Genesis 6:14 in the Christian Old Testament and Jewish Torah cites gopher wood as the wood from which Noah built the ark. However, this word, spelled "gofer" in the original version, appears nowhere else in these books and was not a common term in the ancient period. Religious scholars have posited a number of theories to explain what kind of wood gopher wood might be, but no specific theory has been universally accepted as correct.
Many modern Biblical translations, such as the New International Version, translate "gofer" as "cypress." This translation is based on the theory that the original word may have been "kupar," a term that refers to cypress trees in Greek. Cypress trees are also strong, large and grow in the Middle East, making them suitable for use in a boat or other large structure. Currently, there is no linguistic evidence that the Greek term "kuparissov" actually descends from the Hebrew "gofer," however.
Cedar trees are often mentioned in Hebrew texts as long-branched, strong trees with a pleasant odor. They would be appropriate for boat making and grew extensively in Lebanon and nearby areas. According to Jewish Encyclopedia.com, T. E. Cheyne proposed cedar as a definition for gopher wood, assuming that the term "gofer" is a translation from a Babylonian document. This theory requires several scribal mistakes and assumes the existence of a document not currently known to archaeologists.
The Arabic term "kufa" and the Hebrew "kofer" both refer to boats made from woven palm leaves, willow branches, reeds and similar plants. These boats are heavily coated with bitumen or pitch on the inside and have been in use for many years. The rest of Genesis 6:14 supports this reading in that it instructs Noah to coat the ark with pitch inside and out, which reed boats require to remain waterproof. However, reed boats are relatively small in relation to the stated dimensions of the ark.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia suggests that "gofer" is related to the word "gophrith," meaning pitch or brimstone, or "kopher," which has a similar meaning. This reading suggests that the ark was to be built out of wood coated thoroughly with pitch. The later instruction to cover the ark inside and out with pitch seems redundant in this case, but many ancient texts, including the Bible, use repetition to elaborate their points.