Coin Collecting - Biblical Coins

"Biblical" coins can include those explicitly mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible, those used in the Roman Province of Judea during New Testament times, or coins circulated during the inter-testament period. Such coins might include those minted by the Maccabees, Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa, Pontius Pilate, Augustus, or Tiberius.

Coins specifically minted for use in ancient Judea often lack a portrait image in compliance with the Biblical commandment, "Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image." However, coins intended for a wider distribution in the ancient world will typically have a portrait image, usually of the ruler.

The Widow's Mite (Lepton)

Widows_Mite

He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two lepta. And he said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."(Luke.21: 1 - 4).

The Lepton (plural, Lepta) was a small, crudely minted coin that was of very little value. In fact, the Lepton may be the lowest denomination coin ever struck! The coins were issued by King Alexander Jannaeus who ruled Judea from 103 - 76 BC. Thus, by the time of Christ's ministry, these coins were already over a century old and, yet, still in circulation.

Despite the description of the coin as being made of "copper" in some translations, the Lepton was actually made of bronze (copper with added tin or arsenic). According to the Gospel of Mark (in the original Greek) two Lepta were worth a Quadrans (Kodrantes), which was the lowest denomination Roman coin (see section on Roman Coins). Hence, it would take 128 Lepta to have the equivalent of a Denarius (a single day's wages - see below).

Tribute Penny (Denarius)

Tribute_Penny

They asked him, "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription has it?" They said, "Caesar's." He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."(Luke 20:21 - 25).

This is almost certainly a Denarius with the head of Tiberius, who was emperor of Rome at that time. The Denarius was a silver coin and it was approximately equivalent to a day's wages for a laborer (see Matthew 20:2).

The Money Changers (Tyrian Shekels)

Tyrian_Shekel

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me."(John 2:14 - 17).

Each Jewish man twenty years of age or older was expected to pay an annual Half Shekel tax to the Temple in Jerusalem. These silver Shekels were originally produced in Tyre, but later they were minted in Judea. They were regarded by the Jewish authorities as being superior to the standard roman coinage of the day in that they were composed of purer silver (at least 94%). Since the temple tax could only be paid in the form of these Shekels, moneychangers were necessary to exchange them for the Roman, Greek, and other coins that most people carried.

Ironically, in a culture dedicated to strict monotheism, Tyrian Shekels bore the portrait image of a pagan deity (Melqarth-Herakles) on their obverse side! Furthermore, this pagan deity remained on the coins even after the mint in Tyre was closed and production was taken over by the Jewish authorities.

Since these were the primary (if not only) coins deposited into the Temple treasury it is likely that these Shekels were also the "thirty pieces of silver" paid to Judas Iscariot as the price for betraying Christ. When Judas regretted his wickedness and returned the coins, the authorities could not return them to the treasury as they were "blood money."

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