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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Ark of Bulrushes

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ark , bool´rush -iz ( תּבה , tēbhāh ; Egyptian tĕbt ; Septuagint θῖβις , thı́̄bis , "a chest," "a vessel to float").

1. Definitions

The Hebrew word here translated "ark" is used in the Old Testament only of the ark of Noah (Genesis 6:14 ) and of the ark of bulrushes (Exodus 2:3 ), and always in the secondary meaning, a vessel to float. The Septuagint translates it of Noah's ark by κιβωτός , kibōtós , "a casket," and of the ark of bulrushes by thı̄bis , a little basket made of osiers or flags. For the Ark of the Covenant, the Hebrew employed a different word (ארן , 'ărōn , "a chest"). Bulrushes (גּמא , gōme ), "papyrus"): This species of reed was used by the Egyptians for many different vessels, some of which were intended to float or even to be used as a skiff. Slime (חמר , ḥēmār , "bitumen"), pitch (זפת , zepheth , "pitch") was probably the sticky mud of the Nile with which to this day so many things in Egypt are plastered. In this case it was mixed with bitumen. Flags (סוּף , ṣūph , "sedge") were reeds of every kind and tall grass growing in the shallow water at the edge of the river.

2. History

Thus the ark of bulrushes was a vessel made of papyrus stalks and rendered fit to float by being covered with a mixture of bitumen and mud. Into this floating vessel the mother of Moses placed the boy when he was three months old, and put the vessel in the water among the sedge along the banks of the Nile at the place where the ladies from the palace were likely to come to bathe. The act was a pathetic imitation of obedience to the king's command to throw boy babies into the river, a command which she had for three months braved and which now she so obeyed as probably to bring the cruelty of the king to the notice of the royal ladies in such way as to arouse a womanly sympathy,

A similar story is related of Sargon I of Babylonia (Records of the Past , 1st series, V, 1-4; Rogers, Hist. Babylonian and Assyrian , I, 362).

The one story in no wise discredits the other. That method of abandoning children, either willingly or by necessity, is as natural along the Nile and the Euphrates, where the river is the great artery of the land and where the floating basket had been used from time immemorial, as is the custom in our modern cities of placing abandoned infants in the streets or on door-steps where they are likely to be found, and such events probably occurred then as often as now.

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Ark of Bulrushes'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

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