Just Weights and Measures

December 23, 2013

Our last couple of posts have illustrated some texts from Deuteronomy. Yet another text we want to consider is found in Deuteronomy 25:13-15:

13 You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15 A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

The Israel Museum has a set of scales on display that would be illustrative of this text.

Set of ancient scales. Israel Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Set of ancient scales. Israel Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

There are also some examples of standard weights.

Standard weights in biblical times. Israel Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Standard weights in biblical times. Israel Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

At left is the beqa, at center is the pym (pim), and at right is the nezif. Of special interest to Old Testament studies is the “pim,” the Hebrew word occurring only in 1 Sam. 13:21: “and the charge for a sharpening was a pim for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to set the points of the goads” (NKJV). This is speaking of the days of King Saul when the Philistines had a monopoly on the blacksmith industry. Others translations render, “They charged two-thirds of a shekel to sharpen plowshares and cutting instruments, and a third of a shekel to sharpen picks and axes, and to set ox goads” (NET).

The NET BIBLE has this textual note:

This word, which appears only here in the OT, probably refers to a stone weight. Stones marked pim have been found in excavations of Palestinian sites. The average weight of such stones is 0.268 ounces, which is equivalent to about two-thirds of a shekel. This probably refers to the price charged by the Philistines for the services listed. See P. K. McCarter, I Samuel (AB), 238; DNWSI 2:910; and G. I. Davies, Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions, 259.

As illustrated above, the pim, the standard would be on one side of the scales. The customer would put an equal weight of silver on the other side (this was before coinage).

Consider some related passages (NKJV).

Leviticus 19:36 You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

Proverbs 11:1 Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight.

Proverbs 16:11 Honest weights and scales are the LORD’s; All the weights in the bag are His work.

Proverbs 20:10 Diverse weights and diverse measures, They are both alike, an abomination to the LORD.

Proverbs 20:23 Diverse weights are an abomination to the LORD, And dishonest scales are not good.

Ezekiel 45:10 You shall have honest scales, an honest ephah, and an honest bath.

Micah 6:11 Shall I count pure those with the wicked scales, And with the bag of deceitful weights?

We made a previous posts regarding scales to illustrate Daniel 5 here.

Click on images for larger view.

 

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Gleanings for the Poor

December 20, 2013

Mosaic legislation provided for meeting the needs of the poor among Israel:

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this (Deuteronomy 24:19-22, ESV).

One instance of the application of these provisions of gleaning after the harvest being left for the poor is found in the book of Ruth (see esp. ch. 2). This text also forms the backdrop for the rhetorical question of Obadiah 1:5 (context: complete destruction of Edom; no “gleaning” to be left.”

I’m also interest in the inclusion of the olive tree in the Deuteronomy text. Olives were a staple in biblical times. Olive trees are plentiful in Israel today, requiring little water, and can be grown on almost any terrain (including land too steep for farming). Again, the Deuteronomy legislation required that the owners left whatever remained after harvest for the poor of the land.

On a recent trip to Israel we spent one day visiting sites in the West Bank (PA), including Shechem. While there we saw some folks (a family?) gathering olives. The work is largely done by hand.

Gathering  Olives at Shechem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Gathering Olives at Shechem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Behind these folks, but out of sight, is Mt. Gerizim.

Here is a close-up. It looks like they have a tarp of some kind to catch the olives.

Gathering Olives at Shechem, close-up. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Gathering Olives at Shechem, close-up. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

I think they were looking to see who that was taking their photo, you think?

Click on images for larger view.


Build a Parapet on Your Roof

December 7, 2013

Reading recently in Deuteronomy I came across the following text: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it” (22:8, ESV). The NET renders, “guard rail.”

It  would be difficult to understand the meaning of that passage if we only read through 21st century eyes. The roof on my house is steep. It is much too steep for me to consider walking on it, or anybody else for that matter, except for roofers or repair men. There is no need for me to put a guard rail around my roof.

But roofs in biblical times were generally different (both Old and New Testament), being flat, and serving as a sort of “patio” or additional room. This is illustrated by the reconstructed two-story Talmudic house at Katzrin in the Golan:

Housetop at Katzrin in the Golan. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Housetop at Katzrin in the Golan. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

It is not hard to visualize how several people might be on a housetop such as this. I might note that the above photo does not have a guard rail around the housetop, but does illustrate the need for one and the practical nature of the command in the Deuteronomy text.

Understanding this can make several biblical texts come alive:

Proverbs 21:9 It is better to live on a corner of the housetop than in a house in company with a quarrelsome wife.

Looking ahead to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus said, “Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house” (Matt. 24:17).

Acts 10:9: “On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.” Context: Men from Cornelius of Caesarea sent down the coast to Joppa where Peter was residing, to ask him to come to Caesarea to preach the Gospel there.

Click image for larger view.

We have previously posted on Katzrin here.