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The talent - Weights, Coinage and the Word

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A question one asks today is where did the word 'talent' originate. Through the years all languages of the civilized world absorbs from other languages; words that became integrated in every day speech in each spoken and written means of communication.

The word 'talent' used today to denote the capacity of achievement or success and or ability in varied fields of the arts and science. And oddly enough, the basic root of the word was originally an ancient weight or money for the payment for goods and services in the ancient world.

The word "talent' is derived from the Greek word 'talanton', which means "balance, sum, weight," was an unit of weight, in gold and silver, which was used as a legal tender in the trading transactions of that era. 'Talent' entered into the Hebrew language and translated meant the word 'Kikar'(loaf or cake) suggests that the shape of the talent was circular like the bread of those times, even though some forms of the weight in later years were figurative in shape.
('Talent' According to Greek myth - Atalanta of Calydon (Greek) Atlante fem. Of atalantos), the virgin huntress was famous for her swiftness, 'having the same value (as man). - From a- 'one together' and talanton "balance, weight, value' - 'talent'.)

The denominations of money frequently mentioned in Biblical passages, the 'Shekel' (weight), was properly speaking, not a unit of currency, but its value in weight. Yet, after 'Shekel' another unit of weight frequently mentioned in the Bible was the 'talent'; its worth was far more than the 'shekel'. Most authorities fix a 'talent' of 3000 times the 'shekel'. The system of dividing the talent into 3,000 'shekels' was based upon biblical division that followed the ancient Canaanite system. Thus the following calculations can be made when the pursuing the biblical passages:

The value of the 'talent' in comparing its value to the currencies of today is very difficult to ascertain as more than one weight in various systems of measures appeared in the biblical era at different times. The idea of assigning an absolute value to the 'talent' is rather absurd in comparison of goods and services of today with biblical standards.

Just what was the value of the 'talent' in the biblical barter system:
One talent of silver was the fine imposed on a guard for failing to keep watch over a prisoner (1 Kings 20:39). One to five talents was what the man "traveling into a far country" gave his servants... (Matt 25:15). One hundred 'talents' of silver was what the Persian treasures were ordered to give to the prophet Ezra (Ezra 7:22). One thousand 'talents' of silver is the tribute King Menahem of Israel paid Assyria" (2 Kings 15:19). - and so forth.

Other civilizations used the 'talent' (weight) for trading - The Babylonians and the Sumerians had a system in which there were sixty 'shekels' in a 'minas' (the sixtieth part of a 'talent' and 60 minas in a 'talent'. In Ancient Greece one 'talent' equaled twenty-six kilograms of silver. The Roman talent consisted of 100 libra (pounds), which were smaller in magnitude than the 'mina'.

Now let us follow the path where the word 'talent' traveled from one language to another in the course of history:

From the 'Online Etymology Dictionary' it is understood that the word 'talent' was originally an ancient unit of weight. (Old English 'talente'). The Medieval Latin and common Romanic sense developed from figurative use of the word in the sense of money. Meaning 'special natural ability, aptitude,' developed in 1430, from the parable of the 'talents' in Matthew 25:14-30 "And unto one he gave five 'talents', to another two, and to another one..."

Through the annals of history the word 'talent' then denoted a special or innate skill, aptitude or ability, especially for the art or music, etc.. - or a person or people with high general or mental ability. Various languages incorporated the word 'talent' in their vernacular - Dutch: 'talent' (het) - French: 'talent' (m) or 'verve' (special talent in writing) - German: 'Talent"(nt) - Italian: 'talento' and in Spanish: 'talento, don'.

***And in colloquialism - 'Attractive members of the opposite sex in a group'.


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About The Author,


The author is a former correspondent for the Continental News Service (USA), now retired. Busy writing short stories and articles online and in printed pages.

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