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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Weights And Measures

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WEIGHTS AND MEASURES . Since the most important of all ancient Oriental systems of weights and measures, the Babylonian , seems to have been based on a unit of length (the measures of capacity and weight being scientifically derived there from), it is reasonable to deal with the measures of length before proceeding to measures of capacity and weight. At the same time it seems probable that the measures of length in use in Palestine were based on a more primitive, and (so far as we know) unscientific system, which is to be connected with Egypt. The Babylonian system associated with Gudea ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 3000), on statues of whom a scale, indicating a cubit of 30 digits or 19⅝ inches, has been found engraved, was not adopted by the Hebrews.

I. Measures of Length

The Hebrew unit was a cubit 1 / 6 of a reed, Ezekiel 40:5 ), containing 2 spans or 6 palms or 24 finger’s breadths. The early system did not recognize the foot or the fathom. Measurements were taken both by the 6-cubit rod or reed and the line or ‘fillet’ ( Ezekiel 40:3 , Jeremiah 31:39 ; Jeremiah 52:21 , 1 Kings 7:15 ).

The ancient Hebrew literary authorities for the early Hebrew cubit are as follows. The ‘cubit of a man’ (Deuteronomy 3:11 ) was the unit by which the ‘bedstead’ of Og, king of Bashan, was measured (cf. Revelation 21:17 ). This implies that at the time to which the passage belongs (apparently not long before the time of Ezekiel) the Hebrews were familiar with more than one cubit, of which that in question was the ordinary working cubit. Solomon’s Temple was laid out on the basis of a cubit ‘after the first (or ancient) measure’ ( 2 Chronicles 3:3 ). Now Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 40:5 ; Ezekiel 43:13 ) prophesies the building of a Temple on a unit which he describes as a cubit and a band’s breadth, i.e. 7/5 of the ordinary cubit. As in his vision he is practically reproducing Solomon’s Temple, we may infer that Solomon’s cubit, i.e. the ancient cubit, was also 7 /5 of the ordinary cubit of Ezekiel’s time. We thus have an ordinary cubit of 6, and what we may call (by analogy with the Egyptian system) the royal cubit of 7 hand’s breadths. For this double system is curiously parallel to the Egyptian, in which there was a common cubit of 0.450 m. or 17.72 in., which was 6 /7 of the royal cubit of 0.525 m. or 20.67 in. (these data are derived from actual measuring rods). A similar distinction between a common and a royal norm existed in the Babylonian weight-system. Its object there was probably to give the government an advantage in the case of taxation; probably also in the case of measures of length the excess of the royal over the common measure had a similar object.

We have at present no means of ascertaining the exact dimensions of the Hebrew ordinary and royal cubits. The balance of evidence is certainly in favour of a fairly close approximation to the Egyptian system. The estimates vary from 16 to 25.2 inches. They are based on: (1) the Siloam inscription , which says: ‘The waters flowed from the outlet to the Pool 1200 cubits,’ or, according to another reading, ‘1000 cubits.’ The length of the canal is estimated at 537.6 m., which yields a cubit of 0.525 to 0.527 m. (20.67 to 20.75 in.) or 0.538 m. (21.18 in.) according to the reading adopted. Further uncertainty is occasioned by the possibility of the number 1200 or 1000 being only a round number. The evidence of the Siloam inscription is thus of a most unsatisfactory kind. (2) The measurements of tombs . Some of these appear to be constructed on the basis of the Egyptian cubit; others seem to yield cubits of 0.575 m. (about 22.6 in.) or 0.641 m. (about 25.2 in.). The last two cubits seem to be improbable. The measurements of another tomb (known as the Tomb of Joshua) seem to confirm the deduction of the cubit of about 0.525 m. (3) The measurement of grains of barley . This has been objected to for more than one reason. But the Rabbinical tradition allowed 144 barley-corns of medium size, laid side by side, to the cubit; and it is remarkable that a recent careful attempt made on these lioes resulted in a cubit of 17.77 in. (0.451 m.), which is the Egyptian common cubit. (4) Recently it has been pointed out that Josephus , when using Jewish measures of capacity, etc., which differ from the Greek or Roman, is usually careful to give an equation explaining the measures to his Greek or Roman readers, while in the case of the cubit he does not do so, but seems to regard the Hebrew and the Roman-Attic as practically the same. The Roman-Attic cubit (1 1 /2 ft.) is fixed at 0.444 m. or 17.57 in., so that we have here a close approximation to the Egyptian common cubit. Probably in Josephus’ time the Hebrew common cubit was, as ascertained by the methods mentioned above, 0.450 m.; and the difference between this and the Attic-Roman was regarded by him as negligible for ordinary purposes. (5) The Mishna . No data of any value for the exact determination of the cubit are to be obtained from this source. Four cubits is given as the length of a loculus in a rock-cut tomb; it has been pointed out that, allowing some 2 inches for the bier, and taking 5 ft. 6 in. to 5 ft. 8 in. as the average height of the Jewish body, this gives 4 cubits = 5 ft. 10 in., or 17 1 /2 in. to the cubit. On the cubit in Herod’s Temple, see A. R. S. Kennedy in art. Temple (p. 902 b ), and in artt. in ExpT [Note: Expository Times.] xx. [1908], p. 24 ff.

The general inference from the above five sources of information is that the Jews had two cubits, a shorter and a longer, corresponding closely to the Egyptian common and royal cubit. The equivalents are expressed in the following table:

Royal System. Common System. Metres. Inches. Metres. Inches. Finger’s breadth 0.022 0.86 0.019 0.74 Palm = 4 fingers 0.088 3.44 0.075 2.95 Span = 3 palms 0.262 10.33 0.225 8.86 Cubit = 2 spans 0.525 20.67 0.450 17.72 Reed = 6 cubits 3.150 124.02 2.700 106.32 Parts and multiples of the unit . The ordinary parts of the cubit have already been mentioned. They occur as follows: the finger’s breadth or digit ( Jeremiah 52:21 , the daktyl of Josephus); the palm or hand’s breadth ( 1 Kings 7:26 , Ezekiel 40:5 ; Ezekiel 40:43 ; Ezekiel 43:13 etc.); the span ( Exodus 28:16 ; Exodus 39:9 etc.). A special measure is the gômed , which was the length of the sword of Ehud ( Judges 3:16 ), and is not mentioned elsewhere. It was explained by the commentators as a short cubit (hence EV [Note: English Version.] ‘cubit’), and it has been suggested that it was the cubit of 5 palms, which is mentioned by Rabbi Judah. The Greeks also had a short cubit, known as the pygôn , of 5 palms, the distance from the elbow to the first joint of the fingers. The reed (= 6 cubits) is the only definite OT multiple of the cubit ( Ezekiel 40:5 ). This is the akaina of the Greek writers. The pace of 2 Samuel 6:13 is probably not meant to be a definite measure. A ‘little way’ ( Genesis 35:16 ; Genesis 48:7 , 2 Kings 5:19 ) is also indefinite. Syr. and Arab [Note: Arabic.] , translators compared it with the parasang, but it cannot merely for that reason be regarded as fixed. A day’s journey ( Numbers 11:31 , 1 Kings 19:4 , Jonah 3:4 , Luke 2:44 ) and its multiples ( Genesis 30:36 , Numbers 10:33 ) are of course also variable.

The Sabbath day’s journey ( Acts 1:12 ) was usually computed at 2000 cubits. This was the distance by which the ark preceded the host of the Israelites, and it was consequently presumed that this distance might be covered on the Sabbath, since the host must be allowed to attend worship at the ark. The distance was doubled by a legal fiction: on the eve of the Sabbath, food was placed at a spot 2000 cubits on, and this new place thus became the traveler’s place within the meaning of the prescription of Exodus 16:29 ; there were also other means of increasing the distance. The Mt. of Olives was distant a Sabbath day’s journey from Jerusalem, and the same distance is given by Josephus as 5 stadia , thus confirming the 2000 cubits computation. But in the Talmud the Sabbath day’s journey is equated to the mil of 3000 cubits or 7 1 /2 furlongs; and the measure ‘threescore furlongs’ of Luke 24:13 , being an exact multiple of this distance, seems to indicate that this may have been one form (the earlier?) of the Sabbath day’s journey.

In later times, a Byzantine writer of uncertain date, Julian of Ascalon, furnishes information as to the measures in use in Palestine (Provincial measures, derived from the work of the architect Julian of Ascalon, from the laws or customs prevailing in Palestine,’ is the title of the table). From this we obtain (omitting doubtful points) the following table:

1. The finger’s breadth.

2. The palm = 4 finger’s breadths.

3. The cubit = 1 1 / 2 feet = 6 palms.

4. The pace = 2 cubits = 3 feet = 12 palms.

5. The fathom = 2 paces = 4 cubits = 6 feet.

6. The reed = 1 1 /2 fathoms = 6 cubits = 9 feet = 36 palms.

7. The plethron = 10 reeds = 15 fathoms = 30 paces = 60 cubits = 90 feet.

8. The stadium or furlong = 6 plethora = 60 reeds = 100 fathoms = 200 paces = 400 cubits = 600 feet.

9. ( a ) The million or mile, ‘according to Eratosthenes and Strabo’ = 8 1 /3 stadia = 833 1 /3 fathoms.

( b ) The million ‘according to the present use’ = 7 1 /2 stadia = 750 fathoms = 1500 paces = 3000 cubits.

10. The present million of 7 1 /2 stadia = 750 ‘geometric’ fathoms = 833 1 /3 ‘simple’ fathoms; for 9 geometric fathoms = 10 simple fathoms.

We may justifiably assume that the 3000 cubits of 9 ( b ) are the royal cubits of 0. 525 m. The geometric and simple measures according to Julian thus work out as follows:

Geometric. Simple. Metres. Inches. Metres. Inches. Finger’s breadth 0.022 0.86 0.020 0.79 Palm 0.088 3.44 0.080 3.11 Cubit 0.525 20.67 0.473 18.62 Fathom 2.100 82.68 1.890 74.49 Measures of area . For smaller measures of area there seem to have been no special names, the dimensions of the sides of a square being usually stated. For land measures, two methods of computation were in use. (1) The first, as in most countries, was to state area in terms of the amount that a yoke of oxen could plough in a day (cf. the Latin jugerum ). Thus in Isaiah 5:10 (possibly also in the corrupt 1 Samuel 14:14 ) we have ‘10 yoke’ ( tsemed ) of vineyard. Although definite authority is lacking, we may perhaps equate the Hebrew yoke of land to the Egyptian unit of land measure, which was 100 royal cubits square (0.2756 hectares or 0.6810 acre). The Greeks called this measure the aroura . (2) The second measure was the amount of seed required to sow an area . Thus ‘the sowing of a homer of barley’ was computed at the price of 50 shekels of silver ( Leviticus 27:16 ). The dimensions of the trench which Elijah dug about his altar ( 1 Kings 18:32 ) have also recently been explained on the same principle; the trench ( i.e. the area enclosed by it) is described as being ‘like a house of two seahs of seed’ (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] and RV [Note: Revised Version.] wrongly ‘as great as would contain two measures of seed’). This measure ‘ house of two seahs ’ is the standard of measurement in the Mishna, and is defined as the area of the court of the Tabernacle, or 100×50 cubits (c. 1648 sq. yds. or 0.1379 hectares). Other measures of capacity were used in the same way, and the system was Babylonian in origin; there are also traces of the same system in the West, under the Roman Empire.

II. Measures of Capacity

The terms ‘ handful ’ ( Leviticus 2:2 ) and the like do not represent any part of a system of measures in Hebrew, any more than in English. The Hebrew ‘measure’ par excellence was the seah , Gr. saton . From the Greek version of Isaiah 5:10 and other sources we know that the ephah contained 3 such measures. Epiphanius describes the seâh or Hebrew modius as a modius of extra size, and as equal to 1 1 / 4 Roman modius = 20 sextarii. Josephus, however, equates it with 1 1 /2 Roman modius = 24 sextarii. An anonymous Greek fragment agrees with this, and so also does Jerome in his commentary on Matthew 13:33 . Epiphanius elsewhere, and other writers, equate it with 22 sextarii (the Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] ephah is computed at 66 sextarii). The seâh was used for both liquid and dry measure.

The ephah (the word is suspected of Egyp. origin) of 3 seâhs was used for dry measure only; the equivalent liquid measure was the bath (Gr. bados, batos, keramion, choinix ). They are equated in Ezekiel 45:11 , each containing 1 /10 of a homer. The ephah corresponds to the Gr. artabe (although in Isaiah 5:10 six artabai go to a homer) or metrçtes . Josephus equates it to 72 sextarii. The bath was divided into tenths ( Ezekiel 45:14 ), the name of which is unknown; the ephah likewise into tenths, which were called ‘ômer or ‘issaron (distinguish from homer = 10 ephahs). Again the ephah and bath were both divided into sixths ( Ezekiel 45:13 ); the 1 /6 bath was the hin , but the name of the 1 /6 ephah is unknown.

The homer ( Ezekiel 45:11 , Hosea 3:2 ) or cor ( Ezekiel 45:14 , Luke 16:7 ; Gr. koros ) contained 10 ephahs or baths, or 30 seâhs. (The term ‘côr’ is used more especially for liquids.) It corresponded to 10 Attic metrçtai (so Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant. XV. ix. 2, though he says medimni by a slip). The word côr may be connected with the Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] gur or guru .

The reading lethek which occurs in Hosea 3:2 , and by Vulgate and EV [Note: English Version.] is rendered by ‘half a homer,’ is doubtful. Epiphanius says the lethek is a large ‘ômer ( gomer ) of 15 modii .

The hin (Gr. hein ) was a liquid measure = 1 /2 seâh. In Leviticus 19:36 the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] renders it chous . But Josephus and Jerome and the Talmud equate it to 2 Attic choes = 12 sextarii. The hin was divided into halves, thirds (= cab), quarters, sixths, and twelfths (= log). In later times there were a ‘sacred hin’ = ¾ of the ordinary hin, and a large hin = 2 sacred hins = 3 /2 ordinary hin. The Egyp. hen , of much smaller capacity (0. 455 1.) is to be distinguished.

The ‘omer (Gr gomor ) is confined to dry measure. It Isaiah 1:10 Isaiah 1:10 Isaiah 1:10 ephah and is therefore called assaron or ‘issaron (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘ tenth deal ’). Epiphanius equates it accordingly to 71 /5 sextarii, Eusebius less accurately to 7 sextarii. Eusebius also calls it the ‘little gomor’; but there was another ‘little gomor’ of 12 modii, so called in distinction from the ‘large gomor’ of 15 modii (the lethek of Epiphanius). Josephus wrongly equates the gomor to 7 Attic kotylai .

The cab ( 2 Kings 6:25 , Gr. kabos ) was both a liquid and a dry measure. From Josephus and the Talmud it appears that it was equal to 4 sextarii, or 1 /2 hin. In other places it is equated to 6 sextarii, 5 sextarii (‘great cab’ = 1 1 /4 cab), and 1 /4 modius (Epiphanius, who, according to the meaning he attaches to modius here, may mean 4, 5, 5 1 /2, or 6 sextarii l).

The log ( Leviticus 14:10 ; Leviticus 14:12 ) is a measure of oil; the Talmud equates it to 1 /12 hin or 1 /24 seâh, i.e. 1 /4 cab. Josephus renders the 1 /4 cab of 2 Kings 6:25 by the Greek xestes or Roman sextarius , and there is other evidence to the same effect.

A measure of doubtful capacity is the nebet of wine (Gr. version of Hosea 3:2 , instead of lethek of barley). It was 150 sextarii, by which may be meant ordinary sextarii or the larger Syrian sextarii which would make it = 3 baths. The word means ‘wine-skin.’

We thus obtain the following table (showing a mixed decimal and sexagesimal system) of dry and liquid measures. Where the name of the liquid differs from that of the dry measure, the former is added in italics. Where there is no corresponding liquid measure, the dry measure is asterisked.

The older portion of this system seems to have been the sexagesimal, the ‘ômer and 1 /10 bath and the lethek (if it ever occurred) being intrusions.

Homer or cor 1 * Lethek 2 1 Ephah, bath 10 5 1 Seâh 30 15 3 1 1 /6 ephah, hin 60 30 6 2 1 ‘Omer or ‘issaron, 1 /10 bath . 100 50 10 3 1 /3 1 2 /3 1 1 /2 hin 120 60 12 4 2 1 1 /5 1 Cab 180 90 18 6 3 1 4 /5 1 1 /2 1 1 /4 hin 240 120 24 8 4 2 3 /8 2 1 1 /3 1 1 /2 cab, 1 /8 hin 360 180 36 12 6 3 3 /5 3 2 1 1 /2 1 1 /4 cab, log 720 360 72 24 12 7 1 /5 6 4 3 2 1 * 1 /8 cab 1440 720 144 48 24 14 2 /5 12 8 6 4 2 1 When we come to investigate the actual contents of the various measures, we are, in the first instance, thrown back on the (apparently only approximate) equations with the Roman sextarius (Gr. xestes ) and its multiples already mentioned. The tog would then be the equivalent of the sextarius , the bath of the metrçtes , the cab (of 6 logs) of the Ptolemaic chous . If log and sextarius were exact equivalents, the ephah of 72 logs would = 39.39 litres, = nearly 8 2 /3 gallons. This is on the usual assumption that the sextarius was 0.545 1. or 0 96 Imperial pints. But the exact capacity of the sextarius is disputed, and a capacity as high as 0.562 l. or 0.99 imperial pint is given for the sextarius by an actually extant measure. This would give as the capacity of the ephah-bath 40.46 l. or 71.28 pints. But it is highly improbable that the equation of log to sextarius was more than approximate. It is more easy to confound closely resembling measures of capacity than of length, area, or weight.

Name of Measure. (1) Lôg = 0.505 1. (2) Ephah = 65 Pints. (3) Lôg = 0.99 Pint. Rough Approximation on Basis of (3). Litres. Gallons. Litres. Gallons. Litres. Gallons. Homer (cor) 363.7 80.053 369.2 81.25 405 89.28 11 bushels Lethek 181.85 40.026 184.6 40.62 202 44.64 5 1 /2 bushels Ephah-bath 36.37 8.005 36.92 8.125 40.5 8.928 9 gallons Seâh 12.120 2.668 12.3 2.708 13.5 2.976 1 1 /2 pecks Great hin 9.090 2.001 9.18 2.234 10.08 2.232 2 1 /4 gallons Hin 6.060 1.334 6.12 1.356 6.72 1.488 1 1 /2 gallons Sacred hin 4.545 1.000 4.59 1.117 5.04 1.116 9 pints ‘Omer 3.657 0.800 3.67 0.813 4.05 8.893 7 1 /5 pints 1 /2 hin 3.030 0.667 3.06 0.678 3.36 0.744 6 pints Cab 2.020 0.445 2.05 0.451 2.25 0.496 4 pints 1 /2hin 1.515 0.333 1.53 0.339 1.68 0.372 3 pints 1 /2 cab 1.010 0.222 1.02 0.226 1.12 0.248 2 pints Log 0.505 0.111 0.51 0.113 0.56 0.124 1 pint 1 /2 cab 0.252 0.055 0.26 0.056 0.28 0.062 1 /2 pint Other methods of ascertaining the capacity of the ephah are the following. We may assume that it was the same as the Babylonian unit of 0.505 l. (0.89 pint). This would give an ephah of 36.37 l., or nearly 8 gallons or 66.5 sextarii of the usually assumed weight, and more or less squares with Epiphanius’ equation of the seâh or 1 / 3 ephah with 22 sextarii. Or we may connect it with the Egyptian system, thus: both the ephah-hath and the Egyptian-Ptolemaic artabe are equated to the Attic metrçtes of 72 sextarii. Now, in the case of the artabe this is only an approximation, for it is known from native Egyptian sources (which give the capacity in terms of a volume of water of a certain weight) that the artabe was about 36.45 l., or a little more than 64 pints. Other calculations, as from a passage of Josephus, where the cor is equated to 41 Attic (Græco-Roman) modii ( i.e. 656 sextarii), give the same result. In this passage modii is an almost certain emendation of medimni , the confusion between the two being natural in a Greek MS. There are plenty of other vague approximations, ranging from 60 to 72 sextarii. Though the passage of Josephus is not quite certain in its text, we may accept it as having the appearance of precise determination, especially since it gives a result not materially differing from other sources of information.

In the above table, the values of the measures are given according to three estimates, viz. (1) log = Babylonian unit of 0.505 l.; (2) ephah = 65 pints; (3) log = sextarius of 0.99 pint.

Foreign measures of capacity mentioned in NT . Setting aside words which strictly denote a measure of capacity, but are used loosely to mean simply a vessel ( e.g . ‘cup’ in Mark 7:4 ), the following, among others, have been noted. Bushel ( Matthew 5:15 ) is the tr. [Note: translate or translation.] of modius , which represents seâh . Firkin is used ( John 2:6 ) to represent the Greek metrçtes , the rough equivalent of the bath . Measure in Revelation 6:6 represents the Gr. choinix of about 2 pints.

III. Measures of Weight

The system of weights used in Palestine was derived from Babylonia. Egypt does not seem to have exerted any influence in this respect. The chief denominations in the system were the talent (Gr. talanton , Heb. kikkar meaning, apparently, a round cake-like object), the mina (Gr. mna , Heb. maneh ; tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘ pound ’ in 1 Kings 10:17 and elsewhere, though ‘pound’ in John 12:3 ; John 19:39 means the Roman pound of 327.45 grammes or 5053.3 grstroy), and the shekel (Gr. siklos or siglos , Heb. sheqel , from shâqat , ‘to weigh’). The shekel further was divided into 20 gerahs ( gerah apparently = the Babylonian giru , a small weight of silver). [References to shekels or other denominations of precious metal in pre-exilic times must be to uncoined metal, not to coins, which are of later origin.] For ordinary purposes 60 shekels made a mina, and 60 minæ a talent; but for the precious metals a mina of 50 shekels was employed, although the talent contained 60 minæ, as in the other case. There were two systems, the heavy and the light, the former being double of the latter. The evidence of certain extant Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] weights proves that there was a very complex system, involving at least two norms, one of which, the royal, used for purposes of taxation, was higher than the other, the common. For our purposes, we may here confine ourselves to the common norm in the heavy and light systems. It may, however, be mentioned that the ‘ king’s weight ,’ according to which Absalom’s hair weighed 200 shekels ( 2 Samuel 14:26 ), is probably to be referred to this royal norm. Combining the evidence of the extant Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] weights with the evidence of later coins of various countries of the ancient world, and with the knowledge, derived from a statement in Herodotus, that the ratio of gold to silver was as 13 1 / 3 to 1, we obtain the following results:

Heavy. Light. Grains Troy. Grammes. Grains Troy. Grammes. Talent 757,380 49,077 378,690 24,539 Mina 12,623 818 6,311.5 409 Shekel 252.5 16.36 126.23 8.18 Value of the gold shekel in silver 3,366.6 218.1 1,684.3 109.1 i.e. , ten pieces of silver of 336.6 21.81 168.4 10.91 Or fifteen pieces of silver of 224.4 14.54 112.2 7.27 N. B . One heavy talent = 98.154 lbs. avoirdupois; one heavy mina = 1.636 lb. avoirdupois.

Now the pieces of 1 /10 and 1 /15 of the value of the gold shekel in silver were the units on which were based systems known as the Babylonian or Persic and the Phœnician respectively; the reason for the names being that these two standards seem to have been associated by the Greeks, the first with Persia, whose coins were struck on this standard, the second with the great Phœnician trading cities, Sidon, Tyre, etc. For convenience’ sake the names ‘Babylonian’ and ‘Phœnician’ may be retained, although it must be remembered that they are conventional. The above table gives the equivalents in weights on the two systems, both for the precious metals (in which the mina weighed 50 shekels) and for trade (in which it weighed 60 shekels).

Babylonian. Phœnician. Light. Heavy. Light. Grains. Grammes. Grains. Grammes. Grains. Grammes. Grains. Grammes. Shekel 336.6 21.81 168.4 10.91 224.4 14.54 112.2 7.27 Mina of 50 shekels 16,830 1090.5 8,420 545.25 11,220 727 5,610 363.5 Mina of 60 shekels 20,196 1308.68 10,098 654.34 13,464 872.45 6,732 436.23 Talent of 3000 shekels 1,009,800 65,430 504,900 32,715 673,200 43,620 336,600 21,810 Talent of 3600 shekels 1,211,760 78,520.77 605,880 39,260.38 807,840 52,347.18 403,920 26,173.59 The evidence of actual weights found in Palestine is as follows: 1. 2. 3. Three stone weights from Tell Zakarîyâ, inscribed apparently netseph , and weighing

10.21 grammes = 157.564 grains troy. 9.5 grammes = 146.687 grains troy. 9.0 grammes = 138.891 grains troy. 4. A weight with the same inscription, from near Jerusalem, weighing 8.61 grammes = 134.891 grains troy.

5. A weight from Samaria inscribed apparently 1 /4 netseph and 1 /2 shekel , weighing 2.54 grammes = 39.2 grains troy; yielding a netseph of 9.16 grammes = 156.8 grains troy. This has been dated in the 8th cent. b.c.; and all the weights are apparently of pre-exilic date. There are other weights from Gezer, which have, without due cause, been connected with the netseph standard; and a second set of weights from Gezer, Jerusalem, Zakarîyâ, and Tell el-Judeideh may be ignored, as they seem to bear Cypriote inscriptions, and represent a standard weight of 93 grammes maximum. Some addition must be allowed to Nos. 2 and 3 of the above-mentioned netseph weights, for fracture, and probably to No. 4, which is pierced. The highest of these weights is some 10 grains or 0.7 grammes less than the light Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] shekel. It probably, therefore, represents an independent standard, or at least a deliberate modification, not an accidental degradation, of the Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] standard. Weights from Naucratis point to a standard of about 80 grains, the double of which would be 160 grains, which is near enough to the actual weight of our specimens (maximum 157 1 /2 grains). We need not here concern ourselves with the origin of this standard, or with the meaning of netseph ; there can be no doubt of the existence of such a standard, and there is much probability that it is connected with the standard which was in use at Naucratis. Three weights from Lachish (Tell el-Hesy) also indicate the existence of the same 80-grain standard in Palestine. The standard in use at the city of Aradus (Arvad) for the coinage is generally identified with the Babylonian; but as the shekel there only exceptionally exceeds 165 grains, it, too, may have been an approximation to the standard we are considering. But in Hebrew territory there can be no doubt that this early standard was displaced after the Exile by a form of the Phœnician shekel of 14.54 grammes, or 224.4 grains. It has, indeed, been thought that this shekel can be derived by a certain process from the shekel of 160 grains; but on the whole the derivation from the gold shekel of 126.23 grains suggested above is preferable.

The evidence as to the actual use of this weight in Palestine is as follows: From Exodus 38:25 f. it appears that the Hebrew talent contained 3000 shekels. Now, Josephus equates the mina used for gold to 2 1 /2 Roman pounds, which is 12,633. Isaiah 12:3 grains troy, or 818.625 grammes; this is only 10 grains heavier than the heavy mina given above. From Josephus also we know that the kikkar or talent contained 100 minæ. The talent for precious metals, as we have seen, contained 3000 shekels; therefore the shekel should be 100×12633/3000 grains = 421 grains. We thus have a heavy shekel of 421 grains, and a light one of 210.5 grains. There is other evidence equating the Hebrew shekel to weights varying from 210.48 to 210.55 grains. This is generally supposed to be the Phœnician shekel of 224.4 grains in a slightly reduced form. Exactly the same kind of reduction took place at Sidon in the course of the 4th cent. b.c., where, probably owing to a fall in the price of gold, the weight of the standard silver shekel fell from about 28.60 grammes (441.36 grains) to 26.30 grammes (405.9 grains). A change in the ratio between gold and silver from 13 1 /3:1 to 12 1 /2:1 would practically, in a country with a coinage, necessitate a change in the weight of the shekel such as seems to have taken place here; and although the Jews had no coinage of their own before the time of the Maccabees, they would naturally be influenced by the weights in use in Phœnicia. The full weight shekel of the old standard probably remained in use as the ‘shekel of the sanctuary,’ for that weight was 20 gerahs ( Ezekiel 45:12 , Exodus 30:13 ), which is translated in the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] by ‘20 obols,’ meaning, presumably, 20 Attic obols of the time; and this works out at 224.2 grains. This shekel was used not only for the silver paid for the ‘ransom of souls,’ but also for gold, copper, and spices ( Exodus 30:23-24 ; Exodus 38:24 ff.); in fact, the Priests’ Code regarded it as the proper system for all estimations ( Leviticus 27:25 ). The beka = 1 /2 shekel is mentioned in Genesis 24:22 , Exodus 38:26 .

Foreign weights in the NT . The ‘pound’ of spikenard ( John 12:3 ) or of myrrh and aloes (19:39) is best explained as the Roman libra (Gr. litra ) of 327.45 grammes. The ‘pound’ in Luke 19:13 f. is the money- mina or 1 /60 of the Roman-Attic talent (see art. Money, 7 ( j )). The ‘talent’ mentioned in Revelation 16:21 also probably belongs to the same system.

For further information see esp. A. R. S. Kennedy, art. ‘Weights and Measures’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , with bibliography there given. Recent speculations on the Heb. systems, and publications of weights will be found in PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1902, p. 80 (three forms of cubit, 18 in., 14.4 in., and 10.8 in.); 1902, p. 175 (Conder on general system of Hebrew weights and measures); 1904, p. 209 (weights from Gezer, etc.); 1906, pp. 182 f., 259 f. (Warren on the ancient system of weights in general); Comptes Rendus de l’Acad. des Inscr . 1906, p. 237 f. (Clermont-Ganneau on the capacity of the hin).

G. F. Hill.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Weights And Measures'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/w/weights-and-measures.html. 1909.


Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 20th, 2018
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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