This section is from the book "A Library Of Wonders And Curiosities Found In Nature And Art, Science And Literature", by I. Platt. Also available from Amazon: A library of wonders and curiosities.
That such a wonderful structure as this once existed, admits not of any doubt in the Jewish, Christian, and Mahommedan world; yet its dimensions far exceed any vessel of modern date, even of the most extensive range, and appear to have been equally unrivalled in ancient times.
There are nevertheless various difficulties which have been proposed in regard to it, among those by whom its existence has been admitted. One question is, as to the time employed by Noah in building it. Interpreters generally believe, that he was an hundred and twenty years in forming this vast structure; but some allow only fifty-two years; some no more than seven or eight, and others still much less. The Mahom-medans say, he had but two years allowed him for this work. Another question sometimes agitated is, what kind of wood is meant by gopher wood ? Some think cedar, or box; others cypress, the pine, fir-tree, and the turpentine tree. Pelletier prefers the opinion of those who hold the ark to be made of cedar: the reasons he urges for this preference are, the incorruptibility of that wood; the great plenty thereof in Asia; whence Herodotus and Theophrastus relate, that the kings of Egypt and Syria built whole fleets of it in lieu of deal: and the common tradition throughout the East imports, that the ark is preserved entire to this day on mount Ararat.
The dimensions of the ark, as delivered by Moses, are three hundred cubits in length, fifty in breadth, and thirty in height; which, compared with the great number of things it was to contain, seem to many to have been too scanty. And hence an argument has been drawn against the authority of the relation. Celsus long ago laughed at it, calling it the "absurd ark" This difficulty is solved by Buteo and Kircher, who, supposing the common cubit of a foot and a half, prove, geometrically, that the ark was abundantly sufficient for all the animals supposed to be lodged therein. The capacity of the ark will be doubled, if we admit, with Cumberland, etc.
that the Jewish cubit was twenty-one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight inches. Smellius computes the ark to have been above half an acre in area. Cuneus, and others, have also calculated the capacity of the ark. Dr. Arbuthnot computes it to have been eighty-one thousand and sixty-two tons. Father Lamy says, that it was an hundred and ten feet longer than the church of St. Mary at Paris, and sixty-four feet narrower; to which his English translator adds, that it must have been longer than St. Paul's church in London, from west to east, broader than that church is high in the inside, and about fifty-four feet in height of our measure.
The vast assemblage of things contained in the ark, besides eight persons of Noah's family, consisted of one pair of every species of unclean animals, with provisions for them all, during the whole year. The former appears, at first view, almost infinite, but if we come to a calculation, the number of species of animals will be found much smaller than is generally imagined; out of which, in this case, are to be excepted such animals as can live in the water; and Bishop Wilkins imagines, that only seventy-two of the quadruped kind needed a place in the ark.
It appears to have been divided into three stories; and it is agreed on, as most probable, that the lowest story was destined for the beasts, the middle for the food, and the upper for the birds, with Noah and his family; each story being subdivided into different apartments, stalls, etc. Though Josephus, Philo, and other commentators, add a kind of fourth story, under all the rest; being, as it were, the hold of the vessel, to contain the ballast, and receive the filth and ordure of so many animals.
Drexelius makes three hundred apartments; father Four nier, three hundred and three; the anonymous author of the Questions of Genesis, four hundred; Buteo, Temporarius, Arias Montanus, Wilkins, Lamy, and others, suppose as many partitions as there were different sorts of animals. Pelletier only makes seventy-two, viz. thirty-six for the birds, and as many for the beasts: his reason is, that if we suppose a greater number, as three hundred and thirty-three, or four hundred, each of the eight persons in the ark must have had thirty-seven, forty-one, or fifty stalls to attend and cleanse daily, which he thinks impossible. But there is not much in this: to diminish the number of stalls, without a diminution of the animals, is vain; it being, perhaps, more difficult to take care of three hundred animals in seventy-two stalls, than in three hundred.
Buteo computes, that all the animals contained in the ark, could not be equal to five hundred horses; he even reduces the whole to the dimensions of fifty-six pair of oxen. Father Lamy enlarges it to sixty-four pair, or an hundred and twenty-eight oxen; so that, supposing one ox equal to two horses, if the ark had room for two hundred and fifty-six horses, there must nave been room for all the animals. And the same author demonstrates, that one floor of it would suffice for five hundred horses, allowing nine square feet to a horse.
Of the food contained in the second story, it is observed by Beauteo, from Columella, that thirty or forty pounds of hay ordinarily suffices an ox for a day; and that a solid cubit of hay, as usually pressed down in our hay-ricks, weighs about forty pounds; so that a square cubit of hay is more than enough per day for an ox. Now it appears, that the second story contained one hundred and fifty thousand square cubits; which, divided between two hundred and six oxen, will afford to each, more hay by two-thirds than he can eat in a year.
Bishop Wilkins computes all the carnivorous animals equivalent, as to the bulk of their bodies, and their food, to twenty-seven wolves; and all the rest to two hundred and eighty beeves. For the former he allows the sustenance of eighteen hundred and twenty-five sheep; and for the latter, one hundred and nine thousand five hundred cubits of hay: all which will be easily contained in the two first stories, and much room to spare. As to the third story, nobody doubts of its being sufficient for the fowls, with Noah, his sons, and daughters.
Upon the whole, the learned Bishop remarks, that of the two, it appears much more difficult to assign a sufficient number and .bulk of necessary things to answer the capacity of the ark, than to find room enough for the several species of animals already known to have been there. This he attributes to the imperfection of our lists of animals, especially those of the unknown parts of the earth; adding, that the most expert mathematician, at this day, could not assign the proportions of a vessel better accommodated to the purpose, than is here done; and hence finally concludes, that "the capacity of the ark, which has been made an objection against scripture, ought to be esteemed a confirmation of its divine authority: since, in those rudsr ages, men, being less versed in arts and philosophy, were more obnoxious to vulgar prejudices than now; so that, had it been of human invention, it would have been contrived according to those wild apprehensions which arise from a confused and general view of things; as much too big, as it has been represented too little."