Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. (Exodus 30:13)
A weight with Hebrew description from the First Temple era, dated from the 10th-century BCE to 586 BCE when the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, was found in Jerusalem.
It was discovered in archaeological soil from the foot of Robinson’s Arch at the Western Wall. The soil was taken from the excavation site to the sifting area in the Emek Tzurim National Park for sorting, when the weight was unearthed.
The Beka weight was utilized to examine the half-shekel donation given by Jews for both maintenance of the Temple and as a census, as outlined in the book of Exodus: “One Beka per head; [that is] half a shekel, according to the holy shekel, for each one who goes through the counting, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred three thousand, five hundred and fifty [people].”
The word also appears in the book of Genesis in reference to the weight of gold in a nose ring given to the matriarch Rebecca.
The biblical shekel weighed almost 0.4 ounces.
“When the half-shekel tax was brought to the Temple during the First Temple period, there were no coins, so they used silver ingots. 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,” explained Eli Shukron, who directed the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“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,” he continued.
“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,” added Shukron. “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.”
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, 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.”
The artifact will be on display to the public in Emek Tzurim National Park during Hanukkah, according to the City of David Foundation.