A two-shekel weight made of limestone was discovered during wet sifting of excavated earth from beneath Wilson’s Arch at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.1

The weight has been dated to the era of the Temple of Solomon, known as the First Temple Period, and is a standard of measure known to have been used during that time. The top of the weight has an engraved Egyptian symbol, which is the abbreviation for “shekel,” according to the directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Dr Bark Monnickendam-Givon and Tehillah Lieberman. It also has two incised lines to indicate that the weight represents two shekels.2

Weights were used to ensure fair trade in the commerce of Jerusalem, as coins were not yet in use during this period. The accuracy of the weights meant the buyer and seller could be confident that the transaction was honest. Thus, stone weights provided an important standard in the conduct of trade, ensuring that products were accurately measured.

From previous examples discovered, the weight of a single shekel is known to be 11.5 grams. The two-shekel weight discovered in this dig weighs 23 grams—11.5 twice, exactly. This level of accuracy attests to advanced technological skills as well as to the integrity of trade and commerce in ancient Jerusalem.

One of the uses of the shekel weight system was to collect an annual tax of half a shekel, which was used to supply the sacrifices and upkeep of the temple. Trade would have been active over centuries in this location by the Temple Mount, as local people and pilgrims bought and sold sacrifices and general supplies.

The Old Testament infers that there were basic standards for weights. The Law prescribed just weights, measures and balances, which suggests there was a common standard of reference in use (Lev 19:35,36). The ingredients of the holy anointing oil were measured by weight according to “the shekel of the sanctuary” (Exod 30:23,24). Rabbinic tradition states that standard measures were deposited in the temple. The 3 1 Chronicles records that the service of the Levites included responsibility for “all manner of measure and size” (1 Chron 23:29).

When Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite to bury Sarah, the payment was made according to weights that were current “with the merchant” (Gen 23:16). On their way home, the brothers of Joseph found that the money returned in their sacks was “full weight,” that is, it was correct to a known standard (Gen 43:21). In the reign of David, the weight of Absalom’s hair was calculated “after the king’s weight” (2 Sam 14:26), and David himself paid Ornan “six hundred shekels of gold by weight” for his threshing floor (1 Chron 21:25).

False weights and balances were an abomination to God because they deceived (Deut 25:13-16; Prov 11:1; 20:10,23). In God’s estimation it was the same as placing a stumbling block in a blind person’s path (Lev 19:14). The prophets spoke against those who decreased or increased their weights; or used deceitful weights and false balances to defraud others (Amos 8:5). Yahweh termed this practice “the measure of leanness” (Mic 6:10,11 KJV mg), and therefore God would make them desolate because of their sins (Mic 6:13).

As the kingdom of Israel went into decline spiritually and morally, the prophet Hosea likens it to a merchant (Canaan[ite], KJV mg) with deceitful balances (12:7). But when Israel is restored to favour with the coming of Christ “there shall be no more the Canaanite [deceitful merchant] in the house of Yahweh of hosts” (Zech 14:21).

In the age to come, weights and measures will be regulated according to a divine standard (Ezek 45:10). The “weightier matters of the law” (Matt 23:23) will then be observed, while “good measure” (Luke 6:38) will be the standard of the times.

References

  1. “Ancient two-shekalim weight discovered in Jerusalem” / Communicated by the IAA Spokesperson, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 13 Oct 2020, online at: https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/israelexperience/history/pages/ancient-two-shekalim-weight-discovered-in-jerusalem-13-october-2020.aspx
  2. Jonathan Laden, “Iron Age Weight Found near Temple Mount”, Bible History Daily, October 15, 2020, online at: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/temple-at-jerusalem/iron-age-weight-found-near-temple-mount/?mqsc=E4121774&dk=ZE04O0ZF0&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDWeek%20in%20Review%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=10-17-29_Week_in_Review
  3. Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Inter-Varsity Press, 1980, pt. 3, p. 1634.