Numismatic and History Discussions > Biblical & Judean Coins

jewish war shekels in near perfect condition

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I've noticed that the jewish War shekels and half shekels on the market today all seem to be in nearly perfect condition with very little wear.  I couldn't find any low quality ones.  Is this because they were in use for such a short time? (or is it just a figment of my imagination? :))

They were only in use for a short period, from 66/7 to the destruction of the Temple in 70. If, as seems likely, they were minted specifically for the Temple tax, they would have seen very light wear. So it's not surprising if they appear unworn!

Howard Cole:
I don't think they were used for the temple tax.  They were issued by the Jews as a sign of their freedom and independence from Rome, especially by minting silver coins.

I do have to agree that they circulated for a very short time if at all.    Also the silver coins would have been confiscated by the Romans and melted down.  The small bronze coins may have not been confiscated like the silver, since to the Romans bronze coins were not a sign of independence.  The Romans allowed many cities and areas to issue their own bronze coins.  So, most likely the silver coins that are found are from hoards buried at the time of the Jewish War or soon after.

They were in part a symbol of independence, I agree, and at the same time the design could well indicate a fundamentalist (as we'd call it today) rejection of the images which had previously been tolerated on shekels. Given that the weight standard is similar to that of the Tyre shekel, and that these become extremely rare after the outbreak of the First Revolt, it's difficult to see how they could have been intended for anything but the Temple tax, though they could have been used for other transactions as well, of course. What I don't seem to have is any info on the fineness of these coins; for the Temple tax, they would have had to be of a very high standard of fineness to comply with the Mosaic requirement for pure silver. No shekels were struch during the bar Kochba uprising - not surprising since there was by then no Temple - and the sela and zuz were overstruck on tetradrachms and denarii respectively, showing that 'normal' standards of fineness were acceptable for these. I think your argument works better here.

Howard Cole:
The shekel of Tyre was 90 to 92 percent silver and minted down to 70 AD.   Roman silver coins at this time were about 80 percent silver and not acceptable for temple tax.  According to the Mishnah, temple tax had to be paid in Tyrian coinage (Mishnah, Bekhoroth 8:7)  As to the finess of the Jewish shekel, I can't find any reference for this.

At the time of the Jewish war, it must also be remembered that this was a civil war too, with different Jewish factions attacking each other.  It is not known who issued the Jewish shekels of this period.  They may have had not been connection at all with the temple at all, but I sort of doubt this.

In the Coins of the Land of Israel, Collection of the Bank of Isreal by Arie Kindler, he states the reason for the issuing of silver coins was an expression of freedom and an affront to Roman authority.
During the war, the Jews gave expression to their independance and freedom from Rome not only by striking bronze coins, but also by issuing silver coinage - an act which, within the framework of the Roman Empire, was the sole privilege of the emperor. (Page 52)

As for who or why the shekel was issued is a mystry.


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