In The Ark Before Noah, British Museum expert Dr Irving Finkel reveals how decoding the symbols on a 4,000 year old piece of clay enable a radical new interpretation of the Noah's Ark myth.
A world authority on the period, Dr Finkel's enthralling real-life detective story began with a most remarkable event at the British Museum - the arrival one day in 2008 of a single, modest-sized Babylonian cuneiform tablet - the palm-sized clay rectangles on which our ancestors created the first documents.
It had been brought in by a member of the public and this particular tablet proved to be of quite extraordinary importance. Not only does it date from about 1850 BC, but it is a copy of the Babylonian Story of the Flood, a myth from ancient Mesopotamia revealing, among other things, instructions for building a large boat to survive a flood.
But Dr Finkel's pioneering work didn't stop there. Through another series of enthralling discoveries he has been able to decode the story of the Flood in ways which offer unanticipated revelations to listeners of The Ark Before Noah.
©2014 Irving Finkel (P)2014 Hodder & Stoughton
"The charged thrill of Finkel's chase permeates the book - the pages don't just join dots, they supply new pieces for a beautiful, Bronze-Age jigsaw-puzzle... Scholarly and droll, Finkel's writing is also eccentrically vivid... it is a joy." (The Times)
"One of the most important human documents ever discovered... his conclusions will send ripples into the world of creationism and among ark hunters." (The Guardian)
The book is not only about the story of the Flood, but encompasses all the facets of the three millenniums old Mesopotamian civilization, and the legacies it left to Jews and even Muslims. The author’s technical expertise is impressive, sometimes a bit too much: I confess been drowsing while listening to the finest details of how the ancient Sumerians built boats using reeds and ropes. But it’s a minor drawback, I really enjoyed the book, not least because it is read by the author himself, who manages to convey his enthusiasm for the subject. Lastly, good news for the not native English speakers like me, he speaks quite clearly and cleanly.
The story of the flood and the 'ark', and how it relates to the Biblical accounts is, by itself, quite interesting for those who are interested. But the book does more than that, it provided great insights into the the dimensions of the cultures in that part of the world. This is really helpful as all I learnt about the Mesopotamian civilization in school can be summarized in a side-bar… which means very little.
But what makes this book unique is the author. Irving Finkel is clearly passionate about his subject, and his enthusiasm comes through both the book and his narration. The content of the book is very approachable to the general public.
The only thing I have to pick about the book is the recording… the recorded volume tends to fluctuates, making it necessary to constantly adjust the volume dial in my car.
But beyond that, I throughly enjoyed the book. It is engaging and it is informative. What else can one ask for in a non-fiction? 5-stars overall!
"What a delightful book!"
I have no particular interest in Noah's ark or cuneiform but it was on the 2-for-1 list so what the heck. Win! This is so charming I could listen to it all day. You can practically hear the twinkle in Irving Finkel's eye as he relates with wonderful clarity, enthusiasm, and wit the detective story of ancient-script decoding and the odd folks that engage in it. The eventual painstakingly excavated revelations of the mythology of flood stories is enthralling and Finkel is as terrific a reader as he is a writer. Makes you want to sit in a pub across from the British Museum with him for hours and shoot the breeze. Suggest listeners google an image of the author to better picture his epic beard.
I downloaded The Ark Before Noah from Audible in a version which is read by the author, Dr Irving Finkel. For the first few minutes, I found his unpolished narrating style awkward to listen to and wondered if I had made a mistake. However, once his wonderful enthusiasm began to shine through, I was hooked. Finkel discusses his academic life, British Museum career and fabulous fairly-recent discovery of an ancient clay tablet containing details concerning the story of the ark and the flood. He also introduces us to the earliest origins of the story - waaay before the Hebrew Bible - and collects together other tablets with parts of the famous tale and shows how it evolved over some 4000 years into what we know today.
I was particularly fascinated by the comprehensive comparisons of the different tablets and their meshing story versions. As I have only heard the heroes' names, I am not going to attempt to spell them, but it had not previously occurred to me that Noah wasn't always called Noah! The earliest flood version wasn't occasioned by sin either - humans had simply become too noisy for the Gods to endure! Finkel goes into immense detail in his tablet comparions. He examines ark building techniques, mountain landing sites, and intricacies of language in a way that could be too in depth for less nerdy souls. I appreciated his dry humour throughout but am unsure whether this would come across via the printed page. This purely aural version obviously didn't contain images though so I think now a trip to the British Museum is called for so I can see the Ark tablet and Babylonian Map tablet 'in the flesh'. I am so intrigued by their existence that I might visit even if it's not raining
Delightful, Interesting, Thoughtful
It covered all aspect of this fascinating story.
I could feel Irving Finkel in the room, in the car, with me wherever I was listening. The energy, the detail, the story, the history I was totally absorbed.
The description of finding and identifying the missing piece from thousands of a key tablet was a delight.
It is worth visiting the British Museum before listening to the book. It will give you a better feel for some of the descriptions. Better still, visit the museum, which I have done since to see the remarkable and beautiful tablets.
"Fascinating and at times enchanting"
I did enjoy it quite a lot. I would say that as it is very subject specific, it is very information dense, which is not a bad thing by any means, however I did find myself having to listen more intently than usual to understand what was going on at times. I did also feel as though parts where being gone over more than once (which is probably not a bad thing either since I got a bit lost). Over all though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I also appreciate the fact it was read by the author himself.
I really enjoyed founding out how the Ark of the Hebrew Bible is very similar to the ark depicted in Ancient Babylonian literature.
I could really sense his passion for the Ancient languages he has studied, as well as the excitement he has for each new idea he has discovered relating to the ark. After hearing him, I have found his love of Cuneiform quite infectious!
I really appreciate the rich ancient history of Mesopotamia much more now than I did before listening to this audiobook. What moved me, although not mentioned in the book itself, is the fact that this rich history has been attacked by terrorists. I feel that more ought to be done to preserve ancient sites in Iraq. Who knows what Cuneiform treasures might be lying there waiting for us, and could possibly be destroyed before we even got to them.
I chose this book as I am a student of religious studies and studied the Hebrew Bible last year briefly touching on the Epic of Gilgamesh. I am also very interested in Ancient Civilisations and languages. I think if any of those three things interest you then you will love this book.
"Informative and well told"
This long and informative book is read by the author, who manages to inject humour and vitality into what could be quite hard-going material. To get the most out of it, I shall need to listen several times, but even one listening told me much that I didn't know, or hadn't thought about. I recommend.
"Fascinating, but sometimes hard to hear."
It is an area I knew nothing about before. I found it fascinating and very accessible.
Almost anybody - or perhaps just have Irving Finkel trained to read his sentences without trailing off at the end of each one.
I was irritated by Dr. Finkel's habit of trailing off at the end of his sentences, which sometimes made it difficult for me to understand what he was saying.
"A real detective story"
Dr. Finkel narrates his own story. As Assistant Keeper in Cuneiform at the British Museum, he was offered a damaged tablet which turned out to be instructions on how to build the boat most people know as Noah's Ark.
Along the way he weaves into the history some fascinating history of Assyriology as a discipline, the way that deciphering Cuneiform has challenged traditional understanding of the Bible stories, and some interesting stories about how he himself stumbled into being one of the world's foremost Assyriologists.
Having heard this very personal story in Dr. Finkel's own voice, I wouldn't want to go through it in the much colder medium of print on a page.
The book is a study of the origins of written language which has made me reconsider much of what I thought I knew about reading, ancient civilisations, and history in general.
The other books which have got me thinking about language itself this way would be Douglas Hofstadter's Ton Beau de Marot and Steven Piker's The Language Instinct (two other titles which actually changed the way I read).
The story of how an undergraduate Irving Finkel accidentally ended up studying Cuneiform is so picaresque that I think I have listened to it at least a half-dozen times.
What Noah ought to have asked.
This book is thought provoking while being educational. I thoroughly enjoyed this though I have never had the benefit of a formal classical education Thank you Dr Irving.
Easier to read than I thought it would be and a very Interesting subject. Well read.
"Cuneiform For Dummies"
In which Irving Finkel brings to life an ancient story told in long dead languages and recorded on clay tablets in an alphabet that has not been written for two thousand years, and makes it perfectly understandable to people with no previous knowledge of the subject. How does he achieve this? Not by dumbing down but by being a very good storyteller himself.
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