How Much is a Shekel?
Posted on 10 May 2012 04:08 PM
Numbers and Deuteronomy talk about the use of money called the "shekel." What would one shekel be equivalent to today?
There is a natural confusion about the value of a shekel (or sheqel) because it started off as a unit of weight used in market exchanges but eventually became a coin in its own right.
The first appearance of the shekel was in ancient Mesopotamia in 3000 BC. The name shekel was based on the Akkadian she, which was the early name for barley. Barley was used as the original medium of weight—and the shekel was equal in weight to 180 grains of barley, or around 11 grams.
Unfortunately, to add to the confusion, there were four different shekels that became common in business transactions. There were gold shekels, silver shekels, brass shekels, and iron shekels. Each type had a different weight. For example, six gold shekels was equal to fifty silver shekels.
In Exodus 30:13 and Numbers 3:47 we also find the sanctuary shekel. In biblical times, temple shekels were used to buy public sacrifices. This sanctuary half-shekel was approximately equal to two Attic drachmas. The coin that Peter found in the mouth of the fish paid the temple tax for both himself and Jesus, and was equal to the common half-shekel.
The value of the shekel could vary according to the item being exchanged or weighed. Sometimes it is hard to determine which shekel is being indicated in a particular passage of Scripture. The weight of the shekel eventually stabilized, and could vary from .36 oz to slightly more than .72 oz.
The shekel’s value is expressed differently in various Scriptures. A bekah is a half-shekel (about 31 cents in modern currency). A maneh was equal to 100 shekels. A talent was a weight equal to 3000 shekels.
Of course, as times change and the relative value of money also changes, the value of the shekel changes as well. That’s why different versions of the Scriptures (printed in different years) often show different values for the shekel. In modern Israel, the shekel is both a coin and a paper currency in banknotes of 20, 50, 100, and 200 new sheqalim. The new shekel replaced the old shekel on January 1, 1986 (at that time 1,000 old shekels were equal to 1 new shekel). One Israeli new shekel is presently worth about 25 cents US.