Measures of length
Due to the length of the Weights and Measures page, it's been split up into different sections. You can find the main article at Weights and Measures.
The universal practice of ancients was to name the commonest measure of length from the limbs of the human body, particularly the arm and hand.
The cubit (אַמָּה֒, H564; Gr. πῆχυς, G4388; Lat., cubitus) is the principal unit of linear measurement used in the Bible. Hebrew linear measurements were based upon the Egyptian system. The cubit was the length of the forearm measured to the tip of the middle finger.
The span (זֶ֫רֶת, H2455) was the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger with the hand extended and the fingers apart. It was half the common cubit (
Handbreadth or Palm
The handbreadth or palm (טֶ֫פַח, H3255, was the breadth of the hand at the base of the fingers, generally considered to be a sixth of a common cubit (and 1/7 of a “sacred” cubit) which would be 7.404 centimeters or 2.915 inches (
The finger (אֶצְבַּע, H720) was the smallest subdivision of the cubit (as in Egypt), 1/4 of a handbreadth. It occurs only in
The gomed (גֹּ֫מֶד, H1688) is mentioned only once and is tr. “cubit” (
Based on a standard cubit of 17.5 inches, the linear measurements of the OT may be summarized as follows:
The cubit (πῆχυς, G4388), mentioned in the NT (
The fathom or “arm-stretch” (ὀργυιά, G3976), a measure for depth of water (
The stadion (pl. stadia) (RSV) or furlong (KJV) (στάδιον, G5084), a Rom. measure, contained 400 cubits which would be 202 1/2 yards or 1/8 Rom. m. (
The Rom. m. (μίλιο) was 1,620 yds. (
Distance between points
Traveling distances and the distance between two points are expressed in what would be imprecise and vague terms to modern man. The step or pace (פֶּ֫שַׂע, H7315) is mentioned but once, and that as a metaphor: “there is but one step between me and death” (
A Sabbath day’s journey (ὁδός σαββάτου) is the distance between Mount Olivet and Jerusalem (
An Additional Perspective on Hezekiah's Water Tunnel
The length of Hezekiah’s water tunnel underneath Jerusalem is stated by the inscription in the tunnel to be 1,200 cubits. The tunnel is 1,749 feet (547 m.) long according to the most reliable measurement. The cubit length thus arrived at is 17.49 inches (45 cm.). This does not mean, however, that the cubit in Hezekiah’s time was exactly 17.49 inches long: the figure of 1,200 cubits is a round number, also it is not certain at what point the ancient measuring of the tunnel began. The Siloam Inscription indicates only that our approximate length for the cubit—a little less than eighteen inches—is not too far off, which is as positive a conclusion as can be hoped for under the circumstances.
Confirmatory evidence for this length of the cubit is also seen in the fact that many ancient buildings have been found on excavation to be measurable in terms of a cubit of about seventeen and one-half inches, or in reeds equivalent to six such cubits.