Measures of capacity
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Measures of capacity
Just as the linear measures of cubit, finger, and span were derived from various parts of the human body, so also the ancient units of capacity were originally non-specific, and their names were taken from terms commonly used in the home or in commerce, such as the more imprecise “bowlful” (
The standard measure of capacity in ancient Egypt was the ḥḳt, and is considered to be 5.03 liters, about 1 1/4 American gallons and was used to measure grain or metal. The “hin” jar (hnw) which was 1/10 of a ḥḳt was used to measure certain liquids such as beer, milk, and honey, as well as being a dry measure; it amounted to c. 0.503 liters, or slightly more than a pint. There was wide variation in Mesopotamian standards as judged by the many names for measures of capacity which are found in Sumerian, Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Nuzian texts. The basic measure of capacity was probably the qa, equivalent of the Sumer. sila; it has been estimated to be between 1.004 liters and 1.34 liters.
Another standard measure of capacity was the sutu of ten qas (c. 13.4 liters or 1 1/2 pecks) and the imeru (which means “ass,” and represented the normal load carried by this animal) which is considered to be 134 liters or 3.8 bushels; this term is found in Middle Assyrian and Nuzian texts. There is not sufficient evidence to determine the Canaanite units of measure, though they were probably like the Mesopotamian system. The ḥmr (homer) was a unit of dry measure, as well as the ltḥ (lethech). The lg (log) was another unit of measure encountered in Ugaritic lit.
The Hebrew measures of capacity were never standardized and occasionally different names were used to designate the same unit. They were sometimes used to determine both liquid and dry measures, as the liter today. The Rom. measures of capacity were the quartarius, sextarius, congius, urna, and amphora. The major units in the Bible are:
Its capacity has been determined at c. five gallons based on the estimated capacity of broken jars of the 8th cent. b.c. from Tell ed-Duweir (Lachish) and Tell en-Nasbeh (with the inscription “royal bath,” בת המלך) and from Tell Beit Mirsim marked “bath” (בַּת֮, H1427). Pottery of the Graeco-Rom. period reveals a bath of 21.5 liters. Calculations of the capacity of the “molten sea” in Solomon’s Temple (
The log (לֹג, H4253, Ugaritic lg, Coptic lok) was the smallest of the liquid measures, equal to 1/12 hin, and is mentioned only in
The homer (חֹ֫מֶר֙, H2818) was the standard unit of dry measurement in the OT; it was also called the cor because of the assimilation of two systems. It is from a word meaning an “ass-load.” It has been estimated variously as 3.8 bushels or 6.524 bushels and by older estimates as eleven bushels. It was equal to the cor and contained ten baths or ephahs (
The cor (כֹּר, H4123) was equal to the homer. The KJV usually translates it as “measures.” It was a large measure for flour (
The lethech (לֵ֫תֶכְ, H4390, Ugar. lth), mentioned only in
The ephah (אֵיפָה, H406, אֵפָה, Egyp. ’pt) was a dry measure, the one most commonly used in the OT; sometimes translated “measure,” KJV (
The seah (סְאָה, H6006, translated as “measure” RSV, KJV), was a dry measure for flour and cereals (
The omer (עֹ֫מֶר֮, H6685, γόμορ, LXX; from a word meaning sheaf) is found only in the story of the gathering of the manna (
The Issaron (עִשָּׂרון, H6928) a dry measure, was probably another name for the omer, and was 1/10 ephah. It is called only a “tenth” in
The kab קַב, H7685, (“cab,” KJV) appears only once in the OT (
In addition to the above definite dry measurements, handful, though not an exact measure, is found often in the OT in such expressions as “handfuls of ashes” (
Of the above liquid measures only the bath is found in the NT (
The choinix (χοῖνιξ, G5955) was a Greek dry measure equal to about two dry pints (
The xestes (ξέστης, G3829, Lat., sextarius) was the name of a household vessel and was equal to about 1 1/6 pints (
Metretes (firkin, gallon)
The metretes (μετρητῆς) was a liquid measure equal to about 39 liters or 10.3 gallons. The Hebrew bath is translated once in the LXX as metrētēs, twice by chous (equal to 1/12 metrētēs), and three times in one v. by kotulē (equal to 1/12 chous). Josephus makes the bath equal to the metrētēs (Antiq. III. viii. 3; VIII. ii. 9). Based on a jar found at Qumran marked “2 se’ah and 7 log” the metretes has been estimated to be about twelve gallons. It is translated as “firkin” in the KJV (
The modius (μόδιος, G3654, Lat. modius) was a dry measure equal to about 8.49 liters or 7.68 U.S. dry quarts. It is the bushel of
The litra (λίτρα, G3354, Lat. libra) was a Roman pound of twelve oz., and was used as a measure for both capacity and weight. It was the amount of ointment which Mary used to anoint the feet of Jesus (
The artabe was a Persian measure equal to about 1 4/5 bushels.
Translation of μόδιος, G3654, (q.v. as Modius) equal to 0.245 American bushels, found in
A translation of χοῖνιξ, G5955, (choinix, q.v.) in
An Additional Perspective
The bath was the standard liquid measure in OT times. Its value is a matter of dispute. At present scholars regard it as equal to about six gallons (twenty-three l.), rather than ten gallons (thirty-nine l.) as formerly. The finding of fragments of large jars, inscribed “bath of the king” (perhaps an attempt to standardize the bath for use in tax payments) or simply “bath” have helped to bring about this reduction in size. Unfortunately, these jars cannot be completely restored, hence there is still some uncertainty. Subdivisions of the bath are hin (one-sixth bath) and log (one-twelfth hin).
The liquid measures of NT times are difficult to equate with those of the OT. The English “measure” may equal a kōr, as in
The homer was the standard dry measure of the OT. Homer means “donkey,” and therefore a donkey-load, or about 6.25 bushels (208 l.) It is to be equated with the cor. The ephah (about 3/5 bu.—20 l.) is the dry equivalent of the liquid measure bath (
Three smaller dry measures are: the se’âh, about one-fifth bushel (seven l.); the omer, four dry pints (two l.); the ‘issārôn (kjv “tenth deal,” rsv “tenth measure”), evidently equivalent to the omer; and the cab, a little more than two dry pints (one l.). However, modern authorities differ greatly as to the value of the dry measures, some inclining toward a substantially higher value for each. The system followed here is substantially that of R. B. Y. Scott in the article referred to at the end of this subject.
NT dry measures are: bushel (