When Is a Boat More Than a Boat?: Noah’s Ark

Peter Leithart calls Noah’s ark a floating ziggurat. Nice. He notes these points of comparison found in the book The Tabernacle Pre-Figured by L. M. Morales.

Morales summarizes the evidence that the ark is to be understood as functioning like a temple, even if we can’t say that it is a temple: It is like the cosmic mountain that emerges from the waters; it is measured and set apart; it becomes a place of sacrifice; it is filled with animals. As Morales notes, the ark gradually ascends to heaven as the waters increase, life the ark above the highest mountains (159). There are multiple verbal connections between the ark-building project and the tabernacle-building later in the Pentateuch. The ark thus does what all temples are supposed to do—it joins heaven and earth.

People who know me probably won’t be surprised to find out that his blog post reminded me of something Augustine said.

Augustine believed that the story of Noah and his ark prefigured Christ. God gave Noah specific instructions about how he should construct the ark, and Augustine believes that a symbol of Christ lies hidden in the relationship that the ark’s dimensions had to one another. In City of God, he writes, For even its dimensions, in length, height, and breadth, signify the human body in which truly [Christ] … came to men” (15.26).

God commanded Noah to build an ark three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. The ark was to be ten times longer than it was tall and six times longer than it was wide. Augustine claims that these ratios reflect the ratios of the ideal human body lying in the prone position. Christ came in a human body to rescue his people, and God rescued Noah in a boat that symbolized that body.

Moreover, Augustine confirms his interpretation by noting that the ark had a door in the side by which those being saved would enter. Christ’s side was pierced with a spear “for by this the ones coming to him enter; because from there the sacraments flowed by which believers are initiated.”

The details of Noah’s ark are not things in and of themselves but symbols of the spiritual reality which Augustine believed God communicated.

Noah’s ark was a boat, and it symbolized a temple, but the temple merely symbolized the body of Christ.


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