A team of Hebrew University archaeologists in 1998 discovered a hoard of 82 rare coins buried under the remains of a floor of a Byzantine house on the Sea of Galilee near Tiberias. The coins were minted in the Byzantine Empire from the second half of the 10th century and are of a type scientifically known as “anonymous folles.” These are coins that bear neither the name nor image of the ruler of the time, a relatively rare phenomenon. Individual coins of this type have been found before but this is the first hoard of such coins to be discovered. It was also the largest collection of “Jesus coins” ever discovered at an archaeological site—so called because 58 of them bore an image of Jesus. On the back of each coin was a cross set on three steps, and an inscription written in Greek on both sides which reads “Jesus the Messiah, King of Kings” and “Jesus, the Messiah, the Victor.”

Some of the coins depict Jesus face; others show him sitting on a throne or standing with a cross. “There is a big cross behind him, and he has a big head and eyes like on the icons of the fifth century,” Hirschfeld said. According to Hirschfeld, the coins are very rare and the first of their type to be found in Israel. As images of Jesus were not ordinarily featured on coins, the discovery, says Gila Hurvitz, curator of an exhibit of the coins at Hebrew University, “is a treasure—there’s nothing like it in the whole world.”

The coins were found under the floor of a metal smith’s workshop where tools and scraps of bronze and iron were also found. This coin hoard was buried sometime after 1071 since one of the coins in the hoard was that of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII, who ruled from 1071-1078. It is also likely the coins were buried sometime before the First Crusade in 1099.

O’Dwyer, Thomas and M. Cartier, Israel Then and Now. Multiview Ltd, 2004.

“Strata- Coins of the Realm; Jesus Coins Emerge from Galilee Treasure,” BAR, Nov-Dec 1999.