In the Iron Age, and beginning already in the Bronze Age, payment for transactions could be made in measures of a precious commodity such as metal. Using a metal scale with two suspended metal pans or plates, a stone weight was placed on one plate and the commodity to be weighed set on the second plate. Most weights were fashioned from limestone and shaped either with a domed top and a flat bottom or as round balls, and most measured 3-8cm across. In descending order of weight, the Israelite units included the talent, mina, shekel, pim, beqa‘ (half a shekel) and gerah. Round stone weights, with a mark interpreted as the sign for a shekel, weigh between 11 and 13 grams. This pink limestone beqa‘ dating from the 7-6th c. comes from the Israelite site of Tel Lachish in the southern foothills or Shephelah. The word “beqa‘” is printed in Hebrew script on the domed top; the object measures 1.5cm high and weighs 6.1 grams.

Beqa‘weights and the Bible

The relative weight of the beqa‘ is based on the biblical injunction for each male from the age of 22 and older to contribute silver for the sanctuary construction, “a beqa‘ a head, half a shekel by the sanctuary weight” (Exod 38-26). In the only other biblical reference to the weight, Abraham’s servant attempts to win Rebecca as a bride for his master’s son Isaac with gifts including a gold nose-ring weighing a beqa‘(half a shekel) and two gold arm bands each weighing ten shekels (Gen 24- 22).

For additional information see T. C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum and the Anchor Bible Dictionary entry “Weights and Measures.”