Three Coins From a Mountain -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 11:4 (Fall 1998)
Article: Three Coins From a Mountain
Author: Bryant G. Wood


Three Coins From a Mountain

Bryant G. Wood

As you trudge up the dusty road to Kh. el-Maqatir, site of an ABR-sponsored excavation, you get the distinct impression that you are climbing a mountain. Your legs tell you that you are gaining elevation. The higher you go, the better the view of the surrounding countryside. And as you approach the top, outcrops of bedrock begin to appear here and there. When you reach the summit you feel as if you have scaled a major height.

But it is not a mountain at all, only another high limestone hill in the Biblical territory of Benjamin. Kh. el-Maqatir hosted centuries of habitation, from the days of Abraham to the times of Jesus. One of the major periods of occupation was the era of the Hamonean dynasty, 152–37 BC, when the Jews were struggling for independence against their Seleucid (Syrian) overlords. ABR volunteers have uncovered unusually wide fortification walls and a number of industrial installations from this period, as well as some fascinating coins. It appears that Kh. el-Maqatir was a Hasmonean fortress guarding the northern approach to Jerusalem, some 10 mi to the south.

One of the benefits of excavating material from later antiquity is that coins are common finds. They were typically struck by the ruler who was in power, and thus served political and propaganda purposes as well as monetary. Many times the particular year of the ruler’s reign when the coin was minted was indicated. In the case of foreign coins, sometimes the likeness of the ruler will appear. Thus, coins are extremely useful to the archaeologist, since they provide a more accurate means of dating than the pottery utilized for earlier periods. Three of the more interesting coins from Kh. el-Maqatir are those of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Demetrius II Nicator, and Herod the Great.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Antiochus IV, 175–164 BC, was the eighth ruler of the Seleucid (Syrian) empire, formed after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. The name means “opposer.” Antiochus took on the additional surname Epiphanes, “manifest,” to indicate he was the manifestation of a deity. He required his subjects to worship him as Olympian Zeus. Antiochus intended to unify the empire by imposing Hellenistic culture on all inhabitants. This policy brought him into sharp conflict with the Jews of Palestine. He is infamous for establishing pagan worship in the Jerusalem Temple, the “abomination of desolation” referred to by Daniel. His relations with the Jews are recorded in 1 and 2 Maccabees, and prophetically seen in Daniel 8:9–25, 23–25 and 11:21–34.

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