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Q: The definition of shekel and talent ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: The definition of shekel and talent
Category: Science > Physics
Asked by: sanford-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 11 Mar 2003 18:21 PST
Expires: 10 Apr 2003 19:21 PDT
Question ID: 174920
One shekel is 16.4 grams, one talent is 3000 shekels. 
Please give me a brief history about how they got the principle 
of these two measurement units?
Subject: Re: The definition of shekel and talent
Answered By: clouseau-ga on 11 Mar 2003 18:50 PST
Hello sanford,

Thank you for your question. 

I found an incredible explanation in a paper on Bible Weights,
Measures, and Monetary Values by Tom Edwards. I will provide you with
excerpts here, but do read the entire article:

"A few weeks ago I began writing a helpful computer program that
converts weights and measures to various equivalents. For example, if
I select `Ounces'' from one of the main menus, and then input ``128''
at the ``How-many-ounces?''-prompt, I'll be shown the following
parallels: 1 gallon, 3.76 liters, 4 quarts, 8 pints, 16 cups, 32
gills, 85.33 jiggers, 128 ponies, 256 tablespoons, 768 teaspoons,
3,628.8 grams, 3,785.472 milliliters, and 56,000 grains. I then
thought it would be great to write a similar program for Bible weights
and measures.

Unfortunately, after having gone through a few reference books, I soon
realized that this wasn't going to be as easy as I had initially
assumed. Since then, I've investigated at least 30 various sources
with some widely differing in their estimates. The reason being that
there are many uncertainties as to the exact weights and measurements
that the Bible uses...

...Also found at Tell Beit Mirsim were 17 shekel-weights that averaged
11.53 grams a shekel, or, in other words, .40355 ounce. Zondervan's
Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible speaks of three standards for the
shekel: 1) the temple shekel (.351 oz.; depreciated to .345 oz), 2)
the ordinary shekel (.408 oz; depreciated to .401 oz.), and the heavy
shekel (.457 oz.). Our chart will list the ordinary shekel at .403

...According to tablets from Tell el-Amarna, Babylonian values were
standard throughout the ancient Middle East in the 15 century B.C.,
and their weight-values were based on a sexagesimal system. They had
their mina, shekel, and talent of both the ``heavy standard'' and the

Turning to the Old Testament, it is the shekel, and not the mina, that
is the ``more usual unit.'' ``Down to NT times, Hebrews continued to
use the 252 grains, heavy gold Babylonian shekel (approximately $10)
for weighing against Hebrew gold'' (Harper's Bible Dictionary)...

...After the period of the conquest, Phoenician money and weights also
became common among the Hebrews. The Phoenician shekel (standard,
silver), weighing at 224 grains was 1/15th the value of the heavy
Babylonian shekel. It is said that the sanctuary shekel, which Jesus
also paid, was ``the Phoenician Hebrew coin.''

We need to keep in mind that when we read about shekels and talents in
the Old Testament, it is not referring to particular coins of money. 
Rather, it is referring to weights--such as of gold or silver. The
talent, for example,     being the heaviest Hebrew weight used for
metals: 1 talent weighing about 75.6 pounds; and since there are 3,000
shekels in a talent, the weight for 1 shekel would be 0.4032 ounce.
The mina was the equivalent of 50 shekels, so there was also 60 minas
in a talent; thus, 1 mina weighed 1.26 pounds. Naturally, the value of
gold and silver did not remain constant over the years; nor did the
ratio between the two. From one particular source, it appears that
gold had been 15 times greater in value than silver. But this, too,
has varied. The Bible also speaks of talents of lead (Zech. 5:7),
bronze (Exod. 38:29), brass, and iron (1 Chron. 29:7)....

...Abraham had once bought a field from Ephron the Hittite for 400
shekels of silver (Gen. 23:15,16). Using the figure given in our
chart, this would be about 10.07 pounds of silver; and if the value of
silver at that time were about 64 cents a shekel, this would be around
$256--which when we consider that 2,000 years later the average daily
wage for a laborer was 16 cents, the price for Ephron's property seems
pretty steep.  Working 300 days a year, it would take a laborer of the
apostle Paul's day, 5.33 years to gross $256.

Though metals were probably used earlier, this account of Abraham is
not only the first time the term ``shekels'' is used in the Bible, but
also the first occurrence in the Scriptures of a metal being used to
buy something. But we should point out that Genesis 13:2 does speak of
Abraham as having been ``rich in livestock, in silver and
gold''--prior to this purchase..."

I found this article fascinating! Thanks so much for asking the
question and do read his entire history and explanations.

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