Most of us have seen various depictions of Noah’s Ark—from the large, box-like vessel to the one in children’s nurseries with the giraffes’ heads sticking out the top. But what did the Ark really look like? Can we really know for sure?
Depicting the Ark—A Sign of the Times?
Noah’s Ark has been a popular subject for artists throughout the centuries. However, it is not easy to adequately depict this vessel because the description in Genesis 6 is very brief. To paint a complete picture, the artist must assume some important details.
As the invention of Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press in the 1400s made rapid and widespread distribution of the Holy Scriptures possible, Noah’s Ark quickly became the subject of lavish illustrations. Many designs were pictured, and some were more biblical than others. Often, artists distorted the biblical specifications to match the ships of the day. For instance, the picture shown in figure 1 has the hull of a caravel, which was similar to two of the small sailing vessels used by Christopher Columbus in 1492.
Unlike most other artists, Athanasius Kircher (a Jesuit scientist, 1602–1680) was committed to accurately depicting the massive Ark specified in Genesis. He has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci for his inventiveness and his works’ breadth and depth. This early “creation scientist” calculated the number of animals that could fit in the Ark, allowing space for provisions and Noah’s family. His realistic designs (figure 2) set the standard for generations of artists.
For the next two centuries, Bible artists stopped taking Noah’s Ark quite so seriously, and ignored the explicit biblical dimensions in their illustrations. These artists simply reflected the scholars of the day, who had rejected the Bible’s history of the world. Few Christians living in 1960 had ever seen a biblically based rendering of Noah’s Ark. Cute bathtub shapes and smiling cartoonish animals illustrated the pervasive belief that Noah’s Ark was nothing more than a tool for character-building through fictionalized storytelling.
Then in 1961 Dr. John Whitcomb and Dr. Henry Morris published The Genesis Flood, which made sense of a global cataclysm and a real, shiplike Noah’s Ark. This book was a huge thrust to help begin the modern creationist movement.