'Half-shekel' from First Temple era unearthed near City of David

The half-shekel weight will be presented to the general public on Hanukka in Emek Tzurim National Park.

November 21, 2018 10:59
2 minute read.

Archaeologist Eli Shukron describes the "half-shekel" weight from the First Temple period discovered in the Emek Tzurim sifting project in Jerusalem.

Archaeologist Eli Shukron describes the "half-shekel" weight from the First Temple period discovered in the Emek Tzurim sifting project in Jerusalem.


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A rare and unusual find was unearthed north of the City of David in Jerusalem – a tiny stone “half-shekel” weight that dates back to the First Temple period.

According to the City of David Foundation, the weight was found during the sifting of soil in the Emek Tzurim National Park under the auspices of the foundation and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. It was found in soil originating from the foot of Robinson’s Arch at the Western Wall, just north of the City of David.

The weight, which has the word “beka” written on it in ancient Hebrew script, has been known to be used as a half-shekel donation that each person from the age of 20 years was required to bring as a census and for the maintenance of the Holy Temple.

The procedure is described in Exodus 38:26: “One beka per head; [that is,] half a shekel, according to the holy shekel, for each one who goes through the counting, from 20 years old and upward, for 603,550 [people].”

The half-shekel weight will be presented to the general public on Hanukkah in Emek Tzurim National Park.

“When the half-shekel tax was brought to the Temple during the First Temple period, there were no coins, so they used silver ingots,” explained archaeologist Eli Shukron, who conducted the excavations on behalf of the Antiquities Authority. “In order to calculate the weight of these silver pieces, they would put them on one side of the scales and on the other side they placed the beka weight. The beka was equivalent to the half-shekel, which every person from the age of 20 years and up was required to bring to the Temple.”

“Beka weights from the First Temple period are rare; however, this weight is even rarer, because the inscription on it is written in mirror script, and the letters are engraved from left to right instead of right to left,” Shukron added. “It can therefore be concluded that the artist who engraved the inscription on the weight specialized in engraving seals, since seals were always written in mirror script so that once stamped, the inscription would appear in regular legible script. Apparently, the seal craftsman got confused when he engraved the inscription on the weight and mistakenly used mirror script as he was used to doing. From this mistake, we can learn about the general rule: The artists who engraved weights during the First Temple period were the same artists who specialized in creating seals.”

Doron Spielman, vice president of the City of David Foundation said, “This 3,000-year-old beka weight, inscribed with ancient Hebrew, was likely used in the First Temple, and is anchoring once again the deep historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.

“It is a reminder from our ancestors in First Temple times telling us that the State of Israel of today does not rest only on a 70-year-old United Nations vote, but, rather, rests upon a foundation that began more than three millennia ago. Every single day, archaeologists in the City of David are uncovering our past and preserving our future.”

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