A Study of Biblical Proportions

Sometimes we read about an object such as Noah’s Ark or the Temple and wonder how big it was or how it compares to something else we’re familiar with.  A unique thing about the Christian Scriptures as compared with other holy books is that it contains far more detail and specificity about the things it describes.  For example, we know the general dimensions of Noah’s ark, how many days passed between each major milestone of that event, and how many people were on board.  We know how many of each implement was in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) and how many people were in each camp in the wilderness.

We are getting into a time period in which it is possible to quickly make some calculations about these objects and compare them to things we know of today.  Search engines are now in the process of better organizing the world’s knowledge in ways that make them not only easy to find, but easy to connect to other things that are similar.  One such tool is called WolframAlpha.

They have a number of good examples showing the powerful capabilities of their “computational knowledge engine.”  I want to discuss how such an engine might be used to aid in Bible study.  Consider the Ark of the Covenant.  Just how big was it?  Well, with the right data structure, one could search for that ark and would be presented with some “fast facts” about it, like the materials used to build it, where it went, and of course, its dimensions.  With those dimensions, it would be possible to set up a programmed interface to plug those numbers into WolframAlpha to find its volume — 5.6 cubits^3.

But, that’s not all.  It will also convert that result to something more relevant to us today: 19 cubic feet or 142 gallons.  Currently WolframAlpha doesn’t make a lot of volumetric comparisons, but give it time: it’s still very new.  One thing they can do, however, is compare lengths.  So, an input of the perimeter of Solomon’s Temple would tell you that you’d walk the same distance by going around the Temple as you would by walking from the nose to tail of a Boeing 747, or a little more than the perimeter of a city block in Manhattan.  This takes something that is measured and communicated in an old, archaic unit and makes it more understandable to the modern reader.

Really, anything in the Bible that can be quantified can be calculated and compared to other numbers.  As the big-name search engines attempt to organize and correlate all the world’s knowledge, we have a wonderful opportunity to do the same with all the Biblical knowledge of the ages.  We can make outdated units more interesting and relevant and use new technologies to help us better understand the things we read about God and his dealings with mankind.