A Second Temple era coin was recently “rediscovered” in the Tower of David Museum. Originally uncovered in excavations in Jerusalem in the 1980s, the rare coin was stored away and forgotten until the box containing the artifacts was reopened during a recent restoration project.
Tyrian shekels, tetradrachms, or tetradrachmas were Phoenician coins from the city of Tyre, now part of Lebanon, which were used in the Roman Empire from 126 BCE until 56 CE. They bore the Greek inscription “ΤΥΡΟΥ ΙΕΡΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΑΣΥΛΟΥ” Tyrou hieras kai asylou, “of Tyre the holy [city] and [city] of refuge”. One side of the coins bore the likeness of the Phoenician god Melqart, also known as Baal, who was worshipped by the Greeks as Herakles. The Jews derided the God under the name Beelzebub.
After the Roman Empire closed down the mint in Tyre, the Roman authorities allowed the Jews to continue minting Tyrian shekels in Judaea, but with the requirement that the coins should continue to bear the same image and text to avoid objections that the Jews were given autonomy. They were replaced by the First Jewish Revolt coinage in 66 CE.
The coins, weighing four Athenian drachmas or about 14 grams, were purportedly used to pay the annual tax for Solomon’s Temple paid by the Jews. Because Roman coinage was only 80% silver, the purer Tyrian shekels, 94% pure silver or more, were required to pay the temple tax in Jerusalem. Talmudic sources suggest that the Tyrian shekel was likely the only means of paying the Temple tax at the Temple.
Counting the Jews is explicitly forbidden in the Torah. In lieu of a census, each Jewish man over the age of 20 gave a silver half-shekel to the Temple. It was this silver half-shekel that prevented a plague from engulfing Israel.
When you take a census of B’nei Yisrael according to their enrollment, each shall pay Hashem a ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled. Exodus 30:12
In Temple times, the half-shekels funded the costs of the Temple service. It was also required in order for public offerings to be considered communal since every Jewish household had contributed towards its purchase.
Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, a renowned Torah scholar from the Middle Ages, who is more famously known as the “Rambam,” said that the weight of the coin was equal to 160 grains of barley, which in modern measurements would be approximately eight grams of silver. The value of the coin is dependent upon whatever the market’s value is on silver.
Silver Shekel in Christianity
The coin also has significance for Christians. The money changers referenced in the New Testament provided Tyrian shekels in exchange for Roman currency when this was required. It is also believed that Tyrian shekels may have been the 30 pieces of silver for which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus.
Although well-known in ancient and biblical sources, these coins are rare — only a few have been found. The coin will be displayed as part of the museum’s new permanent exhibition next year.
Tower of David Restoration
The $40 million restoration project focused on the “Phasael” tower of the Jerusalem Citadel, also known as the Tower of David was initiated when a large crack running from top to bottom was suspected of threatening the structural integrity of the historic structure. Preparation for the renewal included cleaning and treating the ancient stones of the Tower, using a temporary glue to maintain stability while cracks in the stone were explored. Metal anchors will be used to permanently stabilize the stones. A high-tech monitoring system will be installed to detect movements in the structure.
“The Tower of David is one of the most important structures in Israel, both in terms of its history and location. The last conservation project at the Tower of David was carried out in the 1980s. Since then, the citadel has been in desperate need of conservation,” said engineering manager Yotam Carmel.