Numismatic and History Discussions > Biblical & Judean Coins

Dating of Hasmonaean coins


Howard Cole:
After having a discussion with Salem in another thread about this, I have decided that he is right after rereading Hendin.  It has been years since I read the section that he pointed out.  This summer I got Ya’akov Meshorer’s book Acncient Jewish Coins, Volume I: Persian Period through Hasmonaeans which had a very persuasive argument for dating coins of Hyrcannus I as Hycannus II coins.  I now see the error of my ways, again, after rereading Hendin.

To summarize Hendin, there was a Hoard of Yehohanan the High Preist coins found in 1988, called the Nablus Hoard.  There were all types of Yehohanan coins in this hoard. Also in this hoard were Seleucid coins from the 2nd Century BC, but no coins from Alexander Jannaeus.  This proved that the Yehohanan coins must be earlier than Alexander Jannaeus and minted by Hyrcaneus I.

As Salem pointed out, there is uncertainty about later coins, especially the ones minted in the name of Yonatan.  Yonatan coins have been assigned to either Alexander Jannaeus or John Hyrcannus II.  Hendin does mention that in the Dead Sea Scrolls that Yonatan is used as a name for Alexander Jannaeus, but he dismisses this with the following argument.  Hendin believes that Yonatan is a nickname for Alexander Jannaeus and would never be used for an inscription on an object like a coin because it is an “official object”, which should have the formal name of the ruler.

I have an interesting article in the The American Numismatic Society Museum Notes 26 (1989) which dates coins with the names of Yehonatan and Yonatan to Alexander Jannaeus only.  This article is The Initial Coinage of Alexander Jannaeus by Mark D. McLean.  The following is found on page 161 of the article.

* ca. 100 B.C.  The Anchor/Diadem and the common yhwntn were issued, either jointly, or with the later following after the following shortly after the former and continuing concurrently.  The relative scarcity of Anchor/Diadem coins with yntn suggests this was a later development occurring slightly before the recall of the Anchor/Lily and the Palm Branch/Lily series.
* ca.  95 B.C.  The Anchor/Radiant series and its variations began to be issued for use in the provinces.  Some time after 95 B.C., the lead coins with Aramaic inscriptions and the small anchor in solid circle began to be struck.
* ca.  88 B.C.  The Anchor/Lily and the Palm Branch/Lily were issued in celebration of the successful conclusion of the civil war.
* ca,  79 B.C.  In a move to placate the Pharisees, the Anchor/Lily and Palm Branch/Lily series were recalled.  The Anchor/Lily coins were overstruck using common yntn dies cut by engraver I.[/b]

It would seem that McLean connects the above series of coins by using an analysis of the engraving of the inscription and says that one engraver did work on the whole series (most likely with other engravers, but he has identified one style of engraving that can be found on all coins in the series.)  He says that the switch from yhwntn (Yehonatan) to yntn (Yonatan) was done to save space.

McLean goes on to explain why the Anchor/Lily and Palm Branch/Lily coins were treated differently on recall.  He says that the Palm Branch is a symbol of victory and that it might be a reminder of bitter memories.  At the end of the civil war, in 88 B.C., Jannaeus crucified 800 of his enemies, and slaughter their wives and children.  McLean speculates that the Palm Branch/Lily coins might be connected with this event.  When Jannaeus made peace with the Pharisees, this coin was seen as truly unfit to circulate, even after being overstruck, and were melted down, while the Anchor/Lily coins were just overstruck.

My question is, has there been any more work in the Anchor/Lily and Palm Branch/Lily series of coins since McLean speculated on them over 25 years ago?

The DSS fragment (4Q448) says:

Fragment 1

Praise the Lord, a Psalm [of You loved as a fa[ther(?) you ruled over [ vacat [ and your foes were afraid (or: will fear) [ ...the heaven [ and to the depths of the sea [ and upon those who glorify him [ the humble from the hand of adversaries [ Zion for his habitation, ch[ooses

Fragment 2

because you love Isr[ael in the day and until evening [ to approach, to be [ Remember them for blessing [ on your name, which is called [ kingdom to be blessed [ ]for the day of war [ to King Jonathan [
Fragment 3

holy city for king Yonatan and all the congregation of your people Israel who are in the four winds of heaven peace be (for) all and upon your kingdom your name be blessed.

It's evidently a psalm fragment, and 'King Yonatan' has to be Jannaeus since no other plausible candidate had the title of king. I don't think it's possible to be sure whether Yonatan was the official name of the king or not. Geza Vermes (The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin, 1998) argues that it is Jonathan Maccabaeus, but he also identifies Yonatan with the 'Wicked Priest' of the Habbakuk commentary. The current concensus is that this figure is Jannaeus.


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