A modern-day Iraqi coracle being finished. (Photo courtesy of Irving Finkel)

In 2009, a visitor to the British Museum presented curator Irving Finkel with a fascinating artifact—a 4,000-year-old Babylonian cuneiform tablet that told of a flood, and an ark, but with mysterious details unfamiliar from previously discovered tablets of that period. Finkel’s official title is Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages, and cultures; a discovery like this was right up his alley. He spent the next several years turning the tablet over and over (literally and figuratively), trying to decode its message, and to forge a path between that text and the story that would appear in the Book of Genesis some 1,000 years later.

His new book, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood, is the result of those efforts. On a recent visit to the museum, Hugh Levinson paid a visit to Finkel to find out what sorts of conclusions he drew, and how he arrived at them.