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Weights and Measures
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. The modern reader of the Scriptures lives in a world dominated by the scientific method and the reign of “fact”—measurable fact. Meat is weighed in pounds and ounces on scales checked periodically by a bureau of weights and measures. Exact measurements in miles and fractions of miles state the distance between places. Liquids are measured exactly, from the contents of an oil tanker to that of a hypodermic needle. Such exact measurements cannot be expected in the Bible. The ancient Hebrew lived in a different kind of a world. The lack (for most of biblical times) of a strong, paternalistic central government, the simple life of self-sufficient country folk, and the frequent influence of foreign nations whose standards differed from those of the Hebrews help to account for the lack of consistent and specific measurements. One must be content with round numbers in the study of the weights and measures of the Bible.
Our information is gained from two sources—written and archaeological. Written sources include the Bible and other ancient books such as the works of Josephus, Herodotus, the Talmud, and references in classical literature. Archaeological information is uncovered by the excavator in the lands of the Bible—labeled weight-stones, jars, and other objects that will be mentioned in this article, which attempts a synthesis of the information from all the sources.
I. Measures of Length. Hebrew measures of length arose (as did the English foot) from the simple estimating of distance in terms of the body. Farmers today measure the height of horses by “hands.” The ancient Hebrews used the terms pace (about a yard), cubit (the length of the forearm), span (length of a hand; about half a cubit), palm (hand-breadth; about one-third of a span), and a finger (about one-quarter of a palm). In Egypt a similar system was used.
The ordinary cubit is equivalent to about seventeen and one-half or eighteen inches (forty-five or forty-six cm.) today; it is once referred to as “the cubit of a man”—i.e., the distance that might be measured by a man’s forearm (
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.
Some other terms of measurement in the Bible are the reed, the gōmedh, and the fathom. The reed, mainly an instrument for measuring rather than a unit of measurement, was six cubits long (
II. Measurements of Distance and Area. In OT times distance was usually measured by the length of time necessary to traverse it. Thus we read of the “three-day journey” (
Land measurements were indicated in terms of the area that a team of oxen could plow in one day (
III. Measures of Capacity. Our uncertainty about the units of capacity is understandable when one considers the origin of these terms. They seem to have arisen from common household pots (all handmade locally), or from the farmer’s estimate of the carrying ability of a man or beast. The hin was a pot and the ephah a basket (both words are of Egyptian origin). The omer was a sheaf and the homer a donkey load. The word bath means “daughter”; could this jar be the one that one’s daughters carried home from the well? (
The student of the English Bible will have difficulty in following this discussion in his Bible because of the untechnical character of his translation. Many of the terms mentioned below are translated “measure” in quite a few places in the standard English versions. The best way to discover which unit the Hebrew or Greek text refers to is to use a comprehensive concordance (such as Strong’s or Young’s), where the Hebrew and Greek terms are clearly distinguished.
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 (
Her father sets the beam of the balances
Her mother, the trays of the balances
Her brothers arrange the ingots(?)
Her sisters (attend) to the stones of the balances (77:34-39).
In addition to the biblical references to weights, quite a few stone weight-pieces (especially shekels) have been found in the excavations in Palestine, many of them labeled. There is a certain amount of disparity among these. Some have speculated that this is graphic evidence for the necessity of the prophetic indictment of the dishonest merchants who “make the ephah small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances” (
The Hebrews used a modified sexagesimal system of weights modeled on that of the Babylonians. The shekel (called by the Babylonians shiqlu) was the basic unit. Fifty shekels equaled a maneh (or mina; Babylonian manû) and sixty manehs a talent (Heb kikkār; Babylonian biltu). A shekel as made up of twenty gerahs. A bekah was a half shekel.
The Babylonians had 60 shekels in their maneh, but from
When one attempts to define the shekel in terms of presently understood weights, the difficulties are formidable. One of the best recent treatments of the problem is R. B. Y. Scott’s (see bibliography at the end of article), which takes into account the many stone weights found in Palestine and computes values in great detail. The weight-pieces discovered vary greatly. In addition to the double standard mentioned above and the generally unregimented style of ancient Israelite life, the standards themselves may have tended to depreciate, as standards do. The influence of foreign systems may also have been a disturbing factor. The larger weights seem to indicate smaller shekel units than do the smaller weights.
The beqa‘ or half shekel is the only weight named both in the OT and on discovered weights, and of which the relationship to the shekel is given (
Scott concludes that there were three standards for a shekel: the temple shekel of .35 ounces (about 10 g.), the common or commercial shekel of about.4 ounces (11.5 g.), and a “heavy” shekel of about .45 ounces (13 g.). The last of these was probably used in weighing some special commodity.
Certain recent excavations have yielded weights inscribed pim, weighing about two-thirds of a shekel. Thus the name of another unit of Hebrew weight is recovered and light is shed on a difficult statement in
Few weights are mentioned in the NT. Talent and pound (niv “mina”) in
Bibliography: R. B. Y. Scott, “of the Bible,” BA, 22 (1951): 22-40, and PEQ, 97, 1965, pp. 128-39; E. W. Heaton, Everyday Life in Times, 1965, pp. 189-91; D. W. Thomas (ed.), Documents From Old Testament Times, 1958, pp. 227-30.——JBG
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. It is not surprising to find that, because of the Hebrew lack of precision in mathematics, Biblical metrology (the determination of distances, capacities, and weights) is far from being an exact science, and no reliable or coherent system has been worked out. Evidence is insufficient and often ambiguous; systems varied from city to city and from region to region. As trade developed beyond simple barter in primitive times, it became necessary to develop some kind of system to determine the quantity of goods involved. The earliest measurements were related to well-known objects, such as the number of grains of cereal or the eggs of a certain fowl; measurements of length were related to parts of the body such as finger, palm, span, and the distance between the tip of the middle finger and the elbow. Distances were related to the distance a person could walk in a day, or the distance traveled by an arrow, etc. Stones came to be used very early as a standard for weighing.
The Hebrews recognized the importance of exact weights and measurements in the commercial, ethical, and legal life of the nation (cf.
Measures of length
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 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 (πη̂χυς, 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.
Measures of area
It was a widely practiced custom in ancient times to state land areas in terms of what a yoke of oxen could plow in one day, or the amount of seed required to sow a given area.
The cubit (mḥ) was used in Egypt for determining areas. A piece of land one cubit wide and one hundred cubits long was considered as a cubit in area. A hundred cubits (an area of one hundred cubits square) was a sṯ’t, and was equal to roughly 2/3 acre.
Land was measured in Babylonia and Assyria by the area a team of oxen could plow in a day. This area was defined as 6,480 square cubits (or 20.4 in.) or about 4/10 acre. Land was also measured according to the quantity of grain necessary to sow it; thus one finds such expressions as an imeru of land. Area measures varied in different times and places.
The Lat. jugum (yoke, team) was used to describe the area plowed by a team. It was later defined as a jugerum of 28,800 square (Rom.) ft., or 5/8 acre. It has been calculated that 3 3/5 seahs were required to sow one jugerum of land in the Graeco-Rom. period which would be .173 acres. The Rom. furrow (actus) was 120 Rom. ft. in length, and land was measured according to the square actus.
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 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 (חֹ֫מֶר, 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 trs. it as “measures.” It was a large measure for flour (
The lethech (לֵ֫תֶכְ, H4390, Ugar. lth), mentioned only in
The seah (סְאָה, H6006, tr. as “measure” RSV, KJV), was a dry measure for flour and cereals (
The omer (עֹ֫מֶר, H6685, γόμορ, LXX; from a word meaning sheaf) is found only in the story of the gathering of the manna (
The Issaron (עִשָּׂרוֹן, H6928) a dry measure, was prob. 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 (
Of the above liquid measures only the bath is found in the NT (
The choinix (χοι̂νιξ, G5955) was a Gr. 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 (μετρητη̂ς) was a liquid measure equal to about 39 liters or 10.3 gallons. The Heb. bath is tr. 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 tr. 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 Rom. 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 Pers. 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 tr. of χοι̂νιξ, G5955, (choinix, q.v.) in
Measures of weight
The archeological evidence is much more abundant for measures of weight than those of length, area, and capacity. Large numbers of inscribed and uninscribed stone weights representing the shekel and its fractions have been found in Pal. The fact that most of the early Heb. weights which have been discovered were of hard stone is reflected in the general word used in the Bible for weights, the Heb. word for “stone” (אֶ֫בֶן, H74). Even today peasants use field stones as weights, selecting one that is approximately the weight they desire. Another word sometimes used was abnē-kis, “bag-stones,” which indicates that carrying weights in a bag was a well-established custom in early Israel (
The basic unit of weight for the ancient Egyp. was the dbn (deben) which from known examples varied from c. 13.43 grams to c. 91 grams (0.474 ounces avoirdupois to 3.2 ounces avoirdupois). Other units were the kdt (qedet), retained down to the Rom. period, which was 1/10 dbn, and the š’ty (seal) which was 1/12 dbn. The OT does not mention any Egyp. weights.
The Heb. system was derived from the Canaanites who in turn had received it from the Babylonians. שֶׁ֫קֶל, H9203, is the Heb. word for “to weigh” from which shekel is derived. The shekel was the basic unit of weight common to all ancient Sem. metrologies. In Akkad. it was called the šiqlu. The Assyrian and Babylonian weights did not conform to a general standard but varied greatly through the ages; even a change in government could result in a changed standard of weights. The Mesopotamian weights were calculated on a sexagesimal basis, with the number sixty as the unit of computation (by comparison, the Egyp. had the decimal system which uses ten as the base). Our system of dividing the hour into sixty minutes of sixty seconds each is derived from the ancient Babylonian sexagesimal system. The mina (Akkad. manû, Heb. māneh), talent (Akkad. biltu) and gerah (girû) were the other principal Mesopotamian measures of weight. Thus the Babylonian system may be represented as: 1 talent = 60 minas = 3,600 shekels = 86,400 gerahs; or stated differently: 1 talent = 60 minas; 1 mina = 60 shekels; 1 shekel = 24 gerahs. There also was in the Mesopotamian system a series of “royal” weights, which were double the ordinary weights. One gold shekel had the value of ten silver shekels. In the most commonly used system in Mesopotamia the shekel weighed 0.30 ounces (8.4 grams).
Some of the Assyrian weights were in the form of metal lions, with open mouth and upswung tail with a symbol on the side representing the weight. To make the weight of the cast lions more (or less?) accurate and honest, bits were chiseled off or filled into the hollow form. A bronze lion of 2/3 mina came from the palace of Shalmaneser, king of Ashur. A weight of thirty minas in the shape of a duck and carved from black basalt was found from the palace of Eriba-Marduk II (?; 688-680 b.c.). An early Babylonian stone is inscribed with the words “one half mina true weight” and actually weighs 244.8 grams (which would make the mina 489.6 grams, or approximately 1.08 pounds avoirdupois). Another weight inscribed “one mina true weight” weighs 978.3 grams, c. 2.16 pounds avoirdupois. Obviously these two stone weights represent the light and the heavy mina.
As already stated, the Heb. system was derived from the Canaanites who in return had derived theirs from Mesopotamia so the systems in the two areas are in general the same, except that the Canaanite mina contained 50 shekels. There is Biblical evidence for a 50-shekel mina in Israel prior to Ezekiel. Some of the Ugaritic texts determine weights in “heavy” shekels. At Ugarit the talent was only 3,000 shekels rather than 3,600. One collection of weights at Ugarit referred to in the texts indicates a light shekel to be 0.34 ounces (9.5 grams) and reference is made to a “heavy” shekel which may be double the weight of the other. Ugaritic texts found at כִּכָּר, H3971) and the tkl (Heb. shekel, שֶׁ֫קֶל, H9203).refer to the kkr (Heb. talent,
The Heb. system of computation of weights followed the decimal rather than the sexa-gesimal system. The basic unit was the shekel; its multiples were the mina and the talent. The mina appears only rarely (
The talent (כִּכָּר, H3971) derives its name from the fact that it is a weight of circular shape. It was the largest of the units and was known to the Babylonians as biltu. The Babylonian talent weighed 30.13 kg. and was divided into 60 minas of 8.37 grams. The word “talent” comes from the Lat. equivalent of the Gr. talanton (meaning “a weight, something weighed”). It was often used in the historical books but seldom in the Pentateuch (
The “shekel of the sanctuary” (
Other weights have been found which add to the confusion in determining the weight of the shekel, as they suggest a system with a slightly larger shekel of about thirteen grams which may have been used for weighing certain types of goods. At Ugarit two words were used for the shekel, tql and kbd, the “heavy” shekel being used to weigh purple linen. A weight was found at el-Jib Pritchard of 51.58 grams, inscribed as “four shekels,” which would yield a shekel of 12.89 grams. A weight with five strokes was found at Gezer, weighing 64.47 grams, which is almost exactly 5x12.89 grams. Also at Gezer three uninscribed weights averaged 64.83 grams (or 5 x 12.96 grams). A weight of 13.4 grams comes from Megiddo and two weights of 13.3 grams from Tell en-Nasbeh. Thus the archeological evidence does not enable one to determine an exact value for the shekel. Variations may be attributed to several factors: a tendency to depreciate standards with the passing of time, setting a new value by official decree, variation between official and unofficial weights, the use of different standards to weigh different kinds of goods, the influence of foreign metrological systems of weights, and occasional variation due to careless cleaning and weighing of weights found. The evidence seems to indicate, however, that the larger the weight, the smaller was the shekel unit contained in it. It can be concluded that there were three standards for the shekel: (1) the temple shekel or nṩp of c. ten grams (.351 oz.) which depreciated to c. 9.8 grams (.345 oz.); (2) the ordinary shekel of c. 11.7 grams (.408 oz.) which depreciated to c. 11.4 grams (.401 oz.); and (3) the heavy shekel of c. thirteen grams (.457 oz.).
The gerah (גֵּרָה, H1743) was 1/20 of a shekel (
The beka (בֶּ֫קַע, H1325, from the verb to split; “bekah” KJV) is tr. in
The netseph (נצף) is a weight not mentioned in the Bible. Because of its similarity to the Arab. nuṩf (“half”), the name of a coin and a measure, it has been conjectured that the netseph was half of something. It is clearly the name of a standard of weight which was also divided into fractions. A spindle-shaped weight now at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, bears the inscr. “רבע נצף,” “one-fourth of a netseph”; it weighs 2.54 grams. The netseph is half of a unit but apparently the unit is not the Heb. shekel. The average weight of a dozen weights inscribed nṩp is 0.35 ounces (ten grams), and therefore belongs to another system. The name is found in the Ugaritic texts together with the shekel and is perhaps equal to 0.34 ounces (9.5 grams) in the weight system. In the Ugaritic system, then, the nṩp would be a “light” shekel equal to half the “heavy” shekel. It has been suggested that perhaps the netseph weights found in Pal. were lost there by Canaanite traders.
The pim (פִ֗ים, sometimes written pym) is mentioned in a passage that was incomprehensible for a long time until the discovery of a weight of this name (
The qesitah (קְשִׂיטָֽה) was used by Jacob when paying for the field of Shechem (
Based on a shekel of 11.24 grams, the following values may be assigned to weights in the OT:
Weights in NT.
In order to use weights, balances or scales (מֹאזְנַ֫יִם, H4404, Ugar., mznm; פֶּ֫לֶס, H7144, “scales,” only
From the preceding study it can be seen that there were no weights or measures sufficiently fixed in Biblical times to enable one to determine the exact metrical equivalents. Different countries had different standards, and these varied within the country and in different periods. Often there were two standards in use at the same time, the common and royal, light and heavy. However, archeological information is sufficient to determine approximate values.
A. R. S. Kennedy, “,” HDB, IV (1902), 901-913; J. E. Dean, Epiphanius’ Treatise on Weights and Measures (1935); G. A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible (7th ed. rev. 1937), 199-203; W. F. Albright, The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim, AASOR, XXI-XXII (1941-1943), 76, 77; D. Diringer, “The Early Hebrew Weights Found at Lachish,” PEQ (1942), 82-103; H. Lewy, “Assyro-Babylonian and Israelite Measures of Capacity and Rates of Seeding,” JAOS, LXIV, 2 (April-June, 1944), 65-73; A. Segrè, “Babylonian, Assyrian and Persian Measures,” JAOS, LXIV, 2 (April-June, 1944), 73-81; A. Segrè, “A Documentary Analysis of Ancient Palestinian Units of Measure,” JBL, LXIV (Sept., 1945), 357-375; G. A. Barrois, “Chronology, Metrology, etc.,” IB, I (1952), 153-157; A. C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in NT Times (1953), 123, 124; M. S. and J. L. Miller, Encyclopedia of Bible Life (1955), 144-147; E. W. Heaton, Everyday Life in OT Times (1956), 189-191; W. M. F. Petrie, “Measures and Weights, Ancient,” EBr, XV (1957), 142-145; D. W. Thomas, ed., Documents from OT Times (1958), 227-230; R. B. Y. Scott, “Weights and Measures of the Bible,” BA, XXII, 2 (May, 1959), 22-39; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 195-206; O. R. Sellers, “Weights and Measures,” IDB, IV (1962), 828-839; R. B. Y. Scott, “Weights, Measures, Money and Time,” Peake’s Commentary, Edd. M. Black and H. H. Rowley (1963), 37, 38; M. Noth, The OT World (1966), 167.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
me’-zhur : The system of weights and measures in use among the Hebrews was derived from Babylonia and Egypt, especially from the former. The influence of these countries upon Palestine has long been recognized, but archaeological investigations in recent years have shown that the civilization of Babylonia impressed itself upon Syria and Palestine more profoundly in early times than did that of Egypt. The evidence of this has been most clearly shown by the discovery of the Tell el-Amarna Letters, which reveal the fact that the official correspondence between the Egyptian kings and their vassals in these lands was carried on in the language of Babylonia long after its political influence had been supplanted by that of Egypt. It is natural, then, that we should look to Babylonia for the origin of such important elements of civilization as a system of weights and measures.
1. Linear Measures:
It was quite natural that men should have found a standard for linear measures in the parts of the human body, and we find the cubit, originally the length of the forearm, taken as the standard, and the span, the palm and the digit, or finger-breadth, associated with it in linear measurement. They do not seem to have employed the foot, though it is represented in the two-thirds of the cubit, which was used by the Babylonians in the manufacture of building-brick.
This system, though adequate enough for man in the earliest times, was not so for an advanced stage of civilization, such as the Babylonians reached before the days of Abraham, and we find that they had introduced a far more accurate and scientific system (see Cubit). They seem to have employed, however, two cubits, of different lengths, one for commercial purposes and one for building. We have no undoubted examples of either, but judging by the dimensions of their square building-bricks, which are regarded as being two-thirds of a cubit on a side, we judge the latter to have been of about 19 or 20 inches. Now we learn from investigations in Egypt that a similar cubit was employed there, being of from 20.6 to 20.77 inches, and it can hardly be doubted that the Hebrews were familiar with this cubit, but that in more common use was certainly shorter. We have no certain means of determining the length of the ordinary cubit among the Hebrews, but there are two ways by which we may approximate its value. The Siloam Inscription states that the tunnel in which it was found was 1,200 cubits long. The actual length has been found to be about 1,707 feet, which would give a cubit of about 17.1 in. (see PEFS, 1902, 179). Of course the given length may be a round number, but it gives a close approximation.
Again, the Mishna states that the height of a man is 4 cubits, which we may thus regard as the average stature of a Jew in former times. By reference to Jewish tombs we find that they were of a length to give a cubit of something over 17 inches, supposing the stature to be as above, which approximates very closely to the cubit of the Siloam tunnel. The consensus of opinion at the present day inclines toward a cubit of 17.6 inches for commercial purposes and one of about 20 inches for building. This custom of having two standards is illustrated by the practice in Syria today, where the builder’s measure, or dra’, is about 2 inches longer than the commercial.
Of multiples of the cubit we have the measuring-reed of 6 long cubits, which consisted of a cubit and a hand-breadth each (
See SABBATH DAY’s JOURNEY; MEASURING LINE.
In thewe have the fathom (orguia), about 6 feet, and the furlong (stadion), 600 Greek feet or 606 3/4 English feet, which is somewhat less than one-eighth of a mile. The mile (milion) was 5,000 Roman feet, or 4,854 English feet, somewhat less than the English mile.
2. Measures of Capacity:
Regarding the absolute value of the measures of capacity among the Hebrews there is rather more uncertainty than there is concerning those of length and weight, since no examples of the former have come down to us; but their relative value is known. Sir Charles Warren considers them to have been derived from the measures of length by cubing the cubit and its divisions, as also in the case of weight. We learn from
Weights were probably based by the ancients upon grains of wheat or barley, but the Egyptians and Babylonians early adopted a more scientific method. Sir Charles Warren thinks that they took the cubes of the measures of length and ascertained how many grains of barley corresponded to the quantity of water these cubes would contain. Thus, he infers that the Egyptians fixed the weight of a cubic inch of rain water at 220 grains, and the Babylonians at 222 2/9. Taking the cubic palm at 25,928 cubic inches, the weight of that quantity of water would be 5,760 ancient grains. The talent he regards as the weight of 2/3 of a cubit cubed, which would be equal to 101,6 cubic palms, but assumes that for convenience it was taken at 100, the weight being 576,000 grains, deriving from this the maneh (1/60 of the talent) of 9,600 grains, and a shekel (1/50 of the maneh) 192 grains. But we have evidence that the Hebrew shekel differed from this and that they used different shekels at different periods. The shekel derived from Babylonia had a double standard: the light of 160 grains, or 1/3600 of the talent; and the heavy of just double this, of 320 grains. The former seems to have been used before the captivity and the latter after. The Babylonian system was sexagesimal, i.e. 60 shekels went to the maneh and 60 manehs to the talent, but the Hebrews reckoned only 50 shekels to the maneh, as appears from
The shekel was divided into gerahs, 20 to a shekel (
Examples of ancient weights have been discovered in Palestine by archaeological research during recent years, among them one from Samaria, obtained by Dr. Chaplin, bearing the inscription, in Hebrew rebha` netseph. This is interpreted, by the help of the cognate Arabic, as meaning "quarter-half," i.e. of a shekel. The actual weight is 39.2 grains, which, allowing a slight loss, would correspond quite closely to a quarter-shekel of the light Babylonian standard of 160 grains, or the quarter of the half of the double standard. Another specimen discovered at Tell Zakariyeh weighs 154 grains, which would seem to belong to the same standard. The weights, of which illustrations are given in the table, are all in the collection of the Syrian Protestant College, at Beirut, and were obtained from Palestine and Phoenicia and are of the Phoenician standard, which was the common commercial standard of Palestine. The largest, of the spindle or barrel type, weighs 1,350 grains, or 87.46 grams, evidently intended for a 6-shekel weight, and the smaller ones of the same type are fractions of the Phoenician shekel. They were of the same standard, one a shekel and the other a two-shekel weight. They each have 12 faces, and the smaller has a lion stamped on each face save one, reminding us of the lion-weights discovered in Assyria and Babylonia. The spindle weights are of black stone, the others of bronze.
The above is the Phoenician standard. In the Babylonian the shekel would be 160 or 320 grains; the maneh 8,000 or 16,000, and the talent 480,000 or 960,000 grains, according as it was of the light or heavy standard.