$12,254, according to one source. The calculation is "seat of the pants," at the very least, but it makes for an amusing exercise:
The answer (with some help from ebible’s weights and measurements section).
- 1 Roman denarius is equal to one’s day wage for an agricultural worker. As most people in the ancient world were farmers, we can make some basic judgement about the standard of living a denarius could provide.
- 1 denarius = 1/4 Hebrew shekel. Thus, 1/4 Hebrew shekel was probably the going rate for your basic Jewish [?] in Roman times (give or take).
- Judas was given 30 silver shekels to betray Jesus (Matt 26:15)
- 30 x 1/4 = 120. Thus, Judas was paid 120 days of an annual laborer’s wage.
- 120 days is approximately 1/3 of a year
- The average annual income for the American worker is $36,764 (according to a 2002 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- 36764 * 0.333 (i.e. one third of 36764) = 12254.66.
- Therefore, Judas betrayed Jesus in exchange for what is approximately $12,254 in today’s currency.
A purchasing power parity calculation should be much lower; one-third of an annual income back then simply didn’t buy much. Or for a classroom exercise, imagine a strangely long-lived forward market in ancient shekels and dollars. Thanks to Claudio Shikida for the pointer.