Tag Archives: ancient coins

Possible speaker’s podium found in City of David

The first headline I clicked on this morning when Haaretz arrived was the one reading “Second Temple-era Soapbox Found in City of David?” I located the IAA press release, and then a few hours later my inbox was loaded with links to various coverage of the find.

Several years ago the archaeologists working in the City of David uncovered a staircase and a drainage channel leading from the Temple Mount to the Pool of Siloam.

My group was one of the first to walk through the drainage channel in May, 2010. See my report and photos here.

Here is a photo of the steps leading from the Pool to the Temple Mount.

Steps leading from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Steps leading from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The discovery we report today was somewhere along those steps. The press release issued today by the Israel Antiquities Authority says,

This structure, situated alongside the 2,000 year old Second Temple stepped street, which carried pilgrims on their way from the Shiloah (Siloam) Pool to the Temple, which stood atop the Temple Mount. The street, a section of which was excavated in the past, is remarkably well-preserved and is built of enormous stone slabs. The street most likely runs above the 2,000 year old drainage channel, discovered a number of years ago, which carried rain water out of the city. It was constructed sometime in the fourth decade of the first century CE, and was one of the largest construction projects undertaken in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. Dozens of whole pottery vessels, stone vessels and glassware were found at the foot of the pyramid-shaped staircase.

Szanton and Uziel sit on the recently uncovered podium. Photo: IAA

Szanton and Uziel sit on the recently uncovered podium. Photo: IAA

According to archaeologists Nahshon Szanton and Dr. Joe Uziel, who direct[ed] the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The structure exposed is unique. To date such a structure has yet to be found along the street in the numerous excavations that have taken place in Jerusalem and to the best of our knowledge outside of it. For this reason, its exact use remains enigmatic. The structure is built along the street in a place that is clearly visible from afar by passers-by making their way to the Temple. We believe the structure was a kind of monumental podium that attracted the public’s attention when walking on the city’s main street. It would be very interesting to know what was said there 2,000 years ago. Were messages announced here on behalf of the government? Perhaps news or gossip, or admonitions and street preaching – unfortunately we do not know. Bliss and Dickie, two British archaeologists who discovered a small portion of this structure about 100 years ago, mistakenly thought these were steps that led into a house that was destroyed. They would certainly be excited if they could come back today and see it completely revealed.”

Rabbinic sources speak of an “auction block” where slaves could be sold, and of a “Stone of Claims” where one who had found an item might announce it and the owner might claim it. The IAA Press release provides the references here.

Dr. Joe Uziel seated on the top step of the "podium." Photo: IAA.

Dr. Joe Uziel seated on the top step of the “podium.” Photo: IAA.

The coin below, from the Second Temple period, was found in the destruction layer atop the street.

Coin from period of the Great Revolt against the Romans. Copyright Clara Amit, IAA.

Coin from period of the Great Revolt against the Romans. Copyright Clara Amit, IAA.

We had already made a possible association of these steps with the blind man who left the Temple precinct to go to the Pool of Siloam at the bidding of Jesus (John 9).

A passage that now comes to my mind is from the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus teaches His disciples how to (and not to) pray.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:5 ESV)

HT: Joseph I Lauer for the additional links.

Roman coins and the Imperial Cult

Coins were important in the time of Jesus, and were more significant than their face value. On one occasion the Pharisees plotted against Jesus in an attempt to entangle Him in His words. They sent some of their disciples to Jesus to ask, “is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Tiberius in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bust of Tiberius in the Louvre.

When Jesus asked them to show him the coin used for the tax they brought Him a denarius. The denarius of that time would likely be one minted by the Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37). Jesus asked, “Whose likeness [eikon] and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Jesus responded, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Read the full account in Matthew 22:15-22).

The photo below shows a Denarius with the image of the Emperor Tiberius. The inscription on the obverse (heads) reads “TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AUGUSTVS” (Tiberius, Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus).

Denarius minted by Emperor Tiberias.

Denarius minted by Emperor Tiberius.

David Hendin (Guide to Biblical Coins, 1st. ed, 170-171) describes the reverse (tails) of the coin: “Female figure sits on a plain chair to right, she holds olive branch in her left hand and long sceptre in her right.” The inscription PONTIF MAXIM means High Priest, which Hendin says is “another of the emperor’s titles and later a title of the Bishop of Rome.”

This coin clearly demonstrates the Emperors’ claim to being the son of the divine Augustus, and to being High Priest in the Imperial Cult.

Florence Aiken Banks says,

It is not surprising that this Tiberius denarius–popularly known as the “tribute penny”–is of all coins the one most in demand by collectors who cherish their New Testaments. (Coins of Bible Days, 99)

In the next post I plan to discuss Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, and what we can learn about the Imperial Cult from his coins and the inscription bearing his name at Caesarea Maritima.

Special Note About Coin Images. For many years I have included several links to coin and coin collectors under the Bible Places page at the Biblical Studies Info Page. I have found that these web sites come and go. If I use the image of a coin that rightfully belongs to another photographer I will be pleased to give credit if you will point me to the site.

The joy of hidden treasures

It doesn’t happen every day, but hoards of coins are sometimes found in archaeological excavations and other places by chance. The photo below shows a small portion of the Ussfiyeh Hoard of coins now displayed in the Erezt Israel Museum, Tel Aviv University, Israel. I think Ussfiyeh is a Druze town on Mount Carmel, but I have found nothing else about the site. If a reader knows more, please share.

Ussfiyeh Hoard of Tyrian Shekels & Other Coins. Eretz Israel Museum.

Ussfiyeh Hoard of Tyrian Shekels & Other Coins. Eretz Israel Museum.

The information sign with the display reads as follows:

The Ussfiyeh hoard originally contained 6000 Tyrian shekels, half-shekels and Augustaean denarii. Although Temple shekels bore pagan designs, they were accepted as Temple taxes in Jerusalem. The hoard probably represents a delivery of Temple tax intercepted and hidden away due to the events of the Jewish War which broke out in 66 C.E.

Jesus used an illustration related to a treasure found in a field.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)

Click on the photo for a larger image suitable for use in teaching.

The deal is the thing; buying & selling in the Middle East

Most Americans who have traveled with me find the bargaining that goes on in a shop  in the Middle East difficult at first. Items are not marked with a price. The seller, whether in a high class shop or a vendor on the street, tries to make as much as possible. He tries to convince his prospective buyer that this is the first sale of the day, will bring him luck, or is a good deal.

The Jerusalem Post Online Edition ran an article yesterday about an auction in Tel Aviv of the coin collection of Wolfgang Masser. The article says he “has spent decades assembling one of the best private collections of ancient coins in Israel.” He said that he did not “wish to burden his children or grandchildren with the sale.” I imagine they are happy, too!

Masser explains how he became involved in collecting biblical era coins.

“I must admit that I became enthusiastic quite quickly,” he said. “Can one really find and acquire coins that lay in the hands of men and women who lived in this country 2,000 years ago and bore names from ancient writings such as Shimon Bar-Kochba, Pontius Pilate and Herod? “My Zionist idealism was mixed with curiosity and romanticism. The time was indeed opportune – the situation had ‘normalized’ after the events of the Six Day War. People from the “field” – Jews, Arabs and, of course, officials interested in archeology began to search for coins, and relatively many specimens came into the open.”

Since Masser had a car and Yashin [the neighbor who got him interested in coins] didn’t, the two began to drive regularly to Bethlehem and Jerusalem on Saturdays in search of rarities.

“The main and richest source was a young Greek-Catholic Arab dealer from Bethlehem called Kando,” Masser recalled. “This slightly built young man had been introduced to the ‘profession’ by his father, Khalil Eskander, an antiquities dealer nicknamed Kando.

“The father became known in connection with the discovery and sale of the famous scrolls of Qumran near the Dead Sea to Hebrew University Prof. Eliezer Sukenik (father of Yigael Yadin). He made some money with the scrolls, which he used to set up an antiquities shop for his son in Bethlehem and to buy himself a hotel in Jerusalem, where he set up a similar shop – but where we only rarely found anything of interest,” continued Masser.

“The antiquities shop of Kando Jr. was a modest place in the main street of Bethlehem, not far from Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. As you came inside, there were display cases on the right and left with ancient ceramic, glass and a few ancient metal artifacts. No coins in view. In the background stood an enormous desk and behind it, Kando Jr.”

Negotiations over a sale involved an elaborate and time-consuming ritual, recalled Masser. “If he had a visitor, then he would bid him a hasty farewell and turn to us. First coffee, family and politics. Then he would slowly bring out for us his latest acquisitions in a ceremony – the longer it lasted, the more beautiful and valuable were the coins he presented.

“This was intended, and put us in a heated state of anticipation. The coins were examined with a magnifying glass and their history and year of issue were discussed.

“Finally the price was mentioned. This part of the conversation was usually handled by Haim, who had much more experience than me. In most cases, there was a discount.

“Kando was, despite his youth, clever enough to know how to handle regular customers who were market-savvy. On especially successful occasions he made us a present of an ancient oil lamp from the same period, or invited us to lunch. He was a very good salesman. There was full trust on both sides.

“When he showed us especially valuable pieces which I desired but did not have enough money on me for – I never bought on credit – he would let me take the coin with me, saying, ‘So we shall meet in 14 days, with the money or with the coin.’ Everything took place without written agreements.”

Read the full article here. Kando’s store in Bethlehem is still open, and similar dealing still goes on. The store is run by Shibly (in the green shirt), grandson of Kando, and other family members. Kando, from his portrait over the cases, still looks down on the deal.

Kando's Antiquities Shop in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Kando's Antiquities Shop in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sort of dealing mention in the article is reminiscent of what we read regarding Abraham’s purchase of a burial place for Sarah from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 23).

HT: Joseph Lauer

Ptolemaic gold coin found at Tel Kedesh

Announcement was made today that the excavation at Tel Kedesh has uncovered a gold coin dating to 191 B.C. The coin was minted in Alexandria by Ptolemy V and bears the name of the wife of Ptolemy II, Arsinoë Philadelphus (II).

According to Dr. Donald T. Ariel, head of the Coin Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is an amazing numismatic find. The coin is beautiful and in excellent preservation. It is the heaviest gold coin with the highest contemporary value of any coin ever found in an excavation in Israel. The coin weighs almost one ounce (27.71 grams), while most ancient gold coins weighed 4.5 grams. In Ariel’s words, “This extraordinary coin was apparently not in popular or commercial use, but had a symbolic function. The coin may have had a ceremonial function related to a festival in honor of Queen Arsinoë, who was deified in her lifetime. The denomination is called a mnaieion, meaning a one-mina coin, and is equivalent to 100 silver drachms, or a mina of silver.

The obverse (‘head’) of the coin depicts Arsinoë II Philadelphus. The reverse (‘tail’) depicts two overlapping cornucopias (horns-of-plenty) decorated with fillets. The meaning of the word Philadelphus is brotherly love. Arsinoë II, daughter of Ptolemy I Soter, was married at age 15 to one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Lysimachus, king of Thrace. After Lysimachus’ death she married her brother, Ptolemy II, who established a cult in her honor. This mnaieion from Tel Kedesh attests to the staying power of the cult, since the coin was minted a full 80 years after the queen’s death.

The Israel Antiquities Authority press release is currently available here.

Gold coin of Arsinoë Philadephus (II). Discovered at Tel Kedesh.

Gold coin of Arsinoë Philadelphus (II) discovered at Tel Kedesh. Photo by Sue Webb, courtesy IAA.

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago displays a statue base with the same name as that on the coin. The top of the statue has the name incised in hieroglyphs and the front shows the name in Greek.

Statue base showing name of Arsinoë Philadelphus. OIUC.

Statue base showing the name of Arsinoë Philadelphus. OIUC. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.

Tel Kedesh, in Upper Galilee, is near the Lebanon border. This Kedesh was located in the territory of the Israelite tribe of Naphtali (Joshua 19:37). It is probably best known as one of the six cities of refuge assigned to the tribe of Levi (Joshua 20:7; 21:32).

So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. (Joshua 20:7 ESV)

Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, where he called out the men of Zebulun and Naphtali to go with him to fight Jabin’s army (Judges 4). The Assyrians captured Kedesh about 732 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29).

The excavations at Tel Kedesh are being conducted by the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota. Some miscellaneous information about the excavation is available at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology Dig Diaries here.

Tel Kedesh in northern Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View to the NE of Tel Kedesh in northern Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer