November 22, 2018
'Beka' counting weight for census with ancient Hebrew script.
During the sifting of archaeological soil taking place in the Emek Tzurim National Park, under the auspices of the Ir David Foundation, a particularly surprising artifact was found: a tiny stone weight engraved with ancient Hebrew letters spelling Beka.
The weight, dated to the First Temple period, was found in archaeological soil originating from the Western Wall foundations, north of the City of David, at the foot of Robinson's Arch. The soil was transferred from the excavation area to the sifting site in the Emek Tzurim National Park for careful sorting and during the sifting process the weight was uncovered.
The Beka weight was used to weigh the half-shekel donation brought by the Jewish people for the maintenance of the Temple and the census, and it is mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 38, Verse 26:
"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]."
Archaeologist Eli Shukron, who directed the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, explains that "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. The Beka was equivalent to the half-shekel, which every person from the age of twenty years and up was required to bring to the Temple." It should be noted that the biblical shekel weighed 11.33 grams.
According to Shukron, "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. 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. The Bible, the artifact found close to Solomon's Temple, north of the City of David, the Temple foundations — everything is connected."
"This three thousand-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", said Doron Spielman, Vice President of the City of David Foundation, "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 Nation's vote, but rather, rests upon a foundation that began more than three millennia ago. Every single day, archeologists in the City of David are uncovering our past and preserving our future."
The artifact will be on display to the general public during Hanukkah in Emek Tzurim National Park.
Special archaeological finding in the City of David
The sifting project in Emek Tzurim National Park, under the auspices of the Ir David Foundation, together with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, is a large-scale archaeological project that offers the public an opportunity to have an archaeological experience without the need for prior knowledge. The project, earning the name "The Archaeological Experience," is closely guided by archaeologists and allows participants to become an "archaeologists for a day" when they sift through the soil and find treasures from the past. Among the artifacts discovered so far in this project: King Hezekiah's seal, coins from various periods of Jerusalem, arrowheads, jewelry and more.