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
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:
- The hoard is composed of almost entirely of one single sort
- 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
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.
- 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.
- The 160 Dinarii exactly represent the agio of 8% on the 1,000
Half-Shekels found in the hoard.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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:
- 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.
- The discontinuation of these issues was obviously connected
with the large output of Imperial Tetradrachms from the mint of
Antioch after 54 C.E.
- 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.