Phoenician coins

Coins of the Bible: Shekel of Tyre

The official Jewish Temple sanctuary coin that had the image of the pagan Greek god Heracles on the front.  

 

 

Introduction:

1.      The Shekel (or sheqel) of Tyre (as it is called) was actually the only SILVER coin that Herod the Great minted at Jerusalem.

a.      Production of the Tyrian shekel at the Tyre mint occurred 125 - 19 BC. This is the Pre-Herodian temple Shekel tax each Jew had to pay into the sanctuary treasury.

b.      When Herod completed his new temple in Jerusalem in 18 BC, he transferred the minting of this official temple currency from the city of Tyre to Jerusalem.

c.       "Since no silver coins recognizedly minted by Herod have been found, numismatists have despaired in their search for them and have accustomed themselves to the idea that Herod' s greatness did not find expression in coins in particular... And now, in one of the numismatic studies carried out recently, it seems that we have obtained the answer to the question of Herod' s silver coinage from an unexpected source: the "Tyrian shekels" or "Tyrian Maneh." (A Treasury of Jewish Coins, Ya'akov Meshorer, p71, 2001 AD)

d.      The "KAP" monogram (Kratos Romaion: power of the Romans) that appears on all shekels after 18 BC is the official mark of Herod's coin minted in Jerusalem.

e.      "The minting place of the Tyre sheqels has been a subject of discus­sion since Meshorer's revolutionary concept, published in 1982, that Herod the Great and the authorities at the Jerusalem Temple feared a cessation of minting in Tyre, and transferred this issue to a mint in Jerusalem in around 19/18 BCE. At this time, Meshorer observed, the letters KAP, shortened to KP after the first few years, appeared on virtually all of the Tyre sheqels, where various initials or monograms had appeared on earlier coins. He suggested the letters KP abbreviated Kratos Romaion (power of the Romans). One of Meshorer's principal arguments was based on the decline in style of Tyre sheqels of the later type. He believed this degradation was due to the lack of skill of Jewish mintmasters, not to mention their disinterest in the pagan designs that they treated with disdain. He referred to them as barbaric and clunky, and suggested their smaller, thicker shape hinted they were direct predecessors to the thick sheqels struck by the Jews during the Jewish War." (Guide to Biblical coins, David Hendin, p479, 2010 AD)

2.      Coins featured on this page:

Series

Mint

From 125 BC

Date

Early

Tyre

Year 2

124 BC

Early

Tyre

Year 4

122 BC

Early

Tyre

Year 19

107 BC

Early

Tyre

Year 64

62 BC

Early

Tyre

Year 107

19 BC

Early

Tyre

Year 40

86 BC

Early

Tyre

Year 50

76 BC

Late: Herodian

Jerusalem

year 128

3 AD

Late: Herodian

Jerusalem

Year 135

11 AD

3.      The Tyre mint struck hundreds of coins but the most important one for Bible students is the Silver Shekel of Tyre because there are four different references in the Bible to it.

The temple tax coin

Ex 30:13

Money changers: Jesus overturned tables twice.

Mt 17:27

Peter's coin out of the fish's mouth

Mt 21:12

30 silver coins Judas was paid to betray Jesus

Mt 26:15

4.      The Phoenician Mint at Tyre is one of the most important in the bible as it was the industry standard mint for high quality silver coins.

a.      An older translation that is no longer used reads: “of Tyre the holy and city of refuge”. Tyre was never one of the six cities of refuge in the Bible so refuge would be  used in a generic sense that is not connected with the Mosaic legal system.

b.      The best translation of the inscription on the Reverses side of the Tyre shekel read: “of Tyre the holy and inviolable”.

c.       Holy and inviolable make perfect sense since the Holy Temple tax coin was produced there and its coins were inviolable meaning "never to be broken, infringed, or dishonored"

d.      So the slogan was very similar to saying "this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private which is never to be dishonored".

5.      The Phoenicians were merchant sailors with a famous fleet of ships.

a.      They often featured their ships on their coins

b.      A beautiful sea shell called a "murex" was also used on their coins like this one dated to year 238 or 113 AD which was produced under Trajan (98 - 117 AD).

 

I. The Silver shekel of Tyre: 125 BC - 66 AD

1.      The silver Tyrian Shekel was first produced in 125 BC and the last year of production was 66 AD when the first Jewish war broke out and the Romans destroyed the temple.

a.      The design of the Shekel of Tyre, which became the official temple currency, was copied from coins minted under the authority of the Seleucid Empire.

b.      Notice the exact similarity between the silver Tetradrachm coin of Debetruis II Nicator Sotor minted the year before the style changed to the Temple tax shekel coin.

c.       The only difference is that the image of the bust of Demetrius II was changed to the bust of the pagan greek god Herakles.

2.      HERACLES: The pagan coin of the Jewish temple of the first century:

a.      The official Jewish Temple sanctuary coin that had the image of the pagan Greek god Heracles on the front. 

b.      Why the Jews would use a coin with the image of the pagan Greek god Heracles as the only official coin they accepted for their temple tax is bizzare, puzzling and echoes of the kind of hypocritical Phariseeism, Jesus condemned in Mt 23-24 where he predicted the temple would be destroyed in 70 AD.

c.       Jesus said: "YOU DO MANY THINGS SUCH AS THAT" The temple Shekel with Herakles on it was one SUCH THING that Jesus was talking about: "The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”" (Mark 7:1–13)

d.      The Pharisees had actually devised a legalistic "work around" so they could use the coin for the Temple tax with a clear conscience even though it violated two of the ten commandments: 1. no Graven images and 2. no god but YHWH.

e.      "A. Four things does Rabban Gamaliel declare unclean, and do sages declare clean: B. (1) A metal basket cover of householders, (2) the hanger of a strigil, (3) unfinished metal utensils, and (4) a tray which was divided into two. C. And sages agree with Rabban Gamaliel concerning a plate which was divided into two, one large and one small, that the large is unclean, and the small clean." (Talmud, Mishnah, Kelim 12:6, 200 AD)

f.        "A frequently asked question is why the Jews felt comfortable using Tyre coinage that depicted the graven image of a pagan god to make their annual payment to the Temple. The reason for this is, as the Mishnah makes clear, that valid money is not subject to being unclean, and is only susceptible to uncleanliness when it is used for another purpose such as jewelry or a weight (KELTM 12,7). Since a viable coin cannot be defiled, the only relevance is its value and purity, not its design." (Guide to Biblical coins, David Hendin, p477, 2010 AD)

g.      "Obviously, the head of Tyrian Herakles-Melqart on the obverse and the eagle on the reverse did not meet with the approval of most of their users, but at times observers of the Halakhah declared these shekels to be the only legal currency acceptable in the Temple, since the designs appearing on them did not interrupt or cancel their validity. It is known that a coin does not become defiled ("unclean," Mishna, Kelim 12, 6), and the pagan symbols on it are obviously invalid. Therefore, as an expression of contempt for the Tyrian designs on the shekels, the Jerusalem mint executed them with demonstrative crudity. In contrast to this crude rendition, the Jerusalem shekels were not inferior to the early ones in their silver content, and even surpassed them in this respect. It is clear that emphasis was placed on the purity and weight of the silver, while no importance was attached to the coin's appearance as a product of Jewish Jerusalem and not of Tyre." (A Treasury Of Jewish Coins, Ya'akov Meshorer, p76, 2001 AD)

3.      Early silver Shekel: 125-19 BC

a.      This was a high quality issue of coins which featured the "club" symbol of the Tyre Mint to the left of the left leg of the eagle.

b.      Early shekels are distinguished from late shekels because the early lack the "KAP" inscription behind the eagles back which is on the late edition coins.

c.       "The differences between the group of early Tyrian shekels minted in 127-19 B.C.E. and the late group whose coins were struck from 19 B.C.E. up to 66 C.E. are very striking. The early shekels are large and usually feature all of the peripheral inscription. They are well made and the style of the designs is of high artistic quality. The coin has a concave shape resembling that of a small bowl and is not really flat. On the other hand, the shekels of the late group are smaller in diameter, but thicker and have a completely flat shape. This is then a fundamental technical change that gave rise to coins with a completely different appearance, although the quantity and quality of the metal was the same in both groups." (A Treasury Of Jewish Coins, Ya'akov Meshorer, p75, 2001 AD)

4.      Herodian Shekel: Late (crude) silver Shekel: 18 BC - 66 AD

a.      The production transfer of this coin from Tyre to Jerusalem coincides with Herod completing the new temple in Jerusalem. The two events must be connected somehow.

b.      Herod also added the KAP monogram, which was shorted a few years later to KP and stands for: Kratos Romaion "power of the Romans". Otherwise the obverse side of the coin is identical throughout 125 BC - 66 AD.

c.       Exactly why the quality of the coins would deteriorate when the temple was completed we do not know.

d.      With such an important new temple, it would seem logical to expect the quality of this important coin increased not decreased.

e.      Some have speculated that the coins production was transferred from Tyre to Jerusalem.

f.        If this happened a further speculation is that the skilled Tyrian die makers boycotted the production in Jerusalem when the "club symbol" of the Tyre mint remained on the coin even though it was NOT produced in Tyre.

g.      This coin is nick named the Crude shekel because of the poor quality of workmanship that went into making the coin dies.

h.      The poor quality is seen in the portrait of Heracles and the eagle. It likely bugged the Jews to created the dies of a Greek pagan God, so they did it poorly. That's about as consistent as a fuzzy, "out of focus" nude pin up of a blonde in the men's washroom of the church building.

i.        "It is appropriate to emphasize two other points that lend support to our view about the place (Jerusalem) where the late Tyrian shekels were minted. The Roman mint in Antioch started to strike inferior coinage as from the mid-fifties of the first century C.E. These were tetradrachms that are termed "Neronian selaim" in the Jewish sources. A well-known law of economics (Gresham' s Law) determines that inferior coinage infused into a market drives out the good coinage. It is not reasonable for someone to use a coin consisting of 100% silver, when he is able to acquire the same product with a coin consisting of 90% silver.' According to this law, the good Tyrian shekels should have disappeared from the market when the inferior coinage was introduced, but in this case the law was not operative. The reason for this is the special situation that was created in Jerusalem when two monetary systems became established. One of them was connected with holy payments to the Temple, that was based on the purity of the Tyrian shekels. The other, parallel, system consisted of all the other coins that were in circulation. There was no reason for the removal of the good money from circulation, i.e., the Tyrian shekels, as it was needed in the Temple. At the same time it would have been illogical for Tyre to continue minting these shekels while the market was flooded with inferior Roman provincial coinage. We must also consider the time of the cessation of the minting of Tyrian shekels. The latest date appearing on them is 65/66 C.E. In that year the Jewish War against the Romans broke out. The leaders of the revolt were in need of coins of a new type that would demonstrate the historical change by means of symbols and inscriptions. The year 66 C.E. witnessed the commencement of the minting of truly Jewish shekels featuring the inscriptions "SQL YSR'L" ("shekel of Israel") and "YRWSLYM HQDWSH" ("Holy Jerusalem"; see Chapter Four) — "shekel of Israel" in contrast to Tyrian shekel, and "Holy Jerusalem" in contrast to "Holy Tyre" as denoted on the Tyrian shekels. If the Tyrian shekels were struck in Tyre, there would have been no reason for the cessation of their minting in 66 C.E., which is connected solely with Jewish history and that of Jerusalem. In this context it is interesting to mention that the silver contents of the Jewish shekels and the trace elements in them are identical to those of the Tyrian shekels. The Herodian circle has now been closed. We have come to the conclusion that in Herod's day the minting of Tyrian shekels was transferred to Jerusalem and continued there, without interruption, for 85 years. It is important to mention that this is also verified by archaeological finds. Most of the shekels of the first group, minted in Tyre, originate from archaeological finds in Phoenicia, while those of the second group are found only in the Land of Israel.' The riddle has thus been solved: the "Tyrian shekel" is Herod's silver coin! Since the Temple also served as the nation's main bank, the monetary activity in it gave great power to the high priests." (A Treasury Of Jewish Coins, Ya'akov Meshorer, p77, 2001 AD)

5.      Reading the date code for Tyrian silver shekels:

a.      Shekels of Tyre have a date code using and alpha-numeric system that assigns a number to each letter of the Greek alphabet.

b.      The coins start with year one, which is year 125 BC. This is the year Tyre gained independence from the Seleucids.

c.       Remember that there was no year zero "0" in the ancient calendars so the year went from 1 BC to 1 AD

d.      We have supplied a few examples of actual date codes found on the Shekels of Tyre.

 

II. OFFICIAL TEMPLE TAX COIN: Ex 30:13

1.       In 1446 BC God instructed Moses to charge every Israelite a head tax of half a shekel.

2.       Originally this not a coin but was the weight of about 11.40g of silver.

3.       Coins did not come into use in Israel until around 500 BC.

4.       "The Lord also spoke to Moses, saying, “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. “This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the Lord. “Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the Lord. “The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves. “You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves.”" (Exodus 30:11–16)

5.       Post 70 AD Jewish tradition confirms that the Tyrian sheqel was the official coinage of the Jewish Temple. "A The five selas for redeeming the firstborn son are in Tyrian coinage. B (1) The thirty for the slave [Ex. 21:32], and (2) the fifty to be paid by the rapist and seducer [Ex. 22:15–16, Dt. 22:28–29], and (3) the hundred to be paid by the gossip [Dt. 22:19]—C all are to be paid in the value of shekels of the sanctuary, D in Tyrian coinage. E And everything which is to be redeemed [is redeemed] in silver or its equivalent, except for shekel dues." (Mishna Bekhoroth 8:7, 200 AD)

 

III. THE MONEY TRADER'S COINS WHOSE TABLES JESUS OVERTURNED: John 2:13-22; Mt 21:12-13

1.      Twice Jesus overturned the money changer's tables at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-22) and at the end (Mt 21:12)

2.      The coins on the tables of the money traders would surely be Shekels of Tyre.

3.      Since the Tyrian shekel was the only coin that a Jew could give into the treasury for the temple tax, the industry of changing common money into official temple use money was profitable. The convenience is like travelling to a foreign country and finding an ATM to change your currency back home into the native foreign currency.

4.      "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.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken." (John 2:13-22)

5.      "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.”" (Matthew 21:12–13)

 

IV. THE COIN PETER RETRIEVED FROM THE MOUTH OF THE FISH: Mt 17:27

1.      This coin was for a Roman head tax, not the Hebrew Temple tax but it was certainly a silver Tyrian shekel.

2.      Capernaum is Peter's home town which included a synagogue and his house where his mother in law was healed. Today you can see both from archeological digs.

3.      It is natural that when Peter came to his home town that they came up to him and asked him to pay the 2 Drachma tax.

4.      Since Jesus and Peter needed to pay the tax the total would be 4 Drachma which is exactly what a Tyrian Shekel weighed (and was valued at): Tetradrachm = 4 Drachma (2 Drachma for Peter and 2 Drachma for Jesus)

5.      So the coin Peter got out of the mouth of the fish was a Tetradrachm which is equal to a silver shekel of Tyre.

6.      "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.”" (Matthew 17:24–27)

 

V. THE 30 SILVER SHEKEL COINS JUDAS RECEIVED FOR BETRAYING JESUS: Mt 26:15

1.      The bribery price of Jesus was most certainly paid in official Tyrian silver shekels.

2.      It was Passover and tens of thousands of these coins were given to the temple priests every day.

3.      This official coin was easy to sell for an additional profit and since Judas was a thief, this sweetened the deal being both evil and greedy.

4.      Notice that Judas came back and threw the coins into the sanctuary proving beyond doubt that these were official temple tax silver Shekels of Tyre.

5.      Thirty shekels of silver was significant in the Bible since it was 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)

6.      How disgraceful that Jesus Christ, creator of the universe and God in the flesh was valued no more than a mere human slave. Notice even God comments sarcastically about how men value Him: "I said to them, “If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!” So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord." (Zechariah 11:12–13)

7.      "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." (Matthew 26:14–16)

8.      "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)

9.      "Thus says the Lord, “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests. “Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle. “Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent" (Jeremiah 19:1–4)

10.  Matthew connects Jeremiah with the story of Judas by connecting the potter of Jeremiah 19:1-13 with the potter of  Zechariah 11:12-13. Obviously Jeremiah broke the pottery vessel at the very spot where Judas was buried. How amazing!

 

VI. PHOTOGALLERY OF PHOENECIAN SHEKELS:

 

EARLY TYRIAN SHEKELS: 125 -18 BC (Tyre Mint)

 

Pictured above is a drawing of year 19 (107 BC)

Tyre Mint
Early Shekels of Tyre: Pre-Herodian temple coin

The "early" shekel of Tyre is of high quality craftsmanship in the carving of the bust of Heracles and the eagle. It was minted in Tyre from year one (125 BC) to year 106 (18 BC) up to the time Herod completed the new temple in Jerusalem. It can be distinguished from the "late/crude" shekel in that it lacks the "KAP" monogram behind the eagle's back.

"The early shekels are large and usually feature all of the peripheral inscription. They are well made and the style of the designs is of high artistic quality. The coin has a concave shape resembling that of a small bowl and is not really flat." (Meshorer)

Year 2 (124 BC)

This is the second coin minted under the early series.

Year 4 (122 BC)

This is the fourth coin minted under the early series.

Year 64 (62 BC)

 

Year 40 (86 BC)

Year 50 (76 BC)

Year 107 (19 BC)

This is the last coin minted under the early series.

"Herodian Silver Shekels" (Herod's only silver coin)
LATE/CRUDE TYRIAN SHEKELS: 19 BC - 66 AD Jerusalem mint

Pictured above is a drawing of

Year 128 (3 AD)

Jerusalem Mint

LATE/CRUDE Shekels of Tyre: Post-Herodian temple coin

The "late, crude" shekel of Tyre low craftsmanship and its production coincided with the completion of the new Herodian temple in Jerusalem in 18 BC. It can be distinguished from the "early" shekel because it has a new "KAP" or "KP" ("Kratos Romaion" Power to the Romans) monogram behind the eagle's back.

"The shekels of the late group are smaller in diameter, but thicker and have a completely flat shape." (Meshorer)

Year 135 (11 AD)

Unknown year

Unknown year

 

Conclusion:

1.      Twice in Israel's history, the city of Tyre played an important role in the Temple worship of the Jews:

a.      At the time of David and Solomon, it was the skilled tradesmen of Tyre who designed and built the temple of Solomon.

b.      At the time of Christ, the top ranked coin mint of Tyre supplied the Jews with their official coin for the temple sanctuary tax as mandated by Moses.

2.      The Tyre mint produced hundreds of different coins in addition to the Tyrian shekel.

3.      There were actually two sizes of the official Temple sheqels:

a.      Tax for two people: The 4 drachma "sheqel of Tyre" was a silver Tetradrachm of about 14 grams with a diameter of about 27 mm.

b.      Tax for one person: The 2 drachma (Didrachm) "half-sheqel of Tyre" was a silver Beqa or Bekah of about 5.7 grams.

4.      The Herodian silver Tetradrachm was a deliberate imitation of the Tyrian shekel which Herod the Great commissioned as his only silver coin.

5.      This coin takes a central role in four different Bible stories!

 

 

The temple tax coin

Ex 30:13

Money changers: Jesus overturned tables twice.

Mt 17:27

 

 

Peter's coin out of the fish's mouth

Mt 21:12

30 silver coins Judas was paid to betray Jesus

Mt 26:15

 

 

By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.

 

Click to View



Go To Start: WWW.BIBLE.CA