The Biblical Origins of 3.14

The Fellowship  |  March 14, 2019

The Biblical Origins of 3.14

Today, March 4, has come to be known as “Pi Day” because of the first three digits of the mathematical value of π (3.14…). While this observance is a modern one, the good folks at the Biblical Archaeology Society just taught us that the concept actually dates back to the construction of The First Temple:

How do you find the holy grail of mathematics?

You start with a circle, which is the easiest geometric shape to draw (just fix one end of a string in place and swing the other end around it, inscribing a circle). Then measure the circle’s perimeter (also known as the circumference) and the distance across its widest point (the diameter). Divide the circumference by the diameter—and you have that well-known but eternally daunting number, π, or pi, which has a value of 3.14159265…

That is part of the mystique of pi: Whatever the size of the circle, the value remains the same (what mathematicians call a “constant”). Unfortunately, pi is also “irrational,” meaning that it is impossible to calculate its value completely; the decimals go on forever without regular repetition.

Calculating the value of pi has been a puzzle for millennia. One of the earliest implied values is given in a Biblical passage describing the construction of a huge basin for Solomon’s Temple: “Then [Hiram of Tyre] made the molten sea; it was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high. A line of thirty cubits would encircle it completely” (1 Kings 7:23). In other words, pi = 30÷10 or 3.

The Temple craftsmen obviously obtained these numbers through direct measurement—perhaps using a rope—and they came up with a simple approximation of pi

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay informed about issues affecting Israel, the Jewish people, Jewish-Christian relations, receive daily devotionals, and more.