A measure of length, originally denoting the distance from the elbow to the extremity of the middle finger, or the fourth part of a well-proportioned man's stature. The Hebrew cubit, according to Bishop Cumberland, was twenty-one inches ; but only eighteen according to other authorities. There were two kinds of cubits, the sacred and profane---the former equal to thirty-six, and the latter to eighteen inches. It is by the common cubit that the dimension of the various parts of the Temple are to be computed.
Hastings Dictionary of the Bible (page 967) declares that ''we have at present no means of ascertaining the exact dimensions of the Hebrews ordinary and royal cubits. The balance of evidence is certainly in favor of a fairly close approximation to the Egyptian system." This being the case, we may take the common cubit as 17.52 inches and the royal cubit as 20.67 inches as in the Egyptian system of measurements, these dimensions being taken from actual measuring rods. Hastings points out a curious result of the Rabbinical tradition being subjected to scientific experiment, the traditional dimension being that a cubit equaled so many grains of barley. This number, 144 of grains of barley of medium size were laid side by side carefully and measured as accurately as possible, the result being 17.77 inches long or equal in length substantially to the Egyptian common cubit.
Another suggestion that has been offered is that Josephus when giving Jewish measures, which differ from the Greek or Roman, is usually careful to explain that fact to his readers, but this he does not do in the case of the cubit, thus arousing a conviction that he regarded the Roman and the Hebrew as the same, the Roman Attic cubit being 17.57 inches according to Hastings. But it is well to remember that we are dealing with a period in which handbreadths and finger spans were probably the common units of length, and the decimal parts of inches and perhaps the inches themselves mentioned in the above comments need to be deemed mere approximations, an average sort of survey of a situation not likely to have had in the ancient times any close accuracy about it.
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