Rubble yields silver Temple 'tax' half-shekel

'Holy J'lem' coin may have been minted on Mt. itself; 2nd coin shows Greek king from Hannukah story.

ancient coin 248 88 (photo credit: Leah Ne'eman)
ancient coin 248 88
(photo credit: Leah Ne'eman)
Two ancient coins, one used to pay the Temple tax and another minted by the Greek leader the Jews fought in the story of Hanukka, have been uncovered amid debris from Jerusalem's Temple Mount, an Israeli archeologist said Thursday. The two coins were recently found in rubble discarded by Islamic officials from the Temple Mount. It is carefully being sifted by two archeologists and a team of volunteers at a Jerusalem national park. The first coin, a silver half-shekel, was apparently minted on the Temple Mount itself by Temple authorities in the first year of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-67 CE, said Bar-Ilan University Professor Gabriel Barkay, who is leading the sifting operation. One side of the coin, which was found by a 14-year-old volunteer, shows a branch with three pomegranates, and the inscription "Holy Jerusalem"; the other side bears a chalice from the First Temple and says "Half-Shekel." In the Bible, Jews are commanded to contribute half a shekel each for maintaining the Temple in Jerusalem. At the time of the Temple's construction in the sixth century BCE, every Jew was ordered to make an obligatory symbolic donation of a half-shekel. This consistent yet small payment allowed all Jews, irrespective of socioeconomic position, to participate in building the Temple. After the construction was completed, the tax continued to be collected for the purchase of public sacrifices and for maintaining the Temple's furnishings. The coin uncovered shows signs of fire damage, most likely by the fires that destroyed the Second Temple when it was invaded by the Romans in 70 CE, Barkay said. Although similar coins have been discovered at various locations throughout Jerusalem - including one found at the ancient City of David earlier this year - this is the first time such a coin has been discovered in rubble from the Temple Mount itself, he said. No archeological excavations are carried out on the Temple Mount, in keeping with the religious sensitivities of both Muslims and Jews. The second coin discovered in the rubble was minted by, and bears a portrait of, the Greek leader Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who ruled from 175-163 BCE. During that time, he looted the Temple of its treasures and erected a statue in the sanctuary. The Hasmonean rebellion was directed against his actions. The rebellion, the Hasmoneans' liberation of the Temple, and the events surrounding the Hanukka story took place on the Temple Mount. The sifting operation began four years ago, after Islamic officials discarded truckloads of rubble from the Temple Mount in the Kidron valley following illegal Wakf construction work on the ancient compound - work that caused irreparable archeological damage to Judaism's holiest site. The operation under way at the Jerusalem park, which is funded by the City of David Foundation, has retrieved more than 3,500 ancient coins that range from the Persian Period to the Ottoman Period.