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The Hebrews appear to have been ignorant of coinage until the Persian period. Before that time gold and silver were used as a medium of exchange, but payments were made by weight. Hence the temptation arose to use false weights and false balances. Before the Exile sums of money were usually reckoned in shekels or talents. By a shekel we must always understand a shekel of silver, unless it is expressly stated to be of gold. In the Maccabean period the weight of a shekel was 218 grains (15.126 grams); in earlier times it may have been lighter.

The only coin, properly so called, mentioned in the Old Testament is the gold dram, bearing the figure of a crowned king who is kneeling and is holding in his right hand a spear and in his left a bow.

Simon Maccabaeus coined silver shekels and half-shekels, as well as bronze money. The shekel had on one side the figure of a cup, with the inscription “Shekel of Israel,” and on the other a branch with three buds and the words “Jerusalem the Holy.”

The following coins are mentioned in the New Testament:

  1. The drachme (Luke 15:8–9), the ordinary silver Greek coin, and the didrachmon (or double drachme) (Matt. 17:24), translated “half-shekel” in some Bibles, or “tribute money” in KJV.

  2. The stater (Matt. 17:27), originally of gold, but in New Testament times of silver, and equal to four drachmes. In Matt. 17:27, the KJV tanslates the word as “a piece of money.” The pieces of silver mentioned in Matt. 26:15; 27:3, 5–6 were probably staters.

  3. The lepton (or mite) (Mark 12:42; Luke 12:59; 21:2), the smallest bronze coin used by the Jews. Equaled one-half quadrans.

  4. The Roman silver denarius. The KJV always translates this word as “penny.”

  5. The assarion (Matt. 10:29; Luke 12:6), or farthing; a bronze coin originally one-tenth, but in New Testament times one-sixteenth, of a denarius.

  6. The kodrantes (Latin quadrans) (Matt. 5:26, where it is translated “farthing,” and Mark 12:42, where it is translated “mites”); equaled one-fourth assarion.

The talent (Matt. 18:24; 25:15) and the mina (pounds) (Luke 19:13) are not coins but sums of money.