Biblical Mathematics

When numbers are used in biblical tales, especially when the number is not a neat round number such as 100 or 1000, they invariably relay hidden meaning to those trained in the art of sacred language. In ancient times long before the rise of Judaism among the Hebrew tribes, numbers were considered to carry mystical significance. That perplexity of mathematical exercise simply became another of the borrowed Babylonian traditions that were incorporated into “holy” writings. More often than not the numbers presented in the stories hold no genuine historical significance.

In the Genesis myth, Creation is accounted for as having occurred in six days. The first number that the Pythagoreans (c.500 BCE) regarded as expressing perfection was the number 6. A number was regarded as “perfect” if it is equal to the sum of its proper divisors: the number 6, for example, equals 1+2+3. Thus the number 6 was regarded as the number of God in Judaism. And later Augustine, regarded a Christian “saint,” expounded upon this mathematical endowment saying, “Six is a number perfect in itself, and not because God created all things in six days: rather the inverse is true; God created all things in six days because this number is perfect. And it would remain perfect even if the work of six days did not exist.”

The next “perfect” number is 28, and is equal to 1+2+4+7+14. It is recognized that both these “perfect” numbers are mirrored in the structural energies of the universe and its operational movements! The Moon, for example, orbits planet Earth in approximately 28 days.

Also in the book of Genesis 32:14 another number pops up. Jacob is portrayed as giving his twin brother E’sau, from whom he had stolen the “birthright” blessing of their father, “two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats” as a token of his good will. (There are other numbers included with this “goodwill” gesture, such as 30 milk camels and their colts, 40 kine and 10 bulls, and 20 she-asses and 10 foals—all of which carry occult meaning to the initiated.) The number 220, mentioned with the goats, happens to be the first among particular numbers regarded by Pythagorean as charged with “friendly” vibartions. The reason for this assertion is that certain numbers, such as 220 and 284, are each equal to the sum of the proper divisors of the other.

The proper divisors of 220 are, 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 20, 22, 44, 55, and 110. These are numbers that divide evenly into a number, including 1, but excluding the number itself. As another example, the proper divisors of 284 are 1, 2, 4, 71, and 142, which sum to 220. These were seen as being “friendly” because, like a friend, they act as the number’s alter ego.

It is interesting to note that ancient Babylonian and Egyptian mathematicians were quite familiar with the fact that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is a constant that we refer to today as pi. They understood as well that pi was no ordinary constant, for its precise value can never be known and so holds the special status of being transcendental. This is so because it is a decimal that does not repeat or terminate. The ancient mathematicians were also well aware of other numbers that shared the baffling properties of pi. As an example, the ratios of the diagonal to the side of a square is also a decimal that neither repeats nor ends. A diagonal line drawn through a square results in two right triangles whose hypotenuse is the diagonal with the sides of the square also acting as the sides of the triangles. This division of space symbolized in this way is therefore mathematically equivalent to the division of light from darkness as told in Genesis 1:4, the division of waters from waters in Genesis 1:27, and even the apparent divsion as male and female in Genesis. The ratio of two intergers is calculated by a decimal that neither repeats nor ends, and it is this “irrational number” that can be said to be representative of the “God” in scriptural storytelling.

Persons who are prone to regard biblical tales as having been written by God and therefore unerring become very upset when the author seems to get tripped up by principles of common mathematics. The account of the resplendent temple allegely erected by Solomon in 1 Kings 7:23 stumbles over the calculations given for the “molten sea”—a huge circular tank that held water for religious ceremonies.  This holding pool is described as being “…ten cubits from one brim to the other…and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.”  This implies that the value of pi is 3—which is glaringly at odds with the true value of 3.14159+.  The contention presented in this tale that direct divine wisdom presented the information is thus exposed as a fraudulent claim. 


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