Look to the Heavens

There was a time, back in the 3rd Century BC, when the scholars, scientists, and intellectuals of Alexandria used to make fun of the man known as Eratosthenes. After all, the guy was only a librarian, wasn't he? What was he doing dabbling in the sciences, for crying out loud? In academic circles, back in those days, 'specialism' was all the rage—much as it is today—and Eratosthenes was definitely no 'specialist'. He grew up studying poetry, then shifted to philosophy, then mathematics. He wrote a book of poetry and a history of dramatic comedy. In short, he was a 'jack-of-all- subjects', master of none.

When Eratosthenes got interested in science, that was the last straw. His contemporaries scoffed at him. They called him 'beta'—after the second letter of their alphabet—the implication being that he was 'second-rate'. They were 'alpha' scholars, he was 'beta'. 

In those days, the single most perplexing scientific problem had to do with the size of the earth. Just how big was it anyway? It's a very important question; after all, if we don't know how large the earth is, we will never really know just where we are on it!  Pythagoras had already argued that the earth was a sphere, but just how big a sphere was it? Many people guessed; nobody knew, and no one even dreamed that there might be a way to actually measure the earth. 

Except for Eratosthenes! His passion for this problem caught fire when he started hearing travelers' tales about a well down south, in a little town named Syene, some 600 miles down the Nile from Alexandria. The remarkable thing about this well was that, at high noon on the longest day of the year (June 21 ), the Sun would shine right straight down into it, all the way to the bottom. That set Eratosthenes thinking. Perhaps the reason his contemporaries had failed, in their efforts to measure the earth, was that they kept looking at the earth, instead of the heavens! To solve this great dilemma, perhaps one must look up, instead of down! Since Syene was almost directly south of him, all he needed to do was wait until June 21st of the following year—when the Sun was directly overhead in Syene—and measure the angle of the Sun's shadow where he lived, further north, up in Alexandria. 

At exactly high noon on that famous day, he went into the town square, knelt down in the dirt beneath a tall, towering obelisk, and measured the angle of the sun's shadow: it was 7°12': roughly 1/50th of a circle. Knowing that the distance between Syene and Alexandria was 5000 stadia, all Eratosthenes needed was a little simple geometry to come up with his answer: 250,000 stadia, or 28,576 miles! 

Eratosthenes had measured the earth! 1

Actually, because his numbers for the distance between Syene and Alexandria were imprecise, his figure came out a little too large: the actual circumference is 24,859 miles. But, for 200 BC, that was pretty close! And his methodology was flawless; it is still used today. 

Eratosthenes was no longer a 'beta', and his contemporaries no longer laughed! His contribution to science was immense! The lowly librarian has been known ever since as the Father of Geodesy (the science of measuring the earth).2 

Eratosthenes' greatest legacy, however, was not the size of the earth. What he really left behind was a priceless principle that every map maker, every navigator, every traveler and explorer has followed to this very day: "Look to the heavens, if you want to find your bearings here on earth." He was the first one to suggest such a thing, and that made him quite a pioneer! 

I don't suppose he realized just what a marvelous spiritual principle he had touched upon! 

We live in a generation that no longer looks up; that never lifts its eyes. (Maybe it has something to do with iPhones.)

In our efforts to solve all the problems of man, we keep looking down:  at man, at ourselves, at our world. And yet, with all of our sciences and all of our "-ologies", we're still just as lost and disoriented as can be! 

Listen, dear ones: the answer will never be found 'below'! By looking up—to the Lord God Almighty, and by seeking His ways we will find our own way in this world. He gives us His Word; He announces His will; He puts us in our place; He shows us our 'size' and gives us our bearings. 

Listen, dear Christian. I know the world laughs at your allegiance to Jesus. To them, you're a 'beta' with a second-rate mind! But there really aren't that many wise people in the world. They were rare in Eratosthenes' day and just as rare today. That's all right; you just be one of them! Be an Eratosthenes: looking to the heavens for the answers you need!  How does that beautiful verse go? 

"Set your minds on things above, not on the things of the earth. " Col. 3:2

See you Sunday!                          RAS

 

1. In Eratosthenes' day, a stadia was reckoned at 603 feet. 

 

2. The Mapmakers, John Noble Wilford, Random House, NY, 1982 p. 21-24

There was a time, back in the 3rd Century BC, when the scholars, scientists, and intellectuals of Alexandria used to make fun of the man known as Eratosthenes. After all, the guy was only a librarian, wasn't he? What was he doing dabbling in the sciences, for crying out loud? In academic circles, back in those days, 'specialism' was all the rage—much as it is today—and Eratosthenes was definitely no 'specialist'. He grew up studying poetry, then shifted to philosophy, then mathematics. He wrote a book of poetry and a history of dramatic comedy. In short, he was a 'jack-of-all- subjects', master of none.

When Eratosthenes got interested in science, that was the last straw. His contemporaries scoffed at him. They called him 'beta'—after the second letter of their alphabet—the implication being that he was 'second-rate'. They were 'alpha' scholars, he was 'beta'. 

In those days, the single most perplexing scientific problem had to do with the size of the earth. Just how big was it anyway? It's a very important question; after all, if we don't know how large the earth is, we will never really know just where we are on it!  Pythagoras had already argued that the earth was a sphere, but just how big a sphere was it? Many people guessed; nobody knew, and no one even dreamed that there might be a way to actually measure the earth. 

Except for Eratosthenes! His passion for this problem caught fire when he started hearing travelers' tales about a well down south, in a little town named Syene, some 600 miles down the Nile from Alexandria. The remarkable thing about this well was that, at high noon on the longest day of the year (June 21 ), the Sun would shine right straight down into it, all the way to the bottom. That set Eratosthenes thinking. Perhaps the reason his contemporaries had failed, in their efforts to measure the earth, was that they kept looking at the earth, instead of the heavens! To solve this great dilemma, perhaps one must look up, instead of down! Since Syene was almost directly south of him, all he needed to do was wait until June 21st of the following year—when the Sun was directly overhead in Syene—and measure the angle of the Sun's shadow where he lived, further north, up in Alexandria. 

At exactly high noon on that famous day, he went into the town square, knelt down in the dirt beneath a tall, towering obelisk, and measured the angle of the sun's shadow: it was 7°12': roughly 1/50th of a circle. Knowing that the distance between Syene and Alexandria was 5000 stadia, all Eratosthenes needed was a little simple geometry to come up with his answer: 250,000 stadia, or 28,576 miles! 

Eratosthenes had measured the earth! 1

Actually, because his numbers for the distance between Syene and Alexandria were imprecise, his figure came out a little too large: the actual circumference is 24,859 miles. But, for 200 BC, that was pretty close! And his methodology was flawless; it is still used today. 

Eratosthenes was no longer a 'beta', and his contemporaries no longer laughed! His contribution to science was immense! The lowly librarian has been known ever since as the Father of Geodesy (the science of measuring the earth).2 

Eratosthenes' greatest legacy, however, was not the size of the earth. What he really left behind was a priceless principle that every map maker, every navigator, every traveler and explorer has followed to this very day: "Look to the heavens, if you want to find your bearings here on earth." He was the first one to suggest such a thing, and that made him quite a pioneer! 

I don't suppose he realized just what a marvelous spiritual principle he had touched upon! 

We live in a generation that no longer looks up; that never lifts its eyes. (Maybe it has something to do with iPhones.)

In our efforts to solve all the problems of man, we keep looking down:  at man, at ourselves, at our world. And yet, with all of our sciences and all of our "-ologies", we're still just as lost and disoriented as can be! 

Listen, dear ones: the answer will never be found 'below'! By looking up—to the Lord God Almighty, and by seeking His ways we will find our own way in this world. He gives us His Word; He announces His will; He puts us in our place; He shows us our 'size' and gives us our bearings. 

Listen, dear Christian. I know the world laughs at your allegiance to Jesus. To them, you're a 'beta' with a second-rate mind! But there really aren't that many wise people in the world. They were rare in Eratosthenes' day and just as rare today. That's all right; you just be one of them! Be an Eratosthenes: looking to the heavens for the answers you need!  How does that beautiful verse go? 

"Set your minds on things above, not on the things of the earth. " Col. 3:2

See you Sunday!                          RAS

 

1. In Eratosthenes' day, a stadia was reckoned at 603 feet. 

 

2. The Mapmakers, John Noble Wilford, Random House, NY, 1982 p. 21-24

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