Coins Of The Bible -- By: David Hendin
BSP 7:4 (Autumn 1994) p. 115
Coins Of The Bible
Aside from the Bible itself, the ancient coins of the Holy Land are possibly our closet link with our forebears, about whom both the Old and New Testaments were written. Unlike archaeological ruins and larger artifacts, the coins invariably carry meaningful inscriptions.
Just as significant is the fact that many of these biblical coins can be purchased even today for $25 or less—and thus are within the reach of many interested individuals.
The first coins were not struck until late in the seventh century BC in Asia Minor. About 100 years later, coins first reached the land of ancient Israel.
Both the Old and New Testaments refer to actual coins. Some of those mentioned are illustrated here along with a few coins of rulers mentioned in the New Testament.
Half Shekel: Temple Tribute
They shall give. .. half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary. .. an half shekel shall be the offering of the Lord (Ex 30:13).
Silver shekels and half shekels minted in the Phoenecian coastal city of Tyre were of such high-quality silver and uniform weight that they alone were preferred for the annual offering.
One would think these coins were offensive to the Jews and the early Christians because they carry the image of the Greek god Melqarth. Surely this was considered a “graven image” and thus prohibited.
Yet, it is stated in early Jewish writings that the stigma of using money bearing a “graven image” could be removed if the coins were thrown
BSP 7:4 (Autumn 1994) p. 116
down and not passed from hand to hand. Thus, it is probable that the annual half-shekel tribute offering was thrown into a collection basket or box.
Because the coins of Tyre were the only ones accepted, a group of money changers operated in the outer court of the Temple. They functioned just as foreign-currency exchanges do today, charging a fee of 8 percent to convert foreign currency into the coins of Tyre.
During the middle of the first century AD, these money changers apparently became very competitive, and perhaps unruly, thus causing the episode about which we read in Matthew 21:12:
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