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.
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