22 December 2006

Absalom's hair was heavy upon him

But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he polled his head [cut his hair], (for it was at every year's end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king's weight. 2 Samuel 14:25-26

Absalom was the best looking guy in all of Israel -- with one hell of a head of hair. He'd let it grow all year and then cut it, which he had to do each year because it got so darned heavy. One year's growth weighed 200 skekels.

And how heavy is 200 shekels? Well, one shekel weighed about 11 grams. So Absalom's haircut trimmings weighed in at 2.2 kilograms.

How does this compare with normal human hair?

An average head hair has a diameter of about 0.007 cm (70 micrometers) and grows 15 cm per year. And an average head has about 100,000 hair follicles on it. Since human hair has a density of 1.32 g/cm3, we can estimate the weight of an average person's yearly hair production.

weight = pi * (.0035 cm)2 * 15 cm * 100,000 hairs * 1.32 g/cm3 = 76 g

So an average person produces about 0.076 kilogram of hair annually -- about than 1/30th that of Absalom.

Of course Absalom wasn't an average person. He was, after all, the best looking guy in Israel. So maybe his hair was 30 times as thick or 20 times as dense as normal human hair. Or maybe the Bible was just making stuff up.


Source for human hair values: Robbins, C.R., Chemical and Physical Behavior of Human Hair, Fourth Edition, Springer (2002)

4 comments:

Alxsteele said...

Hi,

Thank you for your (sometimes) thoughtful (sometimes not so much) interaction with religious texts. I confess a limited experience with the Qur'an and Book of Mormon, but more extensive experience with the Bible.

You challenge us all greatly, and I appreciate your honesty. May I challenge you in return? My "New Year's" challenge would be that you read the Gospel of John in either the NIV or ESV a few verses a day for the rest of January. Then, at the end, simply pray, "If there is a God out there who shows himself in this book, prove it."

I would love to see some posts on your experience on this.

Thank you again for taking the time to read this post.

Sincerely,

Alxsteele

dodge said...

Apparently the custom of royalty at this point in history was to use fragrant oils, gold dust and jewels in the hair, and pile the hair high on the head (even for males) to give the appearance of a crown by the way the hair was worn.

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/395403/a_really_bad_hair_daythe_story_of_absalom_pg2.html?cat=38

Your thoughts?

Scotty said...

Simple combinatorics show that 16 times the average isn't unreasonable at all. Consider this: you have 4 variables, each of which you took (more or less) an average value for. If you double the value of these 4 variables, which is a reasonable possibility since they are all statistical measurements that fit a standard normal distribution (a "bell curve") then you will get a final number that is 32 times bigger than your average estimate. So a person with hair weight growth that is 16 times the average would certainly be noteworthy (that's how he got the mention in the Jewish historical records), but definetely not unreasonable; probably not even a world record. Do a bit more analysis before sneering at a perfectly reasonable historical record.

Steve Wells said...

Scotty,

Simple combinatorics show that 16 times the average isn't unreasonable at all.

Sure, that makes sense, Scotty. Thanks for sharing.

Does simple combinatorics also show that a guy that is 16 times the average (100 feet tall or so) isn't unreasonable at all?