Menorah Coin

Prutah (AE, 1.65 g 12), Jerusalem, 37. Traces of Greek inscription – “King Antigonus” – around the seven-branched Menorah from the Temple in Jerusalem. Rev. Traces of Hebrew inscription – “Matatya the High Priest” – around the showbread table from the Temple in Jerusalem.

Mattathias Antigonus was the last ruler of the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty, which reigned over Israel from 152 B.C.E. to 37 B.C.E.

This is very possibly the most important coin in Jewish numismatics. At the end of his fatal conflict with Herod, Mattathias Antigonos was besieged in Jerusalem. As High Priest and as a member of the Hasmonean dynasty he must have wanted to gain patriotic and religious support for his struggle against the Idumean Herod and his Roman allies. This is the only way we can explain the depiction of the golden Temple Menorah and Showbread table on this tiny coin. Jewish religious law basically forbade their appearance in art, so Mattathias must have placed them on his coins in the hope that the people would fight harder in order to prevent them from falling into enemy hands (though, of course, Herod was Jewish, albeit not Hasmonean).

What is unique about this coin is that the showbread itself is depicted resting on the table. The bread’s concave shape has helped scholars to construe a previously indecipherable passage from the Mishnah in which the showbread is described.

Auction catalogue, Leu Numismatics, Ancient Coins, May 5-6, 2003.

“Magnificent Obsession- The Private World of an Antiquities Collector,” BAR May-Jun 1996.

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