By David Roach
Archaeologists’ discovery of a small weight from the period of Israel’s monarchy helps confirm the Old Testament system of weights and the existence of Solomon’s Temple, two professors say.
A “beka,” a stone weight equivalent to about one-fifth of an ounce, was discovered by archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority in dirt taken several years ago from under Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the Times of Israel reported Nov. 21.
Equivalent to the biblical half-shekel, the beka was placed on a scale and used to measure the amount of silver that Jews—age 20 and older—were required to pay when they entered King Solomon’s Temple. In that era, according to The Times, there was no half-shekel coin.
“The little things are often the most remarkable,” said Steve Andrews, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “… Historically, this discovery confirms the system of weights and measures used in Bible times. Such weights called a ‘beka’ are rare and only a few have been found.”
This beka is particularly unusual because the Hebrew word beka engraved on it appears to be rendered as a mirror image of standard Hebrew script—as though a craftsman accidentally engraved it like a seal, The Times reported.
Though the Temple tax and the half shekel are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, Andrews told Baptist Press in written comments, the word beka appears only twice.
It appears once in Genesis 24:22 when “Abraham’s servant gives a gold earring or nose ring weighing a half-shekel to Rebekah after she watered his camels.” And it appears again in Exodus 38:26 when “a half-shekel weight of silver is required of each Israelite during the construction of the Tabernacle.”
“Later, this became the amount of a Temple tax for those going up to worship in Jerusalem,” said Andrews, who has participated in at least a dozen archaeological digs.
For Bible students, discovery of the beka weight “helps illustrate the actual value of the golden ring given by Abraham’s servant to Rebekah, which in today’s gold price would equal about $900,” Andrews said.
“On the other hand, the silver half-shekel given by each Israelite to help build the Tabernacle would be worth today about $2.75. Interestingly, the Tabernacle was to be funded by a small gift from all and not by a few donors with large gifts. Each Israelite was expected to have a part in the work by offering a fair share.”
Daniel Warner, professor of Old Testament and archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told BP the beka’s discovery helps confirm the existence of Solomon’s Temple, which was destroyed more than 2,500 years ago.
“Note clearly the precise location of the find,” Warner said in written comments. “It is where one would expect it to be found … just below the southwest corner of the Temple Mount proper. This would place it before the entrance to the Solomonic Temple,” where Jews would have needed to measure out their Temple tax.
The only remaining Temple structure in Jerusalem is the Western Wall, which was part of the Second Temple constructed by Jews after they returned from exile in Babylon. “But sure enough, evidence is emerging very clearly—maybe not as fast as we would like—that there was an earlier temple structure here, and the only one ever mentioned to be here is Solomon’s,” Warner said.
David is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.