The basic Hebrew unit of weight (1 Sam. 17:5, 7; Ezek. 4:10; Amos 8:5) and of monetary value. Based on the average of some forty-five inscribed shekel weights, the shekel may be reckoned at .367 troy ounce (11.4 grams). One shekel equaled twenty gerahs (Num. 3:47; 18:16), and there is evidence that fifty shekels equaled one mina. (See MINA.) Calculated in modern values, a shekel of silver would be worth $.475, and a shekel of gold, $12.89.
The shekel is often referred to in connection with silver or gold. (1 Chron. 21:25; Neh. 5:15) Before coins were used, pieces of silver (and, less frequently, gold) were used for money, the weight being checked at the time the transaction was made. (Gen. 23:15, 16; Josh. 7:21) Things pertaining to the tabernacle were sometimes stated in terms of shekels “by the shekel of the holy place.” (Ex. 30:13; Lev. 5:15; 27:2-7, 25) This may have been to emphasize that the weight should be precise or, perhaps, that it should conform to a standard weight kept at the tabernacle.
It is generally thought that the “silver pieces” often mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures were silver shekels, the standard monetary unit. (Judg. 16:5; 1 Ki. 10:29; Hos. 3:2) This is borne out by the Septuagint (“silver pieces” at Genesis 20:16 being rendered by the same Greek word used to translate “shekels” at Genesis 23:15, 16) and by the Targums. According to Jeremiah 32:9, the prophet paid “seven shekels and ten silver pieces” for a field. Perhaps this was simply a legal formula meaning seventeen silver shekels (AS, Da, NE [1970 ed.], RS) or, possibly, it meant seven gold shekels and ten silver shekels.
Second Samuel 14:26 may indicate that there was a “royal” shekel different from the common shekel, or the reference may be to a standard weight kept at the royal palace.