A variety of monetary systems are represented in the Bible, corresponding to the political powers that dominated the cultures represented there, from the darics named after the Persian monarch Darius (these are the first actual coins mentioned in the Bible see 1 Chron 29:7 ; Ezra 8:27 ; Neh 7:70-72 ) to the coins of the Roman Empire that bore Caesar's image ( Matt 22:20-21 ). Unlike the coinage of the United States, which by law cannot bear the image of a living person, the coins of the ancient world were more explicitly political, bearing the representation of the living monarch who sponsored the mint that produced the coins. As Jesus affirms in Matthew 22, coins really belong to the person whose likeness appears on them, in contrast to God, who imprints his likeness (and hence his mark of ownership) on a living humanity ( Gen 1:27 ).
Although the word "money" appears frequently throughout some translations of the Old Testament, the first coins were not produced in the ancient Near East until the seventh century b.c. Consequently, when one finds the word "money" in Bible versions used to translate the Hebrew term kesep [@,s,K] (lit. "silver"), one must recognize that it is usually not coins that are to be understood but refined, unminted silver. When one exchanged this silver for a commodity, the silver was weighed (saqal [l;q'v]) in balances to determine the proper quantity of silver appropriate to the bargain. It was the term for the calibration of this weighing that gave the name of shekel [l,q,v] to the first Judean coins whose size corresponded to a shekel weight (a little less than half an ounce).
The genius of money is that it simplifies and facilitates the exchange of goods and services between humans. Greek Christians would not have been able to assist Christians in Judea had it not been for the existence of money, which functioned as a substitute for their labor and was easily transported ( Rom 15:26-27 ). The Old Testament acknowledged that there could be times when it was difficult for God's people to bring the actual firstfruits of their harvests and flocks over the great distances separating them from the temple in Jerusalem. In such cases, the people were to sell the products in question for silver and bring the silver to Jerusalem, where one could purchase the appropriate products necessary for the cultic celebration ( Deut 14:24-26 ; cf. Ezra 7:17 ).
This perception of a convenient exchange reappears when substitutions are required for other aspects of the cult. Since all firstborn Israelites originally belonged to God as a result of his saving their lives in the exodus ( Exod 13:11-16 ), firstborn Israelites had to find human substitutes if they wished to be released from God's full-time service ( Num 3:40-45 ). The Levites fulfilled this function as substitutes, but since there were not enough Levites to take the place of all firstborn Israelites when this was first enacted, God also accepted a monetary substitution of five shekels for those firstborn who could find no Levite to substitute for them ( Num 3:46-51 ). Ever after, any firstborn human (or unclean animal) that reached the age of one month had to be redeemed at the price of five shekels ( Num 18:15-16 ).
This monetary evaluation of humans is not a simple matter, and a variety of standards appear in the Bible. In addition to the cultic redemption of five shekels for the firstborn, there was also a monetary redemption of a half-shekel "atonement" or "ransom" applied to all male Israelites over twenty years of age ( Exod 30:11-16 ; 38:25-26 ). Such evaluations were independent of other factors, for "the rich are not to give more and the poor are not to give less" ( Exod 30:15 ).
There was also a monetary substitution that could be applied to those who vowed themselves into God's service contingent on God's fulfillment of a request they asked of him. Instead of personally fulfilling the vow, the individual could pay a monetary substitute, determined in accord with the person's sex, age, and economic class ( Lev 27:1-8 ). Another monetary substitution was found in the legal sphere, where the general principle of lex talionis mandated that when one human takes another human's life, the offender must compensate by surrendering a human life in turn, usually his or her own. However, collections of laws in the ancient Near East allowed payment of money as a fine in cases of murder where the victim was from a lower social class. Sectors of the Old Testament echo the notion that money might serve to ransom one's life when one was legally liable to be put to death as a punishment ( Exod 21:29-30 ; 2 Sam 21:4 ; 1 Kings 20:39 ), but Numbers 35:31 clarifies Israel's distinctiveness: "Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer." God did not permit monetary fines in such cases, but insisted on the death penalty for all murders. The single clear exception where monetary compensation covered a lost human life was in the case of the slave killed by a negligent owner's goring ox: thirty shekels (the general price of a slave) was to be paid to the dead slave's owner so that he could replace his lost property ( Exod 21:32 ).
The ease with which money could substitute for goods and services allowed it to be a ready means of replacing items lost or damaged in civil conflicts. Money appears not as a punitive measure in biblical legislation but as a compensation for commodities such as dead cattle ( Exod 21:33-36 ) and lost virginity (the price determined by the general dowry expected for a virgin Exod 22:16-17 ; Deut 22:28-29 ). Money could function as a punishment when damages were less tangible (e.g., one hundred shekels for slander in Deut 22:19 ; a variable amount for a miscarriage in Exod 21:22 ), but these are infrequent in biblical law. Should money become a substitute for other punishments such as lex talionis or beatings, the law would become less fair in allowing the wealthy to be less affected by their misdeeds than the poor.
Although money had beneficial results in simplifying the exchange of goods and services, these advantages could be turned to evil purposes. In the same way that money facilitated the rewarding of work done well, it became equally easy to motivate individuals to do reprehensible crimes with bribes ( Judges 16:5 Judges 16:18 ; Est 3:9 ; 4:7 ; Matt 28:12 ; Mark 14:11 ).
Money also could be used to affirm one's status as a subordinate who owed allegiance to another: it was humiliating for the kings of Israel and Judah to pay tribute to foreign monarchs ( 2 Kings 15:19-20 ; 18:14 ; 2 Kings 23:33 2 Kings 23:35 ), but it was a sign of Israel's high standing when other nations paid annual tribute to her ( 2 Chron 27:5 ). Of course, rulers could pay such money only if they had taxed their own people ( 2 Kings 15:20 ), and hence taxes were (and still are) a sign of the individual's submission to the government.
Expressing allegiance to a human authority in this fashion raises a dilemma for the one whose first allegiance is to God, a dilemma that Jesus resolves by insisting that one should return to any sovereign whatever has the sovereign's mark of ownership on it: "Whose portrait is this? Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" ( Matt 22:20-21 ). Jesus provides a different perspective when asked to pay the temple tax, affirming that although he and his disciples are the sons of the divine King and need not pay the tax for God's temple, it should nevertheless still be paid so as not to offend fellow Jews ( Matt 17:24-27 ). There is a larger irony in this latter account, where the requisite amount for the tax is found in a fish's mouth. Unlike the righteous' gift to God, which must be personally costly ( 2 Sam 24:24 ), it does not matter from what source one finds the tax or tribute to surrender to a human sovereign.
Money is one of the least trustworthy and most deceptive elements of human existence. It is an unpredictable and wildly vacillating guide to value. Large quantities of silver and gold, such as when one finds "silver as common as stones" ( 1 Kings 10:27 ; cf. v. 14), generate inflation, which devalues the currency and its buying power. A shortage of certain commodities may drive up prices exorbitantly ( 2 Kings 6:25 ; Lam 5:4 ; Rev 6:6 ), while the sudden availability of products may cause the value of money to plunge ( 2 Kings 7:1 2 Kings 7:16 2 Kings 7:18 ). In response, one finds in the ancient Near East and the Bible attempts to stabilize currency and exchange rates ( Eze 45:12 ). But even the currency itself is subject to loss ( Luke 15:8 ), theft ( Matt 6:19 ), destruction ( James 5:3 ; 1 Peter 1:18 ), and misuse ( Luke 15:13-14 ). Hordes of coins found in archaeological excavations echo the frequency with which money is described as buried in the Bible, for money is so vulnerable that there is little else one can do to protect it. It is ironic that money loses its ability to protect its owner ( Luke 12:20-21 ), who on the contrary is soon consumed with protecting the money instead ( Eccl 5:13 ). This is one reason why Jesus insists that his followers not accumulate money ( Matt 10:9 ) and why members of the earliest Jerusalem church did not claim that anything belonging to them was their own ( Acts 4:32 ).
It is a repeated theme in the Bible that the monetary value of items does not reflect the value that God places on them. Jesus notes that although one can purchase a pair of sparrows in the market for a single copper coin comparable to a penny, this market value does not reflect the great attention that a single one of these birds receives from God ( Matt 10:29 ). So persistent is this theme of skewed values that it becomes predictable for items of low market value to figure high on God's list of valuables, and vice versa. Joseph was sold for less than the price of a slave (twenty shekels, Gen 37:28 ), but he became the savior of Egypt who ironically purchased its entire population into slavery ( Gen 47:13-25 ). Jesus' betrayal price of thirty silver pieces is a tragic miscalculation of his true status ( Zech 11:13 ; Mark 14:11 ; Luke 22:5 ). Others may look with disdain upon a donation of a few copper coins to the temple treasury, but it is not the market value of the widow's gift that Jesus finds important: "She put in everythingall she had to live on" ( Mark 12:41-44 ). It is this confusion of market value with spiritual value that irritates Peter when Simon Magus offers to pay money in return for the power of the Holy Spirit ( Acts 8:18-24 ). One should not even consider any amount of money in exchange for the most intense suffering for the sake of Jesus ( 1 Peter 1:7 ). It is for this reason that those who lead the church must have no fondness for money ( Acts 20:33 ; 1 Timothy 3:3 1 Timothy 3:8 ; Titus 1:7 Titus 1:11 ; 1 Peter 5:2 ; contrast the Pharisees in Luke 16:14 ). There is no greater demonstrations of the contrary value system represented by money than Paul's observation that the love of money is the root of all evil ( 1 Tim 6:10 ).
Money is also unreliable because people falsify the standards of measurement for personal gain, or, in the words of am 8:5, "make the shekel bigger" (cf. the ideal of just balances and weights in Lev 19:36 ; Job 31:6 ; Ezek 45:10 ). The arbitrary and flexible nature of monetary standards, permitting easy manipulation, is evident in the variety of calibrations that are mentioned in the Bible: the royal standard ( 2 Sam 14:26 ), the merchant's standard ( Gen 23:16 ), and the "sanctuary shekel" ( Exod 30:13 ; 38:24-26 ). Mesopotamia attested simultaneous usage of a "heavy" and "light" shekel in both a royal and a common standard; ancient Near Eastern standards not only varied within one geographical locale but fluctuated from place to place and over time. Such practices prompted legislation in Israel: "Do not have differing weights in your bagone heavy, one light" ( Deut 25:13 ).
People tend to cling to money, addicted to its false security. Because money behaves like a spiritual narcotic, deadening one's sensitivity to real value, Jesus insists that one cannot be committed simultaneously to both God's values and "mammon" (an Aramaic word meaning money, wealth, or property Matt 6:24 ). Ananias and Sapphira tried to pursue both and proved the veracity of Jesus' words as well as the spiritual corruption that money serves to catalyze ( Acts 5:1-10 ). Money is therefore quite dangerous, prompting Jesus to advise his followers not to take any money with them on their preaching tours ( Mark 6:8 ; Luke 9:3 ) and to give away any money that came from the sale of their estates ( Luke 18:22 ; cf. Acts 4:34-37 ).
A further problem with money surfaces when one uses it to earn more money at the expense of others in need, specifically in the charging of interest for monetary loans. Jesus' parables portray the phenomenon of interest in order to underscore the point that God expects his people to use his gifts productively ( Matt 25:27 ). Extraordinarily high interest rates could make loans a lucrative enterprise, when, for example, annual interest rates on silver in Mesopotamia were attested as high as 80 percent. There was a stage when the interest on monetary loans was legally distinguished from the interest on loans of food (a distinction attested elsewhere in the ancient Near East). It was a general perception that one who borrowed was in a state of curse, while the one who lended was in a position of being blessed by God ( Deuteronomy 28:12 Deuteronomy 28:44 ; Psalm 37:26 ; Prov 22:7 ). Nevertheless, lending freely to those in need was a sign of the godly person, and loans, even to the poor, were an accepted part of life governed by ideals that would prevent humiliation ( Deut 24:10-13 ). However, it was legally prohibited to use money to make money specifically at the expense of a poor Israelite ( Exod 22:25 ; Lev 25:35-37 ). This would seem to imply that interest on loans to those who were well-off was acceptable, but other passages clarify that although non-Israelites could be charged interest, one could not take interest from any Israelite, whether poor or not ( Deut 23:19-20 ). The righteous person does not use his money to make money at anyone's expense ( Psalm 15:5 ), for it is the wicked person who becomes wealthy by taking interest ( Prov 28:8 ). In spite of such guidelines, the postexilic Jewish community monetarily enslaved poor Jews by loaning money at interest so that they could pay their taxes, a travesty that angered Nehemiah and prompted a reform so that such loans became interest-free ( Neh 5:4-12 ).
The power of money is no more dramatically confronted than when one uses money to purchase another human being. When one paid money for a human in the Old Testament, that purchase brought the slave into the sphere of the owner's household comparable to the status of one born in the house, eradicating the slave's former ethnic and social ties as far as cultic matters were concerned. A slaveowner could mistreat a slave with impunity short of actually killing him or her for, in the words of Exodus 21:21, "the slave is his property." The reality of purchasing humans becomes one of the more powerful images for depicting God's "redemption" (an economic term) of his people: this image conveys God's ownership of his people and their resulting obligation to obey him (cf. Gen 47:13-26 ). As Peter stresses, however, money is inadequate for this transaction, for we were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ ( 1 Peter 1:18-19 ).
There is no record of money or precious metals being treated as unfit for sacred purposes in the Old Testament. Quite the contraryeven the wages of a harlot could be used for the support of the temple ( Isa 23:18 ). Nevertheless, the priests in the New Testament were reluctant to incorporate into the temple treasury money that was used to betray a man to death (Judas's "blood money" for handing over Jesus Matt 27:6 )a curious irony since the men who participated in the transaction continued to serve in the temple with no sense of impropriety.
Samuel A. Meier
Bibliography. O. Borowski, BAR19/5 (1993): 68-70; A. Kindler and A. Stein, A Bibliography of the City Coinage of Palestine from the 2nd Century B.C. to the 3rd Century A.D.; S. E. Loewenstamm, JBL88 (1968): 78-80.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Of uncoined money the first notice we have is in the history of Abraham ( Genesis 13:2 ; 20:16 ; 24:35 ). Next, this word is used in connection with the purchase of the cave of Machpelah ( 23:16 ), and again in connection with Jacob's purchase of a field at Shalem ( Genesis 33:18 Genesis 33:19 ) for "an hundred pieces of money"=an hundred Hebrew kesitahs (q.v.), i.e., probably pieces of money, as is supposed, bearing the figure of a lamb.
The history of Joseph affords evidence of the constant use of money, silver of a fixed weight. This appears also in all the subsequent history of the Jewish people, in all their internal as well as foreign transactions. There were in common use in trade silver pieces of a definite weight, shekels, half-shekels, and quarter-shekels. But these were not properly coins, which are pieces of metal authoritatively issued, and bearing a stamp.
Of the use of coined money we have no early notice among the Hebrews. The first mentioned is of Persian coinage, the daric ( Ezra 2:69 ; Nehemiah 7:70 ) and the 'adarkon ( Ezra 8:27 ). The daric (q.v.) was a gold piece current in Palestine in the time of Cyrus. As long as the Jews, after the Exile, lived under Persian rule, they used Persian coins. These gave place to Greek coins when Palestine came under the dominion of the Greeks (B.C. 331), the coins consisting of gold, silver, and copper pieces. The usual gold pieces were staters (q.v.), and the silver coins tetradrachms and drachms.
In the year B.C. 140, Antiochus VII. gave permission to Simon the Maccabee to coin Jewish money. Shekels (q.v.) were then coined bearing the figure of the almond rod and the pot of manna.
Various terms are used for money in the Bible, but the most common are the Hebrew keceph, and Greek argurion, both meaning silver. We find also qesiTah, rendered by Septuagint "lambs," probably referring to money in a particular form; chalkos, is used for money in Matthew 10:9; Mark 6:8; 12:41. It was the name of a small coin of Agrippa II (Madden, Coins of the Jews); chrema, "price," is rendered money in Acts 4:37; 8:18,20; 24:26; kerma, "piece," i.e. piece of money (John 2:15); didrachmon, "tribute money" (Matthew 17:24 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) "half-shekel"); kensos, "census," "tribute money" (Matthew 22:19).
1. Material and Form:
Gold and silver were the common medium of exchange in Syria and Palestine in the earliest times of which we have any historical record. The period of mere barter had passed before Abraham. The close connection of the country with the two great civilized centers of antiquity, Egypt and Babylonia, had led to the introduction of a currency for the purposes of trade. We have abundant evidence of the use of these metals in the Biblical records, and we know from the monuments that they were used as money before the time of Abraham. The patriarch came back from his visit to Egypt "rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold" (Genesis 13:2). There was no system of coinage, but they had these metals cast in a convenient form for use in exchange, such as bars or rings, the latter being a common form and often represented or mentioned on the monuments of Egypt. In Babylonia the more common form seems to have been the former, such as the bar, or wedge, that Achan found in the sack of Jericho (Joshua 7:21). This might indicate that the pieces were too large for ordinary use, but we have indications of the use of small portions also (2 Kings 12:9; Job 42:11). But the pieces were not so accurately divided as to pass for money without weighing, as we see in the case of the transaction between Abraham and the children of Heth for the purchase of the field of Machpelah (Genesis 23). This transaction indicates also the common use of silver as currency, for it was "current money with the merchant," and earlier than this we have mention of the use of silver by Abraham as money:
"He that is born in thy house and he that is bought with thy money" (Genesis 17:13).
Jewels of silver and gold were probably made to conform to the shekel weight, so that they might be used for money in case of necessity. Thus Abraham's servant gave to Rebecca a gold ring of half a shekel weight and bracelets of ten shekels weight (Genesis 24:22). The bundles of money carried by the sons of Jacob to Egpyt for the purchase of grain (Genesis 42:35) were probably silver rings tied together in bundles. The Hebrew for "talent," kikkar, signifies something round or circular, suggesting a ring of this weight to be used as money. The ordinary term for money was keceph, "silver," and this word preceded by a numeral always refers to money, either with or without "shekel," which we are probably to supply where it is not expressed after the numeral, at least wherever value is involved, as the shekel (sheqel) was the standard of value as well as of weight (see WEIGHTS AND MEASURES). Thus the value of the field of Ephron was in shekels, as was also the estimation of offerings for sacred purposes (Leviticus 5:15; 27, passim). Solomon purchased chariots at 600 (shekels) each and horses at 150 (1 Kings 10:29). Large sums were expressed in talents, which were a multiple of the shekel. Thus Menahem gave Pul 1,000 talents of silver (2 Kings 15:19), which was made up by the exaction of 50 shekels from each rich man. Hezekiah paid the war indemnity to Sennacherib with 300 talents of silver and 30 of gold (2 Kings 18:14). The Assyrian account gives 800 talents of silver, and the discrepancy may not be an error in the Hebrew text, as some would explain it, but probably a different kind of talent (see Madden, Coins of the Jews, 4). Solomon's revenue is stated in talents (1 Kings 10:14), and the amount (666 of gold) indicates that money was abundant, for this was in addition to what he obtained from the vassal states and by trade. His partnership with the Phoenicians in commerce brought him large amounts of the precious metals, so that silver was said to have been as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones (1 Kings 10:27).
Besides the forms of rings and bars, in which the precious metals were cast for commercial use, some other forms were perhaps current. Thus the term qesiTah has been referred to as used for money, and the Septuagint translation has "lambs." It is used in Genesis 33:19; Joshua 24:32; Job 42:11, and the Septuagint rendering is supposed to indicate a piece in the form of a lamb or stamped with a lamb, used at first as a weight, later the same weight of the precious metals being used for money. We are familiar with lion weights and weights in the form of bulls and geese from the monuments, and it would not be strange to find them in the form of sheep. QesiTah is cognate with the Arabic qasaT, which means "to divide exactly" or "justly," and the noun qist means "a portion" or "a measure."
Another word joined with silver in monetary use is 'aghorah, the term being translated "a piece of silver" in 1 Samuel 2:36. 'Aghorah is cognate with the Arabic ujrat, "a wage," and it would seem that the piece of silver in this passage might refer to the same usage.
Another word used in a similar way is rats, from ratsats, "to break in pieces," hence, rats is "a piece" or "fragment of silver" used as money. These terms were in use before the introduction of coined money and continued after coins became common.
2. Coined Money:
After the exile we begin to find references to coined money. It was invented in Lydia or perhaps in Aegina. Herodotus assigns the invention to the Lydians (i.94). The earliest Lydian coins were struck by Gyges in the 7th century BC. These coins were of electrum and elliptical in form, smooth on the reverse but deeply stamped with incuse impressions on the obverse. They were called staters, but were of two standards; one for commercial use with the Babylonians, weighing about 164,4 grains, and the other of 224 grains (see Madden, op. cit.). Later, gold was coined, and, by the time of Croesus, gold and silver. The Persians adopted the Lydian type, and coined both gold and silver darics, the name being derived from Darius Hystaspis (521-485 BC) who is reputed to have introduced the system into his empire. But the staters of Lydia were current there under Cyrus (Madden, op. cit.), and it was perhaps with these that the Jews first became acquainted in Babylon. Ezra states (2:69) that "they (the Jews) gave after their ability into the treasury of the work threescore and one thousand darics (the Revised Version (British and American)) of gold, and five thousand pounds of silver." The term here rendered "daric" is darkemonim, and this word is used in three passages in Ne (7:70-72), and 'adharkonim occurs in 1 Chronicles 29:7 and Ezra 8:27. Both are of the same origin as the Greek drachma, probably, though some derive both from Darius (a Phoenician inscription from the Piraeus tells us that darkemon corresponds to drachma). At all events they refer to the gold coins which we know as darics. The weight of the daric was 130 grains, though double darics were struck.
Besides the gold daric there was a silver coin circulating in Persia that must have been known to the Jews. This was the siglos, supposed to be referred to in Nehemiah 5:15, where it is translated "shekel." These were the so-called silver darics, 20 of which were equivalent to the gold daric. Besides these Persian coins the Jews must have used others derived from their intercourse with the Phoenician cities, which were allowed to strike coins under the suzerainty of the Persians. These coins were of both silver and bronze, the suzerain not permitting them to coin gold. We have abundant examples of these coins and trade must have made them familiar to the Jews.
The issues of Aradus, Sidon and Tyre were especially noteworthy, and were of various types and sizes suited to the commercial transactions of the Phoenicians. The Tyrian traders were established in Jerusalem as early as the time of Nehemiah (13:16), and their coins date back to about that period. Among the finest specimens we have of early coinage are the tetradrachms of Tyre and the double shekels or staters of Sidon. The latter represent the Persian king, on the obverse, as he rides in his chariot, driven by his charioteer and followed by an attendant. On the reverse is a Phoenician galley. The weight of these coins is from 380 to 430 grains, and they are assigned to the 4th and 5th centuries BC. From Tyre we have a tetradrachm which corresponds to the shekel of the Phoenician standard of about 220 grains, which represents, on the obverse, the god Melkarth, the Tyrian Hercules, tiding on a seahorse, and, beneath, a dolphin. The reverse bears an owl with the Egyptian crook and a flail, symbols of Osiris. The early coins of Aradus bear, on the obverse, the head of Baal or Dagon, and on the reverse a galley. The inscription has "M.A." in Phoenician letters, followed by a date. The inscription signifies "Melek Aradus," i.e. "king of Aradus."
When Alexander overthrew the Persian empire in 331 BC, a new coinage, on the Attic standard, was introduced, and the silver drachms and tetradrachms struck by him circulated in large numbers, as is attested by the large number of examples still in existence. After his death, these coins, the tetradrachms especially, continued to be struck in the provinces, with his name and type, in his honor. We have examples of these struck at Aradus, Tyre, Sidon, Damascus and Acre, bearing the mint marks of these towns. They bear on the obverse the head of Alexander as Hercules, and, on the reverse, Zeus seated on his throne holding an eagle in the extended right hand and a scepter in the left. The legend is BASILEOS ALEXANDROU, or ALEXANDROU, only, with various symbols of the towns or districts where they were struck, together with mint marks.
The successors of Alexander established kingdoms with a coinage of their own, such as the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria, and these coins, as well as those of Alexander, circulated among the Jews. The Ptolemies of Egypt controlled Palestine for about a century after Alexander, and struck coins, not only in Egypt, but in some of the Phoenician towns, especially at Acre, which was, from that time, known as Ptolemais. Their coins were based upon the Phoenician standard. But the Seleucid kings of Syria had the most influence in Phoenicia and Palestine, and their monetary issues are very various and widely distributed, bearing the names and types of the kings, and the symbols and mint marks of the different towns where they were struck, and are on the Alexandrine or Attic standard in contrast to those of the Ptolemies. They are both silver and bronze, gold being struck in the capital, Antioch, usually. The coins of Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, are especially interesting on account of his connection with Jewish affairs. It was he who made the futile attempt to hellenize the Jews, which led to the revolt that resulted, under his successors, in the independence of the country of Syrian control, and the institution of a native coinage in the time of the Maccabees.
The struggle caused by the persecution of Antiochus commenced in 165 BC and continued more than 20 years. Judas, the son of Mattathias, defeated Antiochus, who died in 164, but the war was continued by his successors until dynastic dissensions among them led to treaties with the Jews to gain their support. At last Simon, who espoused the cause of Demetrius II, obtained from him, as a reward, the right to rule Judea under the title of high priest, with practical independence, 142-143 BC. Later Antiochus VII, his successor, confirmed Simon in his position and added some privileges, and among them the right to coin money (138-139 BC). Both silver and bronze coins exist ascribed to Simon, but some numismatists have recently doubted this, and have assigned them to another Simon in the time of the first revolt of the Jews under the Romans. The coins in question are the shekels and half-shekels with the legends, in Hebrew, sheqel yisra'el and yerushalem qedhoshah ("Jerusalem the holy"), bearing dates ranging from the 1st to the 5th year, as well as bronze pieces of the 4th.
The reason for denying the ascription of these coins to Simon the Maccabee is the difficulty in finding room for the years indicated in his reign which closed in 135 BC. He received the commission to coin in 139-138, which would allow only 4 years for his coinage, whereas we have coins of the 5th year. Moreover, no shekels and half-shekels of any of the Maccabees later than Simon have come to light, which is, at least, singular since we should have supposed that all would have coined them as long as they remained independent, especially since they coined in bronze, examples of the latter being quite abundant. The fact also that they bore the title of king, while Simon was high priest only, would seem to have furnished an additional reason for claiming the prerogative of coinage in silver as well as bronze. But this argument is negative only, and such coins may have existed but have not come to light, and there are reasons which seem to the present writer sufficient to assign them to Simon the Maccabee. In the first place, the chronological difficulty is removed if we consider that Simon was practically independent for three or four years before he obtained the explicit commission to coin money. We learn from Josephus (Ant., XIII, vi, 7) and from 1 Macc (13:41,42) that in the 170th year of the Seleucid era, that is, 143-142 BC, the Jews began to use the era of Simon in their contracts and public records. Now it would not have been strange if Simon, seeing the anarchy that prevailed in the kingdom of Syria, should have assumed some prerogatives of an independent ruler before they were distinctly granted to him, and among them that of coining money. If he had commenced in the latter part of 139 BC, he would have been able to strike coins of the 5th year before he died, and this would satisfy the conditions (see Madden's Jewish Coinage). There is a difficulty quite as great in attributing these coins to Simon of the first revolt under the Romans. That broke out in 66 AD, and was suppressed by the taking of Jerusalem in 70. This would allow a date of the 5th year, but it is hardly supposable that in the terrible distress and anarchy that prevailed in the city during that last year any silver coins would have been struck. There is another fact bearing upon this question which is worthy of notice. The coins of the first revolt bear personal appellations, such as "Eleazar the priest," and "Simon," while those assigned to Simon the Maccabee bear no personal designation whatever. This is significant, for it is not likely that Eleazar and Simon would have commenced coining silver shekels and half-shekels with their names inscribed upon them in the 1st year of their reign and then have omitted them on later issues. Another point which has some force is this:
We find mention, in the New Testament, of money-changers in connection with the temple, whose business it was to change the current coin, which was Roman or Greek, and bore heathen types and legends, for Jewish coins, which the strict Pharisaic rules then in force required from worshippers paying money into the temple treasury. It is inferred that they could furnish the shekels and half-shekels required for the yearly dues from every adult male (compare Matthew 17:24-27). Now the only shekels and half-shekels bearing Jewish emblems and legends, at that time, must have been those issued by the Maccabean princes, that is, such as we have under discussion. In view of these facts the Maccabean origin of these pieces seems probable.
The shekels under discussion have on one side a cup, or chalice (supposed to represent the pot of manna), with the legend in Hebrew around the margin, sheqel yisra'el, with a letter above the cup indicating the year of the reign. The reverse bears the sprig of a plant (conjectured to be Aaron's rod) having three buds or fruits, and on the margin the legend, yerushalem ha-qedhoshah, "Jerusalem the holy." The half-shekel has the same type, but the reverse bears the inscription, chatsi sheqel (half-shekel). The letters indicating the year have the letter called "shin" (Shenath, "year") prefixed, except for the first. This also omits the Hebrew letter "waw" (w) from qedhoshah and the second letter, "yodh" (y) from yerushalem. The term "holy" for Jerusalem is found in Isaiah 48:2 and other passages of the Old Testament, and is still preserved in the Arabic qudus by which the city is known today in Syria.
Copper, or bronze, half-and quarter-shekels are also attributed to Simon, bearing date of the 4th year. The obverse of the half-shekel has two bundles of thick-leaved branches with a citron between, and on the reverse a palm tree with two baskets filled with fruit. The legend on the obverse is shenath 'arba` chatsi, "the fourth year a half," and on the reverse, li-ghe'ullath tsiyon, "the redemption of Zion." The quarter-shekel has a similar type, except that the obverse lacks the baskets and the reverse has the citron only. The legend has rebhia`, "quarter," instead of "half." Another type is a cup with a margin of jewels on the obverse and a single bunch of branches with two citrons on the reverse.
The palm is a very common type on the coins of Judea and a very appropriate one, since it is grown there. Jericho was called the city of palms. The branches of trees in bundles illustrate the custom of carrying branches at the Feast of Tabernacles and the erection of booths made of branches for use during this feast (see Leviticus 23:40). The baskets of fruit may refer to the offerings of first-fruits (Deuteronomy 26:2). One of the above series of coins published by Madden bears the countermark of an elephant, which was a symbol adopted by the Seleucid kings, and this is an evidence of its early date. But whatever doubts there may be as to the coins of Simon, there can be none as to those of his successor, John Hyrcanus, who reigned 135-106 BC, since they bear his name. They are all of bronze and bear the following inscription with a great number of variations, Yehochanan hacohen hagadel wachabar heyhudim, "Johanan the high priest and senate of the Jews." The reverse has a two-branched cornucopia with a poppy head rising from the center. There is some doubt as to the meaning of the word hebher in the above. It is commonly rendered "senate," taking it in the sense it seems to bear in Hosea 6:9, "a company" or "band," here the company of elders representing the people. Judas Aristobulus (106-105 BC) issued similar coins with Hebrew legends, but with the accession of Alexander Janneus (105-78 BC) we find bilingual inscriptions on the coins, Hebrew and Greek. The obverse bears the words yehonathan ha-melekh, "Jehonathan the king," and the reverse, BASILEOS ALEXANDROU, "King Alexander." Most of his coins, however, bear Hebrew inscriptions only. All are of copper or bronze, like those of Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, and are of the denomination known to us in the New Testament as "mites" weighing from 25 to 35 grains.
When the Romans took possession of Palestine in 63 BC, the independent rule of the Hasmoneans came to an end, but Pompey confirmed John Hyrcanus as governor of Judea under the title of high priest. Dissensions between him and other members of his family called for interference several times on the part of the Romans. Hyrcanus was again confirmed by Julius Caesar in 47 and continued in authority until 40. It is uncertain what coins he issued, but whatever they were, they bore the type found on those of Alexander Janneus. In 40 BC, the Parthians temporarily overthrew the Roman authority in Syria and Palestine, and set Antigonus on the throne of the latter, and he reigned until 37. The coins he issued bore bilingual inscriptions like the bilinguals of Alexander. He calls himself Antigonus in Greek, and Mattathias in Hebrew, the type being a wreath on the obverse and a double cornucopia on the reverse, though some have it single. They are much heavier coins than the preceding issues. The legends are:
obverse, BASILEOS ANTIGONOU, "of King Antigonus"; reverse (mattithyah ha-kohen gadhol ha-yeh(udhim), "Mattathias the high priest of the Jews."
The Hasmonean dynasty ended with Antigonus and that of the Herods followed. Herod the Great was the first to attain the title of king, and his coins are numerous and bear only Greek legends and are all of bronze. The earliest have the type of a helmet with cheek pieces on the obverse and the legend:
BASILEOS HRODOU, and in the field to the left gamma (year 3), and on the right, a monogram. The reverse has a Macedonian shield with rays. The coin here illustrated is another type: a rude tripod on the obverse, and a cross within a wreath on the reverse, the legend being the same as given above.
Herod Archelaus, who reigned from 4 BC to 6 AD, issued coins with the title of ethnarch, the only coins of Palestine to bear this title. They are all of small size and some of them have the type of a galley, indicating his sovereignty over some of the coast cities, such as Caesarea and Joppa.
The coins of Herod Antipas (4 BC-40 AD) bear the title of tetrarch, many of them being struck at Tiberias, which he founded on the Sea of Galilee and named after the emperor Tiberius. The following is an example:
obverse HER. TETR. (HERODOU TETRACHOU), with the type of a palm branch; reverse, TIBERIAS, within a wreath. Others have a palm tree entire with the date lambda-gamma (LG) and lambda-delta (LD): 33 and 34 of his reign, 29-30 AD. There are coins of Herod Philip, 4 BC-34 AD, though somewhat rare, but those of Agrippa, 37-44 AD, are numerous, considering the shortness of his reign. The most common type is a small coin ("mite") with an umbrella having a tassel-like border, on the obverse, and three ears of wheat on one stalk on the reverse. The legend reads: Basileos Agrippa, and the date is LS (year 6). Larger coins of Agrippa bear the head of the emperor (Caligula or Claudius) with the title of Sebastos (Augustus) in Greek.
Agrippa II was the last of the Herodian line to strike coins (48-100 AD). They were issued under Nero, whose head they sometimes bear with his name as well as that of Agrippa. They are all of the denomination of the mite (lepton).
In 6 AD, Judea was made a Ro province and was governed by procurators, and their coins are numerous, being issued during the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius and Nero. They are all small and bear on the obverse the legends:
KAISAROS (Caesar), or IOULIA (Julia), or the emperor's name joined with Caesar. The coins of the Jews struck during the first and second revolts, 66-70 AD, and 132-135 AD, have already been alluded to with the difficulty of distinguishing them, and some have been described. They all have the types common to the purely Jewish issues; the date palm, the vine, bunches of fruit, the laurel or olive wreath, the cup or chalice, the lyre and a temple with columns. Types of animals or men they regarded as forbidden by their law. Most of them are bronze, but some are silver shekels and half-shekels, dated in the lat, 2nd and 3rd years, if we assign those of higher date to Simon the Maccabee. Those of the 1st year bear the name of Eleazar the priest, on the obverse, and on the reverse the date "first year of the redemption of Israel," shenath 'achath li-ghe'ullath yisra'el. Others bear the name of Simon and some that of "Simon Nesi' Israel" ("Simon Prince of Israel"). The coins of the 2nd and 3rd years are rare. They have the type of the cup and vine leaf, or temple and lulabh. Those supposed to belong to the second revolt bear the name of Simon without Nesi' Israel, and are therefore assigned to Simon Bar-Cochba. The example here given has the type of the temple on the obverse with what is thought to be a representation of the "beautiful gate," between the columns, and a star above. The name Simon is on the margin, the first two letters on the right of the temple and the others on the left. The legend of the reverse is: lecheruth yerushalem ("the deliverance of Jerusalem").
Some of the coins struck by the Romans to commemorate their victory over the Jews were struck in Palestine and some at Rome, and all bear the head of the Roman emperor on the obverse, but the reverse often exhibits Judea as a weeping captive woman, seated at the foot of a palm tree or of a Roman standard bearing a trophy. The legend is sometimes Judea capta and sometimes Judea devicta. The example given has the inscription in Greek:
IOUDIAS EALOKUIAS, Judea capta.
There are coins of Agrippa II (the "king Agrippa" of Acts 25:, struck in the reign of Vespasian, with his name and title on the obverse and with a deity on the reverse, holding ears of wheat in the right hand and a cornucopia in the left. The inscription reads:
ETOU KSBA AGRI PPA (year 26, King Agrippa) in two lines.
After the revolt of Bar-Cochba and the final subjugation of the Jews by Hadrian, Jerusalem was made a Roman colony and the name was changed to Aelia Capitolina. A series of coins was struck, having this title, which continued until the reign of Valerianus, 253-260 AD. These coins were all of copper or bronze, but silver pieces were in circulation, struck at Rome or at some of the more favored towns in Syria, such as Antioch. These were denarii and tetradrachms, the former being about one-fourth the weight of the latter which were known as staters (Matthew 17:27). The piece referred to was the amount of tribute for two persons, and as the amount paid by one was the half-shekel (Matthew 17:24), this piece must have been the equivalent of the shekel or tetradrachm.
These files are public domain.