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.


  • Would you care to share your solution? If your solution is in the text you have given, can you highlight it? However, unless your solution involves a specific text, then your question is likely to be removed. – enegue Jun 3 '17 at 22:19
  • Related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/567/2910 – user2910 Jun 4 '17 at 0:09

Adam Clarke's commentary on 2 Chron. 4:5 noted the possible difference in the volumetric measures between ancient Hebrew and that of the Babylonians.

"It - held three thousand baths - In 1 Kings 7:26, it is said to hold only two thousand baths. As this book was written after the Babylonish captivity, it is very possible that reference is here made to the Babylonish bath which might have been less than the Jewish. We have already seen that the cubit of Moses, or of the ancient Hebrews, was longer than the Babylonish by one palm; see on 2 Chronicles 3:3; (note). It might be the same with the measures of capacity; so that two thousand of the ancient Jewish baths might have been equal to three thousand of those used after the captivity. The Targum cuts the knot by saying, "It received three thousand baths of dry measure, and held two thousand of liquid measure." Source: here

Eldicott thought the difference between 1 Kings 7:26 and 2 Chron. 4:5 might be attributed to a scribe's error over similar words:

"And it received and held three thousand baths.—Literally, holding (whole) baths: three thousand would it contain. The bath was the largest of Hebrew liquid measures. Perhaps the true reading is, “holding three thousand baths,” the last verb being a gloss borrowed from Kings. So Vulg. Syriac and Arabic omit the clause. The LXX. had the present reading. 1Kings 7:26 reads, two thousand baths would it contain. Most critics assume this to be correct. Some scribe may have read ’alāphîm, “thousands,” instead of ‘alpayim, “two thousand,” and then have added “three” (shĕlōsheth) under the influence of the last verse. But it is more likely that the numeral “three” having been inadvertently omitted from the text of Kings, the indefinite word “thousands” was made definite by turning it into the dual “two thousand” Either mistake would be possible, because in the unpointed text ‘alāphîm and ’alpayim are written alike. The Syriac has the curious addition, “And he made ten poles, and put five on the right and five on the left, and bare with them the altar of burnt offerings.” Similarly the Arabic version." Source: here

Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary on 1 Kings 7:26 puts it down to an orthographical error:

"It held 2000 baths; according to the Chronicles, 3000 baths. The latter statement has arisen from the confusion of ג (3) with ב (2); since, according to the calculation of Thenius, the capacity of the vessel, from the dimensions given, could not exceed 2000 baths." Source: here

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  • Thank you for your comment and links, Gina. One of them reminded me that Solomon used the Hebrew long cubit for his architecture--and perhaps also for the other dimensions associated with the temple. As a result, I edited my original post. – Dieter Jun 12 '17 at 1:43
  • Thank you for the question. They provide me the opportunity to research and learn. – Gina Jun 12 '17 at 2:35

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