Question from a Site Viewer
If the silver shekel is about .5 ounces of silver, then how do you get the value of $12,000 to &$15,000 by today’s value when an ounce of silver today is about $40 per ounce? Shouldn’t the price of 30 pieces of silver be around $500 to $600 by today’s price?
Thank you for your question about the valuation of a shekel. You question how can we value 30 shekels at $12,000 to $15,000 in today’s value when the shekel only weighed approximately 0.5 ounces and silver prices today are around $40 per ounce. This would yield a value of approximately $600 at today’s price of silver.
There is always difficulty in trying to bring the values of the ancient world into today’s terms. The relative value of goods and services today are entirely different than the relative value of goods and services of past times. For purposes of the valuation of the 30 shekels, I used the simple equivalent of the number of days of wages such would represent. A working person in biblical times could earn 30 shekels in about 4 months. Thus, if we want to figure what the value of 30 shekels would be to a person in biblical times, we would note that it was far more valuable to that person than what $600 would be to us today. Today, a working person would earn approximately $12,000 to $15,000 during that same period. I believe this is an appropriate way of looking at the relative value of the shekels.
However, I acknowledge that it is not the only way of viewing the value. We could value a shekel in terms of what food it would have bought in biblical times and what food it would buy today. If we do that, we may find that the value is more closely aligned with the present value of silver. But this is largely due to the fact that in the past 150 years the relative price of food has dramatically declined in the West and to a lesser extent in the world at large.
We could value the shekel in terms of shelter. The good Samaritan gave the inn keeper two denarii (equivalent of 1/2 of a shekel) to care for the injured traveler (Luke 10:35). This would make the two denarii worth $10 at today’s silver prices. But $10 today would not buy you even a room in the cheapest of inns, let alone care. Rather, those two denarii represented far more value, essentially two days of wages in the ancient world.
By tying equivalent prices to equivalent wages, we help to represent what the coinage meant to those who labored for such coins. Thus, I believe there is value in using relative earnings to show relative worth. I note that we have the same situation in the world today. Here in America, our average wages are much different than those in other parts of the world. Thus, $20 to us in America may mean relatively little and it may mean a great deal to someone who earns only a $1 a day at hard work. The equivalent of 30 pieces of silver to someone in poor parts of the world would not be $12,000 to $15,000, but may be as low as $120, or perhaps lower.
As stated in the article, the point of the passages dealing with the 30 pieces of silver is that the shekels were used to purchase a field and they were the precise amount previously prophesied. I doubt if there is any field today in America could be purchased with $600, and especially one in an urban environment. Purchasing a field for $12,000 or $15,000 would also be unlikely, given that many single lots cost multiples of these amounts. The point of the story is not the valuation, but the fact that biblical prophecy was being fulfilled. But we should not lose sight of the fact that 30 pieces of silver in biblical times represented far more than what $600 represents for us today.
I trust this will help. May you grow in your love for God and for humans, being enriched by a personal relationship with Jesus, and led by the Holy Spirit into being a blessing to those around you.