Temple Dues and Currency in Ancient Palestine in the Light of Recent Discovered Coin-Hoards

by Leo Kadman
Israel Numismatic Bulletin
No. 1, 1962, IGCMC

In the spring of 1960, a hoard of about 4,500 ancient silver coins was discovered near Isfiya on Mount Carmel: 3,400 of the coins were Tyrian Shekels, about 1,000 Half-Shekels, and 160 Roman Dinarii of Augustus. The Shekels and Half-Shekels are dated from 40 B.C.E. to 52/53 C.E., the bulk of them from 20-53 C.E. The Roman Dinarii, all of the same type (C43), were minted in the first decade C.E. The coins, most of which are excellently preserved, have been listed for scientific publication. This is not only one of the largest hoards of silver coins ever found in the Middle East, but also presents unusually interesting problems. The key for the determination of its nature is to be found in two facts:

  1. The hoard is composed of almost entirely of one single sort of coin.
  2. These coins, at the time when the hoard was concealed (after 53 C.E.), were not in regular currency in Palestine, where the silver coins in circulation were almost exclusively Roman or Roman Imperial. Both the Gospels and Josephus refer to the use of this coinage only. The possibility is therefore excluded that the hoard could have been the property of a private owner, a local bank or a military chest.

In the middle of the first century C.E., there was only one purpose for which the exclusive use of Tyrian Shekels was prescribed: the Temple-Dues of half a Shekel, which every male Jew of 20 years of age and above had to pay yearly to the Temple at Jerusalem. If we assume that the Mount Carmel hoard represents a shipment of dues for the Temple, all questions posed by its composition become easily explicable.
  1. The disproportion between the 3,400 Shekels and the 1,000 Half-Shekels is to be understood from the prescription of the Mishna that each payment of a Half-Shekel for one person was liable to an agio of 4-8%, while payment of a Full-Shekel for two persons was exempt from the agio. This fact is also illustrated by the passage in Matthew 17, 24-28.
  2. The 160 Dinarii exactly represent the agio of 8% on the 1,000 Half-Shekels found in the hoard.
  3. Since, according to the Mishna, the inflated Dinarii of Nero were rejected by the Temple treasuries, only full-weight Dinarii of Augustus were included in the payment.
  4. After the destruction of the Temple and the abolition of the Temple Dues, the value of the Tyrian Shekels deteriorated. In the papyri discovered some months ago in the Judaean Desert, the Shekel is evaluated as equal to two Roman Dinarii only.
  5. The question of previously discovered hoards of Tyrian Shekels, like the 558 Shekels found in Murabba'at and the Tyrian Shekels found together with Jewish Shekels minted during the War of 66-70 C.E., must now be considered in the light of the results of our researches.

The foregoing assumption enables us also to answer the questions whence came the hoard and when it was concealed:
  1. The hoard represents the Temple-Dues of 7,800 male Jews of more than 20 years of age, or a community of 30,000 people.
  2. According to the Mishna, the Temple-Dues had to be delivered to the Temple for the whole of Palestine - by the beginning of April; for Egypt and Phoenicia - in June; for Babylon, Mesopotamia and other places - in September.
  3. There is no reason why the entire Temple-Dues should not have reached their destination before the outbreak of the Jewish-Roman War in summer, 66 C.E.
  4. We may also surmise that the Temple-Dues for 67 C.E. from Galilee, to be delivered to the Temple no later than the beginning of April, reached Jerusalem safely. From the defeat of Cestius Gallus in November of 66 C.E. until the beginning of the operations of Vespasian in May of the following year, the country was freed of the Romans.
  5. When, however, the transport of the Temple-Dues from Phoenicia, which had to be delivered in Jerusalem in June, reached the Jewish territory late in May of 67 C.E., Western Galilee was already occupied by Vespasian and the main road to Jerusalem through Megiddo and Samaria barred by the Romans.
  6. The convoy with the Temple-Dues tried to pass Megiddo by the track over Mount Carmel to Narbata and from there to Jerusalem, but found this way also closed by the Roman detachment under Cerealis.
  7. In the hope that the new Roman army of Vespasian would be defeated like that of Cestius Gallus, the leaders of the convoy decided to conceal the Temple-Dues until the way to Jerusalem would be free again. They chose for this purpose the first Jewish village, near the border between Phoenicia and the Jewish territory, today Isfiya, and a spot near the ancient synagogue there. Their hopes were dashed, Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed. The hoard on Mount Carmel remained buried until it was discovered in our days.

Some interesting by-products emerge from our researches:
  1. It seems that the issue of Tyrian Shekels was interupted in about 55-60 C.E., and not in 70 C.E. as previously assumed.
  2. The discontinuation of these issues was obviously connected with the large output of Imperial Tetradrachms from the mint of Antioch after 54 C.E.
  3. Since the Jews were in need of Tyrian Shekels for the payment of the Temple-Dues, "barbarous" imitations were produced especially for this service.

This paper was read to the International Numismatic Congress in Rome, in September 1961.