After discussion with some friends and family, I was asked what my Top 5 Biblical Coins would be for the average collector on an average budget. There are so many good candidates and narrowing it down to my “Top 5” was a challenge.
I wanted to balance the following characteristics:
- Historical Context
- Scriptural Reference
- Eye Appeal
- Availability and Cost
Here I go…
Biblical Coins, Number 5 – Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great may not come to mind when thinking about biblical coins but I will explain why his coinage makes my list. Alexander the Great ruled Greece from 336 – 323 BC and “Hellenized” the known world by spreading Greek culture and language. The spread of Greek culture in some ways prepared the environment for the future spread of the Gospel some 300+ years later.
Alexander would have never have known that his personal ambition would set the stage for God’s bigger plan. The commonality of Greek culture throughout otherwise diverse cultures and people, created the unifying structures needed to spread the Gospel.
Later, with the growth of the Byzantine Empire, Greek culture and language preserved classical literature during Europe’s Dark Ages.
It may not be widely known but Alexander the Great is referenced in scripture, as is his conquest and the dissolution of his empire. In Daniel, Alexander is referred to as the horned goat from the west.
Daniel 8: 5-8
5 As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. 6 It came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at it in great rage. 7 I saw it attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from its power. 8 The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.
Coins of Alexander the Great are very popular and begin around $50 for bronze and $100 + for silver examples.
Augustus, originally known as Octavius was the first Roman Emperor. He was the adopted heir to Julius Caesar and put an end to 100 years of civil war, establishing an empire. The order which he brought the world was unparalleled in scope and a stabilizing time of peace. The system or roads, infrastructure, and governmental structure would provide a framework for the spread of Christianity later in the empire’s history.
Augustus ruled from 31 BC – 14 AD and was the ruler when Jesus Christ was born.
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
Coins of Augustus are widely collected and there are numerous examples to choose from. Most popular are silver denarii, which start at about $100+
Herod the Great was the King of Judea 37-4 BC. He was never known as “the great” during his lifetime but the term became in use much later when used to distinguish from his sons, also Herod. More of a client King, and allied with the Romans, his claim of Jewishness is only in the academic sense as he cared little of the Jewish community. He taxed his people heavily and killed a great many people, including his wife and some children. He ordered the deaths of all male babies in Bethlehem under the age of two.
In the Gospel of Matthew we read:
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
Coinage of King Herod does not contain Hebrew but instead have Greek legends and definitely have some Greek influence such as the use of caduceus (Mercury’s wand). On one particular issue, there is a Graven image in the form of an eagle.
The price of the commonest coin of King Herod begins around $50.
Pontius Pilate was the Roman Procurator of Judaea who is forever known as the Roman who sentenced Jesus Christ to crucifixion.
In the Gospel of Matthew we read:
27 When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: 2 And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor…
22 Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. 23 And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. 24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
26 Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
It is interesting to note that of all the Roman Procurators, Pilate is the only one known to aggravate and insult the Jewish faithful by placing pagan symbolism on his coins. Pilate issued two types of coins. The first coin has three ears of barley on the obverse, and a Simpulum (a ladle used in pagan services) on the reverse. The second coin has a Littus (augur’s wand or mystical staff) on the obverse, and a date mark surrounded by a wreath on the reverse.
A Pontius Pilate coin is a great addition to your biblical collection. Prices begin around $65 for entry low grade examples.
Biblical Coins, Number #1 – The Widow’s Mite Bronze Prutah
The Widow’s Mite or properly a known as a Bronze Prutah of Alexander Jannaeus. This comes from the Hasmonean Kingdom (Maccabean Period) of about 103 – 76 BC. Alexander Jannaeus was the younger brother of Judah Aristobulus I, son of John Hyrcanus I (nephew of Judah Maccabee). This coin features a Seleucid Anchor (essentially an upside down anchor) on the obverse and a star of eight rays surrounded by a diadem on the reverse. In Greek, the obverse legend reads Basileos Alexandrou – “of King Alexander.” The reverse has a Paleo-Hebraic legend Y-H-WN-TN-H-M-L-K or Yehonatan Ham-melek or “of Johnathan the King.” This coin was struck at the height of the Jewish Kingdom.
The Widow’s Mite was a small, inconsequential coin, with little value. It is estimated that it would take approximately 384 prutah to equal a shekel. But it is with this small and inconsequential coin that Jesus teaches an extremely valuable lesson.
Found in both the Gospels of Mark and Luke is the story of a poor widow who gives a Prutah to the poor, and in reality, gives all she has:
And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. 2 And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. 3 And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: 4 For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
This coin is readily available and prices typically begin around $30 for lower grade examples.
There it is, my Top 5 Biblical Coins for your collection. The coins featured here are available for purchase on my site. http://www.ancientcoinsandcollectibles.com/