Stone cold sting: Ancient Jerusalem weight points to a 2,700-year-old hustle

Ancient ‘two-gerah’ stone dug up near Old City found to weigh over three times the amount inscribed on its surface; archaeologists assess it was used to cheat in trading

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An ancient stone weight, marked as being two-gerah that was discovered near the Old City of Jerusalem. (Eliyahu Yanai, City of David)
An ancient stone weight, marked as being two-gerah that was discovered near the Old City of Jerusalem. (Eliyahu Yanai, City of David)

An ancient stone weight dug up in Jerusalem has been found to be far heavier than the amount written on its surface, leading archaeologists to assume it was used to cheat in trading, the City of David Ancient Jerusalem site said in a statement on Thursday.

The 2,700-year-old artifact was found in the main drainage channel of ancient Jerusalem at the foundations of the Western Wall, located in the Emek Zurim Valley National Park, at the northern section of the City of David. The statement did not say when the stone was found.

Just 14 millimeters (.55 inches) in diameter and 12 millimeters (.47 inches) high, it is made of a “hard, smooth, well-polished reddish limestone,” the statement said. “It is a very rare find and is the second weight of this kind found in archaeological excavations throughout Israel.”

The upper part of the stone is marked with two thick parallel lines that are deeply engraved in its surface, indicating a weight of two gerah, a biblical weight of about 0.944 grams (0.033 ounces). But when researchers put it on a scale, they discovered its real weight was 3.61 grams (0.127 ounces), over three times as much.

Archaeologist Eli Shukron, who conducted the excavation, and Hagai Cohen-Klonimus from the Hebrew University who helped examine the stone, concluded it was used for fraudulent trading.

“The Bible indicates that the problem of weight deception is nothing new,” the researchers said. “Merchants cheated and held separate heavy and lightweight systems and used them when buying or selling,”

The practice of cheating with weights is criticized in several places in the Bible, including in the book of Deuteronomy which warns that “the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.”

The gerah is one of the smallest weights that was used in the Kingdom of Judah at the end of the First Temple Period, the statement noted. It is defined in the book of Exodus 30:13, which explains that a shekel is “twenty gerahs — half a shekel for an offering to the Lord.”

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