The Noah’s Ark—A Model of a Living Cell

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Make thee an ark of gopher wood; with rooms shalt thou make the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch” (Genesis 6:14)

A light shalt thou make to the ark, and to a cubit shalt thou finish it upward; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.” (Genesis 6:16)

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.” (Genesis 6:19)

And the Eternal said unto Noah: ‘Come thou and all thy house into the ark…’” (Genesis 7:1)

 

The Kabbalah teaches that Noah’s ark was a microcosm. The ark appears to be a biological microcosm as well, exhibiting structural parallels with a living cell.

The original Hebrew word for ark is tevah, which literally means a container. Notably, the word “cell” comes from cella, which means a “small room.” A room, of course, is a type of container.[1] The parallel, however, goes far beyond the linguistic similarity.

A cell is the smallest unit of life. Noah’s ark was also the smallest unit of life on earth, as all other life perished in the flood. Using this biological metaphor, the ark can be considered a model of a unicellular organism.

A cell is contained with a membrane that serves as the cell’s container protecting the cell from the environment. The ark also served as the container protecting its inhabitants from the environment. The cell membrane is semipermeable. It shields the inner content of the cell from the environment while selectively letting certain things from the environment through. Similarly, while protecting the ark’s inhabitants from the harsh environment and raging waters, the walls of the ark had a window on top that let the light into the ark. The ark also had a door for selectively letting animals inside the ark.

Anatomical structure of biological animal cell with organelles. Shutterstock

In biology, cells come in two types: prokaryotic (bacteria and archaea) and eukaryotic (plants, animals, fungi, slime molds, protozoa, and algae). The main distinction between these two types is the compartmentalization of eukaryotic cells. Noah’s ark was compartmentalized—it had three compartments—one for people, one for animals, and one for waste. In this sense, Noah’s ark is a model of a eukaryotic cell. The main feature of a eukaryotic cell is its nucleus. Following our cell metaphor, the first two compartments of the ark housing people and animals may be considered a model of a nucleus. The third compartment built for the waste may be analogous to a cytoplasm—the rest of the organic material in the cell (other than the nucleus) separate from the nucleus by a membrane. The third compartment was also separated from the upper two by a floor.

Eukaryotic cells, like all cells, are surrounded by a membrane. The membrane of a eukaryotic cell has a plasma membrane (similar to prokaryotic cells). It may or may not have cell walls (which are always present in prokaryotic cells). When God told Noah to build the ark, He instructed Noah to build the ark with gopher wood and cover it with pitch. Thus, the ark is made of a cell with a wall (represented in the ark by the walls built of acacia wood) and a plasma membrane (represented in the ark by the tar that coated the walls).

All eukaryotic cells have mitochondria—the powerhouse that generates energy that feeds all metabolic processes in the cell.  Similarly, Noah was commanded to store food in the ark to feed its inhabitants:

“And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.” (Genesis 6:21)

Just as a living cell contains all genetic material (genes) necessary for the continuation of life, so too Noah’s ark housed every specie of flora and fauna necessary for rebuilding biological life on earth after the flood. In this sense, Noah, his family members, and all animals are emblematic of genes that make up the cell’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Just as the DNA of eukaryotic cells is double-stranded, which means that each gene comes in a pair (usually, one inherited from the mother and the other from the father), so too all humans and animals in the ark came in pairs—“ two of every sort… male and female.”

One of the main functional characteristics of living cells (as all living organisms) is the ability to maintain homeostasis—the steady-state of equilibrium, maintaining optimal physical and chemical conditions inside the cell. The midrash states that the ark was a prototype of a messianic society when “the lion will lie with the sheep.” Animals that usually prey on each other in the wild peacefully coexisted inside the ark, where there was peace and equilibrium, that parallels to homeostasis in biology.

Needless to say, this structural parallel is far from literal and can hardly be extended to every detail. Nevertheless, on a high level, the parallel is remarkable. It is hardly coincidental considering that Torah depicts Noah’s ark as a unit of life contained in the tevah (ark), which is emblematic of a living cell contained in the cell’s membrane.

 


Endnotes:

[1] Historically, cells were discovered by Robert Hooke in 1665, who named them for their resemblance to monastery cells. Noah’s ark bears some resemblance to a monastery cell as well, because it was small and because its inhabitance—both human and animal—had to practice sexual abstinence.

Originally Published on QuantumTorah.com.

Keywords: Genesis 6:14, Genesis 6:16, Genesis 6:19, Genesis 7:1, Gen. 6:14, Gen. 6:16, Gen. 6:19, Gen. 7:1, Bereshit 6:14, Bereshit 6:16, Bereshit 6:19, Bereshit 7:1, noah, noach, ark, noah’s ark, noach’s ark, cell, tevah, teivah

About the Author
Dr. Alexander Poltorak is Chairman and CEO of General Patent Corporation. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Physics at The City College of New York. In the past, he served as Assistant Professor of Physics at Touro College, Assistant Professor of Biomathematics at Cornell University Medical College, and Adjunct Professor of Law at the Globe Institute for Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.
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