Ancient Mathematics and Ancient New Testament Readings

In a paper published in 2017, William Mansfield and N.J. Wildberger published a paper entitled, Plimpton 322 is Babylonian exact sexagesimal trigonometry. Plimpton 322 is pictured above. The abstract of Mansfield and Wildberger’s paper reads as follows,

“We trace the origins of trigonometry to the Old Babylonian era, between the 19th and 16th centuries B.C.E. This is well over a millennium before Hipparchus is said to have fathered the subject with his ‘table of chords’. The main piece of evidence comes from the most famous of Old Babylonian tablets: Plimpton 322, which we interpret in the context of the Old Babylonian approach to triangles and their preference for numerical accuracy. By examining the evidence with this mindset, and comparing Plimpton 322 with Madhava’s table of sines, we demonstrate that Plimpton 322 is a powerful, exact ratio-based trigonometric table.”

Since the publication of their paper mathematicians and historians have questioned whether Plimpton 322 is a full trigonometry table or whether the table was used to teach or record trigonometry, but few seem to object to the fact that something of trigonometry existed over 1,000 years prior to Hipparchus of Ancient Greece. In sum, it is plausible that the Ancient Greeks did not ”invent” trigonometry. The Ancient Babylonians were already knocking on the door and that is if you reject Mansfield and Wildberger’s conclusions. If you accept their conclusions, the Hipparchus was late to the game by over a millenium.

Before the discovery of Plimpton 322, the West claimed Hipparchus as the inventor of trigonometry. It seems thought that such a supposition may be false. What is more, we learn from Plimpton 322 that older does not equal more ignorant. Rather, in this case the opposite may be true. The older [Babylon] may have been more advanced than the newer [Greece] in terms of mathematics.

I bring up this little history lesson in order to make the observation that Hipparchus is credited with the mathematical emendation of trigonometry when in fact, at a minimum, primitive trigonometry tables had existed 1,000 years before Hipparchus.

Oldest is best is not the same as the oldest we currently have is best. Claims that older = more ignorant is simply false and naive especially at a time in the west when many educated people have the hardest time defining what a woman is. Those of the modern west are the ignorant ones even with advancements in medicine and technology. We use that medicine and technology to chemically castrate children and murder other children in their mother’s womb. Only the morally blind and woefully naive would claim that the modern west occupies some obviously superior echelon of human knowledge and wisdom when it comes to truth.

In the last 150 years, the 21st century west has grown closer to superstition than to reason.

This goes for morality, spirituality, and even science. Most evangelical textual scholars ground their arguments in scientism with a good old Presbyterian sprinkle of theological terminology.

In sum, history is in so many sectors anything but an exact science. The best historians merely report the facts. Commentary is left to a minimum because so much is missing from the picture. To simply say WW2 started because of Hitler is to miss all the socio-political, economic, and worldview implications preceding and surrounding the war. That Hipparchus was the father of trigonometry is now in question after finding one artifact.

In like manner, dogmatism that comes from historians and particularly textual historians is largely unwarranted seeing that the vast majority of copied NT manuscripts have been lost. All it would take for scholarship to question their stance on the story of the woman caught in adultery is to find one manuscript which suited their tastes and then their whole argument would be turned on its head. The feasibility of such a discovery does not engender confidence.

History and age are not potent enough to tell the Church what the original words of Scripture were and are any more than the testimony of ancient Greeks were in telling us who discovered trigonometry.

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