Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What would the it cost to build the Tabernacle described in Exodus?

I have been reading through Exodus and as the Tabernacle is being described and built I found myself wondering what the cost of such a structure would be. Consider this my market evaluation. According to the Easton Bible Dictionary the metals used in the tabernacle were as follows

29 Talents 730 Shekels of Gold
100 Talents 1,775 Shekels of Silver
70 Talents 2,400 Shekels of Brass (which most scholars believe to be copper)

First of all, I had no idea what these measurements meant. I found a handy sight that did conversions of these measurements into modern usage. According to this site:

1 Talent = 75.40 pounds
1 Shekel = 0.025 pounds

I’m not a math wizard but this seems like some pretty basic stuff. That would be equivalent to the following:

2204.85 Pounds of Gold
7584.38 Pounds of Silver
5338.00 Pounds of Copper

This was starting to compute to me as a lot of precious metals. This was on top of all the other gold that they had wasted on the golden calf and such. Seeing as this was their offering they must have had plenty more. This helped me understand why the Egyptian army would pursue the Israelites after they had been released. Not only were they losing their free labor they were also out lost out on a lot of coin. I found a site that listed the current metal prices. It is 2011 and with the US in a bit of an economic slump the prices are down from what they used to be. As of January 4, 2011 here are the prices on the materials used in the Tabernacle

Gold $ 1382.96/oz
Silver $29.80/oz
Copper $0.28/oz

It would be a sacrifice for me to buy even an ounce of gold let alone the amounts that we are talking about here. A quick conversation from pounds to ounces:

35,276.73 Ounces of Gold X $1382.96 = $48,786,306.52
121,350.08 Ounces of Silver X $29.80 = $3,616,232.38
90,445.90 Ounces of Copper X $0.28 = $25,324.85

Total = $52,427,863.75

Now that was just for the metals. Now the next item of consideration is the number of textiles used in the construction of the tabernacle cover. The biblical account calls for four cover layers:

One layer of linen stitched with scarlet
One layer of goats-hair cloth
One layer of rams skin
One layer of sea cows skin (which I was informed was a badger although it sounds more like a seal to me)

There was enough to cover the structure of the Tabernacle itself which was about 45 feet long, 15 feet wide, and fifteen feet tall which makes the structure about 675 square feet. You would need at least double that amount in fabric to cover the building which would be 1350 Square feet. The price of linen varies a lot depending on the quality. I’m guessing it would have been pretty good stuff for the time and if this was being reconstructed I’m sure only the best materials would be used.

The top Italian linen sells for $55 per yard that is 60 inches wide. That works out to be approximately $3.67 square ft. So approximately $4954.50 in Linen.

I have no idea how to gauge how much goats hair cloth would be. For the sake of an argument let’s say…a quarter of the price of linen or $13.75 per yard or $0.92 per square foot, so $1242.

My next question would be how many rams and badgers would you need to get 1350 square feet of usable skin material to make this cover? I did find a site that says that humans have about 20 square feet of skin. Goats and badgers are about a third the size of humans right? That would bring that number to 6.6 square feet per animal. I’m not sure how much of that is usable, but we will say 5 for easy math. Therefore my guess is that one would need 270 goats and 270 badgers for the job of constructing the two layers. Let’s assume that a pure bread goat cost $300 each and a badger costs $500 each. (as a side note I found it is illegal to own a badger in England. Who knew? That would make the total cost of those two layers about $216,000 Maybe we could get a deal on bulk goats – I’m not sure how that would work. Anyway, we're looking at a grand total of $222,196.50 for materials alone.

Acacia wood must cost around the same as oak I imagine. The current price on the best stuff is $5.24 per board foot. Just accounting for the walls of the tabernacle and not the wood used in all the furniture and such – we would probably spend about $5000. Although this is already processed lumber - theirs would not have been. 

Lastly, there is the labor. From the designing, collections of materials, to dying, weaving, sewing, stitching, gold and silver smelting and craftsmanship, construction, and project organization you are talking about a massive workload. We don’t know how many people were involved in the work but It was constructed in 7 months. A conservative number on the labor costs would be 3 million.

So by my estimates if the tabernacle were constructed today it would cost in the neighborhood of:

$57 Million Dollars. That is $57,000,000.00

Should we even stop to consider the relative cost 3000-4000 years ago? What is the inflation rate over 4 millennia? Probably astronomical.

I’m not sure if anyone else will find this interesting or not, but I spent the past 3 hours typing this up – I have to share it with someone.

EDITING NOTE:  Several people have commented on the price of silver not being added correctly.  I have corrected the math in that section. Also - this post gets a lot of attention, but this site is not regularaly maintained or updated.  If you are interested in more of my process around biblical studies, I regularly post my reflections on my bible study at:
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