Question About the Biblical Thirty Pieces of Silver

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by kevin McGonigal, Nov 30, 2020.

  1. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    I have been wondering about something, that is, what were the likely thirty pieces of silver paid in the Biblical account of Judas betraying Jesus of Nazareth. Looking this up on Google does not help much. Some of the articles were written by people really not well versed in ancient coinage. Advertisements for coins for sale seem to settle on the Tyrian tetradrachmas, shekels issued by the city of Tyre, the ones with Melkart and the Tyrian eagle on the reverse. Some say only these coins could be used at the Temple and that the coins came from the Temple treasury. They were believed to be about 14 grams of close to pure silver. Actually some of the tetradrachmas issued by Tyre just before this Melkart issue, apparently of the same weight and fineness, with that same Tyrian reverse. look a great deal like the Melkart ones. Anyway, is there any consensus (beyond those selling them) on what the Thirty Pieces were and might there have actually been several different kinds of coins in the batch paid to Judas? Thanks for any info on this.
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  3. mrweaseluv

    mrweaseluv Supporter! Supporter

    Interesting question... I'm looking forward to what some of our ancient ppl have to say on this :D
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  4. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    There is a second Bible story where Jesus tells Peter to catch a fish and in that fish he would find a coin that would pay the Temple Tax for the both of them. The standard reading of the Judas 30 assumes that same Shekel of Tyre which is much more commonly seen than the half shekel required for one man's Temple Tax. The Shekels were year dated and mint marked for a long time. There is increased demand for Jerusalem mint coins of ~30 AD from people who want coins as close to the ones that inspired the story.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2020
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  5. otlichnik

    otlichnik Well-Known Member

    David Hendin, in his excellent Guide to Biblical Coins, 5th edition, states, referring to the 30 pieces of silver referred to in Matthew 26:14-15, that "It is logical to assume that the "30 pieces of silver" paid to Judas were Tyre sheqels, since these coins were the most commonly used and accepted silver coins at the time." (p.482)

    He further notes that it was the requirement to use sheqels and half-sheqels in the Jerusalem Temple that led to Jesus' disgust at the money changers. Thus payment in sheqels would have added salt to the wound so to speak.

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  6. David@PCC


    I would vote for a Shekel of Tyre, but it could be any circulating Shekel or Tetradrachm that was used in Jerusalem during or prior to the reign of Tiberius. I doubt we will ever know.
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  7. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    The original Greek text (Matthew 26:15) states that Judas received "thirty silver [ones]" τριάκοντα ἀργύρια from the "chief priests" ἀρχιερεῖς. Unfortunately, the text is vague regarding what sort of silver. However, since silver coins of Tyrian type were the only coins acceptable for payment of the Temple tax, it stands to reason that those would have been the coins most readily available to the chief priests.
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    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    I dimly recall reading, somewhere, that the Temple accepted Tyrian shekels, despite the hold-your-nose, pagan content. Especially when the Maccabeans, whose remarkably successful revolt against the Seleucids was precipitated by just such (humor me) abominations, were still a recent cultural memory. ...Maybe that was another thing that got Jesus that p----d off, as far as the money changers were concerned. He's of record quoting a line from one of the Old Testament prophets when he did that.
    ...One amazing thing about the canonical (...different story) Gospels is that, with the extant manuscripts all in Koine Greek (but with occasional transiterations from Aramaic ...notably when he's quoted), Jesus comes across as having been very literate, especially in the prophets of the Tanakh.
    ...Beyond that point, the prevailing politico-religious elites followed a collective pathology common to politico-religious elites (...know any of those?), rather than anything credibly distinctive of their ethnicity.
    ...And who actually did that stuff, depicted in that splat movie I never subjected myself to? Um ...wait for it... Roman soldiers. (...'Just Following Orders,' on one hand, and, hmm, maybe having grown up playing the 1st-c. CE equivalent of too many violent video games, on the other.)
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2020
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  9. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    As others have already noted, Tyrian shekels seems the most likely possibility, but there's no way to be sure. The original text is vague, and while we can try to make plausible inferences, we can never be certain that we've guessed correctly. Just like the other common examples of Biblical coins (the "Tribute Penny" and "widow's mite"), the original texts don't give very specific numismatic information. That wasn't the authors' intent anyway, they were focused on more spiritual matters, and any details of daily life like coin denominations was included only as needed to further the lesson, with no regard as to whether future numismatists would find it helpful.
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  10. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Parthicus, thank you for your valued perspective!!! :<}
  11. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    If the coin in question was a tetradrachma of Tyre, would it necessarily have been the one with Melkart? For those readers with the Greek Sear books take a look in Vol 2 , Sear 5919 and compare it with Sear 7105. Some of the Seleucid tetras of the Second Century look almost identical to the Melkart ones and the weight appears to be very, very close, the Melkart ones being given a weight of 14.0 to 14.5 grams and the Seleucid monarch ones given as 14.2 grams. They seem to me to be almost indistinguishable, especially with some wear on the obverse. Also I wonder if the priests at the Temple would have used only those coins acceptable in Temple Tax payments for this "blood money" or would they have used more heathenish coins from another fund? I suppose this is similar to the Tribute Penny coin controversy and which coin that was. Oh, for that time machine.
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