How Heavy Was a Talent in the Bible?

A talent weight was an ancient measuring unit for gold and silver

Ancient Talent Weight
Ancient Talent Weight.

Library of Congress / Public Domain 

A talent weight was an ancient unit for measuring value in Greece, Rome, and the Middle East. In the Old Testament, a talent was a unit of measurement for weighing precious metals, usually gold and silver. In the New Testament, a talent was a value of money or coin.

The Meaning of 'Talent'

The Hebrew term for "talent" was kikkār, a flat, round gold or silver disk, or circular-shaped loaf. In the Greek language, the word comes from tálanton, a large monetary measurement equal to 6,000 drachmas or denarii, the Greek and Roman silver coins.

Units of measurement in ancient times were based, for the most part, on practical standards. For example, the length of an arm equaled one day’s journey. Of course, this type of system suffered from a lack of standardization. One person’s arm was longer than another. So, as history progressed, people sought more precise standards for weights and measurements. Such precision was not achieved in the Old Testament, but began to take better shape under the Greek and Roman influences in New Testament times.

The talent was first mentioned in the book of Exodus within the inventory of materials used for the construction of the tabernacle:

"All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents ..." (Exodus 38:24, ESV)

How Heavy Was a Talent?

The talent was the heaviest or largest biblical unit of measurement for weight, equal to about 75 pounds or 35 kilograms. Now, imagine the opulence of this enemy king's crown when it was placed on King David's head:

"David took the crown from their king's head, and it was placed on his own head. It weighed a talent of gold, and it was set with precious stones." (2 Samuel 12:30, NIV)

In the book of Revelation 16:21, we read that "great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent" (NKJV). We get a better picture of the crushing fierceness of God's wrath when we realize these hailstones weighed about 75 pounds: "There was a terrible hailstorm, and hailstones weighing as much as seventy-five pounds fell from the sky onto the people below" (NLT). Some modern Bible scholars equate the talent with 100 pounds rather than 75, calling the talent a hundredweight. In the English Standard Version, for example, Revelation 16:21 reads: "And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people."

The Talent of Money

In the New Testament, the term "talent" meant something very different than it does today. The talents Jesus Christ spoke of in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) and the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) referred to the largest unit of currency at the time. For example, the ten thousand talents owed by the unforgiving servant would come to at least 204 metric tons of silver, reflecting an astronomical sum of 60 million denarii.

Thus, a talent represented a rather large sum of money. According to New Nave's Topical Bible, one who possessed five talents of gold or silver was a multimillionaire by today's standards. Some calculate the talent in the parables to be equivalent to 20 years of wages for the common worker. Other scholars estimate more conservatively, valuing the New Testament talent somewhere between $1,000 to $30,000 dollars today.

Needless to say (but let's say it anyway), knowing the actual meaning, weight, and value of a term like talent can help give context, deeper understanding, and better perspective when studying the Scriptures.

Dividing the Talent

Other smaller weight measurements in Scripture are the mina, shekel, pim, beka, and gerah.

One talent equaled about 60 minas or 3,000 shekels. A mina weighed approximately 1.25 pounds or .6 kilograms, and a shekel weighed about .4 ounces or 11 grams. The shekel was the most common standard used among the Hebrew people for both weight and value. The term shekel meant simply "weight." In New Testament times, a shekel was a silver coin weighing one shekel.

The mina equaled about 50 shekels, whereas the beka was exactly one-half a shekel. The pim was about two-thirds of a shekel, and a gerah was one-twentieth of a shekel:

Dividing the Talent
Measure U.S./British Metric
Talent = 60 minas 75 pounds 35 kilograms
Mina = 50 shekels 1.25 pounds .6 kilograms
Shekel = 2 bekas .4 ounces 11.3 grams
Pim = .66 shekel .33 ounces 9.4 grams
Beka = 10 gerahs .2 ounces 5.7 grams
Gerah .02 ounces .6 grams