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Differing weights and measures

Differing weights and measures September 6, 2021

“Differing weights and differing measures,” the book of Proverbs says, “are abominable to the Lord.”

Many of the Hebrew prophets, likewise, rail against fraudulent merchants and magistrates who use “differing weights and measures.” This applied to con-artists who kept dishonest scales and weights — some heavier than indicated, some lighter — to create a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose scenario allowing them to swindle their customers and trading partners. And it applied to judges, kings, and other public officials who applied different standards to different people, showing favoritism to their friends and cruelly punishing the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the outcast.

This repeated biblical emphasis — from Proverbs, the laws of Moses, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, and Micah, among others — is usually recognized by Christian teaching as a general principle of fairness and equality. Thus, for example, the mainstream of traditional Christian teaching would see the Fifteenth Amendment of the US Constitution — “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State” — as congruent with the biblical principle of fair and standard “weights and measures.” The white Christian nationalist support for Jim Crow apartheid, voter suppression, and placing onerous roadblocks before and onerous scrutiny upon the votes of non-white citizens is defiantly at odds with both traditional Christian and traditional Jewish teaching on this point.

Support for such judges is, in white evangelical parlance, “unbiblical.” Support for anti-15th-Amendment judges like Roberts, Alito, Kavanaugh, not-Garland, Thomas, and Barrett is, according to Proverbs and Moses and the prophets, an abomination unto the Lord. It is incompatible with, and impossible to reconcile with, anything that might be called “Judeo-Christian” morality.

And such enthusiastic support for differing weights and differing measures cannot be excused by appeals to those judges’ avowed opposition to Satanic baby-killers. Bearing false witness on a massive scale does not mitigate the evil, it compounds it.

Most of those Bible verses condemning “differing weights and differing measures” explicitly used this as a single ugly example of the more general abomination of predatory injustice. The idea is not just “do not do the exact specific thing that sleazily dishonest merchants do” but, more generally, “don’t in any way be like those sleazily dishonest merchants.”

The specific example of literal “differing weights and measures” gets singled out because it’s so egregiously fraudulent and also because it was apparently dismayingly common in the ancient world.

Archaeologists just confirmed more evidence of this, as Stuart Winer reports for the Times of Israel,Stone cold sting: Ancient Jerusalem weight points to a 2,700-year-old hustle“:

An ancient stone weight dug up in Jerusalem has been found to be far heavier than the amount written on its surface, leading archaeologists to assume it was used to cheat in trading, the City of David Ancient Jerusalem site said in a statement on Thursday.

The 2,700-year-old artifact was found in the main drainage channel of ancient Jerusalem at the foundations of the Western Wall, located in the Emek Zurim Valley National Park, at the northern section of the City of David. The statement did not say when the stone was found.

… The upper part of the stone is marked with two thick parallel lines that are deeply engraved in its surface, indicating a weight of two gerah, a biblical weight of about 0.944 grams (0.033 ounces). But when researchers put it on a scale, they discovered its real weight was 3.61 grams (0.127 ounces), over three times as much.

Archaeologist Eli Shukron, who conducted the excavation, and Hagai Cohen-Klonimus from the Hebrew University who helped examine the stone, concluded it was used for fraudulent trading.

… The practice of cheating with weights is criticized in several places in the Bible, including in the book of Deuteronomy which warns that “the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.”

That’s harsh language: “God detests.”

If you believe in this God of Moses and the prophets, then it’s probably best to avoid God’s ire by not using differing weights and measures — not sneaking around with a too-heavy gerah and a too-light one, not gerrymandering away the votes of your neighbors, and not treating property deeds in Sheikh Jarrah differently based on who holds them. “God detests anyone who does these things.”

And God is not the only one watching and rightfully regarding such dishonest dealing as an abomination.


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