Thirty pieces of silver

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by EWC3, May 31, 2020.

  1. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    I just noticed this oddity

    If we assume the "thirty pieces of silver" were sela (tetradrachms of Tyre) and take the theoretical weight as 14.2g then we get a weight of 426g - which in practice is a good estimate of an Attic mina - thus a "pound of silver".

    Googling around - I cannot see anyone ever mentioned this. Has anyone seen it mentioned anywhere?

    Could be just a co-incidence of course. :)

    Rob T
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  3. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I have never seen reference to the weight but it certainly makes sense that such an amount would have been set to something 'even'. There are certain numbers that come up regularly in Biblical stories (3, 12, 40) but I have not seen discussion of why 30. Was that, for example, a specific fraction of a talent or an amount at which a life was valued? IDK, but it would seem to be a question someone must have addressed.
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  4. AussieCollector

    AussieCollector Moderator Moderator

    Did a pound exist back then? Genuinely don't know the answer.
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  5. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Just checked and Google agrees I correctly translate French livre (489g) as “pound” (which unless specified might be 454g imperial or 373g troy).

    So it seems to me acceptable in a general context to translate both a Roman Libra/Litra (327g) and Attic mina (437g) as kinds of “pounds”

    You are right that some numbers are special to some cultures. EG 60 to the Babylonians, 12 to the Romans. There is a reasonably plausible narrative that makes a penny a reduced quarter shekel and so 4 x 1/240 = 1/60

    However what might be going on here is different I think. The key idea being that the Jews were only rarely independent enough to strike silver coins, but they were very active in trade, and fixed their weights cleverly so that they could easily convert to the standards of greater powers. And there are two fairly easy ways to do that around the first century. We have a quote from Josephus that seems to say a Jewish mina was 30 Roman ounces – and we have an official looking weight of Herod of near exactly 15 Roman ounces. An Israeli archaeologist - Amos Klone – cites Bar Kokhba weights that fit that standard. However, a different Israeli - Robert Deutsch – cites heavier Bar Kokhba weights that seem to fit 30 sela (Tyre tets.)

    What I am wondering is - are they both right?

    15 Roman oz = 96 Attic drachms = low Judean (c. 400g) but also

    16 Roman oz = 30 sela = Attic mina = high Judean (c. 426g)

    If anyone thinks this is a stunt – then I would say it kind of is – but because it is the nature of numbers themselves to pull stunts that human beings tend to find hard to keep track of.

    Rob T
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  6. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Maybe the amount of "30 pieces of silver" has its origin in Exodus 21:32 : "If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death." It was the fixed price of a slave 15 centuries before Jesus and way before Romans monetary system.
    Last edited: May 31, 2020
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  7. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    I think it's probably just a coincidence. Everyone has their price. Mine is $127.49. Judas' was 30 pieces of silver.
  8. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Too funny!
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  9. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Well you sure know your bible better than me – but maybe better than Judas too? I would read text from back then as about a bag of lumps of silver that weighed c. 250g (half a Babylonian mina - but not actually 30 pieces of anything). My hunch for Judas is still ‘I won’t take a anything less than a full pound’ - but OK – that’s just my hunch.

    'Possibly just a coincidence' - certainly.

    But why “probably”?

    What do you know about Judas that passed me by?

    Rob T
  10. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    Nothing. I was just thinking statistically.
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  11. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Prof Stephen Gorard:

    "Assessment of significance cannot be standardised and requires knowledge of an underlying figure that the analyst does not generally have and cannot usually know. Therefore, even if all assumptions are met, the practice of statistical testing in isolation is futile. The question many people then ask in consequence is—what should we do instead? This is, perhaps, the wrong question. Rather, the question could be—why should we expect to treat randomly sampled figures differently from any other kinds of numbers, or any other forms of evidence? What we could do ‘instead’ is use figures in the same way as we would most other data, with care and judgement"

    Or if you prefer:

    "Lies, damned lies, and statistics"

    Rob T
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  12. Roerbakmix

    Roerbakmix Well-Known Member

    Thinking in terms of probabilities is not the same as assessment of significance.
    @gsimonel was in fact exactly doing this: “What we could do ‘instead’ is use figures in the same way as we would most other data, with care and judgement”
    Last edited: May 31, 2020
  13. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Trajan Decius

    A pound of silver makes a nice round number for Judas' asking price. Notice the word "weigh".

    Zechariah 11:12 - And I said unto them, If ye think good, give [me] my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty [pieces] of silver.
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  14. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Thanks! That is exactly what I meant - about approaching evidence "with care and judgement"

    Is that exactly how it appears in the very earliest version I wonder?

    Rob T
  15. Stevearino

    Stevearino Supporter! Supporter

    "A pound of flesh." I know that I've read that phrase a number of times. Any relationship to this discussion?

    When I was just out of grad school our first "financial advisor" told us: "Figures can lie and liars can figure." Unfortunately, he was the first "financial advisor" to PROVE that to me.

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  16. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I believe @ancient coin hunter is correct here. The author of Matthew probably wrote τριάκοντα ἀργύρια (thirty pieces of silver) in 26:15 in order to make the subsequent (27:9) claim that the subsequent purchase of the Potter's field was fulfillment, by Jesus, of a prophecy by Jeremiah (which is incorrect; it's Zechariah). This is a fairly standard explanation in commentaries on Matthew.*

    It may that the author of Zechariah and the redactor of the Pentateuch were influenced by each other (we truly don't know which was written first; they both likely date to the late 6th century BCE, though material incorporated into Exodus dates to much earlier), as Exodus 21:32 uses the same terminology, as @Ocatarinetabellatchitchix notes above. Erica Reiner has an interesting interpretation: that "thirty shekels" reflects an idiomatic Sumerian expression for something worth little.**

    *For example, Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 710, and Donald A. Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary 33b: Matthew 14-28 (Word Books), p. 761.

    ** Reiner, Erica. "Thirty Pieces of Silver." JAOS 88 (1968), 186-90.
    Last edited: May 31, 2020
  17. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Trajan Decius

    I have been my own financial advisor for many years as I have been working in the finance field for some time. No desire or need pay the management fees...
  18. atcarroll

    atcarroll Well-Known Member

    Maybe that was the intent of the writer, to add another layer of scorn or derision to judas, that he sold his lord and master out for the price of a dead slave, maybe they weren't really trying to define a specific weight or type of coin.
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  19. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    There is an article “Thirty Pieces of Silver” Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 88, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1968), pp. 186-190 in which the author Erica Reiner argues the phrase “30 pieces of silver” is merely idiomatic for something of little value.
  20. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    That fits in with both the use of the phrase in Exodus and the use of the same phrase in the Zechariah story -- it was intended to imply a paltry sum, and it was used in the Christian Bible to make the point that Jesus's life was worth very little both to those who paid the sum, and to Judas, who received it. So it's pointless to try to tie it to a specific weight of silver or a specific monetary sum, or to speculate about Judas's intentions in requesting or accepting that specific amount -- as if he were a historical personage who is known to have received that specific amount, and had actual motivations and intentions in requesting and receiving it beyond those which Matthew wrote for him. It's more important to think about Matthew's intentions in writing that specific amount into the story, even beyond the usual purpose of the Gospels' authors of trying to present the events of Jesus's life in a way that would fulfill the supposed prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. (For obvious reasons, I don't use the term "Old Testament.") Think about why Matthew chose to draw from that particular story in the Hebrew Bible. (His is the only Gospel in which the story of the thirty pieces of silver appears, after all.)
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  21. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

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