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Leviticus 27 – The Value of Male and Female, Young and Old

Leviticus 27 – The Value of Male and Female, Young and Old

Most of Leviticus 27 deals with taking back vows.  To vow a person, object or place to God was a serious commitment in Bible times.  To take back a vow once it was committed was allowable, but costly.

Leviticus 27:1-8 overviews the valuation of vows that dealt with people.  Here’s the chart I put on the screen during the sermon:

AGE1 m. – 5 yrs.5-20 yrs.20-60 yrs.60+ yrs.
MALE5 shekels20 shekels50 shekels15 shekels
FEMALE3 shekels10 shekels30 shekels10 shekels

I drew attention to the point that females are less “costly” than males and the prime of life more valuable than the young or old mainly due to their relative productive value.  If a person was dedicated for service to the Tabernacle, a male would be more costly than a female because he is able to lift and carry more.  Elderly or the very young would be able to do very little work, making them less a commodity.

As I considered these numbers, I began to play around with percentages, seeing if they would teach us anything.  Here’s the chart again, but this time showing the percentage relative to the highest valuation.

AGE1 m. – 5 yrs.5-20 yrs.20-60 yrs.60+ yrs.
MALE10%40%5030%
FEMALE10%33%3033%

The highest valuation is the 20-60 year-olds in both the male and female categories.  A 5-20 year-old male would be valued at 40% the price of a 20-60 year-old male.  A 5-20 year-old female would be valued at a third of the price of her prime.  And so on.

In terms of value, it’s clear that the lowest age range holds the least value, for both males and females.  The female is slightly less valuable (percentage-wise) during her youth and teen years than the male, but she is slightly more valuable in her retired life.  In the third volume of his Leviticus commentary, Jacob Milgrom humorously references an old rabbinic explanation of why the slight increase in a female’s worth in her old age, saying, “an old man in the house is a burden in the house; an old woman in the house is a treasure in the house” (Milgrom 2373).

Another way I looked at the chart was by comparing the male and female valuations by calculating the percentage for the female as compared to the male.

AGE1 m. – 5 yrs.5-20 yrs.20-60 yrs.60+ yrs.
MALE5 shekels20 shekels50 shekels15 shekels
FEMALE60%50%60%66%

So a female 5-20 years old would be 50% the valuation of a male in that same age.  A female 60 years or older would be 66% of the male’s valuation in that age.  So, according to these percentages, the valuation of a female relative to the male is lowest during youth, but highest during old age.

Again, we must keep in mind, these valuations are not reflections of a person’s intrinsic worth, but their economic worth in relation to the Tabernacle.  Either way, each of these categories offered a steep opportunity to renege a vow to God.  Better to keep a promise than to make one and have to break one.

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