of the ship. These half-floors are not separate levels.

Animal Housing
Genesis 6:14 instructs Noah to “make rooms [nests] in the ark” (NKJV). These rooms or nests would simply be stalls and cages for the animals.

A model of the Ark

This scale model shows the effective design of Noah’s Ark. This second-floor model shows the extra half-floor within the three deck structure that could have been used for possible storage or animal housing.

Several staircases and ladders could be fitted throughout the Ark to gain quick access to another deck. Ramps near the ends of the hull (as seen in Thinking Outside the Box) could be used to get animals and heavy loads between decks.

Food & Water
Mezzanine levels improve access to food storage, utilizing gravity to supply grain and water to the animal enclosures below. Water could be directed in pipes (metal, wood, leather, bamboo, etc.) from tanks on upper levels.

Light & Ventilation
The central skylight provides lighting and ventilation to the center section of the Ark. Slatted floors maximize airflow to the lower decks.

No Kind Left Behind Recounting the Animals on the Ark

We’ve all seen images of giraffes, zebras, and elephants boarding Noah’s Ark. But what did Noah’s floating zoo really look like? The answer is sure to surprise us … and to remind us that there’s much more to the Ark than we ever imagined. Imagine gathering all the kinds of land animals that ever lived in one place. What a zoo that would be! Recently, Answers in Genesis began work on its Ark Encounter outreach project, to build a full-sized Ark and populate it with a sampling of the animals that Noah may have brought on board. Which animals were there? How many?

Helping to find the answer is this palaeontologist’s dream come true. Such a project requires gathering data on every kind of creature ever discovered, sifting through the list, and calculating which ones showed up at Noah’s door. In addition to rabbits, elephants, and tigers, most creationists now recognize that dinosaurs must have tromped onboard the Ark, along with flying pterosaurs. A few enterprising artists have shown kangaroos, lemurs, birds of paradise, and even sabre-toothed cats and mammoths. But what about all the other unbelievable beasts in the fossil record?

Few people realize just how many bizarre-looking creatures once made earth their home—boomerang-headed amphibians; car-sized reptiles that ate plants; and giant, horned, elephant-sized mammals that look like beasts from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. These are just some of the amazing creatures known to palaeontologists but little-known to the general public. These and many other extinct animals belong to “kinds” completely different from anything living today.

Did Noah have to make room for all these creatures, too? After all, every kind of air-breathing land animal had to be on the Ark. No matter how rare an animal is, a representative of its kind had to board the Ark. Yet how could they fit, especially since the number of named animal species, living and extinct, exceeds one million?

First Step: Biblical Clues
The first step is to examine the Bible to see what instructions God gave to Noah concerning animals and the Ark. Only “living creatures” (Hebrew: nephesh) were to be brought on the Ark (Genesis 6:19–20; 7:2–3; 7:8–9). That excludes plants, bacteria, and fungi. The only plants brought on board the Ark were used for food. All other plants were presumably left outside. Also excluded were fish and other aquatic organisms. After all, Noah did not need to build an aquarium for the Ark!

Noah’s job was to care only for flying creatures and air-breathing land animals: “Bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive” (Genesis 6:18–20, NIV).

The term “living creatures” is the same as in Genesis 1, which includes birds, larger domestic and wild animals, and small, scurrying animals. This list likely includes small vertebrates, such as rodents and lizards, and possibly invertebrates, such as insects.

Drawing the Line for Ark Kinds

Over one million animal species have been named, but it’s a mistake to assume all were on the Ark. The Bible says Noah took only air-breathing land animals. So that excludes sea creatures and possibly insects and other invertebrates. Of the land vertebrates, there are only around 33,000 named living species (and a few thousand more fossil species). These are divided into fewer than 10,000 genera and 1,000 families.
So how many kinds of animals were on the Ark? The answer depends on which modern taxonomic level—order, family, genus, or species—represents each original “kind.” A 1996 study assumed the genus, but the new Ark Encounter is evaluating each family.
Ark kinds

*What About Fossil Species?
The various studies of “kinds” have included fossil creatures in their lists of “families” and “genera.” Determining the number of fossil species is much more difficult. Since vertebrate fossils are often incomplete, there may not be enough material to identify the specimen as a new species of a known genus. Or, the physical differences may simply represent variations within one species, rather than differences between two species.

Previous Work
Even without bacteria, fungi, plants, and sea creatures on the Ark, lots of species remain to be accounted for. The key is to understand the word used in Scripture: kind (Hebrew: min). The Bible does not say God brought every individual or every species to Noah, since species is a modern concept. Instead, He brought a male and female of every “kind” (and seven of the clean animals).2

Over the centuries, there have been several estimates on the numbers and types of animals brought aboard Noah’s Ark. The first significant attempt was by the French mathematician Johannes Buteo (ca. 1492–1564).3 He went through all known animals, including the ones known from newly discovered North and South America. He estimated about 100 total “kinds,” or 300 individuals (along with 3,650 sheep to feed the carnivores on the ship). These were all mammals because he did not think it necessary to count reptiles and birds separately, which could more easily find space. (He didn’t know about dinosaurs!)

Our understanding of biology has grown steadily over the centuries, leading us closer to the true number. We now know more about the full diversity of land animals, for instance. We have also learned that many species may belong to the same kind. If species can interbreed and produce hybrids, it is assumed that they descended from a pair of animals on the Ark that could interbreed.

For instance, big cats like lions and tigers can be interbred with each other, creating hybrid “ligers” and “tigons.” Indeed, it appears that all members of the cat family (Felidae) may be connected through a series of hybrid pairings that ultimately connects different cat species to each other. In such cases, it seems that only one original “kind” onboard the Ark produced all of these species. So if “kind” is above species, where does it lie in our modern taxonomy?

One of the most important studies among young-earth creationists was by John Woodmorappe in his technical book Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study.4 For the sake of argument, he chose the taxonomic rank just above the species—the genus. On this basis, he estimated that approximately 16,000 terrestrial vertebrate animals (consisting of nearly 8,000 genera of reptiles, mammals, and birds) were on board. However, Woodmorappe considered this a deliberate and huge overestimation, since he suspected that the “kind” was broader than the genus.5 Newer studies have indicated that “kinds” were generally at the level of family.6

Current Approach
When Answers in Genesis decided to move forward with the Ark Encounter project, they needed to take another look at the “Ark kinds.” Partnering with other creation scientists, the Ark Encounter team is working toward a full tally and description of the “kinds” likely represented on the Ark.

In 2011, the initial team of creationists published an article detailing the approach they would take.7 The team will rely on all the best available scientific methods and pieces of evidence, including breeding records and statistical studies. Based on past studies, the team recognized that the taxonomic rank of family is the closest representation of the “kind.” This is not to say that the “kind” and the family are identical in every case: the team may determine that a few “kinds” are broader or narrower than families, as they explore all the available information.

Team members Jean Lightner and Tom Hennigan have been the lead researchers on the terrestrial vertebrates and doing the bulk of the work. Both have years of experience in “kinds” studies—Jean is a veterinarian and Tom an ecologist and associate professor at a Christian college. While the list of various living families of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds is large (it includes hundreds of families), it is not as large as Woodmorappe’s estimates.

Georgia Purdom, a geneticist with Answers in Genesis, oversees the whole project. In 2011 she approached me about assisting with the number of extinct families from the fossil record, and I was thrilled. In the first phase, a student and I published an estimate of the number of both living and extinct families based on leading references.8 That paper suggested 719 total kinds of mammals, terrestrial reptiles, and birds. We did not include amphibians, but the future studies will.

So, How Many Were There?
Currently, I am overseeing students in vertebrate paleontology at Liberty University to finalize a list of extinct families. Jean Lightner and Tom Hennigan are finalizing numbers of living families.

So far, the current estimate of living and extinct vertebrate families is about 950. While we will continue to evaluate these families to see if they should be split up or combined with other families for our final estimate of the “kinds,” 950 families is a good approximation. Given that most animals were brought onto the Ark by twos, while “clean” birds and mammals were brought by sevens, this means that Noah cared for approximately two thousand land-dwelling vertebrate animals.

More to Come!
The Ark Encounter team has just begun publishing the final estimate of Ark “kinds” in peer-reviewed creationist literature as a series of technical papers. The first paper, by Jean Lightner, was published in November of 2012.9 Each paper will discuss the methods, the resulting numbers of “kinds,” and descriptions of each. Combined, these works will help the Ark Encounter artists and planners faithfully represent these creatures in the full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark. Some no doubt will be familiar, but others will be unlike any animals you’ve ever seen! The amazing variety of God’s initial work at creation far exceeds the greatly limited variety we see among surviving species today.

The fossil record has expanded our imaginations about the wonderful possibilities of God’s creation. By His grace and by His leading, the Ark Encounter team hopes, once again, to give a loud witness to the Creator’s amazing wisdom, His judgment of sin during the Flood, and His provision of salvation. Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Creator of the universe, is the One who brought the animals to Noah to be saved. Later He died on the Cross for sins so all who would come to Him would be saved for eternity.
The Ark Encounter team was unsure about the status of insects as land animals with “the breath of life” (Genesis 7:15), but space is still being allotted for them on the Ark (which is very minimal because of their size). We need to be careful not to equate modern labels with biblical words. Hebrew has no equivalent for “invertebrates,” though there are terms for a number of specific invertebrates, such as lice, locusts, spiders, gnats, and even leeches.
Probably seven pairs, but the Hebrew here is equivocal, as it could mean individuals. Our tally will use seven pairs so as not to underestimate the numbers of clean animals on board the Ark.
Buteo’s work has recently been translated into English: T. Griffith and N. Monette, tran., Johannes Buteo’s The Shape and Capacity of Noah’s Ark, CORE Issues in Creation no. 2 (2008).
J. Woodmorappe, Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study (Santee, California: Institute for Creation Research, 1996).
In fact, Woodmorappe chose the genus level so that he could demonstrate that even with unrealistically large numbers, Noah and his family could still care for all the animals on board the Ark.
See Todd C. Wood and Paul A. Garner, eds., Genesis Kinds: Creationism and the Origin of Species, CORE Issues in Creation no. 5 (2009): 129–161. For example, creation palaeontologist Kurt Wise examined the sequence of mammal fossils since the Flood and estimated fewer than 300 mammal “kinds” on the Ark, some at the family level and others at the suborder level. See ”Mammal Kinds: How Many Were on the Ark?”
J. Lightner et al., “Determining the Ark Kinds,” Answers Research Journal 4 (2011): 195–201.
S. Beech and M. R. Ross, “A Preliminary (Re-)estimation of the Ark Kinds,” Journal of Creation Theology and Science, Series C (Geology) 2 (2011): 1.
J. K. Lightner, “Mammalian Ark Kinds,” Answers Research Journal 5 (2012): 151–204.

How Many People Built the Ark?

Ever since we announced the plans to build a full-sized ark in northern Kentucky, we have received a “flood” of inquiries. As you can imagine, questions have come from excited supporters, ardent sceptics, and others who are somewhere in between these groups. As we mentioned in last week’s article, our plan is to regularly address the numerous questions and concerns raised about the Ark Encounter project, as well as about the real Noah’s Ark and global Flood described in God’s Word.

Did Eight People Build the Ark?
Several people have asked why some of our promotional artwork has depicted more than eight people involved in constructing Noah’s Ark since the Bible seems to indicate that the Ark was built by Noah and his family. As we will see, Scripture does not explicitly state this. It is true that only eight people were on board the Ark during the Flood. Genesis 7:13 states, “On the very same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark.” This number is confirmed by the Apostle Peter in the New Testament, who stated that only “eight souls” were saved from the Flood (1 Peter 3:20; see also 2 Peter 2:5).

People Working on the Ark

Notice that the Bible tells us how many people were on board the Ark, but it does not tell us how many people were involved in building it. God told Noah to build it and gave him specifications regarding the Ark’s construction materials (Genesis 6:14), size (Genesis 6:15), and cargo (Genesis 6:18–21).

Genesis also reveals that mankind was extremely wicked in the days before the Flood. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Several verses later, we are told, “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Genesis 6:11–12).

Sandwiched between these two passages is a brief description of Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He is also described as a just man who walked with God and was blameless in his time (Genesis 6:8–9).

Construction Crew for the Ark
The Ark Encounter picture of the Ark’s construction depicts roughly two dozen people building the boat. There are a couple of possibilities as to who these people could have been.

First, they could have been additional family members. Although Genesis mentions Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, it does not tell us about his extended family. He may have had many brothers and sisters who might have been willing to help with the project. The genealogy in Genesis 5 lists the age of each of Noah’s ancestors when his son of record was born and at his death. It is interesting to note that Methuselah (Noah’s grandfather) died in the year the Flood started and Lamech (Noah’s father) died five years before that. So they may have helped with the construction of the Ark. However, in our picture, the Ark is nearly complete, so it is unlikely that these men were involved at this point in the construction.
Another possibility is that Noah hired people to help him build the Ark. The Bible does stress the wickedness of man prior to the Flood, but just like today, ungodly people may have been willing to work for a godly man. Answers in Genesis had several unbelieving contractors who helped at different stages of the Creation Museum’s construction, and we praise God that we had opportunities to witness to them and that some of them trusted in Christ. As a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), Noah could have used this opportunity to proclaim God’s message to unbelievers working for him.
There is also a possibility that Noah employed the use of animals for hauling and lifting heavy loads or other purposes. He may have also had access to sophisticated mechanisms and technology that people have not considered.


The fact of the matter is that the Bible does not limit the number of people who worked on the Ark. While we would not be dogmatic on this point, it is consistent with God’s Word to believe that more than eight people were involved in the Ark’s construction.

What Did Noah’s Ark Look Like?

While the Bible gives us essential details on many things, including the size and proportions of Noah’s Ark, it does not necessarily specify the precise shape of this vessel. It is important to understand, however, that this lack of physical description is consistent with other historical accounts in Scripture.1 So how should we illustrate what the Ark looked like? The two main options include a default rectangular shape reflecting the lack of specific detail and a more fleshed-out design that incorporates principles of ship design from maritime science while remaining consistent with the Bible’s size and proportions.

Genesis describes the Ark in three verses, which require careful examination:

6:14—“Make yourself an ark [tebah] of gopher wood; make rooms [qinniym] in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch [kofer].
6:15—“And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.
6:16—“You shall make a window [tsohar] for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above, and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks” (NKJV).
Most Bibles make some unusual translation choices for certain keywords. Elsewhere in the Bible the Hebrew word translated here as “rooms” is usually rendered “nests”; “pitch” would normally be called “covering”; and “window” would be “noon light.” Using these more typical meanings, the Ark would be something like this:

The tebah (Ark) was made from gopher wood, it had nests inside, and it was covered with a pitch-like substance inside and out. It was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. It had a noon light that ended a cubit upward and above, it had a door in the side, and there were three decks. (For the meaning of “upward and above,” see point #2 on the diagram below.)

As divine specifications go, Moses offered more elaborate details about the construction of the Tabernacle, which suggests this might be the abridged version of Noah’s complete directions. On the other hand, consider how wise Noah must have been after having lived several centuries. The instructions that we have recorded in Genesis may be all he needed to be told. But in any case, 300 cubits is a big ship, not some whimsical houseboat with giraffe necks sticking out the top.
The scale of the Ark is huge yet remarkably realistic when compared to the largest wooden ships in history. The proportions are even more amazing—they are just like a modern cargo ship. In fact, a 1993 Korean study was unable to find fault with the specifications (see sidebar “Scientific Study Endorses Seaworthiness of Ark” below).

All this makes nonsense of the claim that Genesis was written only a few centuries before Christ, as a mere retelling of earlier Babylonian flood legends such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh story describes a cube-shaped ark, which would have given a dangerously rough ride. This is neither accurate nor scientific. Noah’s Ark is the original, while the Gilgamesh Epic is a later distortion.

Scientific Study Endorses Seaworthiness of Ark

The proportions of the Ark were found to carefully balance the conflicting demands of stability, comfort, and strength.

Ark balance

Noah’s Ark was the focus of a major 1993 scientific study headed by Dr Seon Hong at the world-class ship research centre KRISO, based in Daejeon, South Korea. Dr Hong’s team compared twelve hulls of different proportions to discover which design was most practical. No hull shape was found to significantly outperform the 4,300-year-old biblical design. In fact, the Ark’s careful balance is easily lost if the proportions are modified, rendering the vessel either unstable, prone to fracture, or dangerously uncomfortable.

The research team found that the proportions of Noah’s Ark carefully balanced the conflicting demands of stability (resistance to capsizing), comfort (“seakeeping”), and strength. In fact, the Ark has the same proportions as a modern cargo ship.

Dr Seon Won Hong
The study also confirmed that the Ark could handle waves as high as 100 ft (30 m). Dr. Hong is now director general of the facility and claims “life came from the sea,” obviously not the words of a creationist on a mission to promote the worldwide Flood. Endorsing the seaworthiness of Noah’s Ark obviously did not damage Dr Hong’s credibility.
What About the Shape?
For many years biblical creationists have simply depicted the Ark as a rectangular box. This helped emphasize its size. It was easy to explain capacity and illustrate how easily the Ark could have handled the payload. With the rectangular shape, the Ark’s stability against rolling could even be demonstrated by simple calculations.

Yet the Bible does not say the Ark must be a rectangular box. In fact, Scripture does not elaborate about the shape of Noah’s Ark beyond those superb, overall proportions—length, breadth, and depth. Ships have long been described like this without implying a block-shaped hull.

In Hebrew “Ark” is the obscure term tebah, a word that appears only one other time when it describes the basket that carried baby Moses (Exodus 2:3). One was a huge, wooden ship and the other a tiny, wicker basket. Both floated, both preserved life, and both were covered, but the similarity ends there. If the word implied anything about shape, it would be “an Egyptian basket-like shape,” typically rounded. More likely, however, tebah means something else, like “lifeboat.”2

The Bible leaves the details regarding the shape of the Ark wide open—anything from a rectangular box with hard right angles and no curvature at all to a shiplike form. Box-like has the largest carrying capacity, but a ship-like design would be safer and more comfortable in heavy seas. Such discussion is irrelevant if God intended to sustain the Ark no matter how well designed and executed.

Clues from the Bible
Some question whether the Ark was actually built to handle rough seas, but the Bible gives some clues about the sea conditions during the Flood:

The Ark had the proportions of a seagoing vessel built for waves (Genesis 6:15).
Logically, a mountain-covering, a global flood would not be dead calm (Genesis 7:19).
The Ark moved about on the surface of the waters (Genesis 7:18).
God made a wind to pass over the earth (Genesis 8:1).
The Hebrew word for the Flood (mabbul) could imply being carried along.
The 1993 Korean study showed that some shorter hulls slightly outperformed the Ark model with biblical proportions (see sidebar “Scientific Study Endorses Seaworthiness of Ark” above). The study assumed waves came from every direction, favouring shorter hulls like that of a modern lifeboat. So why was Noah’s Ark so long if it didn’t need to be streamlined for moving through the water?

The answer lies in ride comfort (seakeeping). This requires a longer hull, at the cost of strength and stability, not to mention more wood. The Ark’s high priority for comfort suggests that the anticipated waves must have been substantial.

Designed for Tsunamis?
Was the Ark designed for tsunamis? Not really. Tsunamis devastate coastlines, but when a tsunami travels in deep water, it is almost imperceptible to a ship. During the Flood, the water was probably very deep—there is enough water in today’s oceans to cover relatively flat earth to a consistent depth of over 2 miles (3.2 km). The Bible states that the Ark rose “high above the earth” (Genesis 7:17) and was stranded early (Genesis 8:4), before mountaintops were seen. If the launch was a mirror of the landing—the Ark being the last thing to float—it would have been a deep-water voyage from start to finish.

A cubit upward and above

Window diagram

Any opening on the deck of a ship needs a wall (combing) to prevent water from flowing in, especially when the ship rolls. In this illustration, the window “ends a cubit upward and above,” as described in Genesis 6:16. The central position of the skylight is chosen to reflect the idea of a “noon light.” This also means that the window does not need to be exactly one cubit. Perhaps the skylight had a transparent roof (even more a “noon light”), or the skylight roof could be opened (which might correspond to when “Noah removed the covering of the Ark”). While variations are possible, a window without combing is not the most logical solution.

The worst waves may have been caused by wind, just like today. After several months at sea, God made a wind to pass over the earth. This suggests a large-scale weather pattern likely to produce waves with a dominant direction. It is an established fact that such waves would cause any drifting vessel to be driven sideways (broaching). A long vessel like the Ark would remain locked in this sideways position, an uncomfortable and even dangerous situation in heavy weather.

However, broaching can be avoided if the vessel catches the wind at one end and is “rooted” in the water at the other—turning like a weather vane into the wind. Once the Ark points into the waves, the long proportions create a more comfortable and controlled voyage. It had no need for speed, but the Ark did “move about on the surface of the waters.”

Mortise and tenon planking

Ancient shipbuilders usually began with a shell of planks (strakes) and then built internal framing (ribs) to fit inside. This is the complete reverse of the familiar European method where planking was added to the frame. In shell-first construction, the planks must be attached to each other somehow. Some used overlapping (clinker) planks that were dowelled or nailed, others used rope to sew the planks together. The ancient Greeks used a sophisticated system where the planks were interlocked with thousands of precise mortise and tenon joints. The resulting hull was strong enough to ram another ship, yet light enough to be hauled onto a beach by the crew. If this is what the Greeks could do centuries before Christ, what could Noah do centuries after Tubal-Cain invented forged metal tools?
Mortise and tenon planking

The box-like Ark is not entirely disqualified as a safe option, but sharp edges are more vulnerable to damage during launch and landing. Blunt ends would also produce a rougher ride and allow the vessel to be more easily thrown around (but, of course, God could have miraculously kept the ship’s precious cargo safe, regardless of the comfort factor). Since the Bible gives proportions consistent with those of a true cargo ship, it makes sense that it should look and act like a ship, too.

Something to catch the wind
Wind-driven waves would cause a drifting vessel to turn dangerously side-on to the weather. However, such waves could be safely navigated by making the Ark steer itself with a wind-catching obstruction on the bow. To be effective, this obstruction must be large enough to overcome the turning effect of the waves. While many designs could work, the possibility shown here reflects the high stems which were a hallmark of ancient ships.

Ramps help to get animals and heavy loads between decks. Running them across the hull avoids cutting through important deck beams, and this location is away from the middle of the hull where bending stresses are highest. (This placement also better utilizes the irregular space at bow and stern.)

Something to catch the water
To assist in turning the Ark to point with the wind, the stern should resist being pushed sideways. This is the same as a fixed rudder or skeg that provides directional control. There are many ways this could be done, but here we are reflecting the “mysterious” stern extensions seen on the earliest large ships of the Mediterranean.

Ark dimensions
Scripture gives no clue about the shape of Noah’s Ark beyond its proportions that are given in Genesis 6:15, which reads: “And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits” (NKJV).
Scripture does not record direction-keeping features attached to the Ark. They might have been obvious to a 500-year-old, or perhaps they were common among ships in Noah’s day as they were afterwards. At the same time, the brief specifications in Genesis make no mention of other important details, such as storage of drinking water, disposal of excrement, or the way to get out of the Ark. Obviously Noah needed to know how many animals were coming, but this is not recorded either.
The Bible gives clear instruction for the construction of a number of things, but it does not specify many aspects of the Ark’s construction. Nothing in this newly depicted Ark (as seen on the cover) contradicts Scripture, even though it may be different from more accepted designs. But this design, in fact, shows us just how reasonable Scripture is as it depicts a stable, comfortable, and seaworthy vessel that was capable of fulfilling all the requirements stated in Scripture.

Was Noah’s Ark the Biggest Ship Ever Built?

Few wooden ships have ever come close to the size of Noah’s Ark. One possible challenge comes from the Chinese treasure ships of Yung He in the 1400s. An older contender is the ancient Greek trireme Tessarakonteres.
At first historians dismissed ancient Greek claims that the Tessarakonteres was 425 feet (130 m) long. But as more information was learned, the reputation of these early shipbuilders grew markedly. One of the greatest challenges to the construction of large wooden ships is finding a way to lay planks around the outside in a way that will ensure little or no leaking, which is caused when there is too much movement between the planks. Apparently, the Greeks had access to an extraordinary method of planking that was lost for centuries, and only recently brought to light by marine archaeology.
It is not known when or where this technique originated. Perhaps they used a method that began with the Ark. After all, if the Greeks could do it, why not Noah?
The Ark is near the maximum size that is known to be possible for a wooden vessel.

How Big Was the Ark?

It depends on your cubit size! To get the 510 ft (155 m) given here, we used a cubit of 20.4 in (51.8 cm). See “How Long Was the Original Cubit?” for more information on the length of a cubit.

Ship size comparison
This diagram shows how Noah’s Ark compares to other large ships.
Tim Lovett earned his degree in mechanical engineering from Sydney University (Australia) and was an instructor for 12 years in technical college engineering courses. Tim has studied the Flood and the Ark for nearly 20 years and is widely recognized for his cutting-edge research on the design and structure of Noah’s Ark.

What is significant about the Ark of the Covenant? What is it?

In Genesis, God had Noah create an ark—a sanctuary for some of those things God had placed man in charge of, namely animals. In Exodus, God ...