The material of which the ark of Noah was made. The word "gofer" occurs but once in the Bible, viz., in the expression (Gen. vi. 14). A comparison of the ancient versions shows that the word was just as obscure when they were made as it is to-day.
The renderings proposed by modern interpreters are as a rule arbitrary and unsatisfactory. The identification of "gofer" with "cypress" (Celsius, "Hierobotanicon," i. 328; Bochart, "Geographia Sacra," ii. 4) rests on the mere assumption that the roots of these two words are akin. According to P. de Lagarde, "gofer" stands for "gofrit," meaning originally "pine," from old Bactrian "vohukereti," and latter also "sulfur," on account of the likeness in appearance which sulfur bears to pine-resin ("Semitica," i. 64; comp. "Symmicta," ii. 93, and "Uebersicht über die im Aramäischen, Arabischen und Hebräischen Uebliche Bildung der Nomina," p. 218).
Others think that "gofer" can best be explained from the Assyro-Babylonian literature. Cheyne, starting from the assumption that the Hebrew narrative of the Deluge is a mere translation from some similar Babylonian document, supposes that the passage under discussion read in the original "gushure iṣ erini" (cedar-beams). He thinks that first the word "erini" was overlooked by the Hebrew translator, who afterward mistook "gushure" for a tree-name, and accordingly wrote ; next a scribe, whose eye was caught by at the end of the verse, miswrote (Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1898, p. 163; comp. Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl." s.v.). F. Hommel holds the Hebrew to be the Assyrian "giparu" (reed).
The "kufa" (Arabic, "kufr" = Hebr. "kofer" = "gofer") now in use on the rivers and canals of the land that gave birth to the Hebrew narrative of the Deluge are made of willow-branches, palm-leaves, etc., closely interwoven like basket-work, with a coat of bitumen on the inside. This is evidently a very old type of water-craft, suggested by the natural resources of a land devoid of large trees suitable for ship-building, but having an abundance of lighter material and bitumen. Such must have been the ark of Noah (Hastings, "Dict. Bible," s.v. "Babylonia"). J. Halévy implicitly adopts the same view ("Recherches Bibliques," i. 130).
The reading of the Masoretic text is correct, at least in the consonants. It is none the less certain that in course of time the Assyrian (whether first Hebraized "gefer" or "gofer") became obscure to the Hebrews. This might have necessitated the addition of an explicative clause with a Hebrew word as a substitute for , viz., . This, when the Hebrews had become familiar with the Phenician methods of ship-building, came by degrees to be considered as an absurdity, and was altered into , much against the usage of the Hebrew language and in violation of the most elementary rules of composition, yet seemingly quite in agreement with the early Jewish methods of emendation.
For passages of the Bible supporting, though only indirectly, the identification of "gofer" with "reed," see the Bible commentaries to Ex. ii. 3, Isa. xviii. 2, and Job xi. 26, and the Hebrew lexicons' s.v. and . See also Papyrus; Reed;