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!

  • Are you asking about the cost in the days of the writing of Leviticus? – user10231 Apr 5 '16 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. – elika kohen Apr 9 '16 at 4:26

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.

  • 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 Taylor Feb 28 '17 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 Taylor Feb 28 '17 at 12:41

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.

  • 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. – phil-al-sophy Dec 7 '18 at 4:09

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.

  • 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 Apr 5 '16 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 Apr 5 '16 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 Apr 5 '16 at 20:41

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