A rare half shekel coin, made of silver, from the days of the first revolt of the Jews against the Romans – about 2000 years old, was discovered in the Judean Desert, in the Ein Gedi area. The coin, from the year 67/66 AD, was discovered during the Judean Desert cave survey operation that the Antiquities Authority manages in collaboration with the Ministry of Heritage and an archeology staff officer in the Civil Administration for the sixth year, with the aim of reaching the archaeologists’ treasures before the antiquities robbers.
Recently, as part of the survey, which examines every cave and crevice, the inspectors of the Antiquities Authority arrived at a section of a cliff in one of the streams in the Ein Gedi area, when at the entrance of one of the caves they noticed a coin made of silver sticking out of the ground. One of the hypotheses is that the coin fell from the pockets of rebels who went down to the desert during the rebellion – perhaps on their way to nearby Ein Gedi. Such an event can explain how the coin came from Jerusalem to the desert.
On one side of the coin is written “Holy Jerusalem” in ancient Hebrew script. According to Yaniv David Levy, a researcher in the coin branch at the Antiquities Authority, “On this coin from the first year of the rebellion, you can see an inscription that was written in a missing script. It is possible that this is evidence of the process of formulating the inscription, when in the later years of the rebellion, the inscription “Holy Jerusalem” is written in full script. Three pomegranates appear in the center of the coin. This is the familiar symbol from the Israeli pound coin, which was used by the State of Israel until 1980.”
On the other side, a cup appears and above it is written the Hebrew letter A, indicating the first year of the outbreak of the rebellion, as well as the inscription “Hafti Shekel”, indicating the value of the coin. The cup was a typical symbol of the coins used by the Jewish population, at the end of the Second Temple period. These coins were minted in values of “shekel”, “half shekel” during the first revolt against the Romans, which took place here in the Land of Israel, between 66 AD and 70 AD. This rebellion ended in the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Interestingly, in accordance with the commandment “Thou shalt not make for thee a graven image” in the Ten Commandments, the Jews imprinted on the coins symbols taken from the plant world, as well as motifs of religious objects of worship and sacredness. This, while the pagan population presented on the coins motifs from everyday life, such as animals, and the faces of the emperors.
As part of an act of defiance and creating an internal economy of the rebellion, the Jewish rebels minted their own silver and bronze coins, with Jewish motifs and symbols on them. According to information, the coins were minted in Jerusalem – and possibly even in the Temple complex itself. In these coins, the rebels chose to use the ancient Hebrew script which was common hundreds of years earlier – during the time of the First Temple – and not the Greek script, which was used in the days of the Second Temple.
“Coins from the first year of the revolt, such as this coin discovered in the Judean Desert, are rare,” adds Yaniv David Levy. “During the time of the Second Temple, the pilgrims used to raise a tax to the Temple in the amount of half the shekel. The accepted currency for paying this tax for almost 200 years was the “Zorian shekel”. When the rebellion broke out, as mentioned, the rebels issued replacement coins. These bore the inscription “Israeli Shekel”, “Half Shekel” and “Quarter Shekel”. Apart from the daily economy, it seems that the worship of the temple continued even during the rebellion, and these coins were used by the rebels for this purpose as well.”
According to Amir Ganor, Director of the Robbery Prevention Unit at the Antiquities Authority, “Finding a silver half-shekel coin from year 1 in an organized archaeological activity is a rare event in our country in general, and in the Judean Desert in particular. The current finding illustrates how important it is to systematically and professionally review the entire area of the Judean Desert. Every finding discovered in the survey adds more information about the history of the people and the country. If the survey had not been carried out, the coin could have fallen into the hands of antiquities robbers and been sold on the antiquities market at a high price. During the six years of the operation, we documented over 800 caves and found thousands of valuable and important finds.”
The Minister of Heritage, Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu: “The exciting discovery brings further evidence of the deep and indisputable connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.” The rare coin that was used according to Jewish Antiquities Authority researchers in the Second Temple period goes back about 2,000 years and the inscription engraved on it is Holy Jerusalem. The amazing find is another strong root of our people’s roots in the Land of Israel.”
According to Eli Escozido, director of the Antiquities Authority, “the coin is a direct and touching testimony to the revolt of the Jews against the Romans – a tumultuous period in the life of our people from two thousand years ago, during which extremism and discord divided the nation and led to destruction. After 2000 years of building here, the city of Jerusalem is back to being our capital, but there is nothing new under the sun – the disputes have not ended. Finding this coin reminds us all of our past, and why we must strive for unity.”