Weights and Measures
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Weights and Measures

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

wats 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 (Ezekiel 40:5), or about 10 feet. Another measure was the Sabbath day's journey, which was reckoned at 2,000 cubits, or about 1,000 yards. The measuring-line was used also, but whether it had a fixed length we do not know.

See SABBATH DAY'S JOURNEY; MEASURING LINE.

In the New Testament we 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 Ezekiel 45:11 that the bath and ephah were equivalent, and he (Warren) estimates the capacity of these as that of 1/30 of the cubit cubed, or about 2,333.3 cubic inches, which would correspond to about 9 gallons English measure. Assuming this as the standard, we get the following tables for liquid and dry measure: Ce'ah and lethekh, in the above, occur in the Hebrew text, but only in the margin of the English. It will be noticed that the prevailing element in these tables is the duodecimal which corresponds to the sexagesimal of the Babylonian system, but it will be seen that in the case of weights there was a tendency on the part of the Hebrews to employ the decimal system, making the maneh 50 shekels instead of 60, and the talent 3,000 instead of 3,600, of the Babylonian, so here we see the same tendency in making the `omer the tenth of the 'ephah and the 'ephah the tenth of the chomer or kor.

3. Weights:

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 Exodus 38:25, 26, where it is stated that the amount of silver collected from 603, 550 males was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels, and, as each contributed a half-shekel, the whole amount must have been 301, 775. Deducting the 1,775 shekels mentioned besides the 100 talents, we have 300,000 or 3,000 to the talent, and, as there were 60 manehs in the talent, there were 50 shekels to each maneh. When the Hebrews adopted this system we do not know, but it was in vogue at a very early date.

The shekel was divided into gerahs, 20 to a shekel (Exodus 30:13). The gerah (gerah) is supposed to be some kind of seed, perhaps a bean or some such plant. The shekel of which it formed a part was probably the royal or commercial shekel of 160 grains, derived from Babylon. But the Hebrews certainly had another shekel, called the Phoenician from its being the standard of the Phoenician traders. This would be natural on account of the close connection of the two peoples ever since the days of David and Solomon, but we have certain evidence of it from the extant examples of the monetary shekels of the Jews, which are of this standard, or very nearly so, allowing some loss from abrasion. The Phoenician shekel was about 224 grains, varying somewhat in different localities, and the Jewish shekels now in existence vary from 212 to 220 grains. They were coined after the captivity (see COINS), but whether this standard was in use before we have no means of knowing.

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.

H. Porter

Smith's Bible Dictionary
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
  5. 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.
  6. 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 . (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.-- 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. (Genesis 6:15,16; 7:20) The Hebrew lesser measures were the finger's breadth , (Jeremiah 52:21) only; the palm or handbreadth, (Exodus 25:25; 1 Kings 7:26; 2 Chronicles 4:5) used metaphorically in (Psalms 39:5) the span , i.e. the full stretch between the tips of the thumb and the little finger. (Exodus 28:16; 1 Samuel 17:4; Ezekiel 43:13) and figuratively (Isaiah 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, (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 (Ezekiel 40:5-8; 41:8; 42:16-29) The values given In the following table are to be accepted with reservation, for want of greater certainty:
  7. Of measures of distance the smallest is the pace , and the largest the day's journey . (a) The pace , (2 Samuel 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 (Matthew 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, (Genesis 30:36; 31:23; Exodus 3:18; 5:3; Numbers 10:33; 11:31; 33:8; 1:2; 1 Kings 19:4; 2 Kings 3:9; Jonah 3:3) 1 Macc. 5:24; 7:45; Tobit 6:1, though but one instance of it occurs in the New Testament (Luke 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, (Acts 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." (Exodus 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, (Numbers 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; (Luke 24:13; John 6:19; 11:18; Revelation 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 measures but they were content to express by the cubit the length and breadth of the surface to be measured (Numbers 35:4,5; Ezekiel 40:27) or by the reed. (Ezekiel 41:8; 42:16-19; Revelation 21:16) II. MEASURES OF CAPACITY.--
  8. The measures of capacity for liquids were: (a) The log , (Leviticus 14:10) etc. The name originally signifying basin . (b) The hin , a name of Egyptian origin, frequently noticed in the Bible. (Exodus 29:40; 30:24; Numbers 15:4,7,8; Ezekiel 4:11) etc. (c) The bath , the name meaning "measured," the largest of the liquid measures. (1 Kings 7:26,38; 2 Chronicles 2:10; Ezra 7:22; Isaiah 5:10)
  9. The dry measure contained the following denominations: (a) The cab , mentioned only in (2 Kings 6:25) the name meaning literally hollow or concave . (b) The omer , mentioned only in (Exodus 16:16-36) The word implies a heap, and secondarily a sheaf. (c) The seah , or "measure," this being the etymological meaning of the term and appropriately applied to it, inasmuch as it was the ordinary measure for household purposes. (Genesis 18:6; 1 Samuel 25:18; 2 Kings 7:1,16) The Greek equivalent occurs in (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:21) (d) The ephah , a word of Egyptian origin and frequent recurrence in the Bible. (Exodus 16:36; Leviticus 5:11; 6:20; Numbers 5:15; 28:5; Judges 6:19; Ruth 2:17; 1 Samuel 1:24; 17:17; Ezekiel 45:11,13; 46:5,7,11,14) (e) The lethec , or "half homer" literally meaning what is poured out; it occurs only in (Hosea 3:2) (f) The homer , meaning heap. (Leviticus 27:16; Numbers 11:32; Isaiah 5:10; Ezekiel 45:13) It is elsewhere termed cor , from the circular vessel in which it was measured. (1 Kings 4:22; 5:11; 2 Chronicles 2:10; 27:5; Ezra 7:22; Ezekiel 45:14) The Greek equivalent occurs in (Luke 16:7) The absolute values of the liquid and the dry measures are stated differently by Josephus and the rabbinists, and as we are unable to decide between them, we give a double estimate to the various denominations. In the new Testament we have notices of the following foreign measures: (a) The metretes , (John 2:6) Authorized Version "firkin," for liquids. (b) The choenix , (Revelation 6:6) Authorized Version "measure," for dry goods. (c) The xestec , applied, however, not to the peculiar measure so named by the Greeks, but to any small vessel, such as a cup. (Mark 7:4,8) Authorized Version "pot." (d) The modius , similarly applied to describe any vessel of moderate dimensions, (Matthew 5:15; Mark 4:21; Luke 11:33) Authorized Version "bushel," though properly meaning a Roman measure, amounting to about a peck. The value of the Attic metretes was 8.6696 gallons, and consequently the amount of liquid in six stone jars, containing on the average 2 1/2 metretae each, would exceed 110 gallons. (John 2:6) Very possibly, however, the Greek term represents the Hebrew bath ; and if the bath be taken at the lowest estimate assigned to it, the amount would be reduced to about 60 gallons. The choenix was 1-48th of an Attic medimnus , and contained nearly a quart. It represented the amount of corn for a day's food; and hence a choenix for a penny (or denarius), which usually purchased a bushel (Cic. Verr. iii 81), indicated a great scarcity. (Revelation 6:6)
Library

Date and Place of Writing.
... It might have been thought that the weights and measures which enter into this story
in v.3 of both versions, and in v.27 of LXX, would have afforded some ...
/.../daubney/the three additions to daniel a study/date and place of writing 2.htm

Then Shall the Holy Angels Run on their Commission to Gather ...
... Then they, too, shall weep who have possessed the unjust balance, and unjust weights
and measures, and dry measures, as they wait for the righteous Judge. ...
/.../the extant works and fragments of hippolytus/piece xxxviii then shall the.htm

The Eighth Commandment
... (5) The shop-thief, who steals in selling. He who uses false weights and
measures steals from others what is their due. Making the ...
/.../watson/the ten commandments/2 8 the eighth commandment.htm

God's Call
... condition. Need I explain what I mean by this? Let your minds turn to weights
and measures, and you will see my meaning exactly. If ...
//christianbookshelf.org/howard/standards of life and service/i gods call.htm

The Christ of the Gospels.
... Is man, in this matter, entitled to the use of different weights and measures,
according as he. 54es in the East or in the West? ...
/.../the christ of the gospels 2.htm

What Does God Forbid in the Eighth Commandment?
... to our neighbour: [322] whether it be by force, or under the appearance of right,
as by unjust weights, ells, measures, fraudulent merchandise, [323] false ...
/.../various/the heidelberg catechism /question 110 what does god.htm

In Human Institutions which are not Superstitious, There are Some ...
... intercourse either could not be carried on at all, or would be carried on at great
inconvenience; and the arrangements as to weights and measures, and the ...
/.../on christian doctrine in four books /chapter 25 in human institutions which.htm

What are the Sins Forbidden in the Eighth Commandment?
... of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything
that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing land ...
/.../anonymous/the westminster larger catechism/question 142 0 0 what are the.htm

But in Regard to Pictures and Statues, and Other Works of this ...
... intercourse either could not be carried on at all, or would be carried on at great
inconvenience; and the arrangements as to weights and measures, and the ...
/.../augustine/on christian doctrine in four books/chapter 39 but in regard.htm

Three Condensed Parables
... That is men's way, all the world over. Christ's question asks the reason for this
all but universal dishonesty of having two weights and measures for faults. ...
/.../maclaren/expositions of holy scripture e/three condensed parables.htm



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