TOM THE DANCING BUG: The Truth About Numbers… Bible Math!

It’s a little harder to handwave an arithmetic sum as a parable. That kind of reasoning may get you a passing grade in English class, but doesn’t fly over in the Math department.


Yes, that’s why I mentioned the archaic unit of measurements. :slight_smile: The whole section looks to me as a summation of different units (which made probably sense to the people back then) and rounded up to boot.

Well, 1 • 1 • 1 = 1.

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Which would be relevant if they’d add the same things up. Which they don’t.

The use of Philistines 400 years before they were there flies in neither department. Same with camels.

So the stuff they enumerate and add is the same? A cup of gold is the same thing as a bucket of gold?

Since i first came across it I always thinking that Ezra nonsense just list lost in translation along the way. There’s probly hundreds of ways for it to have happened & if it happened the first time the mistranslation was even more likely to have it happen to it.

Don’t even worry about finding the mistranslation of a mistranslation, just pretend it’s one error or 2 errors in a set. Like, If vessels/bowls/basins & such are just some whack misinterpretation of some word that means “item that represents )or holds, like a vessel) a specific monetary valuation” like money or shit.

If that shit is money, but that got forgot, then how easy is it to forget whatever the relative denominations are? Like if a gold basin be worth x100 that a stoopid gold bowl be worth, then you get 5400 natch.

Shit don’t mean ancient bible math started wrong, it means monasteries always had the wine flowing b/c wouldn’t you? Fuck ancient time with their fleas and vermin and disease and no video games anywhere.

Well, yeah, but what’s being attacked here isn’t the Bible itself, but fundamentalism. Anyone with even the minutest critical faculty could understand why Pi is measured as 3 in that passage dealing with practical construction and measurement (I’ve heard ‘3’ described as the “Engineer’s value for pi” by engineering friends more than I’ve heard it touted as the “Biblical value of pi…”). This is attacking people who do not evince even the minutest critical faculty. People who take clearly allegorical/poetic passages literally, etc.

It’s not supposed to provide fodder for arguments with any Christian, as your typical moderate Christian would indeed tell you you were reading the text wrong. This is targeting Christians who proudly read their text wrong.


But then the Bible would be wrong. And Creationists do not believe the Bible is wrong because it is a holy book handed down by God. So there are no mistranslations to be had.

Somewhat related is this nytimes article from a few days ago.:

Camels had no business in genesis

That’s precisely the reaction I’d hope for.

I’d thoroughly enjoy reading about some bible thumper trying to get math education thrown out of schools.

In Bill Maher’s “Religulous,” someone mentions that ice, water, and steam are three different things, and yet they’re still the very same chemical. I thought that that was a neat way of thinking about it.

“The first of these two misguided visionaries [who claimed to demonstrate squaring the circle] filled me with a great ambition to do a feat I have never heard of as accomplished by man, namely to convince a circle squarer of his error! The value my friend selected for Pi was 3.2: the enormous error tempted me with the idea that it could be easily demonstrated to BE an error. More than a score of letters were interchanged before I became sadly convinced that I had no chance.” Charles Lutwidge Dodgson AKA Lewis Carroll

I think this a conundrum only God Man can solve.

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Remember that you measure each cubit with your arm, not with a measuring stick. Seems to me the numbers given are well within the margin of error!

For me the humor of the comic hasn’t anything to do with whether the Bible is factually incorrect. I can’t say I really care about that much! Rather, I’m darkly amused by Reuben pointing out that people will not only accept some interpretation of a source as authoritative, despite it being totally incompatible with independently verifiable observation, but also that they can easily convince others to abandon personal responsibility for recognizing subjective reality simply by invoking a shared religious signifier like a holy book or Israelite war-god.

D’OH, scanning up I see @Girard already said this better than me.

That’s a cubit?

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Are you sure? That’s where cubits come from, but it’s not we typically measure feet out with our feet. At the very least Egyptians were sensible enough to have cubit rods, and I would expect anyone who actually used them to measure out buildings and ships to want the same.

Yeah, unfortunately the comic uses creative citing. If you read starting at Ezra 1:5 instead of Ezra 1:7, it’s clear that the gold and silver was being donated by commoners as well as two kings. The itemized count is for only what the kings donated, while 5400 is the grand total including “all the articles of gold and silver,” even the ones from commoners. The writing is awkward by our standards, but maybe the point is to make clear that there was popular support, since over 50% of the valuables were from common people.

I also wish the π=3 thing would go away already. It was a back of the envelope approximation by King Solomon or his underlings, or possibly one in mainstream use at the time. It doesn’t carry any divine imperative, even for biblical literalists. It’s not a law or edict; it’s just a rough description. Criticizing it just makes atheists look petty. One notes, that if the Bible were to give the exact value of π, it would be infinitely long. (Although I suppose God could have given us, or Solomon, Leibniz’ formula or something like that.)

There are much bigger problems with Christianity, and this comic utterly misses the point of the present culture wars.


Oh, I disagree. I think focusing on the question of literal inaccuracies in the bible certainly misses the point, but I didn’t think that was what the comic was really about.

Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, ‘Let me cross,’ the men of Gilead would ask, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he said, ‘No,’ they then said, ‘Very well, say “Shibboleth” (שבלת).’ If anyone said, “Sibboleth” (סבלת), because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion.

I read it as showing distinctions between groups are entirely unrelated to literal accuracy of either math textbooks (which are often wrong, or why would they have to keep printing new ones?) or holy books (which typically contain some real whoppers). The comic is about “authority given from on high” - regardless of whether the high authority is your local priest or Stephen Hawking. I guess only Reuben knows for sure…

Well, no, I’m not sure how the author of the verse got the measurements, and neither is anybody else, which is another reason the argument is lame. While feet never did correspond to anyone’s actual foot length (according to the historians I read, anyway - it appears to have been actually based on shoes and the length of an ox-goad) cubits very specifically mean the length of a human forearm. If you’re the foreman on a job, sure, you cut a bunch of your cubit sticks or the job won’t line up. Of course anyone else coming along to measure afterwards will not use your sticks, and you wouldn’t necessarily use them yourself if you were the foreman.

The math textbooks are (by and large) perfectly fine. They print new ones mostly to artificially drive a captive, apathetic market and devalue old stock. Occasionally a few chapters are reordered based on aesthetic or pedagogic concerns; this is sometimes justified, but really, does that merit a new edition? Just publish an errata.

They increase the size of the type, widen the margins, and add fluff graphics in order to justify the unnecessary new edition. Sometimes they break out text into “did you know?!” boxes, because I suppose some educational psychologist with a very cynical attitude toward students’ intelligence told them to. Oh yeah, and they reorder the problems just so that it’s harder to use previous editions; this is, afaic, tantamount to an admission that it’s the same old shit, because otherwise people would have a reason to buy the newer edition without this blatant coercion.

Yes, sometimes they fix errors, but the rate of error introduction is roughly equal to the rate of error correction, so it’s basically a wash at this point. Again, if they really needed to, they could just publish an errata like they do with graduate-level math texts.

But anyway, yeah, biblical literalism is utterly ridiculous, especially for someone who has done even the most cursory research into the Hebrew sources. I used to think that biblical literalists were mindless slaves to ancient wisdom, but after reading Robert Alter’s interpretation of Genesis, I think it’s more like if 2,000 years from now, someone were to start a cult based on a literal reading of Mad magazine as Divinely Inspired.

If the point of the comic were to show that the ‘new atheists’ are dogmatic jerks just like their opponents, then imho it didn’t do a very good job, which is a pity because it’s a point that should be made.