Rare silver ‘rebel coin,’ maybe minted at Temple 2,000 years ago, found in Jerusalem
Experts suggest shekel coin may have been made by priests assisting Great Revolt against Romans, using precious metal from holy site’s plentiful reserves
A rare 2,000-year-old silver shekel coin, thought to have been minted on the Temple Mount plaza from the plentiful silver reserves held there at the time, has been uncovered in Jerusalem.
If it were indeed minted there, it would make the coin one of the very few items uncovered that were manufactured at the holy site.
The coin, found by an 11-year-old girl, Liel Krutokop, during a sifting project for dirt removed from an archaeological dig at the City of David National Park, was engraved with “second year,” i.e., the second year of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans (67-68 CE).
Dr. Robert Kool, head of the Coin Department at the Israel Antiquities Authority, suggested that the coin may have been minted at the plaza of the holy site by one of the priests who worked in coordination with the rebel leaders, providing them with assistance.
“Where else could you find silver in such quantity and such high quality in those days? Only in the Temple. If so, we can say with caution that this coin is, apparently, one of the only items we hold today that originated on the Temple [Mount] itself,” Kool said.
“This is a rare find, since out of many thousands of coins discovered to date in archeological excavations, only about 30 coins are made of silver, from the period of the Great Revolt,” said Kool.
“Everyone knows the Arch of Titus in Rome and the descriptions of loot taken from the Temple that appear on it, but not many are familiar with the huge silver reserves that were in the Temple. You can learn about the huge silver reserves that were in the Temple from the ancient inscription uncovered by the researcher Géza Alföldy,” he said.
Kool was referring to a reconstructed inscription at the Colosseum in Rome, which explained that the amphitheater was built using spoils looted from the Temple.
The inscription at the site in Italy reads: “Emperor Vespasian [who, along with his son Titus, suppressed the Jewish Revolt and destroyed the Temple] ordered the construction of this new theater amphitheater [the Colosseum] from his share of the spoils.”
“One can only imagine the extent of the loot and the amount of money the Romans found in the Temple storehouses,” said Dr. Amit Reem, the IAA’s Jerusalem district archaeologist.
The IAA said in a statement that the coin would have been used for trade in Jerusalem during the period of the Second Temple.
“This street [where the coin was excavated], which connected the Siloam Pool in the south of the City of David to the Temple Mount in the north, was Jerusalem’s main street during the Second Temple period, where thousands of pilgrims marched on their way to the Temple,” Kool said. “There is no doubt that there would have been extensive trading here. This is evidenced by the many weights and bronze coins we have found here. But to find a rebel coin made of pure silver is definitely very special and exciting.”
The coin weighs approximately 14 grams (0.4 ounces) and has an engraving of an image of a cup on one side, with the caption “Israeli shekel” and the Hebrew letters Shin and Bet, shorthand for “second year,” i.e., the second year of the Great Revolt against the Romans (67-68 CE).
The other side of the coin has an inscription that the IAA said was an engraving of the headquarters of the high priest, as well as the words “Holy Jerusalem” in ancient Hebrew script.
Kool said currency is used during rebellions as symbol of independence, and suggested the choice of ancient Hebrew script for the engraving showed a longing for a Jewish kingdom.
“A currency is a sign of sovereignty. If you go into rebellion, you use one of the most obvious symbols of independence, and you mint coins. The inscription on the coin clearly expresses the rebels’ aspirations,” he said.
“The choice to use ancient Hebrew script, which was no longer in use at the time, is not accidental,” Kool said. “The use of this script came to express the longing of the people of the period for the days of David and Solomon and the days of a united Jewish kingdom — days when the people of Israel had full independence in the land.”