Vipers, Logs and All That


IT IS widely believed that the only mathematician in the Bible was Noah. Nobody else would have had a hope of passing the Eleven Plus. Admittedly, Moses' Book of Numbers is frankly disappointing, but I hope to show in this article that the Bible contains evidence of a higher standard of mathematics than is generally supposed.

Arithmetic if, of course, mentioned most frequently, and we are told that men sometimes worshipped figures.1 At a very early stage "men began to multiply,"2 and Abraham was familiar with division.3 Some writers have pointed out that the arithmetic in Ezra4 is faulty, but this is explained where it reads "certain additions were made of thin work."5 The approximation for \pi is reasonable,6 considering the fact that Moses destroyed the tables,7 which were not replaced until Solomon's time.8 Elsewhere we read "he shall not extract the root thereof,"9 and "we wrestle against powers."10

The first attempts at Geometry were, of course, Euclidean. We read that "great rulers were brought down,"11 "from Syracuse they fetched a compass,"12 and Noah constructed an arc13 and Ezekiel described a line.14 Further progress was made when they took axes,15 culminating in David's success with the calculus.16 David, incidentally, was the first to refuse to accept what he had not proved.17 St. Paul was familiar with four dimensions,18 and Joshua continued with the arc long a Jordan path.19

Algebra, although thought to be an invention of the Arabs, was only too familiar to the Jews. For instance, Moses gives instructions about a matrix20 and Ezekiel knew enough about rings to describe them as "dreadful."21 Peter was kept half the night by four quaternions,22 and the Jews were described as "a generation seeking after a sign."23

"As for the Pure, his work is right" said the writer of Proverbs,24 and this attitude is reflected in the few existing references to Applied Mathematics. "I have seen thy abominations in the Fields" cried Jeremiah,25 and the Psalmist complained "Thou hast afflicted me with all thy Waves."26 Later the Father of Publius was "sick of the bloody Flux."27

It is easy to understand why they disliked mathematics. Apart from the deacons "who purchase to themselves a good Degree,"28 they had to be examined, as was St. Paul.29 We know that Elisha passed,30 and Solomon was able to answer all the questions,31 but Peter was much troubled when he saw the sheet,32 and Job cried "My kinsfolk have failed, and my friends."33 Perhaps Johoiakim was an examiner, for "when he had read three or four pages he cast it into the fire."34 As for St. John, all that he knew was "the Second woe is past, the Third cometh."35

Eureka, 22.

1 Acts vii. 43. 2 Gen. vi. 1. 3 Gen. xv. 10. 4 Ezra ii. 5 1 Kings vii. 29. 6 2 Chron. iv. 2. 7 Exod. xxxii. 19. 8 2 Chron. iv. 8. 9 Ezek. xvii. 9. 10 Eph. vi. 12. 11 Ps. 136. 17. 12 Acts xxviii. 13. 13 Gen. vi. (archaic spelling). 14 Ezek. xl. 15 1 Sam. xiii. 21. 16 1 Sam. xvii. 17 1 Sam. xvii. 39. 18 Eph. iii. 18. 19 Joshua iii. 20 Exod. xxxiv. 19. 21 Ezek. i. 18. 22 Acts xii. 4. 23 Math. xvi. 4. 24 Prov. xxi. 8. 25 Jer. xiii. 27. 26 Ps. 88. 7. 27 Acts xxviii. 8. 28 1 Tim. iii. 13. 29 Acts xxviii. 18. 30 2 Kings iv. 8. 31 2 Chron. ix. 2. 32 Acts xi. 33 Job xix. 14. 34 Jer. xxxvi. 23. 35 Rev. xi. 14.

Reproduced from Eureka 27 pages 34-35.
HTML conversion Copyright © 2002-4 The Archimedeans.

Additional notes to the online version

Errata: "Arithmetic if" should read "Arithmetic is", "long a Jordan path" should read "along a Jordan path", "Johoiakim" should read "Jehoiakim".

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