Re: [asa] Pi in Bible's face

From: gordon brown <Gordon.Brown@Colorado.EDU>
Date: Sat Oct 04 2008 - 23:08:23 EDT

On Sat, 4 Oct 2008, George Cooper wrote:

> I have seen it mentioned a number of times how the Bible claims that the value of pi is exactly 3. [It's not hard to guess why some folks would do so.] The latest comes from Astronomy magazine(Nov. 08, pg. 12) found in Bob Berman's article.

He references the mathematical account found in1 Kings 7:23 and 2 Chronicles 4:2. [Perhaps y'all have addressed this topic before, but here are my thoughts on why their claim is erroneous.]

This is the version I attempted to send to the editor, but, this is 3x too long for their 150 word limit.

The Bible was likely not in error regarding the inferred value of pi when it gave the dimensions for the large washing bowl found in 1 Kings 7:23 (and 2 Chronicles 4:2). Here are the verses in 1 Kings (KJV):

23 And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

Although this suggests a value of 3 for pi, we must take into consideration the subsequent verses.

24 And under the brim of it round about there were knops compassing it, ten in a cubit, compassing the sea round about: the knops were cast in two rows, when it was cast.

26 And it was an hand breadth thick, and the brim thereof was wrought like the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies: it contained two thousand baths.

It seems probable that this bowl had a brim (lip) that encompassed the entire bowl. This brim was the width of a hand. If we subtract this brim width from the 10 cubits then divide this value into the stated 30 cubit circumference, we will find a value much closer to pi.

You are right. We have discussed this topic before, and your analysis is
the standard defense of this passage. It seems reasonable that the
diameter would be measured by laying a rod across the top, and the
circumference by wrapping a string around the basin underneath the lip.
Many today want to look down on the abilities of the ancients, but
although they would have been able only to approximate pi, it is hard for
me to believe that people who constructed circular objects would not have
discovered that pi must have been greater than three.

Gordon Brown (ASA member)

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Received on Sat Oct 4 23:09:11 2008

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