Oxford English Dictionary (OED) (2008),
Ark n. Etymology: …Gothic and Germanic arka , probably < Latin arca chest, box, coffer; whence Old French arche , also adopted in senses 2, 3, alongside of the native word: see arche n.
1. A chest, box, coffer, close basket, or similar receptacle; esp.
a. in north. dial. a large wooden bin or hutch for storing meal, bread, fruit, etc.
?c1200 Ormulum (Burchfield transcript) - l. 18823 "Þatt arrke þatt iss wrohht off tre." [Edit: = The ark that is made (wrought) of wood (tree)."]
2.a. spec. in Jewish Hist. The wooden coffer containing the tables of the law, kept in the Holiest Place of the Tabernacle. Also called Ark of the Covenant, Ark of Testimony.
3. The large covered floating vessel in which Noah was saved at the Deluge; hence fig. a place of refuge. (In 13–14th c. commonly arche n.)
c950 Lindisf. Gosp. Matt. xxiv. 38 "Inneode in ærce Noë" [Rushw. arkæ, Ags. & Hatt. earce].
So an ark was originally a largish wooden box that held something. The word was then used for Noah's construction because it contained all life.
The Holbein (1497 - 1543) sketch
is a quite remarkable source: You will see that it is a box/chest/coffer - as per the first meaning in OED.
Seeing that picture in conjunction with the OED’s description, it is clear that Holbein's ark is not simplified - this is the ark as understood in Holbein's day.
Subsequent pictures of a boat with a house on it have been made erroneously more complex so that they look like a ship. We can probably blame John Wycliffe for this, who in his 1382 translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible, simply assumed it was a ship:
1382 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) Gen. vi. 14 Make to thee an ark [v.r. schip] of planed trees. And the authors of KJV1611 followed suit.
Whereas, an earlier example (below) did not feel it useful to describe the ark as a ship.
?c1200 Ormulum (Burchfield transcript) l. 14542 "Drihhtin badd noe gan till & wirrkenn himm an arrke." = Thirdly (He) instructed Noah to start and build an ark [for himself].
We are so used to thinking of the Ark as a ship that the correct version - an ark as in the first and second OED meaning of box or wooden coffer containing the tables of the law - has been lost to us when referring to Noah, and we are left with idiots who build boats with houses on the top so as to perpetuate something that has been misunderstood because it would be too embarrassing to tell the truth at this late stage.
In the Genesis description, God tells Noah to build an ark - Ge:6:13: And God said unto Noah, … Ge:6:14: Make thee an ark…
But as there had never been an ark that was a boat before, and Noah never asked "What's an ark?" therefore, both God and Noah understood what an ark was: and it could only be a box/coffer / chest
At this stage, the Israelites knew about boxes, and ark was merely something to keep something else inside. The ark of the covenant/testimony was not introduced untilEx:25:10: And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof.
Ex:25:14: And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them.
Ex:25:16: And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.
If God had told Noah to build a boat, it would not have been necessary to tell him to waterproof it: Ge:6:14: Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.
And why would God think that a large boat would have no windows or doors? And why only one of each?Ge:6:16: A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.
Far more sensible to the early Yahwist, is the idea of a box/chest would be the very place to be inside and it is just the sort of thing that God would command as is later seen in other verses. God has Moses placed in an ark of bulrushes (Ex:2:3), He has the ark for the covenant/testimony made (Ex:25:10) This also explains what Noah understood by ark and why Noah was told to make his Ark with only three dimensions, and no references to curvature, a deck or a roof. Ge:6:15: And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: “The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.” - it is a box.Psalms:132:8: Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.
The use of “ark” dies out in the OT and does not appear in the NT until:Heb:11:7: By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
Here, you can see that it is “an
ark” that Noah built – not “the