(מִעֲלוֹת, maaloth'; the plur. of an ascent, as it is sometimes rendered; Sept. ἀναβαθμοί, Vulg. horologium), a method of measuring time employed by Ahaz (2Ki 20:11; Isa 38:8). The word is the same as that rendered "steps" in Ex 20:26; 1Ki 10:19, and "degrees" in 2Ki 20:9-11; Isa 38:8, where, to give a consistent rendering, we should read with the margin the "degrees" rather than the "dial" of Ahaz. In the absence of any materials for determining the shape and structure of the solar instrument, which certainly appears intended, most interpreters follow the most strictly natural meaning of the words, and consider, with Cyril of Alexandria and Jerome (Comm. on Isa. 38:8), that the maaloth were really stairs, and that the shadow (perhaps of some column or obelisk on the top) fell on a greater or smaller number of them according as the sun was low or high. The terrace of a palace might easily be thus ornamented. Dr. Adam Clarke, in his Commentary on 2Ki 20:10-11, however, gives some ingenious illustrations, accompanied by a diagram, and others may be seen in Calmet's Dictionary, s.v. SEE DEGREE.
The invention of the sun-dial belongs most probably to the Babylonians. Herodotus affirms that the Greeks derived from them the pole (πόλος, supposed to mean the dial-plate), the gnomon, and the division of day into twelve parts (ii. 109). Vitruvius also ascribes the most ancient form of the dial, called hemicycle, to Berosus the Chaldsean (ix. 9), though he probably means no more than that he introduced it into Greece. Certainly those Greeks to whom Vitruvius ascribes inventions or improvements in dialling can all be proved to have had communication, more or less remote, with the Chaldaeans. The first mention in Scripture of the "hour" is made by Daniel, at Babylon (Da 3:6), although it is possible that Ps 102:11; Ps 109:23, may contain allusion to the progress of a shadow as measuring diurnal time. The Greeks used the dial before the Romans; and with regard to the Egyptians, "there are no indications in the sculptures to prove the epoch when the dial was first known in Egypt" (Wilkinson, Anc. Egyptians, 3, 342). It has been suggested that the חִמָּנַים, "images," of Isa 17:8; Isa 27:9; Eze 6:4,6, rendered in the margin "sun- images," were gnomons to measure time (Jahn, Archaol. I, 1:539), but there seems no adequate ground for this theory. On the mode of regulating time among the Greeks and Romans, see Smith's Dict. of Class. Ant. s.v. Horologium. SEE TIME.
The circumstances connected with the dial of Ahaz (2Ki 20:11; Isa 38:8), which is perhaps the earliest of which we have any clear mention, entirely concur with the derivation of gnomonics from the Babylonians. Ahaz had formed an alliance with Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria (2Ki 16:7,9); he was a man of taste, and was ready to adopt foreign improvements, as appears from his admiration of the altar at Damascus, and his introduction of a copy of it into Jerusalem (2Ki 16:10). "The princes of Babylon sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land" (2Ch 32:31). Hence the dial also, which was called after his name, was probably an importation from Babylon. Different conjectures have been formed respecting the construction of this instrument. Grotius follows the Rabbins in describing it as "a concave hemisphere, with a globe in the midst, the shadow of which fell on the different lines engraven in the concavity of the hemisphere, these lines being twenty-eight in number." Mr. Taylor (in Calmet's Dict.) discovered some representations of ancient dials, one of which was found at Herculaneum, and was probably originally from Egypt, which he conceives to answer, in many respects, to the circumstances of the sacred narrative (see also Kitto, Pict. Bible, note on 2Ki 20:11). The subjoined figures seem to apply to the description of the dial of Berosus given by Vitruvius (ix. 9), "a half circle hollowed into the stone, and the stone cut down to an angle." This kind of sun-dial was portable, and did not require to be constructed on or for a particular spot, to which it was subsequently confined, and, therefore, one ready-made might easily be brought on a camel from Babylon to Ahaz. If the instrument used in this instance were brought from Babylon, we see the reason why the king of Babylon was so peculiarly interested in the event (2Ki 20:12). SEE AHAZ.
The chief difficulty in the case of the dial of Ahaz is to understand what is meant by the peculiar terms in which it is expressed, מִעֲלוֹת אָחָז, the degrees or steps of Ahaz. They may mean lines or figures on a dial-plate, or on a pavement, or the steps to the palace of Ahaz. or some steps or staircase he had erected elsewhere (see Carpzov, Apparat. Historic. Crit. Lips. 1748, p. 352, etc.). The Sept. in Isaiah reads ἀναβαθμοὺς τοῦ οἴκου τοῦ πατρός σου, "the steps or stairs of the house of thy father." Josephus also says "steps or degrees in his house" (Ant. 10:2, 1). The Chaldee renders the passage in Kings, אֶבֶן שָׁעִיָּא, "hour-stone," and gives the same meaning to "the stairs" (2Ki 9:13), and renders Isa 38:8, by בּצוּרִת אֶבֶן שָׁעִיָּא, "on the shadow of the stone of hours." Symmachus most certainly understood a sun-dial; στρέψω τὴν σκιὰν τῶν γραμμῶν ἣ κατέβη έν ὡρολογίῳ ῎Αχαζ, "I will cause to return the shadow of the degrees which (shadow) is gone down on the dial of Ahaz:" and so Jerome renders it Horologium. M. von Gumpach's opinion (Zeitrechnung der Babylonier, Heidelb. 1852, p. 25) is that it was an accurate and scientific apparatus, indicating the half hours by the coincidence of the shadow of the upright pole or gnomon with the edge of the several "degrees" or steps, somewhat in the manner of the subjoined figure. Mr. Layard is favorable to the conjecture of Von Gumpach that it was a present to Ahaz from Tiglath-pileser; and he compares it with the presumed form of the tower of Belus, which may have been constructed in part for astronomical purposes (Vin. and Bab. p. 424 sq.). On the whole, however, the dial of Ahaz seems to have been a distinct contrivance rather than any part of a house. It would also seem probable, from the circumstances, that it was of such a size, and so placed, that Hezekiah, now convalescent (Isa 38:21-22), but not perfectly recovered, could witness the miracle from his chamber or pavilion. May it not have been situate "in the middle court" mentioned 2Ki 20:4? The cut given below presents a dial discovered in Hindostan, near Delhi, the ancient capital of the Mogul empire, whose construction would well suit the circumstances recorded of the dial of Ahaz. It seems to have answered the double purpose of an observatory and a dial — a rectangled hexangle, whose hypothenuse is: a staircase, apparently parallel to the axis of the earth, and bisects a zone or coping of a wall, which wall connects the two terminating towers right and left. The coping itself is of a circular form, and accurately graduated to mark, by the shadow of the gnomon above, the sun's progress before and after noon; for when the sun is in the zenith, he shines directly on the staircase, and the shadow falls beyond the coping. A flat surface on the top of the staircase, and a gnomon, fitted the building for the purpose of an observatory. According to the known laws of refraction, a cloud or body of air of different density from the common atmosphere, interposed between the gnomon and the coping of the dial- plate below, would, if the cloud were denser than the atmosphere, cause the shadow to recede from the perpendicular height of the staircase, and, of course, to reascend the steps on the coping, by which it had before noon gone down; and if the cloud were rarer, a contrary effect would take place (see bishop Stock's Transl. of Isaiah, Bath, 1803, p. 109). Such a building might also be called "a house." It agrees also with Adam Clarke's supposition that "the stairs" were really "a dial," and probably this very dial, on which, as being in the most public place, or rather on the platform on the top of which they set Jehu, while they proclaimed him king by sound of trumpet" (Commentary at 2Ki 9:13). Bishop Stock's speculation that the retrogression of the shadow might be effected by refraction is supported by a natural phenomenon of the kind on record. On the 27th of March, 1703, P. Romauld, prior of the cloister of Metz, made the observation that, owing to such a refraction of the solar rays in the higher regions of the atmosphere, in connection with the appearance of a cloud, the shadow on his dial deviated an hour and a half (Rosenmüller). The phenomenon on the dial of Ahaz, however, was doubtless of a miraculous nature, even should such a medium of the miracle be admitted: nothing less than a divine communication could have enabled Isaiah to predict its occurrence at that time and place; besides, he gave the king his own choice whether the shadow should advance or retire ten degrees. There seems, however, to be no necessity for seeking any medium for this miracle, and certainly no necessity for supposing any actual interference with the revolution of the earth, or the position of the sun. In the more distinct and ample account of it in 2 Kings, it is simply said that the Lord, at the prayer of Isaiah, brought the shadow ten degrees backward. Adopting the present state of the text in the parallel passage, Isa 38:8, it is observable that what is called the sun in one part of the verse is called the shadow in the other. It is certainly as philosophical to speak of the sun returning, as it is of his setting and rising. Thus the miracle, from all the accounts of it, might consist only of the retrogression of the shadow ten degrees, by a simple act of Almighty power, without any medium, or, at most, by that of refracting those rays only which fell upon the dial. It is not said that any time was lost to the inhabitants of the world at large; it was not even observed by the astronomers of Babylon, for the deputation came to inquire concerning the wonder that Was done in the land. It was temporary, local, and confined to the observation of Hezekiah and his court, being designed chiefly for the satisfaction of that monarch. It is remarkable that no instrument for keeping time is mentioned in the Scripture before the dial of Ahaz (about B.C. 700); nor does it appear that the Jews generally, even after this period, divided their day into hours. The dial of Ahaz was probably an object only of curious recreation, or served at most to regulate the occupations of the palace: Mr. Bosanquet, in a curious paper read before the- Asiatic Society, endeavors to make out a synchronism between the reigns of Hezekiah and the Assyrian kings by means of the astronomical event in question. He shows that upon such steps as appear to have been used for exhibiting the sun's meridional altitude, any very large partial eclipse on the northern limb of the sun, occurring about ten days from the winter solstice, near the hour of noon, would produce the effect described in the instance under consideration; and he calculates that such an eclipse actually took place Jan. 11, B.C. 689, which he accordingly fixes upon as the date of the Scriptural incident (Jour. Sac. Lit. Oct. 1854, p. 217, 218). This, however, does not tally with the Hebrew chronology, nor is it sufficiently confirmed by other savans to be entitled to reception. SEE CHRONOLOGY.
See Calmet; La retrogradation du soleil a l'horologe d'A chaz (in his Dissertations [in Commentaire], 2:796); Martini, Von den Sonnenuhren der Alten (Lips. 1777), p. 36; Goguet, Untersuchungen. 3, 85; Velthuysen, Beytrige (ed. Cramer, Kilon, 1777), p. 16 sq.; Sahm, De regressu solis tempore Hiskice (1689, 1696); Geret, De sole tempore Hiskice retrogrado (1673); Heisse, Sciatericum Achas (Jena, 1680); Hopkins. Plumb-line Papers (Auburn, 1862), ch. 2. SEE HEZEKIAH.