What Did the Lions Eat on Noah’s Ark?

Douglas Whaley

Noah had no idea how old he really was, but since he was certainly the oldest person he knew it sometimes seemed like he must be six hundred, so that’s what he claimed as his age. Eventually he’d really come to believe that number. It’s what he told his eventual biographer.

When the bad dreams started coming, the ones about God Almighty destroying the world with a great flood and commanding the construction of a great ark, he didn’t want to believe it at first, but God in those dreams was very angry and very insistent. So Noah, terrified, had done what he was told. The dreams contained detailed instructions, hazily remembered as most dreams are, and he’d had to fill in the blanks creatively. But now, amazingly, the ark was more or less built—it had taken forever to figure out what a “cubit” was—and things seemed to be progressing better than expected. That was good, because the weather was changing. Ominous clouds presaged ugly storms approaching like troopers.

But this morning Noah was startled by a deputation of family members, come to him in a body and obviously bearing a prepared message. Seth, his oldest, was the leader, but his other sons, Ham and Japheth, were at his side, and their wives and the oldest of the children made up the rest of the pack.

Seth spoke. “Dad, we’ve been talking, and I’m afraid we have to face the fact that this whole venture is a failure. It’s time to admit that while we tried, we should throw it all up and go back to working the farm while there’s still time to get in a harvest.”

Noah was astounded. The family had never questioned him before—well, okay, they’d made sure he was sober when he first described the whole venture, but then his descriptions of God’s wrath and the coming deluge had set them to working like a dedicated ant colony.

In a voice that betrayed nothing of his advanced age, Noah thundered, “What do you mean?”

Seth, stepping back slightly but determined to explain, persevered. “We just can’t make this ark thing work! Sure, we went out and gathered all the animals we could capture, but lots of others we simply couldn’t find, and the ones that we did corral aren’t all of childbearing age. We’re supposed to have seven couples of clean animals and two couples of unclean animals, and, well, we just don’t have anything like those numbers.”

Noah pointed at the temporary zoo area where the animals were housed. “There they are!”

Ham jumped in. “No, Dad, they’re not! Sure, yeah, we’ve got enough of the domestic animals, but the wild ones … not a chance! Take the giraffes. They’re a clean animal so we should have seven pairs, fourteen in all. But have you ever captured and then herded fourteen giraffes and dragged them back here all the way from Africa? Well what we have left is seven of them, not fourteen, and those seven consist of six males and one female. Nobody in the giraffe pen is a happy camper.”

Seth added, “And there are so many species we don’t have any of, much less the required number. What will God think about that?”

Noah paused, considering. Hmm. “Well … well, God will provide … I suppose. Don’t worry, guys. Species go extinct all the time. Let’s just forget about the dinosaurs, okay? Ugh! Who needs them?”

“Fine,” ventured Japheth, “but what about food? Right now we’re having trouble feeding our menagerie, and once we’ve packed everybody into the ark, things will be ten times worse. We simply don’t have room for the provisions we’ll need if we’re stuck on board for more than a day or two. After that the animals will have to be fed to one another, defeating the whole purpose.”

“Start with the lions,” Ham ventured. “They eat lots of meat, and that meat consists of the other passengers, including us if other sources dry up. It’s the same with all the carnivores.”

“God will provide,” Noah mumbled again, eyes closed, trying not think about it.

“Not good enough, Father Noah,” insisted one of the wives, the one with the big mouth. “We need answers before we climb onto that floating leaky shack!”

Hey!” ejaculated Ham, proud of his prowess as a carpenter. “None of us know how to steer it, but I’m damned sure it won’t sink … as long as we don’t hit a mountain or anything.”

Seth jumped back into the fray with, “And, Dad, even if we make it through this big storm you say is coming and offload the animals, what then? How could they all possibly thrive?”

“What do you mean?” asked Noah, sick of these questions.

“Well, for example, what will the lions eat on their first day free? And the other carnivores? Whole species will be gobbled up before they can propagate!”

Noah raised his hands. “Stop, stop! Enough thinking! God will provide, I told you. No more questions!”

As if on cue, there came a tremendous thunderclap and rain began pouring. Everyone scrambled and frantically began loading animals onto the ark, which swayed dramatically in a rising wind.

The first few days on the ark, bobbing and swinging in circles during the storm, were chaotic, and it was all the small crew could do to keep the whole shebang afloat. On the third day, finding meat for the carnivores achieved a temporary fix when the tigers somehow got into the unicorn pen, slaughtering all the inhabitants but leaving a pile of meat that lasted for a short period.

In the end the meat problem solved itself. Hundreds of corpses banged up against the ark and were easily hauled aboard. It was messy and awful cutting up bodies, but that problem was solved by culling the ample floating mass for babies and small children, which were then dumped whole into the relevant carnivore pens.

It was horrible work that they all hated, but, as Noah told his little band, “God will provide.”


Chapter 6

. . .

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord….

13 And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

15 And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.

16 A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.

17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.

18 But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee.

Chapter 7

. . .

2 Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

3 Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth….

5 And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him….

17 And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.

18 And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.

19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.

20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:

22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.

Douglas Whaley

Douglas Whaley is an emeritus professor of law at The Ohio State University, a prolific blogger, and the author of the atheist thriller Imaginary Friend (2008). This article is reprinted with permission from the author’s 2010 blog post, the most popular single essay of his blogging history.