THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A small basket-like item was placed in front of the dais at Press Club where Irving Finkel, a renowned curator at British Museum, London, was to deliver ‘A Great Adventure: The Ark Before Noah’. It certainly had to be Noah’s Ark.
Oh! Wait a minute! Finkel will not take kindly to that statement! For the little coracle was to represent his biggest discovery-how the flood story, which was in circulation even in Mesopotamia, was transmitted to Hebrew tradition.
He was not the first to discover that Mesopotamia had a Great Flood story. In 1876, George Smith, who went on to become an assistant at British Museum, came across a cuneiform tablet. It had the eleventh chapter of the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ in which Ut-Naphishtim plays the role of Noah.
He, according to Finkel, must have been disconcerted like all Christians of the times who knew their Bible backwards. “The words of Genesis almost seemed to come out of the tablet’s surface,” said Finkel with all the necessary theatrics of a story-teller during his lecture.
Years later, when a young man walked through British Museum doors and placed another cuneiform tablet before Finkel, the latter was as shocked as Smith was. “An Assyrian heart attack,” said Finkel. In the story, Atrhasis, a mortal, is assigned the important job of saving the world. The god Enki does not talk in superlatives, but gives the dimensions for an enormous Ark.
“Everything in it was new and unexpected,” says Finkel. For one, the Ark was circular, the shape of a coracle. He rang up Nobel prize winning mathematicians to decode the units and numbers, and worked out a deal with the ‘cheapest one’. Finkel flew to Kerala to rebuild a scaled down version of the Babylonian Ark, once a collaboration with a documentary filmmaker worked out. Would you know the Ark was rebuilt in Punnamada lake in 2014? It was dismantled, since it could be ferried to British museum.