Written by: Will Schrepferman
Numerous coins are mentioned throughout the Bible. These coins are key aspects of the lesson of the widow's mite, Jesus' "Render unto Caesar..." speech and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Biblical coins are excellent pieces to collect. They are tangible pieces of history from one of the world's most important books.
The Widow's Mite
In the story of widow's mite, Jesus is teaching at a temple. The rich are making large donations, while a poor woman donates two mites (lepta, in Greek). Jesus declares her donation to be more important and significant than any of what the rich donated. He says that the rich gave a meager portion of their fortunes, but the woman donated everything she had.
A mite was the least valuable coin circulating in Palestine at the time. Two mites were worth one quadran, the smallest Roman coin. The coins the widow donated were likely minted during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC). The coin features a blooming lotus flower, symbolic of Ancient Egypt, on the obverse. The reverse boasts a simple star with eight points.
These coins can be found for relatively cheap prices. Most are sold for $10 to $20 and can be found anywhere. I recently acquired one for $16 at a local shop.
The Tribute Penny
Before Jesus made his famous "Render unto Caesar..." speech, he was asked if it was lawful to give tribute to the Roman emperor. He asked for a coin and was shown a denarius of Tiberius. Then, famously he said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." This phrase has become an important symbol of the relationship between Christians and the government. It causes a debate about whether or not Christians should pay tribute to earthly authorities.
There is some debate as to what the tribute penny actually was. Most say it was a denarius of Tiberius; however, others say the coin was an Antiochan tetradrachm bearing the head of Tiberius on one side and the head of Augustus on the other. Coins of Julius and Germanicus Caesar are also possibilities. Personally, I believe that the coin was a denarius of Tiberius. It would have been the most common coin in Palestine at the time.
Thirty Pieces of Silver
The Gospel of Matthew says that the price for which Judas betrayed Jesus was "30 pieces of silver." The 30 pieces of silver, whatever type of coins they were, was the reason Jesus was arrested and crucified.
The identity of these coins is unknown, but there are several theories. They may have been Tyrian Shekels (pictured above), Antiochan staters or Ptolemaic tetradrachms. One can see all sides of this argument; however, I believe the 30 pieces of silver may have been a mix of coins. There were many different coins circulating throughout the ancient world at the time. Think of it this way, if I were to assemble a random pile of 30 quarters is it likely that they would all be exactly the same? No. The same was true in the Roman Empire.
There are other coins mentioned in the Bible and countless Byzantine coins featuring images of Christ. However, none of these coins are as interesting as the ones actually mentioned in the Bible. It is amazing to think that the widow's mite, Tyrian shekel, or denarius of Tiberius you have in your collection may have actually been touched by Jesus. After all, anything is possible.
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