Critics of the Bible point out that the reference to the "Sea" in the OT shows mathematical confusion. [The Sea was an enormous basin in which the priests bathed before approaching God in sacrificial service in the Tabernacle or, later, the Temple. See 1 Kings 7:23, 2 Chronicles 4:2.] If the Sea was 10 cubits from brim to brim, how could the diameter be 30 cubits? We know that c = 2πr, or πd. The correct circumference should be 31.415926535… So what's going on?

I think the biblical writer, as is so often the custom, is giving us round numbers. All ancient cultures had calculated the value of π to a sufficient degree of accuracy that none would have assigned it a value of 3.0. The aim of the writer was to point out the impressive girth of this bronze structure, not to describe it as a geometer.

However, as one reader reminds us -- and this datum is familiar -- A History of π (by Peter Beckmann), pp.74-76, clearly answers this question about Solomon's Sea yielding an erroneous value of π as 3. "The thread measured the inner circumference to be 30 cubits, with the thread diameter being from outside to outside. Doing the math with the mention that the width was a hand-breath yields the common value of pi for the time of 3 and 1/7! This was discovered by rabbi, priest, and mathematician Nehemiah about 150 AD, in an age where science and biblical religion were at odds."

Whether such precision was in the mind of the biblical writer is debatable, but there is no reason to accuse him of mathematical confusion.

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