Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Dissertation upon the Sacred Cubit of the Jews

Jewish National and University Library of Israel has an interesting document from the collection of works of Isaac Newton, called "De magnitudine cubiti sacri" (aka "A Dissertation upon the Sacred Cubit of the Jews").

The work itself is pretty much useless and outdated by today's standards, but it is still interesting to check it out, as well as to see the similarities in the conclusions to which Newton had arrived (which are similar to those of modern scholars).

Here are a few excerpts and an illustration: 
"The Cubits of the Eastern Nations, with which the Jews were surrounded, being determined in this manner, we may from hence form a conjecture concerning the magnitude of the Jewish Cubit. The vulgar Jewish Cubit ought not to be greater than them all, nor the sacred Cubit less than them all. The opinion of Villalpandus and others therefore is to be rejected, who represent the vulgar Cubit as equal to two Roman Feet and an half; and I think them likewise mistaken, who make the sacred Cubit and Attic Cubit equal. That the sacred Cubit was very large, appears from the Jewish Calamus or Reed, which contained but six of these Cubits; and from the antiquity of this Cubit, since Noah measured the Ark with it. However, it is not to be magnified in such a manner, that the vulgar Cubit (which in the time of Moses was called the Cubit of a man, Deut. 3:11) should much exceed the Cubit of a tall man."

"Some compute the Cubit from Solomon's brazen sea. Lest any objection should be raised from thence, I shall briefly remark, that the bottom of that sea ought not to be represented spherical, as it generally is, but flat, in such a manner that all the water might run out for the use of the priests, and the vessel might stand commodiously upon the backs of the oxen, and the oxen not hinder the priests from coming to the cocks. However I would not represent it under a cylindrical figure. The following one will be more beautiful. Let the line AB, of ten Cubits, be bisected in C; and taking upon it AD, EB, of a Cubit each, erect the perpendiculars DF, CG, EH, each of them of five Cubits, and with the semiaxes AD, DF, and BE, EH, describe the quadrants of the ellipses AF, BH, and drawing the right line FH, the figure AFGHB convolved round the axis CG, will describe the external superficies of the vessel, whose cavity, if it be an hand-breadth thick, will contain about thousand baths, supposing that a bath was equal to twelve Roman Congii (as Agricola and others maintain) and that seven Congii and an half will fill a Cubic Roman Foot, as Mr. Greaves found by the Farnesian Congius. It is said likewise, that this sea contained three thousand baths; whence some affirm, that there were two kinds of baths. Others understand a dry measure, whose Cumulus equaled half the contents; others suspect a various reading; others imagine, that the sea contained two thousand baths for daily use, but, when full, could receive three thousand baths. I shall not attempt to determine the dispute."

"This is what I thought proper to lay down at present with regard to the magnitude of this Cubit. Hereafter perhaps those, who shall view the sacred mount, and the monuments of the Chaldeans, by taking accurately the various dimensions of the stones, bricks, foundations, and walls, and comparing them together, will discover something more certain and exact."

The JNUL main web site address for this manuscript located at this link.
The transcribed documents for the entire work located at this link.
And the full English transcription of the text of this part of Newton work is located here.


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