Session 9                                  THE TEMPLE TAX 

 WERE TYRIAN SHEKELS EVER MINTED IN JERUSALEM?

The vast majority of numismatists and scholars believe that no coins were ever minted in Jerusalem.  This belief is based upon the lack of firm evidence for such coins.

However, in 1982 the Chief Curator for Archeology at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Professor Ya’akov Meshorer, published a scholarly paper in which he suggested that the Chief Priests and Elders in Jerusalem became concerned that the mint in Tyre was going to close.1  This would have been a disaster for the Temple Treasury!

According to Meshorer’s proposal, King Herod was given permission by Rome  to move the minting of the Tyrian Shekel to Jerusalem around the year 18 B.C., the same year in which the new Herodian Temple was completed.  Meshorer’s proof of such a move is based on a visible difference:  these shekels can be identified by the letters KAP (and later KP) on their face.  Meshorer believed that the poorer quality image of the minting process was in part evidence that the Jewish “craftsmen” were not up to Tyrian standards.  What these coins show is a quality stamping on the front but crude details on the reverse side which might be an indication that they were hastily made.

Meshorer said that the letters KAP stand for Kratos Romaion (the power of the Romans).2  These letters appear only on coins minted after 18 B.C.  Part of Meshorer’s claim is based on the poor quality of coins minted after 18 B.C. and not just the new lettering, but the majority of scholars do not agree.

To evaluate this claim, we need first to ask “Would moving the mint from Tyre to Jerusalem likely be approved by Rome?”  If anyone but Herod had asked permission, the answer would likely be negative.  But Herod had special privileges with Rome.  These are too detailed and complex to explain here, but one odd thing about Herod which many of us know is that the Roman senate officially granted Herod the title “King.”3  No one else in the history of the Roman Empire was given this title—including Herod’s sons who tried to get the same privilege but were rebuffed.  (See Luke 19:12, Jesus’ parable which begins   “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.”)

Since the minting of coins seems to have ceased in Tyre in 19 B.C., Meshorer’s proposal is unprovable but interesting.  It is suggested that the “sloppy work” associated with these later coins comes either from a lack of skill by the Jewish minters, or their “distain” for the heathen image on the face of the coin.  It has also been suggested that KP or KAP stands for KAIΣEP—the Greek capital letters for “Caesar.”

MONEY CHANGERS IN THE TEMPLE

Jesus upended the tables of the money changers on at least two occasions.  Details in the account of one such incident in John 2:13-16 show that Jesus did not do this in haste or anger.  This was calculated in order to teach!  Verses 14 and 15 are especially instructive:  In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.   And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.”  

Notice that he first made a whip of cords; think about that!  Did you imagine the materials for making such a whip were readily available?  Jesus first had to leave, gather the necessary cords, construct a whip, and then return! 

The other New Testament references for Jesus driving out the money changers are parallels of the same story during the Holy Week leading up to the crucifixion, and seem to reflect “the Day of the Lord” in  Zephaniah 1:11  Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar! (name of a street?  Targum says “valley of Kidron”) For all the traders are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off.”  Here are the other NT references:

Mark 11:11-15  And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. Present infinitive:  “to drive out.”
Matt. 21:12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  Aorist:  “he drove out” 
Luke 19:45  And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold,   GIBBS: p. 751 Present infinitive: “to drive out.”  Arthur Just refers to Johnson as his source for

So, what were the “money changers” doing in the Temple?  Obviously, they were “changing money.”  People from all over the Roman Empire had come to Jerusalem, and needed to pay their taxes for the Temple.  But the only “acceptable” coin was the Tyrian shekel, which they—of course—didn’t bring with them.  They needed to change their foreign money to Tyrian shekels.   A little more on that next time!

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1 Meshorer, Ya’akov.  A Treasury of Jewish Coins: From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba.
Jerusalem : Yad ben-Zvi Press ; Nyack, N.Y. : Amphora, ©2001  (originally in Hebrew)

2  Κράτος was the name of the Greek god Kratos, the brother of Nike.  But in Latin, his name would be Cratus with a “C” and thus “The power of the Romans” is suspect as the meaning for KP or KAP.  His name means “strength” or “power” but would not be spelled with a “K” on the Roman coinage.  I therefore suspect that Meshorer’s guess “Power of Rome” may be incorrect, but that doesn’t mean his idea of a Jerusalem mint is incorrect.

3  Josephus, in the Jewish Wars, Book 1, spends a great deal of time outlining the relationship of Herod the Great to the Roman Empire.  Herod’s father had a close relationship with Julius Caesar.  Herod had grown up in Rome and was not Jewish.  This helped cement a deal with the Roman Senate in 40 or 39 B.C. to make Herod king of Judea (later with the blessings of Octavian—”Caesar Augustus” in the Bible—who was Julius Caesar’s son.).  This was done to solidity Rome’s control of the Jews and the eastern Mediterranean.  But Octavian kept both of Herod’s sons in Rome to educate them “in Roman ways,” in effect making them hostages and for all practical purposes making Herod his hostage as well.  Despite his upbringing in Rome, both sides of Herod’s  family were Arab (Idumean).  This gave Rome misgivings about Herod and added to the hatred of Herod by the Jewish leaders.  These facts could help to explain Herod’s paranoia, for it is this same Herod which killed all the babies in Bethlehem.  Since Josephus tells us that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., that puts the birth of Jesus in or around 5 B.C.

4  The verb for “cast out” is ἐκβάλλω which suggests that the money changers are like unclean spirits which must be cleansed from the Temple.  Just, Arthur. Luke 9:51-24:53, Concordia Commentary series.  Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1997.  His reference is to Johnson, L.T. The Gospel of Luke.  Sacra Pagina.  Collegeville:  Liturgical, 1991.