Coins of The Bible

Coins of The Bible

The Coins of Bible

Picture this…a coin minted over two thousand years ago that could have been in the hands of one of the most historical figures, Jesus Christ. Matthew 20:2 and Mark 12:14-17 illustrate the tale of the tribute penny: a coin which Jesus held in his hand to paint a picture of the human intuition, and to command his followers to “render unto Caesar which is Caesar’s.” Coins have played an important role throughout history, and the Holy Bible is no exception. The coins mentioned in the Bible provide valuable insights into the economics, politics, and social life of the times in which they were used. But they also reveal a historical timeline which can help piece together the history of ancient coinage. Whether someone has faith in the text of Biblical doctrine, or simply treats it as a historical manuscript, it is nonetheless interesting to partake in learning about the varieties of numismatics hidden within its pages.

In its entirety, there are nearly a dozen specific coin types mentioned in the Bible. Perhaps seven are mentioned in the Old Testament (written before 200 BC) and four are directly linked to the New Testament (written from 40 AD until 90 AD). The apostle Paul is among those who reference numismatics the most, as he uses economic terminology frequently within his letters. Many of the major references to the Roman economy are exchanged through these letters written by Paul. Direct references to the Roman economy are frequent, such as in Acts where Paul states the Jewish authorities took money as security for debts or crimes (Acts 17:9). Paul, being a key figure in the early Christian Church, played a significant role in spreading Christianity throughout the Roman Empire which was often halted by the Jewish authority. As he traveled throughout the Mediterranean region, he would have been familiar with the Roman economy and the various economic challenges that faced the people of his time. One of the key economic factors that would have affected Paul's ministry was the Roman system of taxation. The Roman Empire levied various taxes on its subjects, including income tax, property tax, and customs duties. These taxes were often unpopular with the people, who saw them as a burden and a symbol of Roman oppression. In his letter to the Romans, Paul exhorts his readers to "be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). This message of submission to the government would have been important in a context where resistance to Roman rule was common. The Roman economy was greatly affected by various trade routes and commercial activities. The Mediterranean region was an important center of trade and commerce, with goods and commodities flowing between various regions and countries. Paul would have been familiar with these trade routes and would have understood the importance of commerce in the Roman economy. In his letter to the Philippians, he commends the Philippian Christians for their generosity in supporting his ministry, noting that their gifts were "a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18).


tribute penny” mentioned in Matthew 20:2 and Mark 12:14-17


The “tribute penny” mentioned in Matthew 20:2 and Mark 12:14-17

Photo Courtesy of Classical Numismatics Group LLC


            The bible specifically mentions denominations and units of measurements within coinage. From the earliest books, such as Exodus and Numbers (written around 1500 BC), the Shekel and Talent units of measurement are often cited. As an example, the half-shekel temple tax is set into law referenced in Exodus 30:13. Before the invention of coinage at or around 675 BC by the ancient Lydians, the barter/trade system of exchange was relatively widespread. Bullion was used for its intrinsic value, and was often exchanged for goods and services. The wealthy, especially, learned to refine gold and silver around 800 BC in a process called cupellation. The shekel and talent were one of the many ways to measure such bullion. “The shekel shall be twenty gerahs; twenty shekels plus twenty-five shekels plus fifteen shekels shall be your mina” (Ezekiel 45:12). A gerah was to equal a twentieth of a shekel, and sixty would equal a mina–making the standard unit of currency a shekel of around 14g of silver. A talent was an enormous sum of money, and is mentioned in Matthew 25:14-30. A talent would measure a minimum of sixty minas subdivided into sixty shekels.


Judean silver Gerah

Judean silver Gerah, weighing at 0.45g            


Early Shekel minted in Tyre

Early Shekel minted in Tyre (435-415 BC) at 12.93g

Photos Courtesy of Classical Numismatics Group LLC


A Breakdown of Types Mentioned in the Bible

            The book of Judges is perhaps the earliest book to reference coinage. The earliest coins were minted around 675 BC and the book of Judges was written just shy of a century after around 550 BC. Judges was written by an unknown author during the Jewish Babylonian exile. “And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the Kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels” (Judges 8:26). The shekel is also mentioned in Judges 9:4 and Judges 17:10, where it states ten shekels was an adequate yearly wage for a laborer.


Double Shekel minted in Babylon

Double Shekel minted in Babylon (321-315 BC)

Photo Courtesy of Classical Numismatics Group LLC


            Based on hoard evidence and biblical doctrine, the first coins to have circulated in the holy land around the time of the prophets in the Old Testament are Persian silver Siglos and gold Daric. A Daric, equal to about twenty Sigloi, was the standard of coinage in the Achaemenid empire, and was named after the great King Darius I. Darius was a biblical figure, being mentioned in the book of Daniel as the “King of Babylon” (Daniel 5:31). It is heavily debated whether the Darius mentioned in the Bible is referring to one of the great Persian kings, or if it is a pseudonym used by a Satrap. The book of Ezra references Daric coins directly, as the “treasury of the work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests' garments” (Ezra 2:69).


Persian Daric of Darius I

Persian Daric of Darius I (485-420 BC)

Photo Courtesy of Classical Numismatics Group LLC


            The standards for the Jewish temple tax was referenced back in original jewish Levitical law, but was a standard in the New Testament when referring to value. Jesus uses the temple tax in his teachings frequently, such as in Matthew when Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum “the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter (disciple) and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” (Matthew 17:24). The type referenced could perhaps be the half-Shekel of Tyre. Tyrian coinage was heavily circulated in the holy land, with a half-Shekel equaling about two Drachma. The full shekel denomination was mentioned upwards of thirty times, and is often thought to be the thirty pieces of silver Judas was paid to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:15).


Half-Shekel minted during the time of Christ

Half-Shekel minted during the time of Christ (20-21 AD)

Photo Courtesy of Classical Numismatics Group LLC

            The most widely marketed “biblical coin” is a series of small bronze Prutah denomination mites. The so-called “widow's mite” was mentioned in the gospel of Mark. “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny” (Mark 12:42). As the Bible was translated throughout the millennia, the denomination for “penny” was often translated into the country of origin. For example, the King James bible references a British Farthing instead of Penny. There was no English term for the “mite” as it was called a Lepton or Prutah during the time it was circulated. These coins were minted by the many governors and magistrates of Judea, with notable issuers being Herod and Pontius Pilate – both of which are mentioned in the gospels.

Mite “Prutah” minted under Pontius Pilate

Mite “Prutah” minted under Pontius Pilate (30-31 AD)

Photo Courtesy of Classical Numismatics Group LLC

After the Bible

            The first Jewish revolt of 70 AD marked a time in history for religion that would never be undone. At this time, most of the Bible had been written (save for Revelation written by John at Patmos) and prophecies and miracles alike were long fulfilled. One prophecy was left unfulfilled: the destruction of the temple. Jesus foretold that in the destruction there “will not be left [] one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). During the revolt of 70 AD, Jewish rebels minted their own coins as a way of asserting their independence and sovereignty. These coins were minted in the Shekel and Half Shekel denominations and bronze Æ denominations all bearing the same design.


Jewish War Shekel

Jewish War Shekel

Photo Courtesy of Classical Numismatics Group LLC

            Throughout history, there have been several individuals who claimed to be the Messiah or a divinely appointed leader but were later proven to be false messiahs. The most notable of these includes Simon bar Kokhba. In the 2nd century AD, Simon bar Kokhba led a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire in Judea. He claimed to be the Messiah and was initially successful in his rebellion, but he was eventually defeated by the Romans, and his followers were killed or enslaved. The coins of Simon bar Kokhba are often referred to as "Bar Kokhba Revolt coins" and are highly prized by collectors and historians. They were minted in various denominations, including silver sela'im, copper prutot, and bronze denominations. The coins feature various symbols and inscriptions that were significant to the Jewish people at the time. For example, some coins show a palm tree with the inscription "Shim'on" (Simon) in Hebrew, while others feature a vine leaf with the inscription "For the freedom of Jerusalem" in ancient Hebrew script. The Bar Kokhba Revolt coins are significant because they provide evidence of the rebellion and offer a glimpse into the religious and political beliefs of the Jewish people at the time. They also demonstrate the importance of coinage as a means of propaganda and messaging during times of conflict and upheaval.


Silver Zus of Simon Bar Kokhba

Silver Zus of Simon Bar Kokhba (132-135 AD)

Photo Courtesy of Classical Numismatics Group LLC

The coins minted during the ancient world provide an insight into what life was like all those centuries ago. They also serve as a reminder of the enduring importance of money and currency in human society. Scholars and collectors alike often disregard the fact ancient currency was used and loved in a society, and coins that can be purchased for a collection could have been a lifetime of hard work. The coins mentioned in the Holy Bible were used as a means of exchange for the characters in it, as well as symbols of power, authority, and faith. The designs and inscriptions on these coins offer a glimpse into the culture and beliefs of the people who used them, and they continue to fascinate scholars and collectors to this day.



 By. Colby J. Abele





























































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