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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Piece of Silver

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The passages in the O.T. and those in the N.T. in which the A.V. uses this term must be separately considered. (See MONEY).

I. In the O.T. the word "pieces" is used in the A.V. for a word understood in the Hebrew, if we except one or two cases to be afterwards noticed. The phrase is always "a thousand" or the like "of silver" (Genesis 20:16; Genesis 37:28; Genesis 45:22; Judges 9:4; Judges 16:5; 2 Kings 6:25; Hosea 3:2; Zechariah 11:12-13). In similar passages the word "shekels" occurs in the Hebrew, and it must be observed that these are either in the law, or relate to purchases, some of an important legal character, as that of the cave and field of Machpelah, that of the threshing-floor and oxen of Araunah, or to taxes, and the like (Genesis 23:15-16; Exodus 21:32; Leviticus 27:3; Leviticus 27:6; Leviticus 27:16; Joshua 7:21; 2 Samuel 24:24; 1 Chronicles 21:25, where, however, shekels of gold are spoken of; 2 Kings 15:20; Nehemiah 5:15; Jeremiah 32:9). There are other passages in which the A.V. supplies the word "shekels" instead of "pieces" (Deuteronomy 22:19; Deuteronomy 22:29; Judges 17:2-4; Judges 17:10; 2 Samuel 18:11-12), and of these the first two require this to be done. It becomes then a question whether there is any ground for the adoption of the word "pieces," which is vague if actual coins be meant, and inaccurate if weights. The shekel. be it remembered, was the common weight for money, and therefore most likely to be understood in an elliptical phrase. When we find good reason for concluding that in two passages (Deuteronomy 22:19-20) this is the word understood, it seems incredible that any other should be in the other places. (See SHEKEL).

One of the exceptional cases in which a word corresponding to "pieces" is found in the Hebrew is in the Psalms, where presents of submission are prophesied to be made of "pieces of silver," [ רִצֵּיאּכֶסֶ (68:30, Hebrews 31). The word רִוֹ; which occurs nowhere else, if it preserve its radical meaning, from רָצִוֹ, must signify a piece broken off, or a fragment: there is no reason to suppose that a coin is meant. Smith. Another exceptional passage is 1 Samuel 2:26, where the Heb. word rendered "piece [of silver]" is אֲצוֹרָה agodah, which seems to signify a small piece of money, as wages, from the idea of collecting (root אגר to gather). (See SILVER). For the "pieces of silver" in Joshua 24:32, (See KESITAH).

II. In the N.T. two words are rendered by the phrase "piece of silver," drachma, δραχμή , and ἀργύριον.

(1.) The first (Luke 15:8-9) should be represented by drachm. It was a Greek silver coin, equivalent, at the time of Luke, to the Roman denarius, which is probably intended-by the evangelist, as it had then wholly or almost superseded the former. (See DRACHMA).

(2.) The second word is very properly thus rendered. It occurs in the account of the betrayal of our Lord for "thirty pieces of silver" (Matthew 26:15; Matthew 27:8; Matthew 27:5-6; Matthew 27:9). It is difficult to ascertain what coins are here intended. If the most common silver pieces be meant, they would be denarii. The parallel passage in Zechariah 11:12-13 must, however, be taken into consideration, where, if our view be correct, shekels must be understood. It may, however, be suggested that the two thirties may correspond, not as of exactly the same coin, but of the chief current coin. Some light may be thrown on our difficulty by the number of pieces. It can scarcely be a coincidence that thirty shekels of silver was the price of blood in the case of a slave accidentally killed (Exodus 21:32). It may be objected that there is no reason to suppose that shekels were current in our Lord's time; but it must be replied that the tetradrachms of depreciated Attic weight of the Greek cities of Syria of that time were of the same weight as the shekels which we believe to be of Simon the Maccabee, (See MONEY), so that Josephus speaks of the shekel as equal to four Attic drachmae (Ant. 3:8, 2). These tetradrachms were common at the time of our Lord, and the piece of money found by Peter in the fish must, from its name, have been of this kind. (See STATER). It is therefore more probable that the thirty pieces of silver were tetradrachms than that they were denarii. There is no difficulty in the use of two terms, a name designating the denomination and "piece of silver," whether the latter mean the tetradrachm or the denarius, as it is a vague appellation that implies a more distinctive name. In the received text of Matthew the prophecy as to the thirty pieces of silver is ascribed to Jeremiah, and not to Zechariah, and much controversv hlas thus been occasioned. The true explalnation seems to be suggested by the absence of any prophet's name in the Syriac version, and the likelihood that similarity of style would have caused a copyist ilamdvertently to insert the name of Jeremiah instead of that of Zechariah. (See SILVERLING).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Piece of Silver'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/piece-of-silver.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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