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1. Antiquity of a metallic currency: weights and values. That the precious metals, gold and silver, and to a less extent copper, were the ordinary media of exchange in Palestine from a time long prior to the appearance there of the Hebrews, is now amply attested by evidence from Egypt and Babylonia, and even from the soil of Palestine itself. The predominance of silver as the metal currency for everyday transactions is further shown by the constant use in Hebrew literature of the word for ‘silver’ ( keseph ) in the sense of ‘money.’

As there can be no question of the existence of coined money in Palestine until the Persian period, the first step in the study of the money of OT is to master the system of weights adopted for the weighing of the precious metals. Money might indeed be ‘told’ or counted, but the accuracy of the ‘tale’ had to be tested by means of the balance; or rather, as we see from such passages as 2 Kings 12:10-11 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), money was told by being weighed . Now, all the weight-systems of Western Asia, and even of Europe, had their origin in Babylonia (for details see Weights and Measures). There, as required by the sexagesimal system of reckoning, the ancient unit of weight, the manu ( Heb. maneh as in Ezekiel 45:12 elsewhere in EV [Note: English Version.] ‘ pound ’) or mina , which weighed 7580 grains on the light, and 15,160 on the heavy standard, was divided into 60 shekels , while 60 minas went to the higher denomination, the talent. It will thus be seen that the light Babylonian trade shekel weighed, neglecting fractions, 126 grains troy, and the heavy shekel 252. The former, it will be useful to remember, was but three grains heavier than a British gold sovereign.

As this weight-system spread westwards with the march of Babylonian civilization and commerce, it came into conflict with the decimal system of calculation, and a compromise was effected, which resulted in the mina being reduced to 50 shekels, while the talent remained at 60 minas, although reduced in weight to 3000 shekels. That the Hebrew talent by which the precious metals were weighed contained 3000, not 3600, shekels may be seen by a simple calculation from the data of Exodus 38:25 ff., Further, the heavy Babylonian shekel of 252 grains remained in use among the Hebrews for the weighing of gold until NT times. For this we have the express testimony of Josephus, who tells us ( Ant . XIV. vii. 1) that the Hebrew gold mina was equal to 2 1 / 2 Roman pounds. On the basis of 5053 grains to the libra or pound, this gives a shekel of 252 2 /3 grains, the exact weight of the heavy Babylonian shekel of the common or trade standard.

For the weighing of silver, on the other hand, this shekel was discarded for practical reasons. Throughout the East in ancient times the ratio of gold to silver was 13 1 /3:1, which means that a shekel of gold could buy 13 1 /3 times the same weight of silver.

The latest explanation of this invariable ratio, it may be added in passing, is that advocated by Winckler and his followers. On this, the so-called ‘astral mythology’ theory of the origin of Babylonian culture, gold, the yellow metal, was specially associated with the sun, while the paler silver was the special ‘moon-metal.’ Accordingly it was natural to fix the ratio between them as that which existed between the year and the month, viz. 360: 27 or 40: 3.

In ordinary commerce, however, this ratio between the two chief media of exchange was extremely inconvenient, and to obviate this inconvenience, the weight of the shekel for weighing silver was altered so that a gold shekel might be exchanged for a whole number of silver shekels. This alteration was effected in two ways. On the one band, along the Babylonian trade-routes into Asia Minor the light Babylonian shekel of 126 grains was raised to 168 grains, so that 10 such shekels of silver now represented a single gold shekel, since 126 × 13 1 /3 = 168 × 10. On the other hand, the great commercial cities of Phœnicia introduced a silver shekel of 224 grains, 15 of which were equivalent to one heavy Babylonian gold shekel of 252 grains, since 252 × 13 1 /3 = 224 × 15. This 224-grain shekel is accordingly known as the Phœnician standard. It was on this standard that the sacred dues of the Hebrews were calculated (see § 3 ); on it also the famous silver shekels and half-shekels were struck at a later period (§ 5 ).

With regard, now, to the intrinsic value of the above gold and silver shekels, all calculations must start from the mint price of gold, which in Great Britain is £3, 17s. 10 1 /2d. per ounce of 480 grains. This gives £2, 1s. as the value of the Hebrew gold shekel of 252 grs., and since the latter was the equivalent of 15 heavy Phœnician shekels, 2s. 9d. represents the value as bullion of the Hebrew silver shekel . Of course the purchasing power of both in Bible times, which is the real test of the value of money, was many times greater than their equivalents in sterling money at the present day.

The results as to weights and values above set forth may be presented in tabular form as follows:

Denomination. Weight. Intrinsic Value. Gold Shekel 252 2 /3 grs. troy. £2 1 0 Mina = 50 shekels 12,630 grs. troy. 102 10 0 Talent = 3000 758,000 grs. troy. 6150 0 0 ( circa 108 lbs. avoir.) Silver Shekel 224½ grs. troy. 0 2 9 Mina 11,225 grs. troy. 6 16 8 ( circa 1 lb. 10 oz. avoir.) Talent 673,500 grs. troy. 410 0 0 ( circa 96 lbs. avoir.) Since the effective weight of the extant shekels is somewhat under the theoretical weight above given, the intrinsic value of any number of shekels of silver may be found with sufficient accuracy by equating the shekel roughly with our half-crown (2s. 6d.).

Although we have literary and numismatic evidence for the gold and silver shekels of these tables only, it may now be regarded as certain that other standards were in use in Palestine in historic times for weighing the precious metals. The best attested is that which the present writer, in his article ‘Weights and Measures’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] lv. 904 f., termed the ‘Syrian 320-grain unit,’ a shekel which is the of a heavy Babylonian mina of 16,000 grains. That the light shekel of this standard, represented by the now familiar weights of 160 grains or thereby, inscribed netseph , was used for weighing silver or gold or both is evident from the small denominations which have been recovered, such as the quarter netseph of 40 grs., known as the Chaplin weight (see op. cit . and PEFSt [Note: Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1903, p. 197, 1904, p. 209 ff., and later years).

2. Money in the pre-exilic period . Throughout the whole of this period, as has already been emphasized, in every transaction involving the payment of sums of considerable value, the money was reckoned by weight. Accordingly, when Abraham bought the field and cave of Machpelah he ‘weighed to Ephron the silver … four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant’ ( Genesis 23:15 ). In view of what has just been said regarding the variety of standards in use in Palestine in early times, it would be unwise, in the present state of our knowledge, to pronounce as to the value of the price paid in this transaction. On the Phœnician standard it would be approximately £55 sterling; on the netseph standard, which stands to the Phœnician in the ratio of 5:7, it would be under £40. Similarly, the price which David paid for the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, 50 shekels of silver ( 2 Samuel 24:24 ), will vary from £5 to £7 according to the standard adopted. On the other hand, where gold is concerned, as in the case of the 30 talents which Sennacherib ‘appointed unto Hezekiah’ ( 2 Kings 18:14 ), we may with some confidence assume the gold standard common to Palestine and Assyria. In this case Hezekiah’s tribute will represent the respectable sum of £184, 500.

A noteworthy feature of the entries of prices in the pre-exilic writings of the Hebrews is the disappearance of the mina, the sums being stated in terms of shekels and talents exclusively. Thus Abraham, as we have seen, paid 400 shekels, not 8 minas, to the children of Heth; the weight, and therefore the value, of Achan’s ‘wedge of gold’ (see next paragraph) is given as 50 shekels, not as 1 mina, and so throughout.

In this period the precious metals circulated in three forms. The shekel, its subdivisions (cf. the quarter-shekel of 1 Samuel 9:8 ) and smaller multiples, had the form of ingots of metal, without any stamp or other mark, so far as our evidence goes, as a guarantee of their purity and weight. Larger values were made up in the shape of bars, such as Schliemann discovered at Troy and Macalister found at Gezer (illust. Bible Sidelights , etc., fig. 36). The ‘ wedge (lit. ‘tongue’) of gold ’ which Achan appropriated from the loot of Jericho ( Joshua 7:21 ) was probably such a thin bar of gold. Further, Rebekah’s nose-ring of half a shekel of gold, and her bracelets of ten shekels ( Genesis 24:22 ), represent a third form which the metal currency of the early period might assume. The vases and other vessels of gold and silver which are so frequently mentioned in ancient tribute lists also, in all probability, represented definite weights and values.

To such an extent was the shekel the exclusive unit in all ordinary transactions, that the Hebrew writers frequently omit it in their statements of prices. This applies to gold as well as to silver, e.g . 2 Kings 5:5 ‘six thousand’ of gold, where AV [Note: Authorized Version.] and RV [Note: Revised Version.] supply ‘pieces,’ but RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] has the correct ‘shekels’ (cf. silverling [wh. see] in Isaiah 7:23 ).

3. Money in the Persian period: introduction of coins . In this period the money of the small Jewish community was still, as before the Exile, chiefly ingots and bars of the precious metals, without official mark of any kind. The addition of such a mark by the issuing authority serves as a public guarantee of the purity of the metal and the weight of the ingot, and transforms the latter into a coin. Coined money is usually regarded as the invention of the Lydians early in the 7th cent. b.c., but it is very improbable that any ‘coins’ reached Palestine before the fall of the Jewish State in b.c. 587. The first actual coins to reach Jerusalem were more probably those of Darius Hystaspis (b.c. 522 485), who struck two coins, the daric in gold, and the siglos or siktos (from sheket ) in silver. The daric was a light shekel of 130 grains 7 grains heavier than our ‘sovereign’ worth twenty-one shillings sterling. The siglos was really a half-shekel of 86 1 /2 grains, equal therefore to 1 /20th of the daric, on the ten-shekel basis set forth in § 1 , or a fraction more than a shilling.

In several passages of Chron., Ezr., and Neh. the RV [Note: Revised Version.] has substituted ‘darics’ for AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘ drams ’ ( 1 Chronicles 29:7 , Ezra 2:69 , Nehemiah 7:70 ff. etc.). But there are valid reasons (see ‘Money’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iii. 421) for retaining the older rendering in the sense, not of coins, but of weights. On the other hand, since Nehemiah was a Persian official, the ‘forty shekels of silver’ of Nehemiah 5:15 may be Persian sigloi, although they may with equal probability be regarded as shekels of the usual Phœnician standard. There is, of course, no question of the Jewish community striking silver coins of their own, this jealously guarded right being then, as always, ‘the touchstone of sovereignty.’

In this period, however, the wealthy commercial cities on the Phœnician seaboard Aradus, Sidon, Tyre, and others acquired the right of issuing silver coins, which they naturally did on the native standard. The effective weight of these shekels or tetradrachms , as they are usually termed, averages about 220 grains, a few grains short of the normal 224. These coins have a special interest for the Bible student, from the fact that they are the numismatic representatives of ‘ the shekel of the sanctuary ,’ which is prescribed in the Priests’ Code as the monetary unit of the post-exilic community (see Leviticus 27:25 ‘all thy estimations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary’). In Exodus 30:13 and elsewhere this shekel is said to consist of 20 gerahs , which the Greek translators identified with the small silver obol of the Gr. coinage, 20 of which yield a shekel of 224 grains. Moreover, it is repeatedly stated in the Talmud that ‘all payments according to the shekel of the sanctuary are to be made in Phœnician currency’ (Mishna, Bekhoroth , viii. 7). For the mode of payment of the half-shekel tax for the Temple services see § 7 .

4. Money in the period from Alexander to the Maccabees . Alexander’s conquest of Syria was naturally followed by the introduction of his coinage in gold, silver, and bronze. On his death, Ptolemy I. established himself in Egypt, to which be soon added Palestine. During the following century (b.c. 301 198) the Jews had at their command the coins of the Ptolemaic dynasty, struck at Alexandria on the Phœnician standard, as well as those of the flourishing cities on the Mediterranean. The tribute paid by the Jews to the third Ptolemy did not exceed the modest sum of 20 talents of silver, or circa £4360.

In b.c. 198 Antiochus iii. wrested Palestine from the Ptolemys. Now the Seleucids had continued Alexander’s silver coinage on the Attic standard, the basis of which was the drachm of, originally, 67 grs., but the effective weight of the Syrian drachms and tetradrachms of this period is slightly below this standard, and may be valued at 11d. and 3s. 8d. respectively. The drachms (To 5:14, 2Ma 4:19 ; 2Ma 12:43 ) and talents (6000 drachms) of the Books of Maccabees are to be regarded as on this Syrian-Attic standard.

5. The first native coinage: the problem of the ‘shekel of Israel’ . In b.c. 139 138 Antiochus Sidetes granted to Simon Maccabæus the right to coin money (see 1Ma 15:5 f.). ‘The thorniest question of all Jewish numismatics,’ as it has been called, is the question whether and to what extent Simon availed himself of this privilege. A series of silver shekels and half-shekels on the Phœnician standard, bearing dates from ‘year 1’ to ‘year 5,’ has long been known to students. They show on the obverse and reverse respectively a cup or chalice and a spike of a lily with three flowers. The legends in old Hebrew letters on the shekels are: obv. ‘Shekel of Israel’; rev. ‘Jerusalem the holy’ (see illust. in plate accompanying art. ‘Money’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iii. Nos. 14, 15; Reinach, Jewish Coins , pl. ii.; and more fully in Madden’s Coins of the Jews the standard work on Jewish numismatics, 67 ff.). Only two alternatives are possible regarding the date of these famous coins. Either they belong to the governorship of Simon Maccabæus who died b.c. 135, or to the period of the great revolt against Rome, a.d. 66 70. The latest presentation of the arguments for the earlier date will be found in M. Theodore Reinach’s book cited above. It is not a point in his favour, however, that he is compelled to assign the shekels of the year 5 to John Hyrcanus, Simon’s son and successor.

The present writer is of opinion that the arguments he has advanced elsewhere in favour of the later date ( DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iii. 424 f., 429 f.) still hold good. In this case the earliest Jewish coins will be certain small bronze coins struck by the above-mentioned Hyrcanus (b.c. 135 104), with the legend in minute old Hebrew characters: ‘John, the high priest, and the commonwealth ( or the executive) of the Jews.’ The title of ‘king’ first appears on bronze coins of Alexander Jannæus ‘Jonathan the king’ who also first introduced a Greek, in addition to a Hebrew, legend. No silver coins, it may be added, were struck by any of Simon’s successors, or even by the more powerful and wealthier Herod. The bronzes of the latter present no new feature of interest.

6. Money in Palestine under the Romans . From a numismatic point of view Judæa may be said to have formed a part of the Roman dominions from b.c. 53, from which date the Roman monetary unit, the silver denarius, with its subdivisions in copper, as quadrans, etc., was legal tender in Jerusalem. Since the denarius was almost equal in weight to the Syrian-Attic drachm (§ 4) the silver unit throughout the Seleucid empire the two coins were regarded as of equal value, and four denarii were in ordinary business the equivalent of a tetradrachm of Antioch.

The Roman gold coin, the aureus , representing 25 denarii, varied in weight in NT times from 126 to 120 grains. Since a British ‘sovereign’ weighs a little over 123 grains, the aureus may for approximate calculations be reckoned at £1. Similarly the denarius from Augustus to Nero weighed 60 grs. our sixpenny piece weighs 43.6 grs. and was equal to 16 copper asses. To reach the monetary value of the denarius in sterling money, which is on a gold standard, we have only to divide the value of the gold aureus by 25, which gives 9 3 /8 d., say nine pence halfpenny for convenience, or a French franc.

In addition to these two imperial coins, the system based on the Greek drachm was continued in the East, and both drachms and tetradrachms were issued from the imperial mint at Antioch. In our Lord’s day Tyre still continued to issue silver and bronze coins, the former mainly tetradrachms or shekels on the old Phœnician standard (220 224 grs.). As the nearest equivalent of the Heb. shekel these Tyrian coins were much in demand for the payment of the Temple tax of one half-shekel (see next §). Besides all these, the procurators issued small bronze coins, probably the quadrans ( 1 /4 of an as), from their mint at Cæsarea, not to mention the numerous cities, such as Samaria-Sebaste, which had similar rights.

7. The money of NT . This article may fitly close with a few notes on each of the various denominations mentioned in NT. The currency was in three metals: ‘get you no gold nor silver nor brass (copper) in your purses’ ( Matthew 10:9 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). Following this order we have ( a ) the gold aureus here referred to only indirectly. Its value was £1 (see § 6 ). ( b ) The silver coin most frequently mentioned is the Roman denarius (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] and RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘ penny ,’ Amer. RV [Note: Revised Version.] , more correctly, ‘shilling’). In value equal to a franc or 9 1 /2d., it was the day’s wage of a Jewish labourer ( Matthew 20:2 ). A typical denarius of our Lord’s day, with which the Roman dues were paid ( Matthew 22:19 ), would have on its obverse the head of the Emperor Tiberius, and for ‘ superscription ’ the following legend in Latin: ‘Tiberius Cæsar, the son of the deified Augustus, (himself) Augustus’ (illust. No. 13 of plate in ‘Money,’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iii.). ( c ) The drachm on the Attic standard (§ 5) is named only Luke 15:8 : ‘what woman having ten drachms (EV [Note: English Version.] ‘pieces of silver’), if she lose one drachm,’ etc. In ordinary usage, as we have seen, it was the equivalent of the denarius, but for Government purposes it was tariffed at only ¾ of the denarius. The 50,000 ‘pieces of silver’ (lit. ‘ silverlings ’) of Acts 19:19 were denarius-drachms. ( d ) Once there is mention of a didrachm ( Matthew 17:24 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘tribute money,’ RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘the half-shekel’), but this was a two-drachm piece on the Phœnician standard, and was now very rare. Accordingly it was usual for two persons to join forces in paying the Temple tax of a half-shekel by presenting a Phœnician tetra-drachm. This is ( e ) the ‘piece of money’ of v. 27, which RV [Note: Revised Version.] has properly rendered by ‘shekel,’ with the word of the original, stater, in the margin. The thirty ‘pieces of silver’ for which Judas betrayed his Lord were also most probably Tyrian tetradrachms. Although these by Government tariff would be equal to only 90 denarii, their ordinary purchasing power was then equal to 120 denarii or francs, say £4, 16s. of our money.

Passing to the copper coins of the Gospels, we find three denominations in the original, the tepton , the kodrantes , and the assarion , rendered in Amer. RV [Note: Revised Version.] by ‘mite,’ ‘farthing,’ and ‘penny’ respectively. Our EV [Note: English Version.] , unfortunately, renders both the two last by ‘farthing,’ having used ‘penny’ for the denarius. There are great difficulties in the way of identifying these among the copper coins that have come down to us (for details see Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iii. 428 f., EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] iii. 3647). ( f ) The tepton , the widow’s mite ( Mark 12:42 , Luke 21:2 ), was the smallest coin in circulation, probably one of the minute Maccabæan bronzes. Its value was between 1 /4 and 1 /3 of an English farthing. ( g ) Two mites made a kodrantes (Lat. quadrans ), the ‘uttermost farthing ’ of Matthew 5:26 , which was either the actual Roman quadrans or its equivalent among the local bronze coins. As 1 /3; of the denarius, it was worth a trifle more than half a farthing. ( h ) The assarion is the ‘farthing’ (Amer. RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘ penny ’) associated with the price of sparrows ( Matthew 10:29 , Luke 12:6 ), and was a copper coin on the Greek system, probably the dichatkus , of which in ordinary business 24 went to the denarius-drachm. Its value would thus be about 3 /8 of a penny. The relative values of the three coins may be represented by 1 /8, 1 /8, and 1 /3 of a penny respectively.

There remain the two larger denominations, the talent and the pound or mina, neither of which was any longer, as in the earlier period, a specific weight of bullion, but a definite sum of money. ( i ) The talent now contained 6000 denarius-drachms, which made 240 aurei or £240 (so Matthew 18:24 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). It is not always realized, perhaps, how vast was the difference in the amounts owing in this parable ( Matthew 18:23 ff.). The one servant owed 100 denarii, the other 10,000 talents or sixty million denarii. The one debt, occupying little more space than 100 sixpences, could be carried in the pocket; for the payment of the other, an army of nearly 8600 carriers, each with a sack 60 lbs. in weight, would be required. If these were placed in single file, a yard apart, the train would be almost five miles in length! ( j ) The pound , finally, of another parable ( Luke 19:13 ff.) was a mina, the sixtieth part of a talent, in other words 100 denarius-drachms or £4 sterling.

For the later coinage of the Jews, which was confined to the two periods of revolt against the Roman power, in a.d. 66 70 and 132 135, in addition to what has been said above (§ 5 ) regarding the shekels and half-shekels here assumed to belong to the first revolt, see Madden and Reinach, opp. citt .; Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes.] 3 i. 761 ff.; and Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] iii. 429 431.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Money'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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