A talent was a unit of weight measurement used in both the Old and New Testaments (see Biblical Weights and Measures). Or more specifically, the English word "talent" was used to translate the Hebrew word (pronounced) kik-kar, meaning a round loaf, and the Greek word (pronounced) tal-en-ton (from which the English word talent originated) that referred to the standard weights used in a balance, but was also used for a larger unit. The standard for the talent was variable, which seems like a contradiction, but it simply depended on the Hebrew or Greek usage. A talent ranged from the equivalent of about 70 to over 90 pounds. The modern-day usage of talent, in referring to ability, actually originated long ago; Jesus Christ invented the term with His "parable of the talents" (see below).
A large amount of gold and silver (to see where the former Israelite slaves got all that gold and silver, see the Fact Finder question below) was used in the The Tabernacle In The Wilderness:
"And the tongs thereof, and the snuffdishes thereof, shall be of pure gold. Of a talent of pure gold shall he make it, with all these vessels. And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed thee in the mount." (Exodus 38:24-25 KJV)
Ancient kings knew extravagance as well as any today. The crown of the king of Rabbah weighed a talent, about 75 pounds of gold and precious stones:
"And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it. And he took their king's crown from off his head, the weight whereof was a talent of gold with the precious stones" (2 Kings 12:29-30 KJV)
When Solomon was building the Temple in Jerusalem (see Temples), Hiram king of Tyre sent 120 talents of gold, over 4 tons:
"And Hiram sent to the king sixscore talents of gold." (1 Kings 9:14 KJV)
When the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon, she brought a gift of 120 talents of gold, about 4 ½ tons (at today's gold prices, her gift was worth over 50 million dollars):
"And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon." (1 Kings 10:10 KJV)
The Messiah's "parable of the talents" was the origin of the "ability" usage of "talent." The moral of the parable is that making good use of all that you have is what matters most to God. The parable wasn't about making money, it was about Growing In The Grace And Knowledge:
"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country [see What Is Jesus Christ Doing Right Now?], who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money."
"After a long time the lord of those servants cometh [see When Will You Be Judged?], and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more."
"His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."
"He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them."
"His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."
"Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine."
"His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strowed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury."
"Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth [see Gold Tried In The Fire]." (Matthew 25:14-30 KJV)
Fact Finder: Where did the Israelites, who spent their lives in slavery before the Exodus, get the large amount of gold that they had with them during their Wilderness Journey?