No coined money is mentioned in the Bible before Ezra'a time , when other evidence also exists of its having been current in Israel. (See EZRA.) The first notice of coinage, occurring exactly when it ought, if the books professing to precede Ezra's really do so, confirms the accepted earliness of their dates. Money was originally weighed; in the form of rings, as represented on Egyptian monuments. So the Celtic gold rings all contain exact multiples or parts of a unit; probably a currency introduced by Phoenician traders. We know of Greek coinage as far back as the eighth century B.C. Asiatic is probably not older than Cyrus and Croesus who are said to have originated it. It was known probably in Samaria through commerce with Greece. Pheidon first coined silver in the isle Aegina in the eighth or ninth century before Christ, some time between Jehoshaphat's and Hezekiah's reigns. Lydia disputes with Greece priority of coinage. It is not mentioned as a currency in Judea before the return from Babylon.
"Shekel" previously meant a weight, not a coinage. The "thousand pieces of silver" which Abimelech gave Abraham (Genesis 20:16) were of this kind; so the 400 shekels "weighed" by Abraham to Ephron (Genesis 23:3; Genesis 23:9; Genesis 23:16), "current (money) with the merchant"; implying that the silver was in some conventional shapes, with a rude sign to mark its weight. The "weighing" however implies that this currency did not bear the stamp of authority, and so needed weighing for barter. Jacob paid 100 kesitahs for a field at Shalem (Genesis 23:18-19 margin); Chald. and Septuagint "lambs," namely, lamb shaped or lamb stamped pieces of silver, as pecunia, from pecus; but the Arabic root implies equal division, or scales; Umbreit, "weighed out" (compare with Genesis 23:15-16), possibly each equal to four shekels; it is probably a ring-shaped ingot or a bar of silver of a definite weight; Bochart from qasat, "pure" (Job 42:11).
Joseph's brethren received their money "in full weight" (Genesis 43:21). Silver money alone was used, the standard shekel weight being kept in the sanctuary under charge of the priests, from whence arose the phrase "the shekel of the sanctuary" (Exodus 30:18). The wedge or tongue of gold that Achan took was not money probably, as the 200 shekels of silver were, but an article of value used for costly ornamentation. In Isaiah 46:6, however, gold seems to mean uncoined money, "they lavish gold out of the purse ('bag'), and weigh silver in the balance." The Attic talent was the standard one under Alexander, and subsequently down to Roman times; the drachma however becoming depreciated from 67.5 or 65.5 grains under Alexandra to 55 under the early Ceasars; the Roman coinage, gold and silver, in weights was conformed to the Greek, and the denarius the chief silver coin was equivalent to the then depreciated Attic drachma.
Antiochus VII granted Simon the Maccabee permission to coin money with his own stamp, the first recorded coining of Jewish money (1 Maccabees 15:6; 140 B.C.); inscribed "shekel of Israel"; a vase, possibly the pot of manna, and the Hebrew letter 'Aleph (? ) above it (i.e. the first year of Jewish independence, namely, under the Maccabees); the reverse has "Jerusalem the holy," and a branch with three flowers, possibly Aaron's rod that budded or the pomegranate. In copper, on one side a palmtree with the name "Simon"; the reverse, a vine leaf, with the legend "for the freedom of Jerusalem." Shekel (from shaaqal "to weigh") was the Jewish stater ("standard"), 2 shillings, 6 pence. (See SHEKEL.) It corresponds to the tetradrachma or didrachma of the earlier Phoenician talent under the Persian rule. The shekel was of the same weight as the didrachmon, (the translation of "shekel" in Septuagint), and was the same as the Egyptian unit of weight.
The Alexandrian Jews adopted for "shekel" the term didrachma, the coin corresponding to it in weight. But as two drachmas each (1 shilling, 3 pence) was the ransom "tribute" (as the Greek didrachma in Matthew is translated in KJV) to the temple, so the "stater" or shekel found in the fish would be four drachmas (Exodus 30:12-13; Matthew 17:24-27). Four Attic drachmas equaled two Alexandrian drachmas. The minute accuracy of the evangelist confirms the genuineness; for at this time the only Greek imperial silver coin in the East was a tetra-drachma, i.e. four drachmas, the di-drachma being unknown or rarely coined. Darics ("drams"), a Persian coin, were the standard gold currency in Ezra's time (Ezra 2:69; Ezra 8:27; Nehemiah 7:70-72). Ezra the author of Chronicles uses the same name (1 Chronicles 29:7). The daric in the British Museum has the king of Persia with bow and javelin, kneeling; the reverse is an irregular incuse square.
Copper coins of Herod are extant in abundance, as the "farthing" of the New Testament, a piece of brass or copper (chalkous), with "king Herod" and an anchor; the reverse, two cornua copiae "horns of plenty," within which is a caduceus, Mercury's wand. The Palestinian currency was mainly of copper, from whence Mark (Mark 6:8) uses "copper" or brass for "money" (margin, compare Matthew 10:9). The Roman denarius or "penny" in weight and value in New Testament is equivalent to the Greek drachma (Matthew 22:19; Luke 15:8, Greek text). The accuracy of the first three Gospels, and their date soon after the ascension, appear from their making Caesar's head be on the denarius. So, the penny coin extant of Tiberius has the title "Caesar," whereas most later emperors have the title Augustus. The most interesting extant coin is that struck by Pontius Pilate: on the obverse an augur's wand with "Tiberius Caesar" round; on the reverse the date in a wreath.
Tiberius' passion for augury and astrology suggested the augur's lithus. A Lydian coin extant mentions the Asiarchs, "chief of Asia" (Acts 19:31). A coin of Ephesus mentions its "town clerk"; also another its temple and statue of Diana. A coin of Domitian records rich Laodicea's restoration by its citizens after an earthquake which also destroyed Colessae and Hierapolis, which accounts for their omission in the addresses in Revelation. Coins exist of the time of Judea's revolt from Rome, inscribed with "the liberty of Zion," a vine stalk, leaf, and tendril. The famous Roman coin (see p. 405), struck after Titus took Jerusalem, has the legend Judaea Capta, with a female" sitting on the ground desolate" (fulfilling Isaiah 3:26) under a palm tree. Also a Greek coin has Titus' head, and the legend "the emperor Titus Caesar"; reverse, Victory writing on a shield, before her a palm. The Attic talent (the one current in New Testament period) had 100 drachmas, the drachma being = 7 3/4d.; the mina was 3 British pounds, 4 shillings, 7 pence, and the talent 193 British pounds, 15 shillings.
The talent was not a coin but a sum. The Hebrew talent = 3,000 shekels, or 375 British pounds (about the weight of the Aegina talent), for 603,550 persons paid 100 talents and 1,775 shekels of silver, i.e., as each paid a half shekel, 301,775 whole shekels; so that 100 talents contained 300,000 shekels. The gold talent was 100 manehs or minae, and the gold muneh was 100 shekels of gold; the gold talent weighed 1,290,000 grains, a computation agreeing with the shekels extant. The talent of copper had probably 1,500 copper shekels, copper being to silver as 1 to 72. The quadrans (Mark 12:42; Luke 12:59; Luke 21:2) or kodrantes (Greek), "farthing," was a fourth of an obolus, which was a sixth of a drachma. (See HAND.) The assarion, a diminutive of an "as," less than our penny, is loosely translated "farthing" in Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6. The lepton, "mite," was a seventh of an obolus (Mark 12:42). The 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas for betraying Jesus were tetradrachmas or shekels, the sum paid for a slave accidentally killed (Zechariah 11:12; Zechariah 11:18; Matthew 26:15; Exodus 21:32).
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