Tag Archives: numismatics

Coins, silver and bronze objects from time of Alexander found in northern Galilee

The following report comes from the Israel Antiquities Authority. Rather than indent it, I am leaving it full width for ease of reading.

Thanks to alert spelunkers exploring a cave in the north of the country:

 A Cache of Rare Coins and Silver and Bronze Objects from 2,300 Years Ago was Exposed

According to Amir Ganor, director of the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, “the reporting of the treasure by honest citizens will contribute to our understanding of the history of the Land of Israel”

A month after the discovery of the gold treasure by divers off the coast of Caesarea, another report has reached the Israel Antiquities Authority of a find involving a cache of rare coins and silver and bronze objects 2,300 years old, in a cave in northern Israel. Officials in the Israel Antiquities Authority believe this is one of the important discoveries to come to light in the north of the country in recent years, and will require much time to study in order to crack the secrets of the cave.

Two weeks ago Reuven Zakai, his son Hen Zakai and their friend Lior Halony, members of the Israeli Caving Club, set out to make preliminary preparations for a visit by the club in one of the largest and well-hidden stalactite caves in the north.

The three lowered themselves down in the ground, into the stalactite cave, and wriggled through a narrow passage in front of the cave. They wandered and crawled between the different parts of the cave for several hours.

The youngest member of the group, Hen, 21 years old, says he forced his way into one of the narrow niches when he suddenly caught sight of a shining object. There he discovered two ancient silver coins which it later turned out had been minted during the reign of Alexander the Great who conquered the Land of Israel at the beginning of the Hellenistic period (late fourth century BCE). Several pieces of silver jewelry were found alongside the coins, among them rings, bracelets and earrings, which were apparently concealed in the cave, together inside a cloth pouch some 2,300 years ago.

A coin of Alexander of Macedon that was part of the silver cache. Photographic credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A coin of Alexander of Macedon that was part of the silver cache. Photographic credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

In the opinion of archaeologists at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The valuables might have been hidden in the cave by local residents who fled there during the period of governmental unrest stemming from the death of Alexander, a time when the Wars of the Diadochi broke out in Israel between Alexander’s heirs following his death. Presumably the cache was hidden in the hope of better days, but today we know that whoever buried the treasure never returned to collect it”.

The spelunkers realized they found an important archaeological discovery and reported it to inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority. This weekend officials of the Israel Antiquities Authority entered the cave together with members of the Israeli Caving Club. The IAA inspectors were excited to discover evidence of human habitation that occurred in the cave over extended periods.

A general picture of the cache of silver objects: two coins of Alexander of Macedon, three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings (probably made of silver) and a small stone weight. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A general picture of the cache of silver objects: two coins of Alexander of Macedon, three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings (probably made of silver) and a small stone weight. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

At this point they believe they have found artifacts in the cave that first date to the Chalcolithic period c. 6,000 years ago; from the Early Bronze Age c. 5,000 years ago, the Biblical period 3,000 years ago and the Hellenistic period approximately 2,300 years ago. Numerous pottery vessels were also discovered in the cave. In some regions of the cave ancient pottery vessels were found on which stalagmites had developed. Some of the pottery vessels had bonded with the limestone sediments and cannot be separated. The Israel Antiquities Authority reports that the combination of a stalactite cave and archaeological finds is both fascinating and rare. The finds in the cave will allow the researchers – archaeologists and geologists alike – to accurately date both the archaeological finds and the process of stalactite development.

Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority wants to commend the three members of the caving club, “They understood the importance of the archaeological discovery and exhibited exemplary civic behavior by immediately bringing these impressive archaeological finds to the attention of the IAA. After the gold treasure from Caesarea, this is the second time in the past month that citizens have reported significant archeological finds and we welcome this important trend. Thanks to these citizens’ awareness, researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority will be able to expand the existing archaeological knowledge about the development of society and culture in the Land of Israel in antiquity “.

The Israel Antiquities Authority wishes to emphasize that the Law of Antiquities states that all antiquities belong to the state, and that failure to report or removing antiquities from their location, or selling or trading them is an offense punishable by up to five years imprisonment. Officials in the Israel Antiquities Authority want the location of the cave to remain secret because of the many hazards inside it. Apart from the concern that the archaeological strata and stalactites might be damaged, there is a real danger to visitors to the cave because there are hidden and extremely deep underground cavities in it through which one might fall. In addition, the Israel Antiquities Authority wishes to stress that crawling in caves is dangerous and requires appropriate training and safety equipment.

You may locate a copy of this release, along with some other photos, here. More photos have been published in the Daily Mail here.

I have seen articles about this in several Israeli papers yesterday and today. Thanks to Joseph I. Lauer for the IAA press release.

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.

Hidden treasure

The discovery of hidden treasure is fairly common in and near ancient sites. Individuals may not have a bank account, but they keep the funds they have stored in what they consider a safe place.

The photo below shows a clay jar with a hoard of silver coins displayed in the Samsun (Turkey) Archaeological Museum. These coins date from the Roman Imperial Period (69-79 A.D. and 238/244 A.D.). The earliest coins are not far removed from the time of the delivery of Peter’s Epistles to saints in Pontus and other Roman provinces (1 Peter 1:1). For more information about the delivery of Peter’s Epistles, see here.

For more information about the museum, check here and here.

Hoard of Roman coins displayed in Samsun Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman coins displayed in Samsun Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Photos such as this remind us of several Biblical passages. For today, consider Paul’s instruction to Timothy regarding what he was to teach those who set their hope on the uncertainty of riches.

 17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,
19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV)

Acts 25 — Photo Illustrations — Coins of the Rulers

We continue our look at the three chapters describing Paul’s stay at Caesarea Maritima — Acts 24-26. Three civil rulers are mentioned in these chapters. They are known not only from Luke’s account, but in the writings of Josephus.

Rapske says that Caesarea “was the administrative seat of the Roman procurators of Palestine.” He adds that in the time of the Flavians it became a Roman Colony (The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting; Vol. 3, The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody, 155).

After the Romans occupied “Palestine” the Jews had both a religious and a secular tax to pay. The procurators (prefects) were responsible for collecting the taxes for Rome. Coins were minted by various procurators, including Felix and Festus. I have chosen one example from each to show the type of coin current in their time.

Antonius Felix — A.D. 52-59.

Felix is described as a hegemon in the Greek New Testament. Major English versions use the term governor (Acts 23:24, 26; 24:2, 22, 24, 25, 27; 25:14). Hemer says that hegemon is a general word to describe a ruler, “the formal Latin title of these governors of Judaea being procurator or praefectus” (The Book of Acts, 128).

The obverse (head) of the coin of Felix shows two oblong shields and two spears. The inscription is translated “Nero Claudius Caesar–son of Claudius. The reverse (tail) shows a “six-branched palm tree bearing two bunches of dates” with a Greek inscription above and below (Hendin, Guide to Biblical Coins (1987), 117).

Coin of Roman Procurator Felix.

Coin of Roman Procurator Felix.

Porcius Festus — A.D. 59-61.

Porcius Festus followed Felix as governor or procurator. He is mentioned in each of the three chapters we are discussing. Paul had been left in custody by Felix, and Festus seems to be pleased to get the advice of King Agrippa when he visited Caesarea.

The coin of Festus, struck in A.D. 58, bears a Greek inscription within a wreath on the obverse. At the bottom is an X. The inscription reads NER ONO C (Nero). The reverse shows a palm branch with a Greek inscripton KAIC APOC (Caesar). The date LE means year five (Hendin, 118).

Coin of Porcius Festus.

Coin of Roman Procurator Porcius Festus.

Herod Agrippa II — A.D. 48-70.

Herod Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great (Acts 12:1, et al.). Agrippa II was the tetrarch of Chalcis and of northern territories. Chalcis was the small but beautiful territory between the Lebanon and Antilebanon mountains. Later he was granted the territories that had been controlled by Philip and Lysanias. Agrippa lived until the end of the first century, and minted coins even to the time of the Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96).

According to Hendin, the obverse shows a laureate bust of Domitian facing right. The inscription around it reads DOMITIAMOC KAICAP (Domitian Caesar). The reverse shows Nike standing right. One foot is resting on a helmet. She is writing on a shield that is resting on her knee. The inscription reads ETO KZBA AΓPIΠΠA (Year 27 of King Agrippa). The coin was struck in A.D. 83. (I do not know how best to harmonize the dates associated with the reign of Agrippa II.)

Coin of Herod Agrippa II with image of Domitian. Struck A.D. 83.

The coin above is copied from FORVM ANCIENT COINS.

I have only the original edition of Hendin’s Guide to Biblical Coins, but recommend the newer fifth edition of his book in the event that you have a genuine interest in Biblical coins. From my limited collecting experience, I can say that it is both fascinating and educational.

Hoard of coins from time of Ptolemy III discovered

The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities announced Thursday the discovery of a hoard of 383 bronze coins dating to the time of King Ptolemy III (ruled 246–222 B.C.). The well-preserved coins, found in the Fayoum about 50 miles southwest of Cairo, depict the Egyptian god Amun-Zeus on one side and the words Ptolemy and king in Greek on the other.

The Edfu Temple begun by Ptolemy III. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Edfu Temple begun by Ptolemy III. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The famous Alexandria Library was established in the 4th century B.C. by Ptolemy Soter I, or a few years later by his son. The Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek under the Ptolemaic rulers, beginning about 280 B.C. This Greek version was in common use in the first century. More than half of the quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament come from the Septuagint (Greek) version. For example, this is the version the man of Ethiopia was reading about the suffering servant:

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30 ESV)

Philip the evangelist began at that Scripture and preached Jesus to him.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer; various media reports.

Update: Todd Bolen has posted a beautiful photo here of Lake Qarun near the site of the discovery.