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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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WAGES . Under the conditions of life in Palestine in OT times, work on the land, at all times the chief occupation, was done for the most part by the peasant and his family, assisted, in the case of the well-to-do, by a few slaves. The ‘hired servants’ were never numerous, and mainly aliens. We have no information as to the wages of such field-labourers. Deuteronomy 15:18 seems to say that a hireling cost the farmer twice as much as a slave, and since the latter received only his keep and his few clothes, it follows that the former will have earned the equivalent thereof, over and above, in wages. The first definite engagement disregarding the special case of Jacob and Laban with stipulated wages is that of the Levite whom Micah hired as his domestic chaplain for 10 shekels a year, with ‘a suit of apparel’ and his ‘victuals’ ( Judges 17:10 ). The next instance is Tobit’s engagement of the angel Raphael as his son’s travelling-companion for a drachm a day and all found ( Tob 5:14 ). This amount in Tobit’s day nearly a shilling would probably be equal in purchasing power to three shillings at the present day. From the NT we have the familiar case of the labourers in the vineyard who received a denarius for their day’s labour ( Matthew 20:1 ff.; see Money, §§ 6 , 7 ( b )).

Information is now available as to the wages of different classes of ‘hirelings,’ from doctors to tailors, in Babylonia c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 2000, from the Code of Hammurabi (see Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , Ext. Vol. 592 f., 606 f.; S. A. Cook, The Laws of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi , 171 ff.), but it is perilous to compare too closely the highly developed social conditions of Babylonia, even at this early period, with the simpler forms of Hebrew life, say under the monarchy. A still better reflexion of the actual conditions of labour in the valley of the Euphrates is found in the numerous written contracts that have been deciphered in recent years, a specimen of which will be given below (see esp. Johns, Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] and Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] Laws , ch. xxv. ‘Wages of Hired Labourers’; Meissner, Aus d. altbab. Recht , 13 f.). The Code of Hammurabi (§ 273) enacts that a field labourer shall receive from the beginning of the year (April) to the fifth month the period of longer days and harvest operations 6 she (180 she = 1 shekel) per day; and from the sixth month to the end, 5 she . At best this is only a shekel a month; but, according to Meissner, this early introduction of a ‘standard wage’ did not lead to a rise of wages, for only on very rare occasions do these exceed 6 shekels a year in addition to food and clothing. It was customary to give a sum, probably a shekel, as earnest-money, the remainder being paid at stipulated intervals, daily or monthly, or in a lump sum at the expiry of the engagement.

Brickmakers and tailors are to receive 5 she a day (§ 274), and herdsmen the name nâqîd is the Babylonian form of that denoting the occupation of Amos, the prophet 8 gur of corn a year, the gur being worth probably about a shekel. In other cases as well, it was customary to pay in grain, Frequently, as has been said, a written contract was drawn up, specifying the wages and the period of engagement. An example may be given from Meissner ( op. cit . 14):

‘Asir-Ramman, the son of Libit Urra, has hired Shamash-bel-ili from the priestess of the sun, Achatani, the daughter of Shamash-khazir, for one year. He will pay 3 1 / 2 shekels as yearly wages. He will find his own clothes. He will begin work on the 4th of the month Dur-Ramman, and will finish and leave in the month Mamitu.’

In OT times we hear also of yearly engagements (Leviticus 25:53 ), but the Deuteronomic Law enjoins daily payment of wages, in cases of poverty at least ( Deuteronomy 24:15 , cf. Leviticus 19:13 ). Details of the conditions of hire and the mutual obligations of master and servant at a much later period are to be found in the Mishna (see esp. Baba mezîa , vi. and vii.).

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Wages'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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