In Asimov's Guide to the Bible, one of Dr. Asimov's criticisms focused on a description in the Bible concerning Solomon’s sea, where he claimed that 1 Kings 7:23-25 misrepresented Pi as 3. In his book, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book VIII, Chapter 3, Josephus wrote, “Solomon also cast a brazen sea, the figure of which was a hemisphere.” According to the Biblical text, the lip of Solomon’s sea was flared out. Thus, it was not a cylinder as Dr. Asimov had supposed, and his issue about Pi has been thoroughly debunked here, including some alternate explanations.
But there’s a remaining puzzle.
The volume of a hemisphere of the dimensions given is about 6,000 gallons. The Masoretic recension of the Tanakh reports the volume as 2,000 "baths" in I Kings, and 3,000 "baths" in II Chronicles. The verbs used in each reference are different, possibly indicating that the larger value was the maximum. A "bath" or bat is a Jewish volumetric measure of about 5.75 gallons according to authoritative sources. Thus, the reported volumes of Solomon’s brazen sea by this measure are about 12,000 and 18,000 gallons respectively. These volumes of water are two or three times as much as Solomon's brazen sea could possibly hold. Even if it were cylindrical, it would have held a maximum of only about 8,200 gallons, which is not enough.
I believe that I solved this puzzle.
First, remember that the standards in the Ancient Near East were not as precise as our standards today. Also, be warned that there are many disparities between the measures reported in various online sources.
The I Kings passage in the Septuagint uses the word xous (pronounced coos) as the unit of volume rather than bat. A xous is a Greek volumetric measure of about 0.86 gallons.
However, the Septuagint does not use xous in II Chronicles, but rather measures. There are two types of "measures" used in the Bible, liquid and dry. The liquid "measure" can refer to a log (3 cups), hin (just under 1 gallon), bat (5.75 gallons), or homer (57.5 gallons). The hin is mentioned most often, but none these liquid measures times 3,000 come close to the calculated volume of Solomon's brazen sea, 5,751 gallons. Let's turn to dry measures.
The most common reference to dry measure is the se'ah, which is a third of a bat or about 1.92 gallons. But how can referencing a dry measure be justified in this context?
Casting a huge brass bowl is similar to casting a bell. The inner volume of the mold is called the core, which is a solid that can be measured out using a dry volume. 3,000 se'ahs works out almost exactly to the computed maximum volume of Solomon's brazen sea. Also note that the first mention of the se'ah was in Genesis 18. Abraham met three angelic beings and he asked Sarah to prepare bread using three measures (se'ah) of fine flour. Thus, Solomon might have been making a statement by specifying the volume as three se'ahs times 1,000.
Using the 2,000 xous mentioned in I Kings means that the normal volume in Solomon's sea was about 1,720 gallons of living water. What would be the depth of this quantity of water? It works out to a depth of just under 3'7”, which is just over the recommended depth of about 3'6" used in mikvahs today!
Thus, the Septuagint translation provides data that is consistent with the recorded dimension values and reasonable volumes using an 18" cubit.
Incidentally, the computed weight of Solomon’s brazen sea using these values is about 23.5 tons, depending on the composition of the copper and zinc alloy.