Weights and Measures Calculator

One of the features of Libronix DLS that was completely redesigned for version 3.0 was the weights and measures calculator.

Click on the thumbnail to take a look at an example. This example was taken from Revelation 14:20, where we’re given an image of a horse-high river of blood running 1,600 stadia. Ick, right? But enquiring minds want to know, just how icky are we talking about here? So I click ‘Tools | Bible Data | Weights and Measures’ and enter ‘1,600 stadia’. I could have used ‘stade’, ‘stades’, ‘stadion’, ‘stadioi’ or ‘furlong’ if I wanted. A stade is an eighth of a mile, but the length of a mile in Roman times was different than today’s standard mile. One of the really cool features of the new calculator is that it doesn’t assume it knows which stade length you want, nor does it assume you know that there are two lengths to choose from. Instead, it displays both.

Note the second line of the results: 1.00 stades (Roman) = 0.92 furlongs (modern). (A furlong is another name for an eighth of a mile, the report just happens to call the modern measurement a furlong, though as you can see, it is savvy enough to show furlongs when you ask for stades.) So right away you are informed that the measurement for a stade will be different depending on which stade you are interested in (Roman or modern), even if you didn’t know there was a choice!

Beneath the conversion formula between the related measurements, the report is split into columns, one column for each measurement that 1,600 stadioi might be referring to. From here, it is easy to look up conversions to other measurements of length, such as kilometers or miles. Again, each list shows ‘miles (Roman)’ as distinct from the modern standard ‘mile’. 1,600 Roman Stadioi equals 200 Roman miles, but only 183.93 modern standard miles.

Take a look at the next example. Here I entered 1 shekel, but a shekel can be a measurement of weight or of money. And when it is money, it might be gold or silver. (The modern Israeli shekel is not listed here, though that would have been an interesting addition to this table.) Note how two different charts of two different colors make it easy to separate out the different kinds of shekels. Again, you didn’t need to know that there are three different things a shekel could refer to in order to see the conversion charts.

Trying to fathom (pun intended) modern equivalents to ancient measurements is always a bit difficult, and exact precision often eludes us. But with Logos Bible Software, getting to reasonable estimates just got easier than ever.

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4 Responses to “Weights and Measures Calculator”

  1. Mitch Davis August 10, 2006 at 6:10 pm #

    I have always liked this feature…before it went south for a bit… but has come back handy as ever. Great job, Logos.

  2. Tom Reynolds August 10, 2006 at 9:04 pm #

    I have three comments regarding your post.
    1. I don’t see how translating 1600 stadia into 183.93 modern miles helps us to understand Revelation. Surely this must be viewed as part of apocryphal literature rather than a literal 183.93 miles. In other words I would want to understand what is significant about “1600″ stadia.
    2. I am more than a little confused about the value of a shekel. The value ranges hundreds or thousands of “dollars” in the various currencies. (Based on the current price of silver and gold?).
    3. “1 shekels”? I can only assume you have programmed the plural to appear regardless of what quantity is entered.

  3. Vincent Setterholm August 10, 2006 at 10:43 pm #

    Hi, Tom. Thanks for the questions; I’ll reply in order.
    1) The example was chosen to introduce a feature of the software, rather than to provide this Sunday’s sermon outline. However, a number of points can be made here. Part of the process of exegesis is trying to bridge the gap between the modern culture of the exegete and his audience and the culture of the original author and recipients of scripture. Even if the number is symbolic, and therefore the ‘1600’ matters more than the fact that it is 1600 stades specifically, the ancient hearers of Revelation would have a rather accurate image in their mind of how long 1600 stades are. That image would inform their response to the passage. It isn’t 1600 miles or 1600 cubits – those would create somewhat different images. Is this going to change your doctrine? Probably not, but it still helps bridge the cultural gap. But have you ever drawn a circle with a 1600 stade radius around Jerusalem just to see if it lines up with another significant landmark that might be alluded to? I haven’t either, but you’d need to know how long 1600 stades were just to see if it was more than pure symbolism!
    2) I detect two questions here. A) Sometimes the best you can do is to provide a range, and doing anything else is misleading. The values of currencies are hard to nail down in the ancient world. One city might use a different ratio of tin to silver than another, or mint a coin of a slightly different size/weight, or the market might be flooded with extra coinage in a particular year, just like we experience inflation today. B) Using the current value of gold or silver would only tell you what a shekel would be worth today, melted down – not a very good measurement. Better, though not perfect, is to compare what a menial laborer was paid back in the day with what we pay for menial labor now. This is a fairly common system of calculation (because it is easy), and what I think was used here. Of course, wages are only one measurement of the buying power of a coin. In a perfect world, you’d compare the buying power across a lot of commodities, like a loaf of bread or a measure of olive oil, and then aggregate the results. If I ever run across a journal or encyclopedia article that does that, I’ll look into revising our calculations based on it. We just don’t have that kind of detail yet.
    3) Correct. I’ve already put cleaning this up on the list of improvements to make for the next incarnation of this tool.

  4. Nathan Parker September 9, 2006 at 2:29 pm #

    I love this tool. It’s a speedy as spotlight on my Mac, & ever so smart. The new visual enchancements are beautiful! I used to have to hop around to all of my differented printed Bibles that had these charts to find them, now I have it all up-to-date in one place. Incredible!