Jesus Coins

Jul 31, 2020 | Bible Archeology | 0 comments

Serendipity, we are told, is the art of the unexpected discovery. If, for example, you order a chocolate sundae and the waitress mixes up your order and brings you a maple syrup and pecan one and you accept it without realising the mistake and then discover that maple syrup and pecan sundaes are just the greatest thing in the world – that is serendipity.

Archaeologists are, by nature, extremely serendipitous. We never know what is going to turn up on even the most mundane of digs. In fact, it is this element of serendipity that keeps most archaeologists going, for who can tell what marvellous treasure may lie beneath the very next trowel-full of brown earth or yellow sand?

Mind you, it is likely that serendipity was the last thing on Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld’s mind last October when he was sent off on a “rescue dig”, a hastily mounted excavation brought about by the chance discovery of ancient pottery on a modern building site. In this case the rescue dig was in Tiberias, the bustling town on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, where new hotels and holiday villas are constantly being constructed to meet demands.

Most rescue digs are extremely boring. There is pressure on the archaeologist to hurry up because the contractor and all his men and machinery are waiting. He is not free to fully explore anything he finds because the other half of it may well lie beneath the neighbouring property which is not being developed. He may even be under pressure from a hard-pressed antiquities department which has another five developers, all clamouring to have their sites cleared so that work can commence, or from his university or museum, where he has plenty of his own work to keep him busy. It is very much a case of dig, draw and depart.

On this occasion, however, the archaeologists’ labours were rewarded with the discovery of three fairly large jugs that seemed heavier than might be expected from a filling of mere earth. The jugs themselves, the only intact objects found, were greeted with cheering and applause, and then taken off to be washed and recorded.

It was then that the true significance of the find emerged, for when the surface of the earth filling the jugs was brushed away, it was discovered that the jugs were full of treasure – coins, candle-sticks, oil lamps, tweezers, half a pair of scissors and a single blue glass vase. It was the coins that aroused most interest, for virtually all coins bear a date or an inscription that can be dated. These ones could be dated to the mid-10th century AD, a time when the Fatimid’s ruled in Tiberias.

As the various objects were cleaned and catalogued, it became apparent that there was something curious about the coins. Fifty-eight of them were Byzantine coins which bore a stylised representation of Jesus Christ on one side and a Greek inscription in praise of Jesus on the other. The pictures of Christ range from a simple portrait head to Jesus in glory or Jesus with a cross. The inscriptions bear messages such as: “Jesus, Messiah, King of Kings”; or “Jesus, Messiah, Victor”.

Another twenty-four coins depict the Byzantine emperors Constantine X and Michael VII. All the other items in the hoard are inscribed in the rather square Kufic Arabic script.

Some scholars believe that these “Jesus coins” were deliberately minted by the Byzantines as a form of evangelism, a means of maintaining a Christian witness among the Muslims. If so, we may well wonder why they were being hoarded in what was at the time, in most respects, a Muslim town. Was the owner a secret Christian? Was he a pious Muslim burying these unwanted messages away from sight? Or was he just a hoarder, storing up treasure against future needs?

Hirschfeld examined the find site carefully and concluded that two of the jugs were buried deliberately for safe-keeping, possibly on the eve of the Crusades. The third jug, the largest of the three, was used as a safe, for it was hidden in the thickness of the house wall but a small hole, easily concealed from view, allowed the owner of the house access to his treasure trove.

The coins and one of the jugs in which these objects were found, are currently (and temporarily) on display in the Hebrew Univerity in Jerusalem.

Article used with permission of Diggins Online. You can find more useful material at Apologtetics Courses, Free Courses and Brethren Assembly. Secular materials can be found at Coins Encyclopedia and Guide For Income

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