Second century A.D. gold coin found at Bethsaida

“Rare coin bears good tidings for UNO’s Israeli excavations” is the headline for an article by John Keenan in the Omaha World-Herald.

Dr. Rami Arav, of the University of Nebraska Omaha, is the director of the excavation at et-Tell in Galilee. I’m sure it wasn’t necessary for the reporter to say that Arav was excited when Alexis Whitley, one of the volunteers at the dig, found a gold coin dating to the mid-second century A.D.

Alexis Whitley - a volunteer from West Virginia University.

Alexis Whitley - a volunteer from West Virginia University.

The coin, which weighs 7 grams, is 97.6 percent gold, Arav said.

The find was unexpected because Bethsaida primarily was home to humble fishermen, he said. Arav said somebody must have been doing good business a little more than 100 years after the birth of Christ.

The gold coin, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, carries the image of Antoninus Pius, the 15th Roman emperor, who reigned between A.D. 138 and 161.

“Before newspapers, coins fulfilled the job of disseminating information. In our case, Antoninus wanted to announce that the Senate designated him to the position of a consul for the second time. This position was among the highest at Rome.”

Arav thinks this is the first Antoninus Pius gold coin excavated in Israel. I like the fact that he gave credit to the young volunteer who discovered the coin.

Prof. Rami Arav. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rami Arav. Photo: F. Jenkins.

“This type of a coin was never sold in the market because it is so rare,” he said. “It may go for as much as people will be able to pay for it.”

For now, the coin — along with the rest of the Bethsaida finds, considered to be the heritage of the State of Israel — will go to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Its ultimate destination probably will be the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Arav said.

“Bethsaida has already enriched the Israel Museum with a few other outstanding and rare finds.”

The article in its entirety may be read here.

Bethsaida is mentioned in the New Testament as the place where Jesus healed a blind man (Mark 8:22-25). Not everyone agrees with Dr. Arav’s identification of et-Tell as Bethsaida, where he has been working for nearly a quarter of a century. See a previous post about Bethsaida here.

A report of the Bethsaida 2010 excavation is posted here. Photos of coins, including the gold coin, and items associated with fishing are posted under Special Pics. Shai Schwartz has posted 234 photos from the recent excavation in his Picasa album here.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Paleojudaica, Bible Places Blog.

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