Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Solomon's Molten Sea and the Value of Pi

In the list of alleged Biblical inaccuracies, it is often claimed that the Bible teaches the value of Pi to be three. These critics demonstrate their readiness to attack without having proper ammunition. Here's how one writer put it:
Geometry class escapes religious fundamentalist scrutiny, too, as a careful reading of Second Kings reveals. The circular altar in Solomon's temple, we're told, is nine cubits in diameter and 27 cubits around the rim. Except that makes Pi an even three-point-zero instead of 3.1416. Oops.
It doesn't take much to see that this critic is pretty ignorant on the matter (not stupid; just ignorant).

It's not in Second Kings. It's in 1 Kings 7:23ff, and 2 Chronicles 4:2ff.

It's not 9 and 27 cubits. It's 10 and 30.

It's not a circular altar. It's a circular "molten sea".

And perhaps the most significant issue; this sea had a "brim", like a cup, which was as wide as a hand (1 Kings 7:26). The measurement of the circumference was done by a line (v. 2). I suspect that most people running a string around a huge cup would place the string just under the brim. So, assuming a hand is 4 inches wide, and a cubit is 18 inches, we have 540 / 172 = 3.1395...; that's pretty close to Pi's value of 3.14..., well within the margin of error for hand-size, or string-stretch, etc.

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