Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Egyptian Standard in the Time of Joseph
By Bishop Richard Cumberland (16311718)
From Essay on Jewish Measures and Weights
IT appears by the same chronology, that from the death of Noah, to Josephs promotion and authority in Egypt, there were but 283 years, in which interval no change of measures, from what Noahs family used, is read of. And several Arabian writers affirm, that Joseph, during his regency there, set up the nilometrion, or column, for measuring the increases of Nile; which column is now divided by this Egyptian cubit, and must reasonably be judged from the first to have been divided by the same; because, in all ages the same number of cubits, in the overflow, have been esteemed necessary for the judging of plenty or scarcity like to follow in that country. And there is reason to believe, that the column when divided by him into cubits, was divided according to a cubit that had been used and known before his time, above 283 years, constancy in these things being usual in all settled dominions, is to be presumed rather than change, of which there can no proof be offered. And there are many instances of measures being preserved unaltered for a longer time than that, as we shall hereafter show.
Now I only suggest, that the numeration by decads hath been kept among all nations, that I know of, from the eldest times of history: and yet its as alterable by human authority, or agreement, as the measure by cubits and ephas, etc. or as the size of such measures. Now, that these measures and weights were of elder use than Jacobs descent into Egypt, may be argued:
1. From the measure whereby Noahs ark was designed, viz. round even numbers of cubits, and such cubits as were used and known in Moses his time, else it would have been in vain to have described its measures by a word whose sense was unknown. And if Noahs cubit had been a different measure from the mosaical cubit, Moses must have reduced that into the then known measure, before he wrote the history, which we have reason to believe he did not; because it cannot be expected that such different measure would, upon reduction, have fallen into such even round numbers as Moses sets down; its length just 300 cubits, breadth 50, height 26. The same reason holds in 16 cubits height of the Flood above the hills. So also we read of Sarahs preparing three seahs of meal, which are an epha (the chief measure of capacity, and the sixth part of the cube of a cubit, as hereafter I shall show) long before the Egyptian bondage.
We have also shekels, the original weight mentioned in Abrahams time, both in Abimelechs gift to Sarah, as the Septuagint and Targum Onkelos express it, Gen. xx. 16: and in his purchase from Ephron the Hittite, in the Hebrew Bible, Gen. xxiii. 15, 16. And just before Jacobs going into Egypt, his money out of Canaan passing by its weight (which therefore must be agreed on) in Egypt, Gen. xliii. 21. And there being no mark to distinguish these weights and measures before the descent into Egypt, from those of the same name mentioned by the same writer after it; it is to be presumed they signify the same quantities exactly, else the word must be equivocal, which ought not to be presumed without full proof.