[13] Did Abraham teach Mathematical Astronomy to the Egyptians?

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The Jewish historian Josephus (37 – c. 100) wrote a history of the Jews that has many details that are not found in Scripture, and the question arises concerning whether these details are all true. One of these details concerns the abilities of Abraham and the Babylonian knowledge of mathematical astronomy at the time of Abraham.

On page 83 of Josephus_4 we find at Antiquities 1:166-168, “For, seeing that the Egyptians were addicted to a variety of different customs and disparaged one another’s practices and were consequently at enmity with one another, Abraham conferred with each party and, exposing the arguments which they adduced in favour of their particular views, demonstrated that they were idle and contained nothing true. Thus gaining their admiration at these meetings as a man of extreme sagacity, gifted not only with high intelligence but with power to convince his hearers on any subject which he undertook to teach, he introduced them to arithmetic and transmitted to them the laws of astronomy. For before the coming of Abraham the Egyptians were ignorant of these sciences, which thus traveled from the Chaldaeans into Egypt, whence they passed to the Greeks.”

The previous conclusions that were attained from archaeology with the help of computers and the modern knowledge of mathematical astronomy are now restated. The Babylonians were able to predict lunar eclipses by about 750 BCE with a time error of about one hour, and the Babylonians were able to predict possible solar eclipses about 360 BCE with a time error of about three hours. The Babylonians started the practice of predicting the sighting of the new crescent about 450 BCE. But Abraham lived c. 2000 BCE, over 1000 years before the great achievements of Babylonian mathematical astronomy occurred. Furthermore, ancient Egypt did not possess mathematical astronomy until the Greeks emigrated there and brought it with them after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. We therefore conclude that Josephus did not know the history of the acquisition of mathematical astronomy by the Egyptians, and it does not make sense to believe that Abraham knew any significant mathematical astronomy himself.

Furthermore, the Egyptians did not use the Babylonian positional base 60 number system, which they would have used it if Abraham had convinced them of its superiority. About a century before Josephus, other Jews bragged about Abraham’s achievements, even in astrology! The interested reader may consult pages 146-151 of Gruen.