Friday, November 02, 2007

Which cost more: Maarat Hamachpelah or Manhattan?

I am not a historian, nor am I an economist, so, you can take this all with a grain of salt. I thought it was kind of a fun question.

In this week's parsha, chayyei sarah, we learn that the cave of machpelah was bought by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite for 400 shekels of silver (Gen 23). Converting the shekel into a standard unit is not trivial, but, let's say we take it to be the average of Wikipedia's quoted values, ~13g of silver/shekel, making 400 shekel ~ 5200g silver.

Manhattan was bought for goods that were equivalent in value to 60 Dutch guiders in 1626. Thanks to some analysis provided by a role playing game, we can estimate what a guilder was worth in 1632, and extrapolate that it's about the same in 1626. According to that document, one guilder was supposed to be equivalent to a Venetian ducat, which was standardized at 3.5 g gold. Between the medieval period and the early 18th century, the value of gold to silver went from 12:1 to 15:1. Assuming one gram of gold was worth about 14g of silver, one guilder was worth ~49g of silver, and 60 guilder was worth ~2940g silver.

So, the cave of machpelah was almost twice as expensive as Manhattan.

Other than the assumptions about the accuracy of the sources, an additional assumption here is that one gram silver was worth the same amount to Abraham as to the 17th century Dutch. It is most likely incorrect.

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could we have this calculation in trey zuzey, i.e. baby goats? ;-)
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