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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Brazen Sea (2)


(יָם הִנַּחשֶׁת, yam han-neco'sheth, sea of copper, 2 Kings 25:13; 1 Chronicles 18:8; also at,מוּצָקיָם, molten sea, 1 Kings 7:23; or simply הִיָּם, the sea, 1 Kings 7:24; 1 Kings 7:29; 2 Kings 16:17; 2 Chronicles 4:3 sq.), the great round laver, cast of metal (" brass" [q.v.]), placed in the priests' court of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 7:23-26; 2 Chronicles 4:2-5; see Josephus, Ant. 8:3, 5; compare a similar basin of stone discovered in the island of Cyprus, Miller, Archaol. p. 292). See generally Reland, Antiq. Sacr. i, 6, 7 sq.; Schacht, Ad Iken, p. 415 sq.; Keil, Tempel Salomo's, p. 118 sq.; especially Theniiis, Althebr. Ldngen- u. Hlohlmasse, p. 19 sq., 61 sq.; also his Can. iib. d. Ko. ad fin. It was 5 cubits high, and had at the brim a circumference of 30 cubits, or a diameter of 10 cubits. The rim was finished off with the cups of flowers (lilies), and below these ran a double row of gourd-shaped bosses ("knobs" [q.v.]). The edge was a handbreadth in thickness, and the vessel was capable of containing 2000 (according to Chronicles 3000) baths (q.v.). This immense basin rested upon twelve bullocks, also cast of " brass," their hinder parts being turned inward in a radiate form. It was designed for ablution of the priests (2 Chronicles 4:6), i.e. their hands and feet (Exodus 30:18 sq.). At the destruction of the Temple it was broken into pieces by the Chaldseans, and so taken in fragments to Babylon (2 Kings 25:13; Jeremiah 52:17). A few points deserve especial consideration.

1. The diameter being given as 10 cubits, in mathematical strictness the periphery would have been 31 cubits; or the circumference, if of exactly 30 cubits, would yield a diameter of 91 cubits. Yet we have no occasion, in order to confute infidel objections (Spinoza, Tractat. theol. pot. c. 2, p. 181, ed. Jen.), to resort to any artificial hypothesis, e.g. either that the basin was hexagonal (Reyher, Mathsis Mos. p. 715; Deyling, Observatt. i, 125), or that the diameter was measured quite over the rim, and the circumference just below its flange or lip (Schmidt, Milischl r Mathem. p. 160). See, however, Nicolai, Dissert. de symmetria mares enei (Viteb. 1717). The breadth across was doubtless 10 cubits, and the perimeter is given merely in round numbers, as sufficiently exact.

2. The capacity of the basin, as given in 1 Kings 7:26 (comp. also Joseph. 1. c.), is certainly more reliable than that in 2 Chronicles 4:6, and the number in the latter passage may be only a corruption (see Movers, Ueb. d. Chronik, p. 63). The older archaeologers understand that the 3000 baths designate the maximum contents, but that there were usually only 2000 baths actually in it, lest otherwise the priests should be in danger (so Deyling, ut sup.) of drinking from it! For other, and, for the most part, strange views. see Thenius (ut sup. p. 19 sq.).

3. The figure of the vessel is not given in detail in the sacred document, and Keil (in loc.) has pronounced the older investigations on this point in vain. As the text gives but a single diameter, most writers have thought only of a cylindrical form; but this would be unusual for such a vessel, and Josephus appears to represent it as having a hemispherical or bowl-like shape, which certainly would be far more elegant. - The question, however, can only be determined with certainty by means of a calculation upon the elements of the height (5 cubits) and the capacity (2000 baths). The depth confirms the supposition that it was semi-spheroidal in shape, for it is exactly equal to the radius, being one half the diameter, computing the admeasurements internally. If now, in accordance with the best authenticated estimates, we reckon the ancient cubit at 20.625 inches, and the Hebrew bath as equivalent to F.875 gallons (wine measure, the gallon=231 cubic inches), the brazen sea, if perfectly hemispherical, with a radius of 5 cubits, would contain 2,296,089 cubic inches, or 9940 gallons, or 1120 baths; if a cylinder, with corresponding dimensions, its capacity would be one half more, i.e. 1680 baths. This proves, first, that the reading 2000 is the true one, being sufficiently correct for a round number, as it evidently is; and, secondly, that the vessel was nearer a cylindrical than a semi-globular form, rendering indeed a considerable swell toward the bottom requisite, in order to make up its utmost capacity to a close approximation to the lesser figure given in the text. For other calculations, see Bockh, Metrol. Untersuch. p. 261 sq.

4. How the priests used this huge bowl for washing in, the Bible does not inform us. It was probably furnished with faucets, by means of which the water was drawn out as occasion required. This latter contrivance is supplied in most representations of the brazen sea; it rests, however, upon no better authority than mere conjecture. (See SEA, MOLTEN).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Brazen Sea (2)'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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