Find shows how Jerusalem merchants manipulated weights to defraud customers
As first reported in the Jerusalem Post, in 2021 archaeologists 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 First Temple cheating weight 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 First Temple cheating 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.
A version of this post appeared in Bible History Daily on September 17, 2021
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