Noah in the British Museum

July 20, 2020 by Rev. Jacques Nel

I was taught early on in life that Noah's Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. What no one told me, was that Noah's ark also landed in the British Museum.


In the 1850s, Henry Layard, a British Archaeologist excavating at Nineveh in present day Iraq, discovered the library of King Ashurbanipal. It contained a priceless collection of clay tablets written in the nearly indecipherable lost language Akkadian, of the ancient Assyrian Empire.

Piecing together the puzzle

Over 100,000 fragments of these tablets were shipped back to the British Museum in London. Due to fear of fire, gaslights were not allowed in the museum. In the dimly lit building, those assigned to study the fragments required keen eyesight.

George Smith, an expert on ancient Assyrian and Babylonian writing, was just the man for the job. He possessed a photographic memory. He could remember the shape of a fragment that he had seen weeks before. When seeing a particular fragment, he knew exactly where to find the piece that fits it.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Smith created a sensation when he managed to piece together the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first great masterpiece of world literature. Gilgamesh (written 𒄑𒂅𒈦 in the Sumerian language) was the ruler of the Sumerian city of Uruk around 4,700 years ago. It tells the story of how Gilgamesh sets out to learn the secret of immortality from a distant ancestor Uta-napishtim.

Uta-napishtim survived a great flood in a boat. His ship was caught on a mountainside after a bird was sent out to search for dry land.

The earth goes through drier and wetter periods. The flat plains between the great rivers of Mesopotamia could easily have been flooded in torrential rain. Abraham and his people originated in the land of ancient Mesopotamia. Can it be that Genesis reflects the dim recollections from that past?

Surely God helps those who trust in Him in every time and place. Noah was such a man. Did he end up the British Museum?

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