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Shekel ( ), also rendered sheqel, refers to one of many ancient units of weight and currency. The first known usage is from Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. One explanation is given for the origination of this word as to have originally applied to a specific mass of barley, and the first syllable of the word, 'she' was Akkadian for barley . A shekel was originally 180 grains (about 11 grams, or .35 troy ounces).

History and current use

The earliest shekels were not money, but were a unit of weight, used as other units of weight such as grams and troy ounces for trading before the advent of coins. Early coins were money stamped with an official seal to certify their weight. Coins were invented by the early Anatolian traders who stamped their own marks so that they would not have to weigh it again each time it was used. Silver ingots, some with markings on them were issued. Later the stamping was taken over by official authorities who designed the coins. (Detroit Institute of Arts, 1964) Herodotus states that the first coinage was issued by Croesus, King of Lydia, spreading to the golden Daric (worth 20 sigloi or shekel), issued by the Persian Empire and the Silver Athenian obol and drachma.

The plural can be shekels, sheqels or sheqalim ( ). In some regions of the United Statesmarker, the term is used informally for "money," particularly in situations where value is an important consideration.

It most commonly refers to an ancient Hebrew unit of weight. As with many ancient units, the shekel represented a variety of values depending on date, domain and region. Sources quote weights between 9 and 17 grams and values of 11, 14, and 17 grams are common. It can be a gold or silver coin equal in weight to one of these units, especially the chief silver coin of the Hebrews.

The shekel was commonly used among other western Semitic peoples as well. Moabites, Edomites and Phoeniciansmarker all used the shekel, the latter as coinage as well as for a unit of weight. Punic coinage was based on the shekel, a heritage from their Canaanite ancestors.The Aramaic spelling tekel appears with a symbolic meaning in the writing on the wall during the feast of Belshazzar, according to the Book of Daniel.

Silver Tyrianmarker shekels are thought to be the infamous "30 pieces of silver" in the New Testament.

Since 1980, the shekel has been the currency of the modern state of Israelmarker, first the Israeli shekel, then (since 1985) the Israeli new shekel.

In fiction

The shekel is also a unit of measurement in New Crobuzon, the setting of China MiƩville's Bas-Lag series, and the nickname of one of the main characters in The Scar.


  • Detroit Institute of Arts, 1964 Coins of the Ancient World

See also

External links


  1. Tenney, Merril ed., The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 5, "Weights and Measures," Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976.

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