Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The Tyrian Shekel

Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

One of the largest hoards of ancient coins ever found was discovered in Israel in the spring of 1960 at a village called Isifa on Mount Carmel. The hoard consisted of 3,400 Tyrian Shekels, 1,000 Half-Shekels, and 160 Roman Denarii minted during Augustus’ reign. The bulk of the Shekels and Half-Shekels were dated from 20-53 AD.  

At first glance this strange mix of coins at first seems to defy logic. At the time these coins were hidden, the Shekel was not in regular circulation.  And both the Gospels and Josephus indicate that the coinage of that era was almost exclusively Roman. This means that the hoard could not have belonged to a private owner, or come from a bank or military strong box.  

In the middle of the first century, the only use for Tyrian Shekels was payment of the prescribed Temple Tax. Every male Jew of 20 years of age and above had to pay a yearly tax of half a Shekel to support the Temple in Jerusalem. If we assume that the Mount Carmel hoard represents a shipment of taxes due the Temple, the question of its strange composition becomes clear.   

Consider first that they were predominantly Tyrian Shekels which were of sufficient quality for Temple use. The Half-Shekels, however, were minted in Antioch by the Romans and were under weight. Therefore the Misnah stipulated that an agio, or small additional percentage, of 4-8% was required along with the Half-Shekel to bring it up to full value. In other words, if you paid for two people with a Tyrian Shekel, you were home free, but if you paid just for yourself with a Half-Shekel you had to add in the agio. This is proven by Matthew 17:24-28 in which Peter is told to catch a fish with a Shekel in its mouth…a sufficient tax for both himself and Jesus.  

Interestingly enough, the 160 Denarii represents an agio of exactly 8% on the 1,000 Half-Shekels found in the hoard. The presence of the Augustinian Denarii is explained by the fact that the inflated Denarii of Nero were rejected by the Temple treasury. Only the full-weight Denarii of Augustus were considered acceptable payment.  

If one assumes that the hoard represents a shipment of taxes destined for the Temple, the answer to not only where they came from, but also when it was concealed becomes clear.  
Fact One: The hoard represents the Temple-Dues of 7,800 male Jews of more than 20 years of age, or a community of approximately 30,000 Jews.
Fact Two: According to the Mishnah, the Temple Tax for all of Palestinia was due at the Temple by the beginning of April. Egypt and Phoenicia were due in June, and Babylon, Mesopotamia and all other regions in September.

Based on this timetable, the entire Temple Tax could not have reached its destination before the outbreak of the Jewish-Roman War in the summer of 66 AD. Assume for a moment that the taxes from Galilee for the year 67 AD were delivered to the Temple in April as required. From the defeat of Cestius Gallus in November of 66 AD until the beginning of the operations of Vespasian the following May, the country was free of the Romans.  

However the transport of the Temple Tax from Phoenicia, which was due in June, probably reached Jewish territory in late May of 67. By then, Western Galilee was already occupied by Vespasian and the main roads to Jerusalem through Megiddo and Samaria were barred by the Romans.

Now assume that the convoy transporting the Temple Tax decided to bypass Megiddo by going over Mount Carmel to Narbata and from there to Jerusalem. However they found this way closed by a Roman detachment under the command of Cerealis.

Continuing this supposition, we can assume that the couriers hoped that the new Roman army under Vespasian would be defeated like that of Cestius Gallus. The leaders of the convoy then decide to conceal the money until the way to Jerusalem opened up again. Since they were coming from Phoenicia, they chose the first acceptable spot they came to — the Jewish village nearest the border between Phoenicia and the Jewish territory, a spot known today as Isifa. They then selected a spot near the ancient synagogue there, concealed their treasure, and set about waiting for things to blow over.

However, their hopes were dashed when Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed. The hoard of coins on Mount Carmel remained buried until it was discovered in 1960. Now we know that fate of the coins, but we can never know the fate of the men who buried them/

Until next time, we wish you Peace And Blessings.

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