Thursday, June 30, 2016

How Much Did Abraham Pay Ephron for the Field and Cave at Machpelah?

Monetary equivalencies are quite challenging, because we need to take into account the difference in purchasing power of gold and silver, which are frequent monetary units.  I use some equivalency standards to get ballpark ideas.

Example 1: Ephron's field. Abraham paid Ephron 400 shekels of silver for the field and cave at Machpelah. What is the equivalent? Note first that we must avoid using the metal evaluation method: 1 shekel of silver was 224 grains or 0.512 ounces. As I write this, silver is selling for $18.50 per ounce. That makes a shekel worth $9.47, and the cave and field selling for $3030. Pretty preposterous, huh?

Now, let's take the labor equivalency standard. A shekel was worth 4 denarii. A day's labor paid 1 denarius. A laborer today might make $10 an hour. For a day's work, 8 hours, that's $80. Therefore, a shekel would have had $320 worth of purchasing power. The field, at 400 shekels, then sold for the equivalent of $128,000, a very possible amount.

Another method I use is the bread equivalency standard. In the eighteenth century in England, a servant, paid well, might earn 30 pounds a year. A pound this morning is going for $1.32 US. That would mean that a servant was paid only $396 a year. But wait. In, say, 1750 a loaf of bread sold for a penny. In that era, there were 240 pennies to the pound, making 7200 pennies in a 30-pound salary. An inexpensive loaf of bread today sells for $2.50, making a salary equivalent of $18,000. (And remember that servants had housing and meals as part of their compensation.)

So, what does that make a marriage settlement of 10,000 pounds a year in those days among the upper classes? 10,000 times 240 times 2.50 is 6,000,000. Six million dollars a year would put the couple on a budget, but is they shopped carefully, they could make it.

I'm sure there are other equivalences that might shed light on purchasing power for a given income in the old days. I remember in my twenties I could fill a grocery bag for $3.50. Now it takes $20 or $30.

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