Daily Israel Report

Rare Coin from Hasmonean Rebellion Found in Temple Mount Rubble

A rare coin from the Hasmonean rebellion and a Temple half-shekel have been found in the rubble from illegal construction at the Temple Mount.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 12/21/2008, 1:26 PM

Israel News Photo: Ze'ev Radovan

A 14-year-old volunteer found a precious silver half-shekel coin used to pay taxes in ancient Temple times, and a coin minted during the Jewish rebellion against the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV of the Chanukah story was also discovered in the rubble rescued from illegal construction carried out by the Muslim Wakf. 

Omer shows off his rare silver half-shekel find
(photo: Ze'ev Radovan)

Both coins were discovered recently in the Temple Mount sifting operation in Jerusalem's Emek Tzurim National Park. The project, funded by the Ir David (City of David) Foundation is now in its fourth year and is being carried out under the direction of Professor Gabriel Barkay of Bar Ilan University and archaeologist Tzachi Zweig.

Prof. Gavriel Barkay and volunteer Omer Ya'ari
(photo: Ze'ev Radovan)

Coin Minted During Period of Chanukah Story
The coin minted by Antiochus bears a portrait of the Greek monarch, who ruled from 175-163 BCE, during which time he looted the Temple of its treasures and erected a statue – an idol – in the sanctuary.

Coin minted during reign of Antiochus IV
(photo: Ze'ev Radovan)

The Hasmonean rebellion was directed against those actions, and the liberation of the Temple and its rededication are the events commemorated in the holiday of Chanukah which Jews have celebrated ever since.

"This is the first coin of its kind that has been discovered, in near perfect condition, in rubble that comes from the Temple Mount," said Professor Barkay.

Silver Half-Shekel is a 'Rare Jerusalem Find'
The silver half-shekel coin, discovered by 14-year-old Neve Daniel resident Omer Ya'ari, is one of those that were used to pay the annual Temple tax, appears to have been minted in 66/67 CE, the first year of the Great Revolt against the Romans. The tax, which every Jew was required to pay annually to the Temple, is described in Exodus (30:11-15).

Half shekel used to pay taxes to the Temple
(photo: Ze'ev Radovan)

On one side of the coin, a branch with three pomegranates is visible, with the inscription, "Holy Jerusalem." The other side of the coin bears a picture of a chalice from the First Temple and the words, "Half Shekel."

Such coins were apparently minted on the Temple Mount itself by the Temple authorities, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. It is considered one of the rarest of finds in Jerusalem archaeology. "Though the coin is in excellent condition, it does have signs of having been damaged by fire, most likely the fires that destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE," noted Barkay.
... it's part of a larger trend of illegal work carried out by the Wakf to 'revise' history and to eradicate the remains of Jewish history on the Mount.

This is the first time that such a coin has been discovered in rubble from the Temple Mount itself, although similar coins have in the past been found elsewhere in Jerusalem and at Masada.

Temple Mount Rubble: 3,500 Ancient Coins So Far
The illegal construction and excavation work carried out in November 1999 by the Muslim Wakf on the Temple Mount destroyed countless priceless archaeological treasures from the history of the region.

The work, which caused irreparable damage to the site, "is part of a larger trend of illegal work carried out by the Wakf to 'revise' history and to eradicate the remains of Jewish history on the Mount," charged Barkay. 

"The rubble from this illegal work was removed by bulldozers and trucks and discarded in the Kidron Valley. Though these remains are no longer in their original context, they contain important archaeological material," he said.

Professor Barkay at the salvage site
(photo: Ze'ev Radovan)

To date, over 40,000 volunteers carefully sifting every day through the rubble of the construction site have succeeded in recovering more than 3,500 ancient coins, ranging from the Persian Period to the Ottoman Period. For those who might want to consider volunteering, Barkay noted that applications are welcomed and accepted through the City of David Foundation.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project welcomes visitors during the Chanukah holiday vacation and at other times. The site may be reached by way of the access road along the western slope of Mount Scopus toward the Ein Tzurim National Park, and is open Sunday through Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.