Solomon's 'molten sea' revisited

From: Vernon Jenkins <>
Date: Wed Apr 28 2004 - 16:06:02 EDT



You may already be aware that The Sunday Telegraph of 25 April carried a letter from one who shares your view that 1Kings 7:23 reveals the woeful ignorance of the Hebrews of Solomon's day concerning the mensuration of the circle - the piece concluding with the words: "The Bible, we are told, is directly inspired by God and scientifically accurate, since He cannot err. Clearly, He did not then know the value of pi, since you cannot get a line of 30 anythings to go round a circular vessel 10 anythings in diameter, even if you stop at pi = 3.142."


I have compiled the following rebuttal which I hope soon to see published:


"To claim that the artisans and engineers of Solomon's day were not aware that pi exceeds 3 by some 4.7% flies in the face of simple common sense and logic - particularly when one considers that their immediate neighbours, the Egyptians, had long before incorporated an exceedingly accurate representation of this fundamental constant into the dimensions of the Great Pyramid. We therefore seek a more satisfactory interpretation of 1Kings 7:23 - and one is not hard to find.


"1Kings 7:26 informs us that the wall thickness of Solomon's 'brazen sea' was 'an handbreadth' - and we are immediately reminded that a real cylinder has an inner diameter (d, say) and an outer diameter (D, say); an inner circumference (c, say) and an outer circumference (C, say). It must follow that 1Kings 7:23 is inherently ambiguous, for the '10 cubits from one brim to the other' and the 'line of 30 cubits.round about' are unqualified. Your correspondent has assumed c = 30 and d = 10, so that the ratio, c/d = pi = 3 (or, alternatively, C = 30 and D = 10; with an identical conclusion). But what if the writer's intention had been c = 30 and D = 10? The inner diameter (d) would then be the outer diameter(D) less twice the wall thickness of the cylinder (i.e. 2 x 'an handbreadth' - about 0.4 cubit). Under these conditions, pi = c/d = 30/9.6 = 3.125 (underestimating pi by a mere 0.5%).


"We might well conclude, therefore, that Solomon's chief concern when planning this structure was to ensure - by the careful balancing of inner diameter and wall thickness - that 3 (symbol of divine perfection) would appear as the simple ratio of two of its principal dimensions, viz c/D."


Vernon Jenkins MSc


PS Interestingly, an accurate value of pi is built into the Hebrew text of the Bible's first verse. Details may be found at:




 Michael, I am interested to know how you would counter this argument.



Received on Wed Apr 28 16:07:28 2004

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