Did the Temple of Solomon Define Pi in the Bible?

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An artist’s rendition of “Solomon’s Molten Sea” – Image from the Jewish Encyclopedia 1901-06.

Calculating Pi from Solomon’s Temple

Using the formula π = c / d, it’s easy to calculate π = 30/10 = 3 precisely.

Should we infer that the author of I Kings intentionally decreed this value to be used in mathematics?

The Discrepancy for Pi from Solomon’s Temple

Let’s consider the discrepancy in the value of π between mathematics and the report from Solomon’s Temple.

  • The absolute discrepancy: 3.14159265 – 3 = 0.14159265.
  • The percentage discrepancy: 0.14159265 / 3.14159265 = 4.5%.
  • Total discrepancy for the 30 cubits: 30 * 0.045 = 1.35 cubits.

In his article on π at MathWorld, Eric W. Weisstein notes that this could be attributed to “experimental uncertainty.”

Hiram, the artisan whom Solomon employed for the bronze work, used casting techniques for the “molten sea” and many other items. If instead he had assembled this bronze sea with a separate ring for the circumference, he would have been forced to measure more accurately. That leaves the question of whether the author of I Kings would have recorded the more accurate value.

Value of Pi: Legislation?

There is a rumor going around that some states have regulated the value of pi, but according to a Snopes report by Mikkelson, this is incorrect. No US state has actually legislated the value of π – she provides three origins for this myth.

In 1897, the state of Indiana considered passing a mathematics paper on geometry that would have defined the value of pi, but this legislation died.

Robert Heinlein introduced a similar Tennessee law in his science fiction classic, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Mikkleson also cites Mark Boslough’s parody of New Mexico’s discussions of the science curriculum for April Fool’s Day in 1998.

Solomon’s Temple and Pi

A question for religious scholars is whether the author intended this verse to define the value of pi for mathematicians or for the devout – or was it simply the history of events during Solomon’s reign? Regardless of the intended purpose, in this author’s view, the reported measurements of the bronze sea from Solomon’s temple should not be used to determine the actual value of pi.

References:

Holy Bible: King James Version (KJV). I Kings 7:23. Bible Gateway. Accessed Dec. 16, 2012.

Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). I Kings 7:23. (1984). Bible Gateway. Accessed Dec. 16, 2012.

Merriam-Webster. Cubit. Accessed Dec. 16, 2012.

Mikkelson, B. Alabama’s Slice of Pi. (2007). Snopes. Accessed Dec. 16, 2012.

Weisstein, EW. Pi. MathWorld – A Wolfram Web Resource. Accessed Dec. 16, 2012.

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