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—Biblical Data:
  • I. As far back as the history of Israel can be traced, gold and silver were used as standards of value and mediums of exchange, and, as the Egyptian tribute-lists show, they were thus employed in Canaan even before the Israelites inhabited it. The general use of the word "kesef," meaning "silver," to designate money shows that silver was the prevailing medium of exchange. Up to the time of the Exile, and even later, the metals were not coined, but were weighed (Ex. xxii. 16; II Sam. xviii. 12; I Kings xx. 39; see Numismatics). The scales and weights were carried about with the precious metal in a bag attached to the girdle (Deut. xxv. 13 et seq.; Isa. xlvi. 6; Prov. xvi. 11). An adulteration or debasement of the value of the precious metals by means of certain alloys seems not to have occurred; at least the practise was not given any thought, and warnings are uttered only against false measures (Deut. l.c.; Lev. xix. 36).To disprove the opinion that during the whole period before the Exile coined money was unknown—that is, money under state control in regard to weight, purity, etc.—the passage in I Sam. ix. 8 is cited. Here it is related that Saul's slave gave him the fourth part of a shekel of silver, which he had with him. The conclusion, however, that this is a reference to coined money is too hasty. The only inference to be drawn is that at the time when the author of I Sam. ix. lived silver pieces of a certain weight may have existed and that they were cast into certain shapes known to every one, in order to obviate the necessity of weighing them at eachtransaction. Perhaps the name for "talent" ("kikkar" = "ring") is derived from such forms, since Egyptian documents show that it was quite usual to cast the metals into such rings or into bars. These forms were not found among the Assyrians, who, however, used wedge-shaped pieces of gold, which are mentioned in Josh. vii. 21.
The Shekel.

For money, as for weight, the shekel was the standard unit, the pieces of metal being either fractions or multiples of the shekel. The struggle between the Egyptian decimal system and the sexagesimal method of the Babylonians first made itself felt in regard to weights of gold and silver. The Phenicians were probably the mediators; and a mina of 50 shekels was established as a standard. According to certain indications, the relative value of gold to silver was as 10 to 1. Later, in consequence of the great increase in the supply of silver, the relative value was as 40 to 3. This may, perhaps, have affected the possibility of introducing the sexagesimal system.

The gold shekel originally weighed 1/60 of a mina. The silver shekel, to have had an equal value, must have weighed 40/3 x 1/60 = 2/9 of a mina. As this would have been impracticable for use, it was decided to make a smaller piece, one more suitable for circulation. Two methods presented themselves: (1) either the silver equivalent of the gold shekel could be divided into ten parts in which case a silver shekel of 2/90 = 1/45 of a shekel of weight would result; or (2) the silver equivalent could be divided into fifteen parts, in which case a silver shekel would weigh 2/135 of a mina.

The Mina.

When the decimal system made its way into use, the gold mina as well as the silver mina was reckoned at 50 such shekels. Consequently there was (1) the Babylonian silver mina, equivalent to 50/45 = 10/9 of a mina of weight; (2) the Phenician silver mina, equivalent to 100/135 = 20/27 of a mina of weight.

In the earlier system of Babylonian silver values (which was used also in the Lydian and Persian kingdoms) the silver shekel was divided into thirds, sixths, and twelfths, whereas in the Phenician system it was divided into halves, fourths, eighths, etc.

The Phenician silver shekel is found among the Jews also. This is proved by the fact that they had the same method of division: the quartershekel appears in I Sam. ix. 8; the half-shekel is the Temple-tax in the Priestly Code. The shekels of the Maccabean period which have been preserved vary between 14.50 and 14.65 gr., which is exactly 2/135 of the large "common" (see Weights and Measures) Babylonian mina. The mina accordingly weighed 727.7 gr., and the talent 43,659 kg.

The Siglos.

In the Persian period the Babylonian shekel, equivalent to one-tenth of the mina of weight, came into use, since Nehemiah (x. 33 [A. V. 32]) assessed the Temple-tax at one-third of a shekel. This Persian system of coinage had the small mina as a basis. The unit was the siglos, which corresponded to one-half of a Babylonian shekel. The relation between it and the Jewish one was 3 to 8. It was considered as the one-hundredth part of a mina and not the fiftieth. It amounted to 5.61-5.73 gr.; the mina, to 561-573 gr.; and the talent to 33,660-34,380 kg. In the Maccabean period the Phenician silver shekel was again in use. Consequently the Temple-tax was again a half-shekel (Matt. xvii. 24, 27).

  • II. Coined money did not come into use among the Jews until the time of the Persians. In the Old Testament, Persian darics (A. V. "drams") are mentioned in Ezra viii. 27 and I Chron. xxix. 7 as "adarkon," and in Ezra ii. 69 and Neh. vii. 70-72 as "darkemon. They weighed 8.40 gr., thus corresponding almost exactly to one-sixtieth of the Babylonian light mina. The corresponding silver coin was one-twentieth of the daric; which, perhaps, was meant by the term "shekel" in Neh. v. 15, x. 33. See Numismatics.
  • Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie, pp. 189-198;
  • Madden, Coins of the Jews, London, 1881;
  • Nowack, Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie, 1894;
  • Herzfeld, Handelsgeschichte der Juden des Alterthums, Brunswick, 1879, pp. 171-185;
  • F. de Saulcy, Recherches sur la Numismatique Judaïque, 1854;
  • Levy, Geschichte der Jüdischen Münzen, 1862.
E. G. H. W. N.—In Rabbinical Literature:

In conformity with the unvarying usage of the Mosaic law, the Mishnah (B. M. iv. 1) treats both gold and copper coins as commodities when they come to be exchanged for silver coins (see Alienation); but the Gemara upon this section gives a glimpse into the history of the battle of the gold and silver standards, which raged with varying fortunes from the days of Hillel and Shammai, in King Herod's time, to the compilation of the Mishnah by Rabbi. Shammai's leading disciple, R. Ḥiyya, addresses him: "Rabbi, you teach us now in your old age that gold [as a commodity] gives title to silver; but when you were young you taught us the contrary!" In the discussion that follows the Mishnah is referred to (Ma'as. Sh. ii. 7). The school of Shammai says: "A man must not turn shekels into gold denarii [for transport of second tithe to Jerusalem]." The school of Hillel permitted it. The former school seemed to look on gold as a commodity, at least as compared with silver; the latter school was willing, for this purpose, at least, to treat both alike as money, if not to give gold a preference over silver. The Hillelites seemingly yielded to the Roman influence of their time, which maintained the gold standard.

The gold denarius passed generally for twenty-five silver denarii—that is, 6¼ shekels. It is urged in favor of gold as the true money that it was usual in the redemption of the first-born son for the father to give a gold denarius to the kohen, and for the latter to return five zuz, or silver denarii, in change, though the rate of exchange between silver and gold at the time might be such as to make the former worth either more or less than twenty-five of the latter. Another point is made in a responsum by R. Ḥiyya himself, that a loan made in gold may be recovered in gold, though it has risen in exchange value, without violating the law against usury (B. M. 44b-45b). Rabbi, as most of the intervening patriarchs, was one of Hillel's descendants, and naturally followed his teachings. It was probably a change in the Roman currency laws and inthe habits of business which induced him in his later years to reestablish the old silver standard among the Jews.

S. L. N. D.
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