Converting Old Testament shekel to dollar. The shekel was an ancient unit of weight and currency used in the Middle East, including in ancient Israel as described in the Old Testament. If you’re wondering what an Old Testament shekel would be worth in today’s dollars, this guide will provide a detailed breakdown.
In short, experts estimate the value of one biblical shekel to be equivalent to about $14-15 in U.S. dollars today.
The Origin and Significance of the Shekel in the Old Testament
The shekel is a unit of measure that has a long history dating back to ancient times. In the Old Testament, the shekel was not only used as a unit of weight, but it also served as a form of currency in ancient Israel.
Additionally, the shekel had religious significance, particularly about the sanctuary shekel.
The shekel as a unit of weight
In ancient times, the shekel was primarily used as a unit of weight. It was a common measurement for precious metals such as gold, silver, and bronze. The shekel was used to determine the value and purity of these metals, making it an important tool for trade and commerce.
For example, when purchasing goods or services, people would use the shekel to ensure that they were receiving the correct amount of metal. This helped to establish trust and fairness in transactions.
The shekel as currency in ancient Israel
In addition to being a unit of weight, the shekel also served as a form of currency in ancient Israel. It was used to buy and sell goods, pay taxes, and settle debts. The shekel was a widely recognized and accepted form of payment during this time.
One interesting aspect of the shekel as currency is that it was not a standardized coin. Instead, it was a measure of value that could be represented by different forms of currency, such as silver pieces or agricultural products.
This flexibility allowed for transactions to be conducted using various forms of payment, depending on the availability and preference of the parties involved.
The sanctuary shekel and its religious significance
The sanctuary shekel held special religious significance in ancient Israel. It was a specific amount of silver that each Israelite was required to contribute as a form of taxation for the upkeep of the sanctuary and the religious rituals conducted there.
This contribution was seen as a way for the Israelites to show their devotion and support for the religious practices of their community. It was also a way to ensure that the sanctuary remained financially stable and able to carry out its important functions.
According to Exodus 30:13, the value of the sanctuary shekel was set at twenty gerahs. This value remained consistent throughout the Old Testament and was used as the basis for determining the worth of other forms of currency.
Today, the shekel continues to be used as the currency of Israel, although its value has changed significantly since ancient times. It serves as a reminder of the rich history and cultural significance of this ancient unit of measure and currency.
Estimating the Precious Metal Content of Old Testament Shekels
The silver shekel was an ancient unit of weight and currency used throughout the ancient Near East, including ancient Israel. Though the exact weight and purity of silver shekels varied over time, archaeological evidence indicates that most contained around 11-12 grams of nearly pure silver.
This is considerably more silver per coin than many modern currencies contain.
For example, the US silver dollar minted between 1878 and 1904 contained 0.77344 troy ounces of silver per coin. At today’s silver prices of around $22 per troy ounce, each of those silver dollars would contain about $17 worth of silver bullion.
In contrast, 11 grams of pure silver at today’s prices would be worth around $20 as bullion.
Thus, the silver content of an average ancient shekel would be worth around 20% more than a late 19th century US silver dollar in terms of precious metal value. However, this does not account for the historic or collectible value of either coin.
The gold shekel was rarer than the silver shekel but was minted at certain times in antiquity. According to historical records, the gold shekel contained roughly 4.5 grams of nearly pure gold during the late First Temple period around 600 BCE.
At today’s gold prices of approximately $1,670 per troy ounce, 4.5 grams of gold would be worth around $90 in bullion value. Compare this to quarter-ounce American Gold Eagle coins, which contain approximately 7.78 grams of 22-karat gold (0.25 troy ounces), worth around $440 at current gold prices.
So the gold content of the First Temple period gold shekels was worth approximately 20% of the value of modern quarter-ounce gold coins. However, like silver shekels, the historic and collectible value of gold shekels can far exceed the bare precious metal value.
Calculating the Modern Dollar Value of Old Testament Shekels
Silver shekel conversion
The silver shekel was a unit of currency used in ancient Israel. According to the Bible, it was used as a standard unit of weight for silver as well as currency (Genesis 23:15-16). Experts estimate the weight of a silver shekel to be around 11-12 grams.
At today’s silver prices, that means that the conversion rate of a silver shekel to dollar is approximately $6-7.
For example, in the book of Exodus, God instructs that a half shekel (around 6 grams of silver) should be donated for a census offering. That amount would be worth around $3-4 today.
When making comparisons between shekel to dollar values, it’s important to remember that inflation and the changing price of silver make any conversions approximate.
Gold shekel conversion
The gold shekel was less common but represented a higher-value currency. According to historical accounts, the gold shekel weighed around 8-10 grams.
With today’s gold prices, that means that when converting gold shekel to dollar it would be worth around $500-700. However, the gold shekel was not frequently used in commerce. It was more prominent in areas like taxation and tribute payments.
For instance, 1 Chronicles 21:25 records that King David paid 600 gold shekels for the land to build an altar. That payment would be equivalent to over $300,000 today!
As with silver, inflation and fluctuating gold prices make determining an exact modern dollar value difficult. But this provides a rough framework for understanding the purchasing power of old shekel currencies.
Examples of Shekel Values in Context
Wages and payments
Understanding the value of shekels in the context of wages and payments can give us a better perspective on the purchasing power of people in ancient times. For example, in the book of Exodus, it is mentioned that a skilled craftsman was paid 50 shekels of silver per year.
To put this into a modern context, we can compare it to the average annual salary of a skilled worker in today’s world. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a skilled worker in the United States is around $50,000.
So, if we convert the 50 shekels of silver to modern dollars, it would be approximately $50,000. This shows that the value of shekels in terms of wages was significant, and skilled workers were well compensated for their expertise.
Fines and penalties
The Old Testament also provides examples of shekel values in the context of fines and penalties. In Leviticus, it is mentioned that if a person steals an ox, they must pay back five oxen in return. If we convert this into shekel values, we can get a better understanding of the severity of the penalty.
According to historical records, the average value of an ox during that time was around 30 shekels of silver. So, if a person stole an ox, they would have to pay back five oxen, which would be equivalent to 150 shekels of silver. In today’s modern dollar value, this would be approximately $5,000.
This example shows that the penalties for theft were quite severe and were meant to deter people from committing such crimes.
Dowries and inheritances
Shekels were also used in the context of dowries and inheritances. In the book of Genesis, it is mentioned that Jacob worked for Laban for seven years to marry his daughter Rachel. As part of the dowry, Laban asked for 100 shekels of silver.
If we convert this to modern dollars, it would be equivalent to around $10,000. This example highlights the significance of shekels in terms of dowries and the value placed on marriage contracts during that time.
Converting Old Testament Shekel To Dollar Amounts – Conclusion
While it’s impossible to provide an exact modern dollar equivalent for biblical shekels, experts have provided well-researched estimates based on precious metal content and historical records. Using these estimates, we can get a general sense of the immense value placed on shekels and other monies in Old Testament times.
This provides useful context for understanding the true significance of monetary values referenced in biblical accounts.