For Bible translation experts. . .

Moses’ ark (Exodus 2:3, Exodus 2:5)
Noah’s ark
The Ark of the Covenant

AFAIK, “ark” as in “Ark of the Covenant” is just a translation of the Hebrew word for “chest,” and in KJ’s time, “ark” was still in use meaning “chest” or “cabinet,” although it has since fallen into disuse.

The first two “arks,” though, use a different Hebrew word, whose original meaning is unknown.

So, here’s my question–how did someone come up with “ark” for something that apparently translates to something more like “lifeboat?”

Mjoll, you are correct that the word translated as “ark” for Noah is the same as the word meaning “basket” for Moses (the famous basket of bullrushes that the baby is put in to escape the Pharoah’s murderous decree). There is an obvious parallel in terms of a life-saving vehicle that floats, and yeah, I guess lifeboat or life-raft would be reasonable.

The Ark of the Covenant (as in Raiders of the Lost…) is a different word in Hebrew.

Now, why the KJ translators chose to use the word “ark” for the Covenant cabinet is beyond me. In those days, they didn’t have lifeboats, of course, so they wouldn’t think of using that word (which isn’t very poetic, anyway). I’ll try to do some looking when I get back home, but it’ll be a few days.

I’ve wondered about this myself.

Let’s start by introducing the actual Hebrew words, if for no other reason that to make the conversation less wordy. Moses and Noah were in a “tayva”, and the Ark of the Covenant was an “aron”.

Mjollnir is accurate in saying that an “aron” is a chest or cabinet. In Modern Hebrew today, it is used for a dining room breakfront display, as well as a bedroom closet, not to mention the Ark in synogogues, which is where the Torah scrolls are kept.

A “tayva” is a very similar thing. The closest translation I’ve come up with is a “box”, and it is used in modern Hebrew for a mailbox or desk drawer. The dimensions of Noah’s Ark (300 by 50 by 30 cubits), together with its use (merely to float, not to steer) suggest a rectangular box, rather than a shapely boat.

But these two synonyms are indeed very close to each other. I have sent a note to a Hebrew Language mailing list which I belong to, in hopes that someone else can pin it down more closely. I’ll copy the responses here.

Re: “Raiders of the Lost Ark”

I was in Israel when that movie came out. I’d love to know who the idiot was who translated that movie for the Israeli audience. The Ark of the Covenant was an “aron”, but the title of the movie got translated into Hebrew as Raiders Of The Lost Tayva! I saw the ads for it, and passed it by, since I was not interested in stories about discoveries of Noah’s Ark. If they would have translated the title as Raiders of the Lost Aron, I might have gone to see it.

Alas, since I never saw the Israeli version, I don’t know which word they used in the dialog of the movie. I only know that they screwed up the title.

I hope you have since seen the American or some version of the movie. As it is one of the best, if not the best movie ever.

I love that movie. Harrison Ford as Indy is my Hero.

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”


For the 37 jillionth time, the KJV was not created in vacuo. “Ark” was in use in English to refer Noah’s vessel by AD 950, and was used to signify “big boat” in general by the 1400’s.

Unless someone has access to a Vulgate or LXX text, I doubt we’ll get any further with this.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams


That appeared to be an unnecessarily snarly attitude.

I don’t see any indication that that was implied in this thread.

The first recorded use in Old English is a translation of Matthew, which was originally written in Greek. The Greek word does not remotely resemble “ark.”

Probably as a direct consequence of the previous quote. I’m sure we agree on that.

You might have a point here, and that was the intent of the OP: How did this come about?

Britain had an aircraft carrier during WWII called the Ark Royal. Apparently it was named after a previous famous ship which was apparently named after a previous famous ship which…

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams


Dex was thinking “Noah’s ark,” but accidentally referenced “Ark of the Covenant.” The following statement of his tends to support that: