Biblical Pi

Biblical Pi - The Old Myth of King Solomon's Wrong pi...

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The Old Myth of King Solomon's Wrong pi Extracted and edited from an e-article by H. Peter Aleff 1 Most current textbooks on the history of science assert that ancient Near Eastern mathematics was too primitive to compute an accurate value for the circle circumference-to-diameter ratio pi. They even claim that the Bible gives the rather inaccurate value of pi = 3 for this important mathematical constant. They refer to the reported dimensions of the “sea of cast bronze” (a large vessel housing a pool of water) which king Solomon placed before the Temple he built in Jerusalem as described in 1 Kings 7:23 to commemorate the Exodus: “It was round in shape, the diameter from rim to rim being ten cubits; it stood five cubits high, and it took a line thirty cubits long to go around it.” Indeed, the Rabbis who wrote the Talmud a thousand years after Solomon asserted this value of pi based on those verses. They may not have been mathematicians but they knew how to divide thirty by ten and get three. Accordingly, they affirmed as late as 500 AD: “that which in circumference is three hands broad is one hand broad.” 2 Scholars of the Enlightenment era were glad to concur with that interpretation because it allowed them to wield this blatant falsehood in the Bible as an irresistible battering ram against the notion of the inerrancy of religious authorities. It would seem that their colonial-era successors in turn embraced that poor value for Solomon’s pi to belittle the mathematical achievements and abilities of the ancient non-European civilizations. This parochial attitude received a major blow when the Columbia University professor of Comparative Literature Edward Said published in 1978 his book "Orientalism" in which he exposed the colonial roots of the then still common Western disdain for the abilities of “Orientals.” His influential comments
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This note was uploaded on 09/26/2011 for the course GPH 225 taught by Professor Gph225 during the Winter '10 term at DePaul.

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Biblical Pi - The Old Myth of King Solomon's Wrong pi...

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