Silver coins from the Temple Mount

Five small silver coins dated to the end of the fourth century BC were discovered in soil excavated from the Temple Mount.1 The silver coins are inscribed with the letters “YHD” (Yehud) in ancient Hebrew script, the Aramaic name for the Persian Empire’s province of Judah. The small coins are only seven millimetres in diameter.

The coins date from the return of the Jews to their land under Persian rule after the Babylonian exile. It is possible that the silver shekels of Nehemiah chapters 5:15 and 10:32 were coins similar to those discovered.2 Only five of these coins have been found in archaeological excavations at ancient sites around Jerusalem in the past, so the find is very significant. The discovery shows that administrative life centred at the Temple and on the Mount and that the coins may have even been minted on the Temple Mount itself.

The coins’ design appears to be based on the ancient world’s most widespread currency, the Athenian obol. The Jewish minters even copied the image of the barn owl, an unclean animal to Israel that was synonymous with the Greek city-state. The coins reflect the growing use and acceptance of government issued coinage, and the move away from trade based on the exchange of goods and precious metals like gold and silver. Coinage was introduced into Persia by Darius I Hystaspes (521–486 BC).3

The coins were discovered as part of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, co-directed by Zachi Dvira and Dr Gabriel Barkay, with academic support from Bar Ilan University’s archaeology institute. The project began in 2004, following infrastructure works in 1999 by the Waqf, the Islamic trust that administers the Temple Mount, which involved excavation of the site. Tons of excavated material was dumped in the Kidron Valley.

Volunteers from Israel and other countries have helped to sift through the discarded dirt for artefacts and other items of significance. The project has uncovered many rare items such as a seal belonging to a priest that served in the Temple, thus confirming its existence from Solomon’s time.

As state funding for the sifting project ran out in April 2017 and an alternative source of funding had not eventuated, the project directors decided to enlist the help of schools. As an experiment, dirt from the Temple Mount has been transported to the Yeshurun high school in Petah Tikva, to be sifted by students and staff. The activity is supplemented by an educational presentation about the history and archaeology of the Temple Mount. It is planned to extend this work to other groups in the future in an effort to save the archaeological artefacts buried deep in the mounds of dirt.

A city of southern Judah

Excavations at Tel ‘Eton, may have uncovered an important administrative centre in the south of the Kingdom of Judah.4 Tel ‘Eton is identified by most scholars with Eglon, a Canaanite city conquered by Israel when they entered the land under Joshua (Josh 10:34-35), and assigned to the tribe of Judah (Josh 15:20,39).

Situated between the low hills of the Shephelah and the central highlands, Tel ‘Eton is one of the largest sites in Judah, apparently third only to Jerusalem and Lachish, says Avraham Faust, director of the Tel ‘Eton Excavations.

The large site is located at the point where an ancient north-south road connected the Beersheba Valley with the Aijalon Valley. Here several east-west roads connected the coastal plain with Mount Hebron.

Excavation work has concentrated on this large city of the Kingdom of Judah that flourished in the eighth century BC. Discoveries indicate that the city was well fortified and had a large well-constructed house at its highest point. It is believed that this building was the home of a governor in charge of administrative affairs in the region. Storage vessels, jugs, oil lamps and four clay seals, known as bullae, were among the artefacts discovered in the house.

The dig has also uncovered a destruction layer at Tel ‘Eton dating to the late eighth century, which suggests that the town was one of the cities of Judah destroyed by the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 BC (2 King 18:13).

These recent discoveries assure us of the historical value of the Bible, giving us confidence in the reliability of the Scriptures, God’s word of truth.

References:

  1. Itzchak Tessler, “5 rare Jewish coins discovered by Temple Mount project”, Ynetnews.com 21 May 2018 [Online] https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5266587,00.html
  2. The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Inter-Varsity Press, part 2, p. 1021.
  3. Herodotus 4.166.
  4. Robin Ngo, “Tel ‘Eton Excavations Reveal Possible Judahite Administrative Center”, Bible history daily / Bible and archaeology news 10 March 2015 [Online] https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/tel-eton-excavations-reveal-possible-judahite-administrative-center/