by John Hinton, Ph.D.
Both Bible scoffers and old earth creationists are always searching for ways to discredit young earth theory and the flood account itself. One argument that has been presented in oral and written debates on the topic of the veracity of the flood account and the age of the earth revolves around the word pitch, which appears in Genesis 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. Evolutionists and old earth creationists will point out that many young earth creationists theorize that oil came after the flood as a result of huge amounts of pressure on a huge amount of dead organic matter. They will then suggest that this theory is contradicted because Noah used pitch on his ship. The allegation is that pitch is a petroleum product, which, according to some young earth theorists, is a product of the flood
This author does tend to accept the theory that petroleum and its related products resulted from the great flood, but I will not deal with that issue here. If Noah’s pitch were to be proven to be an oil product, it would hardly discount the flood account or young earth theories, it would only force some young earth creationists to reevaluate their theories concerning the origin of petroleum or to look into other ways that it oil could be produced. Woodmorape presented a number of alternative methods of producing an oil-based pitch in his valuable book Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study. While his plausible arguments are useful and are sufficient to counter attacks by scoffers, they are not necessary. The supposition that Noah’s pitch was a petroleum product is an erroneous one, since the pitch that was used was almost certainly tree-based.
There is no question that the common Semitic roots that are used to form the words that are translated as pitch can and do mean bitumen or asphalt in certain historical contexts, however, these roots have very different base meanings that indicate beyond any reasonable doubt that they refer to any waterproofing covering that is placed on wood and are in no way restricted to bitumen. In the Noah account itself we have every reason to believe that the pitch described is a tree product and little reason to believe the contrary. The following essay does not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the pitch used in the construction of the ark was not a petroleum product ? only a conclusive identification of the remains of the ark could provide absolute proof ? but it does conclusively eliminate the argument that it did categorically refer to an oil-based tar, and it does show that that it would be the less logical conclusion.
What is pitch?
Before dealing with the Hebrew text we should first be clear about the meaning of the term pitch in English. Personally, I am confused as to why the word needs to be defined. Being a survival instructor, I think of pine or spruce pitch right away when I hear the word pitch. I trust that this would be true of anyone even remotely familiar with primitive skills. American Indians, for instance, used coniferous tree pitch for fletching arrows and for anything else that needed gluing. I have also known, since I was fairly young, that pine pitch was a substance commonly used for caulking boats. Every evolutionist under the sun knows that amber is hardened tree pitch, which makes their confusion all the more puzzling, however, since so many scoffers and old earth creationists are confused about its meaning, it will be defined here.
Webster’s 1828 defines pitch thus: 1. A thick tenacious substance, the juice of a species of pine or fir called abies picea, obtained by incision from the bark of the tree... 2. The resin of pine, or turpentine, inspissated; used in caulking ships and paying the sides and bottom.
The definition from the Universal Dictionary of the English Language of 1899 is as follows: Chem.: A term applied to a variety of resinous substances of a dark colour and brilliant lustre, obtained from the various kinds of tar produced in the destructive distillation of wood, coal, &c.
I have given the definitions found in older dictionaries first, since they were compiled in periods closer to that of the King James Bible translation and are better reflections of what pitch would have meant to those of that era. A more recent dictionary, the Oxford Dictionary, defines pitch thus: 1. A tenacious resinous substance of a black or brown colour, hard when cold, becoming a thick viscid semi-liquid when heated; obtained as a residuum from the boiling or distillation of tar, also from the distillation of turpentine; used to stop the seams of ships after caulking, to protect wood from moisture, and for other purposes.
Finally, Encyclopedia Britannica identifies two types of pitch, coal tar pitch and wood tar pitch. The latter is said to be used in the manufacture of plastics and insulating materials and in caulking seams.
Now that we have defined the English word we need to analyze the historical use of pitch in shipbuilding. At least one critic has suggested that the KJV translators were in error by projecting 17th century shipbuilding techniques onto the Bible by translating the Hebrew word kopher as pitch, which he interpreted as meaning tar. This is an odd criticism considering the English definitions above. The KJV translators knew that the pitch described in the Bible was derived from trees. Ship caulking in England was normally done through the use of tree-derived pitches and nothing in the KJV translation suggests otherwise. Here the error is that of the critic who has an erroneous view of shipbuilding techniques of the 17th century.
Tree-derived pitch has been used for a number of purposes in numerous cultures of the ancient world. Aside from being used for the pitching of boats, it is used to cover wine containers, baskets, and even mummies.
We do not know where Noah was when he built the ark or exactly what the world looked at the time. However, since the forests of Lebanon are often theorized as a relevant region to the Noah account, and they are definitely relevant to the Gilgamesh flood account, we should look at the use of pitch from that region. According to a Trade Environment Database Project report on the forests of Lebanon, this region has long been exploited for its resinous woods, both for timber and for its pitch.
Historically, resinous wood such as the Lebanese cedar had numerous applications, and as a result, was continually sought after. Semple delineates its uses: According to the evidence, the crying need of eastern Mediterranean lands was for ship timber. A multitude of fishing smacks, naval vessels, merchant ships, and coastwise transportation boats kept up the demand for fir, pine, cedar and minor woods which entered into their construction. The coniferous forests were therefore constantly levied upon; and they were further depleted by the steady demand for pitch, tar, and resin. Traffic in these usually accompanied the lumber trade, and emanated from the same sources of supply... The demand for all products of resinous woods was relatively greater in antiquity than now. They were employed for the preservation of ship wood and all ship equipments, for coating the interior of earthenware wine jars, and for the preparation of volatile oils, salves and ointments, which were almost universally used in ancient times. Resin and tar were the chief basis for cough medicines prepared by Greek physicians, and were ingredients of salves for external use. Oil of cedar, distilled from the Syrian cedar, was regularly used for these purposes, because its antiseptic or cleansing qualities were recognized. It was exported from Phoenicia to Egypt where it was needed for embalming the dead. The Romans used it for soaking wood as a protection against decay and insect attack. This was the ancient forerunner of the modern creosoting process. [Semple, p.282]
The description above is supported by archaeological recoveries of ancient shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea, which have revealed samples of pitch that was used in ancient shipbuilding. Not only have scientists been able to determine that the pitch was made from pine resin, in many cases they were able to determine what species of pine were used, as well as the processes and probable temperatures that were used to make the pitch. [TED, 1969]
The construction of Greek ships is described by Hiero, who lived from 306-215 B.C. Pitch (pittan) was brought from the Rhone Valley. Obviously, this refers to a wood product, probably of pine, and not to asphalt [Casson, 1971, p. 194]. The pitch used for Greek ships is described in detail in various ancient sources, which Casson summarizes in a footnote:
Anth. Pal. 11.248.... "And when it [the ship] had been pinned together up to the thwarts, they smeared it with the glistening sap of the pine"... Vergil's phrase uncta carine (Aen. 4.398) must refer to hulls so anointed. The Nemi barges seem to have had a coat of pitch, with perhaps some slight admixture of bitumen, plus some substance containing iron, possibly minimum, as coloring matter (Ucelli 179-80). For pitch and wax, cf. Pliny, NH 16:56: zopissam vocari derassam navibus maritimis picem cum cera "The pitch with wax scraped off seagoing ships is called 'live pitch'";... [Casson, p. 212].
The Greek historian Theophrastus describes two types of pitch, one being black and called pitch and the other referred to as resin, which is a lighter color. [Morrison, J.S., et al., 2000] Plutarch describes the trees used in shipbuilding:
The pitys and kindred trees, peukai and strobiloi, produce the wood most suitable for shipbuilding, and the pitch and resin paint (aloiphe)without which shipwright's work is useless in salt water.' [ibid.]
The Latin word that appears in this quote of Pliny, as well as in the Latin Vulgate's translation of Gen. 6:14 is pix. The source of this word is picea, which means spruce or a similar fir, although some have suggested that it was picea that was derived from pix.. The verb pico means to smear with pitch. Not only does this show that the ancient Romans used tree-derived pitch for caulking ships, but that the Latin translators understood the Hebrew text, since there is a virtually perfect correspondence between pix and pico with the Hebrew source words, which we will get to shortly.
Similarly, Tudor and Etrurian ships used pine pitch for shipbuilding. Archaeological evidence from shipwreck archaeology also has proven this [Robinson, 1987, pp. 637-44].
The Chinese have been building boats for thousands of years, many of which were of huge proportions. The Chinese character for pitch includes the character for tree.
As for the Egyptians, it is known that they used cedar pitch both for shipbuilding and for mummification purposes. The Egyptians use the same words for pitch that are found in the Semitic languages. [TED Report on Lebanon, quoting Mikesell, 1969]
A fair summary of waterproofing materials is presented in Seán McGrail in Ancient Boats in NW. Europe: The Archaeology of Water Transport to AD 1500. His list includes the use of tree-derived pitch being used in the twentieth century.
In twentieth-century Norway the mixture is wood tar, raw linseed oil and turpentine. Linseed oil is made from the linseed (flax) plants, whilst pitch, tar, turpentine and drosin (colophony) can all be produced from resinous trees such as the pine. Dry distillation of wood results in a tar distillate and a pitch residue. If tapped resin is distilled turpentine is produced with a rosin residue. [p.131]
McGrail also reports of a fourth-century Greek shipwreck off C. Dramont that was not only covered by pine resin, but carried a cargo of the substance in amphorae [p. 130-131].
There are two main words that have been rendered bitumen or asphalt in Hebrew dictionaries. Both of these words are translated as pitch are used in the King James Bible, as well as in the modern Bible perversions. The first word is kopher, which is used in Genesis 6:14 to describe a covering on the ark.
A second word is zephet, which is used in Exodus 3:2 to describe the covering on the Bible's other ark of salvation, the basket in which Moses was placed. Ex 2:3: And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. Although kopher is the only word used to describe the covering for Noah's ark, zephet, is a synonym - or at least a virtual synonym - for kopher. In fact, Rashi, the Jewish Biblical commentator of the Middle Ages, states that kopher is Aramaic for zephet, which is the pure Hebrew word. We will deal with both words separately.
The word used in the Noah account is kopher, which comes from a verb rpk kapar meaning to cover. Brown, Driver, Briggs (BDB) tries to imply that there are two different kapar verbs (aside from a third dealing with lions), but they failed to define the second and only stated that it is related to the word for pitch. This is nonsensical since its meaning is obviously associated with their first verb, meaning to cover over, pacify , propitiate and atone for sin. The KJV perfectly captures an extended meaning of this verb, which is to pitch. Hence to pitch with pitch is to cover with a covering. Gesenius, the dictionary upon which BDB was originally founded did a better job by defining it as to cover over, to overspread with anything, as with pitch, to pitch. (ut pice, picavit) [Gesenius].
BDB defines kopher simply as pitch and adds no details concerning its nature. Neither does Gesenius define its nature, but the latter does accurately describe its essential meaning: pitch, so called from its being overspread or overlaid. We do see it defined as bitumen or asphalt in a number of dictionaries, including Strong's, Koehler Baumgartner, Cline's and all modern Hebrew dictionaries. However, Fuerst compares kopher with rp,GO gofer, the type of wood used in constructing the ark, and then states that it is synonymous with kuparisso" (kuparissos), Latin cupressus, which both mean cypress, as well as with a German word Kiefer, which refers to a resinous tree with needle-like foliage. It goes on to suggest:
Then perhaps the resin of pine, the pitch of pine, got out of the tree, applied to the pitching of ships GEN. 6,14, conseq. not asphalt of bitumen (LXX, Vulg.), or any resinous substance of the earth or mineral kingdom; ... deriv. the denom. kapar to besmear with the resin of a tree.
Note that this dictionary was published in 1867. The editors would have had no theological or scientific reason to have any bias toward the meaning of kopher.
The conclusion here is that kopher means something by which one covers something, hence pitch. The derivation of the pitch, whether it be petroleum, or botanically based, is not relevant to its definition. "Although, it may be harder to support, I would extend this definition to the other languages that used cognates of kopher, but we will save that discussion until after we have examined some of the related terminology found in the Genesis account.
Kopher has a second meaning that is relevant here and that is cypress, from which was probably drawn the Greek kupro" kupros and kuparriso". The former refers to henna (Lawsonia inermis), which also is known as cypress bush, and the latter refers to the tree. The same word shows up meaning henna in Ugaritic (kpr), Coptic (koupr, kupar) and Nubian (kofre), the latter of which undoubtedly was borrowed from Coptic. Although, this is not used for ship caulking it does, once again, refer to a substance that is smeared on, henna being a plant that is ground into a powder and smeared onto the skin for coloring. As for the tree, its etymology may be derived from the use of cypress as pitch ? a tree used for covering, which leads us to another word in the text ? gofer.
The nature of gopher wood has been hotly debated. Its similarity to the root kpr has led some to suggest that it is related to the word for cypress. Laminated wood is another suggestion that is related to the a possible relationship with the resinous cypress. Many of the modern copyrighted Bible versions translate the word as cypress or cedar. Targums Onkelos and Jonathan were probably the first translations to translate gopher as cedar, and midrash interpreted it likewise. Although cypress or cedar are strong possibilities, as in all cases, the King James Bible provides the best translation. It certainly occurred to the KJV translators that a number of different trees were possibilities. Tyndale, probably following Luther’s Tannenholz (fir-wood), translated it as pine tree (pyne tree) and the Coverdale Bible followed suit (Pyne tre), as did Mathews Bible, the Great Bible, the Bishop’s Bible and the Geneva Bible. All of which were well known by the King James translators. Knowing that this was guesswork they chose the course that the best and most honest translators will always choose in such a case and translated it by its proper name.
Another theory that has presented his to associate the word with an alleged Akkadian root gipparu, which is stated to refer to wood in general. I trust that this theory was designed to undermine the King James Bible in particular, and the Bible in general by suggesting that the Bible drew its text directly from an Akkadian version. This theory has no historical or textual evidence to back it up. There are a number of problems with this suggestion. 1) There does not seem to be any such word as gipparu. In reference to wood, the closest word that I have been able to find is kibbiru, which means kindling wood, hardly a likely source of a 450 foot long boat. 2) If the critic intended gipâru, CAD defines this word as having four meanings: a residence, a part of a house, a meadow, and a taboo. Von Soden's dictionary does not offer anything different. A few scholars have alluded to a possibility that this word may refer to wood in some way in a few rare cases, but if they are correct those places are well hidden. They do not appear to be found in any dictionary. 3) Neither kibbiru, gipparu nor gipâru show up in any extant flood account in Akkadian that I have been able to locate. 4) The biblical term is etse-gofer, which literally means wood (or tree) of gopher. If gofer is an Akkadian word for wood, the full Hebrew term is wood of wood, which is hardly a likely possibility. Clearly the Hebrew tells us that is a type of tree. 5) In spite of what scoffers believe, the Genesis account is by far the oldest and most accurate account of the flood. The Akkadian accounts are inaccurate distortions of an actual historical account. If any text borrowed from the another, it is the Akkadian texts that borrowed from the biblical account, although I trust that the Akkadian derives from a distortion of oral tradition.
Heidel argues against an association between gofer and gipâru from phonological grounds. A phonological argument would be too technical to discuss in this article, but it should be pointed out that no one has done more comparative work of Near Eastern flood accounts than Heidel, who incidentally does not believe the historicity of any of the accounts. In other words, he has no ax to grind by defining the word one way or another.
Cassuto suggested that gofer may have been part of an "ancient poetic tradition concerning the flood." [Cassuto, U. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University. 1964. p. 62] He presents no evidence for this speculation, which is nothing more than another attempt to discredit the biblical account.
Gesenius' Hebrew-Latin Lexicon suggests that etse-gofer refers to a resinous tree like spruce, cypress or cedar. This dictionary suggests that the verbal root gpr is a variation of kpr and also means to cover. This theory has drawn criticism, but critics of this theory either fail to observe or fail to address the fact that the Arabic verb ghafara means to cover and is cognate with the Arabic verb kafara. Furthermore, ghafara has the secondary meaning of to forgive, which also is a secondary meaning of the Hebrew verb kapar.
Gesenius also suggests that the Hebrew noun gafrit, which is usually translated as sulfur, may also mean pitch (pix). Gesenius' belief was that it originally referred to any inflammable materials, and that sulfur was a later meaning. Rashi associated gofer with gafrit, but through an entirely different line of reasoning.
An interesting observation concerns the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch. The Samaritan word sism is different from the Aramaic targums, which have qadros in Onkelos and qadrom in Jonathan (a probable error for kadros). I have been unable to find a satisfactory definition for the word in an English source, however an Arabic translation renders the Samaritan word as a flowing tree or a tree that flows, which puts the emphasis on its resin. [al-Tarjamah al-‘Arabiyah li-Tûrâh al-Sâmiriyin]
Cedar and Cypress Family
Both cedar and cypress were commonly used for shipbuilding in the ancient world and we know from numerous sources that Lebanon was a major source for these shipbuilding materials. Cupressus sempervirens is a species of cypress that is found in Lebanon today that is commonly used for building ships, especially in the construction of decks.
The Cypress family ? Cupressacea - is also known as the Cedar family, so both of these trees are very similar. Both are resinous trees from which pitch can and has been made. Juniper, another resinous tree that is frequently mistaken for cedar, is another member of this family[Elpel, 1985, p. 48]. As I suggested above, we have no way of knowing if the same species of tree survived the flood or not, but we do know from the Hebrew, Greek and Latin that resinous trees were used in the construction of the ark. It would be illogical to assume that these trees were mentioned in the ark construction account, were used by ancient people for pitching ships, as we know that they were, but were not used by Noah. This would be especially illogical when we can see that the same three radicals kpr are used for both cypress and for pitch.
As for the size of the trees, many species of cypresses and cedars found today are large enough to easily accommodate the building of a ship the size of the ark. Redwood trees, the tallest trees in the world, are classified as cedars by some evaluations, although many botanists put it into a separate closely related family. Of course, there is evidence ? which even evolutionists support -? that indicates even larger trees were found in primordial times.
Again, I fully back up the KJV's rendering of Gopher wood (not that God's word needs anyone's backing), but I do suspect that Gopher wood refers to cypress or a similar wood. Perhaps, it may even be a pre-flood species that is no longer found. In this event, translating it by anything but its proper Hebrew name would be guesswork.
The Arabic cognate Kufr comes from a root meaning to cover and has derivatives meaning village, covering and pitch, just as does Hebrew and Akkadian, which shows that there is little semantic divergence between the Semitic languages in regard to this root. Kufr is defined by Lane's Classical Arabic dictionary as: Tar, or pitch synonymous with qir with which ships are smeared. Lane's goes on to say that there are three types of pitch. Although Lane does not specify the three types, the use of kufr for covering wine vessels is mentioned, so it does not take much thought to realize that at least one of these types must be a tree derived pitch. The word kafirah refers to jars of wine and is obviously related to the use of the kufr that is used to cover wine bottles. It is safe to assume that bitumen was not used to cover wine containers. The taste of pine in wine and retsina (a pine derived liquor) is quite familiar to Mediterranean inhabitants. I do not think that bitumen flavored wine would go over well. It should be noted that our word for camphor is derived from the Arabic word for that type of resinous tree kafur.
The Hebrew word zephet, which is used in the Bible to seal the other ark (of the covenant). Fuerst defines it thus: properly fluid, resinous, specially pitch. It is defined in a few Hebrew dictionaries as bitumen or asphalt and the word is still used as such in the modern language as meaning tar or pitch. Strong's ? a constant source of confusion for those who are too lazy to learn Hebrew, but want to "correct" the Bible anyway ? translates it simply as asphalt. The root of the Hebrew noun is suggested by Gesenius to be an unattested "zuf/p" and is thought to be a variation of the attested "zuv", which means to liquefy, melt or flow. This suggests that zephet would mean bitumen due to its liquefied, flowing quality, and that pine pitch would have the same quality and a similar consistency, and therefore, could have been described with the same word. BDB, following Gesenius, translates zephet as pitch, once again without any commentary on its nature. The Latin Gesenius definition is pix, which as stated above, refers to a tree product.
Zephet occurs in Isaiah 34:9. And the sreams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. Here, it is more likely that pitch refers to tar or bitumen, although the LXX translates this as pissan. However, when and where did Isaiah prophesy? He prophesied in Babylon during the Babylonian exile. By that time the existence and use of bitumen was well established. Its use here refers to a liquefied, inflammable substance that flows. It is still descriptive of any type of pitch and certainly fits in with the root meaning to flow, if that is indeed the correct root.
In order to fully understand this word, we must look to a cognate language, Arabic, for confirmation of its full semantic range. The modern Arabic word zift normally refers to tar, and it is frequently used as a slang word that is used in the same sense that Americans refer to manure, but with a somewhat less vulgar sense. However, if one were to look up the word in a classical Arabic dictionary, one would learn that they all defined the word as pine pitch or resin. Kazimirski's Dictionnaire Arabe-Francaise defines zift as: Résine de pin ou de sapin (dans son état naturel). One of the meanings of the verb given by Kazimirski is to smear with resin of pine. Hava's Arabic dictionary, which is another Classical dictionary, defines zift as: Pitch, pine-resin. Bitumen used as a remedy. Note that bitumen is not a shipbuilding product in the latter definition. Lane's Arabic dictionary defines zift as meaning pitch or tar, a produce of the pine, or pitch-tree. It goes on to say that there are two sorts, moist and dry. This conforms to the Greek description given above of pitch and resin. The meaning of the verb zafata is to fill (a container) or to apply pitch.
Hebrew dictionaries, as is true with dictionaries for all ancient languages, include much guesswork and deductions based on usage in related languages. Arabic has always been a primary source for discerning the meanings of biblical Hebrew words and the omission of this possible meaning from some of the Hebrew dictionaries that have been published in modern times in no way diminishes the obvious conclusion that zephet can, and in the case of the Exodus example, I would strongly assert does, refer to a botanical pitch.
The Egyptian sf-t, Coptic sifte sifte, and its related lamjapt lamjapt are defined by Budge as tar or pitch. The use of cedar resin for shipbuilding and mummification should make it clear what type of pitch is meant here.
The primary sources for the interpretation of kopher and zephet as bitumen by some theologians and Bible commentators are from Akkadian sources, the Septuagint (LXX), the Vulgate and Isaiah 34:9. These will be dealt with next.
The Akkadian text, Atrahasis, mentions the use of pitch in the construction of the ship. Tablet III reads ku-up-ru lu-ú da-a-an e-mu-qá shu-ur-shi. May pitch be given to fortify it (the boat). Later in the same text: i-la i¸-mu-ú ri-gi-im-shu [k]u]up-ru ba-bi-il i-pé-eh-hi ba-ab-shu [Lambert, 1999]. When he had heard his voice (Adad's), pitch (was used) to close the door. Kuprum is traditionally interpreted as meaning bitumen and there is evidence for the assertion. Bitumen is a common substance in the oil rich area that is now modern Iraq and the practice of pouring molten kuprum in the ears of culprits, as well as its being described as being black in other texts, do suggest bitumen. However, this does not give us good reason to assume that kuprum does not have the wider range of meaning of being any waterproof, caulking substance that is spread on boats. Evidence for this is found in the verbal root of kuprum ? kapârum ? which means to smear. Therefore, the essential meaning of kuprum is something that is smeared on, basically the same meaning that is found in the Hebrew and Arabic cognates. Note also that Gilgamesh makes references the cedars of Lebanon. Although it is Gilgamesh that cuts down cedars, not Utnapishtim, it does show an awareness of these trees within the epic.
There are additional words in Akkadian that are defined as pitch or bitumen. One of these is ittum and another is zibtum, which is related to the Hebrew zephet. Both kuprum and ittum appear together in a number of texts. They appear to have a very similar relationship as the two types of pissa do in Greek, a refined and a crude variety, although there is a degree of interchangeability. As we see in the Arabic and Hebrew words, which were analyzed above, there are different types of pitches used in the ancient Semitic world as well. Their meanings have changed throughout history, and there is no shortage of confusion as to which type of pitch is being referred to at any given time. It is probable that kuprum has gone through a similar development. The use of this word, meaning a substance that is smeared on something, could easily have been extended to bitumen in later times.
Septuagint translated kopher as asfaltos (asfalto") and zephet as pissa (pissa). The origin of the word asfaltos is not certain Liddell-Scott suggests that it is not a Greek word. Persian has been suggested. Traditionally it has been derived from the verb sfallo (sfallw), which means to make to fall, throw down or overthrow. Zephet is translated as pissa, which is the noun used in the descriptions of pitch in the Greek shipbuilding descriptions quoted above. Origen's LXX should not be taken too seriously, for reasons that are outside the scope of this article, but we do need to ask why he, or the alleged translators, chose to translate this as asfaltos. Two possibilities are that this may have been anachronistically attributable to a local Alexandrian use of bitumen for caulking at the time that the text was prepared. This does not seem very likely, however, since tree-derived pissa was the norm throughout Greek history and bitumen was only an occasional additive to the mixture. The presence of two separate words for pitch may have led the LXX's translator, or translators, to use two different words in Greek, which was unnecessary. Third, the Alexandrians responsible for the LXX may have been familiarity with late Greek versions of the Babylonian and Sumerian flood accounts. The postflood association of kupru with bitumen could easily have been passed on into the ideas of the apostates of the heretical Alexandrian church.
It also should be noted that Aquila, who produced another translation of the Old Testament that Origen included in his Hexapla, did not translate kopher as asfaltos at all. He translated it as aloife, which is defined as pine pitch by Theophastros, as quoted above. In addition, this word is defined by Liddell-Scott as: anything used for anointing, hog's-lard, grease, unguent, Hom, II. laying on of unguents or paint... Aquila apparently saw a theological meaning in the pitch in addition to its utilitarian value.
It is interesting to note that the modern Greek Bible translation differs from the LXX as well by translating Gen. 6:14 with pissa and not with asfaltos. Ge 6:14 Kame ei seauton kibwton ek ksulwn Gofher kata domatia thelei kamei ten kibwton, kai pselei aleithei auten eswpsen kai eksopsen me pissan. It would appear that pissa may have been used for tree-derived pitch and bitumen in the LXX as well. Liddell-Scott simply defines the word as pitch, but also states that it appears in two forms, a crude form and a refined form. This would apply both the Akkadian forms of bitumen and to the tree-derived pitches described by the Greek shipbuilding historians, but usage tends to point to the latter. The meaning of bitumen could be intended in the LXX's translation of Isaiah 34:9, but this is not likely. Once again, the LXX's translation may have resulted from a strict attempt to translate the two Hebrew words with two different Greek words. Aside from evidence from Greek shipbuilding descriptions, the Apocryphal addition to Daniel, Bel and the Dragon, may be the best evidence that pissa is normally a tree product. Daniel destroys the king of Babylon dragon by feeding it a mixture of pitch and fat, which made it burst asunder. Although cedar and cypress pitch would be toxic and not palatable, pine and spruce pitch are both edible and not totally unpalatable. Bitumen would hardly be edible or palatable and it is unlikely that any living creature would eat anything coated with it. I have eaten the inner bark of a number of evergreens on more than one occasion and can vouch for their flavor and nutritional value. Both of these plants have been used medicinally, but in larger quantities will irritate the kidneys. No doubt, a large quantity as Daniel is said to have given the dragon would doubtless do just what the text says that it did.
The Vulgate appears to have been directly taken from the LXX. Not only does it follow the LXX's translation asfaltos" by bitumine instead of following the Hebrew kopher, but it follows the LXX's rendering of the Hebrew *amer by asfaltos as bitumine as well".
The Samaritan Pentateuch uses an entirely different word for the covering on the ark. It uses the word qlpn, which is related to the Latin colophonia and the English colophony or colophone. This word means dry pitch, resin or rosin in Latin and English. This may or may not be the same substance described in the Hebrew, but it does demonstrate that the Samaritans considered it be an arboreal product. Colophony is not made from bitumen.
While written Sanskrit does not go back as far back as Hebrew, Akkadian or Egyptian, it does have a very ancient history and there were many obvious cultural ties between the Near East and the Indian subcontinent. The chief Sanskrit word for pitch is tindu, which is applied to boats and other things, also refers to a tree. The tree is defined by Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary as Diospyros embryopteris; or Strychnos nux vomica, which are fruit bearing trees, the first being related to ebony or persimmons and the second is the fruit from which stychnine is derived. A derivative word, tinduka, refers to the fruit of tindu that yields a resin used as pich for caulking ships. If the tree is an ebony, that is one of the trees that Jewish commentators have suggested for Noah's ark. Interestingly, the word tindukini, refers to henna. It is not at all unlikely that Monier-Williams may have gotten it wrong and that tindu could refer to a member of the Cypress/Cedar family. Some Sanskrit dictionaries define it simply as a special type of tree. However, in any case, the relationship between a resinous tree used for pitch and the henna plant is certainly not a coincidence. Finally, the verbal derivatives from Sanskrit's word for pitch has parallels with the Near Eastern equivalents, which are tindu plus the verbal root lip, meaning to smear pitch or tindulipta karoti meaning literally to make pitch-smeared.
Theological Reasons for Tar, Asphalt or Bitumen
The Living Bible and its offshoot The New Living Translation are two of the worst perversions of God's word. Both of these versions (they are not translations) inaccurately translate kopher as tar. I am not sure that the inept "translators" of this version were clever enough to have done this for the purpose of supporting old earth deviations from the word of God, but there is reason to suspect them of having done so. Both of these versions translate and the evening and the morning were the first day as simply the day, and likewise for the other days of creation. The Living Bible even adds a deceptive and inaccurate footnote that suggests that day could also mean period. There is no question that these Bible perverters are inserting non-biblical science into the Bible. There implication that Noah's pitch was a petroleum product may be in the same vein.
Kpr and Christ
More than one commentator, including myself quite independently, have noted an interesting set of parallels relating to Gen 6:14. Aside from the apparent connections between the various derivations from kpr and the striking parallel meanings, the derived meaning of kpr, which means to forgive in both Hebrew and Arabic, to forgive may very well may be a forshadowing of the forgiveness for our sins by the blood of our savior Jesus Christ. As kpr was used to cover the ship that provided for the salvation of the righteous, which amounted to God's forgiveness of mankind whom he would otherwise have destroyed completely, so those who accept Christ's offer are forgiven by being covered by his blood. Likewise the kaforet, the covering on the ark of the covenant, was not only the covering of the ark, but also was the judgment seat of God on which the blood atonement was placed by the priest for the atonement of sins. The complicated connection between these words is far more than coincidence and should be seen for what they are, further evidence of the divine nature of the Bible.
In conclusion, not only can we conclude that a resinous tree product is the undoubted source of the pitch used by Noah in Genesis chapter six, we can see that the word used for covering in the Hebrew text has deep spiritual connotations, as well as textual interconnections that should confirm, bolster and fortify the faith of Bible-believing Christians, rather than to damage our belief in the truth of God's word as both the Bible-scoffing, scientists falsely so called and old-aged theorists have attempted to do with faulty or deceptive translation practices.
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The preceeding is part of a series of examples of KJV verses that arrogant would-be scholars have tried to correct and showed themselves to be fools. These examples are for the benefit of those who would like more ammunition to defend God's Word against the attacks of the arrogant Bible "correcting" modernists. I hope that some of you find them useful.
Your servant in Christ,
John Hinton, Ph.D.
Bible Restoration Ministry
A ministry seeking the translating and reprinting of KJV equivalent Bibles in all the languages of the world.
"Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read" —Isaiah 34:16, KJV
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