SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש



What is new

Index of names


Generations  1-14
(3760 - 2080 BCE)

Generations 15-21
(2080 - 1240 BCE)

Generations 22-28
(1240 - 400 BCE)

Generations 29-35
(400 BCE - 440 CE)

Generations 36-42
(440 - 1280 CE)

Generations 43-49
(1280 - 2120 CE)

Generation 50

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Alliance with Pharaoh
(2745 AM - 1015 BCE)

Solomon's wisdom
(2745 AM - 1015 BCE)

The Bat Creek inscription

The Gezer calendar

The Phoenicians
The "trade winds"

The Greeks
The alphabet

Construction of the Temple
(2745 AM - 1015 BCE)

The number Pi

Completion of the Temple
(2752 AM - 1008 BCE)

The ivory pomegranate

The 24 hours day
(2752 AM - 1008 BCE)

 Previous <<   Generation 23   >> Next

Hebrew years 2640 to 2760 (1120-1000 BCE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~ Part III ~~~ 

Year 2745 – 1015 BCE – Solomon’s alliance with Pharaoh

After resolving the succession feuds with his half-brother Adonijah and his supporters, the kingdom became peaceful. It was time for Solomon to pursue peace outside as well:

And Solomon became allied to Pharaoh king of Egypt by marriage, and took Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about. Only the people sacrificed in the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the Lord until those days.
--- I Kings 3:1-2

Egypt was then in what is called the Third Intermediate Period, ranging from 1069 to 664 BCE. The previous powerful New Kingdom had been weakened by internal struggles that led into the effective division of the country between political and religious powers: Lower Egypt in the north with the political capital Tanis in the Delta region was ruled by the Pharaoh, while Middle and Upper Egypt in the south with the religious capital Thebes was effectively ruled by the High Priests of Amon, linked to the royal family in Tanis.

Solomon married a daughter of Pharaoh Psusennes I of the 21st Dynasty,[1] who reigned from 1047 to 1001 BCE.

Psusennes I
Gold mask of Psusennes I (Cairo Museum)

It was important for kings of that dynasty to seek alliances and peace on their borders, so that they could maintain their power. To this effect and in order to seal his alliance with Solomon, he sent an expedition to secure the border between Egypt and the land of Israel, and destroyed Gezer, the main enemy city on the common border:

Pharaoh King of Egypt had gone up, and taken Gezer, and burnt it with fire, and slain the Canaanites that dwelt in the city, and given it for a portion unto his daughter, Solomon's wife. And Solomon built Gezer, and Beth-Horon the nether, and Baalath, and Tadmor in the wilderness, in the land, and all the store-cities that Solomon had, and the cities for his chariots, and the cities for his horsemen, and that which Solomon desired to build for his pleasure in Jerusalem, and in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion.
--- I Kings 9:16-19

Concerning the city of "Tadmor in the wilderness", it refers to the original city that was later known as Palmyra. It is located well inside the Syrian desert so fully justifies the description "in the wilderness". The name Palmyra refers to palm trees, and in indeed derived from the name Tadmor which originally as Tamar, which means palm tree. The Biblical text (in Hebrew) actually cites both Tadmor and Tamar: וְאֶת-תמר (תַּדְמֹר) בַּמִּדְבָּר, בָּאָרֶץ
The location of Tadmor/Palmyra shows that the kingdom of Solomon streched quite far north and east inside what was the land of Aram. The city is also mentioned in the Talmud (late Roman period) as being a city that had been destroyed but rebuilt again and became a city of depravity, worse than Hell itself (Talmud, Yevamoth 17a).
Tel Gezer
Tel Gezer (courtesy: Parks in Israel)

In 1908, during excavations that took place in the ancient city of Gezer during the Ottoman Empire, was found a milestone inscribed with writing symbols that give the annual seasons and the calendar of months as follows:

  • Two months gathering [they correspond to the start of the Hebrew year with the month of Tishri]
  • Two months planting
  • Two months late sowing
  • One month cutting flax
  • One month reaping barley
  • One month reaping and measuring grain
  • Two months pruning
  • One month summer fruit
--- Coogan, Michael D., "A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament", page 119, Oxford University Press, 2009, cited in Wikipedia

The stone was dated from the 10th century BCE which would correspond to the time of Solomon's reign, most probably after Pharaoh offered the city to him.

The Gezer calendar
The Gezer calendar (replica), Israel Museum
(the original is in the Istanbul Museum)

There are two important findings related to this inscription: the method of calendar and the writing itself.

About the method of calendar, the practice of dividing the year into sets of months (most sets being of two months) seems to have dated from the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. What is extraordinary is that this method has remained in practice for about 1500 years as it is described in the Talmud (which compiled in the 5th century CE):

[The second] half of Tishri, Marcheshvan, and the first half of Kislev is seed-time;
[the second] half of Kislev, Tebeth, and half Shebat are the winter months;
[the second] half of Shebat, Adar, and [the first] half of Nisan, cold months;
[the second] half of Nisan, Iyar, and [the first] half of Sivan is the period of harvests;
[the second] half of Sivan, Tammuz, and the first half of Ab are summer;
the second half of Ab, Ellul and the first half of Tishri, hot months.
Rabbi Judah counted [these periods] from [the beginning of] Tishri; Rabbi Simeon, from Marcheshvan.
--- Talmud, Baba Metzia 106b

Concerning the writing on the inscription, it is based on an alphabet, not pictograms. This is one of the earliest form of alphabet, and it dates from the establishment of the Israelites in Canaan. Scientists call it paleo-Hebrew alphabet, or "Canaanite" alphabet (which is misguiding because the Canaanites themselves used the cuneiform writing as testified by the Amarna letters to Pharaoh Akhenaten). So it is possible to imagine that the inscription may have been used by the people of Gezer (who were Canaanites) to learn about the Hebrew calendar and alphabet of their new ruler (the Israelites).

The early Hebrew alphabet was extensively used in the time of King Solomon. A second item has been discovered in Jerusalem by archaeologist Eilat Mazar in July 2013 and the inscription was fully explained six months later by Prof. Gershon Galil from the University of Haifa, Israel. The artifact, an engraving on a clay jug, concerns the description of a wine that was contained in the jug. The wine is described as lower quality, bestowed by King Solomon for the use of people or guards employed at his royal service. The wine was deemed to be no fit for the king's table.

The 3000 years old clay jug inscription
The 3000 years old clay jug inscription
(source: Shalom Life)

A more recent study, although being controversial, argues that the alphabet was actually already used by the Hebrews in Egypt.[9]

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Year 2745 – 1015 BCE – God grants wisdom to Solomon

This marriage was however more a political alliance than a matrimonial union because the new wife remained in Egypt until, as the Biclical text says, Solomon had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about. This will take him a few more years to complete. Meanwhile, the text says: Solomon loved the Lord (I Kings 3:3).

God appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked what he desired:

"Give Your servant therefore an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this Your great people?" And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said unto him: "Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life; neither have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies; but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice; behold, I have done according to your word: lo, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart; so that there has been none like you before you, neither after you shall any arise like unto you. And I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there has not been any among the kings like unto you, all your days. And if you will walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David did walk, then I will lengthen your days."
--- I Kings 3:9-14

And God extended the stretch of Solomon kingdom from Egypt, his ally, until the River, which is Mesopotamia. He ruled by a network of allies and provincial leaders.

There is historical evidence of this occurrence in the records of Babylon because, before the time of Solomon’s accession to power, the Arameans had made incursions to Babylon, toppled its leader, Nabu-shum-Libur, and ended his dynasty known as Dynasty V of Babylon. And then David submitted the Arameans to his rule:

David smote also Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah,[2] as he went to establish his dominion at the river Euphrates. And David took from him a thousand and seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen; and David houghed all the chariot horses, but reserved of them for a hundred chariots. And when the Arameans of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer king of Zobah, David smote of the Arameans two and twenty thousand men. Then David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus; and the Arameans became servants to David, and brought presents. And the Lor gave victory to David whithersoever he went. And David took the shields of gold that were on the servants of Hadadezer, and brought them to Jerusalem. And from Betah and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, King David took exceeding much brass.
--- II Samuel 8:3-8
Most probably, the gold and brass that David took away from the Arameans had been previously taken by them from Babylon, as an inscription of Late Babylonian period stated:

During the reign of Adad-apla-iddina, king of Babylon, hostile Aramaeans and Suteans, enemies of the Ekur temple and the city of Nippur, […] plundered the land of Sumer and Akkad, and overthrew all the temples. The Aramaeans carried off the goods and property of the god Enlil.
--- Inscription of Simbar-Sipak (or Simbar-Sihu), who reigned around 1025-1008 BCE [3]
So, by the time of Solomon’s reign, the Arameans, and by extent the region of Babylon that they had previously conquered, was under the indirect dominance of the Israelites. The dynasty that followed Dynasty V of Babylon was plagued with distress and famine, so that it never presented any threat to Solomon's kingdom during the time of his reign.

Solomon also made alliance with the Phoenicians. Their king, Hiram, had known King David and was married to an Israelite widow from the Tribe of Naphtali (I Kings 7:14). This created bonds between the two royal houses, of Jerusalem and Sidon. Solomon traded with Hiram: he provided him every year wheat and oil, and Hiram provided to Solomon timber from the cedar trees of his land, today’s Lebanon (I Kings 5:22-25).

Like their allies the Phoenicians, Solomon had a navy that carried Jewish tradesmen and adventurers over the seas:

For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram; once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.
--- I Kings 10:22

The mention of ivory means that the Jewish tradesmen reached Africa, where elephants could be found. As of the peacocks, they originated from India which is also a route taken by the maritime trade. But there is more. A engraved stone was found in Tennessee in 1889, and it was believed that the inscription on it was native Cherokee language, but nobody had been able to translate it. Yet, for about 100 years, this stone, which became known as the Bat Creek inscription
was considered as genuine. But in 1988, a scientist discovered that the language on it was in fact Paleo-Hebrew, the same language used in Judea in the time of King Solomon ! A lot of energy had been spent since to prove the stone was (suddenly) a forgery, although carbon dating test proved it to be quite ancient in fact. A later attempt, in 2004, reported that the inscription was  a bad copy of a sentence found in a Masonic book published in 1870, that echoed the words of Exodus 39:30, Holy to God (קֹדֶשׁ לַיהוָה). Yet, the inscription is not really showing the same letter (a fact that the proponents of this Masonic theory simply explained as a mistake made by the copist who forged the stone !!). The inscription, in fact, quite clearly states: the frontier of Judah !! And indeed, if maritime travellers from Judah reached America in these times (which somehow would explained the quantity of gold they were able to bring back to King Solomon), that area would have been the frontier of their farthest reach.

Bat Creek inscription
The Bat Creek inscription on top, and the Masonic inscription below

In the above two texts, the letters in blue have been wrongly interpreted by the Masonic proponents: while the Masonic text cleary shows a repeat of the last letter, which is the letter Waw, that last letter is totally different in the Bat Creek inscription which shows the letter Dalet. Similarly, the second letter from the right is clearly the letter Tsade in Paleo-Hebrew, and in the Masonic inscription that letter is closed at the top making it the letter Dalet (like the last letter -on the left- of the Bat Creek inscription). Finally the red letter is the Masonic text, which is the letter Shin, is not found in the Bat Yam inscription. In total, the Bat Yam inscription is equivalent to the Hebrew words:  קץ ליהוד, which means Frontier (or End) of Judah.

Paleo-Hebrew alphabet
Paleo-Hebrew alphabet

This is also a period when, most probably, some Israelites settled around the Mediterranean Sea, on the shores of Asia Minor, in Spain, in Northern Africa, in what will later become the Maghreb, but also probably founded the city of Carthage along with the Phoenicians.

The Judgment of Solomon
The Judgment of Solomon (Gustave Dor, 1868)

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The Phoenicians obtain wisdom from Solomon

The friendship between Solomon and Hiram benefited the Phoenicians who learned about new concepts that were previously unknown to most people of the Antiquity. The only known Phoenician writer and historian was someone called Sanchoniatho (or Sanchuniathon). Although his works have been lost, some fragments have survived and have been referred to by following historians. From these fragments, we can detect the influence of Biblical sources. For example, about cosmology, Sanchoniatho wrote:

He supposed that the beginning of all things was a dark and condensed windy air, or a breeze of thick air and a chaos turbid and black as Erebus, and that these were unbounded, and for a long series of ages destitute of form. But when this wind became enamoured of its own first principles (the Chaos), and an intimate union took place, that connexion was called Pothos: and it was the beginning of the creation of all things. And it (the Chaos) knew not its own production; but from its embrace with the wind was generated Mt; which some call Ilus (Mud), but others the putrefaction of a watery mixture. And from this sprung all the seed of the creation, and the generation of the universe. And there were certain animals without sensation, from which intelligent animals were produced, and these were called Zophasemin, that is, the overseers of the heavens; and they were formed in the shape of an egg: and from Mt shone forth the sun, and the moon, the less and the greater stars.
And when the air began to send forth light, by its fiery influence on the sea and earth, winds were produced, and clouds, and very great defluxions and torrents of the heavenly waters. And when they were thus separated, and carried out of their proper places by the heat of the sun, and all met again in the air, and were dashed against each other, thunder and lightnings were the result: and at the sound of the thunder, the before-mentioned intelligent animals were aroused, and startled by the noise, and moved upon the earth and in the sea, male and female.
These things were found written in the Cosmogony of Taautus, and in his commentaries, and were drawn from his observations and the natural signs which by his penetration he perceived and discovered, and with which he has enlightened us.
--- Cory, Isaac Preston, Ancient Fragments, London, 1832

A key element of this transmission of knowledge from the Israelites to the Phoenicians was the alphabet. There is archaeological evidence that the alphabet came to the Phoenicians during the reign of Hiram, because the earliest alphabetical Phoenician inscription was found on the sarcophagus of Hiram himself. This sarcophagus was made by the son of Hiram (or Ahiram) for his father.

Inscription on Hiram sarcophagus
Inscription on Hiram sarcophagus in the first Phoenician alphabet (Museum of Beirut)

The inscription reads:

--- Source: press article from The Daily Beagle

Another important knowledge of the time was the system of wind flows on Earth. It was with Solomon's wisdom that the Phoenicians could understand that the winds did not blow straight but with a circular effect. This was an important point for maritime routes, to take advantage of one wind or another. This is the reason they were called the "trade winds". This knowledge was expressed in the Bible, in a book attributed to Solomon:

The wind goes toward the south, and turns about unto the north; it turns about continually in its circuit, and the wind returns again to its circuits.
--- Ecclesiastes 1:6

The winds flow in circle on Earth
The winds flow in circles on Earth

Did the Phoenicians become the greatest maritime nation of the times because they received knowledge from Solomon about the nature of "trade winds" to make the maritime routes more useable?

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The Phoenicians pass wisdom to the Greeks

The new knowledge that every form of life started from a watery mixture spread from Solomon to his friends the Phoenicians, and from the latter to other civilisations among the Phoenician world which were harbour cities. This concept surely pleased a maritime nation like them. It was also adopted by Thales of the city of Miletus, in Asia Minor, who is considered as the founder of Science and of Philosophy.[4] Thales declared:

Water constituted the principle of all things.
--- Diogenes Laertius, Lives and opinions of eminent philosophers; it is a biography of the philosophers written in about 300 CE

But Thales was not the first Greek to believe that water was the beginning of everything. Before him, Hesiod, who lived in year about 700 BCE, wrote a poem[5] called Theogony in which he related the traditions of his times that the initial state of the universe was Chaos, a gaping void (abyss) and total darkness, from which Aether (the upper light) was brought by a divine essence, and then the primordial waters appeared:

Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all […]. From Chaos came forth Erebus[6] and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus. And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to her, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods.
--- Hesiod, Theogony, translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914, lines 116-138

These considerations about the origin of the universe are reflected in various cultures, about in these same periods prior to 500 BCE, and they probably were legends made from stories that have emerged from the kingdom of Solomon and that spread to other people and cultures in the form of tales.

The cooperation with the Phoenicians also brought them the concept of alphabet. Before their encounter with the Hebrews, the Canaan people used cuneiform as evidenced by the letters of Amarna. And a couple of hundred years later, they had switched to alphabet. How? God gave the Torah and its alphabet to the Hebrews after the Exodus, and it was lately used by David and his son Solomon who wrote poetry that would be included in the Jewish Bible, for example the Psalms and the Song of Songs Solomon explained the concept of letters to Hiram who then tought it to his people the Phoenicians. Before letters of alphabet, the ancient world only used symbols, such as cuneiforms or hieroglyphs. From the Phoenicians, the concept of alphabet spread to the maritime cities they used or build. It was first transmitted to the Greeks who passed it to the rest of Europe over time, through their culture. This fact is confirmed by Herodotus, the first world historian, who wrote the following in about 400 BCE:

The Phoenicians who came with Cadmus, and of whom the Gephyreans were a part, introduced during their residence in Greece various articles of science, and amongst other things letters, with which, as I conceive, the Greeks were before unacquainted.
--- Herodotus, The Histories, Book V – Terpsichore, section LVII

This opinion of Herodotus had been widely accepted in the ancient times, at least until the early Christian era. Cadmus, a Phoenician prince, established himself in Greece probably around 1000 BCE (the Phoenicians created their alphabet some years before) and brought the knowledge of alphabet with him which was then passed into Greek culture:

Cadmus, the father of Semele, came to Thebes in the time of Lynceus, and was the inventor of the Greek letters.
--- Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book I, 21:141, to access this text online, click here 

One of the earliest archaeological proofs of the existence of an alphabet among the Israelites is a seal that was found in Israel and dated about 700 BCE which bears the name of the city of Beth-Lehem.

2700 years old seal from Israel
2700 years old seal written in alphabet (source: Bible History Daily)

The wisdom that God gave to Solomon was disseminated to the ancient world by means of stories and knowledge, over the years, and operated a turn in mankind's understanding of nature and science, in many domains, and intellectual investigations became possible with the help of alphabet.

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Year 2745 – 1015 BCE – Solomon starts the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem

In the 4th year of his reign, Solomon started to build a Temple to host the Ark of Covenant. His father, King David, envisioned to carry out this project but was advised by Nathan the Prophet not to do it in his times.

And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord.
--- I Kings 6:1 (usual translation)

The 480 years mentioned in this text has widely been assumed to be 480 years from the Exodus, when the children of Israel came out of Egypt. This is what the original Seder Olam Rabbah has considered. This is what historians have considered and who based their calculations on the various translations that were given in their language to this text. But the interpretation of this text has been erroneous. Here are the words in Hebrew where the misinterpretation occurred:

לְצֵאת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל

This text has been widely understood as the Exodus of the Bene-Israel. But it is not so. When the Biblical text mentions the Exodus, the wording typically implies that God took out the Children of Israel from Egypt. The examples are:
- Exodus 12:51
הוֹצִיא יְהוָה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל  => God brought the Children of Israel [out from the land of Egypt]
- Exodus 3:10
וְהוֹצֵא אֶת-עַמִּי בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל  => bring forth my people the Children of Israel [from Egypt]

The main message is clear: it is God who brought out the Bene-Israel from Egypt, who were thus beneficiaries of His action.

But what does the above text says: it mentions that the Bene-Israel did the action themselves, when they came out of Egypt. The difference is not easy to perceive in a simple translation word like Exodus: the actual Exodus refers to the Bene-Israel being taken out, while the text above in I Kings 6:1 refers to the Bene-Israel going out themselves. That is the difference: the result of taking out (by the hand of God) vs. the action of going out (by themselves).

So did the Bene-Israel did go out of Egypt by themselves? Yes and there is only one occurrence, if we understand the word Bene-Israel not as the usually translated Chidlren of Israel but instead as Children of Jacob, because Jacob was called Israel. The Children of Jacob did come out of Egypt by themselves, only once... when they went to bury their father to the Cave of Machpelah, and then they returned to Egypt as they had promised to Pharaoh. This was in Hebrew year 2265 (see Generation 19).

So the understanding of I Kings 6:1 should have been that the come out of Egypt was not the Exodus, but the funeral procession to bury Jacob in Canaan:

And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Jacob were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord.
--- I Kings 6:1 (revisited)

And thus, 480 years from this unique event takes our chronology to 2265+480 = Hebrew year 2745 (1015 BCE).

And why King Solomon would have counted the years from the return of Jacob to Canaan as opposed to the years from the Exodus? I can personally see two good reasons. The first is that the return of Jacob remains to Canaan is a symbol of the future return of his descendance: he was the Patriarch to return and from him would be counted the return, at least spiritual, of the children of Israel. The second reason may be more pragmatic: Solomon had married Pharaoh's daughter. Would it be politically correct to commemorate the new Temple with the counting of years from the Exodus, the single event that caused the clash of the ancestors of both Solomon and his father-in-law? Better was to count from the return of Jacob to Canaan, at a time when both the Hebrews and the Egyptians were living together peacefully.

Another parallel may be drawn between the burial of Jacob and the death of his wife Rachel. When the later died the text says: (Genesis 35:18) בְּצֵאת נַפְשָׁהּ  which means that "her soul departed -voluntarily- from her". At the time, we explained that this death was her redemption. And here again, with the counting of the years for the Temple, the text says  "when the sons of Israel/Jacob departed -voluntarily- from Egypt". In other words, their departure from Egypt to go and bury Jacob in Canaan was the first stone to their Redemption, which will become full when God will take them out from Egypt Himself. The fact that there were 480 years between the return of Jacob to Canaan and the First Temple is also in parallel of the 480 years that will be between the death of Rachel and the time when the Israelites lost the Ark of the Covenant at the time of the Judges (see death of Eli the High Priest).   

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Year 2745 – 1015 BCE – The value of Pi

Mathematicians of the Antiquity had long ago understood that the circle had special properties in terms of proportions. They had estimated the circumference of a circle to be about 3 times its diameter. This simple ratio or equivalent ones were used in Mesopotamia and in Egypt. But it took longer time to realise that the ratio of the area was actually proportional to the square of its diameter: this was first formulated by the Greek mathematician Euclid (who lived in Alexandria at the time, around 300 BCE) as follows:

Circles are to one another as the squares on their diameters.
--- Euclid, Elements, book XII, proposition 2 (to read it on line, click here)

It means that the proportion between two circles is calculated as the proportion between the square of their diameters, and this proportion or ratio is a constant. Nobody knows for certain how Euclid came to this proposition but it is generally assumed he had learned it from another mathematician called Eudoxus of Cnidus, a disciple of Plato, who specialised himself in the calculation of proportions and was a known source for some of Euclid's propositions. This Eudoxus lived one generation before Euclid as he died around 350 BCE. The famous proportion was named as Pi (π) many centuries later, in 1706, and its value is about 3.14.

Geometry of the square and the circle
Geometry of the square and the circle

But little is known that, at the time of Solomon, this proposition was already known. The Talmud contains a discussion about the proportions used by the king to make the "Molten Sea" (also called the "Brazen Sea"), a large basin used in the Temple for the purification of the priests. To start with, here are the dimension of this molten sea:

And he made the molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and the height thereof was five cubits; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.
--- I Kings 7:23
If the diameter was 10 cubits, the circumference would have been over 30 cubits, so about 10x 3.14 = 31.4 cubits. The apparent discrepancy is explained in the text itself which says 10 cubits from brim to brim: this means the brim of the recipient was slightly larger than the actual recipient. The brim itself was the size of the brim of a cup as the following Biblical text explained:

And it was a handbreadth thick, and the brim thereof was wrought like the brim of a cup, like the flower of a lily: it received and held three thousand baths.
--- II Chronicles 4:5
So, if we take the circumference of 30 cubits of the Molten Sea, it corresponds to a diameter of about 30 / 3.14 = 9.55 cubits. Because the diameter brim to brim was 10 cubits, the brim was half the difference of 10 - 9.55 = 0.45 cubits. The brim was therefore roughly 0.22 cubits, which is about 10 centimetres, roughly a handbreadth thick. So the Biblical measurements indeed make sense.

Many artists have tried, with not much success, to render the Molten Sea, as shown in the diagram below:

Molten Sea

But it was not rounded at the base, as it is often depicted. It was square at its base and round above it. This calculation was made according to the number of ritual baths it contained,[7] and implied a knowledge of the ratio between a circle and a square of the side being the diameter in order to get the size of the Molten Sea correct:

But consider: By how much does [the area of] a square exceed that of a circle? By a quarter. Then of the four hundred [cubic cubits previously assumed] one hundred [must be deducted], and of the hundred [cubic cubits] twenty-five [must be deducted]. [Would not then the number of ritual baths] be only a hundred and twenty-five? — Rami b. Ezekiel learned that the sea that Solomon made was square in its lower three cubits and round in its upper three.
--- Talmud, Eiruvin, 14b
A circle of diameter 2R (R being the radius) is about a quarter less in proportion than the square that has side of 2R. Indeed:

- the area of the square is 2R x 2R = 4R2, and the area of the circle is πR2; the ratio between the two shapes is 4/π
- the circumference of the square if 4x 2R= 8R, and of the circle is 2πR; here again the ratio between the two shapes is 8/2π = 4/π

So, where we look at the ratio of the circumferences or of the areas, the square is in excess of 4/π compared to the circle, which is close to the Talmudic estimate of a quarter (the error to 4/π is only of 7%).

This proportion of estimated 25% between square and circle, used by Solomon to order the making of the Molten Sea, was only mentioned in writing by Euclid, who may have learned it from Eudoxus, some 650 years after the Temple of Solomon.

The Biblical text seems to give us further hint in the approximation of this mysterious ratio (Pi) because of the comparaison of the two only texts in the Bible where the dimensions of the Molten Sea was given: in I Kings 7:23 the word "line" is (incorrectly, but purposedly) written קוה while in II Chronicles it is written קו. What is the difference? In the former reference the letter 'Heh (ה) has been added to the word (!, and this changes the value of this word. The value (gematria) of קוה is 100+6+5= 111, while the value of the normal word קו is 100+6= 106. If we take the ratio of these two writings for the word "line", and multiply it by the ratio mentioned in the Bible between the line and the circumference, we get 3 * (111/106) = 3.1415 which is the number Pi correct at four decimals (error ratio of 0.0026% only) ! To appreciate this point, we have to remember that the calculation for the Temple was done by the Israelites in 1015 BCE while the exact value of Pi only became known to four decimals to European mathematicians over 2000 years later with a polygon approximation method (Fibonacci estimated the value of 3.1418 in year 1220 CE). This distortion of the word קו into קוה in this passage of I Kings seems as if the writer wanted to stress specifically here that, regarding this measurement of circle, there was a value hidden to human knowledge at the time. But the Bible is not a builders' guidebook, and there are not so many "construction works" described in it.

The Rabbis, for the purpose of their religious guidance, contended themselves to use the value of 3 for this unknown ratio between circumference of a circle and its diameter. As it is said multiple times over the Talmud, [for example in Baba Metzia, 31b] The Torah employs human phraseology. In their times, the approximation of 3 (or a bit higher than 3) was good enough for human scale purposes. For example, as the Talmud deals with relations and contracts between individuals, it is better to use a lower approximation of an unknown number than using a high approximation because in the latter case buyers would be over-charged in their transactions. If one would need to buy a fence for his rounded shape property, using 3 as an approximation would mean that the buyer would buy 5% less for the fence. But then, he can still add more when he realises 5% of the fence (the circumference) are still missing. Whereas, if the value of Pi  would have been assumed by the Talmud to be 3.16, then the buyer would pay 1% more than necessary. The Talmud protects the buyer (the customer) ! In fact another text proves that the Sages were fully aware of the approximation being used was 3 and 1/7 but refrained from using it because of its impracticality for their human scale purposes:

Nehemiah says, since the people of the world say that the circumference of a circle contains three times and a seventh of the diameter, take off from that one-seventh for the thickness of the sea on the two brims, then there remain thirty cubits [that compass it round about].
--- Mishnat ha-Middot: this book written about 150 CE is said to have contained the teachings of an older book of mathematics, now lost, called the Forty-Nine Rules and attributed to a tanna called Rabbi Nathan (author of the Avot of Rabbi Nathan)

To complete this discourse on the number Pi, it is also worth noting that it has been considered an irrational number (which means a number that can never be expressed as a ratio or fraction) in a mathematician called Lambert in the... 18th century ! Yet, the Middle-Age Jewish commentator Maimonides had already stated that both Pi and the square root of 2 had this property:

The side of a square having an area 5000 square cubits cannot be found ; in the same way as the true value of the relation between the circumference and the diameter of a circle cannot be found ; this is not due to our ignorance but to the peculiar character of the calculation.
--- Feldman W.M., Rabbinical Mathematics and Astronomy, p. 59

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Year 2752– 1008 BCE – Solomon completes the construction of the Temple

The construction of the Temple took 7 years (I Kings 6:37-38). It happened during the 55th Jubilee since the Creation (55 x 50 years = Hebrew year 2750).

God promised to Solomon that He would dwell in the Temple as long as he will follow His statutes and commandments.

The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube of dimensions 20 x 20 x 20 cubits. Two cherubim were placed in it, 10 cubits of width each, with their two wings spread wall to wall and touching each other, so all the width of the place was used. In between the two cherubim, lower than the wings that touched one another, the Ark was placed: it measured 2.5 x 1.5 1.5 cubits, and two small cherubim covered it  (Exodus 25).

The plan of Solomon's Temple
The plan of Solomon's Temple (source Wikipedia)

An artifact so-called the "ivory pomegranate" (although it is not made of ivory but of bone from an hippopotamus), came to light in the collectors market in 1979. It contains a writing in paleo-Hebrew that states: Holy to the Priest of the House of God (tetagram name). A leading Israeli curator stated that theartifact was genuine and the State of Israel acquired it for a large sum. Why is it important? Because it is the only artifact dating from the time of Solomon and related to a priesthood service in the House of God. In other words, this artifact proes that there was indeed a temple built by Solomon, although archaeology could not find a proof of it simply because the temple was destroyed and rebuilt over a long period of time. Following this acquisition by the Museum of Israel, experts were divided between genuineness and forgery. A court case was brought against the arts dealer who sold it, but the court concluded there was no evidence of forgery. If you believe the artifact is genuine, then it is one of the most important find to prove that Solomon indeed built a temple.

The ivory pomegranate
Famous or infamous? The "ivory" pomegranate

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Year 2752– 1008 BCE – The 24 hours day

Since the Israelites came to Canaan, they progressively lost the souvenir of the practice of calendar and times during the chaotic period of the Judges, each Tribe applying their own rules. But, with the completion of the Temple, the divine service had to be established again for all the people. And Solomon fixed the course of the "day" by a division in 24 hours. Why? He set a priestly "watch" service in the Temple, with 24 of them per day (daytime and night included). This is contained in the verses of his prayers and supplications to God when he introduced the Ark in the Holy of Holies. The text of the Bible for this set of prayers is contained in the verses from I Kings 8:23 to I Kings 8:53 where 24 times Solomon used the words pray (or prayer) and supplication.[8a] And he concluded his prayers by saying that they will be repeated day and night, thus completing a day cycle by fractions of 24 equal parts:[8b]

And may these words of mine, with which I have made supplication before the Lord, be close to the Lord our God, day and night, that He sustain the cause of His servant and the cause of His people Israel, each day's need granted on its day.
--- I Kings 8:59

This way of the division of the day was not supposed to be restricted to the Jews only, as Solomon concluded as:

That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord, He is God; there is none else.
--- I Kings 8:60

Solomon thus endeavoured to share this knowledge, surely acquired from the Wisdom that God had granted to him, with the other "peoples of the earth". The Phoenicians passed it to the Greeks, who carried it to the world we know, including India which used a different system of day division until the Greeks came with the 24 hours system. Thus the division became standard in the world from these times, from 1000 BCE onwards.[8c]

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[1] This dynasty is often called “Tanite” because its capital was in Tanis

[2] A region of Aram

[3] Source Wikipedia

[4] Thales is famous to mathematicians for the theorem named after him; as of the philosophers, it was Aristotle himself who declared that Thales was the founder of the Philosophy

[5] In his times in Greece, every writing was in the form of poem

[6] It is the  personification of Darkness in Greek mythology

[7] In Biblical measurements, a ritual bath was the volume of water needed to immerse a full human body, equivalent to 40 se'ah; whereas a bath was simply the quantity of 3 se'ah; the Molten Sea was said to contain a volume of 2000 baths [I Kings 7:26], equivalent to 6000 se'ah, equivalent to 6000/40 = 150 ritual baths; the calculation that follows was to determine to shape of the Molten Sea that contained 150 ritual baths and was round shape in its uper part

[8a] For more details, see Talmud, Berachot, 11b and 29a

[8b] In Jewish tradition, a "day" starts from the sunset (determined by spotting of the first stars), until the next occurrence the following "day"; the Muslims adopted this way as well

[8c] The Jewish tradition has also adopted a division of the hour in 1080 equal portions (chalakim), and each portion (chelek) consisting of 76 moments (regaim) instead of the now common sexagesimal system of 60 minutes and 60 seconds which is purely arbitrary; for example, the synodic month (the time between two full moons) was known to the Greeks as being of 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes and 3 1/3 seconds, whereas the Israelites have it as 29 days 2/3 hour and 73 chelakim; the Jewish division of time is related to astronomical phenomena: without getting into too many details, the chelakim is derived from the precessional year (a cycle of 25920 years= 24x1080) and the regaim from the metonic cycle (a cycle of 19 years, and 19x4= 76); this is simply to show that the Jewish Sages were fully aware of astronomical phenomena that, for some of them, only became clearly expressed in the modern times

[9] To read more about this recent study (November 2016), click here

Copyright Albert Benhamou 2013 - All rights reserved.