1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Shekel

SHEKEL (from Heb. shakal, to weigh), originally a Jewish unit of weight (150 of a mina, and 13000 of a talent) and afterwards a coin of the same weight. The Biblical references to shekels must refer to uncoined ingots. In the time of Josephus it seems that the light shekel weighed from 210 to 210.55 grains; the heavy shekel was twice that amount, which is practically identical with the Phoenician weight (224.4 grains). It corresponds to 1s. 412d. and 2s. 9d. respectively in English silver. Jewish shekels were first coined by Simon the Hasmonean, probably in 139-138 B.C. These bear inscriptions in the archaic Hebrew and various emblems, such as the cup or chalice, the lily branch with three flowers, the candlestick, the citron and palm branch and so forth. They never bear the portraits of rulers or figures of animals. A later series of shekels, belonging to the Roman period, are tetradrachms, "which came from the mints of Caesarea and Antioch, and were used as blanks on which to impress Jewish types." Hence in Matt. xvi. 24 the temple tax of half a shekel is called a didrachm (2 drams). In 2 Samuel xiv. 26 we read of "shekels after the King's weight." The royal norm was heavier than the common norm. The Hebrews divided the shekel into 20 parts, each of which was called a gerah. (See also Numismatics.)

See articles in Encly. Bibl. col. 4442, and Hastings' Dict. of the Bible, ii. 417 seq.; F. W. Madden, Coins of the Jews (1881); T. Reinach, Jewish Coins (1903).

(I. A.)