Hanok's Ark

Two months ago I watched a TV documentary called ‘The Real Noah’s Ark - Secret History’, presented by Dr Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper of Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures at The British Museum. Finkel is one of the few people in the world who reads cuneiform. A couple of years ago, a man brought into the Museum some artefacts bought by his father in Egypt in 1948. Among them was a Babylonian tablet detailing instructions for building the Ark.

Finkel was tremendously excited by the tablet, especially since it states the Ark was to be built circular in shape. He discovered that the marsh-dwellers of Iraq (ancient Babylon) have always built a traditional circular boat. Finkel decided to find some archaeological boat-builders and reconstruct the Ark. The dimensions given on the tablet were far too large for them to reproduce, but they built the boat as large as they could. By then, Iraq had become too dangerous to work in, so they built the boat in Kerala in southern India. They followed exactly the instructions given on the tablet and, after a few hitches with tar etc., were delighted to find that the final boat turned out to be waterproof and seaworthy. (See photograph of the finished boat). Finkel says both in the book and in the documentary that he doesn’t understand why a tradition should have grown up of the Ark being a house on a boat, and he now thinks he has proved conclusively how the Ark looked.

Reading Finkel’s book, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood, I was intrigued to see that he sets out of a number of versions of the Noah’s Ark story: a Sumerian version, several Babylonian versions, and the Genesis version. Comparing the names in the Kolbrin with the different versions Finkel sets out, it looks as if the Kolbrin story is taken from the Sumerian version, the oldest version of all. In the Kolbrin version, the boat is not circular.

I then looked at the Floodtale in the Celtic books of the Kolbrin. According to this tale, two vessels were witnessed by survivors of the Flood. One was a vessel with a house on a high platform; the other was the ‘Brimcofer’ - ‘Upon the surging waters was another wave-tossed craft, the great Brimcofer of Hestabel the Wildwave Wanderer, Slayer of Niktoran the waterbeast, Worker of Strange Metals.’

‘Brimcofer’ is a strange word. I couldn’t find it in the 1937 Oxford English Dictionary (which gives the earliest-known use of words and their etymology), so I tried dividing it into its component parts, ‘brim’ and ‘cofer’, and looked each word up separately. They are both there:

The first meaning given for ‘brim’, is: An old poetical word for the sea; also ‘flood’ water. Obsolete by Middle English.

For ‘cofer’ I found: Obsolete. A coffer, an ark. Applied to Noah’s Ark, the ark of bulrushes in which Moses was laid, and the ‘ark of God’.

So, ‘Brimcofer’ is clearly an authentic, obsolete name for the Ark of the Flood.