A number of coins were in circulation in Judea at the time of Jesus Christ.
The standard unit of Roman currency was the silver denarius (Drachma in Greek units). A denarius is suppose to be equivalent to the daily wage of a labourer.
The silver denarius, now often called the tribute penny, with Tiberius Augustus Caesar on the face, mentioned many times in the New Testament.
At Matthew 22:18-21(NIV) we read:
"... But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and He asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then He said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
The denarius was also mentioned in Luke 15:8, the precious coin that the woman searched for in the ‘Parable of the lost coin’ ; and the ‘Good Samaritan’ in Jesus’s story who gave the innkeeper two denarii to look after the wounded man for several days (Luke 10:35). Also in the ‘Parable of the Unjust Steward’, the servant was put in prison for owing a hundred denarii to his fellow steward (Matthew 18:28).
The other silver coin mentioned several times in the bible was the shekel, worth four denarii. Silver shekel of Tyre were most used because they were of good silver and true weight at a time when many coins were debased or lightweight. The half shekel temple tax (that all Jews paid to support the upkeep of the Temple in Jerusalem) was the equivalent of two denarii (Exodus 30:11-16). In Matthew 17:27, we saw that Jesus told Peter to catch a fish and open its mouth, whereupon he’d find a four drachma coin (equivalent again to one shekel). When Jewish visitors pay their temple tax, the currency they had would be of their native land or acquired in trade along their way. Therefore it was a flourishing trade for the money-changers in the temple courts (Matthew 21:12) to exchange these into Tyre Shekels. Bible readers remember that twice Jesus overturned the money changer's tables, one at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-22) and another time at the end (Matt 21:12):
"The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” (John 2:13-20)
"And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.” (Matt 21:12–13)
Peter found a four drachma coin (equivalent to one shekel) in the mouth of a fish:
"When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me." (Matt 17:24–27)
The bribery price for Judas was thirty silver Shekels.
The Tyre Shekel in silver, worth of 4 denarii. The coin was a lucrative trade with money-exchangers at the temple. Notoriously, Judas traded Jesus for 30 of these shekels
"Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus." (Matt 26:14–16)
"Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.” And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; and they gave them for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord directed me. " (Matthew 27:3–10)
Thirty shekels of silver was significant in the Old Testament since it was also the price valued for a slave: “If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned." (Exodus 21:32)
Less affluent people, or for smaller changes, would use copper/ bronze coins for everyday transactions. The standard unit was the sestertius (equal to a quarter of a denarius), but the most widely used coin was the assarion (sometimes shortened to an ‘as’ , and equal to a quarter of asestertius, one sixteeth of a denarius, something like a cent nowadays). The average cost of a loaf of bread or one sparrow was one as, as was recorded in Matthew 10:29. They also have the inscription of the Caesar on the face on the coin.
A sestertius (one sixteen of a denarius in value) in copper, and very common used currency. This one with the face of Claudius Caesar. When Apostle Paul was writing many of his epistles to his Christian communities, could this not be one of the coins he was actually having in his bag?
The smallest Roman coin was the quadrans, equivalent to a quarter of an as (or a sixty-fourth of a denarius). Even smaller, was the Greek lepton (equivalent to half a Roman quadrans). It was two lepta that formed the ‘widow’s mite’ – the tiny offering made at the Temple by the poor widow in Mark 12:42. Jesus watched people in their giving. He saw the widow give her mites. Jesus praises her, for relative to her wealth she gave more than a millionaire who would give half a million, for he would still have half a million left. She gave her all, and in so doing she pleased Christ, and made the little coin called the mite, or lepton, famous for all history.
Smaller copper coins of the lowest denominations, the Widow’s mite. Some were attributed to the governor Pontius Pilate as his coin.
These coins can now quite readily acquired from coin shops in Israel and worldwide, and also on Internet trading sites such as eBay®. As the quantity is not scarce, they are not entirely expansive. In ancient times money were hid in caves and wells, and buried in the ground. Archaeologists and amateur explorers are able to find quite a bit of ancient money. Many coins are also found in ancient ships that have sunk.
The coin most in demand by collectors is that piece of money Jesus held in His hand (in Matthew 22) called the Tiberius Denarius, with Tiberius Caesar Augustus on the face of the coin (He ruled 14-37 AD). This is also called the Tribute penny, a good one now sells for about $500 US dollars. Remember the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking Him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. Jesus in Matt. 22:19 asked them to show whose likeness and inscription was on the coin. When they said Caesar's, he responded, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
“Bible days are hundreds of years back, and a great gap separates us from the people who lived then. But to see and touch the bits of silver, bronze, and gold that those people used, as we use dimes and dollars, brings them nearer. Florence Banks in her book Coins Of Bible Days wrote, "When we hold in our palms the one thing we can hold which we have a reasonable right to believe could have been in the hand of Nicodemus when he bought the hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes for Jesus' burial; in the hand of Martha when she went to market; in the hand of Mary of Bethany when she bought her precious alabaster box of spikenard, or in the money bag of Judas when he purchased food for the disciples, we feel a closer acquaintance with those personages of the Bible than we had ever dreamed we could." – Pastor Glenn Please, in Faithlife Sermons at Faithlife.com.
These ancient coins are now freely available to us and we can check the precise nature of these coins. Yet, when we read about Christ in the New Testament, whenever these coins are mentioned, they fit in perfectly well with the situation. The NT records are written over 2000 years ago and such details affirm the accuracy of the Bible.
Regardless, holding one of these coins in the hand today indeed brings devotional and relishing thoughts. Not only with a tribute penny but with other smaller coins that drum up the image of Paul and apostolic authors of the New Testament on their evangelical journeys and writing their letters to their churches, some indeed referring to money and donations. Often in chains, like we see in the Philipians, Paul teaches them to rejoice, live in unity and humility and above all in His name.
I remember there is the Sea of Galilee boat Museum when we see believers ponder and pray on a boat in the museum. The museum houses a boat that was supposed to have come from the time of Christ, but without any evidence of an actual relationship with Jesus and his apostles. I would rather think that pondering on the life of Christ as in the scripture while holding onto one of these coins, is perhaps a more superior spiritual experience, of Christ’s days some 2000 years ago.
I can only think of no other first century Judean relic that can be so real, authentic and thought provoking. Something too, that gave me an affirmation of the truth and historicity of the Bible.
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