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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
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
Again, the Mishna states that the height of a man Isaiah 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
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
In the New Testament we have the fathom ( ὀργυιά ,
Finger or digit ( אצבּע ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> about ¾ in.
Hand-breadth or palm ( טפח ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 3 in.
Span ( זרת ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 9 in.
Cubit ( אמּה ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 17.6 in.
Reed ( קנה ,
6 cubits, 6 palms
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 10 ft.
Sabbath day's journey
( ρ Ο2 σαββάτουπ ὁδός ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 3,600 ft.
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
1 log ( לג ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 1 pint
4 logs, 1 kab ( קב ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 2 qts.
12 logs, 3 kabs, 1 hin ( הין ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 1 ½ gals.
72 logs, 18 kabs, 6 hins, 1 bath ( בּת ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 9 gals.
720 logs, 180 kabs, 60 hins, 10 baths, 1 homer or kor
( חמר ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 90 gals.
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 1 pint
4 logs, 1 kab
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 2 qts.
7 ½ logs, 1 omer
( עמר ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 3 qts., 1 1/5 pts.
24 logs, 6 kabs, 3 ½ omers, 1 seah
( סאה ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 1 ½ pecks
72 logs, 18 kabs, 10 omers, 3 seahs, 1 ephah
( אפה ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 4 ½ pecks
360 logs, 90 kabs, 50 omers, 15 seahs, 5 ephahs, 1 lethech
( לתך ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 5 bu., 2 ½ pecks
720 logs, 180 kabs, 100 omers, 30 seahs, 10 ephahs, 2 lethechs, 1 homer or kor (Ezk Ezekiel 45:14 )
ALIGN =RIGHT> appr. 11 bu., 1 peck
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
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
The above is the Phoenician standard. In the Babylonian the shekel would be 160 or 320 grains; the
Table of Hebrew Weights
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 11 grains
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 122 grains
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 224 or 225 grains
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 11,200 grains
Talent = 60
(Exodus 38:25 , כּכּר ,
ALIGN =RIGHT> about 672,000 grains
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Weights and Measures'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/w/weights-and-measures.html. 1915.