- Although sundials can be traced back to earlier periods in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the earliest textual reference to a sundial appears to be II Kings 20:8–11 (cf. Isa. 38:7–8). There a shadow-tracking device, ascribed to Ahaz, is used for a sign that Hezekiah would be healed. The Masoretic Text speaks of ma'alot ahaz, literally "the steps of Ahaz." Various ancient versions and commentators disagree over whether the device is an actual sundial or a set of stairs attached to Ahaz's palace. Unfortunately, 1QIsaa, which contains the variant ma'alot 'lyt, does not resolve this question. A fragment of a portable, disk-shaped sundial excavated at Tel Gezer has been dated to the reign of Merneptah (1225–1215 B.C.E.) whose cartouches were inscribed on its back. Earlier representations of this type were found on the ceilings of the early 15th century tombs of Amenhotep I and Serenmuth. These appear as a circle subdivided by radiating lines into 24 equiangular sections. A later development, the sundial found at Qumran, was shaped like a shallow bowl with three circular dials and a small vertical gnomon in its center. The upper dial was divided into approximately 90 sections. The middle dial resembled those known from I Enoch 72, with 18 equiangular 20° "parts." This appears to be a shallow form of the hemisphaericum of Aristarchus described by Vitruvius (end first cent. B.C.E.). For the preceding two dials, since the increments were represented by equally spaced "steps" on each dial, and since the movement of the shadow of the gnomon travels faster at midday and slower at the day's beginning or end, the actual time that the shadow spent within each step varied accordingly. Also, the number of steps through which the shadow passed each day either increased or decreased depending on the season. The solstices, equinoxes, and months (or "gates") were tracked by noting where the first shadow of the gnomon became visible on the dial or by the rising of certain constellations at night. The latest and most common sundials were the typical Greco-Roman, quarter-spherical hemicyclium, and the "conical" conicum. Twelve equiangular sections on these dials measured hours which in real time varied both according to the time of the day and season. Three concentric circles, running perpendicular to the hour lines, marked the full extent of the shadow at the four cardinal points of the year. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Adam, "Ancient Sundials of Israel," in: BSS Bulletin 14 (2002), 52–57, 109–114; Y. Yadin, "Ma'alot Ahaz," in: Eretz Israel 5 (1959), 91–96; pl. 10 (Heb.). (Stephen Pfann (2nd ed.)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.