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the science of determining the relative value of measures, whether these belong to pecuniary standards or to fixed quantities of capacity or extent. Indeed, these three are intimately connected, for coins can only be accurately determined by weight, and the bulk of solids or liquids is ultimately ascertained by linear measurements in cubic dimensions, or by a given weight of a certain substance of uniform density. Specific gravity, therefore, lies at the basis of all quantitative admeasurements. In the present article we are, of course, strictly concerned only with the Biblical, especially Hebrew, weights and measures; but as the value of these has come down to us chiefly in Greek equivalents, it becomes necessary to take the latter also into consideration. "The Roman measures came from Greece, the Grecian from Phoenicia, the Phoenician from Babylon. Accordingly each system will throw light on the other, and all may be made to contribute something to the elucidation of the Hebrew weights and measures. This method of viewing the subject, and the satisfactory lessons which have been hence deduced, are to be ascribed to Bockh (Metrologischen Untersuchungen, Berlin, 1838), who, availing himself of the results ascertained by English, French, and German scholars, and of the peculiar facilities afforded by a residence in the midst of the profound and varied erudition of the Prussian capital, has succeeded, by the application of his unwearied industry and superior endowments, in showing that the system of weights aid measures of Babylon, Egypt, Palestine. Phoenicia, Greece, Sicily, and Italy, formed one great whole, with the most intimate relationships and connections." To these researches must be added later investigations and comparisons by different antiquarians as to the value of particular specimens of coins and measures still extant, which sometimes considerably modify the conclusions of Bockh.

I. Coins and Weights.

1. Names of the principal Hebrew Standards.-The following are the regular gradations, beginning with the highest:

(1.) The talent, כַּכָּר, kikkdr, strictly a circle. hence any round object; and thus a circular piece of money. It was of two kinds, the talent of gold (1 Kings 9:14) and the talent of silver (2 Kings 5:22). (See TALENT).

(2.) The maneh, מָנֶה, the Greek mina, or μνᾶ, strictly a portion, i.e. a subdivision of the " talent."

(3.) The shekel, שֶׁקֶל, Graecized σίκλος, properly a weight, the usual unit of estimation, applied to coins and weights. It likewise was of two kinds, the sacred (Leviticus 5:15) and the royal (2 Samuel 14:26).

(4.) The beka, בֶּקִע, strictly a cleft or fraction (Genesis 24:22).

(5.) The gerdh, גֵּרָה properly a kernel or bean, like our " grain," and the Greek ὄβολος .

2. Values of these as compared with each other.-The relation of the talent to the shekel is determined by the statement in Exodus 30:13, that every Israelite above twenty years of age had to pay the poll-tax of half a shekel as a contribution to the sanctuary. Exodus 38:26 tells us that this tax had to be paid by 603,550 men. The sum amounted to 100 talents and 1775 shekels (Exodus 38:25), which are, therefore, equal to 603,550 half shekels, or 301,775 full shekels. This gives for the value of the talent in shekels,

(301,775-1775)/100= 3000. The relation of the maneh to the shekel, and consequently to the talent, is not so clear.

In Ezekiel 45:13, it seems to have consisted of 60 shekels (20+25+15); but a comparison of 1 Kings 10:17 with 2 Chronicles 9:16 would make it to consist of 100 shekels (3 manehs = 300 shekels). Some explain these discrepancies by supposing that the sacred shekel was double the commercial, or that the talent and maneh of gold were respectively double those of silver. In this uncertainty it is generally agreed to reckon 60 manehs to the talent. and 50 shekels to a maneh. The beka was a half- shekel (Exodus 38:26); and the gerah was no the shekel (Exodus 30:13; Leviticus 27:25; Numbers 3:47; Ezekiel 45:20).

3. Values of the Hebrew Weights as determined by a Comparison with the Greek and Roman. Josephus states (Ant. 3:6, 7) that the Hebrew talent of gold contained 100 minse (μνᾶς ), but whether by this latter he means the Greek or the Hebrew weight corresponding to that term, is not clear. Again he states (Ant. 14:7, 1) that the gold mina (μνᾶ)was equal to two and a half Roman pounds (λίτρας ). On the presumption that the same kind of mina is spoken of in both passages, the talent would be equivalent to 250 pounds. On the other hand, Epiphanius (De Pond. et Mens. Heb.) estimates the Hebrew talent at 125 Roman pounds. This difference, being just one half, leads to the suspicion that it is connected with the above variation in the value of the talent, maneh, and shekel; and this, in connection with the nearer correspondence to the Greek measures of similar name, renders the lower estimate the more probable. Taking the Roman pound (presumed to be equivalent to the Greek λίτρα) at 5204 grains (Smith, Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Libra), we have the Hebrew talent equal to 650,500 grains, or 112.79 pounds troy, or 92.9 pounds avoirdupois. Once more, Josephus says the gold shekel was equal to a daric (Ant. 3:8, 10), a Persian coin in Greek circulation, specimens of which have come down to us weighing an average of 128.5 grains (Smith, ibid. s.v. Daricus). This would yield a talent of 385,500 grains; which is much less, yet confirms the above conclusion sufficiently for an approximate equivalent, as it evidently was meant to be, especially as the darics extant have of course lost considerable weight by time. Moreover, foreign coin usually passes for less than its true value.

4.Absolute Determination of the Value of the Hebrew Weights This has been attempted by means of the coins that have actually come down to our time. The heavier specimens of silver of the Maccabsean mintage that have been found give an average weight to the shekel of 220 grains. (See SHEKEL). This affords a talent of 660,000 grains, very nearly agreeing with the above result. The copper coins of the same period that have survived are on the average much heavier, being about double the weight, showing a variation in the standard for that metal similar to that noticed above in the case of gold. Bockh, by averaging the shekels of every kind of metal, arrives at a mean weight of 274 grains; but this is too high for the preceding estimates. (See MONEY).

"In the New Testament (Matthew 17:24) the Templetax is a didrachm; from other sources we know that this tribute' was half a shekel; and in Matthew 17:27 the stater is payment of this tax for two persons. Now the stater-a very common silver Attic coin, the tetradrachm -weighed 328.8 Parisian grains: thus considerably surpassing the sacred shekel. Are we, then, to hold the stater of the New Testament for an Attic tetradrachm ? There is reason in the passage of Matthew and in early writers for regarding the two as the same. The Attic tetradrachm sank from its original weight of 328.8 to 308 and 304. This approximation must have gone on increasing, for under the empire a drachm was equal to a Roman denarius, which in the time of Tiberius weighed 69.8 Parisian grains. Four denarii were equal to 279 Parisian grains; so that, if the denarius is regarded as an Attic drachm, the sacred shekel may be correctly termed a tetradrachm. With this Josephus agrees (Ant. 3:8, 2), who says that the shekel (σίκλος ), a Hebrew coin, contains four Attic drachms." (See DRACHMA).

II. Measures of Dimension or Extent. These are chiefly taken from some natural standard, such as the various portions of forearm and hand, or the distance of travel, etc.; so, among other nations, the foot, fathom, etc. In the descriptive portion of this and the following section we shall endeavor to bring these disputed questions to something like a practical conclusion.

1. Measures of Length.

(1.) The principal of these were as follows:

(a) The אֶצַבַּע, etsba, or finger-breadth, mentioned only in Jeremiah 52:21.

1 The טֶפִח, tephach, or hand-breadth (Exodus 25:25; 1 Kings 7:26; 2 Chronicles 4:10), applied metaphorically to a short period of time in Psalms 39:5.

(c) The זֶרֶת, zeeoth, or span, the distance between the extremities of the thumb and the little finger in the extended hand (Exodus 28:16; 1 Samuel 17:4; Ezekiel 43:13), applied generally to describe any small measure in Isaiah 40:12.

(d) The אִמָּה , anmadh, or cubit, the distance from the elbow to the extremity of the middle finger. This occurs very frequently in the Bible in relation to buildings, such as the Ark (Genesis 6:15), the Tabernacle (Exodus 26, 27), and the Temple (1 Kings 6:2; Ezekiel 40, 41), as well as in relation to man's stature (1 Samuel 17:4. Matthew 6:27), and other objects (Esther 5:14; Zechariah 5:2).

(e) The גֹּמֶד, gomed, lit. a rod, applied to Eglon's dirk (Judges 3:16). Its length is uncertain, but it probably fell below the cubit, with which it is identified in the A. V. (f) The קָנֶה, kaneh, or reed (comp. our word "cane"), for measuring buildings on a large scale (Ezekiel 40:5-8; Ezekiel 41:8; Ezekiel 42:16-19).

(2.) Little information is furnished by the Bible itself as to the relative or absolute lengths described under the above terms. With the exception of the notice that the reed equals six cubits (Ezekiel 40:5), we have no intimation that the measures were combined in anything like a scale. We should, indeed, infer the reverse from the circumstance that Jeremiah speaks of " four fingers," where, according to the scale, he would have said "a hand-breadth;" that in the description of Goliath's height (1 Samuel 17:4), the expression " six cubits and a span" is used instead of "six cubits and a half;" and that Ezekiel mentions "span" and "half a cubit" in close juxtaposition (Ezekiel 43:13; Ezekiel 43:17), as though they bore no relation to each other either in the ordinary or the long cubit. That the denominations held a certain ratio to each other, arising out of the proportions of the members in the body, could hardly escape notice; but it does not follow that they were ever worked up into an artificial scale. But by comparing together Exodus 25:10 with Josephus (Ant. 3:6, 5), we find the span equal to half a cubit; for the length which Moses terms two cubits and a half, Josephus designates five spans. The relation of tephach (hand- breadth) and etsba (finger) to ammah (cubit) appears from their several names and their import in other systems. The hand-breadth is four fingers; the span contains three times the breadth of the hand, or twelve fingers. This is the view which the rabbins uniformly take. We find a similar system among the Greeks, who reckoned in the cubit twenty-four fingers, six hand-breadths, and two spans. The same was the case with the Egyptians.

The most important conclusion usually drawn from the Biblical notices is to the effect that the cubit, which may be regarded as the standard measure, was of varying length, and that, in order to secure accuracy, it was necessary to define the kind of cubit intended, the result being that the other denominations, if combined in a scale, would vary in like ratio. Thus in Deuteronomy 3:11, the cubit is specified to be "after the cubit of a man;" in 2 Chronicles 3:3, " after the first," or, rather, "after the older (רַאשׁוֹנָה ) measure;" and in Ezekiel 41:8, "a great cubit," or, literally, "a cubit to the joint," which is further defined in Ezekiel 40:5 to be "a cubit and a hand-breadth." These expressions involve one of the most knotty points of Hebrew archaeology, viz. the number and the respective lengths of the scriptural cubits. A cubit "after the cubit of a man" implies the existence of another cubit, which was either longer or shorter than it, and from analogy it may be taken for granted that this second cubit would be the longer of the two. But what is meant by the "; ammdah of a man ?" Is it the cubitus in the anatomical sense of the term-in other words, the bone of the forearm between the elbow and the wrist? or is it the full cubit in the ordinary sense of the term, from the elbow to the extremity of the middle finger? What, again, are we to understand by Ezekiel's expression, "cubit to the joint?" The term אִצַּרל, atstsil, is explained by Gesenius (Thesaur. p. 144) of the knuckles, and not of the "armholes," as in the A. V. of Jeremiah 38:12, where our translators have omitted all reference to the word yadeka, which follows it. A- "cubit to the knuckles" would imply the space from the elbow to the knuckles, and as this cubit exceeds by a hand-breadth the ordinary cubit, we should infer that it was contradistinguished from the cubit that reached only to the wrist. The meaning of the word is, however, contested: Hitzig gives it the sense of a connecting wall (Comm. on Jer.). Sturmius (Sciagr. p. 94) understands it of the edge of the walls, and others in the sense of a wing of a building (Rosenmuller, Schol. in Jer.). Michaelis, on the other hand, understands it of the knuckles (Supplem. p. 119), and so does Saalschtitz (Archaol. 2:165).

The expressions now discussed, taken together, certainly favor the idea that the cubit of the Bible did not come up to the full length of the cubit of other countries. (See below.) A further question remains to be discussed, viz. whether more than two cubits were in vogue among the Hebrews. It is generally conceded that the "former" or "older" measure of 2 Chronicles 3:3 was the Mosaic or legal cubit, and that the modern measure, the existence of which is implied in that designation, was somewhat larger. Further, the cubit " after the cubit of a man" of Deuteronomy 3:11 is held to be a common measure, in contradistinction to the Mosaic one, and to have fallen below this latter in point of length. In this case we should have three cubits-the common. the Mosaic or old measure, and the new measure. We turn to Ezekiel and find a distinction of another character, viz. a long and a short cubit. Now it has been urged by many writers, and we think with good reason, that Ezekiel would not be likely to adopt any other than the old orthodox Mosaic standard for the measurements of his ideal, temple. If so, his long cubit would be identified with the old measure, and his short cubit with the one "after the cubit of a man," and the new measure of 2 Chronicles 3:3 would represent a still longer cubit than Ezekiel's long one. Other explanations of the prophet's language have, however, been offered: it has been sometimes assumed that, while living in Chaldaea, he and his countrymen had adopted the long Babylonian cubit (Jahn, Archceol. § 113); but in this case his short cubit could not have belonged to the same country, inasmuch as the difference between these two amounted to only three fingers (Herod. 1:178). Again, it has been explained that his short cubit was the ordinary Chaldaean measure, and the long one the Mosaic measure (Rosenmuller, in Ezekiel 40:5): but this is unlikely, on account of the respective lengths of the Babylonian and the Mosaic cubits, to which we shall hereafter refer. Independently of these objections, we think that the passages previously discussed (Deuteronomy 3:11; 2 Chronicles 3:3) imply the existence of three cubits.

It remains to be inquired whether from the Bible itself we can extract any information as to the length of the Mosaic or legal cubit. The notices of the height of the altar and of the height of the lavers in the Temple are of importance in this respect. In the former case three cubits is specified (Exodus 27:1), with a direct prohibition against the use of steps (Exodus 20:2-6); in the latter, the height of the base on which the laver was placed was three cubits (1 Kings 7:27). If we adopt the ordinary length of the cubit (say 20 inches), the height of the altar and the base would be 5 feet. But it would be extremely inconvenient, if not impossible, to minister at an altar or to use a laver placed at such a height.' In order to meet this difficulty without any alteration of the length of the cubit, it must be assumed that an inclined plane led up to it, as was the case with the loftier altar of the Temple (Mishna. Middoth, iii, § 1, 3). But such a contrivance is contrary to the spirit of the text; and, even if suited to the altar would be wholly needless for the lavers. Hence Saalschutz offers that the cubit did not exceed a Prussian foot, which is less than an English foot (Archaol. 2:167). The other instances adduced by him are not so much to the point. The molten sea was not designed for the purpose of bathing (though this impression is conveyed by 2 Chronicles 4:6, as given in the AV.), and therefore no conclusion can be drawn from the depth of the water in it. The height of Og, as inferred from the length of his bedstead (9 cubits, Dent. 3:11), and the height of Goliath (6 cubits and a span, 1 Samuel 17:4), are not inconsistent with the idea of a cubit about 18 inches long, if credit can- be given to other recorded instances of extraordinary stature (Pliny, 7:2, 16; Herod. 1:68; Josephus, Ant. 18:4, 5). At the. same time the rendering of the Sept. in 1 Samuel 17:4, which is followed by Josephus (Ant. 6:9, 1), and which reduces the number of cubits to four, suggests either an error in the Hebrew text, or a considerable increase in the length of the cubit in later times.

(3.) We now turn to collateral sources of information, which we will follow out, as far as possible, in chronological order. The earliest and most trustworthy testimony as to the length of the cubit is supplied by the existing specimens of old Egyptian measures. Several of these have been discovered in tombs, carrying us back at all events to BC. 1700, while the Nilometer at Elephantine exhibits the length of the cubit in the time of the Roman emperors. No great difference is exhibited in these measures, the longest being estimated at about 21 inches, and the shortest at about 20½, or exactly 20.4729 inches (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 2:258). They are divided into 28 digits, and in this respect contrast with the Mosaic cubit, which, according to rabbinical authorities, was divided into 24 digits. There is some difficulty in reconciling this discrepancy with the almost certain fact of the derivation of the cubit from Egypt. It has generally been surmised that the Egyptian cubit was of more than one length, and that the sepulchral measures exhibit the shorter as well as the' longer by special marks. Wilkinson denies the existence of more than one cubit (Anc. Eg. 2:257-259), apparently on the ground that the total lengths of the measures do not materially vary. It may be conceded that the measures are intended to represent the same length, the variation being simply the result of mechanical inaccuracy; but this does not decide the question of the double cubit, which rather turns on the peculiarities of notation observable on these measures. For a full discussion of this point we must refer the reader to Thenius's essay in the Theologische Studien und Kritiken for 1846, p. 297-342. Our limits will permit only a brief statement of the facts of the case, and of the views expressed in reference to them.

The most perfect of the Egyptian cubit measures are those preserved in the Turin and Louvre museums. These are unequally divided into two parts, the one on the right hand containing 15, and the other 13 digits. In the former part the digits are subdivided into aliquot parts from I to A-, reckoning from right to left. In the latter part the digits are marked on the lower edge in the Turin, and on the upper edge in the Louvre measure. In the Turin measure the three left-hand digits exceed the others in size, and have marks over them indicating either fingers or the numerals 1, 2, 3. The four left-hand digits are also marked off from the rest by a double stroke, and are further distinguished by hieroglyphic marks supposed to indicate that they are digits of the old measure. There are also special marks between the 6th and 7th, and between the 10th and 11th digits of the left-hand portion. In the Louvre cubit two digits are marked off on the lower edge by lines running in a slightly transverse direction, thus producing a greater length than is given on the upper side. It has been found that each of the three above specified digits in the Turin measure= - of the whole length, less these three digits; or, to put it in another form, the four left-hand digits= - of the 25 right-hand digits: also that each of the two digits in the Louvre measure of the whole length, less these two digits; and further, that twice the left half of either measure the whole length of the Louvre measure, less the two digits. Most writers on the subject agree in the conclusion that the measures contain a combination of two, if not three, kinds of cubit. Great difference of opinion, however, is manifested as to particulars. Thenius makes the difference between the royal and old cubits to be no more than two digits, the average length of the latter being 484.289 millimnetres, or 19.066 inches, as compared with 523.524 millimetres, or 20.611 inches, and 523 millimetres, or 20.591 inches, the lengths of the Turin and Louvre Measures respectively. He accounts for the additional two digits as originating in the practice of placing the two fingers crosswise at the end of the arm and hand used in measuring, so as to mark the spot up to which the cloth or other article has been measured. He further finds, in the notation of the Turin measure, indications of a third or ordinary cubit 23 digits in length. Another explanation is that the old cubit consisted of 24 or 25 new digits, and that its length was 462 millimetres, or 18.189 inches, and, again, others put the old cubit at 24 new digits, as marked on the measures. The relative proportions of the two would be, on these two hypotheses, as 28: 26, as 28: 25, and as 28: 24. (See below.)

The use of more than one cubit appears to have also prevailed in-Babylon, for Herodotus states that the "royal" exceeded the "moderate" cubit (πῆχυς μέτριος ) by three digits (i 178). The appellation "royal," if borrowed from the Babylonians, would itself imply the existence of another; but it is by no means certain that this other was the "moderate" cubit mentioned in the text. The majority of critics think that Herodotus is there speaking of the ordinary Greek cubit (Bockh, p. 214), though the opposite view is affirmed by Grote in his notice of Bockh's work (Class. Mus. 1:28). Even if the Greek cubit be understood, a further difficulty arises out of the uncertainty whether Herodotus is speaking of digits as they stood on the Greek or on the Babylonian measure. In the one case the proportions of the two would be as 8:7, in the other case as 9:8. Bockh adopts the Babylonian digits (Without good reason, we think), and estimates the Babylonian royal cubit at 234.2743 Paris lines, or 20.806 inches (p. 219). A greater length would be assigned to it according to the data furnished by M. Oppert, as stated in Rawlinson's Herod. 1:315; for if the cubit and foot stood in the ratio of 5:3, and if the latter contained 15 digits, and had a length of 315 millimetres, then the length of the ordinary cubit would be 525 millimitres, and of the royal cubit, assuming, with Mr. Grote, that the cubits in each case were Babylonian, 588 millimetres, or 23.149 inches.

Reverting to the Hebrew measures, we should be disposed to identify the new measure implied in 2 Chronicles 3:3, with the full Egyptian cubit; the "old" measure and Ezekiel's cubit with the lesser one, either of 26 or 24 digits; and the "cubit of a man" with the third one of which Thenlus speaks. Bickh, however, identifies the Mosaic measure with the full Egyptian cubit, and accounts for the difference in the number of digits on the hypothesis that the Hebrews substituted a division into 24 for that into 28 digits, the size of the digits being of course increased (p. 266, 267). With regard to the Babylonian measure, it seems highly improbable that either the ordinary or the royal cubit could be identified with Ezekiel's short cubit (as Rosenmeiller thinks), seeing that its length on either of the computations above offered exceeded that of the Egyptian cubit.

In the Mishna the Mosaic cubit is defined to be one of six palms (Celim, 17, § 10). It is termed the moderate cubit (א הבינונית ), and is distinguished from a lesser cubit of five palms on the one side (Celim, ib.), and on the other side from a larger one, consisting, according to Bartenora (in Cel. 17, § 9), of six palms and a digit. The palm consisted, according to Maimonides (ibid.), of four digits; and the digit, according to Arias Montanus (Ant. p. 113), of four barleycorns. This gives 144 barleycorns as the length of the cubit, which accords with the number assigned to the cubitus justus et mediocris of the Arabians (Bickh, p. 246). The length of the Mosaic cubit, as computed by Thenius (after several trials-with the specified number of barleycorns of middling size, placed side by side), is 214.512 Paris lines, or 19.0515 inches (Stud. u. Krit. p. 110). It seems hardly possible to arrive at any very exact conclusion by this mode of calculation. Eisenschmid estimated 144 barleycorns as equal to 238.35 Paris lines (Bickh, p. 269), perhaps from having used larger grains than the average. The writer of the article on " Weights and Measures" in the Penny Cyclopcedia (xviii. 198) gives, as the result of his own experience, that 38 average grains make up 5 inches, in which case 144 =18.947 inches; while the length of the Arabian cubit referred to is computed at 213.058 Paris lines (Bockh, p. 247). The Talmudists state that the Mosaic cubit was used for the edifice of the Tabernacle and Temple, and the lesser cubit for the vessels thereof. This was probably a fiction; for the authorities were not agreed among themselves as to the extent to which the lesser cubit was used, some of them restricting it to the golden altar, and parts of the brazen altar (Mishna, Cel. 17, § 10). But this distinction, fictitious as it may have been, shows that the cubits were not regarded in the light of sacred and profane, as stated in works on Hebrew archseology. Another distinction, adopted by the rabbinists in reference to the palm, would tend to show that they did not rigidly adhere to any definite length of cubit; for they recognised two kinds of palms, one wherein the fingers lay loosely open, which they denominated a smiling palm; the other wherein the fingers were closely compressed, and styled the grieving palm (Carpzov, Appar. p. 674, 676).


(4.) Prof. T. O. Paine, the acute and accurate author of Solomon's Temple, etc. (Bost, 1861)' presents some original and ingenious views on the subject, which appear to us to solve most of the above difficulties. He maintains that there was but one cubit in use among the Hebrews, and that essentially the same with the Egyptian cubit. The "hand-breadth" he regards as an addition (a b) to the rod itself (b c), for convenience of holding, as in the annexed figure. This, he thinks, likewise explains the peculiar phraseology in Ezekiel 43:13 : Copyright Statement
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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Metrology'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature.​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​m/metrology.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.