Gopher wood or gopherwood is a term used once in the Bible for the substance from which Noah's ark was built. Genesis 6:14 states that Noah was to build the Ark of גפר, gofer, more commonly gopher wood, a word not otherwise known in the Bible or in Hebrew. Although some English Bibles attempt a translation, older English translations, including the King James Version (17th century), leave it untranslated. The word is unrelated to the name of the North American animal, the gopher.
The Greek Septuagint (3rd–1st centuries BC) translated it as xylon tetragonon, "squared timber". Similarly, the Latin Vulgate (5th century AD) rendered it as lignis levigatis (lævigatis, in the Clementine Vulgate), "smoothed (possibly planed) wood".
The Jewish Encyclopedia believes it was most likely a translation of the Babylonian "gushure i÷ erini" (cedar-beams), or the Assyrian "giparu" (reed). The Aramaic Targum Onkelos, considered by many Jews to be an official translation of the Hebrew scripture renders this word as קדרוס (qadros) i.e., cedar. The Syriac Peshitta translates this word as ܥܪܩܐ (‘arqa), box wood.
Many modern English translations tend to favor cypress (although otherwise the word for "cypress" in Biblical Hebrew is berosh). This was espoused (among others) by Adam Clarke, a Methodist theologian famous for his commentary on the Bible: Clarke cited the resemblance between Greek word for cypress, kuparisson and the Hebrew word gophar.
Other suggestions include pine, cedar, fir, teak, sandalwood, ebony, wicker, juniper, acacia, boxwood, slimed bulrushes and resinous wood, and even American trees such as Cladrastis kentukea (American yellowwood), although the latter did not exist in the region the ark was supposedly built.
Others, noting the physical similarity between the Hebrew letters g and k, suggest that the word may actually be kopher, the Hebrew word meaning "pitch"; thus kopher wood would be pitched wood. Recent suggestions have included a lamination process (to strengthen the Ark), or a now-lost type of tree, but there is no consensus.
Footnotes and references
- Brenton, Sir Lancelot C.L. (1986) . The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English (reprint). Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 0-913573-44-2.
- Hirsch, EG & Hyvernat, H (2002). "The Jewish Encyclopedia: Goper-Wood". The Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-06-27.
- "The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon". Hebrew Union College. Retrieved 2013-01-30.
- Taylor, Paul (2001). "What is "Gopher Wood"?". Eden Communications. Retrieved 2007-06-25.