Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How much silver did Yirmeyahu weigh out, and why?

Summary:  Was it 17 or 7 X + 10 Y? And either way, was it coinage or weight?

Post: The haftara of parashat Behar begins with Yirmeyahu locked up in prison, receiving word from Hashem to purchase a property, and purchasing it. Thus {Yirmeyahu 32}:

ו  וַיֹּאמֶר, יִרְמְיָהוּ:  הָיָה דְּבַר-ה, אֵלַי לֵאמֹר.6 And Jeremiah said: 'The word of the LORD came unto me, saying:
ז  הִנֵּה חֲנַמְאֵל, בֶּן-שַׁלֻּם דֹּדְךָ, בָּא אֵלֶיךָ, לֵאמֹר:  קְנֵה לְךָ, אֶת-שָׂדִי אֲשֶׁר בַּעֲנָתוֹת--כִּי לְךָ מִשְׁפַּט הַגְּאֻלָּה, לִקְנוֹת.7 Behold, Hanamel, the son of Shallum thine uncle, shall come unto thee, saying: Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth; for the right of redemption is thine to buy it.'
ח  וַיָּבֹא אֵלַי חֲנַמְאֵל בֶּן-דֹּדִי כִּדְבַר ה, אֶל-חֲצַר הַמַּטָּרָה, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי קְנֵה נָא אֶת-שָׂדִי אֲשֶׁר-בַּעֲנָתוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ בִּנְיָמִין כִּי-לְךָ מִשְׁפַּט הַיְרֻשָּׁה וּלְךָ הַגְּאֻלָּה, קְנֵה-לָךְ; וָאֵדַע, כִּי דְבַר-יְהוָה הוּא.8 So Hanamel mine uncle's son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the LORD, and said unto me: 'Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself.' Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.
ט  וָאֶקְנֶה, אֶת-הַשָּׂדֶה, מֵאֵת חֲנַמְאֵל בֶּן-דֹּדִי, אֲשֶׁר בַּעֲנָתוֹת; וָאֶשְׁקְלָה-לּוֹ, אֶת-הַכֶּסֶף, שִׁבְעָה שְׁקָלִים, וַעֲשָׂרָה הַכָּסֶף.9 And I bought the field that was in Anathoth of Hanamel mine uncle's son, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver.
י  וָאֶכְתֹּב בַּסֵּפֶר וָאֶחְתֹּם, וָאָעֵד עֵדִים; וָאֶשְׁקֹל הַכֶּסֶף, בְּמֹאזְנָיִם.10 And I subscribed the deed, and sealed it, and called witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances.

How shall we understand שִׁבְעָה שְׁקָלִים, וַעֲשָׂרָה הַכָּסֶף? Should it be rendered 17 shekel, as above? The Targum renders it shava manan vaasar sil'in, namely 7 mana + 10 sela.  Refer to this chart:

שם המידהפרוטהאיסרפונדיוןמעהטרעפיקדינרשקלסלעדרכוןמנהשעוריםגרמים
פרוטה10.1250.0630.0310.0100.0060.0030.0017.72 x10-46.17 x10-50.50.025
איסר810.50.250.0830.0190.0090.0050.0021.85 x10-440.2
פונדיון16210.50.1670.0560.0280.0140.0075.56 x10-480.4
מעה, גרה324210.3330.1670.0830.0420.0210.002160.8
טרעפיק, איסתרא, רבעת96126310.50.250.1250.0630.005482.4
דינר, זוז19224126210.50.250.1250.01964.8
שקל (חז"ל), בקע3844824124210.50.250.021929.6
סלע (שקל הקודש)76896482484210.50.0438419.2

"Shekel" obviously had different meanings in different time periods, and so this was interpreted in the Targum as:
שִׁבְעָה שְׁקָלִים:
7 whole coins of silver, the maneh,

וַעֲשָׂרָה הַכָּסֶף
and ten other silver coins.

Coinage is complicated. There are silver and gold coins, maneh and minah, and in different times, different names refer to different coins and values. So I may well have the above wrong, but regardless, the Targum renders the seven separate from the ten, and as a larger coin and a smaller coin.

So then Radak, Mahari Kara, Malbim, Metzudas David, etc.

My slight issue with this is pasuk 10, וָאֶשְׁקֹל הַכֶּסֶף, בְּמֹאזְנָיִם. If the payment is in coins, why weigh them on a scale? If they are valid coins, then they won't be missing enough to be invalid, and slight differences make no difference to the validity and therefore value of the coins.

Rather, it would seem that we are dealing here with silver bars, either 17 of them or else 7 or the large weight and 10 of the smaller weight. Recall that coinage was actually a fairly recent innovation in the world, at around 650 BCE. And these events occurred in about 588 BCE. Who says coinage spread to Israel by this time? If so, it makes sense that the proper amount of silver had to be measured out. And note shekel  / va'eshkol.

(This of course has repercussions to peshat in pesukim interpreted in regards to kesef vs. shaveh kesef and to maaser sheni, but enough for this post.)


Joe in Australia said...

Coins were weighed on scales until quite recently. Until the introduction of milled coinage in the 1500s – 1600s it was very common for counterfeiters to remove some of the valuable metal by "clipping" or other means of debasement. Coins in those days were worth nearly as much in metal as face value, and merchants might refuse clipped coins or only accept them at a discount. Alternatively, a somewhat honest merchant might save up his better (heavier) coins and pass them on to a known clipper at a premium - avoiding any direct wrongdoing, but effectively abetting the criminal act.

Incidentally, the extra value that coins have over bars of silver is that the coins are of a known quality. Mints (which were not always government-owned) made their profit by stamping coins out of bars and selling the new coins at a premium. This profit is called seigniorage.

yaak said...

If all this post had was that awesome chart, Dayeinu.

joshwaxman said...

it is indeed a nice chart. though i don't know about dayeinu.

have you seen Dr. Sperber's charts?

yaak said...



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