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First Jewish Coin From Jerusalem, 130 BCE

Material-Bronze

Denomination- Prutah

Size-1/2 inch in diameter

First_Jewish_Coin_from_Jerusalem_-_Obverse

First Jewish Coin from Jerusalem – Obverse

The coin shown here is the first coin to be minted by a Jewish government in Jerusalem. Issued by John Hyrcanus I, the High Priest (the title used by the highest governing Hasmonean authority at the time), it evokes the glories of ages past. (The name Hasmonean comes from an ancestor of Mattathias.) The coin was worth one prutah; a loaf of bread cost ten prutot. The obverse bears a legend in paleo-Hebrew script, the script used before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. It reads- “Yehohanan [John] the High Priest and the Council of the Jews.” The use of pre-Exilic (before the Babylonian Exile) script was deliberately anachronistic, hearkening back to the days of Israel’s glory.

First_Jewish_Coin_from_Jerusalem_-_Reverse

First Jewish Coin from Jerusalem – Reverse

On the reverse, in between the horns of a double cornucopia (the “horn of plenty,” a fertility symbol taken from Greek iconography), a small pomegranate can be seen. The pomegranate, also a fertility symbol because of its many seeds, was regularly used as a design element in art and architecture, and dates back at least to the time of Solomon’s Temple- “There were two hundred pomegranates in rows all round [the capitals of the Temple],” according to 1 Kings 7-20. The only surviving object that may have come from the First Temple is an inscribed ivory pomegranate, which served as the head of a priest’s staff.

“Spending Your Way Through Jewish History,” BAR May-Jun 2003.

Posted in: Maccabean Period

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