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Shekel

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[many shek'el] (Heb. shekel, שֶׁקֶל, from שָׁקִלַ, to weigh out), the Hebrew standard of valuation as the cubit was of mensuration. (See METROLOGY).

I. Scriptural Description. The shekel was properly a certain weight according to which the quantity and price of things were determined e.g. bread (Ezekiel 4:10); hair (1 Samuel 14:26), especially metals, as brass, iron, silver, gold, and articles made of metal, as arms, vessels, etc. (Exodus 38:24-25; Exodus 38:29; Numbers 7:13 sq.; Numbers 31:52; 1 Samuel 17:5; 1 Samuel 17:7; Joshua 7:21; 1 Chronicles 3:9). Especially did the Hebrews use silver weighed by the shekel as money, and often it was actually weighed out, although they may early have had pieces or bars of silver marked with the weight (Genesis 23:16; Leviticus 5:15; Leviticus 27:3-7; 2 Samuel 24:24; Jeremiah 32:9; Jeremiah 10; Ezekiel 21:32). From the common shekel is distinguished the sacred shekel ( שֶׁקֶל הִקּדֶשׁ "shekel of the sanctuary"), somewhat heavier, it would seem, or at least of just and full weight, according to which all contributions and tribute for sacred purposes were to be reckoned (Exodus 30:13; Exodus 30:24; Exodus 38:24; Leviticus 5:15; Leviticus 27:3; Leviticus 27:2; Numbers 3:47; Numbers 3:50; Numbers 7:13; Numbers 18:16); but whether the shekel of the king's weight ( שֶׁקֶל בְּאֶבֶןהִמֶּלֶךְ 2 Samuel 14:26) is still different, cannot be determined. Nor can the exact weight of the shekel be fully ascertained. The sacred shekel contained twenty gerahs, beans, carrot corns, as some suppose (Exodus 30:13; Leviticus 27:25; Numbers 3:47; Numbers 18:16; Ezekiel 45:12).

More to the purpose is the specification of the rabbins that the shekel was equal to 320 barley grains; since this accords tolerably well with the actual weight of the Maccabaean shekels still preserved. In the time of the Maccabees (1 Maccabees 15:6) silver coins were struck, each weighing one shekel, and stamped with the words שקל ישראל , a shekel of Israel (see Bayer, De Nmmis Hebraeo- Samaritanis [Valent. 1781, 4to], p. 171 sq.; Eckhel, Doctr. Numor. Vet. I, 3, 465 sq.), Some of the specimens still extant, though worn by age, weigh 266 or 270 Paris grains; so that the full Maccabaean shekel must have been at least about 274 grains, and thus equivalent to the didrachm of Aegina. Hence the Sept. renders the word sometimes σίκλος, and sometimes δίδραχμον or δίδραχμα . But Josephus and later writers give the value at four Attic drachma (Ant. 3, 8, 2; Hesych. s.v.; Jerome, Ad Ezech. p. 43, ed. Vallars.). In their time, however, the Attic drachma had depreciated and was reckoned as equal to the Roman denarius, i.e. 7 ½ d. sterling, or 15 cents (Pliny, Hist. Nat. 21, 109). The Maccabaean shekel, therefore, may be estimated at 2s. 6d. sterling, or 60 cents. (See Bockh, Metrol. Untersuch. p. 55-57, 62, 63, 2, 99, Smith, Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. "Denarius"). Hence the half shekel, which was to be paid yearly to the temple (Exodus 38:26), is called δίδραχμον in Matthew 17:24. Some suppose that the earlier common shekel was less than the Maccabaean by one half (Bockh, ut. sup. p. 63; Bertheau, Abhandl. p. 26). At Ephesus a shekel of gold was in use, according to Alexander Aetolus (ap Macrob. Sat. 5, 22). Some understand such a coin in 1 Chronicles 21:25 but the words imply rather weight.

In silver shekels were paid the contributions to the Temple (Exodus 30:13), the fines for offenses (Exodus chaps. 21, 22; Deuteronomy 22:19; Deuteronomy 22:29, Leviticus 5 :l5), taxes exacted by kings or governors (2 Kings 15:20; Nehemiah 5:15), the price of articles (2 Samuel 24:24; 2 Kings 7:1), etc. In some cases large sums were weighed together (Genesis 23:16, Jeremiah 32:9), though it is certain that there were pieces of different denominations both half and quarter shekels (Exodus 30:13; Exodus 30:15; 1 Samuel 9:8-9). In many instances relating to purchases, a word is omitted in the Hebrew, and the rendering is always "a thousand," or the like, "of silver." The term "pieces" has been supplied in the A.V., but there is not much doubt that "shekels" is the word understood in all cases. (See SILVER, PIECE OF).

In Nehemiah 5:15 mention is made of shekels of silver paid to the governors and probably these shekels may have been the silver coin circulating in Persia called σίγλος . This coin has generally been considered a kind of shekel; but as according to Xenophon (Anab. 1, 5, 6), it was equal to 7½ Atitic oboli, and an obolus weighed 11.25 grains (11.25 x 7.5 =84.375), giving a Persian silver coin of 84 grains, it is clear that the σίγλος can have no connection with the σικλος (weighing 220 grains), except in name. (See Leake, Num. Hell. Europe, p. 21; Madden [F.W.], Hist. Jew. Coin. p. 20.) But at this time there were coins also current in Persia of the same standard as the Shekel (Mionnet, Descrip. de Med. 5, 645, No. 30-40; 8, 426, No. 29-33). See also Schickard, De Numis Hebr. p. 15; Bayer, Siclus Sacer et Profan. (Lips. 1667); Iseling, De Siclis Hebroeor. (Basil. 1708) For further information on this question, consult the remarks of the abbe Cavedoni (Le Princ. Quest. la Num. Giud. Definitiv. Decise [Modena, 1864]), Madden (Num. Chron. 5, 191), and Plumptre (Bible Educator 3, 96, sq.). (See COIN).

II. Extant Specimens.

1. Rabbinical Notices. Our attention is, in the first place, directed to the early notices of these shekels in Rabbinical writers. It might be supposed that in the Mishna where one of the treatises bears the title of "Shekalim," or Shekels, we should find some information on the subject. But this treatise, being devoted to the consideration of the laws relating to the payment of the half shekel for the Temple, is of course useless for our purpose.

Some references are given to the works of Rashi and Maimonides (contemporary writers of the 12th century) for information relative to shekels and the forms of Hebrew letters in ancient times but the most important Rabbinical quotation given by Bayer is that from Ramban, i.e. Rabbi Moses Bar-Nachman, who lived about the commencement of the 13th century. He describes a shekel which he had seen and of which the Cuthoeans read the inscription with ease. The explanation which they gave of the inscription was, on one side Shekel ha-Shekalim, "The Shekel of Shekels," and on the other, "Jerusalem the Holy." The former was doubtless a misinterpretation of the usual inscription, "The shekel of Israel;" but the latter corresponds with the inscription on our shekels (Bayer, a De Tiunis. p. 11). In the 16th century Azarias de Roasst states that R. Moses Basula had arranged a Cuthaean, i.e. Samaritan alphabet from coins, and Moses Alaskar (of whom little is known) is quoted by Baser as having read on some Samaritan coins "In such a year of the consolation of Israel, in such a year of such a king." The same R. Azarias de Rossi (or de Adumim, as he is called by Bartolocci, Bibl. Rabb. 1, 8 in his מאור עיני ם, "The Light of the Eyes" (not Fons Oculorum as Bayer translates it, which would require מעיו, not מאיר ), discusses the Transfluvial or Samaritan letters, and describes the above mentioned shekel of Israel, he also determines the weight, which he makes about half an ounce.

We find, therefore that in early times, shekels were known to the Jewish rabbins with Samaritan inscriptions is corresponding with those now found (except one point, which is probably in error), and corresponding with them in weight. These are important considerations in tracing the history of this coinage.

2. Later Notices. We pass on now to the earliest mention of these shekels by Christian writers. We believe that W. Postell is the first Christian writer who saw and described a shekel. He was a Parisian traveler who visited Jerusalem early in the 16th century. In a curious work published by him in 1538, entitled Alphabetum Duodecim Linguarum, the following passage occurs. After stating that the Samaritan alphabet was the original form of the Hebrew, he proceeds thus: "I draw this inference from silver coins of great antiquity which I found among the Jews. They set such store by them that I could not get one of them (not otherwise worth a qincunx) from two gold pieces. The Jews say they are of the time of Salomon and they added that, hating the Samaritans, as they do, worse than dogs, and never speaking to them, nothing endears these coins so much to them as the consideration that these characters were once in their common usage, nature, as it were, yearning after the things of old. They say that at Jerusalem, now called Chus or Chussembarich, in the masonry and in the deepest pit of the ruins, these coins are dug up daily."

Postell gives them a very bad wood cut of one of these shekels, but the inscription is correct. He was unable to explain the letters over the vase, which soon became the subject of a discussion among the learned men of Europe, that lasted for nearly two centuries. Their attempts to explain them are enumerated by Bayer in his treatise De Nummis Hebroeo-Samaritanis, which may be considered as the first work which placed the explanation of these coins on a satisfactory basis. But it would obviously be useless here to record so many unsuccessful guesses as Bayer enumerates.

The work of Bayer, although some of the authors nearly solved the problem, called forth an antagonist in Prof. Tychsen, of Rostock, a learned Orientalist of that period. Several publications between them which it is unnecessary to enumerate, as Tychsen gave a summary of his objections in a small pamphlet entitled O.G. Tychsen De Numis Hebraicis Diatribe qua sinul ad Nuperas ill F.P. Bayerii Objectiones Respondetur (Rostochii, 1791). His first position is, that (1) either all the coins, whether with Hebrew or Samaritan inscriptions are false or (2) if any are genuine, they belong to Bar-cocheba (p. 6) This he modifies slightly in a subsequent part of the treatise (p. 52, 53), where he states it to be his conclusion (1) that the Jews had no coined money before the time of our Savior; (2) that during the rebellion of Bar-cocheba (or Bar-coziba.), Samaritan money was coined either by the Samaritans to please the Jews, or by the Jews to please the Samaritans, and that the Samaritan letters were used in order to make the coins desirable amulets and (3) that the coins attributed to Simon Maccabaeus belong to this period. Tychsen has quoted some curious passages, but his arguments are wholly untenable. In the first place, no numismatist can doubt the genuineness of the shekels attributed to Simon Maccabaeus, or believe that they belong to the same epoch as the coins of Bar-cocheba. But as Tychsen never saw a shekel, he was not a competent judge. There is another consideration, which, if further demonstration were needed, would supply a very strong argument. These coins were first made known to Europe through Postell, who does not appear to have been aware of the description given of them in Rabbinical writers. The correspondence of the newly found coins with the earlier description is almost demonstrative. But they bear such undoubted marks of genuineness that no judge of ancient coins could doubt them for a moment. Postell quotes e.g. the following passage from the Jerusalem Talmud שמרד מטבע (מחלל ) כגוןבןבוזיבא אינו מחל (ִשמרי ), "Revolution (Samaritan) money, like that of Ben-Coziba, does not defile." The meaning of this is not very obvious nor does Tychsen's explanation appear quite satisfactory. He adds, "does not defile if used as an amulet." We should rather inquire whether the expression may not have some relation to that of "defiling the hands," as applied to the canonical books of the Old Test., (see Ginsburg, Commentary on the Song of Songs, p. 3). The word for polluting is different but the expressions may be analogous. But on the other hand, these coins are often perforated which gives countenance to the notion that they were used as amulets. The passage is from the division of the Jerusalem Talmud entitled מעשר שני Maaser Sheni, or "The Second Tithe."

It may here be desirable to mention that although some shekels are found with Hebrew letters instead of Samaritan, these are undoubtedly all forgeries. It is the more needful to make this statement as in some books of high reputation, e.g. Walton's Polyglot these shekels are engraved as if they were genuine. It is hardily necessary to suggest the reasons which may have led to this series of forgeries. Bit the difference between the two is not confined to the letters only the Hebrew shekels are much larger and in than the Samaritan, so that a person might distinguish them merely by the touch, even under a covering. The character nearly resembles that of Samaritan MSS., although it is not quite identical with it. The Hebrew and Samaritan alphabets appear to be divergent representatives of some older form as may be inferred from several of the letters. Thus the Beth and several other letters are evidently identical in their origin. Also the ש (Shin), of the Hebrew alphabet is the same as that of the Samaritan for if we make the two middle strokes of the Samaritan letter coalesce, it takes the Hebrew form. We may add that Postell appears to have arranged his Samaritan alphabet from the coins which he describes. In the course of 1862 a work of considerable importance was published at Breslau by Dr. M.A. Levy, entitled: "Geschichten der judischen Munzen. It appears likely to be useful in the elucidation of the questions relating to the Jewish coinage which have been touched upon in the present article. There are one or two points on which it is desirable to state the views of the author, especially as he quotes coins which have only become known lately. Some coins have been described in the Revue Numismatique (1-860, p. 260 sq.), to which the name of Eleazar coins has been given. A coin was published some time ago by De Saulcy which is supposed by that author to be a counterfeit. It is scarcely legible, but it appears to contain the name Eleazar on one side, and that of Simon on the other. During the troubles which preceded the final destruction of Jerusalem, Eleazar (the son of Simon), who was a priest, and Simon ben-Giora, were at the head of large factions. It is suggested, by Dr. Levy that money may have been struck which bore the names of both these leaders but it seems scarcely probable, as they do not appear to have acted in concert. Yet a copper coin has been published in the Revue Numismatique which undoubtedly bears the inscription of "Eleazar the priest." Its types are

Obverse. A vase with one handle and the inscription אלעזר הכוה, "Eleazar the Priest," in Samaritan letters.

Reverse. A bunch of grapes with the inscription שנתא [נתא ] חת לגאלת יש, "Year one of the Redemption of Israel."

Some silver coins also, first published by Reichardt, bear the same inscription on the obverse, under a palm tree, but the letters run from left to right. The reverse bears the same type and inscription as the copper coins.

These coins, as well as some that bear the name of Simon, or Simeon, are attributed by Dr. Levy to the period of this first rebellion. It is quite clear, however, that some of the coins bearing sim lar inscriptions belong to the period of Bar-cocheba's rebellion (or Barcoceba's as the name is often spelled) under Hadrian, because they are stamped upon denarii of Trajan, his predecessor. The work of Levy will be found very useful, as collecting together notice of all these coins and throwing out very useful suggestions as to their attribution; but we must still look to further researches and fresh collections of these coins for full satisfaction on many points. The attribution of the shekels and half shekels to Simon Maccabaeus may be considered as well established and several of the other coins described in the article MONEY offer no grounds for hesitation or doubt. But still this series is very much isolated from other classes of coins, and the nature of the work hardly corresponds in some cases with the periods to which we are constrained, from the existing evidence, to attribute the coins. We must therefore still look for further light from future inquiries.

3. Characteristics and Classification. The average weight of the silver coins is about 220 grains troy for the shekel, and 110 for the half shekel. Among the symbols found on this series of coins is one which is considered to represent that which was called Lulab by the Jews. This term was applied (see Maimonides on the section of the Mishna called Rosh Hashanah, or Commencement of the Year, 7, 1, and the Mishna itself in Succah, סוכה, or Booths, 3, 1, both of which passages are quoted by Bayer, De Num. p. 129) to the branches of the three trees mentioned in Leviticus 23:40, which are thought to be the palm, the myrtle, and the willow. These, which were to be carried by the Israelites at the Feast of Tabernacles, were usually accompanied by the fruit of the citron which is also found in this representation. Sometimes two of these Lulabs are found together. At least such is the explanation given by some authorities of the symbols called in the article MONEY by the name of Sheaves. The subject is involved in much difficulty and obscurity, and we speak, therefore, with some hesitation and diffidence, especially as experienced numismatists differ in their views his explanation is, however, adopted by Bayer (De Num. p. 128, 219, etc.), and by Cavedoni (Bibl. Num. p. 31, 32, of the German translation), who adds references to 1 Maccabees 4:59. John 10:22, as he considers that the Lulab was in use at the Feast of the Dedication on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month as well as at that of Tabernacles. He also refers to 2 Maccabees 1:18; 2 Maccabees 10:6-7, where the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles is described, and the branches carried by the worshippers are specified. The symbol on the reverse of the shekels, representing a twig, with three buds, appears to bear more resemblance to the buds of the pomegranate than to any other plant.

The following lists is substantially that given by Cavedoni (p. 11 of the German translation) as an enumeration of all the coins which can be attributed with any certainty to Simon Maccabaeus. (See NUMISMATICS).

A. SILVER.

 

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Shekel'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/shekel.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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