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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

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.


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

5007. talanton -- a balance, hence that which is weighed, ie a ...
... Neuter of a presumed derivative of the original form of tlao (to bear; equivalent
to phero); a balance (as supporting weights), ie (by implication) a certain ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/5007.htm - 7k

2218. zugos -- a yoke
... [2218 () two elements to work as , like when two pans (weights) operate together
on a balance-scale -- or a of oxen pulling a plough.]. ...
//strongsnumbers.com/greek2/2218.htm - 7k

Strong's Hebrew
68. eben -- a stone
... root Definition a stone NASB Word Usage another (1), charm* (1), cornerstone* (1),
death (1), differing weights (3), hailstones* (4), jeweler* (1), lapis lazuli ...
/hebrew/68.htm - 6k

3599. kis -- bag, purse
... bag, cup, purse. A form for kowc; a cup; also a bag for money or weights -- bag,
cup, purse. see HEBREW kowc. 3598, 3599. kis. 3600 . Strong's Numbers.
/hebrew/3599.htm - 6k


The Answer on the Way to Keep Control Over Abstinence.
... Your reasonable service." [2200] And the giver of the law similarly forbids the
same thing, saying: "Let the balance be just and the weights equal, the bushel ...
/.../cassian/the conferences of john cassian/chapter xxii the answer on.htm

Eighth Commandment
... GOD'S WEIGHTS. ... See what God says in His Word: "Shall I count them pure with
the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights? ...
//christianbookshelf.org/moody/weighed and wanting/eighth commandment.htm

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

The Handwriting Blotted Out
... FALSE WEIGHTS. Men have all sorts of weights that they think are going to satisfy,
but they will find that they are altogether vanity, and lighter than vanity. ...
/.../moody/weighed and wanting/the handwriting blotted out.htm

Psalm CXXX.
... When each man seeth himself overwhelmed with daily sins, pressed down by heaps and
weights, so to speak, of iniquities: if it be said unto him, Pray unto God ...
/.../augustine/exposition on the book of psalms/psalm cxxx.htm

Why the Holy Spirit was Only "Borne Over" the Waters.
... They are propelled by their own weights, they seek their own places. ... They are
propelled by their own weights, they seek their own places. ...
/.../augustine/the confessions and letters of st/chapter ix why the holy spirit.htm

The Concourse of Atoms could not Make the World.
... borne about, and always coming, and being added to things whose measure is already
complete, how can the universe stand, when new weights are always being ...
/.../unknown/recognitions of clement /chapter xviii the concourse of atoms.htm

What Then, Ye Donatists, what have Ye to Say to This? if Our...
... Let us not bring in deceitful balances, to which we may hang what weights we will
and how we will, saying to suit ourselves, "This is heavy and this is light ...
/.../writings in connection with the donatist controversy /chapter 6 7 what.htm

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

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

ATS Bible Dictionary

The Hebrews weighed all the gold and silver they used in trade. The shekel, the half shekel, the manch, the talent, are not only denominations of money, of certain values in gold and silver, but also of certain weights. The weight "of sanctuary," or weight of the temple, Exodus 30:13,24; Le 5:5; Numbers 3:50; 7:19; 18:16, was perhaps the standard weight, preserved in some apartment of the temple, and not a different weight from the common shekel; for though Moses appointed that all things valued by their price in silver should be rated by the weight of the sanctuary, Le 27:25, he made no difference between this shekel of twenty gerahs and the common shekel. Ezekiel 45:12, speaking of the ordinary weights and measures used in traffic among the Jews, says that the shekel weighed twenty gerahs: it was therefore equal to the weight of the sanctuary.

Easton's Bible Dictionary
Reduced to English troy-weight, the Hebrew weights were:

(1.) The gerah (Leviticus 27:25; Numbers 3:47), a Hebrew word, meaning a grain or kernel, and hence a small weight. It was the twentieth part of a shekel, and equal to 12 grains.

(2.) Bekah (Exodus 38:26), meaning "a half" i.e., "half a shekel," equal to 5 pennyweight.

(3.) Shekel, "a weight," only in the Old Testament, and frequently in its original form (Genesis 23:15, 16; Exodus 21:32; 30:13, 15; 38:24-29, etc.). It was equal to 10 pennyweight.

(4.) Ma'neh, "a part" or "portion" (Ezek. 45:12), equal to 60 shekels, i.e., to 2 lbs. 6 oz.

(5.) Talent of silver (2 Kings 5:22), equal to 3,000 shekels, i.e., 125 lbs.

(6.) Talent of gold (Exodus 25:39), double the preceding, i.e., 250 lbs.

Weights (14 Occurrences)
... Easton's Bible Dictionary Reduced to English troy-weight, the Hebrew weights
were: ... Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. ...
/w/weights.htm - 21k

Weight (143 Occurrences)
... 9. (vt) To load with a weight or weights; to load down; to make heavy; to attach
weights to; as, to weight a horse or a jockey at a race; to weight a whip ...
/w/weight.htm - 43k

Balance (12 Occurrences)
... 1. (n.) An apparatus for weighing. 2. (n.) Act of weighing mentally; comparison;
estimate. 3. (n.) Equipoise between the weights in opposite scales. ...
/b/balance.htm - 18k

Differing (5 Occurrences)
... KJV ASV WBS). Deuteronomy 25:13 Do not have in your bag different weights,
a great and a small; (See NAS NIV). Deuteronomy 25:14 Or ...
/d/differing.htm - 7k

Balances (15 Occurrences)
... in his hand. (KJV WBS). Leviticus 19:36 You shall have just balances, just
weights, a just ephah, and a just hin. I am Yahweh your ...
/b/balances.htm - 10k

Diverse (15 Occurrences)
... benefited. (See RSV). Deuteronomy 25:13 You shall not have in your bag diverse
weights, a great and a small. (WEB JPS ASV). Deuteronomy ...
/d/diverse.htm - 14k

Measures (50 Occurrences)
... 5; Ezra 7:22); or seah (Genesis 18:6 1 Samuel 25:18 1 Kings 18:32 2 Kings 7:1, 16,
18); or batos, "bath" (Luke 16:6). For these terms see WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. ...
/m/measures.htm - 35k

Ephah (55 Occurrences)
... to the bath in liquid measure and was the standard for measuring grain and similar
articles since it is classed with balances and weights (Leviticus 19:36 Amos ...
/e/ephah.htm - 27k

Weaving (4 Occurrences)
... In one type the strands of the warp, singly or in bundles, are suspended from a
beam and held taut by numerous small weights made of stones or pottery. ...
/w/weaving.htm - 17k

Scales (33 Occurrences)
... Leviticus 19:36 Have true scales, true weights and measures for all things: I am
the Lord your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt; (BBE NIV). ...
/s/scales.htm - 18k

Bible Concordance
Weights (14 Occurrences)

Matthew 23:4 They make hard laws and put great weights on men's backs; but they themselves will not put a finger to them.

Genesis 23:16 And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.
(See RSV)

Genesis 49:15 And he saw that rest was good and the land was pleasing; so he let them put weights on his back and became a servant.

Exodus 30:34 And the Lord said to Moses, Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, with the best frankincense, in equal weights;

Leviticus 19:35 Do not make false decisions in questions of yard-sticks and weights and measures.

Leviticus 19:36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 25:13 You shall not have in your bag diverse weights, a great and a small.

Deuteronomy 25:15 A perfect and just weight shalt thou have; a perfect and just measure shalt thou have; that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
(See NIV)

1 Chronicles 23:29 The holy bread was in their care, and the crushed grain for the meal offering, of unleavened cakes or meal cooked over the fire or in water; they had control of all sorts of weights and measures;

Proverbs 11:1 A false balance is an abomination to Yahweh, but accurate weights are his delight.

Proverbs 16:11 Honest balances and scales are Yahweh's; all the weights in the bag are his work.

Proverbs 20:10 Differing weights and differing measures, both of them alike are an abomination to Yahweh.

Proverbs 20:23 Yahweh detests differing weights, and dishonest scales are not pleasing.

Micah 6:11 Shall I be pure with dishonest scales, and with a bag of deceitful weights?



Weights and Measures

Weights of Sins

Weights of the Restraints Put on the Elements

Weights were Frequently Used in Scales or Balances

Weights: (Heavy) of the Exceeding Glory Reserved for Saints

Weights: All Metals Were Given By

Weights: Bekah or Half Shekel

Weights: Dram

Weights: Generally Regulated by the Standard of the Sanctuary

Weights: Gerah

Weights: Maneh or Pound

Weights: Must be Just

Weights: Provisions Were Sold By, in Times of Scarcity

Weights: Shekel

Weights: Sometimes Regulated by the King's Standard

Weights: Talent

Weights: The Jews: Forbidden to Have Unjust

Weights: The Jews: Forbidden to Have Various

Weights: The Jews: Frequently Used Unjust

Weights: Value of Money Estimated According To

Related Terms

Weight (143 Occurrences)

Balance (12 Occurrences)

Differing (5 Occurrences)

Balances (15 Occurrences)

Diverse (15 Occurrences)

Measures (50 Occurrences)

Ephah (55 Occurrences)

Weaving (4 Occurrences)

Scales (33 Occurrences)

Money (284 Occurrences)

Bag (52 Occurrences)

Divers (36 Occurrences)

Unequal (5 Occurrences)

Table (125 Occurrences)

Detests (7 Occurrences)

Standard (42 Occurrences)

Shekel (37 Occurrences)

Dishonest (33 Occurrences)

Honest (34 Occurrences)

Weighty (7 Occurrences)

Aramaic (12 Occurrences)

Hin (19 Occurrences)

Scale (38 Occurrences)

Disgusting (149 Occurrences)

Babylonia (17 Occurrences)

Yard-sticks (1 Occurrence)

Kesitah (3 Occurrences)

Justice (212 Occurrences)

Log (12 Occurrences)

Grain (413 Occurrences)

Gin (10 Occurrences)

Weightier (3 Occurrences)

Finger (35 Occurrences)

Fly (33 Occurrences)

Tackle (1 Occurrence)

Try (84 Occurrences)

Talent (16 Occurrences)

Royal (154 Occurrences)

Decisions (133 Occurrences)

Drop (32 Occurrences)

Deal (170 Occurrences)

Measuring (42 Occurrences)

Mina (6 Occurrences)

Maneh (1 Occurrence)

Pound (13 Occurrences)

Pull (32 Occurrences)

Bath (13 Occurrences)

Barley (35 Occurrences)

Backs (46 Occurrences)

Cubit (51 Occurrences)

Crane (2 Occurrences)

Accurate (7 Occurrences)

Seal (47 Occurrences)

Span (14 Occurrences)

Shears (1 Occurrence)

King's (375 Occurrences)

Language (112 Occurrences)

Carchemish (3 Occurrences)

Justify (19 Occurrences)

Tahpanhes (7 Occurrences)

Measure (269 Occurrences)

Line (131 Occurrences)

Redeemer (42 Occurrences)

Iron (104 Occurrences)

Cooked (35 Occurrences)

Concern (35 Occurrences)

Abominable (52 Occurrences)

Redemption (46 Occurrences)

Reed (41 Occurrences)

Fish (66 Occurrences)

Deceitful (46 Occurrences)

Olive (61 Occurrences)

Questions (76 Occurrences)

Unjust (44 Occurrences)

Trade (33 Occurrences)

Tree (245 Occurrences)

Alike (67 Occurrences)

Pleasing (185 Occurrences)

Laws (184 Occurrences)

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