Gold and Bread

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Commodity on Line, in a recent article discussing the role of gold in countering inflation, made the following statement:

The purchasing power of gold has not diminished since Biblical times. According to the Old Testament, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, an ounce of gold bought 350 loaves of bread. Today, an ounce of gold still buys 350 loaves.

It is a fact that in times of economic uncertainties, many people invest in gold as a way of dealing with the unforeseen problems caused by inflation or recession.

It is also a fact that in the ancient past kings and conquerors were fascinated with gold, not only as currency or as a mean of commerce and trade, but for the beauty and splendor it conveyed to its owners.

The above quote taken from Commodity on Line is interesting. First of all, I do not remember any place in the Old Testament where it says that in the days of Nebuchadnezzar an ounce of gold bought 350 loaves of bread. This seems to be one of those occasions where someone cited the Bible without really checking the Bible.

The other statement, that an ounce of gold today buys 350 loaves of bread seems to be correct. Last time I checked, gold was selling at $901.00 an ounce. At that price, one can buy 350 loaves of bread at $2.57 each.

To say, however, that one ounce of gold in the days of Nebuchadnezzar bought 350 loaves of bread, one must assume several things. First, one must assume that the ounce, a unit of weight in the avoirdupois system, once used in the United Kingdom and still used in the U.S. system of weights, was also used in Babylon. Since the Babylonians did not use imperial units, this statement is false.

Second, we must assume that the value of gold has remained stable in its relative value to the price of bread. If this assumption is correct, then we must also assume that the price of gold and the price of bread has remained relatively the same for the past 2,600 years. It is evident that no one can assume that this is true, therefore, the statement above also cannot be proved.

There is a lesson for all of us here. Whenever the Bible is used to prove a point, it is best to avoid generalizations or comparisons which cannot be verified.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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11 Responses to Gold and Bread

  1. Joe Matos says:

    >Yet, again, Dr. Mariottini, you have exposed a misstep by those who claim something biblical. This may be completely unintentional on the part of Commodity on Line, but you point out well how evident it is. What concerns me are two things: 1) that the person making a claim supposedly based on the Bible does not check before putting the thought out there, and 2) how easily people accept a statement such as “the Bible says . . .” without verifying it. The latter is due to people not knowing the Bible well enough to identify a false statement when it is made. Biblical illiteracy is rampant.I remember when I was a young pastor in Windyville, MO, just out of college and an elderly lady in the congregation was involved in a conversation. She made reference to the Bible saying “God helps those who help themselves.” I politely but clearly said, “That is not in the Bible.” She was stunned, but graciously accepted my correction.We live in a time and country when the Bible and the proper tools for interpretation are readily available; yet biblical knowledge just seems to plunge.Honestly, Dr. Mariottini, you could earn a second income if you wrote a book documenting the your many discoveries of instances where people either misquote scripture or attribute to scripture things it never said.


  2. >Joe,Thank you for your comment. It is sad to see the amount of biblical illiteracy within and outside the church. People today do not study (or even read) the Bible as they used to do in years past. The weakness of the church today can be attributed to this growing problem within Christianity.The reason I write blogs on mistakes such as this one is to call attention to the problem and challenge people to become better students of the Bible.It was nice hearing from you again. I hope all is well with you and with your teaching.Claude Mariottini


  3. Anonymous says:

    >Hi ClaudeAre you absolutely sure on the statement? I have been researching gold for the last number of weeks, and this comment comes up quite frequently in various publications. I am a strong believer in getting the correct facts, and would like to discount this statement. I have read the bible mentions gold more than any other metal, and I would be interested to know if it equates a value of gold anywhere in the Bible. Thanks


  4. >Dear Friend,Thank you for your comment. First, let me assure you that the statement as it appeared in the article is not true. Read my explanation in my post on Gold and Bread.The Bible mentions gold very often but it does not provide the kind on information that we need to discover the value of gold in biblical times. The reason all these publications cite this information is because they are probably copying from each other without checking the facts.Claude Mariottini


  5. Kiwi says:

    >HiMy Dad says that we should not invest (have faith in) in Gold or silver as it says that you will need a whole bag of gold to buy a loaf of bread… so in his mind accumulating gold its useless! as today 1oz of gold buys about 500 loaves of bread, He also mentions something about what happened when the Israelites worshiped the gold in the desert … they never made it to the promise land.I am trying to get him to put some cash into bullion as a hedge against possible hyperinflation. Can you help me with some stuff that might help him see that gold and silver is real money? Or maybe it’s me that’s wrong???


  6. >Kiwi,Your father may represent an old tradition about investing money. When traded well, gold and silver can become a good investment. However, you have to recognize that investing in silver and gold can lead to loss of capital.Before you invest in gold, silver, or any other kind of commodity, you must do a lot of research and not depend on the advise of others.If your father is not convinced that this is a good investment, do not force him to invest.Claude Mariottini


  7. Anonymous says:

    >One of the originating sources of this statement is the World Gold Council's Research Study No. 22, Gold as a store of value (1998). However, there is no footnote or further attribution either archeological or biblical with respect to the source of this tale.Given that the WGC has stated it, it is now considered conventional wisdom in the investment community.I, myself, am trying to find the archeological or biblical source for this bit of so-called trivia. If anyone can illumniate, much appreciated, and I will revisit this site at a later date.~Autodidact


  8. >Dear Friend,Thank you for your comment. It does not matter what the WGC says about that information, it does not exist. There is no biblical or archaeological information that will prove that statement true.Claude Mariottini


  9. Anonymous says:

    >Dear Dr. Mariottini,Thank you for your response. I agree… I will try and contact the author of that research paper to determine his source for final validation.By the way, you may enjoy the article, "The Market as God" if you haven't seen it before: you once again for your response. All the best, ~Autodidact


  10. Anonymous says:

    >Just a correction for Dr. Mariottini- gold today is measured in TROY ounces, not AVOIRDUPOIS ounces. These are completely different systems, as any modern gold investor knows. Troy ounces are still used to measure gold in Europe, the US, Canada, and most of the world. A troy ounce = 31.1034768 grams while an avoirdupois ounce = 28.349523125 grams. A troy pound is 12 troy ounces, while an avoirdupois pound is 16 avoirdupois ounces. Also I think it is quite possible that if one did enough research one could figure out how much bread the equivalent amount of gold bought in Old Testament days, as gold has been used for money for a very long time.


  11. >Dear Anonymous,Thank you for this information. I am learning new things every day.Claude Mariottini


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