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Reference: Weights And Measures


WEIGHTS: mishkol from "shekel" (the weight in commonest use); eben, a "stone", anciently used as a weight; peles, "scales". Of all Jewish weights the shekel was the most accurate, as a half shekel was ordered by God to be paid by every Israelite as a ransom. From the period of the Exodus there were two shekels, one for ordinary business (Ex 38:29; Jos 7:21; 2Ki 7:1; Am 8:5), the other, which was larger, for religious uses (Ex 30:13; Le 5:15; Nu 3:47). The silver in the half-shekel was 1 shilling, 3 1/2 pence; it contained 20 gerahs, literally, beans, a name of a weight, as our grain from grain.

The Attic tetradrachma, or Greek stater, was equivalent to the shekel. The didrachma of the Septuagint at Alexandria was equivalent to the Attic tetradrachma. The shekel was about 220 grains weight. In 2Sa 14:26 "shekel after the king's weight" refers to the perfect standard kept by David. Michaelis makes five to three the proportion of the holy shekel to the commercial shekel; for in Eze 45:12 the maneh contains 60 of the holy shekels; in 1Ki 10:17; 2Ch 9:16, each maneh contained 100 commercial shekels, i.e. 100 to (60 or five to three. After the captivity the holy shekel alone was used. The half shekel (Ex 38:26; Mt 17:24) was the beka (meaning "division"): the "quarter shekel", reba; the "20th of the shekel", gerah.

Hussey calculates the shekel at half ounce avoirdupois, and the maneh half pound, 14 oz.; 60 holy shekels were in the maneh, 3,000 in the silver talent, so 50 maneh in the talent: 660,000 grains, or 94 lbs. 5 oz. The gold talent is made by Smith's Bible Dictionary 100 manehs, double the silver talent (50 manehs); by the Imperial Bible Dictionary identical with it. (See SHEKEL; MONEY; TALENT.) A gold maneh contained 100 shekels of gold. The Hebrew talents of silver and copper were exchangeable in the proportion of about one to 80; 50 shekels of silver are thought equal to a talent of copper. "Talent" means a circle or aggregate sum. One talent of gold corresponded to 24 talents of silver.

MEASURES: Those of length are derived from the human body. The Hebrew used the forearm as the "cubit," but not the "foot." The Egyptian terms hin, 'ephah, and 'ammah (cubit) favor the view that the Hebrew derived their measures from Egypt. The similarity of the Hebrew to the Athenian scales for liquids makes it likely that both came from the one origin, namely, Egypt. Piazzi Smyth observes the sacred cubit of the Jews, 25 inches (to which Sir Isaac Newton's calculation closely approximates), is represented in the great pyramid, 2500 B.C.; in contrast to the ordinary standard cubits, from 18 to 21 inches, the Egyptian one which Israel had to use in Egypt. The 25-inch cubit measure is better than any other in its superior earth-axis commensurability. The inch is the real unit of British linear measure: 25 such inches (increased on the present parliamentary inch by one thousandth) was Israel's sacred cubit; 1.00099 of an English inch makes one pyramid inch; the earlier English inch was still closer to the pyramid inch.

Smyth remarks that no pagan device of idolatry, not even the sun and moon, is pourtrayed in the great pyramid, though there are such hieroglyphics in two older pyramids. He says the British grain measure "quarter" is just one fourth of the coffer in the king's chamber, which is the same capacity as the Saxon chaldron or four quarters. The small passage of the pyramid represents a unit day; the grand gallery, seven unit days or a week. The grand gallery is seven times as high as one of the small and similarly inclined passages equalling 350 inches, i.e. seven times 50 inches. The names Shofo and Noushofo (Cheops and Chephren of Herodotus) are marked in the chambers of construction by the stonemasons at the quarry. The Egyptian dislike to those two kings was not because of forced labour, for other pyramids were built so by native princes, but because they overthrew the idolatrous temples.

The year is marked by the entrance step into the great gallery, 90.5 inches, going 366 times into the circumference of the pyramid. The seven overlappings of the courses of polished stones on the eastern and the western sides of the gallery represent two weeks of months of 26 days each so there are 26 holes in the western ramp; on the other ramp 28, in the antechamber two day holes over and above the 26. Four grooves represent four years, three of them hollow and one full, i.e. three years in which only one day is to be added to the 14 x 26 for the year; the fourth full from W. to E., i.e. two days to be added on leap year, 366 days. The full groove not equal in breadth to the hollow one implies that the true length of the year is not quite 365 1/4 days. Job (Job 38:6) speaks of the earth's "sockets" with imagery from the pyramid, which was built by careful measurement on a prepared platform of rock.

French savants A.D. 1800 described sockets in the leveled rock fitted to receive the four corner stones. The fifth corner stone was the topstone completing the whole; the morning stars singing together at the topstone being put to creation answers to the shoutings, Grace unto it, at the topstone being put to redemption (Job 38:7; Zec 4:7); Eph 2:19, "the chief corner stone in which all the building fitly framed together groweth into an holy tern. pie." The topstone was "disallowed by the builders" as "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense" to them; for the pyramids previously constructed were terrace topped, not topped with the finished pointed cornerstone.

Pyramid is derived from peram "lofty" (Ewald), from puros "wheat" (P. Smyth). The mean density of the earth (5,672) is introduced into the capacity and weight measures of the pyramid (Isa 40:12). The Egyptians disliked the number five, the characteristic of the great pyramid, which has five sides, five angles, five corner stones, and the five sided coffer. Israel's predilection for it appears in their marching five in a rank (Hebrew for "harnessed"), Ex 13:18; according to Manetho, 250,000, i.e. 5 x 50,000; so the shepherd kings at Avaris are described as 250,000; 50 inches is the grand standard of length in the pyramid, five is the number of books in the Pentateuch, 50 is the number of the Jubilee year, 25 inches (5 x 5) the cubit, an integral fraction of the earth's axis of rotation, 50 the number of Pentecost. (See NUMBER.)

The cow sacrifice of Israel was an "abomination to the Egyptians"; and the divinely taught builders of the great pyramid were probably of the chosen race, in the line of, though preceding, Abraham and closer to Noah, introducers into Egypt of the pure worship of Jehovah (such as Melchizedek held) after its apostasy to idols, maintaining the animal sacrifices originally ordained by God (Ge 3:21; 4:4,7; Heb 11:4), but rejected in Egypt; forerunners of the hyksos or shepherd kings who from the Canaan quarter made themselves masters of Egypt. The enormous mass of unoccupied masonry would have been useless as a tomb, but necessary if the pyramid was designed to preserve an equal temperature for unexceptionable scientific observations; 100 ft. deep inside the pyramid would prevent a variation of heat beyond 01 degree of Fahrenheit, but the king's chamber is 180 ft. deep to compensate for the altering of air currents through the passages.

The Hebrew finger, about seven tenths of an inch, was the smaller measure. The palm or handbreadth was four fingers, three or four inches; illustrates the shortness of time (Ps 39:5). The span, the space between the extended extremities of the thumb and little finger, three palms, about seven and a half inches. The old Mosaic or sacred cubit (the length from the elbow to the end of the middle finger, 25 inches) was a handbreadth longer than the civil cubit of the time of the captivity (from the elbow to the wrist, 21 inches): Eze 40:5; 43:13; 2Ch 3:3, "cubits after the first (according to the earlier) measure." The Mosaic cubit (Thenius in Keil on 1Ki 6:2) was two spans, 20 1/2 Dresden inches, 214,512 Parisian lines long.

Og's bedstead, nine cubits long (De 3:11) "after the cubit of a man," i.e. according to the ordinary cubit (compare Re 21:17) as contrasted with any

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Since the most important of all ancient Oriental systems of weights and measures, the Babylonian, seems to have been based on a unit of length (the measures of capacity and weight being scientifically derived there from), it is reasonable to deal with the measures of length before proceeding to measures of capacity and weight. At the same time it seems probable that the measures of length in use in Palestine were based on a more primitive, and (so far as we know) unscientific system, which is to be connected with Egypt. The Babylonian system associated with Gudea (c. b.c. 3000), on statues of whom a scale, indicating a cubit of 30 digits or 19? inches, has been found engraved, was not adopted by the Hebrews.

I. Measures of Length

The Hebrew unit was a cubit /6 of a reed, Eze 40:5), containing 2 spans or 6 palms or 24 finger's breadths. The early system did not recognize the foot or the fathom. Measurements were taken both by the 6-cubit rod or reed and the line or 'fillet' (Eze 40:3; Jer 31:39; 52:21; 1Ki 7:15).

The ancient Hebrew literary authorities for the early Hebrew cubit are as follows. The 'cubit of a man' (De 3:11) was the unit by which the 'bedstead' of Og, king of Bashan, was measured (cf. Re 21:17). This implies that at the time to which the passage belongs (apparently not long before the time of Ezekiel) the Hebrews were familiar with more than one cubit, of which that in question was the ordinary working cubit. Solomon's Temple was laid out on the basis of a cubit 'after the first (or ancient) measure' (2Ch 3:3). Now Ezekiel (Eze 40:5; 43:13) prophesies the building of a Temple on a unit which he describes as a cubit and a band's breadth, i.e. 7/5 of the ordinary cubit. As in his vision he is practically reproducing Solomon's Temple, we may infer that Solomon's cubit, i.e. the ancient cubit, was also /5 of the ordinary cubit of Ezekiel's time. We thus have an ordinary cubit of 6, and what we may call (by analogy with the Egyptian system) the royal cubit of 7 hand's breadths. For this double system is curiously parallel to the Egyptian, in which there was a common cubit of 0.450 m. or 17.72 in., which was /7 of the royal cubit of 0.525 m. or 20.67 in. (these data are derived from actual measuring rods). A similar distinction between a common and a royal norm existed in the Babylonian weight-system. Its object there was probably to give the government an advantage in the case of taxation; probably also in the case of measures of length the excess of the royal over the common measure had a similar object.

We have at present no means of ascertaining the exact dimensions of the Hebrew ordinary and royal cubits. The balance of evidence is certainly in favour of a fairly close approximation to the Egyptian system. The estimates vary from 16 to 25.2 inches. They are based on: (1) the Siloam inscription, which says: 'The waters flowed from the outlet to the Pool 1200 cubits,' or, according to another reading, '1000 cubits.' The length of the canal is estimated at 537.6 m., which yields a cubit of 0.525 to 0.527 m. (20.67 to 20.75 in.) or 0.538 m. (21.18 in.) according to the reading adopted. Further uncertainty is occasioned by the possibility of the number 1200 or 1000 being only a round number. The evidence of the Siloam inscription is thus of a most unsatisfactory kind. (2) The measurements of tombs. Some of these appear to be constructed on the basis of the Egyptian cubit; others seem to yield cubits of 0.575 m. (about 22.6 in.) or 0.641 m. (about 25.2 in.). The last two cubits seem to be improbable. The measurements of another tomb (known as the Tomb of Joshua) seem to confirm the deduction of the cubit of about 0.525 m. (3) The measurement of grains of barley. This has been objected to for more than one reason. But the Rabbinical tradition allowed 144 barley-corns of medium size, laid side by side, to the cubit; and it is remarkable that a recent careful attempt made on these lioes resulted in a cubit of 17.77 in. (0.451 m.), which is the Egyptian common cubit. (4) Recently it has been pointed out that Josephus, when using Jewish measures of capacity, etc., which differ from the Greek or Roman, is usually careful to give an equation explaining the measures to his Greek or Roman readers, while in the case of the cubit he does not do so, but seems to regard the Hebrew and the Roman-Attic as practically the same. The Roman-Attic cubit (1/2 ft.) is fixed at 0.444 m. or 17.57 in., so that we have here a close approximation to the Egyptian common cubit. Probably in Josephus' time the Hebrew common cubit was, as ascertained by the methods mentioned above, 0.450 m.; and the difference between this and the Attic-Roman was regarded by him as negligible for ordinary purposes. (5) The Mishna. No data of any value for the exact determination of the cubit are to be obtained from this source. Four cubits is given as the length of a loculus in a rock-cut tomb; it has been pointed out that, allowing some 2 inches for the bier, and taking 5 ft. 6 in. to 5 ft. 8 in. as the average height of the Jewish body, this gives 4 cubits = 5 ft. 10 in., or 17/2 in. to the cubit. On the cubit in Herod's Temple, see A. R. S. Kennedy in art. Temple (p. 902), and in artt. in Expository Times xx. [1908], p. 24 ff.

The general inference from the above five sources of information is that the Jews had two cubits, a shorter and a longer, corresponding closely to the Egyptian common and royal cubit. The equivalents are expressed in the following table:

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In the O.T. money was weighed. The first recorded transaction in scripture is that of Abraham buying the field of Ephron the Hittite for four hundred shekels of silver, which Abraham 'weighed' to Ephron. Ge 23:15-16. The shekel here was a weight. Judas Maccabaeus, about B.C. 141, was the first to coin Jewish money, though there existed doubtless from of old pieces of silver of known value, which passed from hand to hand without being always weighed. Herod the Great coined money with his name on it; and Herod Agrippa had some coins; but after that the coins in Palestine were Roman. The following tables must be taken approximately only: the authorities differ.


The principal weights in use were as follows with their approximate equivalents:


Pounds ozs. drams.

Gerah (1/20 of a shekel)

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Weights and Measures.

A. WEIGHTS. --The general principle of the present inquiry is to give the evidence of the monuments the preference on all doubtful points. All ancient Greek systems of weight were derived, either directly or indirectly, from an eastern source. The older systems of ancient Greece and Persia were the AEginetan, the Attic, the Babylonian and the Euboic.

1. The AEginetan talent is stated to have contained 60 minae, 6000 drachme.

2. The Attic talent is the standard weight introduced by Solon.

3. The Babylonian talent may be determined from existing weights found by. Mr. Layard at Nineveh. Pollux makes it equal to 7000 Attic drachms.

4. The Euboic talent though bearing a Greek name, is rightly held to have been originally an eastern system. The proportion of the Euboic talent to the Babylonian was probably as 60 to 72, or 5 to

6. Taking the Babylonian maneh at 7992 grs., we obtain 399,600 for the Euboic talent. The principal if not the only Persian gold coin is the daric, weighing about 129 grs.

5. The Hebrew talent or talents and divisions. A talent of silver is mentioned in Exodus, which contained 3000 shekels, distinguished as "the holy shekel," or "shekel of the sanctuary." The gold talent contained 100 manehs, 10,000 shekels. The silver talent contained 3000 shekels, 6000 bekas, 60,000 gerahs. The significations of the names of the Hebrew weights must be here stated. The chief unit was the SHEKEL (i.e. weight), called also the holy shekel or shekel of the sanctuary; subdivided into the beka (i.e. half) or half-shekel, and the gerah (i.e. a grain or beka). The chief multiple, or higher unit, was the kikkar (i.e. circle or globe, probably for an aggregate sum), translated in our version, after the LXX., TALENT; (i.e. part, portion or number), a word used in Babylonian and in the Greek hena or mina.

See Shekel

See Talent

(1) The relations of these weights, as usually: employed for the standard of weighing silver, and their absolute values, determined from the extant silver coins, and confirmed from other sources, were as follows, in grains exactly and in avoirdupois weight approximately: (2) For gold a different shekel was used, probably of foreign introduction. Its value has been calculated at from 129 to 132 grains. The former value assimilates it to the Persian daric of the Babylonian standard. The talent of this system was just double that of the silver standard; if was divided into 100 manehs, and each maneh into 100 shekels, as follows: (3) There appears to have been a third standard for copper, namely, a shekel four times as heavy as the gold shekel (or 528 grains), 1500 of which made up the copper talent of 792,000 grains. It seems to have been subdivided, in the coinage, into halves (of 264 grains), quarters (of 132 grains) and sixths (of 88 grains). B. MEASURES.--

See Measures

I. MEASURES OF LENGTH. --In the Hebrew, as in every other system, these measures are of two classes: length, in the ordinary sense, for objects whose size we wish to determine, and distance, or itinerary measures, and the two are connected by some definite relation, more or less simple, between their units. The measures of the former class have been universally derived, in the first instance, from the parts of the human body; but it is remarkable that, in the Hebrew system, the only part used for this purpose is the hand and fore-arm, to the exclusion of the foot, which was the chief unit of the western nations. Hence arises the difficulty of determining the ratio of the foot to the CUBIT, (The Hebrew word for the cubit (ammah) appears to have been of Egyptian origin, as some of the measures of capacity (the hin and ephah) certainly were.) which appears as the chief Oriental unit from the very building of Noah's ark.

See Measures

See Cubit

Ge 6:15-16; 7:20

The Hebrew lesser measures were the finger's breadth,

Jer 52:21

only; the palm or handbreadth,

Ex 25:25; 1Ki 7:26; 2Ch 4:5

used metaphorically in

Ps 39:5

the span, i.e. the full stretch between the tips of the thumb and the little finger.

Ex 28:16; 1Sa 17:4; Eze 43:13

and figuratively

Isa 40:12

The data for determining the actual length of the Mosaic cubit involve peculiar difficulties, and absolute certainty seems unattainable. The following, however, seem the most probable conclusions: First, that three cubits were used in the times of the Hebrew monarchy, namely : (1) The cubit of a man,

De 3:11

or the common cubit of Canaan (in contradistinction to the Mosaic cubit) of the Chaldean standard; (2) The old Mosaic or legal cubit, a handbreadth larger than the first, and agreeing with the smaller Egyptian cubit; (3) The new cubit, which was still larger, and agreed with the larger Egyptian cubit, of about 20.8 inches, used in the Nilometer. Second, that the ordinary cubit of the Bible did not come up to the full length of the cubit of other countries. The reed (kaneh), for measuring buildings (like the Roman decempeda), was to 6 cubits. It occurs only in Ezekiel

Eze 40:5-8; 41:8; 42:16-20

The values given In the following table are to be accepted with reservation, for want of greater certainty:

2. Of measures of distance the smallest is the pace, and the largest the day's journey. (a) The pace,

2Sa 6:13

whether it be a single, like our pace, or double, like the Latin passus, is defined by nature within certain limits, its usual length being about 30 inches for the former and 5 feet for the latter. There is some reason to suppose that even before the Roman measurement of the roads of Palestine, the Jews had a mile of 1000 paces, alluded to in

Mt 5:41

It is said to have been single or double, according to the length of the pace; and hence the peculiar force of our Lord's saying: "Whosoever shall compel thee [as a courier] to go a mile, go with him twain" --put the most liberal construction on the demand. (b) The day's journey was the most usual method of calculating distances in travelling,

Ge 30:36; 31:23; Ex 3:18; 5:3; Nu 10:33; 11:31; 33:8; De 1:2; 1Ki 19:4; 2Ki 3:9; Jon 3:3

1 Macc. 5:24; 7:45; Tobit 6:1, though but one instance of it occurs in the New Testament

Lu 2:44

The ordinary day's journey among the Jews was 30 miles; but when they travelled in companies, only ten miles. Neapolis formed the first stage out of Jerusalem according to the former and Beeroth according to the latter computation, (a) The Sabbath day's journey of 2000 cubits,

Ac 1:12

is peculiar to the New Testament, and arose from a rabbinical restriction. It was founded on a universal, application of the prohibition given by Moses for a special occasion: "Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day."

Ex 16:29

An exception was allowed for the purpose of worshipping at the tabernacle; and, as 2000 cubits was the prescribed space to be kept between the ark and the people as well as the extent of the suburbs of the Levitical cities on every side,

Nu 35:5

this was taken for the length of a Sabbath-day's journey measured front the wall of the city in which the traveller lived. Computed from the value given above for the cubit, the Sabbath-day's journey would be just six tenths of a mile. (d) After the captivity the relations of the Jews to the Persians, Greeks and Romans caused the use, probably, of the parasang, and certainly of the stadium and the mile. Though the first is not mentioned in the Bible, if is well to exhibit the ratios of the three. The universal Greek standard, the stadium of 600 Greek feet, which was the length of the race-course at Olympia, occurs first in the Maccabees, and is common in the New Testament. Our version renders it furlong; it being, in fact, the eighth part of the Roman mile, as the furlong is of ours. 2 Macc. 11:5; 12:9,17,29;

Lu 24:13; Joh 6:19; 11:18; Re 14:20; 21:18

One measure remains to be mentioned. The fathom, used in sounding by the Alexandrian mariners in a voyage, is the Greek orguia, i.e. the full stretch of the two arms from tip to tip of the middle finger, which is about equal to the height, and in a man of full stature is six feet. For estimating area, and especially land there is no evidence that the Jews used any special system of square measure

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