What were the dimensions of Solomon’s cast sea?

Posted on Dec.02, 2008. Filed in 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles. Average rating: 1.0 / 10 (Rate It).

1 Kings and 2 Chronicles include detailed descriptions of the building works of King Solomon, including the materials used and the dimensions to which his works were constructed. Among his works was a circular vessel, the “cast sea”. The dimensions given for the cast sea, however, don’t seem to be possible.

1 Kings gives the dimensions of the cast sea, stating that it was ten cubits in diameter and thirty cubits in circumference:

Then he made the cast 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 (NRSV)]

The same dimensions are given in 2 Chronicles:

Then he made the cast sea; it was round, ten cubits from rim to rim, and five cubits high. A line of thirty cubits would encircle it completely. [2 Chronicles 4:2 (NRSV)]

The ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is pi, 3.14. A circular vessel 10 cubits in diameter would therefore not be encircled completely by a line of 30 cubits, a line of 31.4 cubits would be necessary. A circular vessel 30 cubits in circumference, on the other hand, would be just 9.55 cubits in diameter.

So was the cast sea less than 10 cubits in diameter, or more than 30 cubits in circumference?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    I’m perfectly happy with the explanation that 31.4 is about equal to 30. In the end, all figures are approximate, even for particle physicists.

    But if the difference of 1.4 cubits bothers anyone:

    If we assume that the circumference given, 30 cubits, is the _inner_ circumference of the sea, then the inner diameter of the sea would be about 9.55 cubits, or about 172 inches. If the thickness of the brim is a handbreadth (per I Kings 7:26 and II Chronicles 4:5), or about 4 inches, then we have to add 8 inches to the inner diameter to get the _outer_ diameter (and it is the outer diameter that the passages above describe). That means that the diameter from brim-to-brim is 180 inches, or about ten cubits, just as the text says.

  2. 2

    I’m perfectly happy with the response that the numbers are only approximate too.

    My concern with the outer diameter / inner circumference response is that in the description of the circumference (“a line of thirty cubits would encircle it completely”), “encircle” suggests to me that the line is outside the brim, but that may be a translation issue.

  3. 3

    I feel the ‘outerness’ of “encircle” as well. But I also find it very compelling that you get such a precise result if you assume that the 30 cubits is an inner circumference. I wonder whether the original Hebrew has the same ‘outer’ feel as the “encircle” of the NRSV or the “compass it round about” of the KJV, or if it’s more neutral like the “circumference” of the NASB. (On the other hand, I’m so happy with your original suggestion that I’m probably not going to do a lot more research on this one.)

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