The ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is represented in mathematics by the Greek lower letter Pi. To visualize this relationship, consider using a string to make a circle, and then straighten that string to run right across the circle through its center. The ratio of the length of the entire circle to that straight diameter line is pi, constant regardless of the size of the circle.
Beyond the geometry, people are drawn to this figure for other reasons. The number, when represented as a decimal goes on forever. People have used modern computers to take the number out to a trillion decimals! The first numbers 3.14159265359… are often abbreviated as 3.14.
Pi can also represent fertility. A circle is often used to represent women, such as in genealogy tables. Women were likely given the circle (as opposed to men who are denoted by squares) because of the roundness of their bellies while pregnant. Meanwhile, lines are used as a connection to spouses and offspring.
Pi represents the intersection of these ideas – women, generations, an infinite line and constancy. They all come together in the matriarchs of the Hebrew Bible.
Genesis 15:5 tells the story of God telling Abram that his descendants will be like the stars:
יּוֹצֵ֨א אֹת֜וֹ הַח֗וּצָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַבֶּט־נָ֣א הַשָּׁמַ֗יְמָה וּסְפֹר֙ הַכּ֣וֹכָבִ֔ים אִם־תּוּכַ֖ל לִסְפֹּ֣ר אֹתָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ כֹּ֥ה יִהְיֶ֖ה זַרְעֶֽךָ׃
He took him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He added, “So shall your offspring be.”
Immediately after this story, Abram took Hagar, Sarai’s maid because Sarai was barren, and had a child with her. Some years later, Sarai (then Sarah) was able to have a child, Isaac. After Sarah died, Abraham took a third wife, Keturah, and had six children with her (Genesis 25:1-2).
Abraham’s son Isaac had only one wife, Rebecca. The Jewish people continued its lineage through Jacob who fathered children through four women: Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah.
This is the beginning of the promise to Abraham to have offspring too numerous to count: he had children with three women, Isaac had children with one woman, and Jacob sired children with four women: 3 1 4. Hebrew pi is infinite and constant, just like God’s promise to Abraham.
Related First One Through articles:
Abraham’s Hospitality: Lessons for Jews and Arabs
The Karma of the Children of Israel
On History and Civilization from the Bible to Columbus
Prayer of The Common Man, From Ancient Egypt to Modern Israel
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