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A greeting from temple times: during an archaeological dirt screening taking place in the Emek Tzurim National Park sponsored by the City of David Association, a particularly surprising finding was uncovered: a tiny stone weight bearing the engraved letters Bet, Kuf and Ayin.
The weight, which dates back to the days of the First Temple, was found in archaeological soil originating from the foundations of the Western Wall – north of the City of David, at the foot of Robinson’s Arch. The dirt was moved from the excavation site to the screening site at the Emek Tzurim National Park for careful sorting. The weight was discovered during the screening.
The Beka weight was used as a measure of weight against which a contribution of half the shekel was given by the people of Israel for the maintenance of the temple and for census purposes, and it is mentioned in the Bible in the book of Exodus, chapter 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 Shukrun, who managed the excavation on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, explains that “when they brought the half shekel tax to the temple during the First Temple period, there were no coins, so they used silver coins. To determine the weight of the silver coins, they put them on the scales, and they placed the beka weight on the other side, the latter being equivalent to half a shekel – which every person of twenty years of age and older is required to bring to the temple.”
According to Shukrun, “Beka weights from the days of the First Temple are a rare find, but this weight is even rarer because the inscription on it is written in mirrored script, and the letters are engraved from left to right instead of right to left. We can conclude from this that the craftsman who engraved the inscription on the weight specialized in writing seals because seals were always written in reflective script so that after stamping them, the script would appear as regular (non-mirrored) script.”
According to him, “it is apparent that the craftsman making the seals got confused when he mistakenly engraved the inscription on the weights in mirror script, as was usual, and from this mistake we can learn about the rule: the craftsmen who engraved weights in the days of the First Temple were the same craftsmen who specialized in making seals. The Bible, the find, the proximity to Solomon’s Temple, north of the City of David, the foundations of the Western Wall – everything connects.”
The finding will be presented to the general public during the upcoming Hanukkah holiday at Emek Tzurim National Park.
The screening project taking place in the Emek Tzurim National Park sponsored the City of David Association is a large-scale archaeological project that offers an opportunity to the general public to experience archaeological activity without the need for prior knowledge.
The activity, named “The Archaeological Experience”, takes place with the close accompaniment of archaeologists, and as part of it, the participants become “archaeologists for a day” when they sift through the dirt and find treasures from the past. Among the findings discovered as part of the project so far: the impression of the seal of King Hezekiah, coins from different periods of Jerusalem, arrowheads, jewelry and more.