Numismatic and History Discussions > Biblical & Judean Coins

Tribute Penny

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Can anybody explain to me why this particular denarius is called a 'tribute penny'?  Some Pharisees and supporters of Herod  hand him a denarius and all Jesus says is Ôίíïò ἡ åἰêὼí áὕôç êáὶ ἡ ἐðéãñáöÞ; ('Whose image is this and inscription (i.e. titles)?'; Mark's version: Matthew and Luke copied their versions from him).  It could be any denarius, not even necessarily one of Tiberius'.  I've always wondered.  
The penny part I know: it's because denarius used to be the word for penny (and the abbreviation for penny was 'd' until decimalization).



Buy a Tribute| Penny| from the Forum| Ancient| Coins| |shop.

Read Tribute| Penny| articles in NumisWiki:

Tribute Penny| of the Bible
Tribute Penny| Debate| Continued (2015)
Tribute Penny| Debate| Revisited (2006)

I really hate that these are called "tribute pennies." This is an entirely non-historical name for the coin. There is absolutely NO evidence that this coin is that spoken of in the Gospels.

Ditto the so-called "widow's mite," by the way.

It seriously annoys me as well; I think it boils down to the influence of the US fundamentalist lobby; anything with 'Biblical' in the title attracts potential buyers, who are often quite uncritical! Quite apart from the obvious, that any old coin with a Roman ruler's head on it will do, it's also the case that denarii from that period are not commonly found in Palestine. The term 'denarius' in the story originated with mark, the earliest gospel, which has an established tendency to translate terms for a Romanised audience; a strong tradition has it that it was written in Rome, where people wouldn't have been so familiar with Eastern terminology. So the author, for instance, explains that two lepta are equivalent to a quadrans in the story of the poor widow. A drachm was equivalent to a denarius, so he may well have rendered it in terms of the familiar coin without explaining. There are just too many uncertainties to allow the slightest objective justification for calling this a 'tribute penny'.

Joe Sermarini:
I think it is perfectly reasonable, in fact most appropriate, to call the denarius of Tiberius a "Tribute Penny." 

The nickname "Tribute Penny" is much older than the US fundamentalist lobby.  While it is used for commercial promotion, the origin of "Tribute Penny" was probably not commercial and the name would be used by biblical coin collectors even if it was not used by dealers.  Coin collecting is a hobby based on interests, themes and filling holes.  People who are interested in collecting coins related to the Bible want short-hand names to identify the types related to the Bible.  "Tribute Penny" means simply, "The type most biblical coin collectors want in their collection because it is the best fit to represent the coin associated with Christ's answering the Pharisees." 

The "Tribute Penny" must be a denarius.  The Bible says so.  It does not matter which gospel says denarius, if you believe the Gospels, all four Gospels, are the word of God it must be a denarius.  If you don't believe the Bible is the literal word of God or historical fact, the denarius is still the only denomination named in relation to this biblical story.  "Tribute Penny" is a biblical nickname, not a historical nickname.  When you are giving a coin a biblical nickname, and the Bible itself names the denomination, it makes no sense to pick another denomination.  The Bible says denarius.   
The "Tribute Penny" must be a coin of Tiberius.  Some argue, the coin handed to Jesus could have been any portrait denarius of Julius Caesar, Augustus or Tiberius.  Augustus denarii are sometimes called "Tribute Pennies" (in FORVM's catalog we sometimes call them the "Alternate Tribute Penny").  But Julius Caesar and Augustus were dead.  You can't pay unto dead people.  For this lesson taught by Jesus to fit most appropriately, the Caesar to be paid would have to be alive.   For the coin to fit this lesson taught by Jesus most appropriately, the coin would have to have the image and inscription of Tiberius. 

As for the number of denarii or Tiberius denarii circulating in Jerusalem at the time, it doesn't matter.  If Jesus could turn water into wine, he could and would ensure the coin examined was one that most appropriately fit his lesson. 

It is perfectly reasonable for people who do not believe the Bible is the literal word of God or historical fact to speculate that the coin handed to Jesus was some other denomination or for that matter that the whole story is fictional.  But the denarius of Tiberius is the type most biblical coin collectors want in their collection because it is the best fit to represent the coin associated with Christ's answering the Pharisees.  The denarius of Tiberius is the "Tribute Penny."

"Give to the emperor what is the emperor's" - this refers to one and the same person. Joe is quite right here: This lesson works best if the denarius is one of Tiberius'. And since about 99% of Tiberius' denarii are of this type, IMHO there are far sillier or, at least, less appropriate names for coins.



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