Archaeologists working on the remains from the Temple Mount have discovered five small coins that speak of an incredible time of religious freedom in Israel’s history.
Though only three of the coins are legible, they are dated to the fourth century. This puts them at the time when King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return their homeland from their Babylonian captivity and rebuild Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 538 BC. The archaeologists believe the other two similarly sized undecipherable coins are from the same set.
Seven millimeters wide, the coins have an image of a barn owl on one side. The Jews basically copied the Athenian Abol, a Greek coin used in ancient times. It is curious that they used the owl because it was considered unclean under Jewish law and it also represented the goddess Athena to the Greeks.
Instead of having the Greek letters ΑΘΕ used to signify Athens, the three legible coins had the Aramaic word YHD. According to an article on ynetnews, this is the shortened version of Yehud which was the name of the Persian province that basically covered the territory of ancient Judah. Jerusalem was the capital of this province.
It showed that Israel was still subject to the Persian empire.
The archaeological team believes these coins were probably minted at the Temple and would have been among the first coins minted by the Jews. People would bring their tithes and donations to the temple during the Feast of Shavout where they were then converted to coins.
It probably wasn’t the only coin minted at that time. It seems the Jews also began producing a third of a shekel that was specifically used to fund the Temple.
32 We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: (Nehemiah 10:32 NASV)
It was a voluntary contribution. It is possible these five small coins may have been the “third of a shekel” mentioned in Nehemiah, but this is unlikely.
We know throughout history the Jewish priests minted coins that were not considered legal tender in Israel, but were used for donations at the Temple. It was a practice used in Jesus’s day which is why they had money changers at the Temple.
People would bring in their Roman and Greek coins that would be exchanged for Temple currency used for donations. These secular coins often had images of the emperors or gods on them and were considered unsuitable for donations to the temple.
However, in Jesus’s day the money changers were corrupt and were widely believed to be ripping off the Jewish citizens in the financial exchange. This is why Jesus overturned their tables when He cleansed the Temple:
12 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. (Matthew 21:12 NASV)
In Ezra’s day, it is possible a coin with an image of an unclean animal representing the goddess Athena was also considered unsuitable for donations, but was still used as currency in regular day-to-day dealings in the market place and business.
Unlike today, the value of a coin in ancient times was based on the amount of silver or gold used to create it with larger coins obviously worth more.
This find reveals that the Jewish Temple was a major administration center in ancient Israel.
These coins were found in the hundred of tons of dirt thrown into Kidron Stream during unauthorized work by the Muslims on the Temple Mount in 1999. Some believe the Jordanian Waqf purposely dumped this dirt without proper excavation to hide the Jewish connection and claim to the Temple Mount as the dirt contained tens of thousands of ancient Jewish relics.
The Temple Mount Sifting Project was set up to sift through this dumped material to re-discover the site’s ancient Jewish heritage.
- 5 rare Jewish coins discovered by the Temple Mount project: ynetnews
- 3 tiny, extremely rare 4th century BCE Jewish-minted coins found in Jerusalem: Times of Israel
- Coins dating to time of Ezra unearthed in Jerusalem: Christian Headlines