Weights and Measures

Concise Bible Dictionary:

In the Old Testament 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 (Gen. 23:15-1615My lord, hearken unto me: the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver; what is that betwixt me and thee? bury therefore thy dead. 16And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. (Genesis 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.
WEIGHTS.
The principal weights in use were as follows with their approximate equivalents:—
Avoirdupois
Pounds Ounces Drams
Gerah (1/20 of a shekel) 0.439
Bekah (1/2 of a shekel) 4.390
Shekel 8.780
Maneh or pound (60 shekels) 2 0 14.800
Talent, kikkah (50 maneh) 102 14 4.000
It must be noted that there are two shekels mentioned in the Old Testament: one according to the “king’s weight,” probably the standard shekel used for all ordinary business (Ex. 38:2929And the brass of the offering was seventy talents, and two thousand and four hundred shekels. (Exodus 38:29); Josh. 7:2121When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it. (Joshua 7:21); 2 Sam. 14:2626And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year's end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king's weight. (2 Samuel 14:26); Amos 8:55Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? (Amos 8:5)); and another called the “shekel of the sanctuary,” of which it is said in Exodus 30:1313This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the Lord. (Exodus 30:13); Leviticus 27:2525And all thy estimations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall be the shekel. (Leviticus 27:25); Numbers 3:4747Thou shalt even take five shekels apiece by the poll, after the shekel of the sanctuary shalt thou take them: (the shekel is twenty gerahs:) (Numbers 3:47) and Numbers 18:1616And those that are to be redeemed from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation, for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. (Numbers 18:16), “the shekel is 20 gerahs,” implying perhaps that the common shekel was different. Michaelis says that the proportion was as 5 to 3, the business shekel being the smaller.
This seems confirmed by the word maneh in the following passages. By comparing 1 Kings 10:1717And he made three hundred shields of beaten gold; three pound of gold went to one shield: and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon. (1 Kings 10:17) with 2 Chronicles 9:1616And three hundred shields made he of beaten gold: three hundred shekels of gold went to one shield. And the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon. (2 Chronicles 9:16) it will be seen that a maneh equals 100 shekels (probably, for the word “shekels” has been added by the translators); whereas in Ezekiel 45:1212And the shekel shall be twenty gerahs: twenty shekels, five and twenty shekels, fifteen shekels, shall be your maneh. (Ezekiel 45:12) the maneh equals 60 shekels, because the latter would be shekels of the sanctuary. The passage in Ezekiel is obscure, but the sense appears to be that three weights (20, 25, and 15 shekels) should be their maneh, which makes, as in the above table, a maneh = 60 shekels. Some modern tables give the maneh as equal to 50 shekels, from the supposition that this is what is meant in Ezekiel 45:1212And the shekel shall be twenty gerahs: twenty shekels, five and twenty shekels, fifteen shekels, shall be your maneh. (Ezekiel 45:12) in the LXX. The maneh is translated “pound” “1 Kings 10:1717And he made three hundred shields of beaten gold; three pound of gold went to one shield: and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon. (1 Kings 10:17); Ezra 2:6969They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five thousand pound of silver, and one hundred priests' garments. (Ezra 2:69); Neh. 7:71-7271And some of the chief of the fathers gave to the treasure of the work twenty thousand drams of gold, and two thousand and two hundred pound of silver. 72And that which the rest of the people gave was twenty thousand drams of gold, and two thousand pound of silver, and threescore and seven priests' garments. (Nehemiah 7:71‑72)).
MONEY.
If the weights in the foregoing list be approximately correct, and silver be taken at 5/- per ounce, and gold at £4 per ounce Troy, the money value will be about
Unit of Money £ s. d. Scripture
Unit of Money £s.d. Scripture
The above gives no idea of the purchasing value of these sums, which often varied. A penny (δννάριον) was the usual daily wages of a working man: its purchasing value then must have been considerably more than it is now.
Liquid Measure
Name Quantity Unit of Measure Scripture
Caph 0.552 pints
Log(1.3 caphs) 0.718 pints Lev. 14:10-2410And on the eighth day he shall take two he lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, and three tenth deals of fine flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil. 11And the priest that maketh him clean shall present the man that is to be made clean, and those things, before the Lord, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: 12And the priest shall take one he lamb, and offer him for a trespass offering, and the log of oil, and wave them for a wave offering before the Lord: 13And he shall slay the lamb in the place where he shall kill the sin offering and the burnt offering, in the holy place: for as the sin offering is the priest's, so is the trespass offering: it is most holy: 14And the priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot: 15And the priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand: 16And the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before the Lord: 17And of the rest of the oil that is in his hand shall the priest put upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot, upon the blood of the trespass offering: 18And the remnant of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall pour upon the head of him that is to be cleansed: and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord. 19And the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make an atonement for him that is to be cleansed from his uncleanness; and afterward he shall kill the burnt offering: 20And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the meat offering upon the altar: and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and he shall be clean. 21And if he be poor, and cannot get so much; then he shall take one lamb for a trespass offering to be waved, to make an atonement for him, and one tenth deal of fine flour mingled with oil for a meat offering, and a log of oil; 22And two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, such as he is able to get; and the one shall be a sin offering, and the other a burnt offering. 23And he shall bring them on the eighth day for his cleansing unto the priest, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, before the Lord. 24And the priest shall take the lamb of the trespass offering, and the log of oil, and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord: (Leviticus 14:10‑24).
Dry Measure
Log 0.718 pints
Long Measure
The above measures are calculated from the cubit being the same as the Hebrew ammah and the Greek πῆχυς, which latter is found in Matthew 6:2727Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? (Matthew 6:27); Luke 12:2525And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? (Luke 12:25): John 21:88And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. (John 21:8); Revelation 21:1717And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. (Revelation 21:17). This may be called the short cubit (perhaps not the shortest: See CUBIT). In Ezekiel 41:88I saw also the height of the house round about: the foundations of the side chambers were a full reed of six great cubits. (Ezekiel 41:8) is the expression, “a full reed of six great cubits.” The “great cubit” is supposed to be a cubit and a handbreadth. This would make Ezekiel’s reed to be about 10.618 feet. By adding a sixth to any of the above measurements they will correspond to the great cubit. There can be no doubt, however, that the “furlong” and the “mile” were Greek measures.
Though all these reckonings are only approximate, they help to throw light upon many passages of scripture. Thus Isaiah 5:1010Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah. (Isaiah 5:10) shows that there is a curse resting upon the fields of a covetous man. In Revelation 6:66And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. (Revelation 6:6) the quantities prove that the time then spoken of will be one of great scarcity.

“125. Omer Ephah” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

1. The omen or gomer was a dry measure supposed to contain two quarts, one pint, and one tenth, English corn measure.
2. The ephah is supposed to have contained three pecks, one quart, and a pint.

“134. The Cubit” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

The word cubit is derived directly from the Latin cubitus, the lower arm. The Hebrew word is ammah, the mother of the arm, that is, the forearm. It is evidently a measure taken from the human body; as were other measures of length among the Hebrews and other nations. There seem to be two kinds of cubits, and some say three kinds, mentioned in Scripture. In Deuteronomy 3:1111For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man. (Deuteronomy 3:11), we read of “the cubit of a man.” In 2 Chronicles 3:33Now these are the things wherein Solomon was instructed for the building of the house of God. The length by cubits after the first measure was threescore cubits, and the breadth twenty cubits. (2 Chronicles 3:3), “cubits after the first [or old] measure” are spoken of. In Ezekiel 41:88I saw also the height of the house round about: the foundations of the side chambers were a full reed of six great cubits. (Ezekiel 41:8), we are told of “great cubits,” each one of which, according to Ezekiel 40:55And behold a wall on the outside of the house round about, and in the man's hand a measuring reed of six cubits long by the cubit and an hand breadth: so he measured the breadth of the building, one reed; and the height, one reed. (Ezekiel 40:5), “measured a cubit and a handbreadth.” Some writers suppose these to represent three different measures of length; while others regard the first and second as identical, thus making but two kinds of cubits. Whether two or three cannot now be determined. It is no easier to decide as to the length of any one of the cubits named. Various estimates of the Mosaic cubit have been given, varying from twelve inches to twenty-two. The ancient Egyptian cubit was nearly twenty-one inches, which some of the best authorities now estimate as the length of the Mosaic. Other authorities, however, equally worthy of consideration, claim that the length of the Mosaic cubit, as applied to the Tabernacle and Temple, was eighteen inches; and that the Jews did not use the cubit of twenty-one inches—which was Babylonian as well as Egyptian—until after the captivity.

“136. The Span” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

The span (zereth) is the distance between the extremities of the thumb and outside finger of the outstretched hand. It is half a cubit.

“140. Talents” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

The gold talent, which is here spoken of, is supposed to have weighed 1,320,000 grains, or very nearly 230 pounds troy. Its money value is reckoned at £5,475, or over $27,000. The silver talent, mentioned in verse 25, was half the weight, that is, 660,000 grains, or almost 115 pounds troy. Its value is estimated at £340, or $1,700. Of course there was no coin which represented this sum. The word was used to designate large amounts of money. See Matthew 25:1515And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. (Matthew 25:15).

“167. The Hin” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

The hin was a liquid measure containing about ten pints.

“209. Weights” From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

1. The marginal reading for “divers weights” is “a stone and a stone,” which is a literal rendering of the Hebrew. See also Proverbs 11:1; 16:111A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight. (Proverbs 11:1)
11A just weight and balance are the Lord's: all the weights of the bag are his work. (Proverbs 16:11)
. Weights were no doubt originally made of different-sized stones, from which fact eben, a stone, was used to signify a weight, even after other materials were used for weights. We have the word “stone” in our own language to denote a weight of a certain size, and the Germans use the corresponding word stein for a similar purpose.
2. Oriental peddlers still have, as in ancient times, two sets of weights, one for buying and the other for selling. Allusion is made to this species of dishonesty in Proverbs 20:1010Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 20:10) and in Micah 6:1111Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights? (Micah 6:11).