In the Old Testament, a talent is a biblical measure of weight, usually applied to precious metals such as gold or silver, though occasionally applied to other metals such as lead, bronze, brass, or iron.
The talent was the largest biblical measure of weight, equivalent to 60 mina or 3000 shekels. Easton and Unger estimate the weight of one talent to be about 75-95 lbs, however other sources give considerably higher or lower estimates. This variation is almost to be expected, however.
Just think for comparison about variation in modern measures of weight. Gold is sometimes measured in troy pounds rather than the avoirdupois pounds commonly used in the US, and then there are metric pounds and imperial pounds and other types of pounds as well.
Even the bible itself gives indication that multiple standards may have been common. In various passages, references to shekels are clarified as being “at the going merchant’s rate” (Gen 23:16), “by the sanctuary weight” (Ex 30:13), or “by the king’s stone” (2 Sam 14:26). Over time, and for different purposes, and in different locations, different values may have been “standard”.
We do know however, that talent of silver was considered the value of a human life; in 1 Kings, a prison guard whose prisoner escaped, punishable by death, could redeem his life by paying a fine of one talent of silver.
Other examples of the use of talents mentioned in the Old Testament:
- The sons of Ammon hired chariots and horseman to fight against Israel in the days of King David for 1000 talents of silver (1 Ch 19:6).
- Solomon was said to have received a weight of 666 talents of gold per year (2 Ch 9:13).
- The holy of holies in Solomon’s temple was overlaid with 600 talents of gold (2 Ch 3:8).
- 650 talents of silver plus 200 talents of gold and silver utensils were delivered to Jerusalem for the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 8:26).
- Hezekiah, king of Judah, paid the King of Assyria 300 talents of silver plus 30 talents of Gold to withdraw their attacking troops (2 Ki 8:14).
Note that in the New Testament, the mina and talent are different units that refer to currency rather than weight. A talent was the most valuable unit of currency, such that in the parable of the man who owed 10,000 talents, the amount owed was so great he could not possibly have possibly come up with the money on his own.