BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

First Temple Cheating Weight

New find shows how Jerusalem merchants manipulated weights to defraud customers

The 2,700-year-old “cheaters weight” recently uncovered in Jerusalem.
Photo Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David.

As first reported in the Jerusalem Post, archaeologists recently discovered a fraudulent stone weight dating to the First Temple period in Jerusalem’s City of David Archaeological Park. The 2,700-year-old stone weight bears two parallel lines, which according to a team from Hebrew University, were used to mark the stone as weighing two gerah (a little less than 1 gram). In actuality, however, the stone weighs 3.61 grams, nearly four times the marked amount. This led the researchers to propose that the weight was used to defraud customers, a practice frequently condemned in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Deuteronomy 25:13: “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, large and small.”).

This conclusion, however, sparked immediate pushback from some in the scholarly community. According to David Hendin, Vice President of the American Numismatic Society, the number incised into the weight was misread by the researchers and should instead be understood as eight gerah, not two. The mistake, Henden notes, is a result of the slight difference in how the two numbers are represented in Egyptian hieratic: The number 2 is marked with two parallel vertical lines (||) while the number 8 appears as two parallel horizontal lines (=). As such, the reading of the two lines as eight gerah (or about 3.84–4.56 grams) is far more suitable, Hendin argued.


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The Hebrew University team, however, says that their original interpretation of the weight is correct. The markings cannot be read as eight gerah, they argue, as the two lines lack the small hinges that appear in all known eight gerah weights. “Marking a stone is not as easy as writing with ink—one checks and rechecks himself to reach the right marking,” wrote Hebrew University researcher Hagai Cohen Kolonimus. “Two cannot be seen as eight when the marking is so clear.”

Whether the stone is marked as weighing 20 percent or 400 percent less than its true amount, the use of cheating weights fits well with stories recorded in both biblical and Near Eastern texts, where cheating with fraudulent scales and weights is often presented as a crime.


Read more in Bible History Daily about First Temple period finds:

A First Temple Period Palatial Estate Near Jerusalem? by: Samuel Pfister
Archaeologists excavating at Ein Hanniya outside of Jerusalem unearthed seventh-century B.C.E. finds that suggest the presence of a palace in the First Temple period.

Architectural Artifacts from First Temple Period Found by: Jonathan Laden
Dozens of architectural limestone remains were found in excavations of the Armon Hanatziv Promenade.

History of Bethlehem Documented by First Temple Period Bulla from the City of David by: BAS Staff
Earliest History of Bethlehem Documented by First Temple Period Bulla from the City of David Jesus’ Birthplace in Ancient Bethlehem Confirmed as an Israelite City Centuries Earlier

Givati Parking Lot Dig Unearths Rare Seal of Woman by: Robin Ngo
Two First Temple period seals were discovered in the Givati Parking Lot excavations in Jerusalem. One seal belonged to a woman named Elihana bat Gael.

Persian Period Bullae Found by: Jonathan Laden
After King Nebuchadnezzar II attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple in 586 B.C.E., the Jews were exiled in Babylon for some 50 years.

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2 Responses

  1. Dr. Robert Deutsch says:

    The “2 Gerah” weight, incised with 2 lines is in fact a 8 Gerah weight. One has to rotate the weight 90 degree and read the 2 lines in horizontal and not in vertical. The 2 lines indicates the value “8” in Hieratic numerals which are used on Hebrew weight from the first temple period. In general, the value of a weight, even if it is not marked, is its weight.

  2. Jack Kilmon says:

    Didn’t the high priests get a “cut” of the profits? Jesus yelled to the priests, “abadtonayhy m’arta d’listayeh” “You have made it a den of thieves”. (probably the real reason he was executed).

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2 Responses

  1. Dr. Robert Deutsch says:

    The “2 Gerah” weight, incised with 2 lines is in fact a 8 Gerah weight. One has to rotate the weight 90 degree and read the 2 lines in horizontal and not in vertical. The 2 lines indicates the value “8” in Hieratic numerals which are used on Hebrew weight from the first temple period. In general, the value of a weight, even if it is not marked, is its weight.

  2. Jack Kilmon says:

    Didn’t the high priests get a “cut” of the profits? Jesus yelled to the priests, “abadtonayhy m’arta d’listayeh” “You have made it a den of thieves”. (probably the real reason he was executed).

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