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Convert volumes of liquid or dry products measured in Ephah's into modern units

Julian Spriggs M.A.

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A variety of different measures were used in Israel for measuring volumes of liquids or dry products. These could describe both the measure of capacity, as well as the container for carrying the product. It is not always clear whether the measure was used for units of liquid, for dry products, or for both. The measures of volume used in the OT are listed below, from the largest to the smallest.

The Homer

The homer is only mentioned in the OT in connection with the measurement of barley and wheat (Lev 27:16, Ezek 45;13, Hos 3:2), so appears only to be used for dry products. "If a person consecrates to the LORD any inherited landholding, its assessment shall be in accordance with its seed requirements: fifty shekels of silver to a homer of barley seed" (Lev 27:16).

The Kor or Cor

The kor appears to be the same volume as a homer. In the OT it is used as a measure of flour, wheat, oil, and barley (1 Kg 4:22, 5:11, 2 Chr 2:10, 27:5), both liquid and dry products. "The ammonites gave him (Jotham) that year 100 talents of silver, 10,000 cors of wheat and 10,000 of barley" (2 Chr 5:11)

The Lethech

The lethech is only mentioned in the Book of Hosea, when Hosea buys his wife back for 15 shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. It appears that a lethech was half a homer, but this is not certain.

The Ephah

The ephah is the most frequently mentioned measure of volume in the OT. It was equal to the bath, and was one-tenth of a homer. It was used to measure flour, barley, and roasted grain (1 Sam 1:24, Ruth 2:17, 1 Sam 17:17), which are all dry measures. "So she (Ruth) gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley" (Ruth 2:17). An ephah was also used to describe the container holding an ephah's worth of the product. From the LXX and in Jewish writings an ephah appears to be three seahs.

The Bath

The bath was the same size as an ephah, but was only used as a liquid measure. It also described the container of that size. In the OT, it is used to measure oil, water and wine (1 Kg 7:26, 2 Chr 2:10, Ezra 7:22, Ezek 45:14). Solomon's agreement with Hiram of Tyre ... "I will provide for your servants, those who cut the timber, 20,000 cors of barley, 20,000 cors of crushed wheat, 20,000 baths of wine, and 20,000 baths of oil" (2 Chr 2:10).

The Seah (translated 'measure')

The seah was used in the OT to measure fine meal, barley and roasted grain (Gen 18:6, 1 Sam 25:18, 2 Kg 7:1,16,18), which are all dry products. In other writings is is also used to measure liquids. In the LXX and in English translations the word 'measure' is used. "Elisha said, '... Tomorrow about this time a measure (seah) of choice meal shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures (seahs) of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria'." (2 Kg 7:1). It is thought to be one third of an ephah.

The Hin

In the OT, the hin is only used in texts commanding the correct amount of liquid to be used in sacrifices and rituals. It was used to measure olive oil and wine (Ex 29:40, 30:24). "One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening; and with the first lamb one-tenth of a measure of choice flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering" (Ex 29:40).

The Omer

The omer is only used in the OT to describe the quantity of the manna provided for one person each day (Ex 16:16,18,22,32). It is defined as one tenth of an ephah (16:36). In other places in the OT the words 'tenth of an ephah' are regularly used, suggesting that it fell out of use.

The Issaron

The issaron is used over thirty times in the Pentateuch as a measure of flour (Lev 14:10,21, Num 15:4,6,9). The root of the word is 'ten', so it was also a tenth of an ephah, equal to an omer.

The Kab

The kab is only used once in the OT, when during a famine in Samaria, a quarter kab of of dove's dung was sold for five shekels of silver. In later centuries the kab was used as both a liquid and dry measure, equal to one sixth of a seah.

The Log

The log is only used in Leviticus for the cleansing of a leper as a measure of oil (Lev 14:10,12,15,21,24). In Mesopotamia it was used as measure of ointment.

Summary of the volumes

Some of the equivalent values are fairly certain:
1 homer / kor = 10 ephahs / baths
1 ephah / bath = 3 seahs
1 seah = 3.3 omers / issarons
Calculating the equivalent values of the smaller measures is more difficult through lack of evidence or inconsistent statements in later translations. These are possible equivalents:
1 seah = 2 hins
1 omer / issaron = 1.8 kabs
1 kab = 4 logs

Conversion to modern units

This is also very difficult due to scanty or conflicting literary and archaeological evidence. In the writings of Josephus, it appears that one ephah or bath was equivalent to the Greek 'metretes', which was about 39 litres, making a homer around 390 litres. However, some jars from the first century AD found in Jerusalem would suggest that a bath was around 21 litres, which is also confirmed by fragments of jars found from the eighth century BC. This would make a homer around 210 litres. Some jars associated with royalty have been found which contain 44 litres.

The best suggestion is that one ephah or bath is equivalent to 22 litres. However it is possible that Israel also had an extra large double-bath, perhaps particularly for royalty.

Conversion values

Two values will be given from the calculations. The first is based on an ephah being 22 litres (39 pints or 4.9 gallons). The result will also show the value based on an ephah being 44 litres (79 pints or 9.9 gallons).

Unit of measurement Metric units Imperial units
Homer / Kor 220 litres 49 gallons (392 pints)
Ephah / Bath 22 litres 4.9 gallons (39:2 pints)
Seah 7.3 litres 13 pints
Hin 3.7 litres 6.5 pints
Omer / Issaron 2.21 litres 4 pints
Kab 1.2 litres 2.2 pints
Log 0.3 litres o.5 pint

Convert OT volumes to modern values

Value of volume
Select units (default is an ephah)