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Leviticus 4-5 describes animal sacrifices. The chief priest had to bring a bull, while ordinary Israelites brought a female goat or lamb. Those who were too poor to afford a goat or sheep could offer birds, and grain flour was acceptable from the very poor.

  1. What was the fair market value of bulls, goats, and lambs without defect back then?
  2. What were some typical annual salaries?

I'm trying to relate to just how much of a sacrifice they were making, so rough estimates in modern US dollars would be appreciated. Thanks!

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  • Are you asking about the cost in the days of the writing of Leviticus?
    – user10231
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 10:33
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    @adamdport - A.) I don't think this question is actually answerable - because it wrongfully presupposes ancient Israel wasn't communal, (See Hezekiah and his provision: 2 Chron.30:23-24, Solomon, David, etc); B.) Even with quotes from the Talmudic Era - this wouldn't apply to the Mosaic era, let alone today - so which era are is this about? C.) In the U.S., if you live in the right area: $/Per hundred-weight: Slaughter 60, Spring 80, Wooled/Prime:230.00. - doesn't mean it's affordable though. Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 4:26
  • I consider Christian sources are unreliable at best when it comes to Jewish norms. You will likely get a more authoritative answer on a related site, judaism.stackexchange.com
    – Ruminator
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 19:12

5 Answers 5

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The response from Elika was most helpful. You must assume communal living during that Levitical period.

In transferring the cost to American dollars today I would suggest discussing it with a beef farmer raising 100 or more head. Initially you can find a young female beef cow at a fair for around $200. Bulls are more expensive (maybe like $300). Assuming then that you buy the acreage and equipment to feed and raise 100 head, startup cost can come to $30,000 to $50,000. But, a fully functional farm with the supply of cattle, land, and equipment cost the farmer $6 to $12 a day per head to maintain.

Everyone thinks that buying a house is a large purchase (and it is). Yet after the down payment and mortgage, you don't daily live in that house for the initial cost you spent. In the same way, the maintenance of a large herd of animals starts high in price, but your herd can grow exponentially within several years and ultimately make a profit. To the Israelite the cost of a sacrificial animal could be as little as the $6 you spent to feed it that day, but you're also sacrificing future livestock and the amount of time you spent raising that calf until old enough to be slaughtered.

I would look at it in terms of percent of the total herd you were sacrificing. Say the Israelites owned a herd as large as 2,000 to 3,000 head. Sacrificing 250 animals a year is only 8% of your herd. My guess is as the herd grew by at least 4% a year, the amount of sacrifices was much more significant.

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange Jon, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 12:37
  • Most of this content is more of a Comment than an actual answer - it includes some useful thoughts, but does not ultimately answer the OP's question by itself. Whilst there is application back to USD, it is not made obvious whether these are fair equivalents to the worth of the animals during the period of the text - all you say is that these are their modern values. With some expansion and consideration of the original context, this could become an excellent answer.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 12:41
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According to Exodus 13:13, and Numbers 3:42-51, and the Table of weights and measures in my Thompson Chain Reference study Bible, copyright 1988, 10 gerahs is about $27.37.
So, for example, the redemption of the first born sons was about $300.

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  • Hi Rebecca, welcome to BH.SE! Could you please describe more in detail how you got to those dollar amounts specifically? Also, could you answer the question more according to what it is asking for? Thanks. Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 4:09
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The notes above miss a couple of things about the animals used for sacrifice in Jerusalem.

  1. Jerusalem had few natural resources, and the temple drove the whole economy. It was a pilgrimage economy with its income tied to temple worship largely during festivals.

  2. These animals were raised for this purpose. Rather than being drawn from ordinary herds, these animals were raised to be "unblemished" as required for sacrifice, and of a certain age -- usually a year old. Traveling with animals intended for temple sacrifice was impractical at best, so animals for sacrifice were purchased instead.

  3. The necessity of presenting animals for sacrifice coupled with the difficulties of bringing them to Jerusalem and the requirement that they be unblemished made them very expensive. So routine calculations of wages and herd costs miss the market effects of supply and demand. With no viable alternatives, Jews making the pilgrimage for temple worship would budget for the high expense of purchasing animals when they arrived near or in Jerusalem.

Therefore, an animal purchased for sacrifice could cost a month's wages for an average laborer. The sacrifices required to fulfill and end a Nazarite vow would likely have cost the equivalent of three month's wages for a laborer. (Numbers 6). And while wealthy Jews were those able to travel to Jerusalem routinely in the first century AD for the festivals, the expense was still significant.

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While money existed when Leviticus was written, the sacrificial system did not in most scenarios accept cash. The ancient Hebrew economy was animal-based:

[Gen 47:1-4 NASB95] [1] Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said, "My father and my brothers and their flocks and their herds and all that they have, have come out of the land of Canaan; and behold, they are in the land of Goshen." [2] He took five men from among his brothers and presented them to Pharaoh. [3] Then Pharaoh said to his brothers, "What is your occupation?" So they said to Pharaoh, "Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers." [4] They said to Pharaoh, "We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants' flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, therefore, please let your servants live in the land of Goshen."

The ancient Jews appear to have considered flock animals to be a particularly secure financial investment if not the most secure:

[Pro 27:23-27 NASB95] [23] Know well the condition of your flocks, [And] pay attention to your herds; [24] For riches are not forever, Nor does a crown [endure] to all generations. [25] [When] the grass disappears, the new growth is seen, And the herbs of the mountains are gathered in, [26] The lambs [will be] for your clothing, And the goats [will bring] the price of a field, [27] And [there will be] goats' milk enough for your food, For the food of your household, And sustenance for your maidens.

So when a worshiper offered an animal sacrifice from their flock its value was tied to:

  • the size of their flocks:

[2Sa 12:1-6 NASB95] [1] Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said, "There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. [2] "The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. [3] "But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb Which he bought and nourished; And it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, And was like a daughter to him. [4] "Now a traveler came to the rich man, And he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, To prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; Rather he took the poor man's ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him." [5] Then David's anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, "As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. [6] "He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion."

  • the age of the animal:

Lambs were not generally esteemed as proper sacrifices because the person who gave the lamb did not have much invested in the lamb. The one who gave a sheep had spent at least a year caring for and bonding with the animal and so it was more precious.

  • the physical condition/integrity of the animal:

Only a healthy and unblemished animal was suitable for a sacrifice. To offer a damaged animal would be insulting:

Deu 15:19 All the firstling males that come of thy herd and of thy flock thou shalt sanctify unto the LORD thy God: thou shalt do no work with the firstling of thy bullock, nor shear the firstling of thy sheep. Deu 15:20 Thou shalt eat it before the LORD thy God year by year in the place which the LORD shall choose, thou and thy household. Deu 15:21 And if there be any blemish therein, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, thou shalt not sacrifice it unto the LORD thy God.

[Mal 1:7-9 NASB95] [7] "[You] are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, 'How have we defiled You?' In that you say, 'The table of the LORD is to be despised.' [8] "But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts. [9] "But now will you not entreat God's favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?" says the LORD of hosts.

Abel's sacrifice (pre-Levitical) was accepted, not because it was blood but because it was an animal of high quality rather than just some leftover zucchini. IE: His sacrifice reflected a lack of profusive adoration, such as Abel is perceived to have exhibited:

[Heb 11:4 NASB95] [4] By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.

Jesus said that this is how God measures the value of gifts:

[Mar 12:41-44 NASB95] [41] And He sat down opposite the treasury, and [began] observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. [42] A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. [43] Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; [44] for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on."

However in the first century an accommodation was made for travelers and others who did not have or maintain flocks. The worshiper was able to buy pre-approved animals from the Temple. The NT suggests that this arrangement was tainted, perhaps with exploitation, that Jesus found offensive:

[Jhn 2:13-16 NASB95] [13] The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [14] And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated [at their tables.] [15] And He made a scourge of cords, and drove [them] all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; [16] and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business."

This may have been exploitative or simply not the personal investment that the original laws counted on.

However, Jesus doesn't seem to object to buying a Passover animal which was not a sin offering:

Choice of the Lamb The next care was to select a proper Paschal lamb which, of course, must be free from all blemish, and neither less than eight days, nor more than exactly one year, old. Each Paschal lamb was to serve for a 'company,' which was to consist of not less than ten, nor of more than twenty persons. The company at the 'Lord's Passover Supper' consisted of Himself and His disciples. Two of them, Peter and John, the Master had sent early forward to 'prepare the Passover,' that is, to see to all that was needful for the due observance of the Paschal Supper, especially the purchase and sacrifice of the Paschal lamb. Probably they may have purchased it in the Holy City, though not, as in the majority of cases, within the Temple-court itself, where a brisk and very profitable traffic in all such offerings was carried on by the priests. For against this the Lord Jesus had inveighed only a few days before, when He 'cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers' (Mat_21:12-13), to the astonishment and indignation of those who would intensely resent His interference with their authority and gains (Joh_2:13-18). -- Edersheim, "The Temple - Its Ministry and Service" Chapter 11 (a book I highly recommend).

As a Passover, perhaps we can say Jesus was valued at about 30 pieces of silver:

[Mat 27:9 NASB95] [9] Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel;

To my knowledge there does not appear to be preserved a price list from the temple for sacrificial animals.

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What were some typical annual salaries?

The parable of the workers in the vineyard provides some idea of what a days wages were in the NT.

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

A "penny" is the KJV rendering of the Greek δηνάριον (dēnarion). So, the annual salary for a labourer in NT Israel would be around 300 denarii, assuming 300 working days per year (subtracting weekly Sabbaths and other Holidays)


What was the fair market value of bulls, goats, and lambs without defect back then?

This is not easy to determine, but if you assume the wage/cost ratio of sheep is constant, then you can get some idea.

The average wage for a general labourer in Australia is about $750 per week, which is around $110 per day. The cost of a quality ram in Australia is around $300, which is 2.73 times the daily wage.

Therefore, for a labourer in NT Israel, a lamb would cost him almost 3 days wages.

The same procedure will yield the relative cost of the other animals you mention.

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  • This question asks about the Levitical system. Answering relative to first century Palastine doesn't seem relevant (and if it is the question would need to be fixed first).
    – Caleb
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 16:48
  • The question references the book of Leviticus. It does not specify the time period for the operation of the sacrificial system. You are nit picking for your usual reasons. I've come to expect no less.
    – enegue
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 20:17
  • Considering the components of the levitical system that were in place and in operation in first century Palestine, you would have to justify your statement that my answer is not relevant. If you can't do that within the context of the question then you are just interfering with the proper operation of this site.
    – enegue
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 20:41

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