Friday, February 19, 2016

Was Silver Shekel of the Sanctuary equal 20 Carats?

I've discussed value of the Shekel of the Sanctuary (Exodus 30:13) before, particularly in this post. However, its value remains unclear to me. 

Silver Shekel is said to be 20 gerahs (Exodus 30:13, Lev 27:25, Num 3:47, Num 18:16). 

However, as the above post indicates, gerah was neither a grain of cereal (barley) or a cud (bolus) of the cow. The latter is very strange, considering that the word "gerah" (גרה) used to refer to "cud" in Leviticus 11:3-7 and Deuteronomy 14:6-8.

Traditional sources indicate that Shekel of the Sanctuary was equal either 11.95 grams or 14.34 grams, which would make Talent 35.85 kg and 43.02 kg respectively. This seems to be too much, because it would put weight of the Tabernacle parts very close to maximum carrying limit for a human. See my Tabernacle Calculator.

I found one article that describes a rather interesting theory. The article is by Turnbull, L. A.; Santamaria, L.; Martorell, T.; Rallo, J.; Hector, A. (2006). "Seed size variability: From carob to carats". Biology Letters 2 (3): 397–400.

Here are a few excerpts:
"The seeds of various plants were used as weights because their mass reputedly varies so little. Carob (Ceratonia siliqua), which has given its name to the carat, is particularly famous in this regard. But are carob seeds unusually constant in weight and, if not, how did the myth arise? The variability of seeds sampled from a collection of carob trees (CV=23%) was close to the average of 63 species reviewed from the literature (CV=25%). However, in a perception experiment observers could discriminate differences in carob seed weight of around 5% by eye demonstrating the potential for humans to greatly reduce natural variation. Interestingly, the variability of pre-metrication carat weight standards is also around 5% suggesting that human rather than natural selection gave rise to the carob myth."
"Here, we attempt to unravel the relationship between the carat and the carob and propose an explanation for the myth of constant seed weight. There appears to be a long history of a weight carrying a name associated with carob and with a mass close to that of a single carob bean. For example, the ancient Greeks had a small weight, the kerat, while the siliqua (from the Latin for carob, siliqua Graeca) is the smallest subdivision (1/1728) of the Roman pound (Smith 1870). Incidentally, the measure of gold purity—also called the carat (UK English) or karat (US English)—derives from the time of the Emperor Constantine when a new gold coin was struck at 72 to the Roman pound, meaning that each coin weighed 24 siliquae or carats. While the exact modern equivalents of ancient weights are of course unknown, various methods such as weighing ancient coins, give widely accepted values for the siliqua in the range 189–192 mg (Smith 1870). According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED 1989) the word carat first appeared in 1555 but its weight varied from place to place prior to its standardization at 200 mg in 1907 (Zhengzhang 1991)."

"The average mass of seeds from female trees (200.5mg+/-2.47 mg) was very close to the metric carat (200 mg) while seeds from hermaphrodite trees were lighter (175.8mg+/-7.1 mg) possibly reflecting the cost of pollen production."
Here is a brief quote from Carob article on Wikipedia:
"The word carob comes from Middle French carobe (modern French caroube). It may have come from the Ancient Greek, where the seeds were used as units of weight (karat) or is alleged to be taken into Europe from Arabic خَرُّوبٌ (kharrūb, "locust bean pod"), which derives from Akkadian kharubu. Ceratonia siliqua, the scientific name of the carob tree, derives from the Greek kerátiοn (κεράτιον), "fruit of the carob" (from keras [κέρας] "horn"), and Latin siliqua "pod, carob." The term "carat", the unit by which precious metal and stone weight is measured, is also derived from the Greek word kerátiοn (κεράτιον), alluding to an ancient practice of weighing gold and gemstones against the seeds of the carob tree by people in the Middle East. The system was eventually standardized, and one carat was fixed at 0.2 grams. Carob was eaten in Ancient Egypt. It was also a common sweetener"

As you can see, it is being proposed that Gerah = 1 Carob Seed = 1 Carat, meaning that 1 Silver Shekel of the Sanctuary was equal to 20 Carats of Silver. This means that Silver Shekel of the Sanctuary weigh 0.2g*20 = 4 grams. In today's prices (2/19/2016) it is 4g*$/g0.5 = $2. This puts Talent of Silver at 4g*3000 = 12kg. This value seem to be much more reasonable.

Here is approximate picture of what 4g Silver Shekel of the Sanctuary might have looked like:

Unfortunately, the problem is, there is no any connection between carob, carat and gerah so even though it is the most plausible theory, we still can't accept it as correct. The explanation of what is gerah should be simple and elegant. All other units of measure rely on human body, so perhaps gerah is also somehow connected to that.

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