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A Note on R.B.Y.

Scott's "The Hebrew Cubit"


Author(s): Abraham I. Lebowitz
Source: Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 78, No. 1 (Mar., 1959), pp. 75-76
Published by: The Society of Biblical Literature
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3264404 .
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75

CRITICAL NOTES
10

The messengers departed and brought him back word; so Ben-hadad sent word
to him,
"The gods requite me and worse if the dust of Samaria is sufficient to provide
handfuls for all the army that is in my train."
THEOPHILEJ. MEEK
UNIVERSITYOF TORONTO

A NOTE ON R.B.Y. SCOTT'S "THE HEBREW

CUBIT"

In his article, "The Hebrew Cubit," in JBL, LXXVII, 205-14, R. B. Y. Scott


asserts that the figures for the capacity of Solomon's "sea" recorded in Kings and
Chronicles were arrived at by scribal calculation. Because these figures, 2000 baths
in I Kings 7 26 and 3000 baths in II Chron 4 5, are related to each other in the ratio of
the volume of a hemisphere to that of a cylinder of the same dimensions, Scott
accepts as "probable" Wylie's hypothesis that Ahaz replaced the bronze oxen-base of
the "sea" with a circular wall which gave it (the "sea") a cylindrical appearance. This
ostensibly misled the author of Chronicles into computing the capacity of the "sea" as a
cylinder rather than a hemisphere. Scott then goes on to suggest that the figure of
2000 baths in Kings is twice the actual capacity of the "sea" because the scribe who
calculated its capacity from its dimensions used, in error, the formula for the volume
of a sphere instead of that for a hemisphere. If this suggestion is valid, and the actual
capacity of the "sea" was only 1000 baths, the scribe who miscalculated its capacity
in Chronicles on the false assumption that it was a cylinder should have arrived at a
figure of one and one-half times its true capacity of 1000 baths, or 1500 baths. It cannot
be argued that the scribe of Chronicles, believing the "sea" to be cylindrical, arrived
at his figure by multiplying its capacity of 2000 baths as given in Kings by 1 2. Scott's
hypothesis calls for the shape of the "sea" to have actually been hemispherical but
mistaken for cylindrical by the scribe of Chronicles. If the scribe of Chronicles knew
that the "sea" was actually hemispherical he would not have applied any correction
to its capacity as stated in Kings. On the other hand, if he erred as to the shape of
the "sea," he would assume that the figure in Kings also referred to a cylindrical "sea"
and would not have applied that particular correction even if he believed the capacity
stated in Kings to be in error.
Scott assumes that the capacity of 2000 baths in Kings, while exactly double the correct capacity, is valid, whereas the figure in Chronicles is completely erroneous because it
is based on a mistaken idea as to the shape of the "sea." It is possible that the figure of
3000 baths in Chronicles is correct and the error lies in Kings. This error may not be
in the computation but a haplography. Though there is no evidence for it in the versions the text in Kings may have read, '', ni wp?t < 1n0T
> ]wi). .. . With the
.
word rwtlw) omitted. an error which is all the more nrobable as the word which nrecedpr.

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76

JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE

it (]Ilr) resembles it closely, also having four letters with a shin in the first and third
position, the word W'P. (thousands) would be read as D'.73 (two thousand), the two
words being identical consonantally.
If the capacity of the "sea" as computed by the scribes was 3000 baths it remains
to be determined whether that was computed on the basis of a hemisphere or a cylinder.
The evidence tends to show the latter. The possibility that the "sea" was actually a
cylinder cannot be eliminated with certainty. This is especially true as the casting of
a cylinder would be easier than the casting of a hemisphere of these large dimensions.
The casting of a hemisphere would require a two-part mold, one part for the inside of
the hemisphere and one part for its rounded outer surface. The cylinder, on the other
hand, could be cast in a simple mold hollowed in the clay ground. Secondly, Wylie's
hypothesis that the "sea" was erroneously thought to be a cylinder applies equally to
the author of Kings who obviously postdates Ahaz. Lastly, the Babylonian Talmud,
which may very well reflect an authentic tradition, records a computation of the capacity
of the "sea" which assumes it to be a cylinder and uses a primitive method of mensuration in which the capacity of a cylinder is determined by multiplying its three dimensions
as if it were prismatic and then deducting one fourth of the resulting total.I
The formula for the capacity of a cylinder is C=h7rr2 (C =capacity, h=height,
r=radius). 7r in our computation must be taken as 3, rather than 22/7, because of the
textual evidence (the "sea" with a diameter of 10 was said to have a circumference
of 30) and because if we assume that the computation was made without the benefit
of algebra, as in the Talmud, the correct result can only be obtained when a value of 3
is ascribed to 7r. Substituting our known information in this formula we get: 3000B =
(5c)(3)(25c2) [B=bath, c=cubit]. Simplyfying this equation we derive: 3 =8B which,
expressed in words, means that one cubic cubit equals 8 baths.
This leads to another interesting hypothesis. It is possible that the basic unit of
linear measurement was the cubit and that the cubic cubit served as the standard for
liquid measure. The bath may have been standardized as one eighth of the cubic cubit.
Almost the same evidence which Scott cites to confirm his theory may be used to lend
credence to this hypothesis. For if the cubit is 17.51 inches in length, a cubic cubit
would contain 5368.57 cubic inches. At 61.03 cubic inches per liter, a cubic cubit would
contain 87.98 or, for all practical purposes, 88 liters. A bath would, therefore, equal 11
liters. This is exactly one half of its value as estimated by Albright2 and almost one
quarter of that proposed by Inge on the basis of the amphorae found at Lachish.3 It is
possible that the amphorae from Lachish contained four baths, or one half a cubic cubit,
while the jar from Tell Beit Mirsim contained two baths, or one quarter of a cubic cubit.
ABRAHAMI. LEBOWITZ
BALTIMOREHEBREW COLLEGE

'Erubin 14b.
F. Albright, Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim, III: The Iron Age ("AASOR,"
XXI-XXII
[1941-43]), 58, note 7.
3 C. H. Inge, "A Postscriptum," PEQ, 1941, pp. 106-9.
I

2W.

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